Thursday, December 29, 2005

"The Great CES Hack" - The CESCamp Unconference & Wiki

"This is so freaking cool." - Doc Sears

Inspired by a BarCamp/TorCamp/DemoCamp, and difficulties finding hotel rooms. We've setup a wiki (thanks Vitaliy!) a quick wiki here to help people do two things:

1) setup a (high signal, low noise!) web2 unconference at what maybe the biggest "ununconference" of the planet earth

2) setup a site for people to post their hotel room needs/tips/tricks/info -- esp. for those that can't find a room, or want to borrow someone's bathtub =)

More info here if you're interesting in participating.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Going to CES? Need hotel room... or a bath tub to sleep in. UGH.

There's nothing left in the biggest hotel city in the world (and it looks like Doc and I are in the same boat about this one).

If anyone is going there and (a) has leads on bath tub for a striving CEO to sleep in, or (b) wants to meet up with me, please let drop me a line.

Back to looking for a way to find a place other than my car to sleep in from the 4th to the 8th.

Here's a bootstrap CEO friendly solutoin: If you're willing to drive 20 mins or so outside of Vegas, you can book a room with GoldStrike or their sister hotel (can't remember which one, but its smaller), in Jean, NV -- the website is totally FUBAR, so just call and speak to a human instead: 800-634-1359 -- best of all, its $30-$50 a night, vs. $300-$500 a night!

Thank me later. We're also going to try to setup a wiki shortly for people to meetup and find bunk mates and share CES tips... thank Vitaliy for taking the time out to help us CESers.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Building Silos (and "Web 2.0", etc.) - Part 2

There seems to be a lot of discussions around what the heck web2.0 is, and if the term should be dropped.

To me, Web2.0 is as much DESIGNING for simplicity by taking advantage of enabling technological trends, as it is about the technological trends itself. Simplifying existing/legacy solutions by using technologies such as AJAX to create fundamentally improved user experiences is one of the key drivers of growth and excitement in this so-called Web2.0 environment.

Another point that should be made is of course the freedom available to users to have data mobility via open standards and frameworks. At BubbleShare, we're committed to providing user data mobility. The only true way to lock users into a system we feel is by being a world class provider of solutions that your users really care deeply about.

It obviously helps if you build meaningful relationships between you and your users, and among your users (read: community). Simply said, pragmatic and social network effects, rather than arbitrary hostage holding of user data.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Building Silos

If you're from the old school, the word silos probably will rub you the wrong way, with memories of data locked up in disparate departments and systems.

But on the web today, it means something different. We should always be looking at building silos as long as we're building "open top" silos (the bottom can be closed, or open, doesn't matter... we'll get to that later).

An open-top silo is a web service that is focused on doing one thing, deep, and really well -- but no thrills, not extraneous features, nothing. It's job is to do one thing really well, and to go deep in doing it. The open-top aspect basically implies that there is a way to peer into the silo and take advantage of an open web service API.

By building silos, you gain power. Doing one thing really damn well in an "open silo" environment often creates innovations and emergent behaviors that you otherwise wouldn't generate if you tried to be all things to all people -- or even many things to many people.

At BubbleShare, we built a silo. The top isn't open yet, but it will be.

Our silo was building a simple photo sharing solution for people who just want to share digital photos. We just launched a new version. Not because the last one was broken, but because we wanted it to be better -- and we had the luxury of making the silo even deeper this time around by refining the few things that we didn't do perfectly (and there's a lot of that still!).

Bottomline: Instead of trying to build out, we built up. Building up/deep gives you power. Open tops give you emergent behaviors. For example, we would have never thought of the iFrame hack that led us to create a more elegant and "official solution" -- one that lets you embed an album in your blog -- if it weren't for our simple design and an enterprising Chinese developer who created the hack to slot our output into his website.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Thoughts on Text-to-Speech and More

If you're like me, your thoughts come faster than you will ever be able to type.

Why is it that we still don't have truly GREAT voice recognition software? This is an advancement that the net is ready for. We have so much processing power. So many great advances in software development.

I find myself with an almost insatiable need to record all my thoughts, but my hands are never fast enough to record them -- and I have yet to figure out how to attach a ram chip and SATA interface to my gray matter.

I also have this strange desire to capture many visual moments of my life -- and make them searchable. I am really looking forward to what the folks at MSR are doing, and what their My Life Bits project will bring about.

So much data already exists that we can passively capture, index, and search. And still I wish for a way to capture every word that I've ever spoken, and have a private record of every place I've ever been (not just destinations, but places), all arranged in an elegant visual interactive timeline overlayed on a visual Google Map like interface.

And then, what if we could search one another's voiceprints? What could we know from one another--talk about the speed of innovation!

If there were a convenient way to do it, I would record virtually all of my waking hours with an always on digital visual capture device. Today's digital cameras allow me to do most of this, but not all of it. And certainly not in an always-on mode.

Is really good text-to-speech, always on, geolocational data capture MEETS always-on audio capture and always on photo/video image capture really that far away?

I don't think so. In fact, I think we have a lot of the above in the "mostly-on" (vs. always-on) devices/capabilities available today. So if the data is already there, whose going to give us the tech to capture and create intelligent value from it?

What's really interesting to me is all the passive data we can capture RIGHT NOW. Time stamps of phone calls, emails, photos. Geodata of photos, voice calls, cell phone location. Social networked maps of IM, friendster accounts, and email interactions. This technology has come so far already, I can't wait to see what people will build for us, and also participate in those innovations, in the future.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Meebo Funding

From Om:

Here is the rub: Since the company basically aggregates all four major IM networks in a browser, all the four major IM owners - AMYG are out of the acquisition game. One of them buys the company, the others shut down access to their respective networks. The very quality that makes Meebo attractive to end-users will make it difficult for them to be acquired. But there is one option: eBay. When all fails, you know who to call. Skype did. Interactive Corp is another long shot, but they are bargain hunters not premium payers.
I can see why IAC would want to build something like Meebo around their network, or even FIM. I can certainly see how Meebo fits into a great ecosystem of services beyond IM. Their services right now may only work within the site, but you can bet that the web service integrates easily within other existing web offerings that already aggregate IM information (think: eBay, Friendster, MySpace, etc.).

The other aspect of this is that they've built a nice framework for building other apps. Some 90% of the screen space on meebo goes unused. Does it make sense to have a web-based desktop environment that provides you with other offerings? I don't know. But I can think of a dozen things I would add to that interface that would extend the application well beyond IM (think email, konfabulator widgets, info trackers/RSS, etc.).

What's also interesting to me is that no one has brought up Goowy yet -- someone else that is also playing into the web desktop space, but in a much more flash heavy way.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

DemoCamp was SuperFun.

Expected about 12 people to show up (figured 50% would be no show from the list), and I think we had close to if not more than 30 people in our little BS (BubbleShare) "boardroom"

A big thank you to Michael Bodalski for bringing the projector to the event (saved me a long trip out of the office to pick one up from a friend), and thank you all for showing up and supporting the event and providing such great demos. Special thanks goes out the the good people at Idée for sponsoring some great chocolate snacks as well! =)

Yes, thats right, a tech startup without a projector, how's that for being a frugal, bootstrapped web2.0 company for you.

This was done one month or less after TorCamp. Clearly we need more of these "unconferences."

Leila from Idée has a great blog here that summerizes what happend.

If you're on the DemoCamp/TorCamp mailing list, you'll be able to get access to a link that allows you to add pictures and captions in author mode. Otherwise, email me for the link and I'll be happy to provide.

So... Anyone up for another industry first: PokerCamp? (Friendly .25/.50 no-limit games? )

R&D Time, when developers work on what they love and get paid. - Part 2

The last, but I think most important point in creating a culture of "distributed R&D" is that you should NEVER punish failure, and ONLY reward on achievements.

This means that if you fail to deliver something during your R&D time, it does not count against you as far as performance reviews. On the other hand, if you do well, it will certainly add points during your review. Every company offering "free R&D time" should embrace failure as an integral and necessary part of inspiring innovation. If your people aren't "failing" (at least marginally or occasionally), they probably aren't taking enough risks.

And if your developers are like ours, or like those on many of the greatest teams out there, they probably have a very similar attitude to most founders/CEOs/serial-entrepreneurs/whatever. In order words, they are likely to be highly entrepreneurial in spirit and are fueled by the taking the risks to venture into the unknown in order to bring breakthrough ideas to life.

That's what's important about failing to succeed during R&D time--because the one great idea that evolves from all of the mistakes or what some companies might see as "wasted" time has the potential to change e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.


Friday, December 09, 2005

R&D Time, when developers work on what they love and get paid. - Part 1

Inspired by the companies that came before us, such as Google, 3M, and now JotSpot, we were inspired by a research and development time for all development staff.

While Google is famed for giving their developers 20% of the week to work on their own projects, we're not quite Google (yet). So the way we fuel our developers' fires is that every Friday afternoon, we shut down our internal projects and move into complete innovation mode. Google calls it the 20% time, JotSpot calls it the hackathon, Microsoft calls it "Do something special that's above and beyond the call after your regular 12 hour work day, or you're fired" time.

BubbleShare calls it R&D Time, or as I like to sometimes call it BS R&D.

Why does this concept of giving everyday development staff free time to explore make sense? Why should a company pay people for doing what they want to do, even if it's not going to make its way into the next product release? What about companies who aren't Google or Microsoft--can they still afford to do this?

Even startups (maybe especially startups) can't afford NOT to give up some scheduled time for free R&D time for two good reasons:

(1) You'll get your best ideas/features from bottom-up skunkworks projects that would NEVER be "justifiable" under the company road map;

(2) In order to keep truly great people around on a "startup" salary, you need to not only provide an exciting vision to work towards and fun environment to work in, but you need to provide an "outlet" which allows great developers and designers the freedom to express their own creativity and passions outside the immediate product goals that are sometimes restrictive due to corporate priorities.

It's working for companies like Jotspot and Bubbleshare, and it could work for you. In this Always On interview, Jotspot's Joe Kraus explains why:
We recently did this thing called a hackathon, which is a really effective way of reintroducing innovation. Startups are supposed to have two advantages over large companies: They're supposed to be faster and more innovative. But I asked myself the question, is that really true? And I think the answer is that a lot of startups--especially as they start to get a few customers—stop innovating because the become so focused on customer-driven development. They get a year-round product roadmap, and suddenly every engineer is locked into it, and nobody is thinking relatively.
I couldn't agree more.

WordPress + BS = Now Works

So I get an email back from Robert Scoble telling me that WordPress doesn't like iFrames. It just so happens that we were talking to David about implementing a WordPress plug-in, and BAM there you have it: the WordPress BubbleShare Plug-In by our World Famous friend of BS (BubbleShare) David Crow.

If you're using WordPress, please come
here and check it out.

Simply Cool: LinuxCaffe in Toronto

I've never been to LinuxCaffe. But any one that provides wireless Internet for free in Toronto scores in my books.

Geek Dinner with Scoble

As a "public service" (read: PR )

This is an album for Robert Scoble. The link off his site went to the mini album was meant to be non-embedded like so:

Powered by: BubbleShare =)

What he probably meant to do was link to this larger version (which you can get to just by click ing on any of the photos) here.

Thank you Randy for getting those great photos out to Scoble!

... "someone" really should go add some voice captions and show off our cool features ;). =)

here is the code that you can use to cut and paste:

<iframe scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" src="" style="width:283px;height:235px;"></iframe>

Angry People Who Want to Fix/Build/Change Stuff Unite!

Angry people are the best.

They are motivated and passionate about a problem in the world, a problem they are driven to solve. They want to create/fix/build something that solves this problem.

That's partly how why we started BubbleShare.

Its also the reason why David Crow started TorCamp.

Which is also why I've been talking to him about riffing off the whole concept into something bigger something around innovation in general. Because innovation is a key ingredient for economic growth.

The interesting thing about innovation in technology is that sometimes all it takes is for two like-minded people to cross paths to forever change the world.

Imagine if Woz never met Jobs (apple). Or if Gates never met Allen (microsoft). Or if Clarke never met Andreesen (netscape).

I think about how things would be different if I hadn't crossed paths with Erwin, my friend from my first company where we shared offices during my MyDesktop days in 98. 6 years later he introduced me to Diane, one of our early and very talented IAs, whom then led me be to Stephen, BubbleShare's uber "simple designer."

Erwin -> Diane -> Stephen

The chain goes way back before Erwin of course. But its really interesting how events link together and ultimately bring you to some amazing intersections -- crossroads of people who literally change your life.

I'm willing to bet if you mapped all your relationships back and figured out all of the intersections in your life, you would be amazed at how you came to know the people in your world. Trace them back to the time before they were part of your chain. What if you hadn't met him, her, them? How different would your life be?

Our CTO, Chris, came to us due to a number of circumstances and introductions and re-introductions. If we traced our relationship with Chris across our social networks, those links would be all over the map.

If only we had a device, and software technology, that would act as an always-on relationship ad social network tracking, recording, and scouting service.

Wouldn't that be an interesting offering. A technology that tracks your social networking patterns in the real world, real-time, proactively creating opportunities based on your schedule and geographical location, to create interesting collisions between like-minded friends or potential partners.

Of course, we are sort of seeing the basis of this with things like Friendster (general social networking), MySpace (Music + social networking), LinkedIn (business social networking), Dodgeball/GPS enabled mobile ventures (geographical social networking), MS Research's MyLifeBits (always-on digital life style recording), Spoke/visible Path (enterprise sales + social networking). Tools like Wikis and others allow us to plan events like TorCamp (done in less than 40 hours of one person's time) and make create more interesting physically collisions take place.

But what if we were able to bring everything together, and have an intelligent "Google-like" service that, in real time, automatically routes you to "semi-random" likely/profitable/interesting physical collisions based on your social network and communication patterns.

Of course, then there's the "always on - location aware - privacy sensitive - uber find-a-date engine" that could be the killer app/extension of the lavalife/'s of the world.

Okay, well, maybe not; maybe that's just too scary.

But certainly, as a general and business social networking possibility, it could be interesting. I'm sure someone out there much smarter than I am on this is already working on something to aggregate all these social network data sources. Perhaps those crazy dodgeball guys at Google are already working on it.

Perhaps it's two high school students in their basements.

But that's the cool thing about software... the next killer implementation (note, not idea -- ideas are a dime a dozen, as they say) could happen anywhere -- and these implementations are likely to come from connecting (usually two) people, people who happen to be thinking along the same lines and can complement each other perfectly to create, innovate, change the way a little piece of the world (or the whole world) works.

Which leads me to why I started this post in the first place. People who are passionate and angry about the status quo, and who want to fix/change/build stuff, need to have a place to gather around the globe to inspire and find each other.

We're working on a crazy idea right now to help people do that in the spirit of TorCamp.

Let me know if you also feel frustrated with a lack of a venue or out to meet and collide with interesting, passionate, driven, angry, innovative people in your geographical area.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Dual Core Brain Needed.

Starting a startup means you need to learn to multi-task.

Not because you want to, but because sometimes you have to.

Like for example right now... I am trouble shooting an upload bug, having a skype chat with Jeneane about our blog strategy, and trying to get this post together.

I need a dual core brain.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A day in the life @ the BubbleLabs

Okay, so this is a repost from the "corporate blog," but i don't care. Those are my pictures and I don't have anything interesting to say right now. So I'll say it with pictures (and voice).

Make sure you turn up your speakers and click on the speaker icon to "unmute" the audio that's embeded in the pictures.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Simplicity is the New Black

There are a couple of people in the history of science that I think, as designers of software, we can learn a lot from.

In researching the pioneers of "simplicity of thought and design," the words of William of Ockham (c.1285-1349) are particularly important. Ockham, you may know, is the guy who brought us "Ockhams Razor."

Ockham's words on the topic break down to the following (after I'm sure many levels of intellectual and linguistic bastardization from its Latin to English translation):

"Given two equally predictive theories, choose the simpler."

In many ways, as designers of software and value offerings, we get caught up in the "cooler" thing, rather than the "simpler." Being a geek first (and wannabe usability-expert CEO second) I intuitively gravitate towards the cool solution. That'’s what makes my hair stand up on the back of my neck, what I'd like to have myself, not necessarily what users want or need.

Thankfully, I'm surrounded by folks who remind me that simpler solution is often the best solution. AND that keeping it simple often leads to "cooler" results, because the simple elegance of a great solution executed well can be very, very cool.

Which brings me to my second quote from Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519):

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

In this day and age great interoperable standards and web services, simplicity and focus are the ultimate weapon for a startup. By focusing on depth, rather than scope, and focus vs. functionality, you achieve great sophistication and results that just aren'’t had by trying to be all things to all people.

As the folks at 37Signals would tell you, "It's all about embracing constraints."

Without the constraints of a limited budget, a limited-size team, and a limited time constraint for product releases, I am sure we at BubbleShare would have never come up with a solution whose hallmark is simplicity and elegance--—at least that's what we are striving for in every release.

Lack of resources forces focus. Focus breeds simplicity. Simplicity creates sophistication. It's a sort of food chain of usability. A natural selection in software.

Conversely, abundant resources often create distractions, which often create complexity, which usually results in crappy products that are confusing, with way too many features that no one really cares about.

I think we've all experienced one or two of those in our life times. ;)

As my initial post in the blogosphere, it's my hope that the running theme of simplicity within this blog will remind me of the historical lessons of simplicity that I need to be mindful of -- that our entire industry should revisit now and again.