Riding Coach: A Day in the TechCrunch50 DemoPit

I spent a day in the DemoPit of the TechCrunch50 launch conference on behalf of my company Connectbeam. We didn’t debut at TC50 (two year-old company already has customers), but it was an opportunity to raise awareness among different communities.

I’ll say this: DemoPit is like flying coach, while the folks on-stage are flying first class. You don’t get the amenities or attention, but you still get to travel.

Here’s a quick summary of the experience.

Demo Tables

The tables are like 30 inches across. Not huge, but they were fine. Enough for a big display screen, a sign and a laptop. And that chip tip jar.

Wifi

Absolutely awful. The wifi was spotty early in the morning. Then it went down for several hours. That’s right…several hours. A bunch web-based companies without Internet access. Brilliant.

Jason Goldberg of SocialMedian went out for an EDVO card at the local Best Buy. He was back in business, so my colleague went out for one too. After an initial blue screen of death, we had Internet access again.

Late in the day, a TechCrunch staffer came by to offer another day to do demos since we had it pretty rough. Cool that they acknowledged the issue, and came up with a solution.

Demo-ing

Enjoyed myself when I could show off the product. It was great to take real-live data from someone visiting, punch it in the app and have it do all the cools things I said it could.

Lots of Visits by Tuesday-Wednesday DemoPitters

A lot of guys hitting the DemoPit on Tuesday and Wednesday came through the area on Monday. Smart. They wanted to see how we pitched, and find out what to watch out for (uh..the wifi).

Ashton Kutcher

Yup, Ashton Kutcher was in the house. He was up on stage pitching his start-up Blah Girls. You can read people’s tweet reactions here. It was amusing to see him on stage talking up his site. 10-12 year old girls might like it. Might…

Later this entourage-like crowd of people came through the DemoPit. It was Ashton Kutcher and Jason Calacanis’s were walking Jason’s bulldogs. There were several people accompanying them. Quite the scene.

And still later, Sarah Lacy was interviewing Kutcher. Do you think he got Zuckerberg’d?

FriendFeed Friends

I had a couple unplanned FriendFeed meet-ups, which was really cool.

Here are their handles on FriendFeed:

Weblebrities

Saw a few weblebrities: Michael Arrington, Robert Scoble, Stowe Boyd, Jason Calacanis, Dan Farber, Loren Feldman.

Big Companies

Three big communities were out in the DemoPit: Yahoo, Salesforce, MySpace.

Jason Goldberg of SocialMedian

Jason’s Social Median table had a steady flow of traffic during the day. And he did well with those DemoPit chips. People give poker chips to companies whose products they like. The company with the most chips gets to go on-stage at TechCrunch50 on Wednesday.

Social Media had a pretty good haul. Hope Jason makes it on-stage Wednesday.

Yammer

I liked TechCrunch50 participant Yammer. Enterprise Twitter.

On to Other Conferences

TechCrunch50 was tiring but fun. I enjoyed the scene. Next, Connectbeam will be at the KMWorld Expo September 23. And Defrag after that.

*****

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Why Isn’t This the Tag Standard? Multi Word, Comma Separated

Tagging is a great way to put context on user generated content. The tag cloud to the right shows what the hundreds of thousands of blogs were talking about on the evening of August 21. (Click the image to see what bloggers are talking about right now).

Pretty much any web 2.0 service that has user-generated content supports tags. Flickr. YouTube. Del.icio.us. Google Reader. Last.fm. Tagging is entrenched in the web 2.0 world, and it’s one of those idea that spread without any standards.

But there is a problem of no single standard…

Beta, VHS.

Blue-Ray, HD-DVD.

Space or comma delimited?

What’s happened is that tagging formats are all over the map. Each web 2.0 service came up with what worked best for its product and developers:

This post at 37signals described the same tag formats above, and it got a lot of comments. Good energy around the subject. Brian Daniel Eisenberg thinks the failure to have a consistent tag method may undermine its adoption by the masses.

To me, there really is one best format.

Multiple Words, Comma Separated

I tweeted this on Twitter/FriendFeed:

Can there be a universal standard for tags? Multi-word tags, comma separated. Odd combos (underscore, dot, combined) are messy, inconsistent.

You can see the comments on the link. The gist of them? Multiple words, comma separated is the best format. Here’s why I think so:

  • Forced separation of words changes their meaning (“product management” or “product” and “management”)
  • Forced separation of words creates tag clouds that misrepresent subjects (is it “product” content? or “management” content?)
  • With single terms, too many ways for users to combine the same term:
    • productmanagement
    • product.management
    • product_management
    • product-management
  • Writing multiple words with spaces between them is the way we learn to write
  • Putting commas between separate ideas, context, meanings and descriptions is the way we write

Let people (1) use more than one word for a tag, (2) written naturally without odd connectors like under_scores, and (3) using commas to separate tags. These rules are the best fit for germanic and romance languages, and I assume for most other languages as well.

To Brian’s point about the masses, let’s make tagging consistent with writing.

For Developers, It’s Pretty Much a Non-Issue

In The Need for Creating Tag Standards, the blog Neosmart Files writes:

Basically, it’s too late for a tagging standard that will be used unanimously throughout the web.

A lot of developer types weighed in on the comments. For the most part, they’re sanguine about the issue of different formats. Rip out any extraneous characters like spaces, periods, underscores, etc. What’s left is a single string that is the tag.

It’s About the Users

The issue fundamentally is how boxed in people are if they want to tag. In the Neosmart Files post, commenter Jason wrote this:

As this topic suggests, there are issues in resolving various tags that whilst literally different they are contextually equivalent. I believe this to be the critical juncture. Perhaps the solution lies not in heaping upon more standards, but improving the manner in which tags are processed by consumers.

From my perspective, multiple word, comma separated format is the most wide open, flexible way to handle tags. If a user likes running words together, he can do it. If a user wants to put underscores between words, she can do it. If a user likes spaces between words, not a problem.

But making users cram together words in odd combinations takes them out of their normal writing and thinking style. Tags should be formatted with humans in mind, not computers.

That’s my argument. What say you?

*****

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How Are Enterprise 2.0 Vendors Pitching Web 2.0? Using Wordle to Find Out

Recently, a website called Wordle debuted. What is Wordle? You can think of it as similar to a tag cloud, except Wordle analyzes words, not tags. You can see people’s blog Wordles on FriendFeed. Wordles are only graphics – you can’t use them for navigation.

A nice use of Wordles is that you can quickly pick up the pulse of a website. Higher word counts show up as larger fonts, the way tag clouds do.

I wondered what enterprise 2.0 vendors are talking about now. We’re a couple years into the introduction of the term “enterprise 2.0“, made popular by Harvard professor Andrew McAfee. The market is still young, but a decent number of companies have entered the space. Given that they’re selling to corporate customers every day, I was curious as to how their message has evolved.

So I “Wordled” the websites of the following ten enterprise 2.0 vendors:

  1. Jive Software
  2. SocialText
  3. Connectbeam (my company)
  4. Atlassian Confluence
  5. Six Apart Movable Type
  6. Newsgator
  7. Traction Software
  8. Near-Time
  9. SpikeSource SuiteTwo
  10. Worklight

I focused on these pages for the vendors: home page, product pages, “about” page. Let’s see what’s going on out there.

Ten Enterprise 2.0 Vendors’ Wordle

For the Wordle, I removed company and product names to keep it focused on themes.

So looking at this Wordle, what do we see?

Content and information get a lot of play, while knowledge shows up less often in the messaging. That seems about right, doesn’t it? Knowledge is information that you’ve internalized. Well, enterprise 2.0 should help people with that task. Still, it does seem that the focus is on the inputs (content, information), not the outcome (knowledge).

Search shows up a lot. If you’re familiar with the enterprise 2.0 philosophy, creating and finding the good stuff that is locked up in workers’ heads is a key value proposition. Search as a basis for let workers’ connect with one another makes sense. As Nemertes Research notes:

Enterprise search is catching on with enterprises.

If search is the leading use case, what’s the next one? Collaboration. Very much in keeping with the web 2.0 ethos. After that, we see learn and networking as important use cases.

Note that RSS is only slightly bigger than email. A good acknowledgment of what the leading application in the enterprise continues to be.

Social as a top word is no surprise. Isn’t that the premise? Community falls in a similar vein.

Two other words I found interesting: can and new. Can is very much in keeping with the spirit of enterprise 2.0. Companies continue along the adoption curve, but there’s lot of opportunity out there. So emphasizing what you can do is in keeping with the state of the market. New has a similar vibe. The sector is continually iterating and innovating. Web 2.0 moves fast, and vendors have to be nimble to keep up.

Finally, note that Microsoft and SharePoint show up in the Wordle, but not Oracle, SAP or IBM. In terms of incumbent corporate software, Microsoft is the most pervasive and has enterprise 2.0 aspects with the collaborative features of its SharePoint application. As InformationWeek notes:

SharePoint dominates collaboration.

Companies’ use of SharePoint and the importance of Microsoft to the enterprise ecosystem is seen in the Wordle.

There are probably other interesting things to be gleaned from this Wordle. What do you see?

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

 

I’ve Joined Connectbeam, and Social Media Got Me the Job

On Wednesday August 13, I start my new job as Senior Product Manager for Connectbeam. Connectbeam provides social bookmarking and networking to the enterprise. The goal is to foster better information management and discovery, and to connect colleagues around projects and common interests.

Going a bit further, here is a note from privately-held Connectbeam’s about page:

Connectbeam’s architecture and core application (Spotlight) were designed to help people in any role, across the enterprise, connect with both the growing pool of information and colleagues with the expertise and experience to help them get their jobs done more intelligently and more quickly. We enable this by aggregating the social metadata that is generated naturally by using the web into a single repository that everyone in the company can access and use.

Current customers include: Procter & Gamble, CSC, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Honeywell, 3M, Intel, Pfizer and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Why Connectbeam?

The problem Connectbeam is tackling greatly interests me. How to manage information to make individuals smarter, help people find information and determine the ways in which common interests establish and build relationships. There are many posts on this blog along those lines. Here are six of them:

  1. FriendFeed ‘Likes’ Compatibility Index
  2. Hey Yahoo! Forget MSFT, GOOG. Change the Search Rules.
  3. Who Is Your Information Filter?
  4. Knowledge & Innovation: The Journey Is as Valuable as the Destination
  5. Tag Recommendations for Content: Ready to Filter Noise?
  6. Social Media Consumption: You Want Signal or Discovery?

I also like Connectbeam’s delivery model. I am a fan of cloud computing, and in my experiences at eFinance and Pay By Touch, customers got comfortable. But I also ran into companies that only wanted applications behind their firewall, which is what we sold at BEA Systems. Security, control and reliability are still important, and recent outages at Amazon S3 and Gmail highlight those concerns. Connectbeam runs as an appliance behind companies’ firewalls.

Connectbeam delivers its model as an integration with existing search engines and other applications. For instance, Connectbeam now has an integration with Microsoft’s SharePoint, the most pervasive collaboration software out there. The Microsoft SharePoint Senior Technical PM even tweeted about it.

I’m a big believer in the ability of enterprises to improve the ways that information is created, disseminated and managed by employees. Those that get this right will be better-positioned in our information-centric economy.

FriendFeed Has Opened My Eyes

I joined BEA Systems to do product marketing for enterprise 2.0. Prior to that, I had done a little tweeting and had a Facebook profile. But not a whole lot of social media. I started blogging in February to eat my own dog food when I was marketing web 2.0 to companies. I needed to immerse myself in the world to really understand it.

Well, blogging has become quite important for me. FriendFeed has become just as important.

FriendFeed opened my eyes to the possibilities of knowledge as the basis of relationships. The ways in which content from a variety of sources is a powerful, addictive basis for learning, conversations and collaboration. How activity streams are compelling reads. I’ve been active on FriendFeed since March, and it shocks me how much I know about web 2.0 and technology in general versus last year. I’ve still got much to learn, and FriendFeed will continue to be a good source for that.

So why can’t companies get better around that too? Having eaten my own dog food on FriendFeed, I’m ready to work with employees and companies to improve the ways in which information is created, tracked and shared.

How Social Media Got Me the Job

You’ve probably seen more than a few posts saying that today’s resume is your Google search results. Your social network sites, content, updates, what others say about you…all of it is searchable.

Like me, Connectbeam CEO Puneet Gupta subscribes to Google Alerts for “enterprise 2.0”. Well one of my blog posts was listed in an alert. It caught Puneet’s attention, so he read the blog a bit more. Liking what he saw, he then investigated my name out on the web. Among the sites he found was one where I was a recommended blogger to follow (thanks Daryl, Franklin, Louis, Mark, Mike, Rob, Steven). Those recommendations were in part made due to the wonderful effects FriendFeed has for bloggers.

It didn’t hurt that I had been involved with enterprise 2.0 at BEA Systems. So after doing some due diligence, he left this comment on my blog:

Hutch:
Would love to connect with you and discuss some ideas.

I reached out to him, did some interviews, and the rest is history.

Looking Ahead

The new job will give me a more structured basis for looking at the ways in which information is managed. I plan to look more deeply at some of the consumer social bookmarking sites.I’m a product manager for Connectbeam, but a lot of my job will involve product marketing too.

I expect working in this area will influence my blogging subjects some. But I’ll blog about other fun stuff along the way as well.

Gotta go – my commute is from San Francisco to Mountain View. Need to battle the 101 traffic.

*****

If you want an easy way to stay on top of Enterprise 2.0, I invite you to join the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed. The room takes feeds for Enterprise 2.0-related items on Twitter, Del.icio.us and SlideShare. To see this room, click here: http://friendfeed.com/rooms/enterprise-2-0

*****

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