Archives for May 2006


Vonage continues to slide…but why?

As a Vonage customer, I had an opportunity to bid on buying shares at the IPO price. Normally I’d leap at the chance, but this time I did not. Why? Why is it continuing to slide (just checked at 2:28pm CDT and it’s at $12.10)?

Conventional wisdom dictates that the stock market is a popularity contest. True enough, but optimism about upside potential is why a stock is popular or is not. After my recent adventure analyzing and experiencing Vonage vs. Skype vs. the GizmoProject, my perspective on that upside was perhaps more realistic than most.

Here is Vonage’s problem in a nutshell: they’re burning cash and what they’ve built is incredibly vunerable to competition while cost of long distance telephony is falling to zero. Though Vonage has a 20% or so better quality of service — and doesn’t require a PC to use — Skype is good enough (though the Session Initiation Protocol of Gizmo is inferior to Skype). That good enough capability of Skype coupled with their recent “all calls are free in North America this year” did it for me and for the market. AT&T, the cable companies, Wifi/Wimax deployments (Skype calls can be made via these) and the acceleration of mobile telephony bandwidth are all converging to make Vonage seem pretty unattractive.

It’s the first time I’ve truly followed my gut on a stock pick and let it rule my head. Looks like it was a good call this time.


Top Ten Blogs Informing Steve…

People who think in a different way, have a different perspective, and have a vision on why something is important are those I seek out and aggregate in my news reader. I’m now up to several hundred RSS feeds and scan 700-900 feeds every day (note I said “scan” vs. read in full…people think I’m nuts for even scanning that many!).

Choosing just ten blogs out of the nearly 100 I follow is no small task. Just like the Technorati Top 100, my list changes based on where I am along my path at any given point so I thought I’d put a stake in the ground today and list ten that are affecting me right now and why (in alphabetical order):

  • 3PointD: Like many, I happen to believe that we are quickly moving toward virtual environments vs. 2D (two dimensional) web pages and this blog follows what’s going on. The resolution of sites like Second Life are amazing right now, and make your own virtual world platforms like Multiverse will continue to accelerate. As bandwidth, CPU power and graphics performance continue to evolve, worlds that resemble the quality of The Incredibles will exist. Next up when that occurs? Amazing replacements for collaborative and community software offerings.
  • BoingBoing: Eclectic, liberal, bizarre but always interesting, I just like going here and being surprised, bugged, delighted and intellectually stimulated.
  • The Bumble Bee: I’ve only been reading this blog for a few short weeks, but damn…is this Ken Thompson ever going at collaboration, community and social from an intriguing perspective! He uses natural biological systems — with examples and an emphasis on bioteams — to inform his thinking about how all this stuff works.
  • GigaOM: Om Malik’s blog about what’s happenin’ in broadband. This writer for Business 2.0 magazine has his finger on the pulse of what’s going on. In my view, broadband=use-of-the-internet-and-innovation so I’m always interested in what’s going on to accelerate its use.
  • Information Aesthetics: If design and clear communication didn’t matter — and especially increasingly complex concepts and ideas — then blogs like this wouldn’t matter either.
  • Mashable: Pete Cashmore’s site tracking what’s going on with “mashups” or Web applications that are combinations of discrete functionality pulled from other apps. This whole category is fun, cool, and pointing the way toward web services in ways that mainstream tech publications never could.
  • OpenBusiness: No question in my mind that the fundamental economics driving value globally are shifting but I’m no economist nor am I certain what will replace capitalism, how to value the contributions of those, say, creating open source software, or how value is moving beyond money, barter or other traditional means of exchange. This blog is simply looking at open source business models in new ways that I find incredibly intriguing.
  • ThreeMinds@Organic: Looking at “experience” in new ways and what makes things exceptional.  I like reading them and watching-what-they-watch and think about. Again, it’s all about viewing through a different lens than mine.
  • Treehugger: Regardless of your feelings on sustainability, global warming, or humankinds acceleration of the consumption of natural resources, this site is cool. It makes you think of alternatives, gives a sense of the thoughts of those aware (vs. unconscious) and is just a well done, good read.
  • Wired: Had to put them in…not a blog I know. Was at a trade show in the Nineties when someone walked by with their free copy of the premiere issue. I raced to the bin and they were gone…but some guy handed me one of the several he had grabbed (I still have it). Though the magazine and this sister site have waxed-n-waned in relevancy over the years, it still is one of the only places that I actually read in-depth articles about any given topic.

Open Source and The Long Tail

Most of the discussions I’ve been regarding The Long Tail have used content as the primary example of explaining what the term means. I hear, “The Long Tail means that some obscure physics book from the 1930’s — that only 10 people care about reading again — is available.” or “Some Cajun song recorded in 1925 that only Joe Schmedlap and his wife want to hear is at-their-fingertips.” The thought is that *whatever* is of interest will find some kind of audience who will want to read, watch or somehow consume it if it’s available in some repository on the internet. It’s a powerful concept that is being played out every day that more content and data is being mapped onto the ‘net.

I’d like to offer up what I’m experiencing as a potentially more profound example of The Long Tail: the ecosystem delivering plug-ins, add-ons, modules, components, themes and other chunks of functionality that somebody, somewhere wants to use with some open source software project…and they’re all free! The better open source software gets, the more functionality it enjoys and the more energy around extending it, I believe the quicker value will be mapped on to the ‘net. This, in turn, will incent and facilitate people PLACING Long Tail stuff online so it can be accessed by those interested in it.

I’ll admit that it’s the primary open source “platforms” or major frameworks right now that are receivers of the energy and effort in building all of this stuff, but nonetheless it’s pretty amazing. Be it Drupal, Joomla, Xoops,  phpBB, TikiWiki or hundreds of other projects, even the obscure add-on is either available or underway by some individual or team.

Case in point: Joomla has more than half a dozen RSS add-ons. Though RSS enabled the fast growth in podcasting to emerge, it’s still not even understood by all save for a tiny percentage of the tech world. This protocol is also key to reading feeds in a news aggregator or the compiling of blogs and news feeds that then appear on web sites or focused topic blogs. I’ve been on the hunt myself for an Joomla extension that will display what I want but haven’t found it…yet. Hmmm….maybe I’ll have it written.

If it were, say, three years ago Joomla would cost roughly $100k just for the software. Today it’s free and an amazing amount of energy and effort is invested by the developer ecosystem surrounding it. If Joomla were a commercial software project I’d bet there would be ONE approach to RSS and ONE RSS extension on the product roadmap AND it would hit about 80% of what the market wanted (and cost a bundle). The RSS extensions I’ve delved into off of the Joomla site each have their own approach to managing RSS (which, by the way, is very refreshing and offers alot of choice!) and many of them cover even obscure requirements.

Chris Anderson (Wired editor who coined the term “The Long Tail”) has a book coming out soon and it remains to be seen how far he takes the concept. For me, it sure seems that what is already out there in open-source-land fits The Long Tail concept perfectly.

NOTE: Larry Lessig’s blog led me to the Open Source Business model site/blog. It is AWESOME and is looking at and considering some of the non-monetary, non-barter, value-based shifts I’m seeing and experiencing…and know are accelerating. If you are puzzling at all over why all the Web 2.0 companies have a “free” option (or are all free), I’d encourage you to read this post on this site to give you a sense of what’s going on with current thinking and how the paradigms are shifting. It also will help you see how The Long Tail goes far beyond the availability of content.


Where is the Open Source cup o’ gasoline?

"Daddy, can we make a boomfire?"

A reader of my blog, Christopher Murray, sparked a thought through his comment in my post about the iJoomla magazine framework (for the Joomla content management system) and how there is a huge gap between lower end, open source CMS’es and enterprise-class ones…which made me think of what the primary catalyst (i.e., the cup o’ gasoline) could be on the embers of innovation in open source.

Every week I am stunned and delighted anew with some miscellaneous open source offering that has phenomenal functionality, a strong ecosystem of development surrounding it, and amazing fit-n-finish for free software. If you want to see for yourself, just go to Sourceforge and poke around the nearly 121,000 open source projects that are linked to from there. The power and capability that is yours for free is nothing short of astounding.

This is why, for example, all the VC’s that John Furrier interviews for his informative and highly interesting PodTech podcasts seem to share a common thread: if you’re a startup and don’t have both open source software being leveraged or have an offshore component in your business plan, don’t bother knockin’ on our door (I’m paraphrasing alot…but you catch the drift). The value that is being created with so many of these projects is so high that there isn’t a capitalist in his or her right mind that would want to fund development of what already exists.

Here’s a real world example. I’m advising on the buildout of a new Web asset for a client and there are some chinks-in-the-armor of open source that exposes just what Christoper pointed out: there’s a big gap between the low-end, easy stuff and the high-end, hard stuff that enterprise commercial software fixes. My client is using Joomla’s CMS and are incorporating WordPress for blogging (via the Joomla WordPress connector), ecommerce (via OSCommerce connector), and are exploring forums and a learning management system (LMS) (there are forums like phpBB and SMF…as well as incredible LMS’es like Moodle). Making all this stuff work together and take on the same look-n-feel isn’t trivial…regardless of how many extensions are available from the Joomla developer ecosystem to kinda, sorta deliver functionality.

This presents me with a dark side to my happy-assed optimism about all these projects: why isn’t this stuff plug-n-play…and what would happen if it was?

[Read more…]


CTD for May 23, 2006

This week’s podcast is a bit rambling…but discusses such things as community, net neutrality and the exploding number of Web 2.0 applications. As promised for the show notes, the following links are provided:

  • Richard MacManus’ post listing Web 2.0 lists
  • Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine, says ‘beware of net neutrality’ which I beg to differ with…

Download the podcast


Qumana…offline blog editor

I’m always on the hunt for tools that either make my life easier…or are ones that do so for others. Qumana appears, at first use, to be just such a tool.

With all the buzz about Web 2.0, one would surmise that browser-based applications are the Holy Grail of online use. They’re typically slow, require being tethered to the internet to use, and are often flaky in their use (yes, even AJAX apps). Offline tools can often be far superior *if* they have close ties to the online application.

I recall the incredible objections that were posed by enterprise buyers of when they initially didn’t have an offline tool for salespeople to take the Web hosted customer data along with them into the field. Their offline tool, however, was so robust (you can suck down all relevant customer data, add/subtract from the dataset in the field, then sync up when online again) that it stopped those objections.

I’m going to simply post this to Typepad without a preview to see what happens. If it works…I’ll be posting this way most of the time. I like it.


There is a There, There…

The closer I get to connecting the dots — on the impact of global internet connections, community, affinity, awareness raising, collaboration and all the other perspectives on what is happening to humankind as we all search for a better way — the further away from connecting them I seem. As a consequence, I double my efforts and connect with people with richer, deeper and more textured experience in order to gain others insights and perspectives. A guy named Griff Wigley is just such a person and we connected today.

He beat-me-to-the-punch and blogged about our meeting today (I *really* enjoyed our meeting, Griff).

I’ve got alot of questions about what’s going on that may encourage, enlighten or inform you if you’re also interested in human-to-internetwork connections — or feel free to point out how far away I am from connecting the dots!

As has probably become clear if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, my focus and energy has increasingly shifted to collaboration, community, affinity and all the other areas where human beings intersect online and virtual communications between us grow exponentially more efficient and rich. My goal is to accelerate my knowledge of as many “dots” that inform this as is possible, connect them, and thus do a better job of building online community.

As my role model for setting goals, Steve Martin, once said, “…the thing you have to learn, in having a goal, is not to set an impossible goal, something too high you can never reach.  You gotta have a series of smaller goals, that you can accomplish and slowly work your way up. And this is what I have done. That’s why I’m so happy. My goal?  Right now, I want to be the all-being, Master of Time, Space and Dimension. Then…I wanna go to Europe.

[Read more…]


Your Own Magazine Online

How’d you like to have your own, very professionally designed online magazine? What if I told you that one of the hottest open source content management system (CMS) packages, Joomla, had a plug-in component that would give you that capability?

iJoomla is a Joomla component that is a framework for module placement so that laying out a magazine online is a relatively trivial pursuit. I say relatively because truly architecting, installing, developing and deploying a scalable, CMS-driven web site or magazine requires skills the non-technical person doesn’t possess. Yes, Joomla can be downloaded and installed in a fairly easy manner. Yes, it’s kinda, sorta click-n-configure. But to truly set it up so that it’s architected to scale, prepared for adding on other components and modules (like a shopping cart or forum) requires technical savvy or ALOT of time in climbing a learning curve.

Still, from what I know of jobs underway with Joomla an installed and deployed Joomla instance — with a magazine component like this one installed and running — would be under $20k (your mileage may vary dramatically depending upon specific effort required). Having been at Vignette for four years during the dotcom heyday, we wouldn’t even take a phone call from a prospect if they didn’t have $500k to spend on software and services, so this price/performance is pretty amazing.

I know, I know…comparing Joomla to Vignette is like a Honda scooter to an Acura MDX. But still the power and inexpensive nature deploying Joomla let alone it as an online magazine, makes a guys mental wheels turn.

By the way, I continue to be delighted and somewhat taken aback at how virtually the entire Joomla ecosystem simply “gets it” on the importance of design. Even this inexpensive magazine component site is absolutely first-class!


Apple’s MacBook in Black

Stopped by the Apple Store at the Mall of America this afternoon to see if they had the new MacBook on display. They had ’em in the back room and one guy said they’d be out in 10 minutes…so I did an errand and came back 15 minutes later. All the black ones were sold! (They only had a handful of them).

The display models had been on the counter for 5 minutes when I walked over and decided to put the black one through its paces. The display was bright, the glossy coating on it really made it pop and the flush keyboard was extremely nice…but one thing troubled me.

Though this may demonstrate how much of a neat freak or anal retentive I am — often displayed by my frequent cleaning of my aluminum Powerbook case and screen — but I was stunned to see an explosion of body oil-generated fingerprints all over the outside of the MacBook case as well as from the couple of people’s palms that briefly touched the trackpad — all in only 5 minutes. My concern about filthy laptops comes from years of experiencing presentations made from dust covered, fingerprints-all-over-the-display software sales and technical folks…which always amazed me with their lack of awareness of how gross this was (kind of like handing someone nice color spec sheets in an expensive presentation folder with coffee or food stains on them and expecting them to ignore that and be focused on the content!).

My old Thinkpad was black and a matte finish too, but the case materials didn’t seem to absorb body oil in quite the same way (it diffused it somehow and it was less noticeable). To me, the Thinkpad is the gold standard of a rugged, road warrior tool.

Would I buy this new MacBook? A white one for sure. The deal-killer for me buying it vs. the MacBook Pro is graphics performance (the MacBook uses shared memory for video but the MacBook Pro has its own discrete video memory — which is a big deal for a Photoshop user like me and that my son often uses my laptop for gaming). If rumors of the Leopard version of Mac OS X being able to launch a double-clicked Windows app or game are true, I’ll want all the graphics performance I can get as I’ll really need it (and RAM too).

My initial impression is that the MacBook will be a resounding success and the improvements are so numerous (and price points stable) that there will undoubtedly be a flurry of upgrading and Windows migrators.


Long Distance Nearing Free?

All the predictions that long distance telephony would eventually be free seem closer to reality than ever before.

First, Vonage announces free overseas long distance is included in my $24.95 per month all-you-can-eat to select countries (and my bride is in London so the timing was unusually perfect) and then today Skype announces free SkypeOut (calling from Skype to landlines) is free in the US and Canada.

I had some serious issues with Vonage in the first few months of this year. Finally I ran some tests on my Roadrunner cable connection and wasn’t pleased with the throughput. After talking with tech support, they send out a tech who replaces a filter at the pole and my cable modem, and the connection has been fabulous ever since.

A week ago I was in the Santa Cruz mountains outside San Francisco without cell service. My hosts had a solid internet connection with Wifi so I headed to a quiet corner each day to call my bride via my Skype account. Without it, I would’ve been reimbursing my hosts for unknown telephony charges. (Amusingly, I used a pair of iPod earbuds and a microphone from my M-Audio Microtrack recorder to make my calls).

With more companies building voice over internet protocol (VoIP) into their applications, demand should continue to increase and the use of landline or mobile telephony carriers reduced. Be interesting to see what happens with packet shaping by internet service providers (to reduce quality of service for competing voice services running on their networks) as well as what might happen to costs on voice transports.