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Olson’s Observations

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

Archive for November, 2007

Google Rank Issues

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Strangely enough this site - which used to rank #2 for the search “Eric Olson” - is now wiped from the record of that search (realized it from looking at my referral traffic in my FeedBurner site stats - in fact, all my search traffic pretty much dropped to zero for any term). I can’t figure out how or why that happened. I am hoping maybe someone out there can help me understand where I may have went wrong or how Google may have missed me. Please comment on this post or shoot a note to eric [at] ericjohnolson.com if you have any ideas.

Believe me, I know I am not the most important Eric Olson in the world but I figure my site should turn up in the first handful of results for my own name. Is this because I am now a Xoogler? C’mon guys… I still love “the Google.” :-)

Written by Eric Olson

November 30th, 2007 at 10:12 pm

Posted in General Thoughts

Happy Thanksgiving! Some Food for Thought

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I for one am looking forward to a relaxing day of eating, eating and more eating (why hasn’t someone created a web app for that yet?). I thought I would pass along a couple posts I caught today that I think are worth your time during the holiday. Here it goes!

Todd Vernon on Scaling Your Web App

Todd wrote a great post on scaling your web app today. Most of the points he makes are common sense and yet so many startups don’t do any of the things he talks about. If you run a startup and your product is a web app then you should give Todd’s post a read and make sure you are doing everything he says. Don’t be a green bean. While they are good vegetables you shouldn’t aspire to be one.

Don Loeb & KommonKraft’s New Media DoucheBags Video

I am so happy Don posted this video as I had yet to see it. Check this one out while you’re in you tryptophyan stuper because then it will be even funnier. Also, as Don points out, this could be a fun video to show when someone at the dinner table asks you what you do for a living.

Written by Eric Olson

November 21st, 2007 at 11:52 pm

Amazon’s Kindle: Looking Forward or Backward?

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Amazon Kindle

Update: John makes a good point in the comments about the closed system the Kindle plays in. I should have mentioned that in the post as it is a serious drawback. My hope is that Amazon eventually realizes that and, with their considerable power in the book sales arena, pushes book publishers into freeing things up a bit more. They will also hopefully free up the device so I can read other e-books I have in PDF form or otherwise.

Original Post:

The response to Amazon’s Kindle has been overwhelming and not very surprising. As soon as I saw the device I knew the tech bloggers out there would rip it to shreds. There were a few points of contention that one could easily see would top the list.

1. Blogs come with a monthly cost on the kindle.

Clearly this is due to the fact that the kindle runs on an EVDO network and it costs money to send data through that network. However, I think the online media piece of the Kindle was something that was added on later (at least I hope it was since there were some clear mistakes in the execution of that idea) and that the device is really meant for reading books which it clearly does well. In fact, Bezos made a point of saying the Kindle was a device for reading books.

2. The form factor and UI aren’t exactly pleasing.

Just look at the device. It is clearly evident that no designer at, say, apple had their hands on this one. All in all I don’t think it is a bad first shot though. It can only get better right?

3. It’s just another device to lug around.

A lot of folks see the future of content distribution moving to devices like the Blackberry and the iPhone and I can see that as well. I mean, if I can carry one small device with everything on it I want then I will be a happy man.

However, that line of thinking doesn’t work when it comes to books. When I sit down to read a book I want to be comfortable, feel something of substance in my hand and not have to strain my eyes. I can’t even imagine reading a book on my Blackberry. I do read the news on my Curve a lot and even that strains the eyes. The Kindle, however, addresses all of those issues.

Also, I tend to carry a book (or two) with me all the time to read on the train, while I am waiting for something and to read during my constant travel. That said, carrying the lighter Kindle with multiple books loaded on it (and the ability for me to buy a new book anytime anywhere) is perfect for me. I look at it as a huge space and weight saver as opposed to another gadget to carry around.

4. The price is a little steep.

I would have to agree on that. At $399 it is pretty close to being too rich for my blood. I am thinking about waiting a little bit to see if a price drop occurs after the holidays. I don’t know though. I really want one of these suckers (yeah, I said it). Amazon - think you can spare one for this blogger? (It’s worth a shot.)

The Real Deal

Honestly, it seems as if this is just another case of the echo chamber jumping on a product that may not fit our/their thoughts for the future but that a lot of people would actually use. I still think the future that is discussed in the echo chamber will come to light but it is still a ways away.

iPhones and Blackberrys are not nearly at the point where I, or anyone else, could read a book on them and I am not sure they will ever be. Why? Well, we want those devices to be small and, when people want to read books, they want a large screen and something they can hold on to without contorting their hands as they slide into their chair for a long read. They also want something that has a screen that emulates paper/print, not a blacklight screen that causes eye fatigue.

The Kindle is a great device that still gives the user the feeling of reading a regular book without the hassle of carrying a bunch of books around and without having to wait for books to get shipped to them.

I really like this device a lot. I hope that in future evolutions the design and UI improve but the basic concepts and features seem to be spot on. My favorite things are:

  • The free EVDO based downloading of books, newspapers, etc. (The media isn’t free but you don’t have to pay for a data plan.)
  • The auto-saving of your place in each book.
  • The backup on the Amazon site of all your content.
  • The size.
  • The E-Ink screen that looks just like a printed piece of paper.
  • The super long battery life.
  • The ability to search the book or piece of content for certain phrases.
  • The ability to add notes to the books and to “dog ear” pages.

I have to hand it to Amazon on this one. This is certainly a device that will make my life easier and my reading more enjoyable while also making all of my content easily accessible anywhere. Let’s just hope they can lower the price and make the thing look a little nicer while improving the UI a bit.

I have to agree with Joseph Weisenthal when he says:

Although Amazon’s been working on this for awhile, this is very much a first-generation product. It’s not going to revolutionize the industry overnight, though it sounds like Amazon is going to take this business seriously and continue to invest in it. It seems safe to guess that in a couple years, the top-of-the-line Kindle will be a much-improved product. The concept is definitely sound [emphasis added by me]. Bezos’ speech had most of the audience pretty enthusiastic about the device—the problem is the gap between the description and the device itself. With some improvements to the display and a more intuitive navigation system, it could become an attractive product, even at the price.

Well said. Now, all I need Amazon to do is let me port my current library of books, both read and unread, into the Kindle and I would be sold on buying one of the first generation devices.

I have about 20 books in my backlog now sitting at home on a shelf that I would love to port into a Kindle. I am not sure how Amazon would determine that I bought them though. Perhaps they could look through my purchase log at Amazon.com, Half.com, etc. and let me port anything in those lists? Any thoughts Amazon? Is this possible or is it in the works? Paying for books twice would definitely be a bummer.

Written by Eric Olson

November 20th, 2007 at 3:50 pm

TECH cocktail Chicago 6: Thanks Chicago

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TECH cocktail Chicago 6TECH cocktail Chicago 6 went well this past Thursday and, I have to say, it was nice to be back in Chicago. Things are happening in that city. Watch out Silicon Valley! One of my favorite stories of the night was how a couple days prior to the event some long time friends finally received funding for their business.

Mike and Matt, the founders of Chicago based GrubHub, received $1.1mm in funding led by Origin Ventures to continue expanding their burgeoning empire. What made the story hit even closer to home was that there were significant ties from GrubHub and Origin Ventures to TECH cocktail.

GrubHub actually demoed at the second TECH cocktail event at the Gramercy in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago and Origin Ventures has been a long time sponsor of TECH cocktail. I am going to go with the story that both parties first met at TECH cocktail but I have yet to corroborate that.

As if that story wasn’t enough we had another great evening with over 500 people in attendance and some great sponsors and demoers. Since they foot the giant bill I think thanking the sponsors is now in order.

Thank you to the TECH cocktail Chicago 6 sponsors which included Centro, Carepages, Athena, Optimus Solutions, SingleHop, ChicagoMicro, myAOL, Interactive Mediums, Saper Law, Fiodan Corp., SitterCity, NUDirection Consulting, MK Capital, Origin Ventures, SeatQuest, Accounting Services Provider: Frost, Ruttenberg & Rothblatt, P.C. and Preferred Legal Services Provider: Hinshaw & Culbertson.

Now, on to the demoers:

42 Friends, LLC - Facebook app creations like “Growing Gifts“, “Goals” and more
Cappex - a safe and effective tool for finding the right college for you
Dawdle - buy and sell new and used video games, systems and accessories
VMDirect - video email system
PropertizeMe.com - online property management system
SeatQuest - online ticket search engine that virtually shows you your seats
Songza - online music search engine and player created by Humanized
ViewPoints.com - personalized online review system
Waves.TV - create a Web TV channel and broadcast online in a matter of seconds

There are definitely some great companies in that list. Check them out when you have a chance.

Lastly, make sure to check out the photos from TECH cocktail 6 and add TECH cocktail as a contact on Flickr. A big thanks to Rachelle Bowden for being the official TECH cocktail 6 photographer. If you had your picture taken in front of our sweet backdrop go check out Rachelle’s site to find it and make sure to thank her for making you look so good.

Since it is so close to Thanksgiving I feel it is only apropriate to end with some notes on what I am thankful for.

Things are happening in Chicago and, even though Frank and I are living outside the city now, I am still very grateful to be a part of it all. Chicago is where I cut my teeth in technology so it will always be a special place to me (who knows - I may be back…) and staying involved in what is happening there is very important to me.

I am also lucky enough to have a lot of great friends in Chicago tech who are some of the best and brightest entrepreneurial and tech minds around.

Lastly, I am thankful for the all the love and support TECH cocktail has received from the community. Without all of you the event doesn’t happen.

Chicago is a great place to build a company and it is only getting better. Keep up the great work everyone!

Written by Eric Olson

November 19th, 2007 at 6:30 pm

BuzzFeed Update: Feature-iffic!

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It is surprising but I haven’t written anything about BuzzFeed since I have been here and it has been a month and half so far. This post is a long time coming.

As you can imagine we have all been super busy at BuzzFeed HQ lately. On the development side we have been constantly pumping out new integrations. You can now get BuzzFeed content in Pageflakes, Netvibes, iGoogle and on your apple dashboard. You can also get updates in your favorite feed reader, e-mail service, mobile phone and via twitter.

The most recent addition was our typepad and blogger integration. No, if you have a typepad or blogger blog, you can simply add the widget to your site with about one click.

These integrations are the tip of the iceberg though. We have a lot of ideas and new features coming out soon including a lot of things that will add value for publishers using the BuzzFeed widget (hint: start using the widget now so you can be the first to get the new stuff). I can’t say much more than that right now but I think you will all like what we’re putting together.

On a more academic note: we’ve really been pushing the boundaries of our back end algorithms and optimization technology. Frankly some of the stuff we’ve built around our own organic content and producing it is pretty cool and hasn’t been done before (at least not to my knowledge). Who knows, that could be big for us too.

A blog is also in the works so you’ll eventually be able to see how weird we all are, oh, and the unsolicited rap video we were sent (Press/Play Hotline baby! It’s pretty ill.) which is awesome. Who wouldn’t love to get a freestyle rap about their company in their e-mail? I’m down with that fo’ sho’ or something like that.

No speaking engagements coming up for me although speaking at Blog World last week was a lot of fun. I finally got to become a Lijit Wijit (yeah, I am a Lijit fanboy) which was pretty awesome as well. Not to mention that I got to finally meet Fraser, a guy I have corresponded with for about two years after we both found each others blogs, for the first time. We hung out with some friends for the night and it was like we had known each other for years. Funny thing that internet. He’s now at Adaptive Blue and kicking some ass. He’ll soon to be moving to NYC as well. Watch out! NYC is starting to really break out as a tech hub!

More updates to come very soon including more on the big idea behind BuzzFeed which is our word-of-mouth marketing platform. Until then, check out BuzzFeed.com each and everyday for your pop culture fix (and subscribe), tell your friends about it and add our widget to your blog (please).

Written by Eric Olson

November 14th, 2007 at 5:27 pm

Posted in VC

Automattic and Partial Founder Buyout

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I was as surprised as most when I heard that Automattic - the guys behind WordPress - turned down a $200mm buyout offer but it looks like Mr. Arrington may have uncovered the reason why. It looks like Automattic’s investors aren’t ready to cash out quite yet and would like to do another investing round.

Ho hum you say? So what? Well, there is a twist to this new round of funding. Apparently “most” of the money will go straight into the founders bank accounts. Yup, that’s right, it looks like the founders are going to be partially bought out by their investors.

This new round of funding will be lead by existing investor Polaris Venture Partners and is rumored to be somewhere around $50mm.

It seems as if the investors think the company can surge past the $200mm offer and head toward a bigger sale but, with only $1.1mm put into the company meaning the founders still own a lot of it, the founders thought the $200mm was a good price. To keep the deal on the table the investors have agreed to simply buy some of the founders shares in the form of another round of funding.

Of course a lot of folks, including myself, have talked about this type of situation but this may be one of the bigger instances it actually happening should the deal prove to be true.

I will be eagerly watching this as it plays out to see if:

a) The partial founder buyout pays off for the VCs in the form of a bigger sale price.

b) The founders stay as committed to the business even though they have a lot of cash in hand.

I am not sure Automattic is worth more than $200mm but we’ll see they may have something up their sleeves. As for the founders still remaining engaged - I have always argued that they would out of passion for their idea/product but this was in the context of much smaller amounts of money ($1mm - $3mm or so). However, I want to believe that, in this case, the founders still feel that Automattic is their baby and they will want to see it reach its potential. We’ll see…

This could prove be a big data point for the idea of partial founder buyout.

Written by Eric Olson

November 14th, 2007 at 5:27 pm

Posted in Business, Technology, VC

Intense Debate and Madkast

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Just a little housekeeping. I recently added some functionality to this blog that I thought you would all enjoy. The first thing I added was madkast. You have probably seen the little green image next to the titles of all my posts. Well, that’s madkast. They let you the reader quickly and easily share my posts in a number of different ways should you deem them worthy of sharing. The install is quick and painless and I would suggest giving it a try if you have a blog.

The second thing I added was intense debate. Intense debate is a really slick new commenting system that simply replaces the one your blog already comes with. In fact, with WordPress all you need to do is install a simple plugin and you’re ready to rock.

Intense debate does many things including comment tracking, user profiles, threaded comments and commenter reputation. They also let you import old comments and will send your comments back to you if you ever decide to leave.

As Brad Feld pointed out comments are the dark matter of the blogosphere so it is great to see someone shedding some light on them.

That is all.

Written by Eric Olson

November 14th, 2007 at 4:37 pm

Posted in General Thoughts