Archive for April, 2006

First Impressions vs Getting Feedback

Monday, April 24th, 2006

Recently I sent Michael Arrington‘s Don’t Blow Your Beta post to a CEO of mine. I think the basic ideas in there are very relevant to anyone trying to capture some buzz in this noisy and somewhat unforgiving environment.

A couple months later, the product was still in “internal testing” and had undergone several revisions without the benefit of real outside feedback. I was encouraging the CEO to just “get it out there” so we could learn what people wanted to do with it, and he reminded me of the post I had sent him, and that we didn’t want to blow our beta.

This struck me as a balance that many startups are struggling with right now. You can’t develop your product in a vacuum, and usually you and your engineers are a terrible focus group. However, you don’t want to get public exposure before you are ready, because first impressions are pretty important these days. What’s the solution? Good old fashioned betas, which now seem to be called either “alphas” or “closed betas”.

Back when I wrote code for a living (I’m starting to feel like a dinosaur) “alpha” used to mean feature complete, but not ready for external consumption. “Beta” then would mean ready for a small set of friendly customers to try, for early feedback and bug finding. But now, in the internet land of perpetual beta, the meaning seems to have changed.

I still encourage my companies to release early and often, because today’s tools allow rapid turnaround and product evolution, and the days of 6-12 month product cycles are gone. But because first impressions are so important, and basic functionality so critical, they should go more slowly on the public availability until they are really ready.

Economist on Bush

Friday, April 21st, 2006

I love the Economist. They eviscerate the Democrats and Republicans with impunity. The last sentence from the leader of their most recent issue is great:

Two years ago, this newspaper narrowly favoured Mr Kerry’s incoherence over Mr Bush’s incompetence (see article). Since then, Republican incompetence has exceeded even our worst fears. How depressing to report that Democratic incoherence has soared too. America deserves better.

American politics | Taking on George Bush | Economist.com

The World Is Flat Breakfast

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

I had a good time at Ismael Ghalimi‘s World Is Flat Breakfast the other day. Other folks have done a better job of blogging the whole event than I can. However, I did get a couple tidbits worth repeating.

One was an explanation of why Open Source will take over the world. It seems that large public software companies average $0.78 of sales and marketing cost for every dollar of license revenue. That makes it a pretty low margin business, even when compared to a service business like training and support. Open source has no license revenue, but also has no sales and marketing cost – so their overall margins can actually be higher!

The other tidbit was the names of a couple of companies that specialize in helping software development for software product companies. This is pretty different from custom development for enterprises, so it’s nice to see some folks with expertise in this area. The sponsor, Lohika, has been great partner to Intalio and at least one other company I know well. A couple others I have had good interactions with are Symphony and Persistent Systems.

Liberal media bias

Friday, April 7th, 2006

A very interesting UCLA study on media bias finds that most mainstream media do lean to the left. I think this is true, although I cannot help but question a couple of the methodologies. For example, it looks like there is an implicit assumption in the ADA score that every issue has a liberal side and a conservative side, and that they are equally far from the center. Also, I wonder how closely the scores of the media outlets track with their audiences – i.e. do more liberal people use mainstream media for their news?

Media Bias Is Real, Finds UCLA Political Scientist… 12/14/2005

I’ll stick with being Mr. Right

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

A fascinating and courageous post by Baris Karadogan about a potential societal future where harems become more popular than monogamy. Would be a great basis for a science fiction novel, because it explores why the Internet could enable this change in behavior.

From Istanbul To Sand Hill Road: The Big Web 2.0 Harem

US Patent Office solution

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

A good explanation of what’s wrong with the patent system in the US, and why. Better yet, it includes some real proposals for fixing the problem. Thanks JohnK for the pointer.

Our proposed reforms start with the recognition that much of the information needed to decide if a given application should be approved is in the hands of competitors of the applicant, rather than the USPTO. A review process with multiple levels efficiently balances the need to bring in outside information with the reality that most patents are unimportant. Multilevel review — with barriers to invoking review increasing at higher levels, along with the review’s thoroughness — would naturally focus attention on the most potentially important applications. Most patents would never receive anything other than the most basic examinations. But for those applications that really mattered, parties would have an incentive and opportunities to bring information in their possession before the USPTO, and the USPTO would have more resources to help it make the right decision. (Changes in this direction are at the heart of the patent reform bill currently under consideration in the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.)

WSJ.com – Innovation and Its Discontents

Vacation to Second Life

Monday, April 3rd, 2006

I recently attended the O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference, and there was a very interesting presentation on Second Life and some of the emergent behavior there. I was an intermittent gamer when I was in college, but have never gotten into these more immersive multi-user worlds. I keep thinking I need to take some time and see what is there, both for my own interest, and because professionally I need to keep on top of technology developments like these.

I keep putting this off, because I know that I can’t spend just a night or two there and get any real idea of what is going on, and I really don’t have time to be a regular visitor. I probably need a solid week with no distractions to get established, then I might be able to jump back in occasionally to keep up. So, what I really need is a vacation to Second Life. This originally seemed pretty silly to me, but increasingly it seems like a real idea – just like taking a vacation to a new city to explore it fairly thoroughly. I haven’t scheduled the week yet, but I’m definitely thinking about it.