Starting April 28, 2005
First review of my video, Google and Eric Schmidt, What I learned marketing my video, The Nantucket Conference, Happy Birthday Dave and Russ!, My new video is available for purchase!
First review of my video [link]
David Berlind of ZDNet just posted what I believe is the first review of my video by someone who actually watched it. Just before posting it he sent me some questions (such as asking for permission to use one of my photos) and comments. It's clear that he watched it very carefully. (Answer to what was the little device with a small LCD screen behind me: A Toshiba T3400CT, the first, as I recall, of their Portege series of laptops, that I used in the mid-1990's. And, yes, I do say "things" a little too much...)
Google and Eric Schmidt [link]
The "anchor" speaker at the Nantucket Conference this year (see my other posts today for more about the conference) was Google CEO Eric Schmidt. His comments were officially off the record, though he was careful to not say much of anything that would be a problem on the record (plus there were investors, press, and Microsoft people -- the local Microsoft office was one of the event sponsors -- in the audience). Here are some things based on impressions I got, public information, and some personal discussions I had with him afterwards.
Eric Schmidt on stage with interviewer Bob Metcalfe
People seem very concerned about how Google can attract great talent when they are publicly traded with a high stock price. Eric made it clear that they are very fussy about getting very talented people, just as it implies in the May 2nd, 2005, Fortune Magazine article about Microsoft being concerned about Google. What they do, though, is make sure that the people they hire are passionate about making an impact, too, in addition to being smart. Also, they let employees work up to 20% on their own projects of whatever they want (see this posting on their blog). Google management knows these projects will probably be related in some way to what Google does or needs (they hire people passionate about search, or scaling architectures, etc.). They also allot at least 10% of the corporate resources to projects that may or may not be directly part of what the company is currently doing. Out of this comes things like Google News, Google Maps, etc.
This is, as I understand it, quite different than Microsoft. As I hear it, and as the Fortune article implies, Microsoft employees are very much nose-to-the-grindstone focussed on their assigned tasks. Just the opposite attitude in many ways from Google. No wonder so many people are leaving Microsoft to join Google. Google understands that many great developers are driven by wanting to make an impact and having a say in where that impact is. That's the currency. Making money is just something nice that hopefully comes along with it. Many of the most creative developers might actually go as far as paying you to let them work on something that has the right impact (hence, part of the success of Open Source).
As I see it, Google has an interesting "corporate folklore", history, and corporate view of reality. When founded, they did just the best job they could imagine at the time in an area they cared about. They innovated in how search was done, crafted a product that users would want (the clean, sparse look), and, lo and behold, at just the right time, along came a business model that gave them spectacular returns (paid placement, an innovation first proven by others). Now they just keep making the best thing in new areas (like Google Maps -- a three person team within the company to start) and have faith that a way to make money will happen later (Google News still doesn't have ads -- adding more languages is higher priority to the small team).
Microsoft has a history of taking known product types (Basic, DOS and Windows, word processing, spreadsheets) and making good versions of those and then using the success of a previous product to help them do a great job with traditional business models. They also have a reality that trying, and trying, and trying some more, pays off (look how many years they stayed with CDROMs, spreadsheets -- Multiplan, Excel through Windows 1, 2, and finally success sometime with 3 -- and more until they made money). A somewhat different corporate culture and "reality".
Eric while being interviewed by Bob Metcalfe
Bob doing the interviewing
I did get to talk to Eric a bit. Of course, I gave him a press release and copy of my video. I also talked a bit about their controversial new Autolink feature which adds links to viewed web pages when it finds text that looks like addresses (links to Google Maps) or tracking numbers (links to appropriate shipper tracking pages) or whatever. Dave Winer and others have worried that this is the beginning of a slippery slope of Google modifying pages in ways undesired by the page's author. Why not make ads go different places? Or add ads the author doesn't want?
This clearly is something Eric thinks about, because he did mention it in his talk at one point as I recall (I don't remember if it was in response to an audience question). Google is very much focussed on making their users happy. That is job one. That is how they measure themselves, I think. Another thing, it is clear that they really believe in this beta testing thing. They release products quite early and run them in beta as long as necessary (or maybe longer -- Google News is still "beta"). They let them atrophy if they don't get traction with users. They make changes. They see what users do and say. With Autolink, he kept saying to wait before making final judgment because they aren't done (the toolbar is in beta 3). Also, they will listen to users, so users should be happy with the results.
I countered, asking about the authors. There was some discussion with someone, I think, about if authors don't like something there will be no content so users will be unhappy so Google will get a message. I pointed out that authors don't have a choice here. If only they'd give us a way to opt out, like robots.txt does with searching.
One thing it seems about Google is that they don't have a culture of understanding the importance of APIs available to others. Microsoft does have such a culture, very much so. Amazon has learned this, too. Google is so focussed on the user experience in the browser that they don't think about the author or developer using HTML, XML, or whatever. Eric, though, is from an API-friendly background, but he's not head of R&D. Hopefully, they will hire more API-gurus and get some major API-centric folklore into their culture. That would have helped here with Autolink -- it would be easy to turn it off as a web page developer through some simple means.
In another case, Google has provided a "rel=nofollow" API for authors, but the reason seems to be to help make its page-ranking more effective. The fact that it meets an author's need to not give weight to a page they link to that they disagree with is secondary (or ignored). I wish that Google would see that through APIs they can help the whole web ecosystem, of which authors are an important part.
Eric had to run off to get to his plane and leave after speaking, so I didn't get to discuss this much further. Also, as CEO of a public company, he is very careful with what he says. You can just feel it in his choice of words. He has real strong forces aimed at him at all times (Microsoft, Wall Street, the SEC, employees, us authors, his users, the press, etc.), so I can understand this. Flying in his plane to get in and out of Nantucket on such a windy day, here we have another metaphor of his life. So far, so good.
What I learned marketing my video [link]
I found out something (which I guess should be obvious, but I'll say it anyway because it was new to me) about marketing my video at this type of event (the Nantucket conference). I'd be in close quarters, like a cocktail party, and run into someone I wanted to tell about my product. I might only have a few seconds with them (less than time for an elevator ride and much noisier). Instead of giving my "elevator pitch", or a copy of the product, I found that the best way was to hand them my press release. I had carefully written it, I hoped, to quickly grab the reader and get across the idea of why you would be interested in my video. The actual package cover, since it is purchased through the mail and would sit on a corporate library shelf afterwards, is more factual and serene.
Since the person would have the whole press release in their hand, and I pulled it out of a stack of them in my bag and wrinkled it a bit in the process, it was clear that they should take it with them, so I could "continue" the story later when they cleared out their pockets. Unlike a pretty brochure, the wrinkled page lent itself to folding and more folding until it fit in a pocket. Also, to be polite, they had to at least skim the headline and first paragraph (like the news article it was modeled to be like), though I couldn't expect them to read more than a short sentence carefully.
Invariably, when they saw the headline, "Dan Bricklin Releases New Video to Help Software Developers Learn About Copyright Law and Open Source", and maybe skim the quote from me about license compliance and notice that there was a nice quote from an attorney at a software company they might have heard about, they'd say "Oh, we could probably use this". At that point, for some people, I'd then pull out a real product and put it in their hand. They'd see the nice colors, the shrink wrap, a list of topics (but not have time to read them, of course) and see the thing was very real. For those I let keep it, I hope they'll go home and show the right people in their organization and perhaps buy full copies. We'll see if it works.
When I wrote the press release, I didn't realize that it could become such a valuable tool in noisy environments where anything more than a few words of an opening sales pitch is too much to fit in gracefully and a brochure might be too untimely and pushy (as an answer to "What are you up to?"). I actually wrote it just so I could include a link to it in emails to press.
It's fun to be back into selling a product and get more experience in that area. I'm not a born salesperson, so it really is a trial and error learning experience for me.
The Nantucket Conference [link]
Late last week I attended the Nantucket Conference. It's a high-tech conference for the New England area and is held yearly out on the island of Nantucket off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I've written up my attendance in 2000, 2001, and 2002. I haven't been able to attend for the past two years, but was able to this year.
The conference is officially "off the record", so I'll try to be good and not break that (just as I hope the "pro" journalists and other attendees will abide by it and keep some personal and business things I talked with them about to themselves). I will, though, cover some general impressions and things backed by public information.
There were a lot of interesting attendees and speakers. The "big draw" this year, I assume, was that Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, was scheduled to be the last speaker, interviewed by Bob Metcalfe.
One of my business reasons for attending was to promote my new copyright and open source training video. The participants included lots of potential purchasers of the corporate edition, and I handed out a few complimentary copies of the evaluation edition to key people, such as CIOs or equivalent of major corporations, some well connected lawyers, VCs, etc.
I got to spend time with some new people (for me) as well as people I've known for some time. One interesting new person is Vanu Bose. He's the head of Vanu, Inc., a major player in the software radio space. They use off the shelf PCs (running Linux), and other standard hardware, and implement communications systems like cellular base stations that support multiple standards (CDMA, GSM, etc.) using less space and power than dedicated systems. The military likes them as well as some independent cellular operators (who provide roaming for a variety of other carriers out in the middle of nowhere). He was on the panel titled "Can a Tech Company Succeed Without Venture Capital?" (he used angel and customer funding).
Vanu Bose, the East vs. West panel
Other topics where some overviews of RFID, VoIP, and Internet delivered video, a "fireside chat" with Monster.com's Jeff Taylor, an introduction to tissue engineering and human organ fabrication (fascinating stuff from Mass General's Joseph Vacanti), some CIOs talking about how to sell to them, VCs talking, the obligatory panel comparing and contrasting Boston area companies and VCs with Silicon Valley ones, and finally Eric Schmidt.
Host Scott Kirsner holding a tossable device with an audience microphone and Ruckus Network's Bill Raduchel
An interesting anecdote (perhaps enhanced in the telling): The conference runs from Thursday afternoon until Saturday afternoon (the assumption is that you may want to stay with family afterwards and enjoy the island). By Friday afternoon it became clear that a minor storm with lots of wind was coming through and that ferry and air service on Saturday might be canceled (that happens a lot on Nantucket, apparently). The VCs could all be seen on their phones and Blackberries. Sure enough, most of the VCs who didn't have a speaking commitment to the conference were gone when we convened Saturday. Entrepreneurs, press, and others stayed. Eric Schmidt managed to get his plane in as scheduled (and out) and was there for an interesting presentation, just as promised. The ferries we were scheduled to take back to the mainland were canceled. Most of us usually take the fast 1-hour ferries, but they are unstable in seas with big waves, and there were quite big waves from the winds. The normal, big, 2 1/4 hour ferry was also canceled for most of the day, but just before 5 PM, the ferry operator decided to try one last time for the last ferry of the day at 5:30 PM. Many of us ended up on that slow ferry. Big, 30 foot or more waves, I think. Looking out at the sea from the deck was awesome, as in terrifying, for a land-person like me. We tried all sorts of tricks to keep from getting seasick (I did better than I expected). The ferry ended up having to go real slow, so the trip was more than 3 hours long. The next morning ferries were also canceled. VCs bailing out, Google coming through, entrepreneurs and press being tossed about on the high seas but finally making it to their destination -- what a metaphor! (One of the investors on the boat with us invests by buying corporate portfolios of dying dot coms at a penny or so on the dollar.) [Sadly, no photos -- too much spray outside, and I was attempting not to do things that might affect my stomach...]
A memorable, great event.
Happy Birthday Dave and Russ! [link]
Today is Dave Winer's 50th birthday. He asked that instead of sending him emails we put it on our blogs and link to him. So: Happy Birthday Dave! (It's linked to www.scripting.com.) If it weren't for Dave, I probably wouldn't have been blogging for as long (I've learned so much from reading and watching him) and much of what blogging is might be quite different. He's made many contributions over the years in many ways to the Internet, so thank you, Dave! You're a real inventor, innovator, and promoter. Welcome to that other side of 50.
Looking at my Treo, I see that May 2nd is also Russ Werner's birthday (I put in all sorts of birthdays of people I know when I remember to). He's probably, like me, already past 50. Russ was the first CEO of Trellix after I founded the company. He led Trellix through the original development and introduction of our PC-based authoring tool, the one with the cool page map, great use of COM, etc., as well as some tough financing. I'm using a later version of that program to write this now. He helped us find and recruit Don Bulens, the CEO for the second phase of Trellix (when we made all sorts of deals to get the next version of the product bundled on all sorts of PCs and other equipment, followed by our move to a server-based tool and sale to Interland). Russ is a really nice guy and has been there at some important times in our industry. Unfortunately, most of them were before we carefully documented everything here on the web, so while many old-timers know him well, most recent people have never heard of him. As I understand it, he worked for Steve Ballmer at Microsoft, heading up the MSDOS and Windows 3.0 development in the days when that wasn't something most people thought was important (there was supposed to be this thing called OS/2...) and brought it into the days when it became very important. Happy Birthday Russ!
My new video is available for purchase! [link]
Finally, after months of learning, writing, testing, recording and re-recording, editing, and feedback, my training video is available for purchase.
The video's title is "A Developer's Introduction to Copyright and Open Source: Why a Lawyer is a Developer's Friend". You can find more information as well as links to a 58 second trailer and the online purchase pages on the Training Video Product Page.
DVD case cover, close-up of Dan from the video
The video covers the basics of copyright law and software licensing. It covers some basics about Open Source licensing, including a discussion of the GNU GPL. It covers working with corporate legal departments and corporate software license policy. The final version ended up being somewhat close to what is written up in "Detailed synopsis of the draft video" in the training video's blog.
The audience I target consists of software developers and their management. However, I know that the recommendation or OK for purchase may need to come from corporate legal departments, hence the inclusion of the subtitle about lawyers being developers' friends, a phrase that seems to bring a smile to almost all the lawyers I mention it to (and which I hope is supported by my material). Many of the people I used as reviewers are lawyers.
The video is mainly designed for corporate training, but I made sure that it is OK for individual purchase, too. Corporations need to have developer buy-in to their policies for dealing with software licensing issues and compliance, and for doing software copyright audits, etc. They need all developers to have an understanding of copyright law and how it applies to software licensing and to their work. This video can help bring everybody up to speed with a common starting point and be the springboard for cooperation between developers and the corporate legal department.
Developers who advocate for the use of Open Source within the corporation can use this video to help dispel some of the myths about Open Source and bring the discussion to a more informed, pragmatic, and hopefully fruitful level. The video touches on some of the advantages of using Open Source as well as shows some of the specific areas where it can be problematic. I explain why it's inappropriate to call the GPL "viral" as if you can "catch it" without wanting to.
Companies that have chosen not to use certain Open Source software may find the video helpful, too. Here I am, not some lawyer but rather a developer who releases his most recent programs under the GPL or other open source licenses, with Linux books on the shelf visible over my shoulder, explaining why there are cases in which a company may not be able to use certain Open Source software products (such as those covered by the GPL) as a basis for products it produces. I have a different form of credibility.
A challenge in creating this video was taking an appropriate attitude towards proprietary, Open Source, as well as Free software. There is a lot of emotion in the different camps. I tried to make what I say acceptable to all, since I'm trying to teach general principles, not tell you what to do or which software to use. I present many examples from the traditional prepackaged software world and the early days of personal computing, but I also go into detail about parts of the GPL and some systems (like Linux) that use it. I love software, but I also understand the "today" realities of many businesses. In learning about this area, besides using and releasing code, I've talked to many Open Source and Free Software pundits, as well as senior people at Microsoft and elsewhere in the software industry (and, of course, many lawyers). Hopefully that experience and my background as a coder, an MBA/business person, and (all too frequently) a participant in legal issues around software, gives me the right sensitivity and perspective. In any case, I'm sure all of the "camps" will find at least something to like and something to dispute.
From a marketing viewpoint, I had a bit of a conundrum. For corporate purposes, the video had to be produced to a reasonably professional level, which meant a price to support that cost. Normal training videos are generally in the $500-$1,500 range per copy. Also, "price connotes quality" here, so too low a price would be counterproductive in many ways. I settled on the common price point for training videos of $695 per copy.
$695.00!?! That's fine, you might say, for a company with dozens or hundreds of programmers, but what about an individual working at home who just wants to see it themselves to fill in their knowledge or review it for others? Also, many companies insist on seeing an "evaluation copy" (which they then have to ship back or else pay full price) before they will commit to a purchase of that magnitude. I need to deal with that, too.
I decided to handle both of those issues by making the same content available in an "Evaluation Copy" that is authorized for viewing only by the individual for whom it is purchased. (The $695 version is authorized for viewing by employees of the company that purchases it, or, in the case of an outside law firm, for their clients.) The Evaluation Copy is priced at only $29.95. That's at the low end of the price of computer books (of which most of us have dozens on the shelf) and high enough to cover my costs plus some modest profit. The main content difference is a simple, unobtrusive "Evaluation copy, not for corporate training" overlay at various points in the video.
The video is 42 minutes long (a bit long for a training video -- 24 minutes is more common -- but fine for viewing over lunch) and is available now on DVD. (A VHS videotape version should be available in a couple of weeks -- if you need it on tape, let me know.) It is broken down into about a dozen chapters. Duplication and fulfillment are done by CustomFlix.com.
See the product page for more information and links to the purchase pages. I hope you like it and find it helpful! (And if you do, tell your friends and all the intellectual property and corporate lawyers that you know...)
For me, this has been a great, timely learning experience. With some help from others, I wrote, recorded, and edited the entire video. I learned to appreciate the nuances of professional work and professional equipment. I've learned a lot about sound recording (and have so much more to learn) that is helping me prepare for some podcasting work I plan to do. I'll share some of that over the coming weeks.
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