All posts by dj

October 11, 2005 SDF Leveraging Web APIs

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New Business Opportunities: Leveraging Web APIs
By DJ Cline

On Tuesday October 11, 2005 at the Emerging Technology SIG hosted a panel to talk about new business opportunities leveraging web APIs. Scott Irwin from El Dorado Ventures moderated the panel of heavy hitters in front of a jam-packed crowd. It consisted of Adam Trachtenberg of E-Bay, Chris DiBona of Google APIs, Jeff Barr of Amazon Web Services, Robert Goldberg of IdeaLab, Toni Schneider of Yahoo APIs, John Rodkin, CEO of F2 (a new startup using web APIs).

For the past three years, more companies like Amazon, E-Bay, Google and Yahoo are offering web services APIs with more features and functionality to independent developers. The panel talked about their strategies for encouraging new startups like IdeaLab that are recognizing and changing the industry’s infrastructure.

E-Bay believes their acquisitions of PayPal and Skype complement each other and create a space for innovation. They supply over a hundred web APIs free, with over 20 percent of them generated by third parties.

Google thinks the trend is to recreate the desktop experience using the web by creating a simple baseline of code and making it widely available. Their success with Google Maps is in an example of third party developers taking a simple API and adapting it to their own uses, like finding restaurants or apartments.

Amazon talked about ECS, Alexa Web information Service (AWIS) and Simple Queue Service (SQS). They believe their demos can show developers how to build their own stores in hours.

Yahoo offers outbound and inbound openness for developers. Outbound is for APIs and web development for user groups and news. Inbound is for publishing into the Yahoo network, using RSS feeds to push content into the network. The result has been the success of Flickr for photos and the promise of Confabulator for pulling data and displays outside of browser.

IdeaLab has worked with Yahoo to collect data from the commons and create APIs to search, find and act on the that data.

There was a general agreement that more standards are needed and that each API requires unique wrappers for each environment. XML is the becoming the one standard they could all agree upon. To encourage user trust, data should be portable and not proprietary. You should be able to take it with you. As for tools, Greasemonkey was agreed to have the greatest potential. Finally, for making money, ads are the proven way to go. Riskier strategies mentioned were vertical selling like movie tickets, finding ways to drive traffic, scraping sites, or writing tailored scripts for niche markets.

DJ Cline
Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.

September 22, 2005 SDF Ray Kurzweil

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On Thursday September 22, 2005, Ray Kurzweil spoke at a special SDForum event at SAP’s Palo Alto headquarters. Introduced by Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Kurzweil talked about his latest book, The Singularity Is Near.

Since the 1970s, Kurzweil has pushed at the frontiers of technological development. He developed optical character readers, print-to-speech readers for the blind, music synthesizers and large-vocabulary speech recognition products. Combining his own direct experience and observing the rapid technological innovation around him, he wrote a series of books detailing his view of the future. Kurzweil believes that machine intelligence will someday be greater than human intelligence, resulting in what he calls the Singularity.

Moore’s Law is only part of the process he sees coming together. There will be exponential and synergistic growth beyond the limits of price, performance and bandwidth. He thinks nanotechnology and assistive technology will augment the way humans perform. He considers the understanding of DNA as software as an important breakthrough in extending human life. DNA is an example of self-organizing systems becoming complex from a few simple rules. Artificial intelligence could develop along the same lines by studying the human brain.

Scanning brain activity will help map out and create software models of the human mind. Reverse engineering of the brain will create blueprints for artificial intelligence. By 2020, there might be enough computing power to simulate a single human brain, but eventually there will be enough power to exceed the capacity of every person on the planet.

When will this happen? Predicting the success of a specific technology or product is difficult, but Kurzweil casts a wide net and can come back with some general predictions.
He made his argument using a series of charts with exponential lines and cascading S-curves marching inevitably toward Singularity. While the Agricultural Revolution took thousands of years and the Industrial Revolution took hundreds, the Information Revolution will take only a generation or two. Kurzweil says Singularity is near, possibly by 2045.

In the near future, he showed a demonstration of a simultaneous language translator from Europe. Google is working on a data driven model that would equal professional human translators. Such technology could easily transform doing business on a global scale. Nanotubes could be used to create three-dimensional circuits to add speed. Neurological implants can download software to treat Parkinson’s disease. Nanotechnology could create artificial red blood cells called respirocytes to carry oxygen or microbovores to fight infection.

Farther into the future, people will be able to immerse themselves in virtual realities and share them with others with what he called experience beamers. Virtual versions of people could be backed up on a network and downloaded when needed. Of course, this opens the possibility of employees being downloaded and downsized.

When asked if such software would be Windows or Linux, he said there would be a future for both open source and proprietary software. My advice? Start backing up your files, the Singularity is near.

DJ Cline
Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.

February 15, 2005 SDF Tom Siebel

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Tom Siebel: Lessons in Leadership

On Tuesday, February 15, 2005, Tom Seibel talked about leadership at Santa Clara’s Network Meeting Center.

Siebel moved from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to Oracle in the early 1980s, when relational databases were more theoretical than practical. For the rest of that decade, he helped build Oracle into a market leader. When he started, Oracle had 40 employees. When he left, it had 12,000. By the 1990s, Siebel was CEO of multimedia pioneer Gain Technology, merging with Sybase in 1992. The next year he founded Siebel Systems and created the entirely new industry of Customer Resource Management (CRM).

Successful people tend to be perfectionists about what they do. They find an opportunity and execute. He observed and took advantage of the opportunities at Oracle, Gain and Siebel Systems.

For CRM, Siebel saw an unexpected opportunity. He says if you have an idea, don’t get talked out of it, just do it. There was a need for customer service applications and that no one else was addressing. Despite the automation of processes like payroll or manufacturing, there was nothing comparable for sales or marketing. Siebel started out with people he had worked with before and $50,000. They leased an office in East Palo Alto for 11 cents a square foot, stocked it with used furniture and PCs. For the next year they interviewed potential customers about their needs, from Amgen to Cisco. They asked if you wanted to do this or that, what would it look like? From that, they developed a prototype from the customer’s expectations. Siebel sees the success of his business as customer satisfaction. Find out what they want and deliver it.

Sounding like Mr. Micawber from David Copperfield, Siebel said the key to success is to make a profit. If you make more than you spend you will succeed. In 1994, the company made $50,000. When he stepped down as CEO in 2004, it made $1.5 billion with $2.3 billion in cash. They grew from that first application to 400 products in 25 languages.

Siebel believes an important part of such success is human capital. Recruit and train the right people. No gadget or technology will solve the problem faster than the right team. To motivate people, reward them with employee ownership. When he started the company, he owned 100%, today only 10%. Giving employees a stake in the company gives them a stake in its success. While he recognizes the contributions of venture capitalists, the right idea with motivated people in a large and underserved market can win. Siebel is perplexed why this has become unfashionable. He is concerned that the current tax and regulatory environment in Silicon Valley does not encourage new business.

He thinks that China and India have enormous opportunities for entrepreneurs. Web Services will be as big as the Internet. As for possible piracy and IP considerations, in the future there are no secrets, so deliver a good product. Your people will make the difference. They buy your products, they want your people.

As for leadership, lead by example. Be ethical, have a strong work ethic and work harder than anybody else. If a customer has a problem, drop everything, find out what it is and solve it.

Siebel had an interesting statistic about market share. When you become market leader with a 50% share, your next largest competitor will have 15% and the next will have 10%. He said he sees this again and again. If the market goes through a normal boom/bust cycle, only the market leader will be making a profit. In some ways, it resembles Jack Welch’s strategy at GE in the 1980s, where he recommended pulling out of any market they were not the leader.

Siebel did not think the Oracle takeover of Peoplesoft would go well. He said it might be worse than HP’s merger with Compaq. He thinks it is hard to motivate people if you say you are going to fire them and kill their product line. When told he was on Oracle’s takeover list, he said he was flattered.

Siebel also explained the urban legend of the Siebel dress code. He believes that when a customer from anywhere in the world shows up at your door, your people should have an appropriate appearance. Part of customer satisfaction is that you should adjust to the customer’s expectations, not yours. This was in stark contrast to the t-shirt and sneakers, bring your dog to work culture of the dot-com boom, but those companies are gone and his has prospered.

When selling, know your stuff and then learn their stuff. The difference between a car salesman and software salesman is that the car salesman knows when he is lying. Eventually, a customer will know too.

DJ Cline
Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.

About Town

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About Town
by Ben Yagoda
Another exhaustive book about The New Yorker Magazine. Yagoda went through donated archives and comes up with a detailed story about how a magazine took shape and fossilized. A lesson to those who want to build a brand in publishing.

DJ Cline
Copyright 2005