The Server-Side Pad

by Fabien Tiburce, Best practices and personal experiences with enterprise software

Posts Tagged ‘web 2.0

Fresh Thinking

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I really enjoyed attending a FreshBooks workshop today, held by Mike McDerment, FreshBooks’ co-founder and CEO.  FreshBooks is the leader in online billing, a rapidly growing category that FreshBooks essentially invented and is continually perfecting.  The workshop, Building a Web App Business, addressed the pre-launch phase any web startup faces and covered topics ranging from building to marketing, product management, metrics and financing.  I literally took ten pages of notes in four hours.  Mike is a wealth of information, candid with his answers and refreshingly transparent.   The session was truly inspiring and I will be drawing on today’s take-aways for some time.  In the meantime, I wanted to wet your appetite with a few tidbits, a number of quotes from Mike McDerment and the context in which they were given.  If you find them as thought-provoking as I did, you really owe it to yourself to get to know FreshBooks and perhaps attend a future workshop.

Freshbooks “We get paid to be an aspirin, a pain killer”.

Launch features “Build the least, you’re in a vacuum”. “You need to build the minimum number of features you need and engage people using it [the service]”.

Feedback “Make it easy for people to give it to you”.  “Make it easy for people to reach you, by telephone and email”. “You want to remove barriers”.

Ownership “I want people to act and behave as owners”.” Don’t stack chances against yourself by being a control freak or by putting up with one”.

Founding team “Trust, honesty, loyalty, openness”. “Passion is your fuel”. “If you call them at 3AM, are they going to answer the phone?”.

Lawyers “Lawyers get paid”. “Lawyers are risk reducers”.”If the dark clouds come, things break down gracefully”.

Office space “You do not need an office just because you have a business”. “Rent will increase your burn”.

Categories “Don’t underestimate the power of categories”. “What makes you unique?”.

Choosing a name “Easy to remember.  Easy to spell.  Describes the category.  Describes the benefit.  Describes the difference”. “A name is a vessel, you can build a lot of meaning into it”.

The story “Your story is going to influence your strategy more than you  know”.

The homepage “The home page must answer: what is it?  who is it for?  why it matters”.

Blogs “Outspend or out-teach”. “If you don’t have something interesting to write, don’t write”. “You want to build a network “. “Start sharing and teaching”.

PR “PR is a pretty hard thing to outsource”.

Support “Everyone [at FreshBooks] does support”.”When you are building a business, you are building a culture”.”Post your phone number” .”Use a forum, use twitter, be everywhere”.

Usability “If you want to be humbled, watch somebody use your application.  You will be floored, you will be shamed”.

Surveys “If you want stats, use an online survey, if you want insights, call people”.

Decisions “You are editor/curator”. “You can’t please all people all the time”. “If you do support, you’ll know”.”Remove the pain, stay true to vision”.

Funding “You need to know your formula before investing capital at the top”.”When you know your users better than anyone.  When you have a formula for the $.  When you’ve got traction.  When you know your market size”. “Angels do 27 times more investing than VCs”. “Can you increase your share price by more than dilution?”.

Competition “I never think about competition”.” I don’t believe customer service is going to get out of style”.”If you only look at your competitors, you are only reacting, not leading”.

Startups “You do stuff in a way a big company cannot”.

Written by Compliantia

June 16, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Evangelists, The Semantic Web Needs You!

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need_you_medium1

First a confession.  What started as a curiosity, has turned into a bit of an obsession.   Artificial intelligence, natural language processing, data interchange, global ontologies, it’s all there in the semantic web.   There is enough in there to excite the geek in me for three life times and perhaps there lies the bigger problem… Let me take a step back. In broad terms, the semantic web refers to a global web of unequivocal meaning, that can be used and queried by machines, programs and ultimately user-facing applications.  In equally broad terms, this amounts to turning loose data (words on a page, with no meaning other than their proximity to other words which can be counted, similarities inferred, etc…) on the web into information (meaning, purpose and inter-operability).  Micro-formats asides, words like ISBN or UPC on most web sites are just that, words.   They mean nothing, they are not tied to the same universal concept and the words that preceed or follow them (which usually is an actual ISBN or UPC code) are not linked to the same resource.  The web was built for people.  Please scan a page and quickly understand the purpose of the page and the meaning of captions, buttons and other elements on the page.  Machines don’t.   
The semantic web refers to a web (the largest collection of human knowledge ever assembled) understandable to machines.  Currently web pages are assembled to be read and understood by humans.  While tags and meta-data exist, these allone are generally insufficient to be used predictably and reliably by computer programs.  XML is in wide use arount the web but XML schemas (XML contracts which govern the structure and content of XML documents) are often attached to single documents, single services or single organizations.  And there lies the problem: without the semantic web, there doesn’t exists a single, universale way to refer to a person, or a UPC code, a financial service or a purchaseable item.  The fact that product A on site X and product A on site y are the same product is established by humans (by comparing brands, labels, model numbers, pictures), it often cannot be conclusively and reliably be determined by a computer program.  While search engines have bridged some this gap, short of a complete AI system, the information on the web will remain in data form (and turned into information by readers at page view time) until technologies like the semantic web become prevalent.  The semantic web, a term coined by sir Tim Berners Lee and spear-headed by the W3C, attached meaning to web page content so this content can be consumed, queried and indexed by machines.  From the largest collection of text in the world, the internet would be elevated to the largest collection of information, inter-related, meaningful. 
The semantic web is generally believed to be the next version of the web.  Whereas Werb 1.0 was basic publishing, Web 2.0 was social, Web 3.0 is expected to be semantic.   Yet for all the promises, it’s ascension remains clouded with doubts and hindered by real world impediments.   The semantic web is a technology of the future that for the time being has remained in the future.  Taxonomies, folksonomies (tags), meta-data and micro-formats are all small steps in the semantic direction.  Its rise, in time, is It is inevitable.
On paper, all the required building blocks are here.  Standards (W3C recommmendations) have been published, parsers are available and so are global open-source ontologies.  What’s missing?
The “social web” is largely being promoted and evangelized by online marketing professionals. Evangelists are tremendously important.  And yet the semantic web hasn’t made it easy for Web 2.0 professionals to ramp up on Web 3.0. There is substantial technical barrier of entry on the semantic web today.  Part of is is by design. The semantic web talks about schemas, objects and relationships.  It talks about machine language and parsers.  It is, by design, mostly “back-end”, conceptual and somewhat complex.  To succeed, the semantic web needs to leave the lab and the universities research department.  The semantic web has failed to make itself palatable to would-be evangelists.  It  needs a business plan, it evangelists, promoters.   It needs to reach out to the social web community.  It needs to inform and excite.  Why bother?  While the first phase of a semantic web ecosystem will most-likely be focused on the “back-end” (as web 1.0 was until the focus was put back on the user experience with Web 2.0), that would be followed by a new generation of user-centered web services, once again focused on the user experience and powered by semantic web data.  If you thought that the web did a lot today, imagine the capabilities of a web 4.0 front-end powered by a semantic-web back-end.  The potential is mind boggling.
This is *not* a web page. it’s 1 of 150K concepts from open-source ontology for semantic web (human readable format). http://bit.ly/tSBel

First, a confession.  What started as a curiosity, has turned into a bit of an obsession…  Artificial intelligence, natural language processing, data interchange, global ontologies are all, directly or indirectly, facets of the semantic web.   There is enough in there to excite the geek in me for three life times and there lies the problem… Let me take a step back.

In broad terms, the semantic web refers to a global web of unequivocal meaning, that can be used and queried by machines, programs and ultimately user-facing applications.  In equally broad terms, this amounts to turning loose data (words on a page, with no meaning other than their proximity to other words which can be counted, similarities inferred, etc…) into information (meaning, purpose and inter-operability).  Micro-formats asides, words like ISBN or UPC on most web sites are just that, words.   They mean nothing, they are not tied to the same universal concept and the words that precede or follow them (which usually is an actual ISBN or UPC code) are not linked to the same resource.  The web was built for people, not machines.  People scan a page and quickly understand the purpose of the page and the meaning of captions, buttons and other elements on the page.   On the other hand, the semantic web refers to a collection (the web is the largest collection of human knowledge ever assembled) understandable to machines. While user-generated tags and meta-data exist, these alone are generally insufficient to be used predictably and reliably by computer programs.  XML is widely used around the web but XML schemas (XML contracts which govern the structure and content of XML documents) are often attached to a single document, a single service or a single organization.  This point alone gets to the root of the problem: without the semantic web, there doesn’t exist a single, universally accepted way of specifying a person, a UPC code, a financial service or a purchaseable item.  The fact that product “A” on site x and product “A” on site y are the same product is established by humans (by comparing brands, labels, model numbers, pictures), it cannot be conclusively and reliably determined by a computer program.  Lastly, while search engines have bridged this gap somewhat, short of a complete Artificial Intelligence system, the information on the web will remain in unstructured data form until technologies like the semantic web become prevalent.  In conclusion, the semantic web, a term coined by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and spearheaded by the W3C, seeks to attach meaning to page content so this content can be consumed, queried and inter-related by machines.  From the largest collection of text in the world, the internet would be elevated to the largest collection of inter-related, meaningful information in the world

The semantic web is generally believed to be the next version of the web.  Whereas Web 1.0 was about basic publishing, Web 2.0 is social, Web 3.0 is expected to be semantic.   Yet for all the promises, its ascension remains clouded with doubts and hindered by real world impediments.   The semantic web is a technology of the future that, until now, has remained in the future.  On paper, all the required building blocks are here.  Standards (W3C recommendations) have been published, parsers, query-engines and core-technologies are available and so are global open-source ontologies.  What’s missing?

The “social web” is largely being promoted and evangelized by a combination of online marketing and user-experience professionals. Evangelists are tremendously important in spreading the word and encouraging adoption.  On the Toronto scene, Web 2.0 evangelists like David Crow, Matthew Milan and Saul Colt come to mind.  And yet the semantic web community hasn’t really reached out to Web 2.0 professionals in general. The conversation mostly revolves around the back-end, infrastructure and core technologies. The semantic web talks about schemas, objects and relationships.  It talks about machine languages and parsers.  It does not directly address the user experience (although its ultimate goal is just that).   To succeed, the semantic web needs to leave the lab and the research department.  It needs to make itself palatable to early adopters and would-be evangelists.  It  needs a business plan,  promoters and supporters.   It needs to reach out, inform and excite the web 2.0 community.  Why bother?  While the first iteration of a semantic ecosystem will most likely focus on the “back-end” (similar to back-end-centered Web 1.0 followed by user-centered Web 2.0),  this will likely be followed by a second iteration of user-centered services, heavily skewed on the user experience and powered by semantic web data.  While the web does a lot today, imagine the capabilities of a web 4.0 front-end powered by a semantic web back-end.  The potential is mind boggling.  Let’s go semantic, if you catch my meaning 😉

Resources:

W3C semantic web homepage: http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/

Wikipedia on semantic web: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_Web

Sample concept from open-source ontology for semantic web (in human readable format): http://sw.opencyc.org/concept/Mx4rvVi1AJwpEbGdrcN5Y29ycA

Open source (created by HP, java-based) semantic web toolkit: http://jena.sourceforge.net

toronto_semantic

In Toronto and interested in the semantic web?  Join us at the Toronto Semantic Web group on LinkedIn.

Written by Compliantia

May 7, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Success 2.0: Build Great Teams. Build Small Teams. Be Agile.

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colSuccess in the web 2.0 sphere makes for an easy sales pitch.  You need to spend less money.  You need to get a product out faster.   And the catch is…? None, but spending less is not as easy as it seems.    You need the right framework, the right partners, the right methodology.  Here are some principles Betterdot Systems abides by in everything we do…

1)  Build great teams.  As Marcus Daniels once told me, “You are better off starting a business with an A team and a B plan than a B team with an A plan”.   Why?   Because the A team will eventually gravitate to the A plan anyways.  The A team will innovate, will find the way, the shortest path.  Hire great people.  Work with great partners.  Build your A team.

2)  Build small teams.  Small teams do great things.  The mighty Google is said to have no team larger than seven.  Meanwhile Microsoft used armies of developers to produce the much vilified Vista operating system.    Build small teams.  Assign them a clear mandate.  Give them responsibilities.  Let them shine.

3)  Be agile.   Don’t fight change, embrace it.  Focus on the user experience.  Try rapid prototyping and commit to frequent releases.  Be nimble, be agile.

The principles above allow us to do more, do it faster and do it for less.  Sales pitches are so web 1.0… 😉

Written by Compliantia

April 13, 2009 at 1:37 pm