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Kurzweil is the One

I attended Ray Kurzweil’s talk on Thursday night at SAP’s silicon valley reception center – a beautiful place with horrible acoustics and flickering brown-out lighting conditions. I was reminded of Frank Lloyd Wright’s quip that one can tell the architectural significance of a building by the number of buckets required when it rains. Good to be ERP

Kurzweil laid out the thesis of his new book, The Singularity is Near. Using 88 slides, most featuring that favorite of professorial obfuscating visuals, the logarithmic chart, he outlined significant events in technology and human evolution, both straight diagonal lines. His point being that change is accelerating, not just in technology, but in human evolution. The next leaps in human evolution will be the understanding of the human body as an information system, and miniaturization technology that allows nano-implants. Extrapolating from this thesis he sees the following developments.

By 2010 Computers disappear into wearable devices, images are written directly to our retina and we interact with computers through virtual personalities.

By 2029 the human brain will be reverse engineered. Humans will have millions of nano-neural implants in their brains. The result is an “intimate merger” of human and machine intelligence and the ability to reprogram our biochemistry to enable extremely long life.

By 2045 we will have reached the singularity, where we are more machine than man.

Sounds good to me, but the timing seems just a bit fast. 2010 for computers to miniaturize and be able to write to you retina – so that’s in Service Pack 2 to Windows Vista? Yes, there are exponential progressions all around us and humans are poorly designed to notice them. However, capital sources, governments and other large organizations are not on an exponential change curve. As one person in audience asked – why did it take 7 years to get to the moon in the 60’s but NASA just announced plans to get back to the moon, in 13 years. Kurzweil’s response was that just because it can happen, does not mean it will. It is a matter of focus and resources.

With significant ideas, criticism is just a drop in the bucket.

The Gnomedex XPerience

At my second GnomeDex today and the feeling is euphoric. Microsoft announced broad support for RSS in IE 7.0 and Longhorn. Excellent coverage here.

This is not a small announcement. Note that every analyst and every major technology and business publication had been briefed. Their demo and presentation was very slick and thoroughly rehearsed. They were prepared for questions.

Microsoft demo's easy RSS feed subscription in IE 7.0

My guess on the announcement – Longhorn needs a value proposition beyond a faster UI for people to upgrade. And RSS is a great value proposition. Prepare to be saturated with Longhorn advertising stressing RSS benefits next summer. It started today with their positioning on the evolution of Windows – Browse, Search, Subscribe!

The announcement has this, blogger and RSS start-up heavy, crowd feeling very happy. And not only is Microsoft behind the conference in providing a big announcement, but they are heavy financial supporters – “Microsoft Presents GnomeDex 5.0.”

Last Fall the conference was fun, but it was held at the dim and seedy Harrahs’ Lake Tahoe. Today the conference is at the pristine Bell Harbor convention center. Tonight’s party is at the brand new Seattle Public Library. The money is starting to flow in RSS.

Stanford e-Day 2005

On Saturday I was a panelist at the Stanford Engineering School’s annual e-Day conference. Having neither attended Stanford, nor graduated in Engineering, it seemed an unusual lapse of quality control.

The conference was keynoted by Jeff Raikes who runs Office for Microsoft and is by far the best communicator I have ever seen from Redmond. Granted this is not a very high hurdle, but he may have missed his calling in politics. The guy is a combination of aw-shucks Midwestern humility with an obvious keen mind and strong presence – the guy is devastating.

He talked to the standard issue Microsoft Presentation (one word per slide) and discussed the vision for the forthcoming Office 12:
“Remove corporate boundaries” – Groove operating through the firewall.
“Connect information and people” – Search
“Broad control” – Document DRM
“Business Applications” – Play nice with ERP/CRM applications
“Software services” – Live Meeting
“Unified Communications” – He gave an example of being able to take phone calls when he is on IM. Not sure if he realizes a million people were doing that while he was talking.

They are moving in this direction as Microsoft chose to “Expand the view of the Opportunity.” As such Office is no longer about productivity applications, but about “enhancing the productivity of those who do information work.”

I don’t know. For the first time I had to give serious thought about whether to buy Office with my new PC. I did, because of Outlook. But I find myself using OpenOffice more than Word as it has a great HTML editor and every document can be turned into a PDF. And it’s free. Their grip is tenuous. And the fact that he never mentioned RSS when his goal is “enhancing the productivity of those who do information work,” is stunning.
The irrepressible Jeff Kleck moderates at Stanford e-Day.
Moving on to our panel, Jeff Kleck did a stellar job of keeping it conversational and fun, complete with Nerf rockets to shoot at audience members who asked bad questions. While we were supposed to talk about “Managing Next-Generation Information Technologies and Services,” the discussion quickly veered to entrepreneurship and software business models. But not before someone asked me about the relative benefits of XML vs. relational database as a data model – a question I am uniquely unqualified to answer as a Finance major.

At the conclusion a member of the Stanford engineering department presented me with a token as I do not have an affiliation with Stanford. It was a School of Engineering drink coaster.

Well, it’s not an honorary doctorate, but I will get plenty of mileage out of this with the development team.

Bright Lights, Bad Business Model

Walking up Broadway on my way back from dinner, I noticed a crowd of people cheering under bright lights in the middle of Times Square. AudioSlave was blasting. Being a fan of the Jimmy Kimmel Show, particularly the concert series, I guessed it was a live simulcast and went over to join the fun. The picture below is the camera man dancing to the music while operating the steady cam.

Part of the concert series is the ability to buy the live performances. It was a good song and a nice “only in New York” moment, so why not?

Because to get the music, you must download Sony’s soundstage software. I don’t know what that will do to my computer, and Sony is not telling as there is not even a FAQ on the site. Even better the music is DRMed to death – it only comes in Sony’s proprietary file format which only plays in SoundStage or Sony’s iPod knock-off.

I would have happily paid my $0.99. I would have paid $10. But if you want to install your spyware on my PC and give me a crippled product, no thanks.

Earlier in the Day I had listened to Scoble discuss a major value point for RSS – he is happy to have relationships with companies, but it must be on his terms. I could not agree more.

New York City, in the Bag

Returning to my hotel (too cheap to stay in the conference hotel), I found that the common areas had been rented out for the Radar Magazine Launch Party. Pushing through the Paris wanna-be’s on my way out to dinner, I was talking with my daughter on the mobile who was enthusiastically telling me the results of her swim lesson. As I exited the hotel, one of the staffers ran after me down 45th street and in panicked tones yelled that I forgot my goodie bag. I began to object and he screamed “Just take it!”

In the Bag
Match.com ¾ arm length burn-out t-shirt.
“Don’t you know who I think I” Radar Magazine T-Shirt
Jhane Barnes eye glass case (no glasses)
Radar magazine
Altoid small mints
Bottle of Mark Body Lotion, “Hollywood Pink Flamingo”
Mark Kiss Therapy lip balm, “Sheer Red”
Hotel QT Lollypop
Small Piece of unblessed Kabbalah Red String
Hardcopy book “StarStruck” When A Fan Gets Close To Fame
One bottle each Gardnier Shampoo, Conditioner and Leave in Conditioner
Pamphlet, Betty Ford Institute.

Syndicate Conference

Overall it was a rousing success, especially given it was a first time conference. A sell out crowd – I moderated three panels and I did not get a conference bag – they ran out. The audience was heavy on execs from the publishing side of media companies trying to figure out the implications for their business. Mix in a few technologists and a few dozen corporate marketers and you quickly see that RSS is everywhere and changing everything. Below are a few of the most interesting thoughts/factoids from the conference.

Paul Kedrosky Companies give their CEOs $500,000 of training on proper disclosure under Sarbanes Oxley. Then they give a product manager a blog. Both are disclosures in the eyes of the SEC. This will lead to a lock down of information in the post hobbyist phase of blogging.

Elliot Ng and Scott Wilder of Intuit. There are 20 million small businesses in America and only 3 million use account software. Our challenge is to reach these late technology adopters. We use Blogs, Wiki and RSS Feeds to help create highly engaged customers that will evangelize our product and create new customers.

Charlene Li email is my to do; RSS is my to know.

Bill Flitter our customers are lowering their cost of customer acquisition by 50% using RSS Advertising.

Rok Hrastnik Three case studies with hard facts:
RSS for Search Engine Optimization resulting in a 75% increase in traffic,
Private label branded RSS Aggregator resulting in 23% click-through rates
RSS Feeds to customers with click through rates 75 times higher than commercial email.

Luxembourg is the new Redmond

Let’s just say it – Skype has build the operating system for the internet in two years. In the annals of the technology business, it’s probably only second to Paul Allen buying DOS for $50k. But 20 years later, Redmond fiddles (with Longhorn) while Skype burns up the internet with a scalable (peer-to-peer), secure, real-time communication network with directory and network-based identity.

The first application of course, is voice. When I talk to my fellow Americans about Skype, the universal reaction is – why not just use your cell phone? With our inexpensive communication services, huge country, and globally-challenged thinking, rich Americans don’t get the power of free global calling. But it caused 100,000,000 people to download Skype. Think about that – how many broadband lines are there in the world? Did I mention that this is the size of their directory? Their milestone last week was three million concurrent users.

Baring the Telcos introducing network latency prior to the arrival of WiMax, the telco’s will suffer, but you still need broadband. However, the disruptions caused by Skype go much further, because if they can do secure voice, everything else is a lay-up.

Skype recently added the number three communication application, Chat. They have also added file sharing and voicemail. What’s next? My guess is email and then RSS. Then they watch for interesting applications created by third parties via their API. Skype rips off the idea and makes it better since they control the platform – see, they really are the new Redmond.

Remember all those cool applications that the rich client crowd promised LongHorn would deliver – you know before they stripped out WinFX and made it XP 2.0. Longhorn was to empower information workers by intelligently prioritizing the flow of information we all receive, IM, RSS, phone calls, web and video conferences, voicemail, email, etc.

Who’s the one company who can do that now? And can do it from any device? And look at the lock-in – screen name, billing relationship, Skype-in number today. Tomorrow your contacts, your data, the relationship between and among both, and finally, network intelligence. It’s finally come true – the network is the computer.

AD:Tech MOB:Scene

For those of you who think the trade show business is over, visit AD:Tech today through Wed at the Marriott in San Francisco. AD:Tech Panel

How big can the business of selling technology to advertisers be? The above picture, taken from my panelist-eye-view shows the standing room only crowd. And we were in the smallest of the five rooms!

For those of you who can’t get enough RSS Marketing, I will also be moderating a couple panels at the Syndicate Conference as well as on a panel at Stanford’s E-Day.

Is Microsoft Serious About RSS?

If you answer no, take a look at their beta RSS Aggregator. Click on “show.” Have fun. Unless you are a web-based aggregator vendor, then you can shriek in terror.

Note the following features:

Snappy Ajax interface
Ease of adding RSS Feeds (they don’t have to be cached)
Neat organization of My Feeds, Recent Searches
Collapse All / Expand all RSS Feeds
Directory style navigation with subscribe-able sub-directories
And most of all, the best UI of any web based aggregator – by far!

I am reminded of the early days of Outlook when Microsoft went from worst to first in email in a matter of quarters.

Bet Bloglines is happy they sold.
And if Yahoo reinventing their company around RSS why can’t they do this?
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Update to original post. Less than 24 hours later, they took it down. [Insert your own conspiracy theory here]. Richard McManus has screen shots.

Busy, but Thanks!

A quick thanks to Jeff Nolan at SAP Ventures, who had some kind words for SimpleFeed yesterday. He is recommending us to his portfolio companies and we would be delighted to help.

I have been busy, lots of exciting stuff in the works. But I look for a long post next week, complete with the usual sarcasm and bad puns.