Sites I’m Loving This Week

I’ve fallen off the blog hamster wheel in recent weeks, due to travel and screening companies for DEMOfall. My calendar gets a bit ridiculous around the same time twice a year, as I spend entire days on the phone hearing about new companies. Mind you, I’m not complaining. Even when some days morph into one continuous conference call, it’s still one of the best jobs around. Paradoxically, all this activity precludes my favorite job: telling everyone about the new toys I’m using. So if you don’t mind a laundry list, here’s what’s been on my radar lately. Continue reading

Geekery Fiefdoms at SemTech

For all my stewing about presenting an effective panel here at SemTech, I think we did it in spades this morning. I’m biased of course but if the amount of active, engaged audience members and lively conversation following the panel was any indication, Taking Semantic Technology to the Masses was a success. Thomas Tague, Josh Dilworth, Mark Johnson and I had an excellent discussion about the mess the semantics space is currently in, marketing-wise, and how to dig it out and shine it up for mass consumers. We spent the first 25 minutes parsing the problem – an indication of just how deeply semantics geeks can gaze at their navels – and about 20 more minutes discussing possible solutions.

Thomas coined a term I’m stealing that sums up the semantics space perfectly: geekery fiefdom. It’s a great description of a sector that is striving to achieve traction in the consumer space, but continues to pepper its messaging with semantic buzzwords and discussions of the plumbing behind it all. As Thomas quoted one of his customers in the financial sector, “If you have to explain it, I don’t want it.”

We came to a couple of good conclusions worth mentioning:

1) Companies in the semantic space need to take a portion of their impressive brainpower and turn it toward marketing. With literal rocket scientists on the benches, finding innovative, well-packaged messages around a product and company philosophy should be a piece of cake.

2)UI, UI, UI. Mark mentioned this several times and he should know; Powerset has one of the best out there right now. Once you’ve parsed out the complex algorithms of your semantics company, spend some time on a great design. An easy-to-use, intuitive interface can vault a product to the head of the pack.

3) Play nice and share. (I’m reminded of that annoying book/poster from the early 90s – Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.) It’s simple but true. If semantics companies were more open to partnering with each other, the resulting applications would without a doubt take this industry to the next level. The close-to-the-vest attitude is understandable in semantics, as some very sophisticated and complex platforms and algorithms are at stake, but I think we’ve reached the point where it’s time to open up a little.

Everyone seemed to agree, including members of the audience, that semantics is poised to graduate; that it’s time to dust off this fiefdom and take it out into the countryside among real users. When and how that will happen is still undecided but I’d bet on later this year or early next.

That’s it for the moment from SemTech. I’m huddling with Hakia in a bit and can’t wait to hear their news, then it’s time to concentrate on the French Tech Tour for the next 12 hours. More tomorrow…

Imitation Is Flattery? Or Just Bad for Entrepreneurs?

There are a dozen other, perhaps more important and insightful, posts I’d rather be writing today. But, alas, my friends at TechCrunch put a wall in my path today and I just can’t ignore it, despite counsel from perhaps wiser advisers to do just that.

You see, TechCrunch and Jason Calacanis announced their plans for what is now being called TechCrunch50. Reading the TC50 site was a deja vu experience. The concept, the “rules,” the agenda . . . all out of the DEMO playbook.

You might remember that TechCrunch announced its first startup launch event, what was then called TC20, while sitting in the second row at DEMO 07. At the time I believed, as I still do now, that entrepreneurs need a variety of venues and opportunities to address the market. If TC20, which becameTC40 presumably when the blog’s desire to attract more entrepreneurs outstripped its promise of super-exclusivity, can provide a platform and give wings to entrepreneurs, then good on ‘em. That can only benefit the tech ecosystem.

But, as I told VentureBeat’s Chris Morrison this afternoon, I’m baffled by TechCrunch’s decision to put its event literally on top of DEMOfall 08. Continue reading