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Posts from the ‘Business’ Category


The Dream of Universal Data Sharing

I have been talking about this idea of data sharing for over 2 years now. However, until recently, only people in my inner circles have heard about it in details. The idea came to mind a couple years ago when research institutes started using our platform. I learned a lot about quantitative research, statistical analysis, etc. through talking to our customers.

When I talked to researchers, a theme keeps coming up. It will be great if there is an easy way to share and collaborate at the data level. At the same time, however, many researchers and institutes are still ‘concerned’ about the idea of sharing. It’s like on one hand sharing would be great and on the other hand, it’s not that great.

Since then, I have been talking to people about this dream of one day, all structured data will be easily sharable, mashable that new discovery can be made almost by accident.

So when the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) invite me to speak at their annual ICT4D conference, I thought it may be a good platform to finally talk about this crazy idea in the wild.

Around the world, there are many Open Data initiatives. From the White House, to various governments, to the World Bank and  various NGOs, there are many organizations pushing the idea that data should be open. These are great initiatives but I want to tackle the problem from a different angle.

In the spectrum of sharing, there are people who believes in sharing and then there are people who will never share. Open data attracts people who already believe in sharing. I want to target the other end. I want to take the challenge of moving the needle just a bit of those who think they will never share. Can we create a platform that allows for ‘safe’ sharing?

Here’s a thought: If we create a open architecture where data owners can securely control WHO, WHAT and WHEN (for how long) to share, can we at least convince some people to try?

I think so and that’s what I will be working on.


Don’t be Dire Wolfs


Saw a Nat Geo show this weekend about Dire Wolfs and it draws great comparison in the business world. The Dire Wolf as a species is bigger, strong, faster than it’s closest relative, the Gray Wolf. They hunt better than the Gray Wolfs and can go after bigger prey like the Bisons and even Lions. The Dire Wolf co-existed with the Gray Wolf for 100,000 years but about 10,000 years ago, the Dire Wolf became extinct while the Gray Wolf lived on till today.

The Dire Wolf was a better version of the Gray Wolf. So why did the stronger spices die off while the weaker survived?

The answer comes down to, no surprise, adaptation. At the end of the last ice-age, there was dramatic climate change. Resources became scarce and so many of the giants, like the Woolly Mammoth, died off. Things were not pretty. The Dire Wolf, being used to hunting bigger prey, saw resources getting scarce and competition became more fierce. They were not able to adapt and eventually became extinct.

The Gray Wolf, on the other hand, start feeding on smaller prey. They can hunt from deers to rabbits, and even fishes. So in bad times, they survive.

If you read Mark Suster’s post about Start-ups should be Deer Hunters, you know where I am going.

As a business, we focus on hunting Deers. Those are not so big and not so small “Smart Enterprises”. As we grow, we found ourselves slowly moving up the chain and is now trying to hunt for Bisons and occasionally Elephants.

It feels good, you know? I enjoy saying, “Oh an 100-user account used to excite me. Now it take 1000+ to excite me.”

We are getting stronger and bigger and now we are hunting bigger prey. In another word, we are in danger of evolving into Dire Wolfs.

Look at this report from the Startup Compass, 70% of start-ups fail due to Premature Scaling. In other words, Companies are evolving into Dire Wolfs and cannot survive the climate change.

Things may have been fine during ice-age, or the PC era. Now that we are in the Post-PC era, the climate is shifting at a remarkable pace. A lot of species will become extinct.

Don’t go extinct. Don’t be Dire Wolfs.




The new economy – part 1

Yesterday I read an article from Mark Mills on Forbes about the new Economy, and this morning another article on TechRepublic saying now it’s a great time to be a developer. I agree with both, and as usual, I want to put my own spin to it.

There are 2 key words appear in both articles: Cloud, and Mobile.

The cloud has, and will continue to, fundamentally change everything we do. The term Cloud is a catchy term. What it really means is the as-a-service (AAS) model. (Software-as-a-service, platform-as-a- service, infrastructure-as-a-service, etc.) When an industry moves into a AAS model, it signifies maturity, and the IT industry is finally maturing. Just in the last few months, I bumped into two separate companies who said, “For the last 10 years, we were actually an IT company also doing X.”, and X is their actual business. One of them is the world’s largest hotel chain, and the other is a local public school system. Both of them said they spend so much energy into IT that basically turned them into IT companies over time. Look at any big companies around you, do they have a big IT department? Their own data center? Are you part of that big IT department?

As the IT industry matures, we realize we are wasting resources by having duplicated IT departments in each company doing pretty much the same thing. When I was in Fannie Mae, I keep pushing to have Sun MicroSystems run our data center instead of running our own. My argument was, “Why do you think we, a financial company, will do a better job of running servers than those who’s lives are to run servers.” “Well, security, data behind fire walls, etc., etc.”, my manager said. As the cloud gets better, more companies are realizing giving IT to those who does IT well is a far better and cost effective solution. After all, you would not have a plumbing crew on staff just to have a water cooler in the office, right?

A wrote a blog 3 years ago predicting 80% of IT goes to the cloud.  I think have a big chance of being right!

Now, think about what that means. There is currently probably billions worth of IT that sits in different companies in the world. What this trend will mean is that all of those will slowly move to the cloud. This is a fundamental change. When a change this big is happening, there will be lots and lots of opportunities.

I will write about Mobile in another post.






The Kindle Fire will help push the iPad into Enterprises

Just looking at the last 2 days you know the Kindle Fire is going to succeed. Now I’d like to throw in my 2 cents. I think the Kindle Fire will help push the iPad into Enterprises.

Why? Like a lot of analysts are saying, the Kindle is going to kill most Android tablets. New Android tablets will need to compete on Kindle’s terms. Cisco, RIM, and other enterprise hopefuls will now need to come up with something that is around $200.00 and still usable. Now I am not saying the Playbook will be gone, but it will not be widely adopted.

Also, while the Kindle Fire is going to be ultra successful, Amazon will probably be less Enterprise friendly than Apple. Amazon will focus on media consumption that it does well.

Now may be the Fire will be another iPod Touch (you know the military is using iPod Touches, right?) but it all depends how open Amazon will make their Android app store be. My guess is that they want their app store be as closed as Apple’s.

So all of these point to less Android competitors which leave the iPad free to continue it’s penatration into the Enterprises.

By mid-year 2012 we should know the full potential of the Kindle effect, and if Microsoft didn’t execute Windows 8 well, Apple may finally be able to get into the business market.


Everybody is getting sued, now what?

Tonight we have a great Meetup over at MoDevDC. The topic is about Patent Infringement lawsuits and how developers can deal with them. Here is an overview of the night’s presentation and discussion topics:

1) What is the overall situation?

We interviewed Florian Mueller, an Intellectual Property Law Expert and founder of the FossPatents Blog. He gave an overview of the current patent situation here in the US and how we can work with the current issues.

Here is Florian’s take on the overall situation.

2) I got sued. What do I do?

A developer’s view is also presented on what one may do upon receiving a letter.

3) Patent Infringement 101

Rick Toering from Womble Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, LLC,  gave a high-level description of the steps that are involved in a typical patent infringement defense case. He breaks down a case along with the typically cost of each step.

4) What can we do?

David DiGiammarino from Article One Partners talks about his firm’s work and how crowd sourcing prior art can help the overall situation. The take away point is that if a group of us pro-actively go after patents that are being issued and collect prior arts, we may have a better chance against potential lawsuit ligtigation.

5) Why are software patents such a mess?

Our other organizer, Yermo Lamers, talks about a recent article that he wrote on “Why you shouldn’t be allowed to patent a better virtual mouse trap.” The article talks about someone patenting a virtual mouse trap for a potential game. A patent aggregation company bought that patent and start suing all virus scanning software companies. You can find the original article here.

We then go into a Q&A session with the following panelists:

Rick Toering – Patent Attorney, Womble Carlyle, Sandridget & Rice, LLC

Frances Weber – EVP, Article One Partners

David DiGiammarino – Director of Sales Article One Partners

Jonathan Freeman – CEO, WidgetPress

Yermo Lamers – CEO, App Update

Todd Moore – CEO, TMSoft

With over 80 attendees, it was a lively discussion to say at least.

Some of the questions:

-       Why don’t developers put more pressure on Apple and Google?

-       Can we file a class suit against these entities?

-       Can they sue me if I just offer my app for free?

-       How do I know if I infringe their patent or not?

-       If I am launching a new product, how do I make sure I don’t infringe in other people’s patent?

-       Is setting a LLC good enough?

-       Are LLCs in one state better than another?

The meeting went very well and it pave the way for more meetups like this, where we will explore real solutions.

One point that most attendees agree is that  the current situation is very dangerous. If we don’t find a solution quick, mobile development community as we know it may well cease to exist. The great innovation that has happened in the last 2 years will stop. We won’t have an app for everything, and we will go back to only big software companies creating products. That would be sad, indeed.

As I see it, we need new ways to defend these cases. The traditional defense cost 2+ million dollars and that is just way over budget for most mobile developers. Just like we productize software products, we need to “productize” the defense. We need to productize prior art search, productize patent search, productize patent litigation and productize settlement negotiation.

I hope this meeting starts a new round of conversation about finding real solutions to this problem.


The world with tablets

I was having lunch with a friend and we chat about the future where most people will use the tablet more than a PC. ( I know, that’s Steve Jobs’ vision, but it’s also Bill Gates’ and also mine. ;) ) Anyway, he start asking questions like, “but is the tablet powerful enough to handle everything”.

This reminds me of the early day of digital photography when people asked, “wow, if we are taking hundreds of pictures, wouldn’t it cost a lot to have them developed?” “how do I put them in albums?” “what do I do with my baby book if I don’t print all the pictures out?” “So I won’t be able to flip through the pictures?”

With new technology, your behavior will change. There will be give and take but to the better for the most part. I think it will be the same in the tablet world. A world where most ‘computing’ is done from a tablet like device rather than a PC. Some people will love it, some will hate it, most will adjust to it. That’s progress and I like it.


Top 3 Needs

Recently a friend of mine asked “what’s your top 3 needs right now”. Here is my respond,

Top three things? These 3 things are always true, but as we get into a different stage, they take on a different meaning.

1. Focus. Focus is no longer, heads down and get the release out. Focus now means don’t get side-tracked with the day-to-day but make sure we are marching toward the right goal 6-10 months from now.

2. Cash flow. It’s rather easy to make financial decision when you have absolutely no money. When we are getting money in and need to spend some money, any small financial decision is critical. It’s far easier to spend money than to make them.

3. Growth/Scalability. As we grow, we start taken on different jobs. Starting to be managers rather than workers. Starting to put in process rather than just getting it done.

OK.OK. More concert needs:

1. Legal support. I am going to engage the lawyer soon.

2. Resources. We have been hiring and will continue to do so. Key is the get affordable and effective resources.

3. Slow down. As we gets traction, it’s very easy to think that we are invincible and thus go too fast.



iPhoneDevCamp DC Demo

For those of you who will attend my presentation in the iPhoneDevCamp tomorrow, please do the following in advance to follow along in the demo:

1. Download exZact Lite from the App Store.

2. Goto the Setting screen, key in the following:

Email Address: ipdcdc (Yes, it’s not really an email address, it will work, trust me.)


3. Hit Sync Data With Server

See you all tomorrow.


Vote Report Wins the Golden Dot Award

Yesterday I went to the Politics Online Conference in Washington D.C. for the Golen Dot Award. Since so many of my friends ask “What is that?”, I’m going to talk a bit about the project and the award itself. I will then post a follow-up blog on my experience yesterday in more detail.

The award is the Golden Dot Award from the Institute for Politics, Democracy, & the Internet at George Washington University. Every year, they organize the PoliticsOnline Conference in Washinton D.C. and announce the best internet projects related to politics. This year, our project, the TweeterVoteReport and Inauguration Report, won the Best Mashup category.

The projects, VoteReport and InaugurationReport, are Crowdsourcing Political Journalism projects. In plain English, it’s using social network technology and allows the public to document political events. During last year’s election and the inauguration in Jan, we use the same technology and allow people to share their experience. The result is huge amount of data (text report, photo, audio, video) with geo location information. We collect data through Twitter, SMS, Filckr, Youtube, iPhone and Android. We then open up this stream of data and allow any media outlet to mashup in anyway they want. The project is completly open-source. The project was organized by NPR, Tech President, American Univeristy and CBS News. There are over 20 developers participated in these projects, including  Sanford Dickert from Contagious Conversations, Dave Troy from TwitterVision, Andrew Turner from GeoCommons, Sze Wong from Zerion Software, and Nathan Freitas. Full contributor list of the vote report project can be found here.

You can read more about the projects in my pervious blogs or the following links:

Like I said on the Panel yesterday, it’s been a great honor working on this project. From both the social data collection and development collaboration perspectives, this project was a great success.

Sze Wong holding the Golen Dot Award

Sze Wong holding the Golen Dot Award


Developers Hate J-RAT

One of my team member told me that she saw another team using our J-RAT method. I said “Great! How they like it.” “All developers hated it,” she said. “They didn’t like being watched and couldn’t actually code when sitting with everybody.” Well, that is a classic misuse of J-RAT. Every J-RAT sessions that I moderate have been loved by developers, testers and users a-like.

J-RAT stands for Joint Rapid Application Testing. It is meant to replace either functional testing or user acceptance testing. The goal of J-RAT is to change the testing culture from bug centric to product centric, and remove the wall between the test team and the development team. The idea is to set aside a period of time for testing a particular module(s) and all related parties (developer, testers, business analysts, end-users) in the project should all sit in the same room and focus on testing. One moderator will be assigned to the room (usually the test manager) who’s job is to control the pace of the test and how many concurrent threads are running within the room. The room should have at least 2 white boards and ideally 2 projectors. The development team should control one projector and the test team should control the other projector. The moderator will control one white board where test cases are written on the board and everybody in the room should know which case(s) are currently running. The other whiteboard is for discussion.

For a successful J-RAT, the moderator must be trained to run J-RAT and must be respected by the team. Since the moderator is pretty much the boss during J-RAT and if people don’t listen, the process will breakdown.

J-RAT also calls for no senior management in the room, preferably not even the project manager (except when it is for user acceptancce test, then the PM must be there), as the goal is for the team to freely express their concerns and thoughts to get the product out the door without worrying about ‘politics’.

J-RAT done right will result in dramatic reduced in testing duration (usually 1/5), higher overall quality and much high team spirit.

The team that my team member told me about probably saw us running a successful J-RAT session and want to replicate that. However, without proper training, all they have copied is ‘putting everybody in the same room’. The result is a crowded room with a senior manager in it; everybody is nervous, and not much got done.

Sze Wong

Zerion Consulting