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Olson’s Observations

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

Archive for June, 2007

TECH cocktail 5 - The One Year Anniversary

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TC 5I just made the official announcement of TECH cocktail 5 over on the TECH cocktail blog and while I was writing it I started to think about all that has happened in the last year to Chicago’s tech community and to myself.

First of all TECH cocktail blew away all of my expectations. When we started out to form TECH cocktail we thought that if we could get maybe 50 people in a room together we’d be doing really well and here we are with 100s of people showing up to each event and with expansion into the D.C. and Boston areas underway. It’s one heck of a phenomenon and it is one driven 100% by the community here in Chicago so thank you so much for your support.

Second, more and more great events have begun to spring up around the city. We had Chicago Beta start up and Keith has done a great job cultivating that group. We recently had Mashable’s Web Ascent here in the city. BarCamp Chicago had another great event this year (and this time around we were able to pitch in with some cash to help make it happen which was great). The list goes on. The point here is that the community is coming together, people are getting to know one another, and progress is being made.

Third, more and more great ideas and companies are springing up everyday with the existing companies continuing to gain momentum in their markets. For me personally this resulted in the sale of FeedBurner to Google making me a Googler. That sale should prove to be a good thing for the community and should bring some more visibility to what we’re all doing here.

Lastly, larger companies are extending their footprint here in Chicago. Google is one of those companies and I think that their expansion in Chicago will be a great thing for the community as a whole.

With so much great stuff going on here it’s hard to imagine a year ago when Frank and I were sitting at the potbelly on Wacker (which is actually no longer there now) talking about the fact that there had to be great stuff going on here that we just weren’t aware of and that someone needed to get an event together that would be a catalyst to collaboration and facilitator of networking among the Chicago tech community.

Thank you all for a great year and I look forward to the year to come. I hope to see you at TECH cocktail 5 so we can drink to the past year and look forward to the good stuff sure to come. RSVP as soon as you can!

Side note: Frank whipped up a great badge that you can use on your respective blogs to help promote TECH cocktail 5. It can been at the top of this post and the URL for that image is: i-enjoy-techcocktail-chicago-5-badge.png I would suggest linking it to or the RSVP page at

Written by Eric Olson

June 27th, 2007 at 12:20 am

Movie Review: Dreamgirls

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Dreamgirls PosterI was a tad skeptical about Dreamgirls at first because it definitely had the potential to be a very cheesy musical but I decided to give it a view anyhow. My initial skepticism wasn’t warranted. The film was very entertaining and contained top notch acting, directing and singing.

The songs definitely stole the show though. It was a lot of fun to be transported back into the Motown days and to see the dark smoky clubs give way to the brightly light extravagant stages as the girls began to move up in the world all accompanied by some incredible music.

The story was decent as well although it was a bit cookie cutter and a tad predictable.

That said, I recommend Dreamgirls for a time when you simply want to sit down and have a great time watching a movie (it’s not “heady” at all). The film is also kid friendly and has a touching “feel good” ending. Check it out if you have a chance. You won’t regret it.

Written by Eric Olson

June 21st, 2007 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Movie Reviews

Google Going Green

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Google has always been an environmentally conscious company but they are starting to take more strides toward leaving less of a footprint on this planet as of late. Today at Google Press Day in Paris they announced that they will be carbon neutral by the end of 2007. That is an amazing step forward and I hope other large companies (and small companies alike) take the plunge. If you’d like to learn more about Google’s plan for going neutral please check this out.

Google’s plug-in hybrid initiative is also moving ahead. As long time readers know I am a big fan of plug-in hybrids. They are the bridge that will get us toward a petroleum free driving future. It’s good to know Google likes them as well and is spending a lot of time and money trying to further the cause.

Of course I am now a Googler so I am a bit biased but I can honestly say that if I weren’t part of the company I’d still be equally as excited about these initiatives. Hopefully other companies will take Google’s lead and get green.

Written by Eric Olson

June 19th, 2007 at 1:23 pm

Video Sneak Peak: The New myAOL

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I am really excited to share a video of the new myAOL that my friend and TECH cocktail co-founder Frank Gruber put together. Frank is the Product Manager for myAOL (that’s why he moved to the D.C. area) and has been working day and night with his team on myAOL for a while now.

That said, I have read some of the criticisms of the product in the Tech Crunch comments (i.e. the product is not innovative, AOL is a year behind everyone, etc.) but I think the thing we all forget sometimes is that we are on the cutting edge of technology and not everyone is.

AOL is helping to bring the technology and ideas we’ve all proven out over the past few years to the masses. They help ideas and technology cross the chasm and that’s important.

For example, some people still don’t subscribe to feeds. I know… it’s crazy but it’s true. I think this product will definitely help more people understand feeds (among other things) and I think that is a very good thing.

myAOL should launch later this summer. Make sure to subscribe to the myAOL blog to stay up to date with Frank and team’s progress.

Written by Eric Olson

June 19th, 2007 at 9:05 am

Posted in Technology, Web, Web 2.0

Publish Once

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Feed IconPublish once. That has been my mantra for a while now but I find myself saying it to publishers more and more lately. What does it mean? It means that publishers should publish their content once and then let feeds carry it to many different places.

From what I see publishers still seem to be spending a lot of time on things that feeds could take care of automatically. That’s a shame not to mention it’s inefficient and a waste of time and money.

E-mail is a good example of a place where feeds can do the heavy lifting but a lot of publishers have yet to take advantage of that fact. If a publisher already produces feeds of their content then there is no need to spend a lot of time on creating e-mails. The publisher can simply allow the feed to produce and send e-mails with FeedBurner E-mail Subscriptions or another feed-to-e-mail service. FeedBurner will then add the e-mail stats to the other stats so that the publisher can analyze their audience in a more complete manner.

Widgets are another great example of a place where feeds can be the content delivery mechanism. Take my resyndicate page for example - any of those widgets can be used to resyndicate my content and they are all powered by the feed. I publish once (to my blog) and my feed carries my content to subscribers both via newsreaders and via e-mail, to widgets that appear on different sites across the web and to a host of services that list my blog.

What’s also great about allowing the feed to do the work is that the statistics start to become a lot more complete. If the feed powers everything (but the site) then metrics can be provided that will encompass the feed consumption via feed reader, via e-mail, via widget, etc. Combine that with site analytics and the total content picture, a.k.a audience engagement, starts to become a lot clearer.

I am sure there will be many more places the feed can take content as time goes on so I hope publishers will continue to realize the power of feeds and use them as the content delivery mechanism more often. In the end of the day feeds will allow publishers to save time and money and they’ll also lead to more complete analytics that will get publishers closer to an overall view of audience engagement.

Written by Eric Olson

June 18th, 2007 at 11:26 pm

Posted in Media, Media 2.0, Web, Web 2.0

Social Networks: Still Value to be Had

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Yes, you read right. This is a post on social networking. Wait! Don’t move on to the next post yet. I’ll admit that I have become numb to the whole social networking scene too (with the exception of my recent obsession with Facebook). There is no doubt that noise permeates the space these days. However, I’ve recently met a few folks who have shown me that there is still a lot of interesting things to be done on the social networking front.

The thing that has sparked my interest is high value niche social networks.

I find those types of networks interesting because there are a lot of creative ways to monetize them beyond ads. I like ads as much as the next guy but I think that social networks shouldn’t rely on ad models alone.

I won’t go into any business models that I have heard of recently just in case they weren’t intended to be shared but suffice it to say there were some really interesting ones.

Most of the business models centered around high value people and information. Since the group of people participating in a high value niche social network are part of a specific niche (woah - master of the obvious there) and presumably have a lot of value to add within that niche to others who are on the outside (i.e. stock market analysts, industry analysts, etc.) one could charge the outsiders for access to that information. Combine that approach with advertising (that will fetch a high CPM due to its targeted nature) and you’ve possibly got a good business on your hands and one you can replicate across other niches.

Of course you’ll have to be careful with regards to the access you give outsiders. Not only that but you’ll really need to be very open and honest with the userbase. It’s the ethical thing to do and the users with appreciate the openness. Sure, some may not come on board but most probably will since they’ll see the benefits of being able to talk to other high value folks within their niche about issues theya re facing and how to solve them.

Written by Eric Olson

June 15th, 2007 at 8:03 am

Posted in Technology, Web, Web 2.0

Solving R&D Puzzles from the Outside: A Lesson from Open Source Software

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I am regular reader of the Harvard Business Review magazine. In fact, it is the one magazine that I read cover to cover each month. If you don’t currently read it and you’re a business/management/strategy junkie like me you need to start. End of plug…

The May 2007 issue had a bunch of great stuff in it as expected but one of the smaller articles in the beginning of the magazine (the Forethought section for the HBR readers out there) was particularly intriguing. It focused on how companies could work with outsiders to solve their R&D issues.

The parallel they based the argument on was that of open source software. The open source movement has shown that opening up technical issues to a broad crowd of people can yield top notch solutions so why not apply it to other issues?

The article mentioned a company called InnoCentive based in Andover, Massachusetts that helps companies to “outsource” their R&D issues. InnoCentive posts corporate R&D problems to a group of outsiders who will attempt to solve them and then the solutions are passed onto the companies and InnoCentive pays the problem solvers.

One of the stats mentioned in the article that I found pretty important was this: In 30% of cases problems that could not be solved by experienced corporate researchers were solved by non-employees in the InnoCentive network. This just goes to show that an outside eye (and mind) can really be useful.

In terms of implementing a system for outside help in your business the authors of the article recommend you keep three things in mind:

1. Problems should be broadcast to people in various fields. People in other fields can sometimes apply what they know from their field in an interesting and innovative way to another field.

2. Prizes are necessary but not sufficient. People will do things just to get the satisfaction of solving a tough problem although if they are helping big corporations they will still expect some form of monetary compensation.

3. Insiders are still important. Even if the insiders can’t solve the problem they are still crucial when it comes to figuring out which problems should be brought in front of outsiders and which solutions the outsiders come up with will work best.

So the next time you’re having trouble solving a problem inside your company you should think about taking a page from the open source software book and look to the outside for help.

Written by Eric Olson

June 14th, 2007 at 10:52 am

Posted in Business, Innovation