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Olson’s Observations

Technology. Innovation. Science. VC. Media. :: by Eric Olson

Archive for December, 2005

Outside the Echo Chamber

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I’m writing this post from Salem, VA in my girlfriend’s mom’s condo. I note my location because it is what inspired this entry. Salem is a different town than what I am used to. In my “regular” life I am always connected, always on, always within seconds of the web. Technology and the web are definitely a passion of mine. Here, however, people are not as aware of the web in comparison to the group of people I normally associate with. At Christmas dinner I found myself explaining what I do to people, some of which, were disillusioned with the web and what is has offered the average user so far. They feel like they have been let down by the technologists. If they are going to use the web, they want it super simple and I can’t say I blame them.

I explained RSS technology and what it enables people to do and they loved the idea and wanted to know how to start using the technology. Even with my explanation, they felt it was still a bit cumbersome but I assured them that we are working toward making it very simple to use so the technology can live up to its billing as Really Simple Syndication. To my surprise, the conversation didn’t just hinge on RSS and other bleeding edge technologies. It also veered toward the web itself and how usability issues still need to be addressed.

Now, I know some people will never think the web is easy enough to use and that it is just not worth the time and effort to get up to date with the technology but I do think the web could use some improvements and I know I am not alone. With that said, I mentioned to my dinner companions that version 2 of the web, which is being built right now, is aiming to address usability and create communities online. As I went through my explanation people got very excited and one woman actually gave me her e-mail address so I could send her a quick note on how to start reading news via RSS.

This excitement from the average user is what we should always be striving for. It is what gets me excited about what the web can do and how it can transform communications and societies. Sure, I love the latest technology as much as the next geek (at any one time I’ll be on 5 or 10 beta tests of some sort) but it is when that technology transcends through the alpha geek stage to the average user that it becomes really exciting and beneficial to society.

Written by Eric Olson

December 29th, 2005 at 12:22 pm

Posted in General Thoughts, VC

The Elegant Universe

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I just finished a book last night that was incredible. If you are a physics geek like I am or even if you just want to know more about a theory that could possibly explain everything than The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene is for you! Greene writes in such a way that anyone can understand the gist of what he is talking about so it is great book for anyone. With that said, it is a pretty intense book and not a book I would recommend for light reading. I took quite a bit of time with the book myself since I really wanted to try and wrap my head around the concepts.

In the book Greene takes readers on a journey through the history of physics from Newton to Einstein and on to String Theory (M-theory). The background you get in the beginning of the book is a perfect primer to the more advanced string theory. Basically, string theory says that, rather than point particles, the universe is in fact made up of microscopic strings that vibrate in different manners and that the vibrations actually correspond to what we see as electrons, protons and so on. Not only that, string theory also provides for 11 dimentions and possibly parallel universes! Fascinating stuff…

Even more fascinating is the fact that string theory explains all, or most of, the physical properties (relativity, quantum mechanics, etc.) that we already observe. String theory implies that they should be there! Basically, if string theory was the first thing that was found, everything else we (and by we I mean physicists) have discovered would have been a given. String theory also gives rise to some interesting black hole explanations but I don’t want to give too much away. Well, OK, I’ll give a little bit away but you’re going to want to read the book to get the full picture.

The center of black holes actually have the same characteristics that physicists think were in place before the “big bang.” They have been able to figure this out, more or less, through string theory. The interesting conclusion that can be drawn is that the centers of black holes are actually universes or universes before the big bang. Why don’t we see them you may ask… well, the black holes event horizon shields us from seeing anything inside. The event horizon is the point of no return. No light can escape past it and out of the black hole and all matter that passes the line will be sucked in forever.

The book seriously blows the mind. It is an incredible piece by one of the people on the forefront of string theory but it is still written in a way that “regular people” (who are willing to put in the time) can understand the big concepts. I recommend giving it a read if you want to take a look at the BIG picture through a very small lens.

For more on the Elegant Universe and string theory please visit the Elegant Universe webpage. Also, you can watch the entire NOVA special hosted by Brian Geene himself and entitled the Elegant Universe online. Enjoy!

– I am going to put a piece up in my “normal” style very soon as I was inspired to write on google and yahoo through a piece written by Jason at 37 signals today. Look out for that or, better yet, if you are not already subscribed please subscribe and you’ll get my posts automagically!

Written by Eric Olson

December 15th, 2005 at 2:19 pm

Posted in Books, Science

FeedFlare is here!

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We at FeedBurner, and by we I mean the incredible engineering and design team, just released a new feature called FeedFlare. FeedFlare adds a whole new level of interactivity to feeds. Here is a screenshot of the pieces of flare you can add.

Feed Flare Screen Shot

Just a quick note: you can click on any images in this post for a larger, more readable, image.

This development is very exciting. It ties feeds in with the rest of the web in a way they never were before making the feed a true part of the online community. I went ahead and added FeedFlare to both this feed and my podcast feed. Here is a screenshot of what it looks like in the VentureWeek feed.

Feed Flare in VentureWeek

From the screenshot you can see that you can now easily e-mail the post to a friend, tag the item in, see what tags others have used and view my creative commons license. The interactivity this will bring about should be amazing. So, start adding your FeedFlare today and remember that the minimum is just not enough. Be like Brian and add some flare to your feed!

In other news… EContent editors just named FeedBurner one of the Top 100 Companies that Matter Most in the Digital Content Industry. Check out this link for more info.

Lastly, we just announced a deal with Reuters, the world’s largest international multimedia news agency. They selected us to deliver global news and advertising to its subscribers in the U.S., U.K. and Japan! This is great news and, being a former investment analyst, I am psyched that we now work with a service I used religiously for years.

Well, that is all my FeedBurner news for the day. Great things are happening and I want to thank all of our publishers big and small because, in the end of the day, you are what drives our success.

Written by Eric Olson

December 13th, 2005 at 9:34 am

Posted in FeedBurner

Media Explosion

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Wow, I have been pretty lax in posting and I apologize for that. Things have been super hectic lately because of my move to Chicago (and because I haven’t had internet at home for the past week). In fact, today marks the end of my first week in Chicagoland. Why did I move to Chicago you ask. I just started a new job this week. I am now in Business Development with FeedBurner and I couldn’t be more excited! You can keep up with our announcements by subscribing to the company blog. Things are going great and I believe FeedBurner has an incredible future ahead of it (although I may be a bit biased)!

One of the reasons I love my job is that I get to reach out and talk to the blogging and podcasting community on a daily basis. In my first week alone I have spoken with a number of newbie podcasters (plug! check out my podcast) about how to get their feeds set up and distributed to services like iTunes. So many people are getting their voices out today with the help of technology and I think that is an amazing thing. What will be even more amazing will be the growth of blogging and podcasting as the developing world starts to receive more technology like the OLPC $100 laptop.

Imagine a future where you can view someone’s daily life in Vietnam or Egypt through a blog, podcast or flickr stream. We will be able to develop a better sense of other cultures and how they perceive things. This will hopefully give people more perspective on the world and the human condition. However, with this explosion of media comes a large responsibility. We need to develop better filters.

When I was in Cairo a couple of years ago my professor asked me to pick up a newspaper and give a read. In doing so I could instantly see the slant that the paper had. The same topic would have been covered much differently in a paper back in the US. I already knew that the news had biases built in (after all, we are only human) but I had never seen it as clearly as I had that day in Cairo. Now, with so many media sources out there, we will have to become better at filtering through them and taking biases into account. I believe we will get better at this as time goes on. I also believe that the larger publishing institutions, like the New York Times, will act as a guide to the average media consumer helping them through the maze of blogs and podcasts out there.

It will be interesting to see what the future of media holds and how it will affect society. Blogging and podcasting are here and are not going anywhere soon so the time to start developing more aware media consumers is now.

Written by Eric Olson

December 3rd, 2005 at 5:32 pm