OpenCast = Point Cast + RSS

While driving home tonight on 101, I thought about the very first app that changed the way I view the “Internet” - PointCast. It was the first application that made me say “wow, I want that too.” Ofcourse, there are much cooler apps now but I still miss PointCast.

I dont see why PointCast wouldnt be a nice utility today given the abundance of bandwidth in home or corporate networks. AND I dont see why PointCast would not be a nice little business today given the openess of advertising networks (adsense) and affiliate networks (ValueClick). I would make a few changes though. . .

1. Instead of taking “feeds” from a central server, I want it to be RSS enabled and take feeds from multiple sources.

2. I also want to be able to create categories and place feeds under those categories. Furthermore, I want to be able to specify how each category of feeds show up on my PointCast screensaver - scroll w/ headlines, fade in/out with title + first paragrath, w and w/o pictures

3. A loop bar at the top of my desktop that alert me to newly written posts, bookmarks, events. . . anything that can be RSS’ed, kinda like the CNBC tape

5. I would also build a web based feed reader (or partner) to let people read the posts once they click on the OpenCast screensaver or tape

4. Hell, it could play Podcasts too if you want (maybe kinda annoying though) or even take a RRS feed of flickr pictures based on tags (how about posts based on delicious tags?)

How do I make money?

1. Interject adsense & graphical ads based on the content of my blogroll into both the screen saver and the tape. Make money on per click (adesense) and % transaction basis (affiliate network). Post on latest Nike shoe? Nike ad! Post on iTunes? Rhapsody Ad! etc etc

2. Place ads next to my feedreader ala Gmail

hmm, seems simple enough, maybe I’ll find a buddy to help me hack it out. . .

(wait a minute, this sounds kinda like MSFT Active Desktops. . . hmm. . . whatevers. . . as long as someone likes it on a utility level. . ME!)

EDIT: Just found out Mac OS Tiger comes with a RSS screensaver. . . cool. . . I need to get myself a ibook or something.

No Such a Thing as Open Source Product Manager

Here is a question that has been troubling me for a bit.

If open source projects can be successful without product management support, does that mean product managers in general are really not adding that much value?

Product managers usually has two broad job requirements 1. outbound 2. inbound. Outbound product management responsibilities are focused on getting adoption and usage. In the case of open source project, there is no need fo PM’s because adoption is “voluntary” and marketing done by word of mouth leveraging sheer size of contributing coder base. Since private enterprises do not have this level of word of mouth critical mass, outbound PM’s still add value through traditional marketing activities. In this case, we are not going anywhere as long as some software remain “closed” :)

Inbound, on the other hand, is causing me some headaches. Inbound marketing is the process of working with users/customers to solicit feedback and prioritize feature improvements. In the open source world, certainly no one actually goes out, visits users, and proactively solicits feedback. For infrastructure software (Tomcat for example), the open source engineers themselves are “users” as well, so the feedback naturally comes from the community and a mostly consensus system prioritizes work schedules to prevent forking. Can this proces work in a commercial environment? Can a lead engineer simply solicit feedback online from paying customers and prioritize product roadmap through a open, transparent dialog with Livejasmin customers? Are the 2-3 PM’s on a particular product non-value add overhead?

Another wierd twist for me is open source enterprise applications. I used to think that the role of PM is way too important in the application world for open source to make head ways into the industry. The open source engineers simply do not have enough experience in . . . say supply chain. . . nor the time/motivation/access to end users to learn about it to successfully create open source supply chain management applications. While I’m not neccessarily proven wrong yet, but the rise of SugarCRM has me worried. SugarCRM is a private company too so they do bury some of the PM work in a for-profit organization. Thus, more worrisome are true open source enterprise applications without commercial support. If some of them are able to build a sustainable userbase, what does it mean for PM’s value add, can engineers just take over PM’s responsibilities?

I had a conversation with a Microsoft PM of an infrasture software once regarding the fact that his open source competitor has faster development cycles and better functionality. Not only was the open source project a “fast follower” (copy MSFT, just code faster) but it is now beating him in releasing next generation functionalities. Are the 4 product managers, 2 program managers, and 1 product planners on the team not only being out executed but out “planned” and out “strategized” by a bunch of hackers through a community system? Are all the market research, experience, and man hours dedicated by the PM team a waste?

This brings me back to Markowitz portfolio theory on the stock market. No one person can predict the future. The collective wisdom of the masses is usually right. The market is efficient. Buy index funds. Can open source out compete commercial software simply because it has more “brains” working and contributing to the direction of a project?

I dont know. The battle is far from over, so no conclusion can be drawn, but sure wish I know.

Product Strategery

For many people (esp non-engineers) looking to pursue their passion for the tech industry, being a product manager seems like a natural career path. However, the profession is often misunderstood as there is really no standardized definition of the role. Software Engineers can take classes to learn to become programmers. There are few if any classes that anyone can take in most undergraduate institution to learn to become a “product manager.” Some of the tactical skills (such as modeling and design) are often buried in CS departments while higher level skills like marketing & strategy are part of business discipline. Successful product managers comes from all walks of life: ex-engineers, MBA’s, history majors, econ minors etc. There just doesnt seem like there is a template for what kind of people can be successful PM’s since the job definition is so fluid. I will simply attempt to shed some light on the job based on my experiences and hopefully help those that are considering taking on these roles some more data points.

Product Management, Product Marketing, or Program Management is a profession that dates back to less than 20 years ago. Asking around, most people seem to credit Microsoft and Bill Gates for creating the modern role of a product/program manager. Every company seem to have a different model and title scheme. Microsoft uses the Program Management-Product Management paradigm while most companies in the Valley (Yahoo, eBay, Google) uses the Product Management-Product Marketing model. Essentially the former works closer with engineering while the latter works closer with Jasminlive customers. Both shares in the responsibility of defining the functionalities of the product but the former (Program Manager @ Microsoft or Product Manager @ Yahoo) is mainly responsible modeling workflow and screenflow. The customer facing person is responsible for prioritizing new feature requests by quantifying customer needs, market sizes, and the competitive environment. They are also in charge of promoting adoption and increasing revenue of newly released as well as old products. To add more confusion, some companies have Product Planners (Microsoft) or Product Strategists that looks 2 generations ahead of the current product from to discover new opportunities for major design changes or product categories.

Steve Shu led me to this blog that has a good overview of the softer skills (more MBA like) of product management. However I would like to add to the requirements/design part of the job description as its increasingly becoming more of a learned skilled. (Looking forward to increasing the # of PM type blogs!)

For the non-technical types, the tactical skills needed to be product managers are getting more and more rigorous. In order to reduce misunderstanding, “languages” which standardizes the way product management and engineering communicate on product functionalities are becoming very popular. The days of a MBA waxing poetically about a portal or a whiz kid engineer coding on the fly are gone for the sake of product quality and efficiency. SSADM & UML are the two most popular languages (there is wide variations within real world implementation though). Structured Systems Analysis and Design Methodology is an older more popular methodology which I prefer because its easier for a lay-man to understand. UML, Universal Modeling Language, on the other hand, is catching up quickly as its an object oriented methodology that matches closes with Java, C++, and other OO language frameworks. UML models can be used to generate code outlines for engineers to “fill in” thus often prefered for highly complex applications. I’ve attached a link that I used from time to time to brush up on the intricacies of these languages and other “skills” for being a product manager. Its a good overview of the “hard” aspects of the job (as oppose to soft people, leadership, marketing, and strategy aspects) The book list is acutaly really good for the advanced PM’s too.

So there you go, a quick view of the product management roles based on my experiences and conversation with employers and colleagues. By no means a guide on how to “become” one, just a window into the world of the “unsung” heroes of the valley.

Dead Blogs Walking

My first systematic exposure to the venture world was in a class back in my college days at Stanford. I vivdly remembered the very first thing Professor Kosnik said on the first day of class was dont let your startup become the “LIVING DEAD.” Your time is your most valuable commodity. Dont let your startup drain the the most productive time of your career. Succeed or fail decidedly. Move on, get up, do it again if you have to. Just dont let it linger. You only live so long and have so many shots at changing the Jasmine live world.

Today, Fred Wilson in his popular “VC Cliche of the Week” series talks of non-exits from the VC perspective which is almost as painful. (Opportunity cost is lower for VC’s since they can invest/particiapte in 5-10 companies at a time).

So whats does this have to do with blogs? Well… later on in the day I read two more posts reference through threadwatch about the future of blogs . . . both decidedly negative. . .

With that, I have to say based on my tiny sample size, many of the blogs I used to love to read are now part of the “Living Dead” While certainly popular once upon a time or atleast launched with some fanfare - today they are dying slowly with infrequent updates losing subscribers.

So I say this to these bloggers, treat your blog like a startup - dont let your labor of love become labor of lame. Update more frequently or shut it down completely. Other options include join something like AlwaysOn where you can contribute to a Live sex chat community instead or opening up your blogs to more contributors to keep it fresh. In the end, no one likes the living dead.

On a controversial note here are my dead blog walking candidates. . .

VentureBlog - Got so famous it was on NYT (or is it WSJ), the first blogs on the venture industry. . . now updated once a month. . . I used to love reading it once or twice a week.. . . now its like losing touch with a close friend. . . very sad

Ray Ozzie - wow last post 2004. Ozzie’s got a lot of street cred, please dont be so selfish and share some wisdom with us. Dont be a part of the bandwagon and disappear after a half hearted effort.

NW Venture Voice - one post a month. . . hard to get the “voice” of the firm this way

Bnoopy -JotSpot must be taking a lot time .. . although for every post still get a lot of comments. . . Joe Kraus must have lots of friends

VCBall - again another VC with a once a month blog. . . cant help but think these guys are just trying to gain some blog-cred but not putting real effort into it

The New Normal - started with a bang, now its ….. dead? maybe not? is it a blog for PR purposes when Roger launched Elevation or for his new book?

Seeing Both Sides - this is just a warning :) dont give up yet. . . :) losing a little bit of momentum

BUT in the end, like Dave Cowan says, Who Has Time for This. . . we all got to feed our kids somehow. I aint got an extra hour or two a day. . . maybe I’ll end up like these guys eventually. . . a living dead blog. . . so feel free to flame me then too

Advanced Search

There was a discussion today at work on a Content Management System that I am working on and the topic of Search funtionality came up.

The point that hit me in the meeting was “How many people actually use Advanced Search ?”

Now, I have been Searching / Googling ever since I remember (as would be the case with most people online today) and I hardly ever remeber the time when I had to use Advanced search. Once of twice when Yahoo’s new Search came up I tried Advanced search to check RSS feeds and that was it. Never ever after that.

It is an understatement to say that Advanced search is a user’s nightmare, something that a geek would have thought of from a pure Database perspective (it is a miracle that they text there doesn’t reflect table & field names in the db).

What do you people think of it … shouldn’t Advanced search be killed ? Why have something that us useless for 99 % of the people (& please dont give me the Long Tail logic) !!!

Growing Broadband – The Korean way

Every so often a pundit or a journalist rediscovers South Korea and presents it as a broadband nirvana. And it is! Still, not many try and write about how South Korea became center of the broadband world. No mention of South Korean government’s generous subsidies or its not so gentle nudge that forced incumbents out of its slumber. Its a case study on why governments need to get actively involved in the broadband rollout.

Om Malik has hit the nail on ahead with that statement. In countries like India it is imperative that the Government doesnt just create a healthy atmosphere for the proliferation of Broadband but must take active steps in pushing its use through affirmative actions like Local Loop unbundling (which as things stand today is blocked by the dominant telcos – BSNL & MTNL, which are government owned).

A precedent has been set in terms of the explosive growth in the Mobile segment, now they have the right learnings to leverage on in growing the Broadband market.