Matt\’s Cuppa

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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Matt’s Cuppa Interviews Tad Staley of Virtual Ubiquity’s Buzzword

Posted by telecommatt on September 11, 2007

I recently put together a review of Virtual Ubiquity’s word processor for the web, Buzzword. In fact, I wrote the entire article using Buzzword. Using a web-based text editor is nothing new to me. With the insane variety of office applications on the web, the only time I use Microsoft Office is when I’m in the office. I’ve begun to feel that most desktop office applications are too cumbersome for my everyday needs.

In the same way, after spending a week or so using Buzzword, I was starting to find that online text editors, like Google Docs and Zoho Writer, were also too cumbersome. One of the ideas behind Buzzword was to be able to create documents online that print just the way they look online, and Virtual Ubiquity did just that. What they also did was create an application that works so well that you actually look for excuses to use it.

After finishing the review for eHub, I went back to Tad Staley, of Virtual Ubiquity, with idea of a short interview. (The interview was also a chance for me to play with Buzzword’s document collaboration features. Like nearly everything else about Buzzword, collaboration worked exactly the you expect that it should.) What I expected to be just a brief interview, Tad turned into one of the longest, most thoughtful, and most dedicated responses I have received. It becomes obvious very quickly that Buzzword is more than just another web application.

Buzzword


1. Every startup has a story. You touch on this on the Virtual Ubiquity blog, but can you talk a little about how Buzzword came together? Who were the main players? What challenges did Buzzword overcome?

Buzzword was first conceived by Rick Treitman, founder and CEO. Rick had been in charge of the Document Products Group at Lotus in the 1980s, which was responsible for shipping Lotus’ DOS-based word-processor called Manuscript.

Manuscript did not make the jump to Windows. Rick observed then, as Word on Windows overtook WordPerfect, that no word processor leader had ever retained its leadership across a platform change – not Wang, not WordStar, not WordPerfect.

When Rick attended an O’Reilly conference in the fall of 2004, and heard Tim O’Reilly describe web 2.0 as a “platform change”, his reaction was immediate – may be time for a new word processor.

When Rick returned from the conference, he contacted a handful of former colleagues – all industry veterans, with experience in text and layout, collaboration, web applications and platforms, and this ad hoc team began to put together its plans. Rick sold his high tech bookstore, Softpro Books (where he had weathered the Windows platform era) and incorporated Virtual Ubiquity in June 2005.

With the addition of CTO Mike Kraley and architect Paul Kleppner, followed soon by senior developer David Coletta, Rick had a team in place that could flesh out his vision. A key part of that vision was to deliver an elegant user experience on the web, and this led to the evaluation and selection of Adobe’s Flex as the development environment, with the application to be deployed on the Flash platform.

The small team worked in Mike Kraley’s attic for a year without funding. When Adobe saw the work that they had done on their platform, which included an early version on the newly announced Apollo (now AIR) platform, Virtual Ubiquity became the first recipient of Adobe’s venture fund in the fall of 2006.

The funding allowed Virtual Ubiquity to expand the team and move into real office space. A key hire following Adobe’s funding was designer Robby Shaver, a veteran of Lotus, ATG and Maven, who elevated the Buzzword user experience to a whole new level.

2. What about competition? Do you feel that there is competition in your market, or has Buzzword created their own market niche? What’s in store for the future of your market space?

Word processing is a well-understood application area, and there are dozens of alternatives. We tend to think of these entrees as residing along one of two dimensions – either they are desktop applications that are generally rich in experience and functionality, or they are web-based and offer the advantages of that environment – specifically, collaboration and document ubiquity.

Buzzword is unique in that it offers the advantages of both dimensions: it’s web-based so users always have access to their document, and they have the ability to share their documents with collaborators. However, unlike other web-based writing environments like Google Docs, Buzzword offers rich user experience that is unparalleled on the web. This is made possible by our choice of Flash as our delivery platform. We like to say that Buzzword is for documents that matter.

Many current word processors are attempting to bridge the gap between desktop and web, between off-line and online usage. Some, like Microsoft Word, attempt to span these two realms by extending desktop functionality to the web through some shared services. Others, like Zoho or Google Docs, attempt to extend their web functionality to the desktop through some advcanced AJAX techniques.

Buzzword will offer functionality both on the web and in a standalone case through Adobe’s forthcoming AIR platform. We have described the value of the AIR platform, formerly known as Apollo, on our blog at http://blog.virtub.com/?p=13.

3. According to your blog, your primary audience falls into two groups: students and mobile workers. On your signup page, you also ask people why they want to try Buzzword. Have the responses fallen into those two groups? Have they identified other groups or helped you refine your product? Do you see your user-base changing as your product and the read-write web mature?

We have gotten a virtual anthology of stories from our signup page. The stories range from terse to whimsical and prosaic. Throughout the process, we’ve learned a lot about people’s interests, preferences and writing environments. We envision this as only the beginning of an ongoing process – we want to stay in conversation with users as much as possible as Buzzword evolves. This feedback loop not only shapes the product but personalizes our design and development.

The responses have indeed validated our assumptions about the target audience (see blog entry http://blog.virtub.com/?p=7). We have gotten significant response from academia – lots of college students, but also professors, distance education specialists, as well as school and college IT coordinators.

Mobile writers have also been very interested. One of the use cases we’re hearing a lot is from people who either travel a lot, or work closely with others in disparate locations. Of course, we have also heard from editorial folks who manage written content through a series of review processes. One person told us he sits across the table from his collaborator, and “spitballs” ideas back and forth in a document.

We’re certain that the user base will evolve with the maturity of the read-write web and the product itself. We have gotten considerable interest from enterprises, which surprised us somewhat; we recognize that this environment brings with it another whole set of requirements.

4. There is a line from one of your blog articles that I particulary like: “…design enriches life.” Tell us more about this.

The “design enriches life” line came out of our “Design Matters” blog entry (http://blog.virtub.com/?p=12), which further elaborates on the point. Suffice to say that we recognize the success Apple has achieved by its attention to design detail. Driven by founder and CEO Rick Treitman, design has been a priority principle from the very beginning.

The feedback we’ve gotten has been gratifying, and seems to validate the attention that comes from good design. Here’s just a small sampling of what we’ve read about our design recently:

“Of all the online word processors I have tried, none strikes a more perfect balance between features, user friendliness, aesthetics, and speed… In short, buzzword is the best online wordprocessor I have come across. I have willingly abandoned Google Docs for it.” – Startup Squad blog entry (8-16-07)

“The interface is clean and streamlined and everything just seems to make sense where it is and how it works. It is responsive and fast and pretty much the nicest “practical and functional” word processor I have used – web based or otherwise.” – Sugar Attack blog entry (8-17-07)

“I’ve totally enjoyed using Buzzword. I think the interface is fantastic, to the point that I will now find using Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Zoho Writer to be cumbersome.” – Emily Chang’s eHub blog entry (8-22-07)

“I love the interface, that is the biggest thing i have to say, people want to work in an environment that is appealing, that is not jarring on their eyes and VU have created a system here that fulfills both those.” – Christopher Wilkie blog entry (8-24-07)

5. Are there any social, political, or environmental causes that Buzzword, either as individuals or as a company, feels deserve special attention? Are there any causes or charities with which Buzzword has a partnership or relationship?

We’re only a startup and, though comprised of passionate and conscientious folks, each with his and her own causes, we haven’t yet invested time as a company to identify any particular issue.

However, one area of focus worth mentioning is our interest in education; in particular, bringing useful and usable tools to help students with their writing. Some of the most effective educational environments are collaborative, and we’ve already seen Buzzword do well in supporting collaborative learning.

In general, we like to say that Buzzword should be used when you care what your document looks like. It’s for people who take writing seriously, and we think that the richness of the Buzzword environment will encourage more people to take their writing seriously.

We hope that Buzzword will encourage writers of all ages to write well and write often.

6. And, finally, what’s best about being a part of Buzzword? What about Buzzword makes you shiver to talk about or jump out of bed before the alarm goes off in the morning?

There are many aspects of the Buzzword experience that we all value. Foremost is the notion that we’re delivering something that matters. We’re driven by putting a great application in as many people’s hands as possible and smoothing the collaboration process for all those tethered to word+email as a make-do solution.

And, of course, we’re excited about giving a great piece of design to the world.

Posted in Interviews, web2.0 | 1 Comment »

Matt’s Cuppa Interviews Reactee

Posted by telecommatt on July 18, 2007

I’m sitting outside right now blogging in the sun, and, of course, wearing my Reactee. I love my WiFi, I love summer, and I love it when I get to review a product that I believe in. I first came across Reactee in a post from the MoMB website with a rather minimalist description: “Shirts that text you back.” I mentioned the Reactee website back in June and was super excited by what I saw. Now, after I’ve had a chance to see their product, try things out for a bit, and talk to some people, I can honestly say that Reactee is doing some great things.

Reactee Home

The concept behind Reactee is pretty straightforward. You go to their site and design a shirt with your message and a customized keyword. You type up a few sentences that you want someone to see when the text your keyword to 41411. I chose “I geek for you” with the keyword “egeek”. (Want to see how it works? Go ahead and give it a try by sending an SMS with the word egeek to 41411.) You can change this text as often as you like, and when someone texts your keyword you get a nice little SMS letting you know. You can check out what other users have come up with at the Reactee Gallery.

Just being out and about with my Reactee on has gotten some great responses. People come up and ask about it. If you’re using it to spread some sort of message, you really get responses on two levels. People see the shirt and text you, but they also come up and ask about it face to face. And the shirts look cool, too. I’m definitely not embarrassed to be seen in public wearing my Reactee. The shirts themselves are rather thin, but mine has survived my washing machine so I’m happy. The print has that stylish I’ve-had-this-forever faded look. (I love that! It’s carefully crafted to make it look like all you did to look this cool is throw on the first thing you found, when you know you picked your outfit the night before!) I was really impressed that the website has a handy little chart that helps you figure out what size to order, a killer feature since clothing sizes vary so much from vendor to vendor.

Being an environmentally concerned netizen, there are a few things Reactee is doing that I definitely applaud. Their shirts are manufactured in the United States, reducing the amount of carbon required to get the shirts from the manufacturer. (Reactee is a US-based company.) Their “natural” colored shirts are made from organic materials. The shirts are also printed using water-based inks. I think that every company has a responsibility to my children minimize the impact that they have on the planet, and I’m am very pleased that Reactee is stepping up.

Reacteeism

As I’ve said, the concept behind Reactee is straightforward. What excites me, however, is much broader in scope. SMS activism is changing the political and social landscape across the globe. From elections in Nigeria to chemical plants in China, we see the true power of SMS communication. Closer to home, we see something like Live Earth and wonder, “What do I do next?” Reactee encourages you to take your message to the streets and put a face to your cause. Sure, you’re just one person, but armed with a Reactee, just imagine what you could do!

I contacted Reactee asking if they had any interest in an article or an interview, and Ariel emailed me the very same day. After wearing my Reactee around for a while, and seeing the reactions it got, I couldn’t wait to hear Ariel’s thoughts on the questions I sent. As you can see, he got back to me with some great responses:

# I understand that Reactee is a partnership between TextMarks, Inc. and Revel Industries. Can you talk a little about this? How did it all begin? There always seems to be a great story behind a successful startup. What’s the Reactee story?

The initial idea was to offer shirts to TextMarks users as a way of promoting their keywords. The idea for focusing on the shirts as a standalone product came in a meeting I had with my friend Joe Greenstein (CEO of Flixster). We thought: why limit this product to people who already had a TextMark? Why not make an “interactive shirt” that anyone can use? As to the connection with Revel, I sent an email to the alumni list at Stanford Business School asking for suggestions on people familiar with the t-shirt industry – as I had little experience in it. Someone suggested Chris Gorog, the CEO of Revel Industries and a Stanford alum. We got together at hit it off.

# What about competition? Do you feel that there is competition in your market, or has Reactee created their own market niche? What’s in store for the future of your market space?

So far, we are the only ones offering interactive t-shirts. It is actually not that easy to make this product well. You have the text messaging infrastructure on one side, designing a shirt that balances aesthetics with functionality, making the shirts on demand with good quality, and then integrating the whole thing. As to the future, we are working on a number of features to make the shirts even more interactive and fun, we are also getting lots of requests from abroad, so we are looking into that.

# Define your audience. Who is the average person who will be wearing a Reactee? Do you see a future in individuals or groups? Or will you continue to cater to both? Is there a corporate interest in your product?

We are seeing interest (and orders) from several types of customers:

– Individuals with shirts such as “Think I Am Hot” or “Love Movies”

– Lots of small business, e.g., “Need a Realtor”, “French Lessons”, “Fitness Max”, “I Design Websites”

– Non profits, e.g., “Peace Now”, “Santa Barbara Symphony”, “Change the World with Tech”

– Corporations: we’ve gotten a number of large orders from corporations for promotions, internal events, and as gifts for employees.

# In the wake of financial scandals and more recent concerns over climate change, corporate values are becoming more and more of a deciding factor for today’s consumer. Are there any values that Reactee holds dear? Does Reactee find a way to give back to the community?

Lots of non-profit organizations are using Reactee to promote great causes. In addition to helping them with promotion, we share our revenues with them, helping them financially. And we donate free shirts to some small organizations. All of us involved with Reactee care deeply about our communities and individually each one is involved with more than one project. We are a very socially responsible company. For example, we use shirts that are made in the USA and print with environmentally friendly water-based ink.

# What’s the best thing about being a part of Reactee? What is it that makes you shiver with excitement when you’re telling someone about Reactee? Is there anything in particular that makes you get out of bed in the mornings?

The most fun aspect of Reactee is seeing the creative uses that our customers find for the shirts. I love going to ourgallery to see the latest shirts that our customers have built. I also love the fact that we are producing a physical good. While it sure is a LOT more work than when you are just selling “bits”, it is also a lot more satisfying when our customers receive their shirts and send us emails telling us how much they love them and how much their friends liked them.

I really want to thank Ariel for the thoughtful and thought-provoking answers, and also the Reactee team for putting together a great product. I love what you guys are doing, I love the fact that you’re environmentally conscious, and I’m totally excited by all the possibilities that are out there for anyone with a message and a mobile phone.

Posted in Fashion, Geekstuff, Green, Interviews, Social Web, web-based services, web2.0 | 5 Comments »

Matt’s Cuppa Interviews Andy McCaskey of Slashdot Review Podcast

Posted by telecommatt on July 5, 2007

People I know clear their schedules so they can follow American Idol or The Amazing Race. For me, it’s Andy McCaskey’s Slashdot Review podcast. I knew I was hooked the very first episode I heard. McCaskey’s podcast highlights top stories on Digg, Slashdot, and Reddit, and points out one interesting YouTube video each day. And somehow he does all this in about ten minutes! In a recent episode, McCaskey mentioned that he was traveling, and podcasting from his hotel room. He does such a excellent job that, had he not mentioned that anything was different, I never would have known.

McCaskey made the time to answer a few of my questions about how he takes his show on the road. He included some great information regarding the equipment and software that he uses now and what he plans on moving to in the future. He also talked a bit about how he decides what stories to talk about. Like most great bloggers and podcasters, McCaskey always keeps his audience in mind.

SDR Logo

# Tell me a little about how you manage to stay on top of your news when you’re on the road.

I use the RSS feeds from each of the primary sources – Slashdot, Digg and Reddit as well as some searches that I have converted to RSS feeds. On the selection of YouTube materials, I really appreciate the efforts of listeners to recommend material, and help from SDR News “Video Scout” – David Gilson in the UK. David has been a tremendous help locating and filtering YouTube for interesting material.

# Do you work between multiple PC’s, and if so, what do you do to make sure you have everything you need from one when you’re working from another?

I am in the process of moving the entire operation to the MacBook – but right now have the production split between a Toshiba laptop and the Mac. Add in a third laptop from the company and it makes for a slow security check at the airport. I have only had to do that once. I use del.icio.us so that I can work on copy on both machines.

# How long does it usually take you to produce an episode?

About three hours – depending upon how much background reading I do. When I go out for a week, I try to prepare the postings (YouTube selection and Daily Comments) in advance and leave them in draft form on WordPress. When traveling on business, you need to get out of the evening’s social event quickly. I can usually get back to the room by 10:00pm (although that is rugged on the west coast since you will be up until about 4:00AM Eastern) . Sure cuts down on the temptation to have a few more drinks at business dinners!

# Do you have any favorite applications or tools that you use in regards to your podcast?

I use Propaganda as my primary editor and mp3 encoder. For several years I used Audacity, but find I can edit faster in Propaganda. I used id3Tagit to add mp3 info and then Filezilla for FTP. I will be shifting over to the Mac, but will probably use Parallels and the Windows apps for a while. I have been looking at Ubercaster and it is really impressive – I will probably shift to that in the next few months. I use the Gigavox Levelator for pre-processing of .wav files on the PC.

# How do you decide what stories to cover, and does being on the road make this more difficult?

I try to select a variety of stories and remove some of the anti-Microsoft slant from Slashdot and the overtly political from Reddit, unless the political has a technology impact or angle. Since most of my audience is mid-career professionals, I will generally select with that demographic in mind. On the road, the limitation is the amount of reading you can do from the feed and the original source pages each feed item leads you to.

# Is there anything that you wish you knew before you started your podcast that would have made things easier, especially relating to taking things with you on the road?

It took me about two years to settle on the BeyerDynamic DT290 headset with pop filter screen for my mobile rig– it helps tremendously keeping constant mic distance and helping with echo in various hotel rooms. You need the Edirol UA25 interface with the Mac to run it in directly. I generally record into a Marantz 671 digital recorder and then use the USB cable to bring the .wav files into either the Mac or the PC.

I learn a lot when I’m listening to Slashdot Review, and not just about the current buzz on the blogoshere. As I talk to more and more people about how producing a podcast can help drive their business, I often find myself thinking back on McCaskey’s show. I can say, “Did you hear how he did this?” or “Do you see how he always does this first?” And the people I’m talking to, people who have never produced a podcast, will say, “Yeah, I get it.” I think that is a sign of a successful podcast!

It’s always good to have a role model, even if you feel like you’re proficient enough on your own. One of the things that draws me to McCaskey’s podcast is just that. In my mind there are a few things that define an effective podcast, especially if you’re using it to drive business:

  • Consistency: Whether you produce your podcast once a day, once a week, or once a month, it needs to be done regularly so that your listeners know when to expect the next episode. If you produce a show whenever you remember, you’ll be speaking to empty space. No one will know when to tune in, so they won’t. Be consistent, be regular.
  • Length: In my opinion, a shorter show is a better show. Ten to fifteen minutes is perfect. Why? Because people have short attention spans and short memories. If you want your listeners to remember something, say it and stop talking. Give them the opportunity to digest, then tell them more in the next show. Also, you’ll find that many (most?) people just don’t have time to sit and listen to 45 or 60 minutes of you talking. Fifteen minutes is a manageable block of time. You may find that your show lengthens naturally. If this happens, let it happen, but don’t force it.
  • Organization: Do your audience a favor and present things in the same order from show to show. See if it’s possible to organize yourself in such a way that you can break your show into smaller chunks of related content. Then string together these chunks in the same order for each show. For example, you might start every show with a quote and a brief discussion about it, and follow that by answering questions listeners have emailed you. With recognizable patterns like this, your listeners’ brains can focus on what you are saying instead of how you are saying it.
  • Audience: This seems like it would be a no-brainer, but it’s not. McCaskey pointed out that his audience was mid-career professionals. He tailors his show to that demographic. It’s tough to remember that your show is for them and not you. You may have something important to say, but saying it to the wrong crowd is worse than not saying it at all. Always know who you are addressing. One exercise that I like is to imagine someone who is in your target audience. Give them as much detail as possible, hair color, eye color, gender, clothing, shoes, even how they are sitting or standing. Then, put together a show that your imaginary person would want to listen to. When you record your show, speak to that imaginary person like they’re right there in the studio with you. Don’t ever do a show without that person next to you.

As you can see, an effective podcast takes preparation, practice, patience, and persistence. I love the fact that you can listen to McCaskey’s Slashdot Review and see all these things in action. He makes a great role-model for any would-be podcaster. If you don’t already, I encourage you to invest the time to listen to Slashdot Review. McCaskey offers up a valuable learning experience and, as an added bonus, you get to hear the best of Slashdot, Digg, and Reddit, all in about ten minutes.

Posted in Hardware, Interviews, Podcasts/Podcasting | 1 Comment »

Matt’s Cuppa Interviews FeedSpirit

Posted by telecommatt on May 13, 2007

I have been using FeedSpirit for about three months now and I am absolutely dependent on it. On the surface, FeedSpirit is a mobile RSS reader. When you really get into it, FeedSpirit is a comprehensive research and collection tool for that frees you from the desktop. From your account on the FeedSpirit website, you add and categorize all your RSS feeds. Once this is done, you sync your feeds from the mobile application. As you go through your feeds, if you find something worth saving for later, you have the option of “clipping” it. Before you exit the app, you upload your clips to your account on the FeedSpirit website. The clips are saved in full html with links to the original posts. Of course, you can also read your feeds from the FeedSpirit site. The mobile application itself is relatively devoid of fancy features and load-time consuming graphics. It loads your feeds on demand, consuming as little data transfer time as possible and taking up less space on your phone than most other apps of it’s kind. To me, the most important benefit is the connection between the mobile app and your account on the FeedSpirit site. I find myself getting frustrated with other mobile feed readers when I find something I want to “clip” and I can’t get it off my phone! FeedSpirit’s development team has been very responsive from the time I first started using the the application, and I am very pleased that Victor was able to take some time out to answer some of my questions.

FeedSpirit

1. Every startup has a story. How did FeedSpirit happen? Who were the main
players? What challenges did FeedSpirit overcome?

Well, this project started actually at the end of 2005 when I was
just back from a 3 week back-packing in Europe. The trip was nice and I did
enjoy everyday I spent in 7 different countries. However, there was one pity
that bothered me quite a bit – I was cut off from the internet during the trip
for most of the time. If lucky I might find a internet coffee at the end of day,
but then I couldn’t explain my frustration with a keyboard in a different
language let alone the cost.

So when I came back I looked at my cellphone and decided to create something to
access the news and blogs no matter where I am. Originally just a J2ME only
client for myself, but soon it spread among friends and eventually hit the
download sites. The challenges at that time was the cellphone has a rather small
screen and the GPRS is pretty slow comparing to a PC. The most important, most
carriers charge the connection by bandwidth usage (e.g. $0.05 per KB), which is
HUGE ’cause it means you will have to pay $5 just to view a 100KB web page, let
alone nowadays most ad-sponsored web pages are more than 500KB. So the idea was
to minimize the cost while make it easy to use on a small screen device.

Later next year I found it’s difficult to have everything on cellphone due to
the limit capabilities of J2ME. So my friend Jeffrey and I decided to build a
web gateway to better serve the purpose and solve the challenges. That’s the
FeedSpirit.com you are using right now.

2. Corporate values are becoming more and more important to
consumers in the wake on Enron and then again with the recent coverage of global
warming concerns. What core values are important to FeedSpirit? Are there any
social, political, or environmental issues that FeedSpirit as a company feels
strongly about?

It’s probably something we haven’t thought about. We hope
FeedSpirit can bring some more fun to help people stay connected with the latest
information available, including the concerns be it social, political, or
environmental.

3. What’s the future of FeedSpirit ? Where does FeedSpirit see
their marketspace in five years? Where does FeedSpirit see itself five years
from now?

It all depends. FeedSpirit is just a small plant in the jungle, it
would grow if got enough attention and support, or wither and get buried in the
game of competition. Although we can’t tell the future of FeedSpirit in the next
five years, we do have a vision of the personal wireless devices and services –
they will be even more popular than PC and we’ll all be slaves to them sooner or
later. It sounds kind of sad, but actually an inevitable evolution from our
perspective.

FeedSpirit definetely belongs to the small handful of mobile applications that is changing the way that I use the mobile internet. I find myself using my mobile web browser only a fraction of the time now that FeedSpirit connects what I read on the go with what I do on the web. I am very grateful to Victor and the development team at FeedSpirit for taking the time to answer my questions. Best of luck in the mobile future guys!

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Posted in Interviews, Mobile, web-based services | Leave a Comment »

Matt’s Cuppa Interviews Widsets

Posted by telecommatt on April 14, 2007

WidSets is one of a handful of applications that has changed the way I work. In simplest terms, WidSets is a mobile platform for widgets. You choose from hundreds of widgets, mostly newsfeeds from various sites, and these are placed on your mobile desktop. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can roll up your sleeves and make your own. The killer features, though, are what you can do after you’ve found an article you’d like to keep. And this is where WidSets sets itself apart from other mobile feed readers. From within the application it takes about five seconds to email an article to someone, and less time to bookmark it. Once an item is bookmarked, you can access the full article on the web from your inbox on the WidSets website. As a blogger, this is a huge time saver. I can now find content while I’m on the go, go right to that page once I’m at my PC, hit my WordPress “Press It” button, and have a finished article in less time than it used to take just to find good content. In my opinion, this is a picture-perfect example of what being connected is all about.

WidSets Logo

# How did WidSets begin? Is there a story behind the idea? Were there major challenges to overcome? What are you most proud of to date?

Around summer 2005 we were five guys using Web 2.0 services. We had our pictures on Flickr, we searched the blogosphere. We saw that the services were just great, and people were so dedicated to what they are doing that we thought, ‘Hey, that would be a good target group to have on the mobile.’ There weren’t that many mobile data services anywhere in the world, and it really had to be something that people want. Then we just started thinking about how to make that as easy as possible.

The easiest way – in our opinion – involved an Internet-oriented approach that starts from the PC rather than from the mobile phone. The idea is that you define everything on the web because you have the tools and then you can just enjoy everything on your phone, because it gets pushed to you, automatically. Since that we have added most of that functionality on the web to the mobile, too, and we are aiming at having them even more integrated.

The other part was the UI, which is something everybody seems to mention when they talk about WidSets. We liked the idea of widgets being used in various services, were you could define your own UI, and have some fun with it, too. At that (and even today) most mobile UI’s were quite dull, and we definitely wanted to develop something different.

With that – and a few other things in hand – we presented the idea and related information to our management, and by the end of 2005 we received funding for creating a pilot. We managed to hire some great guys and they soon developed the client, the aggregation and optimization servers, the web site, and integrated all that together. And in June 2006 we opened up http://www.widsets.com for everybody. To be honest, that was not only Beta, it was really pre-Beta. But we wanted to do it the Web 2.0-way, and we were working as a startup, anyway. Since that we have introduced a new, major release of WidSets about every second month, and if you take a look at our blog (http://blog.widsets.com/widsets/new_features/index.html) you can see that we have come quite far from that first release. Now a widget can be anything, really.

The main challenges to overcome was of course that our approach was so different that anything else that had been done at Nokia, so people didn’t really understand what on earth we were doing. You know, a mobile internet service that works on all handset brands, working in a startup mode (and Beta) and internet speed, being quite open about many things (see the blog), etc. But fortunately we have some great and open-minded people in management, who have been supporting us. Even if we present WidSets as “Pimp Your Mobile”…

The other challenge has been that people outside Nokia except us to be a 1000+ people organization with all the resources in the world. The truth is that we are still a small startup-kind of a team. We also hear that since we are funded by Nokia, we can’t really be open and startup-like, Oh, well…

What I’m, most proud of is the comments we get from users/bloggers out there, which I gather in the Press & Buzz section of our web site (http://blog.widsets.com/press/). Out of the many great comments I remember people creating videos out of their first WidSets experience and putting that on YouTube, analyzing a new release with some many screen shots and so much information that our FAQ’s and other sources definitely come second, thanking us for our attitude in helping people in the Forum (which actually means Thank You Antti), etc.

Another thing I’m really proud of is that we actually managed to get it going with the original team, and have it launched into the public. And when I think about all the requirements coming in from our users, from the team, from our management, etc, I’m truly proud of our R&D guys developing this great service. And we should not forgot the other members of the team, who have all been involved in making this happen.

When it comes to the technical side, I’m very proud of our approach of providing normal (what are other users, abnormal? 🙂 users the tools for mobilizing internet services, and that they have created more than 90% of the widgets in the Library, now consisting of more than 1200 widgets. That definitely is user-generated content!

# Are there any social, environmental, or political issues that align closely with the WidSets culture? WidSets plans on changing the world?

Well, this starts to get into the Star Trek and Babylon space, but I would personally like that WidSets would be remembered as the open approach that was adopted by the mobile users as the place to go to for great services and communities on the mobile. I would also hope that WidSets would be adopted by phone manufacturers and operators as a de facto standard. To be honest, we are just in the beginning of a very interesting journey, so there’s still a few things that we will have to do in order to get there. But so far, so good.

Regarding changing the world, I guess I’m supposed to say something very philosophical and earth-shaking here, but the truth is that we are very down-to earth guys (and girls) in the team. We proceed one (small) step at the time, and see how it goes from that.

And the rest is history.

I mentioned this already, but this is one application that changed the way I use my mobile phone. Because of that I was just hyped when I got in touch with HeGe and Kaisa. They were really excited to share the WidSets story with me. And this really is a growing, evolving project that just keeps getting better. In fact, just before I was ready to publish the article, I received an email from HeGe telling me that there was one small edit that I should make. The number of widgets available jumped from 1100 to 1200 just in the time it took to put the interview together! Thanks so much Hege, Kaisa, and the rest of the WidSets team!

Posted in Betas (as in not-the-fish), Interviews, Social Web, web-based services | 4 Comments »

Matt’s Cuppa Interviews KushCash

Posted by telecommatt on March 29, 2007

Do you KushCash? If you haven’t been asked yet, chances are you will soon. KushCash is the hip alternative to PayPal mobile. Think of it like being in the VIP section of the mobile payments sector. But don’t think of Kushcash as the new kid. They’ve been doing mobile payments since before PayPal went mobile. I’ve seen KushCash in action and it’s pretty slick. The sign up is quick and the interface is very attractive and intuitive. It’s just a nice pleasant application to use. I can understand why they can boast such a loyal user base. Kushcash’s Kevin Malone spent some time telling me about their loyal and growing user community, what they’re doing to save the planet, and how they are going to change the social structure of the world. Many gigabytes of thanks to Kevin and the KushCash team!

KushCash Site Shot

# I know that KushCash has been around for a decent amount of time now. I read that you first fired up the engines in 2005. How did it all begin? There always seems to be a good story behind a successful startup. What’s the KushCash story?

Frustration! It started back in 2004, as a combination between unfair banking fees and the expediency, or more likely the lack thereof, when founder and CTO, Jeppe Dorff had to transfer $400 to a friend in Europe, the process required him to show 2 types of ID AND his passport. So he had to commute back and forth from his residence and the whole transfer took approx 1 ½ hours to be posted in the banks system, and an additional 5 days to reach Europe! Jeppe wished that he had a just-as-secure but easier method to send and receive money

# Right now the mobile payment space is a lot more crowded that it was when KushCash first began. Has your vision or mission changed as other players entered the market space? Do you feel that there is more competition now, or do you feel that you’re able to differentiate yourselves enough from other players to retain your market niche?

Our competitors would like everybody to think that KushCash is exactly the same product, but there is more to a company than the actual product, there is also the aspect of cultural behavior behind it. We do not “buy” corporate culture, we develop it ourselves. Our vision is the same; we are a web “2.5” community made by the members for the members.

# What is your market niche exactly? Who is your audience and what needs to they have? What is it that KushCash can do to meet those needs that no one else out there can do? Do you think your audience has changed as KushCash as grown?

The audience has certainly grown, but while our member base has been going though rapid growth, almost exponentially, we are allocating more and more resources to enhance our dialogue with the members and provide them with the features that they request. Our typical member spends 30 minutes a day on the website whether through their cell phone or on the web, and are between 18-26 y/o.

# Corporate values are becoming more and more important to consumers in the wake on Enron and then again with the recent coverage of global warming concerns. What are core values are important to KushCash? Are there any social, political, or environmental issues that KushCash as a company feels strongly about?

Well, KushCash is actually working with several minor and major non-profit charities in order to spread the word of social responsibility, one of those being the Surfrider Foundation. The Surfrider Foundation is a grassroots, non-profit, environmental organization that works to protect our oceans, waves, and beaches. We have other social non-profits that we are currently working with and will be making announcements soon.

# What’s the future of KushCash? Where does KushCash see the mobile payments space in five years? Where does KushCash see itself five years from now?

We’ll continue our fantastic growth and ensure that members from all segments of life will always have access to funds, so that we can change the social structure of the world. I think there will be many changes to the m-payments sector over the next couple of years, we’ll see RFID/NFC systems appear, and are ready for it. Consumers will have all their necessary information at hand at all times, including their wallet. We have so many developments coming – it’s an exciting time to be KushCash!

To add a final thought, Kevin, in his most recent email, forwarded me the link to their referral program called Spare Change. As the site puts it, refer friends and make cash! You can also find more information on some of the charities that KushCash has partnered with here.

Posted in Interviews, Mobile, web-based services | Leave a Comment »