Geoffrey Moore on Open Source Computing

Ross Mayfield blogs about a talk given by Geoffrey Moore at OSBC:

He takes uses audience to place products.

* Linux Server OS is passing through tornado.
* Linux Client OS is in early adopter phase
* Embedded Linux is in Early market
* Firefox is in the chasm (this is progress, it means you have achieved a constituency in the early market and you need to appeal to new constituencies, some don’t want to go there [e.g. plugin madness])
* MySQL is in the Bowling Alley — a persistent economic entity, which allows people to build out infrastructure on top if it
* JBoss — late market
* Apache — late market
* Enterprise Consulting — main street
* Support Services — main street

Open source’s most important role is to commodities context processes so people can extract them and re-purpose them for the core.

Software Company’s Efforts

Joel Spolsky writes:

A ridiculously small portion of the energy it takes to make a commercial software product actually goes into the writing of lines of code. I would estimate that out of every 100 calories expended by the Fog Creek team:

25 calories are spent on customer service
55 calories are spent on debugging, beta testing, and minor tweaks
8 calories are spent on marketing, including the Fog Creek website
5 calories are spent reading college kids’ resumes and interviewing said college kids
5 calories are spent on code that never ships, such as the online demo and the online store

Leaving just:

2 calories spent on actually writing new lines of code that ship to a customer.

Greasemonkey as a Lightweight Intermediary

Simon Willison writes:

The latest release of the swiss army knife of Firefox extensions adds support for cross-domain XMLHttpRequest calls from greasemonkey scripts. What that means is that you can create a user script (a short JavaScript that will be executed whenever your browser loads specific pages) that can then pull extra data in from another server.

I’m using this for my final year project, a decentralised web annotation system that lets you annotate pages, storing your annotations locally and then sharing your public annotations as a feed (similar to the way RSS aggregators work). The trick there is to run a local web server on some port, then have the Greasemonkey user script (eventually a full extension) communicate with that local server to store and retrieve data. I’m using Ruby on Rails’ built in WEBrick server to prototype the service, and it’s working a treat.

This architecture could be easily adapted to add private bookmarks to – or to add any number of cool features to any number of other sites. Here’s another example: Google’s Desktop Search integrates results from your local drive with the search results page on Google. Using greasemonkey and a local web server tied in to OS X Tiger’s Spotlight indexer, you could add this functionality to any search site you wanted to. Just be sure to lock down the web server to only serve requests from localhost, to avoid sharing search results for your data with anyone on the network who can see your machine.

Search Customisation

Knowledge@Wharton has an article on a talk by Jeff Weiner, senior vice president for search and marketplace at Yahoo!:

Weiner’s company and its rival, Google, are the web’s gatekeepers: They not only monitor a huge swath of Internet traffic but to some extent control it. Their decisions about search design and ad placement determine what users see when they search. That gives Weiner a vantage point from which to observe the media’s evolution. He said that bloggers and their proponents have misconstrued the direction of the media’s post-web changes. The future, he predicted, won’t belong to either mass or micro players, but rather to consumers who will increasingly tailor their information gathering to their needs and tastes. “The future is going to be ‘my media,'” he said.

An example is the personalized home pages that people already are building via services such as My Yahoo! On these pages, users can link to their favorite blogs and favorite newspapers. “‘My media’ enables people to consume media on their own terms,” Weiner explained.

The move toward more personal media isn’t limited to the web, he said. Its musical analog is the digital music player — iPods are the most prominent example — which lets users not only download songs but also mix and store them in varied ways. The TV versions are TiVo’s digital video recorders and cable’s on-demand video services. “Talk to people who have TiVo, and they will tell you that it absolutely changed their lives,” Weiner noted. “TiVo users have an evangelical zeal.”

Internet search engines, for their part, are also moving toward greater personalization, he said. Searches are increasingly effective — often delivering users’ desired results on the first try — because search companies have continued to refine their search software, and because users have become savvier. “Today, tens of millions of searches are unique queries,” Weiner pointed out. “They are only performed once.” That suggests that users aren’t just typing in a common word and hoping for pay dirt. Instead, they are devising complex queries to narrow their results.

TECH TALK: When Things Go Wrong: Dealing with Failure (Part 2)

One question which people ask me is: how do you know it is the right idea? What makes a failed entrepreneur confident that the next idea has the potential to be successful? In my case, how did I realise that IndiaWorld would work better than Image WorkBench?

There are two answers to these questions. The first relates to a gut feel which an entrepreneur just knows like a mother who is always magically aware of the babys needs. The second is that an entrepreneur doesnt really know and just does what needs to be done hoping for different results. In my case in 1994, probably both were true in equal parts.

Gut feel is hard to explain but it cannot be ignored. At times, one gets into businesses not by some pre-ordained plan, but through a series of happy accidents. That was the case for me too during 1992-94. Yes, I knew I wanted to do something different, interesting and big. But image processing solutions was not something I had planned on when I returned to India in 1992. It emerged out of a project we had done and a sense of opportunities in the space. There were no unique experiences of my own that I was getting at that time.

At the same time, as I thought through the ideas for IndiaWorld, there was an inner connection. I had spent a few years in the US and the service I was planning to create was targeted at this set of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). So, I had a better sense of what the needs and pain points were. This is where the gut feel comes in. At times, there is a sixth sense which tells the entrepreneur that this is the path one needs to be walking on.

Paulo Coelhos book The Alchemist makes a similar point through the fable of the shepherd. If one decides to do something, events around us will help us provided we are looking. So it was in my case. Even though I had little experience of setting up a media property, my passion and belief in what we were doing helped to get the venture off to a good start. And then, things start slowly falling into place. For others to help us knowingly or unknowingly, we need to create the right environment and framework to accept that external assistance.

Did I know that IndiaWorld was the right thing and one day it will become big? No. When we started, the dreams were there as in every venture. But I had no idea of the future. At that stage, coming from a series of failures, I wasnt thinking too far ahead. I just wanted to prove to myself and others that I could build a profitable business. Yes, I was hoping that this would be big I had thought enough about the fundamentals of the business. But for that to succeed, we would have to do everything right and others would have to make a few mistakes along the way. Luckily, that is what happened!

In his comment, Krishna Iyer highlighted two key factors which can help entrepreneurs succeed: passion, and an eye for detail. Passion is one hell of a must-have quality. If that shakes up then the whole venture loses the thrill and charm of pursuing the goals. But as you have highlighted, it could be a misguided belief as well or maybe executing those ideas flawed along the path. The ability of the entrepreneur to keep track of details is extremely important. Be it finance, sales, marketing, admin.. When we start small it is pretty much resting on one/two individuals. But subsequently, these can be delegated as well. While being passionate about the concept, often details related to funding, profitability, fixed costs, marginal costs, time to deliver, understanding of the depth and breadth of the market, are some factors that either get overlooked or under-attended to. An entrepreneur has to get just the right balance.

In my case, it was some part vision and some part luck on the execution front which helped me get out of the first failure. While I cannot still say what will get me out of the present failure, I think I am starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Tomorrow: The Present Situation

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