Will mashups ever be mass market?

October 26, 2007

By Jack Schofield


When Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer spoke at last week’s prestigious Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco, he announced a public beta test version of Popfly to try to impress the crowd. Because it’s based on Silverlight, Microsoft’s alternative to Adobe Flash, it can certainly do some nice visual tricks. Its practical value is, of course, another matter.

Popfly is an online system where anybody can create a graphical web page, a mashup or a Windows Vista Sidebar gadget by “drag and drop” programming.

The term “mashup” comes from the music business where it is used for mixes made from two or more different songs. In web 2.0 terms, it means combining data from two or more sources. One of the best known mashups takes government crime figures for Chicago and plots them on a Google map of Chicago.

When Yahoo! launched a beta test site for creating mashups in February, it had the idea of streams of data being changed and combined: the result was Yahoo! Pipes. Popfly uses a different kind of imagery that’s much more like object-oriented programming. Everything comes in a red box or block, and you create your mashup by linking red blocks together.

The Popfly toolbox already contains dozens of blocks. Look under Display, for example, and there are blocks such as Bar graph, Carousel, Chat bubbles, Page Turner, Photosphere and Slideshow.

Other blocks offer streams of data, including RSS feeds of news reports, Twitter and Upcoming. There are also blocks such as Combine, Filter, Sort and Timer so you can do things with data along the way. If you can’t find the sort of block you want, you can create one.

Each block contains lines of computer code, so when you link them together, you are actually writing a program. What’s cool is that it doesn’t feel like it.

Popfly has lots of nice visual effects, but I found some things didn’t do what I expected, and it wasn’t always easy to see why.

For example, I did an extremely simple mashup to fish 100 random Paris Hilton pictures from a search engine, and display them in a mini-album on my Facebook profile page. Actually it showed only 20 images, and it didn’t display them on Facebook: it just put a link to the album on Popfly. It was easier to post it to a blog: even I can manage a one-line copy-and-paste operation!

There are several sites doing the same sort of thing as Pipes and Popfly, and Intel has just unveiled MashMaker, promising “Mashups for the Masses”. Google also has the Google Mashup Editor, which is only suitable for programmers. No doubt there will be many more.

Microsoft’s mantra is “developers, developers, developers,” and naturally it wants to make programming accessible to people with no programming skills.

Given enough pre-created blocks, I can imagine lots of people connecting two blocks, or even a few, if it does something they really need. But a mass market? I don’t think so!


Dashwire mirrors your mobile phone content to the web

October 23, 2007

Dashwire is a service that mirrors the content on your mobile phone to a personal web account. At this time, Dashwire mirrors your photos, videos, text messages, bookmarks (Internet Explorer Mobile only), contacts, and phone calls. The great thing about Dashwire is that it is a web 2.0 service and thus they can roll out updates and new features on the server at any time and they do have lots of great features planned for the future.

There is a small Windows Mobile client that runs on your device and the web server client. They plan to roll out clients for other mobile phones in the future as well so hopefully anyone with a mobile phone can use this services.

Profile:In the profile area you can manage your account (email, password, and selected phone) and your public page. You can select what items (photos, video, comments, friends, purchases) appear on your public page and who can view your public page (everyone, friends, no one but you). I don’t think all the pieces of the public page customization are working yet as mine shows videos and photos even if I remove that from the selected content. You can also change your image/avatar and the background image of the page. There are several stock background images to choose from and customized backgrounds are not yet supported.

Photos: Dashwire picked up all the photos I have taken with the Advantage that are stored on the 8GB microdrive with no issues at all. On the Dashwire Dashboard you can see thumbnails of the photos I have taken. Clicking on a thumbnail opens the picture in a larger preview screen with options to send, download, rotate, delete, and close along the bottom of the photo. I did get an application error when trying to download so that will need a bit of work. This would be an easy way to send photos to Flickr or other online photo sites if you wanted to maintain those site with your photos.

Videos: Videos appear as thumbnails on the Dashboard like the photos. Clicking on a video opens another preview screen that actually loads and plays the video. You can pause, make the display larger, and control volume in the player. You also have the options to send, download (I get the same application error right now), delete, and close the video.

Messages: The text message module is one of the coolest things I have seen on Dashwire. You can quickly filter/search your test messages, which may be helpful if you have a ton of messages and want to see a conversation with someone you had. You can show them all, sent messages, or received messages. The new message option lets you quickly enter a recipient and then enter your message right from your PC. The message then gets sent out to the recipient through your mobile phone carrier’s text message plan so it comes through your phone and not through the internet. Using text messages this way is likely to satisfy any wireless carrier concerns with hijacking their text messaging service and since I have cheap unlimited text messaging through T-Mobile I am fine with this strategy. Maximizing the Messages module shows you the date and time of the message, full message text, phone number/contact, and status (sent or received).

Bookmarks: Bookmarks sync your Internet Explorer Mobile favorites to the Dashboard. You can’t mirror bookmarks from Opera or other browsers, but with Opera on the Advantage I can easily import IE Favorites so that isn’t a big issue for me. It is much easier to enter a URL on a full size keyboard and managing bookmarks on multiple devices has always been an issue for me that is now going to be much easier to control with Dashwire.

Contacts: Your contacts appear with their assigned photo (if you have this setup on your device) or default icon in the module. Clicking on a contact’s icon opens up another pop-up page that lets you edit the contact details if you desire. You can also assign tags to group contacts and navigate faster through the Dashboard. You can send SMS, send email, delete, and close the contact pop-up page as well. Like SMS messages contacts can be quickly searched for in the module. You can maximize the Contacts module and see thumbnails of your contact details as well.

Calls: Calls appear in a list and can be filtered by all, dialed, received, or missed. There are colored arrow icons to denote the status as well. A search box allows you to quickly find calls. Maximizing this module lists your calls and shows the date and time of the call, call duration, phone number/contact, and status.

Source: ZDNet.com

A checkpoint on Web 2.0 in the enterprise (Part 2)

October 23, 2007

The last few weeks have seen a series of interesting new reports, studies, and papers on the past, present, and future of Web 2.0 concepts and applications as applied to businesses. Most notable for many industry watchers have been fairly rigorous new works by McKinsey & Company as well as Forrester, whom have each released the results of broad surveys of executives in various industries. The focus of both surveys was to capture a picture of the interests, activities, motivators for Web 2.0 adoption of several thousand C-level executives in medium to large companies.

While both the McKinsey study and Forrester report have summaries online — and you can read a detailed breakdown of the fascinating adoption numbers in Nick Carr’s excellent roll-up of many of the key numbers in the reports — what stands out clearly from the state of Web 2.0 in business last year is the almost surprisingly high levels interest in some of the more advanced, and powerful, concepts in the Web 2.0 practice set.

Gartner, for its part, had its own take on things last year with their widely covered hype cycle report on Web 2.0, indicating the things like collective intelligence (ostensibly the core principle of Web 2.0) would be a long term, transformational business strategy that they felt at the time would take at least 5 to 10 years for broad industry uptake. However, the report from McKinsey intriguing suggests something much different may be taking place.

The numbers McKinsey provides from actual business leaders seems to indicate that broad, active interest in collective intelligence is rapidly forming in the offices of many company’s CIOs, CTOs, and other executives. McKinsey cites that fully 48% of the nearly 3,000 leading executives surveyed are actively investing in collective intelligence approaches. What makes this interesting is that this number is a good bit more than executives are currently reporting that they are investing in other well known Web 2.0 approaches including social networking, RSS, podcasting, and even wikis and blogs, which come in about 1/3 lower in overall interest. In fact, out of all the Web 2.0 trends surveyed, only Web services has a bigger footprint than collective intelligence in terms of current investment. This strongly suggests some kind of sea change in business thinking since last year.

This is a fascinating outcome since at a grassroots level in the enterprise, and certainly out on the Web, the rise of wikis and in particular blogs, are a much more common phenomenon than apps that focus on collective intelligence, the latter which would manifest itself as any software which aggregates the combined user created input of employees and/or customers, partners, and suppliers en masse to create better knowledge and decisions. And although both wikis and blogs both accumulate collective intelligence (albeit relatively unstructured) via user participation — open group editing of content in the case of wikis, and conversations via comments and trackbacks in blogs — it’s probably the more formal, more structured, and centrally driven collective intelligence model that respondents were likely referring to since blogs and wikis were already represented in the survey.

Collective intelligence leads blogs and wikis in terms of business interest?

Taking a look at these results in general reminds us that many of the outcomes that Web 2.0 technologies enable — the free flow of information, emergent structure, higher levels of social activity, and decentralized do-it-yourself peer production — are sometimes subversive and even somewhat disruptive to traditional corporate structures and management processes. Because I suspect that a survey of these same items taken of the general user community — and not management — would find a different set of answers, and one that would likely emphasize the Web 2.0 platforms that are under more end user control. By this I mean the aforementioned blogs and wikis, but probably social networking applications as well.

Why is this an important distinction? This question takes us to the actual changes that the consumer Web appears to be imposing increasingly on our organization from the bottom up. The diagram I have above shows which aspects of Web 2.0 tools and technologies are primarily created and controlled with relative democratization by users (which is why they’re called peers in this case), and which ones are primarily enabled, in fact are made possible at all, by centralized IT. Web services, APIs, and mashups are classic examples of centrally created things which need governance and management, not to mention good design and architecture, something that is still just not very DIY, at least yet. On the other hand, blogs and wikis are simple, elemental Web 2.0 platforms for self-expression and participation and are as simple to create by anyone — along with the latest best practices — as spending 30 seconds in the setup pages of your favorite enterprise blog or wiki hosting site.

However, as we’ve seen with things like IBM’s promising QEDWiki platform that allows wikis to be the front end of an SOA, the world of end-user powered Web 2.0 platforms like blogs/wikis and the world of enterprise IT infrastructure and SOA — the latter which organizations world-wide have been pouring billions and billions into the last few years — are not separate worlds at all. In fact, it’s increasingly apparent that the Web 2.0 technologies which emphasize the most user control are also the very tools that can unleash the investments the business world has been making in information technology for almost a decade, particularly around interoperability and reuse based on the open Web services model. The best way to exploit and leverage our businesses is increasingly likely to use the combined power, reach, and ease-of-use of platforms such as blogs and wikis to tap into and make use of our vast, and all-too-often underutilized islands of data and IT infrastructure.

And as I discussed in my previous post, effective Web 2.0 in the enterprise, whether that’s basic Enterprise 2.0 or a much broader and expansive view of Web 2.0 design patterns and business models which I’ve called Product Development 2.0 for lack of a better term, actually requires the active support of both the users on the ground as well as the top levels of an organization to really take off. Business are structured much differently that the consumer Web and major impediments to use of Web 2.0 production and consumption scenarios exist. This include lack of good enterprise search, mountains of closed legacy systems, the challenge of securing highly open, deeply integrated applications, and conflicting data models (XML, relational data, rich media, and more.) These are all challenges to the ultimate success of Web 2.0 in the enterprise, even to the point that some organizations are increasingly at risk of IT users doing so much themselves that the IT department can begin to lose control. That is, unless they jump into the trenches with their users and help guide the application of Web 2.0 tools without significantly hindering forward progress.

Source: ZDNet’s blog


October 22, 2007

by Michael Muchmore

The first big microblogging/moblogging site, Twitter boasts the largest audience among sites of its ilk. But some of the finer points of its operation, and its help, could stand some improvements in usability.

The original microblog with the largest audience. Easy to get started.

Some interface elements unclear, as is the help. No search for posts.

Twitter’s overnight Internet fame stems from one simple question: “What are you doing?” You have 140 characters of text to answer, and as soon as you hit Update, the site’s millions of users can see what you’re up to. This small idea has blossomed into a hugely popular phenomenon, with its users covering the entire Earth, developers creating scores of helper apps for it, and a raft of imitation sites. This is the “social-networking and microblogging” site where you can read fascinating and mundane quick takes such as “ate a piece of cherry pie” or “just had a great workout.” But despite the service’s seemingly trivial function, which causes many to snub it and can at times make it akin to listening to other peoples’ cell-phone conversations, Twitter fills a gap left by other forms of communication.

After a simple sign-up involving the standard username, password, e-mail, and CAPTCHA entries, you can join the conversation, adding text to the “What are you doing?” box. Each Twitter entry, aka “tweet”, is followed by a time stamp and its source. Clicking on the time stamp brings up a page of the tweet alone. If you don’t want everyone in the world to be able to see your tweets, you can make them private and visible only to people you approve by checking the Protect my updates box. It’s all or nothing: All your posts will be either public or private. I’d prefer to see more options that would let you make some posts public and others private. It doesn’t seem as if this would be particularly difficult to implement—blogs have had this ability for years.

But posting via the Web site is hardly the whole story. Since the post size limit fits within the SMS 160-character limit, one of the features that adds immediacy to Twitter is the ability to update your posts from a cell phone. You can do this by sending a message to the service’s short code, 40404, after you’ve verified your phone number. (Short codes should be familiar to you from TV promotions that ask you to vote via text message—these are reserved numbers that work just like telephone numbers.) Finally, you can make a post through AIM, Jabber, Gmail, .Mac, or LiveJournal instant messaging. This misses a couple of the big IM names—Yahoo! Messenger and Windows Live Messenger—but it still covers a lot of ground. Oddly, when I sent a post from IM, it was marked “from Web” at the end. If you send from your phone, the tag says “sent from txt.”

Once you enter a tweet you can’t edit it, but you can delete it by clicking the trash-can icon. A star next to every post lets you designate it as a favorite, and you can access all your favorite posts by clicking the Favorite link under Stats on the right sidebar. There’s no way to search posts based on text—something I think limits the usefulness of the site—but it’s a limitation shared by Jaiku.

In addition to being able to view everyone’s public Twitter posts, you can “follow” another user, which means his or her posts will appear in your Home page timeline, and you’ll have the option to receive text messages or IMs to alert you of your followed one’s posts. To find people to follow, you can click on Find & Invite at the top of the page. From here you can search for Twitter users in your Gmail address book, invite new friends, or search existing Twitterers. Once you find other users you can opt to follow them. You can also add people to follow on your phone. The icons of all the users you’re following will appear at the bottom of your right-hand sidebar. If there’s someone in cyberland that you don’t want to be followed by or don’t want as a friend, you can go to that person’s page and choose the Block link.

To respond to a post that strikes a chord in you, there are two options: You can reply publicly or Direct Text the original Twitterer. To reply publicly, Twitter uses another fairly counterintuitive method: You have to begin your response with “@” prefixed to the username of the Twitterer you want to reply to. This will be familiar to posters on non-threaded discussion boards, but I’d prefer a simple “Reply” link. Jaiku’s Comments feature handles this better, despite the argument that everything posted in these microblogs is a comment, so why the need for a separate comment feature?


The Twitter Phenomenon

Twitter has been taken up so exuberantly by the connected community that it’s now used by the MTV Music Video Awards, presidential candidate John Edwards, and even some news organizations and fire departments to communicate their urgent messages. Its own vocabulary has even emerged: As mentioned earlier, a Twitter post is called a “tweet,” and “tweetups” have taken place where “tweeps” have met up in the real world for social gatherings. You can find a glossary of Twitter terminology at the Twitter Fan Wiki.

Twitter’s API has engendered a bunch of interesting mashups and third-party software integrations. A couple of these show a world map with live updates: TwitterVision and TwitterFaces. And though Twitter’s own “badges” (Twitter’s name for widgets or gadgets) give you a way to display your Twitter feed on your blog, MySpace, or Facebook page, third-party developers have produced many more ways to interact with the service. Firefox extensions, such as TwitterFox, TwitBin, and TwittyTunes let you add to and read your Twitter stream from that browser. Standalone apps—Twitteroo, Twitterific for Mac OS, and the Adobe AIR–based Tweetr—offer yet another way to interact. A service called TwitterMail, as its name suggests, gives you an e-mail address for posting and receiving replies.

Help in Twitter could be better. By default, if you click on Help, you get a bug submission form. You can get the mile-deep FAQ three clicks later from a second-level outline link. I also think the interface could be clearer. How about some tooltips for stuff like the favorites star? Tabs saying Archive, Replies, and Recent are almost clear, but what about “With Others” and “Previous” for a Twitter feed you’re following? And the whole “following” and “followers” concept could be better explained.

As far as compatibility goes, Twitter displayed and worked just fine for me in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, and Safari.

Twitter effectively started the whole “microblogging,” “moblogging” revolution, and it has garnered a tremendous following that includes presidential candidates, pop stars, news teams, and emergency units. As the first of its kind, its interface and capabilities are somewhat limited compared with those of some of its imitators: It doesn’t have the picture support you’ll find in yappd, not to mention the file- and video-sharing capability of Pownce. But Twitter can expose your activities of the moment to the largest audience of any of these sites, and its cottage industry of third-party software tools offer the most ways to participate.

Source: PC Magazine

A Practical Internet for Your Phone

October 19, 2007

By Kate Greene

In theory, at least, Internet access on cell phones is a useful thing. However, the slow speed at which Web pages load, their small formats, and the phones’ clunky interface collectively make extracting information from the Internet excruciating. But now a new startup based in Cupertino, CA, called Mobio aims to directly connect cell-phone users to the information they want, allowing them to bypass Web browsers.

This week, Mobio will introduce its first product: a suite of free, downloadable “widgets” for cell phones. These widgets can collect real-time information from a number of different Web services–for instance, mapping services and directory listings for restaurants–and combine them into a simple program on a phone. Mobio’s suite features nine collections of 50 widgets, including ones that give quick access to the phone numbers of local cab services and locksmiths, ones that provide maps to local restaurants that are open late, and ones that let a person buy movie tickets and book a table at a restaurant.

The idea behind widgets isn’t new, of course. Apple’s OS X operating system has offered them for years, letting people track sports scores, compare gas prices, and search the Web, all without using a browser. And recently, a number of established companies and startups have been working to put the same sort of capabilities on cell phones. Nokia, for example, offers a collection of feed services called WidSets that let people get blog updates and see recently posted Flickr pictures. A startup called Plusmo, based in San Jose, CA, offers a similar service. Both Nokia and Plusmo’s applications, however, draw from a single source at a time.

What distinguishes Mobio, says Sanjeev Sardana, the vice president of products, is that its widgets show information and provide access to a combination of disparate services. The information is provided by partners such as OpenTable, an online reservation service. The information is then collected on Mobio’s server; combined with other services, such as directory listings and an online map; and downloaded by phones that have Mobio’s software. Mobio acts, in effect, like the middleman, aggregating the useful data from around the Web and dispensing it to phones over the cellular network.

To get the widgets, individuals need to register themselves and their cell phone on Mobio’s website. Following authorization, the software will be downloaded to a person’s phone. Depending on the network connection, this should take about a minute.

It’s not easy to manage the data that is streamed to and stored on resource-constrained gadgets such as mobile phones. However, Sardana believes that Mobio’s technology addresses some of the major technological challenges. For one, the data that’s sent over the network is compressed by the server software so that it doesn’t eat up as much bandwidth, which makes it faster to update. Additionally, only the information that’s needed for a specific query is sent. For instance, if someone is leaving a movie for which he or she reserved tickets using a widget and wants to find a restaurant nearby, that individual won’t need to reenter his or her location information. The data from the movie transaction is used by the application to locate the individual at that time; the restaurant widget then searches for eateries near the theater.

Mobio’s widgets currently only work on phones in the Cingular, Sprint, and T-mobile networks, and only if they’re Java-enabled, although the company expects that future versions of the software will be compatible with Windows Mobile and Blackberry. This somewhat limited availability highlights one of the challenges of offering Web services to mobile phones, says Daniel Dailey, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, in Seattle. “It’s hard to have client software run on all the phones,” he says.

Sardana thinks that in the future, the widgets could take advantage of real-time location information provided by the phone. Existing applications were designed with GPS in mind, but the location-based feature will have to wait until more phones have the capability. “As more handsets become GPS-enabled,” Sardana says, “then we will seamlessly blend that into our applications.”

MIT Technology Review

Changing the Way People Search

October 19, 2007

New start-ups are changing the way people search the Web — and the way advertisers reach them.

Now that Google is a verb, it would seem the story of search has been written, published and put on the shelf. But don’t put that book away just yet. Dozens of start-ups are working hard to re-write it, both with Google’s help and without it.

Much of the new technology in search focuses on the flood of multimedia content that Google’s underlying technology doesn’t address. Search engines for video, audio and even three-dimensional still images are coming to market and changing the way users think about search. One search start-up has optimized its engine for mobile users, and opened a new platform for content providers to make their sites more accessible by mobile users, too. Others are trying to improve the search experience for online shoppers.

At DEMO 2006 in February, a conference showcasing new technologies and companies, 10 of the 69 start-ups on stage had developed new concepts in search. At DEMOFall seven months later, half a dozen more unveiled search plans.

What this means for small business

As companies change the way that people can search the Web, small and mid-size businesses need to keep abreast of the new techniques. Searching the Web is one of the key ways that potential customers find companies with which they want to do business in the 21st Century. If new types of search technologies take off, businesses may need to reassess how they describe their products online, how their websites optimize search and/or advertise on search engines and what type of multimedia content they feature on the Web.

Start-up Transparensee, based in New York City, is designed to improve search results by understanding the meaning of data fields in structured data (as opposed to Google’s emphasis on random, unstructured data). Using this kind of “fuzzy” logic, Transparensee allows users to weight various parameters; if they say they’re looking for a 10X optical zoom camera with 5 megapixels of resolution, they’ll get to see the 12X cameras with 6 megapixel resolution if those models are in their price range.

In multimedia search, Pluggd, of Seattle, Wash., offers HearHere, a search service that lets podcast listeners avoid irrelevant content by taking them straight to the segment of an audio or video feed that relates to their search request. Nexidia, of Altanta, recently introduced a “developer edition” to let content sites add audio indexing similar to HearHere’s search. The company is already well established in audio analysis for enterprise and government needs, such as analyzing call center conversations and finding interesting segments of surveillance recordings. Sonic Foundry Sonic Foundry, of Madison, Wis., also provides audio search through Mediasite.com, its “rich media” database of expert lectures and presentations.

“We believe search lies at the heart of efficient, Web-based communication,” says Sonic Foundry CEO Rimas Buinevicius. “Finding a specific document or phrase has become a necessary part of working and learning.”

That may also influence the type of content that companies may want to feature on their websites in order to attract traffic and potential customers.

Reaching mobile customers

Search also has become an important part of the mobile experience. Rather than paying $1 to $1.50 per 411 call, mobile users are trying out free mobile text services. Start-up 4INFO, of Palo Alto, Calif., has taken its mobile text-message search service a step beyond those offered by Google and Yahoo; the company recently debuted an open development platform that lets any content provider create 4INFO-searchable content. Revenues from advertising embedded in the search results are shared between 4INFO and the content provider.

Potential customers also are finding easier paths through the search thicket to the products they want. FatLens, of Mountain View, Calif., which recently rolled out an event search site that sells tickets, also has created a site, TheFind.com, which does comparison shopping searches without relying on advertising dollars to influence the order of the results. According to Jupiter Media Metrix, 82 percent of online shoppers use search sites to find what they want, but 85 percent of them are dissatisfied with the experience. If sites like TheFind.com ease their pain, small companies should be able to compete with major retailers to sell their products on an equal footing.

Source: INC magazine

Startups Get The Spotlight At Web 2.0 Summit

October 18, 2007

Startups are behind many of the innovative services offered in the emerging Web 2.0. While many Internet companies evaporated during the dot-com crash in 2000, new ones have been born in the next-generation Internet, taking advantage of the growing use of broadband and better technology for building browser-based applications. During the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco Wednesday, many startups were mentioned as favorites of panelists at the conference’s workshops. Here’s a sampling of the sites that got the nod from their peers:


37Signals targets individuals and small businesseswith Web-based software with the least number of features necessary. “Our products do less than the competition ” intentionally,” the company says on its Website.

Products include Basecamp, a project management and collaboration app for sharing schedules, files, messages, tasks and more with team members or clients. Other services include Highrise for tracking leads, clients, and vendors; Backpack for calendaring and organizing ideas, to-dos, notes, photos and files; and Campfire for group chat.


EchoSign is a signature service that claims to be used by more than 125,000 businesses and individuals. The service enables users to sign documents over the Web, or through fax. The service also can store and manage signed agreements. Among the company’s partners is Salesforce.com.


ThinkFree, which is in beta, bills itself as a “free online alternative to Microsoft Office.” The site offers 1Gbyte of free storage, document collaboration and a document viewer that enables users to edit Microsoft Office documents, spreadsheets and presentations online. The company, which targets small businesses, also offers offline software that’s being optimized for Intel-based mobile Internet devices, which are essentially handheld computers.


Workspace has launched its “sandbox release,” which is the testing version of the site’s online development environment. Features includes a syntax highlighting editor for editing text, PHP, JavaScript, HTML, Java, Perl, SQL, and other types of files directly on a remote server. The online utility also provides tools for finding and managing files on a number of FTP sites simultaneously. Each user also gets some storage on Workspace servers.

Virgin Charter

Virgin Charter plans to make generally available in February 2008 an online marketplace for booking travel on private planes. The site offers tools for small aviation companies and potential customers to negotiate deals for private jet travel. People or businesses looking for a private jet initiate the process by posting trip itineraries to solicit bids. The site plans to offer ratings on buyers and sellers to help both sides in the negotiation process.


Zoho offers online productivity applications that include a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tool and organizer. The company’s services, however, go beyond what most people would associate with Microsoft Office. Other Web tools include conferencing software, an organizer, a project management application, a full-feature Wiki, collaboration groupware, and chat. In general, Zoho is a lot about Web-based collaboration and communication.

The event, which runs through October 19, is expected to be chocked full of discussion and debate about the most important issues and strategies driving the Internet economy and what we might expect in the coming year.

Headlining the bill will be Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp., as well as Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, and Philippe Dauman, CEO of Viacom.

Source: Information Week

NYT: Simple Software Solutions From Those Who’ve Been There

September 26, 2007

WHO better to understand the software that a small-business owner needs to run a company than another small-business owner?

Such thinking was the inspiration behind NetBooks, a software company introduced this month by Ridgely Evers, the owner of DaVero Sonoma, a farm in Healdsburg, Calif., that produces olive oils and artisanal wines.

“Most larger companies don’t understand this market,” Mr. Evers said. “They don’t respect it. How in the world can they serve it?”

With the design driven by Mr. Evers, NetBooks, of Rohnert Park, Calif., has released software applications for what it calls “true small businesses,” the 5.1 million or so owner-operated, self-financed companies that employ 2 to 50 people.

His own experience running DaVero shaped Mr. Evers’s conviction that small businesses need something other than watered-down versions of applications designed for much larger companies by executives and developers who have never been entrepreneurs themselves. It helps that Mr. Evers is the brains behind the original QuickBooks accounting software, giving him experience as a software entrepreneur.

“The companies we’re targeting are profitable from Day 1 because they have to be or they’re gone,” he said. “If you’re designing a service for the true small business, you choose ease of use. You don’t choose simplistic. You choose simple.”

Easy use was behind Mr. Evers’s decision to deliver NetBooks applications through the Internet rather than sell them at office-supply stores. The service is tailored for entrepreneurs who do not have the luxury of turning to staff technology experts to get set up and who need access to their financial and operating data from virtually anywhere.

Among the day-to-day tasks that NetBooks addresses are sales and customer relationship management; inventory, production and shipping tasks; and bookkeeping and financial reports. The service costs $200 a month for up to five users.

“The process of learning about the service was very interactive and positive,” said Paul Rosen, who owns Paromi Tea in Bethesda, Md., and is a NetBooks customer. “I saw that it could do everything I needed it to do. The customer service is amazing.”

The fact that the application was Web-based was a major reason Mr. Rosen chose it. “It allows me to be completely mobile and stay on top of everything,” he said.

NetBooks is not alone in thinking that small-business owners are more likely to buy services developed from their perspective and that the Internet is an efficient way to deliver them.

Take YourCostCenter.com. Brian Drucks, the president of the service, developed the application to determine a more precise way to price jobs for his fourth-generation contract-painting business in Mendham, N.J. As he began describing the application to business contacts, they helped him realize the service could work for accountants, contractors, architects, graphic designers and other professionals.

“Many people set prices at the beginning of the year, but when their expenses change, they don’t adjust them,” Mr. Drucks said. His service “allows you to recover those variable expenses that slip through the cracks,” he added. “You can make an educated decision versus making a decision based solely on your gut.”

YourCostCenter.com will calculate adjustments in job costs to offset possible losses. It costs $199 a year for one to five people and $399 for six or more. Mr. Drucks said he offered the application over the Internet for two reasons: first, most small-business owners he knows rely on getting their e-mail this way and are comfortable paying a subscription; second, it is easier for him to add features. “As a Web-hosted package, it never has to be complete,” he said.

For Arnie Bellini, the chief executive of ConnectWise, an information technology services company in Tampa, Fla., the decision to offer his own operations management software to peer companies was a revelation.

While discussing the possibility of selling his company about 10 years ago, Mr. Bellini spoke to potential buyers who said they were astonished by his 40 percent profit margin. They told him that many of his competitors said they earned average profit margins of about 5 percent.

He and the potential buyers realized that the difference was the business methods that ConnectWise had adopted because of its software, Mr. Bellini said.

“We started going to our friends in the industry to tell them about it,” he said. “They literally demanded that they get a copy of our software. They told us we had to sell it.”

The result was ConnectWisePSA, which the company sells as an Internet service for $50 a month per user, or as a $750 packaged product.

Analysts say software companies like NetBooks and ConnectWise play to the diversity of small businesses by avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach.

Michael Speyer of Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., who focuses on information technology issues affecting small businesses, said that many high-tech companies segment potential customers by the number of employees they have, overlooking the concerns of entrepreneurs versus those of corporate managers.

By contrast, NetBooks considers factors like how active the owner is as a manager, how much daily control he or she requires, the owner’s attitude toward using technology and whether a venture capital company has invested money in the business.

“I like the fact that NetBooks has taken a psychographic approach to finding out who their customers are and what they really want,” Mr. Speyer said. “This is really what counts. I think the way they characterize the market is spot-on. Stages of development are really what counts.”

Sonal Gandhi, an analyst with JupiterResearch in New York, said that small businesses were more open to using an application developed by one of their own. “There is certain functionality they crave,” she said.

Salesforce Dives Into the Mash Pit

August 22, 2007

by Steve Hamm

One sure-fire way for a tech company to generate excitement is to link up with Web search king Google. Salesforce.com, the high-profile seller of on-demand services, hardly needs the Google glow, but it’s getting it anyway. On Aug. 22, Chief Executive Marc Benioff is set to announce a new service, Salesforce for Google AdWords, that combines his company’s easy-to-use interface with Google’s powerful advertising engine.

Using the new program, Salesforce.com customers can manage their advertising campaigns from beginning to end. They can create advertisements, place bids with Google’s targeted advertising service, monitor the performance of the ads, and track all further interactions with the customers who click on them. “It helps eliminate click fraud,” says Benioff. “Now there’s a closed loop, so you know who clicked on your ad and what they bought”.

Salesforce.com’s application is part of the so-called mashup phenomenon, where two or more online applications are combined to create something more powerful than either is by itself. Until now, most mashups have been used on consumer Web sites—most of those used by businesses do very simple things, such as combine Google’s maps with business locations. The Salesforce.com application thoroughly integrates its core customer-management program with Google’s AdWords service. “Until now, I haven’t seen a lot of business value in mashups,” says analyst Rob Bois of AMR Research. “This is a real business value you couldn’t achieve without it.”

ALL IN THE FAMILY. The new application comes at a time when Salesforce.com’s fortunes are soaring. Its most recent quarterly earnings report on Aug. 16 blew the doors off analysts’ expectations. It added 57,000 new subscribers, bringing the total to 501,000. Meanwhile, revenue grew by 64%, to $118 million, putting the company on track to achieve nearly $500 million in revenues this fiscal year. After the earnings report, Credit Suisse upped its revenue estimate for the year to $489 million, from $487 million (see BusinessWeek.com, 8/16/06, “Salesforce.com Posts 2Q Loss, Raises View”).

The new service will carry an initial promotional price of $300 per customer per month. Long-term pricing will be set by the time of the service’s official release in October. Since only Salesforce.com subscribers can use the new application, it feeds the company’s core business, as well. “It’s like having our parents become friends with our in-laws,” says Benioff.

For now, Salesforce.com only plans a Google version, since Google has an 85% share of the targeted search advertising market. However, Salesforce is evaluating Yahoo!’s upcoming new paid search technology, too. A Google spokesperson says, “We are pleased to see third-party developers using the Google AdWords API to create new applications that extend the reach of Google’s advertising products. Equipped with more information, businesses can make better decisions, create more value out of their marketing efforts, and ultimately reach more customers.”

BETA RUN. The foundation for the company’s new offering is a service introduced in March by Kieden, a small startup that participates in Salesforce.com’s AppExchange directory of online applications. Salesforce.com bought the smaller company in early August and is beefing up the service before its October relaunch.

“AppExchange has become a viable lead generation and marketing tool, and now Salesforce.com is incorporating the very technology that is being built in the ecosystem,” says analyst Erin Traudt of market researcher IDC. “It will be interesting to see what else Salesforce.com may look to incorporate from the community in the future.”

Already, about 45 customers have been using the Keiden service in what Salesforce.com considers a test version. But even the early version is attracting kudos. Among its fans is Avideon, an online marketing consultancy based in Baltimore. It uses Keiden on behalf of its advertiser customers. “This is a tremendous application,” says Avideon Chief Executive Rich Wiklund. “Marketing has been the last bastion of unaccountable spending in corporations. By having this connection, marketing can at last be held accountable.”

Source: www.businessweek.com

Salesforce.com’s New Small-Business Service

July 17, 2007

By Richard Morochove

If your e-commerce site is an important source of new customer leads, a new Salesforce.com service could be just what your business needs to streamline the work of turning a new lead into a new customer.

Salesforce Group Edition is the successor to the company’s Team Edition customer relationship management service. The major enhancement in this Web-based CRM service is its tight integration with the Google AdWords pay-per-click advertising service.

Salesforce Group Edition’s integration with Google AdWords is the best I’ve seen. It makes it easy to determine which search engine advertising keywords deliver the most new customers and added revenues to your business. However, you’ll need to modify your Web site to take advantage of this feature.

Complete Google AdWords Integration

I’ve looked at AdWords before. A PPC advertising service such as AdWords can drive more visitors to your Web site. You write text ads that are displayed next to results for specific terms, or keywords, that people enter in search engines. You pay for each visitor who clicks on your ad and is then redirected to your Web site.

It’s always been possible to track the trail of PPC ad clicks, from the initial visit to your site to the sales lead and ultimate customer sale. This information is generally collected in several places: your Google AdWords account, your Web server logs, and a CRM app.

The elegance of Salesforce Group Edition lies in the way it seamlessly integrates the data from all these sources in one place, making it easier to view and analyze the results of your PPC ads. You can readily determine which keywords bring you the biggest bang for your advertising buck. Lead source information is updated every 15 minutes, so you can track results almost as they happen.

Tracking Leads From Other Sources

Unfortunately, Salesforce Group Edition isn’t integrated as deeply with other PPC ad services, such as Yahoo Search Marketing and Microsoft adCenter.

You can use Salesforce Group Edition to track leads from these other PPC services, but the reports aren’t as complete. Furthermore, you can also use the service to track leads generated by sources other than PPC, such as telephone inquiries, e-mail, trade shows, and referrals from other Web sites.

Google AdWords Integration Requirements

To make full use of the AdWords integration, you’ll need to add a new Web-to-Lead inquiry form to your site to collect information from visitors, such as name and contact details. In addition, you’ll need to add a bit of JavaScript tracking code to each Web page on your site.

Salesforce Group Edition generates the code for both new elements, so you can copy and paste it into your Web editing application.

You must also enter your Google AdWords Customer ID and password in Salesforce Group Edition to link it to the CRM service. If you do not have an AdWords account, you can create one from within the service.

Is Salesforce Group Edition Right for You?

Salesforce.com is considered the leader in online CRM services. If you don’t require sophisticated lead tracking or Google AdWords integration, you may find a simple online CRM service such as Highrise better suited for your business needs.

Salesforce Group Edition targets small businesses, and lacks some features available in the company’s more expensive offerings for larger businesses.

Also, unlike NetSuite, which offers a complete end-to-end online business management service, Salesforce Group Edition concentrates on CRM. You must enter the amount of the sale manually, since it doesn’t automatically generate a sales invoice, for example. However, extra-cost add-on services available in Salesforce AppExchange enable integration with third-party accounting apps that do include invoicing, such as Intuit QuickBooks.

Salesforce Group Edition costs $600 per year for five users. A free 7-day trial is available, and you may be eligible for a $50 AdWords credit if you establish a new Google AdWords account (conditions apply). Normal Google AdWords advertising charges apply.