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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Sync is Zen Magic

Comments (80)

Jean-Gabriel Morard – formerly of SugarSync – has a great post up on GigaOm titled Why Sync Is So Difficult.  It was one of the things I read before my run yesterday and it was in my head the entire time.  Jean-Gabriel’s main points are:

  • Push sync is deeply asynchronous
  • Sync matches different data models
  • Sync messes with third-party applications
  • Sync is hard to test

I sent the URL to Hong Bui, the CEO of Memeo (one of our investments) who responded with “Great article. I agree. Our approach is zen-like, on one use case at a time.”

I’ve been thinking about sync for a long time. I fondly remember when “replication” first appeared on the scene with Lotus Notes around 1985.  I was fascinated with the idea then and remain fascinated with it today.  It remains a perplexing unsolved problem at the core of both our Glue and Digital Life themes and I expect there will be plenty of talk about it at the Glue Conference in Denver this week.

We have four investments that care deeply about sync: Gist, Gnip, Memeo, and NewsGator.  And – we’ve got a new one that we’ll be talking about later this week that turns the notion of sync – and cloud computing – completely on its side.

Now – before you say “yes, but cloud computing solves the need for sync”, thing about what you are saying.  Go back and read Why Sync Is So Difficult.  Try again.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/dudumimran dudumimran

    Hey Brad,

    After reading again the post on sync still I can say that the web (or cloud if you want to call it this way) as an application platform solves many of the traditional sync problems. Once you work with a web application then you almost in no need to think about your data health or accessability (except for the scenario where the company dies). Most of the cases described in Jean-Gabriel post of deal with sync issues related to usage of desktop applications that persist data locally or on a local network.

    I fully agree that even though computers have evolved greatly in recent decades, still the common user can not take the worries for his/her data off his mind. yet – you can see that there many new advancements and companies like Memeo (which I like their site and product packaging very much) make the headache smaller.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/dudumimran dudumimran

    Hey Brad,

    After reading again the post on sync still I can say that the web (or cloud if you want to call it this way) as an application platform solves many of the traditional sync problems. Once you work with a web application then you almost in no need to think about your data health or accessability (except for the scenario where the company dies). Most of the cases described in Jean-Gabriel post deal with sync issues related to usage of desktop applications that persist data locally or on a local network.

    I fully agree that even though computers have evolved greatly in recent decades, still the common user can not take the worries for his/her data off his mind. yet – you can see that there many new advancements and companies like Memeo (which I like their site and product packaging very much) make the headache smaller.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/dudumimran dudumimran

    Hey Brad,

    After reading again the post on sync still I can say that the web (or cloud if you want to call it this way) as an application platform solves many of the traditional sync problems. Once you work with a web application then you almost in no need to think about your data health or accessability (except for the scenario where the company dies). Most of the cases described in Jean-Gabriel post deal with sync issues related to the usage of desktop applications that persist data locally or on a local network.

    I fully agree that even though computers have evolved greatly in recent decades, still the common user can not take the worries for his/her data off his mind. yet – you can see that there many new advancements and companies like Memeo (which I like their site and product packaging very much) make the headache smaller.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/dudumimran dudumimran

    Hey Brad,

    After reading again the post on sync still I can say that the web (or cloud if you want to call it this way) as an application platform solves many of the traditional sync problems. Once you work with a web application then you almost in no need to think about your data health or accessability (except for the scenario where the company dies). Most of the cases described in Jean-Gabriel post deal with sync issues related to the usage of desktop applications that persist data locally or on a local network.

    I fully agree that even though computers have evolved greatly in recent decades, still the common user can not take the worries for his/her data off his/her mind. yet – you can see that there are many new advancements and companies like Memeo (which I like their site and product packaging very much) make the headache smaller.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/dudumimran dudumimran

    Hey Brad,

    After reading again the post on sync still I can say that the web (or cloud if you want to call it this way) as an application platform solves many of the traditional sync problems. Once you work with a web application then you almost in no need to think about your data health or accessability (except for the scenario where the company dies). Most of the cases described in Jean-Gabriel post deal with sync issues related to the usage of desktop applications that persist data locally or on a local network.

    I fully agree that even though computers have evolved greatly in recent decades, still the common user can not take the worries for his/her data off his/her mind. yet – you can see that there are many new advancements and companies like Memeo (which I like their site and product packaging very much) here to make the headache smaller.

    • http://synapse.neural9.com/ Mark Branly

      By definition, cloud computing is a sync nightmare. It just transfers the burden from user to provider. Saying that it solves the need for sync is like saying "clean water is easy–I just turn on my faucet and there it is!"

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/dudumimran dudumimran

        Hey Mark,

        I know cloud computing is a vague term that different people hold different ideas for and what I meant when I said cloud computing was good all known web services/sites/applications such as GMail and Google Docs. As a GMail user I am not worried whether my data is the same from wherever I access it, I just know it is. Sometimes web service do not provide access to your data via some specific devices and that can be a case for some sync functionality. Also, data integrity within web services such as Gmail might be an issue for itself, but that is a different story.

        Cloud computing as an infrastructure such as the services Amazon Web Services provide do not solve this issue nor try to – it is just plain computing capabilities rendered in an easy way to use and nothing more.

        My general point was that the sync problem exists today only when it comes to dealing with data saved locally on your computer or in your local network and once you need to access it from somewhere else then sync headaches come into the picture.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/rowetim rowetim

    Sync is hard, but it is not impossible. In the early days of Blackberries, when they were pretty much exclusively used by Microsoft Exchange users, the fact that Blackberries synced with mail servers better than anything else was their chief differentiator. For syncing files, my favorite sync platform right now is the product formerly known as FolderShare (now Windows Live Sync). It it peer to peer, free, Mac/Win friendly, and, as far as I can tell, it is perfect.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      For every user that thinks Windows Live Sync is perfect, I can find one that can’t get it to work.  For example, me!  That’s why this whole thing is so Zen Magical.  Oh – and I spent 22 minutes waiting for my Vista machine to boot this morning.  That would have thrown a wrinkle into Jack Bauer’s day, if I was Jack Bauer.

    • http://markgslater.wordpress.com mark slater

      still is the case with BB.

  • http://www.halleyscomment.blogspot.com Halley Suitt

    I used to joke with the Lotus Notes VAR's if they supplied knitting needles and balls of yarn to knit sweaters while waiting for replication to finish. Sync is still difficult but in those days it was hellishly tedious.

  • Bob

    I really didn't understand the point of that article. Like @rowetim says, sync is hard, but it's not that hard. There are a bunch of companies doing it right now and doing a good job at it.

    I'm guessing SugarSync failed not because they couldn't make sync work but because they had no business model.

    • Jean-Gabriel Morard

      Just to make things clear – SugarSync did NOT fail, the product is great and they have plenty of very happy users. I'm still using it as my primary sync & backup solution. And there are several other good products out there. But many people seem to think that it's trivial to implement: it's really not.

  • JimmyJ

    Brad, you really need to get someone to help you with due diligence and understanding the technology you're investing in. If you really believe that "sync is hard", then you're pretty far behind the times. I don't know why Om even posted that article as it was completely content-free.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/scott_yates498 Scott Yates

    I think some of these commenters may have missed what you are getting at by saying that sync is not that hard.

    Maybe a specific example would help:

    Right now my RSS sync is taken care of by NetNewsWire. If I read a post on my phone or on a box or from the cloud, it is marked as read everywhere. That sync is solved.

    Here's what's not solved: Let's say I've read a blog post and then someone I follow on Twitter RTs it. I still get that tweet in my unread Twitter feed, so I have to essentially read it twice, or three times if that person is also a Facebook friend and tweets are automatically posted to his/her Facebook feed, which happens a lot.

    That's the part that's harder.

    Here's another: Someone tweets a comment about a blog post that I've read, but I can't remember what the heck it is and can't tell from the URL because it's been shortened. I have a choice of clicking through or ignoring it. If sync was really working, there would be some way to give me more information about the original blog post without making me change applications. That doesn't really exist now.

    Brad, I forgot that you have a piece of NetNewsWire. Somehow I'm hoping that you can somehow get NNW and your other investments to jointly come up with a tool that will work for what I think of as my "published" world.

    Email has been pretty well cooked, that's my unpublished world.

    For my "published world" I want one tool that I can use for all my RSS/FB/Twitter feeds, not just to read them but to respond, etc., with the kind of sync that we are talking about here. I hope it's NNW because it has the best RSS service going, and the other bits seem like an extension of that.

    I'm pulling for you and your investments to solve this, it will be a huge win for everyone if you can! Let me know what I can do to help.

    -Scott

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Scott – excellent use cases.  And yes – you’ve started to peel back the onion on the various data level examples that are so interesting.

  • http://www.theludwigs.com john

    Sync is so hard I have largely given up trying. I have been pushed to two ends of the spectrum — cloud-based apps that don't need sync at all (at least from the end user perspective, or explicit manual sync using beyondcompare and its ilk. i despair of a middle ground solution, all the metadata stored by apps makes it so hard. for instance — suppose you want to share your itunes library to all the machines in your house, and your machine at work, including not just the mp3s but the lookaside ituneslibrary database (where ratings and playlists live). this problem is hard because of the lookaside database and how it is used, as well as the scale of the dataset.

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