Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"Want to Go Office-Free?"

This is what AP Business Writer Allison Linn was asking herself. To get an answer, she decided to spend one week relying as much as possible on free Web services for everyday business tasks.

The result of her experiment:
For now at least, Microsoft is right -- these challengers will complement, not replace, my Microsoft Office software.

I think she's right. MS Office is such a large and powerful suite of applications, and some applications lend themselves better to being webified than others. For example, despite a good Web-based spreadsheet application like Num Sum, I won't trash Excel anytime soon. (This doesn't mean that Num Sum isn't perfectly suitable for a large number of use cases. It may also be a good alternative for occasional users or people from developing countries who don't want to spend money on Excel.)

For a counter-example, I think calendar software is an application type which is perfect for webifying. I can't think of anything which a desktop calendar can do which an online calendar can't, and the advantages of turning your calendar online are obvious. So maybe it's just consequent that my favorite quote from the article is also about online calendars:
My overall favorite turned out to be CalendarHub, which easily imported four years worth of calendar data into a pleasing interface and -- like several out there -- offered handy e-mail reminders of upcoming events.

Seems like she agrees with Dion Hinchcliffe, who named CalendarHub as the best Web 2.0 application of 2005 in the calendar category. Another interesting thought I stumbled upon:
Also, although it is nice in theory to be able to access data online, in practice it often took longer to log on to different applications every time I needed something, rather than just opening a file on my desktop.

That's right, Mrs. Linn. This is one of the reasons we're creating Pageflakes. Our plan is that some time in the not-so-distant future, Pageflakes will allow you to access all your applications and all your data conveniently from one page. When you can carry your applications to the Web, why leave your desktop behind?

Full Disclosure: I'm affiliated with CalendarHub and Pageflakes.
Promise: Less self-promotion in my next posting. ;-)

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Whole Web at Your Fingertips: Introducing Pageflakes.

I’m exceedingly happy to announce Pageflakes, my new startup.

Pageflakes will start as a personalized startpage (a.k.a. AJAX desktop) that allows you to read blogs and other RSS/Atom feeds, check your email, get the latest sports news and stock quotes, start Web searches and use services like Del.icio.us or Flickr, all conveniently accessible from any PC and from one page. I’m sure there are at least 5-10 sites that you check every single day, in fact probably several times a day. Pageflakes saves you some of this effort by aggregating the content that’s relevant for you into one nice page. A bit like an RSS aggregator, only that it’s not limited to RSS feeds.

But that’s only the beginning. Over time, we want Pageflakes to evolve into THE entry point to your digital life, allowing you to do everything from managing to-do lists to watching Internet TV to checking your voice mailbox and much more. A suitable name for that might be Digital Life Aggregator (similar to the term “Digital Lifestyle Aggregator”, which AFAIK was coined by Marc Canter) or Next Generation Internet Services Platform (a term recently used by Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie when talking about Microsoft’s new Live.com initiative).

If that sounds familiar to you, the idea of a personalized startpage has been around for years. Excite and Yahoo tried it several years ago, but we think it takes new technologies and approaches like AJAX, RSS and APIs and other Web 2.0 ideas for this concept to really take-off. Thanks to AJAX you’ll get a desktop-like experience. Thanks to widespread content syndication you’ll be able to add an incredible variety of content and services to your personal page. To make the Web 2.0 buzzword compliance, we also address The Long Tail of software by allowing developers to contribute their applications to Pageflakes.

We just launched our “Developer Release”, so right now we’re not even in alpha yet. However, if you go to our site you can already see some prototype modules (“flakes”) and enjoy some AJAX Drag & Drop goodness.

When you look at the site, please don't forget that we’re pre-alpha. 99% of the functionality is still missing, the design implementation is not perfect yet and there are still some glitches. Basically we're at a point where others put up a teaser page. Once we target the general public, we will also support Firefox, of course.

Finally, if there’s anything that I’m more excited about than the idea itself, it’s our team. It includes someone who co-founded Alando.de (which was acquired by eBay) and an exceptional team of oustanding software engineers from Bangladesh. I think this posting is too long already, so I’ll talk some more about my partners on a later occasion.

Now have a look at Pageflakes, subscribe to the launch notification and let me know what you think!

P.S.: “Are you kidding me? Do you really want to compete with mighty Microsoft and Google?” Well, in a way we will. In the beginning, Pageflakes, Live.com and Google’s Personalized Homepage will look pretty similar. But over time, we expect the three to develop into somewhat different directions. We’ve got a hell of a lot of cool ideas on how we’re going to improve and extend Pageflakes in the future (and I’m sure so do the other teams – but we probably don’t have the same plans). In addition, our advantage as a small startup is that we’re quick, that we can flexibly react to the needs of our users and that we’re totally focused on what we’re doing. Finally, we’re not saying that we will drive Live.com or Google/IG out of business. There’s space for more than one player in this emerging market, and we’re satisfied if we get a sizeable chunk of it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Best Web 2.0 Software of 2005

Dion Hinchcliffe put together a great list of the best Web 2.0 applications released in 2005. Interestingly, only one of about 30 applications has been developed by a big corporation (Microsoft's Start.com) while the rest has been developed by start-ups - some of them tiny one- or two-person companies. As far as Web 2.0 is concerned, the greatest innovations still come from start-ups (although the GYM is close, as demonstrated with software like Google Earth and the new Yahoo! Mail).

So far, two from the list have been acquired by one of the big boys: Flickr and Del.icio.us. I'm sure that in a year from now, a couple of others from the list will have been snapped up. My best guesses are Writely and Netvibes.

Congrats to Sam (Writely), Tariq (Netvibes), Ian (Openomy), Jason (Writeboard and Ta-Da-List) and to everyone else who's working on the next generation of Internet software.

Last but not least some sites I'd suggest to add:

Friday, December 09, 2005

Monday, December 05, 2005

Web 2.0 & VC 2.0

Clarence Wooten from Venturepreneur Partners wrote an interesting piece titled "Less Venture Capital: The New Model" in which he applies 37signals well-known "Less is Better" principle to Venture Capital.

There are several other interesting articles on Venturepreneur's site. In "Strategic Approach: Building value not excess" he asks:

Is it taboo to build a company with the intention of selling it early?

It sounds disillusioning and I think he may underestimate the negative effects which a "build to flip" attitude can have on employees and the whole company culture. The team needs a more imaginative vision than "getting acquired" (although I'm sure that Clarence would agree with that).

In any case there's truth in what he says. From a founder's perspective I always found it questionable to chase the IPO dream if it means giving up the opportunity of getting acquired at the right price. There can be a conflict of interest between the VC and the entrepreneur with regard to the exit preference (Stefan wrote his diploma thesis about this topic, got to read it soo), since the former in contrast to the latter has a diversified portfolio and possibly a different ROI expectation and a different time horizon.

For a VC, one home run and nineteen zombies might be a good yield on balance, but a founder might prefer a 30% chance of achieving a nice acquisition over a 5% chance of going public even if the latter has the higher expected value. The reason is the diminishing marginal utility of very large amounts of money for an individual. It's for a kind of similar reason that you buy an insurance although it has a negative expected value.

Gosh! I started this post with Web 2.0 and ended it with buying an insurance. Enough disillusionment for today. Oh, by the way, that was just my professional opinion. My heart says that we'll beat the GYM with my new startup and become the next Microsoft. ;-)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

BookBurro - tough times ahead for Amazon.com?

BookBurro is a smart Firefox plug-in created by Jesse Andrews that lets you find the best book deals while you shop. When you're looking at a book page on a site like Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com, a little window magically appears and tells you the prices for that particular book from about 10 online bookstores. Comparing book prices doesn't get much easier or more convenient than this!

At first sight, one could think that a tool like this must cause considerable headaches to Amazon.com. After all it allows customers to use Amazon.com's unbeaten site for browsing but proceed to another retailer to make the purchase with literally one mouse click. While comparison shopping sites like Shopping.com and Shopzilla are very popular and while I think they do contribute to limiting the pricing power of brand name online shops, the value of Amazon.com's brand shouldn't be underestimated.

During the first wave of comparison shopping engines from 1998-1999, some analysts predicted that online retailers would never be able to make a decent profit because the radical removement of friction would effectively turn online shopping into a commodity market. They underestimated people's deep desire for convenience and the level of trust associated with Amazon.com.

As far as BookBurro is concerned, it's interesting to note that the concept of on-the-fly price comparison has been around for years but never really took off. I know what I'm talking about, as my startup DealPilot.com launched a similar product, a browser companion toolbar called DealPilot Express, back in 1999. It never became as successful as the website, so Shopping.com (which acquired DealPilot.com) buried it after a while. RUSure, ClickTheButton and all other competitors of us from that time met the same fate.

BookBurro is easy to install, unobtrusive and seems to work very well. It's definitely better than the first breed of such tools. It'll be interesting to see if they have success.

Thanks to Library Stuff for the pointer.