Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Some interesting companies (just the gist), 10/06/2009

  • Rapleaf

    Figure out what your customers are doing on the Web as far as social networking etc. goes; for individuals: figure out what is being said about you on the Web.

  • TrialPay

    Real-time, dynamic generation of "deals" for consumers; so if you're at the WinZip site but decide not to buy the software then later are about to make a purchase at, you might be offered a deal to let you get that WinZip software for cheaper  along with your wine. Rather than deals being a one-size-fits-all static kind of thing, a deal is generated for a specific user based on that user's past behavior AND based on what it might take to convert that user.

  • JustAnswer

    Everyday people can pose questions about everything from car repair to computer repair to relationships. A person provides his question along with what it's worth to him to get the question answered. Then a swarm of experts will jump in and try to resolve the matter  earning the fee in the process.

    Not so different from and except that the answerer gets reimbursed in this case. Also, JA takes steps to make sure that the answerer is qualified to answer the question. In order to sign up to be a Programming Languages expert, I had to successfully complete a straightforward multiple-choice quiz of programming questions.

  • Adify

    These are guys responsible for building the various vertical ad networks; e.g., the Martha Stewart Living ad network whose anchor is the Martha Stewart site but which also includes related sites/publishers.

  • meebo

    Overcomes the historical limitation of chat programs which was that a chat client was tied to a particular chat network and so you could only chat with someone on your same network (sounds almost insane to type this; what a dumb way to do things!). With meebo, you chat via a Web interface and you can chat using an AIM, Yahoo, MSN, MySpace, Google Talk, etc. client and you can chat with anyone using any other chat client. You can also easily create chat rooms.

  • Yelp

    Standard review site, like CitySearch. Provides reviews of dentists, restaurants, dating services, clothing stores, and so on. A user can vote on reviews and a business can respond to reviews about it. Reviewers are encouraged to generate original content such as lists of the top happy hour spots, the best place for a cheap mani/pedi, and so on. Reviewers are also encouraged to share more info about themselves  to personalize their profiles.

    When you search for something on Yelp, you might also be provided with sponsored search results. That is to say that Yelp probably derives a substantial portion of its revenues from search marketing (i.e., selling text ads based on keywords). A business can also pay Yelp to put one of the reviews of this business at the top of the business's page. So that when a user visits that business's page, the first review she sees is this selected one. The business still has no control over its other reviews  including over the order in which those reviews appear.

    TODO: Look into: whether they deliver display ads yet, how they sell the ads that appear in search results  based on keywords? via an auction? on an impression-by-impression basis? and so on. Basically, do they roll their own ad sales/placement or are they a publisher that belongs to some network, such as AdSense  and hence they outsource all ad-sales-related activities. Presumably since it's Yelp's primary source of income, they manage ad sales directly.

  • Cooliris

    Their products are Cooliris and CoolPreviews. Cooliris is a browser extension which lets you explore the contents of your disk drive  in particular to look at the pictures in any folder and navigate through those pictures in some cool way. So that is the heart of the Cooliris proposition  the way that you navigate through your photos, the way that they present those photos to you, and so on. So in a way, what Cooliris competes with is your computer's traditional way of displaying your photos to you. For Windows, if a folder contains pictures, I can see small thumbnails of each picture (maybe each is 1.5 inches by 1.5 inches) or I can view the photos in a slideshow. With the slideshow presentation, I see a much larger version of each photo but I can only see a single photo at a time.

    By contrast, with Cooliris, you can simultaneously be looking at a large collection of photos, each of which is a much larger thumbnail. So for starters, you might be looking at two rows of photos, each of which consists of around 4 photos. And the thumbnails for each photo are much larger than traditional thumbnails  maybe 4 inches by 2 inches (but the sizes are variable). Then the new thing is that you can rotate those rows so that  instead of looking at the two rows (one covering the top half of the screen and the second covering the bottom half) straight-ahead  you are looking at the rows from a sidelong glance. This lets you simultaneously look at more than 8 photos. Maybe more like 12. The effect is that your screen becomes 3-dimensional and the plane containing the photos pivots on its leftmost vertical edge or its rightmost vertical edge, like this:

    By presenting the photos to you using three dimensions, they can present more photos for you to consider at once. Moreover, as you scroll through the rows of photos by using the sidelong view, the photos cruise by you. So it's a very dynamic, bouncy-even presentation.

    Now they take this same technology for viewing photos on your hard drive and apply it to viewing photos of products at the marketplace. So there is a way to "go shopping" from your Cooliris plug-in. Similarly, you can visit various channels, each of which contains a collection of videos related to some topic such as Sports, News, Sci-Tech, Entertainment News, TV, and so on. See also:,2817,2353223,00.asp

  • Jigsaw

    This is a modern version of the Dun and Bradstreet databases that I remember using in my investment analyst job  in order to gain information on particular companies. Jigsaw maintains a database of both companies/organizations and individuals. The idea is that, for any individual, you should be able to view that individual's current position and contact info (basically his business card). Also, one can go from an organization to identifying key individuals within that organization (or can just learn more about the organization generally). So if you know you need to talk to the VP of Sales, you can figure out who that is.

    A user can "get points" by adding information about contacts and companies. The information you enter is associated with you  so that there's the basis for reputation scores, that is, for discounting information in the Jigsaw database depending upon who provided that information. Viewing certain info about companies/individuals requires redeeming points (i.e., so you must have previously contributed to the Jigsaw database) OR a paid subscription.

    Primary users are expected to be folks in sales, marketing, or recruiting. See also:

    TODO: Play with their data; how good is it? How accurately does it capture individuals/businesses of which I am aware?

  • box.net

    Is a way for a company to host documents in the cloud so that employees in arbitrary locations can collaborate on these documents. The documents can be internal (not publicly visible) or external (publicly visible). Enables creation of online file systems. Users can collaborate on documents. Can use their interface to share (via configuring permissions), access, and manage files in the cloud. All communication (including downloading, uploading, editing files?) takes place over an encrypted pipe (SSL). Your files are stored on multiple servers so that, if one hard disk drive fails, your data is not lost.

    An alternative to Microsoft SharePoint, which is derided as "too complicated." An improvement over emailing docs back and forth between team members (collaborators). Better than FTP where there is no notion of "merging changes;" if one user changes the doc and replaces the old version on the FTP site, that old version is gone. So changes occur at document-granularity. Hence, their primary value proposition is the ease with which one can use their system.

    Sharing: can share individual files or a whole folder of files. Share with someone via providing their email address. Each document can have an associated thread for comments. Can also create "discussions," which are presumably comment threads that are updated in real-time (i.e., not at all different from a chat room on meebo). Can create tasks, to organize work flow. All of your documents, tasks, comments, and discussions can be searched and modified by the people you elect to provide these capabilities to. (Actually, a document's contents cannot apparently be searched without a box business subscription.)

    With a box business subscription, you can view previous versions of a document, customize the box interface, search the content of your documents, view reports, manage users through an admin console.

    TODO: register and play with their interface, including observing how intuitive and easy-to-use their sharing interface is  as well as how scalable (how easy and intuitive to maintain many sharing policies, to create sharing policies which apply to data not-yet-created, and so on). Etc.

  • meraki

    Traditionally, if you wanted to create a wireless LAN for your enterprise (), you would buy a collection of access points (APs), each of which was a hardware device that provided wireless Internet access to users within some radius of the device. To manage your wireless network then you had to log into each separate AP and configure it then monitor its status. That is, you couldn't log into a centralized server in order to get a network-wide view or in order to configure a network-wide policy. You had to interact individually with each separate AP.

    Recognizing the need for centralized monitoring and configuration, vendors introduced a number of controller-based systems with thin APs (also called dependent APs). Unlike standalone APs, most thin APs cannot operate on their own. Rather, they rely on one or more WLAN hardware controllers that need to be installed in wiring closets.
    In this scenario, the hardware controller is a centralized management interface. It directs traffic between wireless and wired networks. It also lets clients roam from one AP to another. The AP connects to the controller over an Ethernet cable; through this cable, the AP obtains both Internet connectivity and power. This set-up is referred to as a: controller-based deployment with tethered APs. Controllers are expensive, they have installation costs. Also, when a WLAN controller fails, all APs connected to that controller lose connectivity (i.e., fail). So the controller is a single point of failure. ("Dual-redundant controllers, while technically possible, are often prohibitively expensive.")

    The next phase of evolution was to not require that APs physically connect to a controller but rather have a logical tunnel back to the controller. Presumably in this case, the AP derived its power by plugging into a wall socket. And there was a wireless connection from the AP to the controller. Sending data through an AP means the data would also go through that AP's associated controller. With this architecture, still need expensive, redundant controllers. This doesn't work so well if have multiple sites that all need to be on the same wireless LAN.

    With that backdrop, then, meraki's solution entails a single piece of hardware: the access point (actually a set of access points depending upon the number of clients and size of the region for which wireless service is to be provided). Then these access points connect to meraki's data center which consists of a bunch of servers which are used to configure, manage, and monitor a wireless LAN. So the hardware controllers are effectively centralized and moved to the cloud. Then multiple different wireless LANs can be run/managed using the same hardware controllers (so, some virtualization going on).

    The Meraki Cloud Controller is out of band, which means that client traffic never flows through it... Control traffic flows between the APs and the Cloud Controller via a persistent tunnel. All sensitive data, such as configuration details, user names, and passwords, are encrypted... Multiple geographically distributed data centers are used to ensure that networks continue to function even in the event of a catastrophic failure. All management is done remotely through a Web browser... The administrator can also remotely diagnose the APs, using standard tools like ping, from the Meraki remote management interface.
    TODO: Spend more time understanding the various architectural elements and how the meraki system differs from previous solutions etc.

  • Rocket Fuel

    It's an ad network. Their customers are advertisers (who want to run a campaign) and other ad networks (who want to add intelligence to their targeting and optimization but lack the in-house expertise to do so). RF also has partnerships with publishers (on whose sites the ads are run). From their site:

    Rocket Fuel Inc. is building the first intelligent ad serving technology platform that combines the best of social, behavioral, contextual, geographical, search and other data sources to understand consumer interest and intent... We’re experts at predictive modeling and customer segmentation. Our core expertise is in developing and using technology to process and scale huge amounts of data to predict the likelihood of responses from individual users – we find audiences designed for your needs.
    There should be no contextual ad networks or behavioral ad networks. It's like debating whether you should have eyes or ears. If you can have both, it's a win and there's no point debating. There should just be smart ad networks that use as much relevant information as they can to pick the best impressions for a given campaign. An ad server should just use whatever data is found to be valuable in selecting the best ad for an impression, or the best impression for an ad.

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