Ben Langhinrichs

May, 2003
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Genii Weblog


Civility in critiquing the ideas of others is no vice. Rudeness in defending your own ideas is no virtue.


Fri 30 May 2003, 08:05 AM
One of the challenging parts of being an independent software vendor is deciding which projects or products to invest in, time wise, money wise and energy wise.  Some vendors do a lot of market research, formal or otherwise, to decide what the market will bear.  I do that by following many forums, answering lots and lots of questions both related and unrelated to our products, and trying to understand the pulse of the market.

On the other hand, I also spend a lot of time developing technology that nobody is asking for directly, or that skirts the edge of anything anyone wants.  The SmartRefs technology we just introduced is one example.  While many people use the earlier automatic contextual cross-reference links, the idea of "doing stuff" to random bits of the rich text is not immediately obvious to people.  My intuition tells me that this is powerful technology, but it is still a "gut feel" gamble rather than meeting a proven need.  Only time will tell how well it succeeds.

Another example that I am working on right now is HTML -> RT -> HTML technology in a plug in.  HTML generation was another gut feel, and one that has paid off handsomely.  Many, many customers of all sizes and descriptions are using our HTML generation and MIME mail sending ability, which was an offshoot.  Now, I am working away furiously at improving the HTML importing side, so that we can introduce a coexistence tool that allows Notes client apps and web client apps to share rich text even if the web side chooses to use one of the fancy rich text editing tools for the web, such as eWebEditPro.  Currently, sharing rich text between the web and Notes client means losing almost all the richness, but I intend to have a plug in answer for that so almost any authoring tool will coexist more smoothly.  There is more obvious demand for this than for SmartRefs, but it is still a largely unproven market.  My intuition says it will be a big one, but one of my closest ISV friends thinks it is a non-starter.  Who is right?  We'll see.

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.

Mon 26 May 2003, 10:07 PM
There is an interesting commentary over at Dave Winer's blog called Who Will Pay for Software? (part 2).  This echoes some of the issues that have come up with pricing of our products, and those of other Notes/Domino ISVs.  While most companies buying Midas or COEX! Links are corporations, and find the prices fairly reasonable, a certain number have been swayed by the vast numbers of free or almost-free software packages available.  As much as I like the open source movement for its shared efficiencies, it too has led to an idea that software can be free.  Software is never free.  Even if you don't pay for it, the software was not free.  Even if it is open source and developed by volunteers, somebody gave time and effort to create that software.  On occasion, it was an IBM or other corporation that has something to gain (see Joel on Software's analysis), but often it was not.  In any case, most companies can't develop software for free for long before they go out of business.  We have been selling, and supporting, Midas since 1997.  That is right, since 1997, when it was running on Notes 4.1.  We would not be supporting it today, and adding features such as our new SmartRefs technology, and adding support for Notes 6 features such as layers, except that we have continued to sell it, not just give it away.  

Next time you wonder why you have to pay "so much" for software, try to imagine how much you'll appreciate that price two years later when you are still getting free updates and support, and need help with a problem that couldn't have existed when you bought the software, since that version of Notes hadn't been released.  That is when you should appreciate, not merely accept, that software isn't free.

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.

Thu 22 May 2003, 01:36 PM
Rich recently posted about Paul Graham's article Hackers and Painters.  What a great article.  I particularly like the quote:
"So if you can figure out a way to get in a design war with a company big enough that its software is designed by product managers, they'll never be able to keep up with you."


which basically defines my business model.  From @YourCommand to Midas to COEX! Links, I have been in a design war with Lotus and IBM.  Honestly, they haven't even come close to winning, because I am more of a poet, and they manage by whim and commitee.  I don't say this to be self-satisfied, as much as to acknowledge that this essay helped me understand why this model has worked.  Give it a read!

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.

Tue 20 May 2003, 02:01 PM
In a previous post, I talked about Turtle Collaboration and how it might be a way to think differently about blogging and its opportunities.   Robert Basic follow up with a question, which I partially answered in comments.  To elaborate a bit on that answer, and talk more about Turtle Collaboration, I thought I'd reference a great short story/poem by Dr. Seuss called Yertle the Turtle.  You can read the whole text here, or I would strongly suggest you buy it, possibly from here.

Yertle is the king of all turtles in the pond, but he grows dissatisfied with his lot.

"I'm ruler", said Yertle, "of all that I see.
But I don't see enough.  That's the trouble with me.
With this stone for a throne, I look down on my pond
But I cannot look down on the places beyond.


He proceeds to order his subjects to stand on each other's backs, and he stands on the top.  The more he sees, the more he rules, from his perspective.

And then Yertle climbed up.  He sat down on the pile.
What a wonderful view! He could see 'most a mile!
"All mine!" Yertle cried.  "Oh, the things I now rule!
I'm the king of a cow! And I'm the king of a mule!


He keeps on piling up turtles to increase his influence, till a "plain little turtle named Mack" gets tired and burps, and "shook the throne of the king".

And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud.  That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course... all the turtles are free
As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.


So what does this have to do with Turtle Collaboration, Robert's question and blogging in general?  Turtle Collaboration is not about amassing a great deal of power and knowledge by seeing more.  It is about amassing power and influence by being seen.  Now, the analogy may not hold much past that, but the lesson we can learn from Yertle is that turtles should be free to roam and take their own course.  So, how do we apply that to software?  Not by making massive collections of information, I don't think.  Ray Ozzie raises the idea of introducing randomness into blog searching.  He says (emphasis his): "I look to blogs for serendipity, and I won't truly understand what's going on "out there" unless I mix it up a bit."  I think looking to blogs for serendipity is a powerful concept.  If we can harness the power of computers to help us in this search, by finding other posts related in concept or by parallel interest, that might be turtle collaboration.  We might also look to Amazon.com's success with the idea of "people who bought this book also bought" brought into a blogging and on-line news world.  What if we found "people who commented on this post also commented on these other posts"?  What if we found "blogs written referring to the same news source", the way Blogdex does?  What about "blogs written the same day last year by these same people" to show cycles?  I don't know yet how the paradigm will play out, but these are the themes I am exploring.

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.

Tue 20 May 2003, 01:43 PM
Not to get overly political, but if the second richest person in the world, Warren Buffett, can see this, why is it so hard for everyone else?  News story here, except below.

"Putting $1,000 in the pockets of 310,000 families with urgent needs is going to provide far more stimulus to the economy than putting the same $310 million in my pockets," Buffett added.
He closed the piece by saying that the "government can't deliver a free lunch to the country as a whole. It can, however, determine who pays for lunch. And last week the Senate handed the bill to the wrong party."

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.

Tue 20 May 2003, 09:48 AM
It was hard not to laugh when I read this post.  While I don't have a strong opinion about Office 11, I do find laughable the idea that making unstructured data accessible and available is a revolutionary concept created by Microsoft.  Lotus introduced Notes over a decade ago to allow better control and use of unstructured data, and our Midas Rich Text LSX was introduced six years ago to give even better access to the unstructured data within Notes (rich text), and it just seems so like Microsoft to invent an idea once there are 90 million + users of the idea.

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.