Monthly Archives: March 2008

VC admits he hates boring PowerPoints

The coolest new product I saw at the Under the Radar conference was SlideRocket. It wasn’t just me, either. They won best of show overall as rated by both the judges as well as the audience. In this video you’ll hear me talking with Mitch Grasso, CEO of SlideRocket.

At one point in his presentation he really got my attention when he put a table on his presentation, just like Microsoft Powerpoint lets you do, but then hooked it up to live data from a Google Spreadsheet and the table filled in with live data. SlideRocket is a presentation system (works both in a browser as well as an Adobe AIR app) that looks a bit like PowerPoint, albeit with some cool new effects and collaboration built in, along with the ability to hook up to Web Services with a click of the mouse. He did the same thing with data from Salesforce. Oh, my. He had me eating out of his hand at that point.

Anyway, this isn’t really why I turned on my cell phone camera. Why did I do that? Well, the investor in SlideRocket was there. Who’s that? Mitchell Kurtzman, now a partner in Hummer Winblad (used to be CEO of Liberate and Powersoft) told me he hates boring PowerPoint slides.

Whoa.

At PodTech the CFO told me to be quiet when I told them that their Powerpoints should look like Steve Jobs did them. He wanted the boring “pack tons of points onto one slide with a boring, conservative background.” You know the type. Bill Gates used those in most of his talks.

I knew VCs wanted a great story and wanted the same thing we all want: to be a little entertained. It’s just that I didn’t have proof until today.

“There’s nothing deadlier than having a lot of text on a slide and then reading every word to us,” he says in the video before giving us more background about what VCs do want to see in their slide decks.

This is a short video, only 3:45 minutes, but here it is. “Tell a story.”

First Look: ZigTag, semantic bookmarking service

I was really tired after my interview of Werner Voegels, CTO of Amazon. CNET filmed it, so that should be up soon.

But after the interview Scott Montgomerie, president of ZigTag, showed me his new service, which is a bookmarking tool. Competes with Del.icio.us. You can hear my voice dragging at the beginning of the video I shot on my cell phone. I just didn’t want to get pitched another thing, especially not a copy of something that’s already pretty successful like del.icio.us.

But over the 12-minute demo you hear me come alive cause this was cool. Why? Because it helps you come up with much better tags, and search for them.

55 minutes inside Microsoft Research’s new “#99″ building

Everytime I watch one of my own videos I see something that I could improve.

Microsoft Research's new building "99"

We spent half a day at Microsoft Research’s new building getting a video tour of the new building. Kevin Schofield, General Manager, gave us an awesome tour and introduced us to several of Microsoft’s smartest people.

This video is the result.

One problem: it’s way too long. Pretty interesting stuff in there, if you hang out for the 55 minutes, but it would have been better to chop it up to its component parts, rather than try to run it all together.

Actually doing that would help us with Google, too. Google rewards atoms, not molecules (this video is a molecule).

So, what are the atoms?

Microsoft Research

Atom One: 00:00-2:55 Kevin Schofield giving us an introduction to the building.

Equations

Atom Two: 2:55 – 06:57 Martha Clarkson, who helped design parts of the building, explains some of the innovations in the building (and there are many)

Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, Microsoft Researchers

Atom Three: 06:57-19:59 Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, theory researchers talk with me about their research, about building a new research center in New England (which they are heading up and which will use many of the same things in their new building that were done here).

Microsoft sign outside building 99

Atom Four: 19:59-30:07 Kevin Schofield continues his tour, showing us several things in the building that the researchers themselves helped design.

Anechoic chamber at Microsoft Research, Phil Chou

Atom Five: 30:07- 39:12 Schofield brings us into the signal processing group, where we get a look at the anechoic chamber (sound proof room) and he introduces us to Phil Chou, principal researcher in the signal processing group. You can really hear why TV studios try to build sound-absorption systems in. The audio gets noticeably better.

Lots of moveable partitions

Atom Six: 39:12-41:52 Schofield explains why Research builds hardware and gives us more insights into the building and shows us some of the work areas in the new building.

Rocky shoots Andy Wilson, researcher at Microsoft

Atom Seven: 41:52 Schofield takes us into meet Andy Wilson. If you haven’t seen my videos before, you might not know that Andy is doing probably the most bleeding edge work at Microsoft (he build the Surface table-top computer which you touch with your hands). If you only watch one part, you’ve gotta check out his lab in the new building.

Kevin Schofield at Microsoft Research

Atom Eight: 50:51-55:05 Schofield talks about how they built a public area of the building so that groups, even outside ones, can have meetings inside the new building and concludes the tour.

Thanks for hanging in there through the 55 minute video. We’ll work on the UI so we can cut these things up into smaller pieces and still bring you most of the good stuff.

Mike Arrington’s dream team has wrong goal

Something about Mike Arrington’s post yesterday has been bugging me. This morning it hit: Mike has the wrong goal.

What is his goal? To beat CNET.

But does a great business or movement EVER get built on top of a goal like that?

No.

Wozniak and Jobs didn’t start Apple to beat IBM. No, they wanted a personal computer for themselves and their friends.

We didn’t go to the moon to beat the Russians. No, we went there to prove it could be done and that we could do it (and beating the Russians was a nice icing on the cake).

We didn’t build the Hubble Telescope to beat the Chinese. No, we wanted to learn more about our universe.

I could keep going.

Lately blogging seems like it has lost its way. Why? Well, looking at TechMeme you can see why: the professionals have taken over and have redefined what blogging is. They’ve (and I include myself in that, because now I’m part of a professional media organization) have taken blogging away from individual people and have corporatized it.

When blogging started getting rolling in 2001-2004 (before Valleywag or TechCrunch) it was a small community who had a few values in common:

1. We were mostly laid off. It was the time of the bust. Most of the entrepreneurs weren’t getting paid, didn’t have any money, and most of the writers, like me, were either working jobs we didn’t like just to ride out the bust, or were totally laid off. No one was showing up to geek dinners back then saying “I just got funded.” Why is this important? Because we had time and we all felt in the same boat.
2. There was one new thing in our lives that we were still figuring out: Google. It wasn’t like today. There wasn’t a new product or service coming out every 20 minutes. There weren’t conferences like Under the Radar (which I’m speaking at today) where there are dozens of new things being shown off. We were lucky to see one new product a month back then.
3. There was an undercurrent of anger and fear. Especially after 9/11. We were angry that our existing experts had mislead us so deeply. How did the VCs lead us down this path? How did the journalists not report the real news? How did our government let 9/11 and the boom/bust happen? We were questioning our value, our industry, our government, and in doing so we were looking for ways to build systems that’d warn us next time around.
4. We were tired of traditional marketing. The Cluetrain Manifesto was our rallying cry, but, really, we didn’t even need that book. We knew something was wrong. All you have to do is stand out in Times Square in New York to see it: companies don’t usually want to tell you anything about their products. Look at a Sony or a Canon camcorder ad. Can you tell them apart? I can’t. So, we wanted to talk with the engineers of those products and find out the truth. Where are the edges? What do they REALLY do? And, when we found out some truth for ourselves, we wanted to compare with other people. “Oh, the Sony doesn’t have an external microphone input,” we’d tell each other on Web forums and blogs.
5. We were tired of hearing “experts” who, we knew, were not expert at all. Especially now that we had Google we could find much better, much more up-to-date, experts ourselves. Last night, for instance, I saw Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, on Twitter. That simply was NOT done in 2001 — we didn’t have access to experts and business leaders like him. We had no idea how to influence people like that, not to mention we had no hope of having a conversation with them. Blogging changed ALL of that.
6. Back to #1, we were having fun BECAUSE we were NOT part of a committee. We were out of work, and doing what we loved cause why do what you don’t love when you aren’t getting paid, right? I’ve been chasing that high ever since. I think the entire industry has been.

There’s more, too, that lashed us together. The ones who showed up to Dana Street Cafe in Mountain View back in 2002 (we held little blogger meetups there) were geeks. We had a love of technology. That still binds us together today.

Anyway, I’m getting off track. Where am I going with this? Well, I want to explain that none of us in those early days woke up and said “it’s our goal to beat CNET.” That isn’t what drove us to stay up all night and write (some of us wrote words on screen, like me, others stayed up all night to write code to build better conversational tools, like Evan Williams at Blogger, or Ben and Mena Trott at Six Apart). It was our goal to experiment and build a new way of sharing information. We knew information had power, because those who had access to information before everyone else (hello Henry Blodgett) got rich, while the rest of us poor shlubs got fired (anyone remember the Website Fucked Company? I do, it was the Valleywag of its day and we all read it, even when trying to pretend we didn’t).

So, what’s the right goal? What got me up at 6 a.m. this morning?

1. Discovery. I love a good discovery. Why do I read FriendFeed every few hours now? Because I keep discovering cool stuff there. Why do I go to conferences like today’s Under the Radar? Because developers keep pulling me aside and saying “can I show you something?” (Even this week, at Jeff Pulver’s conference, a developer did just that and showed me a new competitor to FriendFeed which looked freaking awesome).
2. Getting smarter. I want to be smarter. Why? Because I find that the more I understand the world around me, the more I can enjoy it. I want to hang around smarter people, hear from smarter people than me (that’s why conferences like Pop!Tech and TED are so interesting to people), and read posts from smarter people than me (Google Reader, please fix your speed problems!)
3. Having interesting experiences. Tomorrow I’m going wine tasting with Gary Vaynerchuk. Have you ever watched his wine show? If you care about wine, you should. It’s really great and every show about 60,000 people watch and he usually gets hundreds of comments per show. I guarantee that going wine tasting with him will be an interesting experience. We all want more experiences like that.
4. Access to things that we don’t usually get access to. Earlier this week at IBM Research I used their microscope to move an atom. How many people in the world have done that? I figure fewer than 1,000 and maybe even fewer than 200 — they simply don’t have enough space in the lab to get more people access than that. So there’s gotta be some other way for a lot more people to have that experience, which is why I do video.
5. Comparing notes. If I find a new wine, guess what I do? I Twitter Gary and ask him about what he thinks. He usually has something to say. But, what about other people in his community? Absolutely! And note comparing is a HUGE part of what comments and FriendFeed is all about.

So, to wrap this up, since I’m supposed to get over to the Under the Radar conference: how could Mike Arrington get me onto his dream team?

Stop talking about killing CNET. Start telling me about how we can:

1. Build a stronger community. Stronger=smarter. Stronger=more informed. Stronger=more efficient. Stronger=more empathetic.
2. Get me experiences I don’t yet have access to. A lot of what TechCrunch does is get me inside of companies. At its best, TechCrunch tells you about new services that you didn’t know about. It brings you inside the walls of companies so we can make more informed decisions about where to work, who to partner with, what to adopt.
3. Have a bigger purpose. Building a new thing is more noble than tearing something down. Truth be told, CNET has done a fine job of tearing itself down over the years without any help from a bunch of bloggers. I used to visit news.com several times a day. Today that behavior has been replaced by FriendFeed. Why? Cause FriendFeed brings me everyday people who tell me more interesting stuff than CNET has been telling me.
4. Appeal to me with something other than “you can make more money.” One of the guys who pitched me told me “you can make more money with me.” I turned him down, cause I really don’t care. Ask any dead guy whether making more money really mattered. Now, yes, money does matter, and it does help get you some of the above (better experiences, etc) but I found I can get those things without being rich.

Anyway, that’s enough ranting. Now I’m off to the Under the Radar Conference. Hopefully I find some great new technology and I hear an interesting story about how it was built. I’ll join a “dream team” that shows me how to do all of this better, how about you?

Cool alert: Zude, Visual development environment for the Web (adds OpenSocial support)

I just witnessed a development environment that’s completely different than anything I’ve ever seen.

Steve Repetti, CTO of Fifth Generation Systems, which is the author of Zude. Now, if you haven’t seen Zude before, that’s pretty cool in of itself. It’s like MySpace, PopFly, Facebook, and a bunch of other things mashed all together. Steve calls it the “next generation of social computing.”

But today he was here to let me look under the covers of Zude and show me the development side of Zude.

There was so much that I kept shooting with my cell phone. This is simply amazing. I can’t say enough about what this tool is trying to do.

Drag-and-drop development of Web apps.

Here’s the five videos.

Part I 4:50, introduction to Zude and to the development capabilities of such.
Part II 11:52, talking about data portability.
Part III 5:06, looking more at the canvas and what can be done with code objects. More details on the Open Social capabilities.
Part IV 9:33, finishing off the app and distributing it.
Part V. 5:12, just having fun and throwing out ideas.

This is the first time these capabilities have been demonstrated in public. So, what did Steve show me, just in case you don’t have time to view the videos?

First, Zude is a canvas where you can drag and drop all sorts of stuff: videos, maps, images, blogs, RSS feeds, whole Web sites, text, links, code, MySpace themes, and almost any kind of thing you can imagine.

But, on this demo Steve focused on the code.

Went over to Google’s Gadgets site, found some interesting code, dragged it onto Zude and it instantly turned into a fish tank, with swimming fish. What? How did it %^&^%$%^& do that?

He did it with something else. This time a whole tile, with names, and addresses and photos appeared. OK, he has my attention.

Keep in mind, this works on Firefox, Safari, IE on Linux, Macs, or Windows. No install. Just visit http://www.zude.com and get started. Just click on the Tools menu, developer selection.

You can try it yourself.

But it just gets better from there. He also showed me a Facebook app that supported Open Social that they built. It shows that they are pushing Open Social data from Zude into Facebook. They are also doing it through a PHP proxy that lets them deliver ANY server-side language into Facebook. In the case on the video they are using FBML on the Facebook side and on the canvas app.

He showed me a separate tile on Zude that was a default object in Zude. Friends and Family thumbnail. There are a ton of default objects in Zude. He dragged that to the canvas and his friend’s picture and name appeared, along with other data. He also demonstrated the security built into Open Social, so if people didn’t want their info available to the Open Social app they could block it.

Then he showed me a bunch of objects that he dragged out, and demoed how you can build and deploy a really interesting Web app in just a few minutes. I can’t do this justice in a text blog. You have to see this.

We’ll do another interview on our Hi-def cameras, but that won’t be until late April at the earliest (we’re booked). Either way, these low-quality videos will give you a sense of why this is so impressive and will help you get started playing around.

Johnson and Johnson “breaks into jail” with BabyCamp

When I worked at Microsoft the PR team had a saying they told me often: “don’t break into jail.”

In other words, don’t screw up a good thing. Or, don’t do something that’ll get you bad PR.

Which is just what Johnson and Johnson did over the past week.

They are throwing a “BabyCamp” for mommy bloggers. Sounds great, right?

But a couple of problems.

1. You can’t bring your baby. Dumb.
2. They scheduled it at the same time as BlogHer. Double dumb.
3. They disinvited a couple of bloggers, one who had a baby, and another who was speaking at Blogher. Triple dumb.

Maryam wraps up the mess and explains what’s going on now. I’m Maryam’s husband and she’s decided to go to BabyCamp with her mom, who’ll take care of Milan while she attends sessions and such (her mom did the same while Maryam worked at CES’s BlogHaus, it’s a real advantage to have someone like that).

Speaking of which, I hate saying “Maryam’s my wife.” Sounds like I own her or something. Truth is actually the reverse. :-)