Lunch With Pierre

For some time I've been meaning to hook up with Pierre Omidyar, the founder and Chair of eBay. We finally got together at lunch earlier this week in Redwood City, where his foundation is based. I'd heard Pierre is just about the most down-to-earth, "normal" fellow one might want to…

Photo 6For some time I’ve been meaning to hook up with Pierre Omidyar, the founder and Chair of eBay. We finally got together at lunch earlier this week in Redwood City, where his foundation is based. I’d heard Pierre is just about the most down-to-earth, “normal” fellow one might want to meet, it in fact it turned out to be true. He kicked out of Valley life in 1999 and moved to the desert outside Las Vegas (he also spends a lot of time in France). He comes back every so often for eBay meetings and to meet with his foundation staff, and it’s this foundation that really gets him up in the morning these days. He’s made news recently by announcing a new strategy for the organization, one which blends a bent for social change with capitalism – in other words, he’s expanding from philanthropy into the investment game, but he plans to focus on businesses that connect people to each other to create the kind of wholesale change that eBay did. Omidyar repeated to me a very repeatable observation: that eBay has been the vehicle for millions of strangers to establish relationships of trust with each other.

Hence his investment in Meetup, for example. It’s the first business Omidyar has seen with the same ability to connect folks for social good. Good for Scott!

Pierre and I had a good lunch, talking over many issues for the book. But really, our conversation always came back to community, the core driver of value at eBay. We discussed Tim’s concept of the “architecture of participation” and how critical it is in the Web 2.0 world, and how much of the media world has yet to grok it. You can’t outsource participation to the ghettos of discussion threads, in other words. The online media world is still looking for its Pong, as Martin says, but I think we’re getting close. Publications are essentially reflections of communities. And I believe the best blogs are publications, in a very classical sense.

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Simson’s Piece on Akamai and Google: Good Reading

I finally got around to reading Simson's piece in Tech Review. I knew it would be worth the wait, not another me-too package on the IPO but some original reporting and thinking. And I was right. The piece points out that Akamai is in a similar business to Google…

akamai_logo.gif
I finally got around to reading Simson’s piece in Tech Review. I knew it would be worth the wait, not another me-too package on the IPO but some original reporting and thinking. And I was right. The piece points out that Akamai is in a similar business to Google – the distributed computing business. Then he thinks through the implications. Very Web 2.0, web-as-platform kind of stuff here.

Fun excerpts:

“These numbers are all crazily low,” Farach-Colton continued. “Google always reports much, much lower numbers than are true.” Whenever somebody from Google puts together a new presentation, he explained, the PR department vets the talk and hacks down the numbers. Originally, he said, the slide with the numbers said that 1,000 queries/sec was the “minimum” rate, not the peak. “We have 10,000-plus servers. That’s plus a lot.”…

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Microsoft: Built From Scratch, The Interface Migrates to the Web

Three things struck me as I reflect back on my trip to Microsoft Tuesday. One, it's not wise to dismiss the company as being "at the first grade level" or "behind" the rest of the pack. Second, the fact that Microsoft came late to the search game just might be…

msft_118x35Three things struck me as I reflect back on my trip to Microsoft Tuesday. One, it’s not wise to dismiss the company as being “at the first grade level” or “behind” the rest of the pack. Second, the fact that Microsoft came late to the search game just might be an advantage. And third, I need to get some face time with the Windows team, because I went into the day wondering if MSN isn’t becoming MSFT’s future interface/platform play, with Windows relegated to a supporting role (as DOS was to Windows) and, well, nothing I heard convinced me otherwise. And that certainly can’t be right. Or can it?

cole-1I met first with David Cole, who runs MSN and has a long history at the company, in particular with Windows and web technology. Much of what we discussed I need to save for my column, but suffice to say we covered a broad range of topics, including Longhorn integration (yes, MSN and search are being built with an eye toward that eventuality), the Web OS meme (while not dismissive of the idea, Cole thought it was just one of many approaches to solving computing and information service problems), and of course, competition with Google and the rest of the field. Cole began by outlining how MSN has shifted to its current strategy, based on building scaled software services that break into two major buckets: communications services (MSN Messenger, Hotmail, etc) and information services (search, content, etc.). Yusuf Mehdi, who I met with next, runs information services, and we had a pretty detailed chat about the present and future of search. That conversation was for the book alone, due to timing issues. I can report, however, that Yusuf was pretty charged up about what they are building.

So why did I leave thinking that MSFT’s late start in search could be an advantage? Well, think about it. The company has massive resources, and the folks in charge are pretty smart. So they get to tackle the search problem with no legacy issues and no presumptions with regard to approach. There are any number of hurdles in search – starting with how to scale your infrastructure and moving into how to integrate results with personalized data – and many of these might best be tackled by starting fresh. Plus, on the talent side, MSFT is really the only viable player that can offer engineers unlimited resources and the chance to start from scratch. I know, the Valley mill says MSFT is having a hell of a time hiring, but when I asked that question up in Redmond, I got quite the opposite answer.

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Good Evening. More IPOs For You…Including a Mapping Giant…

Salesforce seems to be finally going ahead, an amended filing is here. They apparently had to deal with a bunch of SEC stuff, but it's on again. Lead banker: Morgan. Revs in 2003: Close to $100 million. Profits around $3.5mm. And Navteq filed while I was at MSFT, the docs…

Salesforce seems to be finally going ahead, an amended filing is here. They apparently had to deal with a bunch of SEC stuff, but it’s on again. Lead banker: Morgan. Revs in 2003: Close to $100 million. Profits around $3.5mm.

And Navteq filed while I was at MSFT, the docs are here. Navteq, you say? Who the f*** are they? Well, the provide the mapping info for Yahoo, auto nav systems, et al. The CDDB of maps! OK, revs in 2003…ready? $237 million. HOLY SHITE! But wait, they have operating income of nearly $65 million. And some odd tax stuff (any CPAs out there?) which put their net income at … $235 millon! Oh my goodness….Bankers Credit Suisse and Merrill.

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Want to Grok The Google File System?

Then start here, with the paper describing it. And here, with a blog entry that describes the virtues of having a product platform. Excerpt: We have designed and implemented the Google File Sys- tem, a scalable distributed file system for large distributed data-intensive applications. It provides fault tolerance while running…

Then start here, with the paper describing it. And here, with a blog entry that describes the virtues of having a product platform.

Excerpt:

We have designed and implemented the Google File Sys-
tem, a scalable distributed file system for large distributed
data-intensive applications. It provides fault tolerance while
running on inexpensive commodity hardware, and it delivers
high aggregate performance to a large number of clients.
While sharing many of the same goals as previous dis-
tributed file systems, our design has been driven by obser-
vations of our application workloads and technological envi-
ronment, both current and anticipated, that reflect a marked
departure from some earlier file system assumptions. This
has led us to reexamine traditional choices and explore rad-
ically different design points.
The file system has successfully met our storage needs.
It is widely deployed within Google as the storage platform
for the generation and processing of data used by our ser-
vice as well as research and development efforts that require
large data sets.

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Grokking Furl: Storage, Search, and the PersonalWeb

Today I finally got to talk with Mike Giles, the fellow behind Furl. He's based near Amherst, Mass, but used to work out in California, most recently at Vitria, a businessprocessenterpriseapplicationsoftware (ie, BigBoringButImportant) company. He started there when it had 20 employees, rode it out as it went to 1200…

furlToday I finally got to talk with Mike Giles, the fellow behind Furl. He’s based near Amherst, Mass, but used to work out in California, most recently at Vitria, a businessprocessenterpriseapplicationsoftware (ie, BigBoringButImportant) company. He started there when it had 20 employees, rode it out as it went to 1200 and went public, then bailed (it’s now at about 300 or so). Before Vitria he founded a startup, then, closed it. In other words, he’s one of us – he’s been through the roller coaster, and he’s wiser for it.

Something tells me he’s pretty happy in his current gig. He’s the only full time employee, but works with a small cadre of contractors and friends. He’s got between 5-10K users since announcing the beta in January.

Mike started Furl about a year ago to solve a problem he – and a lot of us – had with bookmarks. Namely, bookmarking is a lame, half-assed, unsearchable, flat, linkrotten approach to recalling that which you’ve seen and care to recall on the web. Now, a lot of folks have made stabs at solving this particular problem, but Mike’s got a lot of very cool features built into his beta, and more on the way.

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The Web As Platform

I've decided to add a new category to Searchblog, and with it a new facet of coverage, which I'm calling The Web As Platform. For reasons I hope to make clear over time, I think search represents critical binding for this particular erector set. This meme has been around for…

I’ve decided to add a new category to Searchblog, and with it a new facet of coverage, which I’m calling The Web As Platform. For reasons I hope to make clear over time, I think search represents critical binding for this particular erector set. This meme has been around for a very long time, in various flavors, but any number of circumstances are gathering which have given it significant traction and I find it important and fascinating. I’ve been doing a fair amount of work in this space, work I’ll be announcing later in the year, but for now, I hope you agree this is a space worth watching.

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