The perfect storm, 2-5 years out

IBM didn’t see it coming, but Microsoft does. They are smart. That’s why we’re aligned with them. ;)

What is this perfect storm? What happened to IBM? IBM got hit by the PC revolution, economies of scale. The tremendous book “The long tail” makes two superb points:

  1. The internet allows the long tail to operate, where brick and mortar stores truncate this natural phenomena – by restoring the long tail to your business you can add up to 35% to your revenue
  2. The world economy always reorganizes itself around free (or near free) resources. When we built ships, the seas were “free” to sail on and so we sailed and traded. And so on, as growth reveals more “free”, the world adjusts economically around that free resource. China, India, Indonesia and Russia suddenly revealed near free (relative to US and European salaried rates) employees and the world reorganized around that.

Item one above is interesting… item two is compelling. And now we have Google. Their stuff is free. And Microsoft’s stuff is not. Now hold on… before you sigh and give up and close the browser, just stick with me and see where this is going. I suggesting that like the discovery of ships led to a vast new past time (sailing and trading) this free resource will lead to things only 1 year away that we never imagined.

What is Google offering… when you swallow these facts, you might be able to see why Microsoft is plunking down $2billion per year to create their own data-centers!

I don’t open MS Office any more

Google GMail was good. Google Apps for your domain is awesome. (Google Apps). I now send and receive through gmail but using my EXISTING company email addresses. NOT my gmail address. Since I moved to the Google Apps version of GMail, I only opened Outlook to export my contacts. Really. Bye bye Outlook. Google Writely is a free Ms Word, Google Spreadsheets… except that it’s free. Google Calendar.

I doubt I will renew my MS Office subs… I don’t need it any more! I simply do not use it. Except for the development environment, like Atlas and so on. But as my next point explains, that might not be for too long.

UPDATE: Today I opened Frontpage to edit some HTML. 

No more SQL Server licenses?

Google got my corporate mail and of everyone working on reBlogger. What else will they take?

You might not get that heading right away. Look at this. You know about Google Base where I can define my data structure and then generate pages to expose the data. The data is hosted by Google’s servers.

Now entering into this picture is Google Base and the Google Database API where you can write against this “GData” and access it from your own servers. Unlimited free data hosting on a server where you don’t have to worry about scalability? No more budgeting for 20 million of backend server racks. This is profound. Sayonara to SEO… look at the BASE slogan: “post it on base. find it on google”.

UPDATE: I found an article about gbase being moved into the retail sector. Lookout amazon!
I know what you’re thinking… the latency between your server and the Google servers would make it unworkable. But what if they hosted the application, just as they now host my company email? Enter Google Page Creator.

It’s all free

I confidently said to my co-worker about 2 months ago that within 1 year I wouldn’t be using MS Office any more. He doubted me. It’s 2 months later. I don’t use MS Office any more.

I am hesitant to say when we will stop using the .NET web developer stuff… there is far more for Google to have to build before I can use it. But the offer of not having to build an enormous backend for my online reBlogger business is just so tantalizing. Not having to write code for storing and indexing the masses of data that reBlogger collects and stores… ohhh yeaahhh.

Every blogging company (eg wordpress etc.) would just leap at free hosting of their data. You bet! And automatic inclusion into the Google results!? Of course! Woohoo!

But look a bit further down the road. Take technorati as an example. If they built for the Google “Platform” (developers! developers! developers!) then they wouldn’t need to collect their own data, they simply use GData to mine the EXISTING Google data store. Now can you imagine what we could do if Google hooked GData into their existing data store?

This idea is already being explored by the Alexa crew with their APIs, but they don’t appear to have the vision and based on my interaction with them during the year, they don’t value interaction with mere mortals and don’t want to meet the needs of these mere mortals. Hey, that’s ok, Google or Microsoft will.

Why Microsoft won’t be an IBM

Because Gates is smart enough to see this coming. Oh, wait. Gates is leaving. But they will see it, I have no doubt about it. Their decision to spend $2billion on server farms tells me that they are responding. But their cash cows are under threat. Someone is cow-tipping over night and we KNOW who is doing it. hehehe.

Industry organizes around near free resources

Google are inventing the “ship” (in the analogy) and the industry will begin to re-organize around the free resource that has been exposed to us: unlimited bandwidth, unlimited hosting, unlimited scalability.
The thing is that they are making money, theirs is not a bubble economy. The revenue model is usage based. It’s going to be interesting!

Licensing is available reBlogger

reBlogger is a poduct that is destined to become a standard component of every “backoffice”.

Every company with bloggers must have a way of tracking those bloggers and managing their output. Many other companies will also use reBlogger to track industry news and still more companies will create internal R&D depatments to slice and dice the valuable comments made within their industries. For these reasons and more reBlogger is a product whose time has come.

Sell us into your vertical market

We’re looking for sales companies who are interested in licensing our engine from us. Because our product has such broad appeal, we need partners in all vertical markets:

  • government
  • military
  • motor
  • sports
  • science
  • industry
  • etc.

If you’re a consulting company or a software vendor, our reBlogger software might make a good fit for your product offering.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

It’s hard to be the leader because quite often the second mover has a clear goal to replicate and improve upon. The first mover has no road map to follow, only innovaion, vision, gut feel, customer feedback and instinct.

We’re already aware that we are being cloned by another company (right down to the design of our web pages) thanks to a user from that company spilling the beans. Someone once said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess this is flattery then?

The truth is when they see reBlogger 4.0 they will perhaps give up and go find another less innovative product to copy. If not, the innovations in reBlogger 5.0 will put an end to their aspirations once and for all. 5.0 will introduce features that will cause a storm on the internet, they are truly world-first never-been-seen-before features.

So why license our software?

We have two major advantages over any competitor:

  1. IP laws protect us. This means that – as the first mover – we can slow them down and besides that, what they are doing (cloning) is illegal. At the very least they will owe us a % of their revenues if they make money.
  2. Copying is not innovative, leadership is innovative. We have a big vision of where this is all going and although I have shared some of the future vision on this blog, I have not shared the truly ground breaking stuff.

If your company sells into major vertical markets and you have existng company sals relationships – then please contact me about purchasing a license to sell reBlogger into your industry. Contact me: markwilson at topxml.com

Responding to expresso’s forum comments

Hi expresso

Thanks for your comments in our forum.

We really appreciate your comments, it’s wonderful for us to have such excellent and raw feedback. Keep it coming! We’re beginning to pick up contacts in very large organizations (who have figured out the value of trackng bloggers) and we’re also being approached by a company doing due-diligence on us.

Things are happening in the reBlogger-sphere!

But you made some good points… so it’s confession time. reBlogger is obviously the first product of it’s kind and we’ve been building it for 18 months and running it on our own websites, one of which has 15k unique visitors per day: TopXML. We’e very fortunate to have users like Tony John and yourself who give us frank, honest and useful suggestions about how to improve RB.

But because reBlogger is so ground breakingly new, it’s very difficult for us to know just how people plan to use it. So we’ve had to build the bridge over the river while we’re actually walking on the bridge – does that analogy make sense?

What I’m saying is that we’re building it as fast as we can and the more feedback we get, the more we can figure out what the priority is to build next. We have improvements and features for MANY years and versions to come… we just need to figure out what people need more… improvements (like performance) or more features? I think the demand is for both. So we’ve decided to work on improvements for a time, then switch to features for a time, then back to improvements – and so on. You’ll be happy to know we’re working on improvements right now.

Of course, you’re not interested in our “problems” you just want to know when you’re going to get a more usable product.

We are about to launch a minor update which has:

  • an improved or more robust install – based on your suggestions about what confuses you and what details are missing
  • a simpler install which removes the need for keywords before it begins to run
  • improved scalability for massive installations
  • improved robustness (debugging etc.)
  • improved fetching based on Tony John’s suggestions

Then in the next iteration of development, focussed on features we will be building some o the things you mentioned like calendars and gadgets. We’re also working on very easy drag and drop redesign of the look and feel, draggable reordering, search and much much more.

So I hope you’ll accept this as

  • an apology for what is not working as smoothly as it could
  • a request for you to continue sending us raw and honest feedback
  • a promise that great and wonderful things are coming in time

It’s not possible for me to put a date on when these things will arrive because we prioritize fixing things and responding to customer problems as higher than building new features. But reBlogger is stabilizing very well – after all it’s almost 18 months old – and so we can begin to build new features more and more now. The next version (RB 4.0) will be simply stunning, a work of beauty.

The irony is that we don’t want too many customers right now because we need to keep coding rather than doing too much support. But sales would bring revenue and that would help us grow. But growing takes time. I think this is a problem all self-funded startups face, the chicken or the egg.

I hope this post has encouraged you to purchase RB as it is and stick with us as we grow.

Thanks,
Mark Wilson.

6 reasons why reBlogger will not be like Kiko

This post is our company reply to my own post: Bubble 2.0 begins to deflate – 9 lessons

Here are some reasons why reBlogger will not deflate with Bubble 2.0, but instead we will increase and grow:

  1. We have more income than expenditure – we’re cash flow positive, without any investors (low risk approach)
  2. Metcalfe’s Law is still valid and this alone tells me that reBlogger is the right product, at the right time: Metcalfe’s original insight was that the value of a communications network grows (exponentially, as it turns out) as the number of users grow because as the network grows, as participation grows (via RSS) the need for management inside companies grows too… and we’re the only product that offers to resolve this problem for large companies
  3. The pricing is crucial – and our pricing is right. We have a free version, hobby, corporate and very large corporate versions.
  4. We have great features but we’re not afraid to remove many of them. Some say that a movie is not finished being edited until the “favorite/protected/darling” scenes have been cut. Just today we agreed to remove central features from the default install, to make it an easier learning curve for initial users.
  5. We have big dreams and a great vision, but we’re still focussing half our time on making what we have work better than before.
  6. We have made a strategic decision to align with Microsoft and they reach the cashed-up corporate market where companies still have money to spend long after the Bubble 2.0 has gone under

I think that we must simply ignore the carnage that is about to happen and keep our minds focussed on creating the best product to monitor corporate blogs. The best place to watch internal blogs, track competitor’s blogs and keep up with the industry news – right there in your cubicle using reBlogger.

Bubble 2.0 begins to deflate – 9 lessons

Do you remember the way we used to be? Our lives untainted by memories. And we laughed and we cried and we…. yeah yeah yeah. You know the song.

Well it had to happen. Bubble 2.0 is starting to deflate. Just as the new economy resulted in effed company which tracked the fall from dizzy heights and good companies with good people became road kill… in the same way Bubble 2.0 has deadpool and the body count is rising.

Well, the inevitable is starting to happen – a few new web startups are starting to close up shop as they find that building an application is a lot easier than getting users to try it out, and keep coming back. – Fold.com…Folds

Never a truer words has been spoken. Well, ok. Very seldom has… well yes… many truer words have been spoken. But still. This is a good word.

In our company we have been trying to focus on certain strategies and to avoid certain things for some time now. The acid test for me was not the hype, not the investment, not the long tail, not the ideas, not the talent, not the committment nor the features or buzz or excitement… it was the income.

You can’t take home and eat excitement. The proof of the pudding is still in the eating. Do people want to eat what you are offering… more specifically, will they pay for it? If someone doesn’t pay for it, you have NO business model.

Here are some really good posts about a recent startdown called Kiko:

As Richard White, member of the Kiko team, wrote:

I agree with the 37signals argument that having paying customers forces you to hone in on what that market wants, and that probably would have done us a lot of good – Actual lessons from Kiko 2

As Justin Kan blogged about Kiko

Stay Focused. … snip… If you’re a creative person, it’s very easy to get side-tracked on side ideas when you really should be working on your main one. This is bad. Bad, bad, bad. We did this a lot with Kiko, and it caused many delays in getting the product out the door.

Cute hacks can cost you time. Take the time to do things right from the beginning. Seriously.
Build incrementally. We tried to build the ultimate AJAX calendar all at once. It took a long time. We could have done it piece by piece. Nuff said. – Actual lessons from Kiko 1

These simple pieces of advice can absolutely mean the difference between earning an income and just getting by and never actually being able to make a difference in the world. The cute hacks one still drives me absolutely nuts as I struggle with moving us forward while having to undo the junk legacy code that was written in the past.
Some other lessons worth considering

Too many features killed the cat - It didn’t look it at first, but if you played around with Kiko 1.0 for 15 minutes you found out that there was a *lot* of functionality under the hood. Problem was that we felt we needed to bring *all* of that functionality over to Kiko 2.0. I mean you can’t cut features between versions, right? Wrong. We should have cut features, probably about 40% of them and launched.

You must have a plan for escaping the TechnosphereTo a degree, it didn’t matter how many posts we got on TechCrunch, LifeHacker or Scoble; we would still be stuck in the same Technosphere duking it out with Google, 30Boxes and everyone else. You can make a nice living just pimping your wares in the technosphere (which is what I’m attempting with SlimTimer) but if you ever want to gain any real traction as an online calendar service you have to target the cubicle dwellers and their Outlook calendars that only exist outside the sphere. Techie users are fickle, transient and demanding. You can spend all of your time implementing ATOM feeds and hCalendar export and never be the better for it. We didn’t have a plan for how to go mainstream, which, in hindsight, was a prerequisite for our success.

I would add one more thing: know when to stop. If you’ve been pouring money into something and it’s just not happening, not finishing, not there… its always “just” this or “only” that and if the issues keep shifting (even if it’s FOR A GOOD REASON) then you might need to swallow the loss of your investment and regain control of the direction of the company. We recently did this too.

So in summary:

  1. Buidling the product /= gaining revenue from it.
  2. Be cashflow positive. Earn more than you spend. Live within your means.
  3. Work on the main idea, not on all the “great” (but peripheral) ideas
  4. Do not hack in things badly, they will cost dearly you later
  5. Build and release incrementally (3.1, 3.2, 3.3… 4.0)
  6. Launch with the features that are complete, don’t forever delay the launch for “still to come” features
  7. Business is where the money is, not the technosphere – have a plan to reach the cubicle dwellers in companies
  8. Know when to stop going down a wrong path. Stop wasting money and accept the loss.
  9. Find a way to charge for your product because this produces realism. If no one buys it… then no one is buying it, there is no future… you can then change products, diversify, cutback and try again. If they are buying, then keep on keeping on.

These are the strategies to keep out of the deadpool.

Kilo is currently for sale on eBay. 40,000 monthly visitors… being sold for $50k.

The reBlogger tech stack

reBlogger has been under development for over 18 months now. There is nothing else like it out there and we’re confident that it’s maturing into a very useful corporate product.

The growth so far

There have been many hurdles along the way, for example having to write very robust code to handle the non-conforming RSS feeds out there and the different versions.

Once we had built this robust engine, we moved “up the stack” to build our publishing engine, which publishes in a proven search engine optimized format.

Once we had that, we needed an administration system that only needed the very minimal attention (fire once and forget). Then we built an installer that works through ftp – making it the easiest possible.

After that it was finally time to look at the social services and the user-interface components – which is where we are busy now.

Our tech stack

Our tech stack looks a bit like this:

tech_stack.JPG

Still to come are the following “higher up” features in the “social” layer:

  • Layout drag and drop gadgets (coming in the next version: 4.0!)
  • A smarter way to find the web feeds you’re looking for
  • More powerful reports showing relative activity of keywords
  • World-first social features
  • More targetted product differentiation with adapted functionality to suit your exact needs

Hosted application and partnership

We are keen to establish a hosted application, but to do that we’re looking for a partner who can provide the servers etc. If you’re interested please contact me markwilson at topxml.com

Steps to testing out a corporate reBlogger

5 simple steps to trying out your own reBlogger:

  1. Download the reBlogger 30 day trial zip. In the zip is a readme.txt that explains how to install it to your website via ftp
  2. Add up to 5 web feeds of any type for free
  3. Add your search terms to look for; and the keyword/headings to publish the content under
  4. Run “Get blog posts!” to collect the web feeds and filter them
  5. View the results

reBlogger is especially useful for the following situations:

  1. Finding banned words or pre-release information in corporate blogs
  2. Collecting the industry news on a daily basis
  3. Collecting competitor’s blog posts for research
  4. Raising alerts for keyword activity in the general blogger population

Enjoy!

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