Brad Feld

Month: October 2005

A trip to New York isn’t complete without art.  Amy and I managed to squeeze in The Met (mostly modern stuff), the Guggenheim (Russia – top two floors were great, Malevich and Kandinsky are total stars, the rest was portraits of peasants, workers, farmers, and royals), and galleries in Chelsea last weekend.

Chelsea disappointed in a major way this trip.  We did 23rd to 25th street and had high hopes.  I only really liked two artists – Chris Jordan and Danica Phelps.  Both do crazy obsessive stuff (which massively appeals to me) while maintaining a supremely deft touch with their subject.  Maddeningly, the two Jordan’s that I wanted to buy (Circuit Board 1, Circuit Board 2), were both sold.

The best line of the day – alone on a large canvas – was by Robert Price at the Perry Rubenstein Gallery: The way she looks in the morning! She ran after the garbage man and said, “Am I too late for the garbage?” He said, “No, jump in.” …

After about 20 galleries, I felt like I had enough data to make the pronouncement to Amy that “Apple is the dominant IT supplier to the New York Gallery market.”  It was wild to see iMac after iMac after iMac at each gallery.  Amy was not impressed by my powers of observation.

We Media vs. Web 2.0

Oct 05, 2005
Category Education

There are two conferences going on today – We Media and Web 2.0.  Both are sold out, have great speakers, and have generated lots of “pre-conference” buzz (whatever that means.)

They are radically difference conferences addressing the same thing from two totally different perspectives.  The schedules and the agendas tell the complete story.  We Media – all media, all day long – in New York.  Web 2.0 – all tech, for a couple of days – in San Francisco.

Ten years later, the bifurcation on the Internet between tech and media seems as big as ever.  I wonder which party is going to be more fun (actually, I don’t, but it was a good closing line.)

It appears that Google has finally officially declared war on Microsoft.  I find this completely perplexing, as I’d think a more effective strategy would be to simply sidestep the whole desktop OS / app thing and just continue to innovate like crazy.  Why pick a fight when you don’t need to?

NewsGator announced today that it has acquired NetNewsWire, the most popular Mac-based RSS reader.  Many of the folks involved, including Brent Simmons (NetNewsWire), Greg Reinacker (NewsGator CTO / founder), Nick Bradbury (FeedDemon creator – now part of NewsGator), Sandy Hamilton (NewsGator EVP Sales/Marketing), and JB Holston (NewsGator CEO).  Rather than repeat what they’ve said, I’ll try to cover different ground.

When I originally invested in NewsGator in June 2004, the company consisted of Greg Reinacker and one other part time person.  I wrote a post describing why I invested in NewsGator.  In September 2004, I wrote a post about NewsGator’s new CEO and how Greg and I worked through the notion that I thought it was critically important to bring on a partner early in the business as CEO so Greg could focus on what he did best.

Greg then went to town.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been only a year since JB joined the company and 15 months since I made my initial investment.  In February 2005, Greg posted NewsGator’s product roadmap and put a firm stake in the ground about what he wanted to build.  In May 2005, NewsGator acquired FeedDemon (and added the incredibly talented Nick Bradbury to the team), filling a clear hole in the product roadmap.  The NetNewsWire acquisition is similar – NewsGator now has a Mac client to add to its family along with another hugely capable guy on the team – Brent Simmons.)  Oh – and NewsGator shipped their Enterprise Server product on Friday.

So – why are we doing this?  One word – “platform.”  Rich Tong and John Zagula (both ex-Microsoft – now partners at Ignition Partners) have written an excellent book called The Marketing Playbook on a series of different strategies a software company can take.  The platform play is one of them and the one we are executing at NewsGator (and at FeedBurner).

As a result of my blog and all the stats I collect, I have insight into the way people are using (or not using) RSS to consume content.  While I have access to other data as well, my FeedBurner subscriber stats are incredibly useful as I don’t have any “inappropriately biasing” data (e.g. none of the newsreader default feeds list my blog – automatically including them in my user counts).  In addition, I have the law of large numbers on my side (with n > 4000 subscribers and all of the top 10 readers having n > 75, I’ve got a decent shot at qualifying for statistical significance.)

The top 10, in order, are:

  1. Bloglines: 1384
  2. (NewsGator) Online: 627
  3. My Yahoo: 295
  4. (NewsGator) FeedDemon: 285
  5. (NewsGator) NetNewsWire: 238
  6. Firefox Live Bookmarks: 227
  7. FeedBlitz (email): 202
  8. Rojo: 133
  9. SharpReader: 109
  10. (NewsGator) Outlook: 79

I won’t bore you with rate of change data, but I have that as well and – while Bloglines is still the largest – their rate of change has slowed materially over the past few months while the various NewsGator products have accelerated.  Amazingly, there are another 45 different readers with at least 2 reported subscribers, and many more with only 1 (of which a number of them are clearly not reporting their subscriber counts to FeedBurner – something that will improve over time.)

As a huge consumer of RSS-based content (my current blogroll has around 350 feeds that I monitor daily), I bounce around between NewsGator’s various products.  Historically I’ve used NewsGator Outlook.  Recently, I’ve been exercising FeedDemon (and loving it) – especially combined with NewsGator Online.  Occasionally, I’ll use NewsGator Mobile on my T-Mobile Sidekick.  My Mac at home has NetNewsWire on it and once sync with NewsGator Online is completed, I’ll use it when I’m home.  Now that NewsGator Enterprise is in production, I’ll de-install NewsGator Outlook on my machines and simply roll with NewsGator Enterprise to feed my inbox.  NewsGator’s sync platform underlies all of this capability as I have a completely seamless transition between products. 

Now that most of the key pieces to the platform, including the API, are in place, NewsGator Enterprise edition is out, and Nick is almost able to code like a maniac again, look for rapid innovation on all fronts, especially NewsGator Online.

When I was a child, I had a fleeting glimpse of my future.  My mother used to tell me to “pay attention” as my brain wandered off to something else. Little did I know that – according to Dave and Seth – I was training for my current gig

My training went so well that when Amy says, “Brad, have you been listening to me?” I can repeat back the last few sentences that she’d said. This continues to be one of my favorite marital party tricks.

18 Miles of Books

Oct 03, 2005
Category Books

I love books (I know, hard to tell).  Yesterday, before we saw Serenity, Amy and I ended up in the Strand Book Store at 828 Broadway (and 12th).  It was unbelievably great – 18 miles of books, lots of old stuff – some dusty, some yellowy, but all delightfully full of paper.  And – most remarkably – there wasn’t a chair or a latte in sight.  Just like your father’s bookstore used to be.

Amy and I saw Serenity yesterday, along with $10m worth of other people.  We loved it.  This morning, while I was running over the Brooklyn Bridge with Matt Blumberg, I asked him what he thought of it (he saw it yesterday also).  He was unambiguous – he didn’t like it.  I probed a little, found out he hadn’t seen the TV series (amazing show, but cancelled after a dozen episodes or so) and it was clear that he didn’t understand a lot of the movie.

It’s a fantastic movie.  However, I’m going to guess that you have to at least be familiar with the backstory to get it.  And – like other movies that evolved out of TV shows (e.g. The X-Files) I’ll bet that you have to love and have befriended the characters already to understand all the jokes, bantering, and double entredres.  If you haven’t seen the TV show, but want to see the movie, spend some time on the Firefly Wiki getting up to speed (c’mon – you’ve got to love a TV show that has its own wiki.)  Or – try the fan blog if you want to keep up real time with the chatter.  Or – go hardcore and watch the TV show Firefly on DVD in four days like Amy and I did.

Yes – Joss Whedon is a genius.  Jayne caused me to fall out of my chair when he said – referring to River – “she’s starting to damage my calm.”

It Will Ship In Q3

Oct 03, 2005
Category Investments

On August 4th, Greg Reinacker – NewsGator founder and CTO – announced NewsGator Enterprise Server and stated that it would ship in Q3.  On Friday night, September 30, at 7:28pm (Mountain Time) Greg sent out an email stating “FYI – build 3202 was declared “gold” at 7:13pm tonight.” 

In my first company, we had an enormous amount of scrutiny on releases as we shipped them all the time.  Since we wrote custom software, we often updated our customers’ systems and – as a result – were releasing software for clients as frequently as daily (although typically we tried to stay on an approximately once a month cycle.)  Since we usually had more than 20 active clients at a time, we could have a half a dozen releases in any given week.

For a while, we’d say things like “we’ll release it on Tuesday.”  We eventually figured out that this meant (at least to the person working on the software) “I can work on this up until 11:59:59pm on Tuesday, at which point the client will be asleep anyway, so I can let it slip until Wednesday morning and finish it up then early before the client gets to work.”  You can imagine what this devolved into. 

We eventually started specifying date / time pairs for releases – it was ok to release something on 9/30 @ 11:59pm (or 9/30 @ 12:01pm).  9/31 @ 12:01am didn’t work, although I’m sure someone tried.

So – 9/30 @ 7:28pm counts for Q3.  Congrats NewsGator. 

At dinner last night with Scott Moody (the founder of Throw – which was acquired by Excite in 1998), we began talking about the difference on the web between groups and individuals.  While we slurped down our intensely spicy Vietnamese soup, Scott suggested that much of the current generation of web software has a conceptual design flaw – namely that it has been created for individuals (one) rather than groups (many) even though it is used by many (and the great utility of most of the software is when it is used by many).

We batted the idea around for a while as the plates of food covered with fire came and went.  Amy and I have been struggling with this problem as we’ve tried to collaborate on a few things recently using new web-based software and haven’t been able to get everything “just right” (ask Amy about organizing “our” photos).  When I reflect on the challenges, it comes back to the notion that the software we are using is really designed to be used by a single user (vs. a group of users).  There is no concept of workflow, no shared storage, no intra-process communication, and no notion of shared conflicts that need to be resolved.

When I first started designing PC-based custom database applications in the 1980’s, we used to differentiate between “single-user” and “multi-user” mode, as data sharing issues were different (non-existent) in single-user mode and you could do performance optimization that you couldn’t do in multi-user mode.  As hardware became faster and the database software built in more levels of abstraction, this distinction disappeared.  However, we had long since shifted our designs to multi-user mode in almost all cases as it was the general case (where single-user mode was simply multi-user model with #users=1).

It seems like the same issue applies here.  There are some specific cases where multi-user design has been embedded in the app (wiki’s immediately come to mind), but many of the current web apps are decidedly single-user or – even if they support “multiple-users” – clearly have a single-user feel to them making their design suboptimal for a group of more than one users.

So – is many a special case for one or is one a special case for many?  All Lisp programmers know the answer – do you?