November 30, 2004

tribeslist

There's been a remarkable transformation over at Tribe.net over the past few months. First take a look at the craigslist.org home page:

And now take a look at the homepage of tribe.net:

Tribe's message seems to be loud and clear: we're taking on Craigslist. City after city, category after category . . . I mean, check out the jobs listings. Exact same entries, it's like you're looking at a redesigned Craigslist.

Which is maybe what they're trying to do. After all, one of Craigslist's chief weaknesses is, in my humble opinion, their inability to innovate quickly. I believe this is by choice: you'll hear Craig say over and over again that their 14 employees spend almost all of their time doing customer service. Craigslist has seemingly eschewed additional outside funding, not to mention partnering with other technology companies to enhance its service offerings. There seems to be a "not invented here" mindset at Craigslist. Not only that, but a "we'll invent it when we get around to it" mindset to go with it. Problem is, if customer service (and general nurturing of the community) is king, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, what happens when competition comes along with an obsession for innovation? What happens if they start chipping away at the customer base? Will Craigslist be able to maintain its dominant position?

Tribe seems to be trying to catch up to Craigslist in terms of feature set, and then add to it in droves by making it a social network as well as a classified ads service. But Tribe doesn't have anywhere near the legendary street/customer cred that Craigslist has rightly earned over many years.

Like eBay, Craigslist has very very loyal users. And a huge head start: just look at those category totals for the SF Bay Area version of Craigslist. 70,885 items for sale. 10,989 job listings. 47,636 personals listings. 21,918 housing listings. Compare to Tribe: 157 items for sale (yikes!), 186 housing listings (eek!), 3531 jobs (hmm, not bad!).

Where will Tribe be in six months? Will it catch up to Craigslist in jobs listings, clearly Tribe's strongest category? I think it will take more than six months. Hiring managers and HR departments everywhere know about Craigslist. The same can't be yet said for Tribe.

One thing's for certain: 2005 is going to be a very, very interesting year for these two sites . . . and for the newspaper industry which they're steadily eroding. When will we see a major U.S. newspaper chain buy a social network or a Craigslist? I bet we'll see such a deal in 2005.

Posted by brian at 09:47 AM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2004

On Turning 30

Adam riffs on Rohit turning 30 and my mind boggles on how much work he must have put into this blog post. Wait. Not one, but two blog posts.

When I turned 30 I was in the middle of shipping COCONET 3.0 at Coconut, and dealing with offers from the Ministry of Communications of the Government of Kuwait to fly to Kuwait and translate COCONET into Arabic so they could use the software as the basis for a "Prodigy for the Arab World" called GULFNET. Ah, pre-Web days.

I remember telling my very eager Kuwaiti customer, "Um, in case you weren't aware, there's a war on and your country has been invaded!?"

I'll never forget his reply -- "Oh, don't worry about that!"

Kinda how I felt about turning 30.

Turning 40 was a little harder: Eazel was self-destructing, NASDAQ was on the verge of crashing, the Valley was already crashing, and I was contemplating doing eBay, or not doing eBay. I did eBay.

One realizes at some point that the whole age thing is an illusion. I like Dylan's line: "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

Posted by brian at 05:48 PM | Comments (2)

November 24, 2004

Bill Labs, or, A Modest Proposal for Using the Net to Foster Legistlative Transparency

There are a lot of memorable scenes in the film Fahrenheit 9/11, but one that stands out, oddly perhaps, for me, is the sequence with Michael Moore interviewing Representative John Conyers regarding the PATRIOT Act.

That's the scene where Conyers said, "Sit down, my son. We don't read most of the bills."

Nor, I suspect, do they write them. That, I suspect, is left to lobbyists for the most part.

And now in the news is this new $388 billion spending bill, 3,300 pages long, as reported all over (see Google News links here).

A quote from a Seattle Times article from today:

Lawmakers from both parties who approved the $388 billion package last weekend set aside plenty of money for projects certain to sow goodwill in their home districts.

The time-honored practice flourished despite the ballooning deficit, less money for federal programs and rising unease about how government will finance the futures of Medicare and Social Security.

For instance, there was $1 million for the Norwegian American Foundation in Seattle, $50,000 to control Missouri's wild-hog problem and $4 million for the International Fertilizer Development Center in Alabama.

There's little mystery about why such spending survives in good times or bad.

"They do it because they can get away with it; they do it because it's the thing that allows them to do a good press release back home and be able to say to folks, 'I'm delivering something for you,' " said Frank Clemente, a spokesman for the private watchdog group Public Citizen.

When Bush took office, he promised to cut pet projects from the federal budget, but the president has yet to veto a spending bill. He is expected to sign the new plan.

Time for a "BILL LABS"?
Perhaps it's time to apply the Network Effect to analysis of bills being proposed in Congress. I marvel at the continued growth of WikiPedia and its related properties, and I think, how could we harness the energy that the greater Web community has put into WikiPedia, to study, analyze, and ask questions about the bills that our legislators push through Congress?

Imagine a "BillLabs.org", a forensic laboratory for bills as it were, where as soon as the text of a bill is published in Congress, it gets placed on the "examiner's table" of billlabs.org. Only, this is no ordinary table. And it's no ordinary examiner. It is the great eye of the American people, where thousands of people can pore over the document, tagging various sections with keywords (think: Flickr for legislation!), tagging each provision with a state or voting district (where is the money going), and quickly producing an executive summary of the bill based upon the analysis of thousands or even millions of people.

What's especially intriguing to me is the potential for near-real-time analysis of bills, with summary reports coming out in RSS feeds within hours (minutes?) of a bill's introduction.

You might say, isn't holding our representatives accountable the job of, oh, the press? One would think. But the press has let us down. The days of Woodward and Bernstein have passed. Would the American people be any worse off if a million amateur Woodward and Bernsteins had a tool to dissect bills proposed by the legislature, and expose the pork, the favors, the exessive spending, the frivolous allocations of funds to pet projects? Not to mention near-real-time forensic analysis of the PATRIOT Acts, DMCA's, INDUCE Acts, and other marvels.

I suspect if such a tool were available on the Web, and it were put to good use, two things would happen: 1) a lot more people would be aware of exactly what's going on in Washington, and 2) the labs' findings would wind up being covered by the media. And maybe all that would have a positive effect. Just maybe?

Posted by brian at 07:41 AM | Comments (2)

November 23, 2004

What the OOoFF?

Things must be pretty desperate in Michaelsoft-land, for them to try to get people to shell out $29.95 for OpenOffice (a free download from here) and FireFox (also a free download from here).

Has Michael no shame?

Posted by brian at 12:20 PM | Comments (1)

November 21, 2004

If You Stop Using Our Products, We'll Sue You

Extraordinary, the lengths to which MSFT will go...

CNN.com: Microsoft warns Asian governments of Linux suits

Get a load of this Ballmer quote at the end:

"We think our software is far more secure than open-source software. It is more secure because we stand behind it, we fixed it, because we built it. Nobody ever knows who built open-source software."

Incredible on numerous levels.


UPDATE: I was expecting this. Ballmer's claim abut Linux patent violations is bogus. Surprise, surprise.

Posted by brian at 01:50 PM

November 20, 2004

Avoiding About

While browsing blogs this morning I saw mention of a new product called MailInfo, an Outlook plug-in that tells you whether a recipient has actually read your email or not.

Setting aside whether that type of product is worthwhile, the thing that struck me was when I landed on MailInfo's homepage:

Just seeing the About.com logo was enough for me to tune out to the rest of the page. Indeed, I assumed that MailInfo was using About.com for its homepage. I don't know if anyone else has this instant aversion to About.com, but whenever I accidentally land on an About.com page, say, after clicking on a result in a Google search, I move on to something else --- the value of About.com pages is so thin as to be wholly missing. So for a company to put About.com's logo above-the-fold (and twice as big as its own logo) on the home page, well, that's when I tune out.

Posted by brian at 12:55 PM | Comments (2)

401k

Wikipedia surpasses 400,000 English-language articles. Another big milestone.

Posted by brian at 12:37 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2004

Long Time No Blog

Haven't blogged in a while. November's been a busy month:

  • Signed a lease, moved into office space.

  • First two employees started.

  • Scrambling to close the seed investment round for the company.

  • Meetings, phone calls, work, work, work.

No time to blog. I thought about blogging every day. I'd love nothing more than to blog every interesting observation and experience about the startup. All the little things that you have to be mindful of....

  • For instance, the company's called EVDB, Inc. People say, "What's your company name?" I say, "E-V-D-B." They say, "How's that spelled?"

  • Then there's the suite number. It's not 7. It's not 7B. It's 7B2. (The building broke up suite 7 into 7A, 7B, and 7C, and then broke up suite 7B into 7B1 and 7B2.) So, "7B2" is what's written on the gazillion pieces of paperwork a startup must fill out when paying bills, taxes, filing fees with state and federal agencies, etc. You have to be very careful not to make it appear like "7132" on the forms. Because that is what people first assume, not "7B2". Can't be a "B", must've meant "13"... And if you write "7b2" they assume "762". Want a nice office? Be careful of what you ask for. You may get it. It just may have a weird suite number.

  • I've managed to go without the need for a fax for oh, six years. Suddenly everyone needs your fax number, assumes you have a fax machine, and wants to send you faxes all day long. It's so. . . twentieth century. I've not yet bought the fax. Gonna go for a cheap scanner and use MacOS X's built-in faxing capability instead.

  • The onslaught of CapitalOne, D&B, Pitney Bowes, Experian spam. Companies coming out of the woodwork to sell you credit, checking, postage meters, pens, pencils, papers, supplies, you name it. They call you up (inevitably with "Caller ID Blocked" showing on my phone) within days of incorporating the company, asking you for information. "We're just updating our records," they usually begin. "What records?" I usually ask. "Oh, we maintain records of businesses all over the country," their script instructs them to say. "Um, by the way, how did you get this phone number?" I ask. "Oh, we receive information from a variety of sources," they say. "What sources, specifically?" Their script usually doesn't have an answer for this one. "So let me get this straight. You want me to take some time right now on my phone and give you all kinds of information about my company, and then you will charge other companies to get information on my company?" Their script has a clever twist to this question: "Oh, we don't charge you at all, this is entirely free. We just want to update our records." I'm sure they do. They never get anywhere, however. The bottom line is, the federal and state agencies sell information on newly-incorporated companies to these D&B's, Pitney-Bowes's, and Experian's. And they turn their telemarketers loose within days, hounding you for information. I wonder how much the state and federal agencies make on this scam.

  • Meetings as beach walks. One of the perks of having an office at La Jolla Shores. You have engineering meetings . . . at the shore!

Montage of 4 photos taken w/ Treo600

Posted by brian at 10:57 AM | Comments (3)

November 03, 2004

Feel-Good Media

Andrew Leonard writes over at Salon about the Internet as an echo chamber. I agree with his thesis.

This issue has been troubling me for a long time, and not just the Internet, but television and radio as well. For instance, The Daily Show. Sure, it's funny, but in the long run does it really help The Cause, or does it only make its viewers feel good? I can only wonder how many Daily Show viewers secretly preferred Bush win just because Bush is better fodder for the next four years' worth of program content.

Take DailyKos. Or the Freepers. Or the Instapundit crowd. Or Air America Radio. Or Limbaugh. Or The WELL. All of these things are more than just echo chambers. They're media outlets/communities where you can tune in and know they'll deliver what you want -- you'll get a nice buzz. They're addictive. But in the long run do they really help society, or do they just provide some sort of poor man's opioid?

Meetups also trouble me in a way, in that many of them seem to tend to divide up local populations rather than unite. Are Meetups simply events where you can go and meet other people with the same interest? Is that all they can ever be? Would it ever make sense to have a Meetup where the point is to meet other people who don't share your interest?

How about a Group Meetups for All Dog Owner Meetup Groups? Where the Chihuahua Owners can meet English Bull Terrier Owners and the Chihuahuas can meet the English Bull Terriers and hopefully we can all get along? Wouldn't the world be a better place if there was some more cross-fertilization of different groups who might not normally ever meet?

Posted by brian at 03:40 PM | Comments (4)

Moanage

Haven't had much luck with Vonage for my startup company. Here's the summary of the story so far:

1. Went to OFFICE DEPOT and bought a Linksys Wireless-G router w/ 2 built-in VOIP phone ports. It came co-branded with Vonage service, which was supposed to be a snap to set up.

2. Installed router, got it up and running. Everything's fine.

3. Followed the instructions sheet included in the box that says go to www.vonage.com/activate to sign up. Did that. It asks for my Linksys' MAC address, then asks what store I bought this from, then asks me to select a calling plan.

4. Problem: only two calling plans listed, both Residential. But my purchase is for a business. And their Terms of Service says businesses are verboten from using the residential calling plans.

5. Been calling Vonage support all frickin' day long. Most of the time I get a recorded "please hold" then DEAD AIR for 5+ minutes -- I mean, not even background music. The only number I can call on is my cellphone, since, like, I am planning on using Vonage for office phone use, and it's not set up yet! I've prolly racked up over 60 minutes of cell time today trying to get a solution from these people.

6. Finally reached a human, who couldn't answer my question, and told me to try the "Retail Support Line". I call that, and get some guy who wants to know what my store number is. Huh? Wait a sec --- this is the support line for retailers, not customers. Anyway, I had another human so I told him the story and he joked that I may be the first person to buy this Linksys unit anywhere and that Vonage is clearly messed up and he has to file a trouble ticket etc etc and now I am supposed to wait for a call back, which may or may not come today.

So much for VOIP being a great new solution. Vonage, congratulations: you're now known as Moanage in my book.

Posted by brian at 02:28 PM | Comments (2)

The Seven Stages of Grief

1. Shock.

2. Make website background black.

3. ???

4. ???

5. ???

6. ???

7. Get back up and get to work.

Posted by brian at 09:49 AM | Comments (1)
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