Freshbooks is a SaaS invoicing/billing application with some c135,000 users. One of the intriguing consequences (or maybe design attributes) of a multi-tenant SaaS app is that the vendor can mine the aggregated data for additional insight. That information can either be reconsumed to enrich the application itself and/or can seed a new application that finds trends or value in the aggregate. So, yesterday, I received a marketing email from Freshbooks which promotes exactly that feature. The app's aggregate data 'obviously' knows routine things like the browsers used, but also things like the proportion of the customers who email vs snail their bills. It is 96% vs 4% btw - not surprising given this is Web app in many ways. Clearly there is some very valuable information to be mined from such an aggregate that provides insight into the customer usage but even more as the size of the network grows and the semantics in the transactions get richer. Intriguing, and one of the hidden advantages of a SaaS model. At Talis we do something similar with our Talis Gateway which is effectively a store and forward EDI gateway for book supply transactions to 25% of the UK's university and public libraries. Unfortunately the application was built many years ago when terms like 'network effect' , 'SaaS', 'Semantics' etc were not the parlance. We're onto it though.
It is always insightful to listen to Tim Berners Lee (TBL) discuss the origins of the web and in this case, his hopes for the future of the web. This video is TBL's testimony to a US Congress subcommittee hearing. As well as speaking slower than usual I find it interesting how he carefully steers away from appearing subservient to these US legislators. It's a long video but worth a watch/listen.
As I have explained before, the search for talent is such a tough road, however the benefits of smart people working in smart ways doing smart things far outweigh the drudge of the talent search. At Talis I have been working to attract (and retain) such folks over the last year, and indeed we will carry on doing just that, however long it takes and however much it aches - we have little choice - human capital is the only option. For most of this year, I've been trying to find that odd mix of technology savvy, commercially aware person with process rigour, and a sense of the need for 'connectedness' to carry our messages and evangelise in our markets. With all that to live up to, we will be welcoming Dr Paul Miller to our team in the next few months.
This week at Talis, we unveiled a research project that I and others have been mulling over for 18 months, called Project Silkworm. Today we were top ranked on Technorati for the term Silkworm and have started the process described in detail in the Anatomy of Buzz. The team did a great job and when we showed our AJAX examples using our Web 2.0 based platform, the smiles and knowing recognition was palpable in our small audience. Our CTO did a great job documenting our intentions here, and we got some nice blog coverage here. Lots to do of course, but it is rewarding to see the efforts of many months hard work come to fruition. A day later I got levelled and 'hauled over the coals' by a longstanding customer (and rightly so) for not executing on the basics of customer management and communication. It is tough to stretch out when you can't yet rely on the business basics being in place. A lesson learned.
It is so refreshing sometimes to get back to some basics and remember that it is usually those 'boring' things that make companies successful. Things like - 'reward people in cash', 'pay for things with cash', 'always ensure your revenue grows fater than your costs', and 'we like to make real money'. Best one for me is in answer to a question to define your so-called secret sauce ... 'just find a way to make your employees happy and creative'. Well, listen to the CEO of the world's largest privately held software business do it his way - with M+Ms too.
I had an interesting day last week at W3C10 - the 10th anniversary celebrations of the formation of the W3C. Of course being held in Sophia Antipolis near Cannes in France helps with the journey - but anyway - along with the backslapping French and EU governmental notables, Tim Berners-Lee gave a good presentation about the challenges facing commercial entities as we grapple with the notion of open standards. It was ironic that this followed an equally good overview about Vodafone and their 'walled garden' that is Vodafone Live. Nevertheless a good day was had and jeez, if Tim Berners-Lee thinks and understands as fast as he talks, then we are in for another incredible 10 years.
I personally find it so rewarding to work with smart people, especially smarter than me. Doing what Talis currently does, we manipulate some fairly large and rich (>20m) record sets on a regular basis. We have a current challenge to transform the record structure of our (and our customer's) data over the next year or so to address a new global standard for bibliographic metadata - so called MARC21. Over the coffee machine, this week I was chatting with one of our 'smarts' about the 12 days it would take on one machine to do this - he then said he had prototyped the ability to distribute this 'seti @ home' like onto our internal network and run it in parralel in collective idle time. To even think about doing this, you need to be 'paying attention' to what is going on in the wider software/technology world, not just stuck in the bounded niche of any particular domain ... and then be smart enough to join up the dots. Great stuff.
This podcast by Geoffrey Moore is yet another napper slapper if you are watching the impact of open source and the economics of competing as a capitalist entity against a collaboration culture. As a software business CEO, the challenge of the transition to open sourcing our applications is a tough one - but it seems inevitable that with a path to follow, it will change all application software business models.
As the Web Services world matures and software really does become a collection of loosely coupled components, the issues around deployment, recombination, licencing and overall business models are obviously going to be redrawn. This podcast is a great start to understand the impact.