People in IT are familiar with cloud computing.  While some may argue the exact definition of the term itself, I think we can agree on one thing- Microsoft is confusing people with its commercials on “the cloud”

I have seen three Microsoft commercials regarding this topic:

Airport

The product Microsoft is touting here is Windows Live Mesh.  While this product does offer file synchronization and other cloud based functionality, the feature shown here is remote desktop access.  Remote Desktop access to a windows PC has been around for a very long time and has absolutely nothing to do with cloud computing.  Casually talking to a non-IT person about this commercial also revealed that it gives consumers the impression that they can accomplish this anywhere without mentioning the need that you need a decent internet connection.  I did notice an “Internet required” message at the very end of the commercial in an almost blended manner that you can easily miss it.

Family Photo

The product touted here is Photo Fuse from Windows Live Photo Gallery.  This feature has nothing to do with cloud computing and I don’t see much of anything here that could not be done by most photo editing software.  Posting on facebook does not use the cloud either and even though you can use Microsoft’s cloud based online storage SkyDrive, that is not what is brought to light here. 

Boxmas

This commercial touts Windows Live Movie Maker that is included in Windows Live Essentials 2011.  This product allows one to edit a movie and post it online.  Again, this has nothing to do with cloud computing and there are plenty of video editing programs out there that provide the same functionality.

Startup

The product touted in this commercial is Office 365, Azzure and Hyper V Server.  This is the only product in the series that does fully utilize and leverage cloud computing.  With Google Apps, Zoho, Amazon EC2, being around for quite some time now, there is absolutely nothing new here.

In the end, my gripe with Microsoft is that they are using “cloud computing” as a marketing buzzword and misleading consumers about this concept and technology.  My message to Microsoft is simple, don’t mislead and find a different buzz word to show the consumer that you are catching up with other products on the market.

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Over the past year I have come across several startups that tried to outsource or have a small team build their product without proper requirements and either did not get a finished product or got something completely different.  Now cash strapped, they wanted to build the product as cheap as possible.  Cheap meaning mostly if not completely based on equity.

I try to help startups as much as possible.  One particular example, I was able to line 3-4 developers that were willing to give some of their time for equity and I even started working on high level requirements for equity.  The problem arose that since no one was being paid (myself included) progress was very slow.  There was a lot of wasted time between finally getting requirements done (the concept was still being flushed out and refined) and getting the developers engaged since no one was full time.  The developers, while intrigued by the idea, were not fully bought in due to the fact that this was not paying them so they worked on it in their ‘free’ time.  Eventually the developers got disengaged and the startup had just bits and pieces of their concept.  I tried to get some outsourcing companies to do the work but they wanted at least their costs covered.  While understandably reasonable request, still not within budget.  In the end, the startup was still at square one and precious time lost but in the end they took a chance on trying to get things done for free and it didn’t work out.

I admit I was naive to believe that part time work from non founding unpaid developers working for just equity would be something that could deliver a project.  Simply put I got too caught up in the concept and trying to help but I should have been a bit more practical and I should have listened to the logical side of me that told me otherwise.  I should have pressed for the startup to raise funding to build the prototype.  In my opinion, the valuation they would have gotten with just a prototype and no traction would have been comparable to a PowerPoint valuation. 

I firmly believe unless a startup has is building a product full time by either the founding team or a paid team (in house or outsourced), it is very hard to get their concept/product realized.  I don’t intend for people to overpay to get things built but as the old adage goes- “nothing comes free”.

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I constantly run across entrepreneurs that have some good and some great ideas.  These concepts are vetted at a high level or have full detail specs. The entrepreneur has an in house or outsourced team building or ready to build the product.  They are looking at a high cost and lengthy implementation time line to build out their full product.

Whether the startup is bootstrapped or seed funded the founder(s) must do something that most are unwilling to do – Compromise!  Why?  Simply put, they need to take it one step at a time but each step requires compromises.  These compromises should reduce over time but the key to remember is that there are two primary drivers for these compromises:

  • Time to Market (TTM)
  • Cost

The above two factors should dictate the compromises made to build the the three main phases of the product:

  • Proof Of Concept (PoC)
  • Prototype
  • Production

Proof of Concept

This phase should focus on the core concept with many compromises and its goal is to prove that you can build the technology that delivers your idea.  In my opinion, look and feel of the user interface should not be a focus but if it applies- design should.  This phase should cost the least amount and should have the quickest turnaround.  Again the goal is to prove you can build it.  This is a true ‘”alpha” version of your product.

 Prototype

This phase should focus on extending the PoC so you can gauge traction of your idea.  Your focus should be User Experience Design (UED) and implementing some of the higher priority compromises made in the PoC phase to prove viability of the idea.  This will cost more than the PoC phase but TTM should remain aggressive.  You may also call this your “beta” version of your product.

 Production

This phase focuses on growth and metrics.  The prototype should be taken to the next level where you implement the remaining high priority compromises made and bring the User Interface (UI) to a close to finished look.  This is where some more compromises have to be made as you have to apply the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) on past compromised functionality/features otherwise you will TTM for Live to Site (LTS) will be astronomical.  This phase will be your longest as far as TTM and your costliest but at this point you should have vetted out enough of the product to feel confident you can fully take it to market.

Pareto Principle

I believe this principle should be a mantra for startups for not just initial product phases but also projects post production version LTS.  I recall working on projects where the “nice to have” portions or the UI took up most of the implementation time line.  Applying the Pareto Principle and making compromises would have reduced the TTM for those projects to assess their value.  I am a firm believer that you build the base feature set that can prove viability by garnering meaningful traction by your customers.  If the base set show Return on Investment (ROI) or meaningful traction then you have the ability to phase in your remaining compromises.  In my opinion, for startups even projects should at least go through a prototype phase before they reach full production phase.

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This weekend I read the article Report: Facebook and Twitter Slowly Replacing Email’ posted on Social Times.  The article refers to a Garner article Gartner Reveals Five Social Software Predictions for 2010 and Beyond that claims:

By 2014, social networking services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 percent of business users.

This prediction would be easier to accept if it wasn’t quantified as business email.  While I have seen a percentage of personal interaction start to channel through Facebook Messages and Twitter Direct Messages.  So far, I have received three business related messages through Facebook and not a single one of this emails were followed up through Facebook.  Once contact was established, we pursued the discussions through normal email communication.  For me, the most business related messages come through Linked In but even then, anything that is beyond a couple back and forths, is moved to traditional email communication.  I don’t see this trend changing over the next four years and would be hard pressed to see it change that much.

Reasons for my belief above are simple:

  1. Data retention – With my email account I control data retention with regards to how long I want to keep both received and sent emails.
  2. Attachments – Attachments are very much a big part of business communication.
  3. Threaded Conversations involving some or all participants – I can respond to all and keep a thread of communication but I also have the ability to create mini-threads with a select group of participants for related but not meant for full audience subjects.
  4. Frequency of Synchronization – I can get email alerts using Email Clients/Checkers and Mobile Device Applications.
  5. Privacy – I don’t have to share my personal information with everyone that I send emails to.
  6. Offline Access – Need I say more?
  7. Intangibles – Labels in GMail, Advanced Search options, Storing hundreds of emails, and Calendar to mention a few.

While the above are not insurmountable they are certainly challenges to the Social Networking platforms.  I believe #1, #2 and #5 will be the top contenders to keep Social Networking platforms away from stealing that 20% that Gartner predicts they will.

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Launching a new job site in this economy could be deemed as not profitable.  Two new job sites aren’t looking for profit (as of yet) but using innovation and technology.  Splits.org and Hash#Jobs are two such sites.  These are experimental job sites that leverage data aggregation of certain tags on Twitter.  They will battle spam and “freshness” as stated by this Cheezhead article.  The user experience in such cases will be the battle these two sites have to win though Hash#Jobs seems to have more of an uphill battle due to the use of a more general tag.  Even though Hash#Jobs users are pre-approved, it doesn’t guarantee “freshness” but it may reduce spam.  Splits.org shares the same battle.

 

I use the word “freshness” in relations to a job posting to define how up to date the job information is and active the job poster is too.  This is a term that Dayak defined over a year ago to make the lives of its recruiters easier.  We would send email notifications to a job poster when a job has not had any “activity” for a pre-defined duration.  If a job goes through the reminder process with no new activity or no action from the job poster to confirm that the job is still active, Dayak closes the job posting.  This keeps jobs “fresh”.  The project was fondly called “Bad Job Filter”.  As time evolved, the project has gone through fine tuning but still remains a key part of ensuring job “freshness”, though we do throttle it now and again.

 

Combining this “freshness” concept with the aggregation concepts above, could provide to be powerful, but would have challenges on its own.  I hope ideas such as these do well and new ones keep popping up.  Its Re-“Freshing” to come across such concepts.

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Wow, so less than a week after my last post commented on how Google Apps was a good alternative for startups such as Dayak, Microsoft announces a new initiative called BizSpark.

BizSpark is an innovative new program that unites Startups with entrepreneurial and technology resources in a global community with a common goal of supporting and accelerating the success of a new generation of high-potential Startups.

This certainly mixes things up for startups but I don’t believe this changes much for a SMB. For a startup you know have access to Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Sharepoint and Microsoft Development and Server software for 3 years for a mere $100 up front fee. If you have someone that can administer the various products, it would be hard pressed for a startup to not try to qualify for this offering -

http://download.microsoft.com/download/4/d/4/4d41081a-d8d9-407a-9bae-5127e6e931ca/BizSpark%20Startup%20Program%20Guide.pdf

Does this make me think about moving Dayak to Microsoft products and trying to qualify Dayak? No, the minimal administration needs and no hardware benefit of Google Apps is still a compelling reason for Dayak to remain with our current setup. Could we make a switch later? Sure, anything is possible but a big unknown is how difficult it is to get approved.

Outside of the internal use of Microsoft’s offering, there is a more compelling reason to use Microsoft for development and production environment. By deferring the cost of Microsoft Server products, this initiative offers a startup enough runway to validate their business model without incurring the heavy upfront cost of software licensing. This may prove useful to many startups.

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Who doesn’t know about Google Apps? Steve Ballmer recently dismissed Google Apps. I do agree with him to a certain degree that Google Apps can’t fight Microsoft alone BUT the combination of OpenOffice and Google Apps must have Steve Ballmer sweating.

Its hard to deny that Google Apps and OpenOffice isn’t a compelling option. Steve Ballmer’s response shows a bit of arrogance that Microsoft could perhaps have afforded 10 years ago but not anymore. At Dayak we have people that use Microsoft Office and some that use OpenOffice. Why don’t we have it standardized? The reasons range from Operating Systems (Mac, Linux and Windows), costs and comfort level of the user them self. We are ok with that due to what Google Apps provides.

Where Google Apps comes into play is the ability to share, collaborate and view files without installing converters. So not only does it save us money on Microsoft licenses and Microsoft Sharepoint but also on administration costs of the same.

We also get 7GB email accounts and calendaring that don’t require us to have an Admin for an in house Microsoft Exchange or equivalent system. Our employees get a great web interface or the comfort of using Outlook Express or Outlook or Thunderbird. I know there are great options like Zimbra or Spicebird but those do incur administration costs. For Dayak we have no in house server for any of this and Google Apps takes care of all of our needs including Email backup for a nominal per user fee. We used to run our own email server using Postfix but the features we get bundled with Google Apps and with no Administration overhead, I couldn’t be happier.

Got Intranet? Yes, we do with Google Sites. Another benefit of Google apps that allows us to have an wiki style intranet with no cost of a in house hardware or administration.

So Dayak like probably many startups are following a recent trend. A trend that will save us a lot of money in the long run. Just notch us up as a Google Apps fan and avid user. I hope Steve Ballmer opens his eyes to what is really going on and acknowledge that this compelling option of Google Apps and OpenOffice is something Microsoft will have to compete with.

So… Do you “Google Apps”?

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I was at The Continental in Mid-Town Philadelphia on Friday night and ordered a Martini on the rocks.  When I ordered it at the downstairs bar, it was put in a 6 oz glass and I was fairly disappointed with what I received for the price point.  Heading to the upstairs bar, I ordered the same drink again and got the same 6oz glass but this time I got a shaker with more in it.  The product inconsistency spoke volumes to me about the training of the staff at The Continental.  Product Consistency is a theme that Restaurants live and die by and go in circles trying to achieve.  From pouring a drink to food cooking and from taking an order to serving the food- it all comes down to being consistent with what management wants.

 

Product Consistency is not something that just the hospitality industry struggles with, it is prevalent in almost every industry.  In the technology arena, the goal is to get consistency in coding style, naming conventions, code quality and performance.  Inconsistency will cause site crashes, poor performance and constant refactoring (rewriting) of code.  This may or may not impact a product like it does in the hospitality industry but it certainly can be counter-productive.  In the product management and user interface design world, the goal is to be consistent in design, interface, usability and functionality.  Dr. Michael Maddox, a senior scientist at HumanCentric Technologies, simply put it as- ‘If you can’t get it right, at least be consistent.’.  You can read his opinion here.  There is a fine line with regards to consistency as pointed out here.  While I agree with the argument, I believe the title is misleading.  Consistency in a product or design does not necessarily mean you want to conform with others (though it may make sense in some cases).  I believe consistency within your product offering that is more important.

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Why “Too Many Ideas and Not Enough Time”?

I have plenty of ideas.  Not all are great but just a lot of them but rarely the time to move on them.  I have seen some get implemented by others and be successful.  Now, I make an effort to try to prototype or get some traction on them.  I love the tagline ‘Ideating’ and I believe it identifies what I strive to do.

Why “Technologist that is an Entrepreneur and an Entrepreneur that is a Technologist“?

Simple – I am Technologist first but love business just as much.  I have spent just as much time reading about technology as I have about business.  I am constantly trying to learn and attain as much knowledge as possible so I can be an asset in whatever situation I am put in.

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