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Jason and I were at an Oblong board meeting last week and spent the entire day at the company. It’s grown a lot over the past few months and it was fun to spend time with a number of folks we hadn’t met before. The first Oblong baby was born while we were all eating lunch which resulted in lots of good cheer, karma, and the revelation from another member of the Oblong team that his wife recently found out that she was pregnant.
But the best part was playing with a bunch of the new cool shit that Oblong is working on. It’s one thing to look at what Oblong is building (as in the TED Video below); it’s a whole different experience to actually get your hands on it. Fortunately they are driving hard toward that and we expect a Q3 product release that will start bringing Oblong’s g-speak spatial operating environment to the masses.
“In five years when you buy a computer you’ll get this.” John Underkoffler, Oblong’s Chief Scientist, at 14:20 in the video.
I’ve been friends with John Underkoffler since 1984 and we’ve been investors in Oblong since 2007. Ever since I first met John I knew that he was an amazing thinker. John, his co-founders at Oblong, and the team they have assembled are creating the future of user interfaces. This year has started off incredibly fast for them – they’ve spent the last five months scaling the business as the result of several large customers and are in the home stretch of releasing their first “shrink wrapped product” in Q3. Get ready – the future is closer than you imagine.
If you are a long time reader of this blog, you know that I’m a huge believer that the way we interact with computers in 20 years will be radically different than how we interact with them today. I’ve put my money where my mouth is as Foundry Group has invested in a number of companies around human computer interaction, including Oblong.
For the past few years, every time someone talks about next generation user interfaces, a reference to the movie Minority Report pops up. Sometimes the writer gets this right and links it back to John Underkoffler, the co-founder of Oblong, but many times they don’t. Today the NY Times got it right in their article You, Too, Can Soon Be Like Tom Cruise in ‘Minority Report’.
That’s a picture of John Underkoffler at Ted on Friday giving one of his jaw dropping demos of Oblong’s g-speak spatial operating environment. Lest you think this is science fiction, I can assure you that Oblong has several major customers, is generating meaningful revenue, and is poised to enter several mainstream markets with g-speak derived products.
The company has been steadily building momentum over the past few years since we invested. The TechCrunch article The iPad Is Step 1 In The Future Of Computing. This Is Step 2 (Or 3) gives you a little of the history. More of the history is at Oblong’s post origins: arriving here that go back to 1994. I personally have stories going back to 1984 when I first met John, but we’ll save those for another day.
While there is an amazing amount of interesting stuff suddenly going on around HCI (and we have invested in a few other companies around this), Oblong is shipping step 2 and about to ship step 3 while most are working on step 1. As John likes to say, “the old model of one human, one machine, one mouse, one screen is passe.”
This year at Sundance, Oblong unveiled Tamper. The Tamper application is a gestural interface for cinematic design. It is built on Oblong’s g-speak spatial operating environment and is a fun example of how Oblong’s core technology can be applied to a film editing system.
Tamper is part of the New Frontier on Main exhibit located at 333 Main Street on the lower level. Oblong has set up a channel on YouTube to show some of the various videos that folks at Sundance are making with Tamper.
I love working with these guys – they are mind-bendingly creative.
Kevin Kelleher’s article on GigaOm this morning titled 2009: Year of the Hacker made me think back to the rise of open source after the Internet crash of 2001. In the aftermath of the crash, many experienced software developers were out of work for a period of time ranging from weeks to years. Some of them threw themselves into open source projects and, in some cases, created their next job with the expertise they developed around a particular open source project.
We are still in a tense and ambiguous part of the current downturn where, while many developers are getting laid off, some of them are immediately being picked back up by other companies that are in desperate need for them. However, many other developers are not immediately finding work. If the downturn gets worse, the number of out of work developers increases.
If they take a lesson from the 2001 – 2003 time frame, some subset of them will choose to get deeply in an open source related project. Given the range of established open source projects, the opportunity to do this today is much more extensive than it was seven years ago. In addition, most software companies – especially Internet-related ones – now have robust API’s and/or open source libraries that they actively encourage third parties to work with for free. The SaaS-based infrastructure that exists along with maturing source code repositories add to the fun. The ability to hack something interesting together based on an established company’s infrastructure is omnipresent and is one of the best ways to “apply for a job” at an interesting company.
We are thinking hard about how to do this correctly at a number of our new investments, including companies like Oblong, Gnip, and a new cloud-computing related startup we are funding in January. Of course, many of our older investments such as NewsGator and Rally Software already have extensive API libraries and actively encourage developers to work with them. And of course, there are gold standards of open source projects like my friends at WordPress and masters of the API like Twitter.
If you are a developer and want help engaging with any of these folks, or have ideas about how this could work better, feel free to drop me an email.