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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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Platforms vs. Developers

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In the last few days there have been a large number of posts about two platform companies – Apple and Twitter.  These posts covered a wide range of perspectives (a few of the better ones are linked to below) but fundamentally came down to the tension between a platform (e.g. the iPhone OS or Twitter) vs. third party developers that build applications on top of the platforms.

Several of the Twitter related posts include The Twitter Platform’s Inflection Point, Twitter and third-party Twitter developers, and Developers In Denial: The Seesmic Case Study. Several of the Apple related posts ones include  and Adobe Vs. Apple War Generates Rage, Facebook Group, Why Apple Changed Section 3.3.1, Steve Jobs response on section 3.3.1.  If you missed the leads to the story, Apple made a major change in their TOS and Twitter launched an official Blackberry client and acquired the Tweetie iPhone client, rattling their developer community.  And Twitter Officially Responds To Developers and Tries To Calm Fears.

While there has been an amazing outburst of reaction – including much surprise and criticism – to both of these situations, they should come as no surprise to anyone that has been in the computer business for a long time.  What we are experiencing is the natural evolutionary struggle that exists between a platform and its developers.  In the past few years, both Twitter and Apple have created amazing platforms and build incredible network effects on top of their platforms.  One way they have done this is to embrace developers, who have flocked to these platforms in droves, building a huge variety of awesome, great, good, mediocre, and crummy products on top of the platforms. Some of these products have created meaningful revenue for the developers, others have generated fame, and many have generated a giant time sink of work that hasn’t resulted in much.  This is the nature of being a developer on top of a platform.

True platforms are special things that are rare.  Fortunately, developers have a lot of choices and that is a powerful dynamic that keeps both the platforms and developers evolving.  I think the next few months are going to be pretty exciting ones as the current phase we are in sorts itself out.

Universal Videoconferencing

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While Fred Wilson has his review of his Google Phone up already, I’m more intrigued with all the pre-CES announcements.  I’ll be walking the floor on Thursday soaking it all in and I’m pretty excited this year based on all the chatter.  One thing that has me particularly stoked is what I’m going to call “universal videoconferencing.”

I saw my first “videophone” around 30 years ago.  It sucked but the idea was magical (and still is).  Like my personal jetpack, I’ve been waiting patiently for it.  Very patiently.  For 30 years.

I think 2010 is the year it finally happens.  Engadget has a review of Skype HD (720p) and videocalling from PCs or Internet connected LG & Panasonic HDTVs (damnit – I knew I shouldn’t have bought that new Samsung.)  720p is plenty for me on my 30” computer monitor or my 50” TV.  With Skype (I’m bradfeld btw) the video / audio layer is free and broadly compatible (no more fighting with specialized hardware). 

I’ve been doing low-res Skype videoconferencing for a while and now chat with my dad a few times a week.  I finally got Amy using it and while she’s in Keystone and I’m in Boulder it’s almost like we are together (without the smell-a-vision).  But the video quality is mediocre and it still feels limited to being in front of a computer to use.

Now, put it on a TV in your living room.  In HD.  On a 50” screen.  The picture in the NY Times article A Venture Integrating Skype Into the Family Room is perfect. 

The only thing wrong here is the remote control.  There is no good reason why the 50” screen with the video camera built in can’t do simple gesture recognition to “answer”, “volume up”, “volume down”, and “hang up.”  That’s next.

One of my goals in 2010 is to get HD videoconferencing set up across all of the places I live and work.  My 30” screens are a good start.  And – with some of the announcements coming (and stuff I expect to see at CES) I’m optimistic that I might be able to get this working with standard equipment and Skype this year.

The Metaverse Is So Very Fragile

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I’m still really cold this morning and I’m dreaming of a time when I can put my meat puppet into hibernation for a while and just romp around in the metaverse.  Then I lost 30 minutes of my life to “restarting my connection to the metaverse” and it reminded me that if I went into hibernation, there’s a pretty good chance the metaverse would crash and I’d be in suspended animation forever.

CIMG0718 

It started while I responding to a Facebook message from a friend who is a senior executive at AT&T.  I twhined (whine on twitter) last night that “I think AT&T might have lost me today.”  He saw this message and this morning I woke up to a Facebook message from him asking “I see you had a bad experiece with AT&T, something I can help you with?”.  I give my friend (and – by reference AT&T) – huge props for reaching out.

As I was responding about the tragic AT&T iPhone coverage in Boulder along with the noise yesterday that AT&T was exploring trying to give high-bandwidth users incentives to reduce or modify their usage (which the pundits immediately turned into “AT&T is going to charge high-bandwidth users more”) Firefox crashed.  This was the second Firefox crash I’d had this morning so I decided to reboot.  Rebooting hung so I forced reboot.  Ten minutes later W7 and all my apps were running again (of course, in this process, W7 installed an upgrade) but I had no network.  I messed around on my computer for a little while but quickly checked my iPhone which also had no network (via my home WiFi).  I stumbled around in the dark, found my Comcast modem, and reset it by unplugging it from the wall and plugging it back in.  I sat and meditated for about five minutes – eventually I had Internet connectivity again.  However, the message to my AT&T friend that was half completed was gone when I brought up Facebook again (no surprise there, just more reinforcement of how fragile it all is.)

I’m feeling mentally bipolar about all of this.  It’s absolutely incredible to me that this stuff even works.  The range and pace of innovation is awesome.  And when I project out 20 years my brain explodes with joy and anticipation.  Yet, as I watch the little cylinder shaped LED on my laptop computer light up as the hard drive is pinned, I shudder a little.

Did I say that I’m cold?

The Sun Shines On Oracle in Colorado

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Sorry – I just could not help myself when crafting that title.  I wonder if it’ll get good SEO juice.  And yes – it was a really sunny day today in Boulder.

By now everyone in the tech universe knows that Oracle has signed an agreement to acquire Sun.  I – for one – did not see that coming.  There has already been plenty of analysis on the good and the bad of it from a tech industry perspective.  However, I haven’t seen much commentary on what it means for the Colorado tech community.

If you live outside Colorado, your first reaction is probably “who cares.”  However, did you know that both companies have their second largest US operations in Colorado?  Nope, that hadn’t occurred to me either until I met with senior execs at both companies two weeks ago with Colorado Governor Bill Ritter.  Think about it – two native Silicon Valley companies have their largest US operation in Colorado. 

During my two day trip to Silicon Valley with Governor Ritter, Don Elliman (head of the Colorado office of economic development), and Mike Locatis (Colorado CIO), we had about a dozen meetings.  The Sun and Oracle meetings were uniquely interesting because of the large presence each company has in Colorado.  Sun’s comes from a combination of organic growth and their acquisition of StorageTek; Oracle’s comes from organic growth and their acquisitions of PeopleSoft (which had previously acquired JD Edwards), BEA (which had a good sized operation in Boulder that resulted from two other acquisitions), and Hyperion (which had previously acquired Decisioneering).  I don’t have the exact number of total employees of both companies in Colorado but I’m guessing it’s around 10,000 with a heavy concentration of them near Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs.

In both the Oracle and Sun meetings, the executives that we met with were extremely enthusiastic about their teams in Colorado.  Even if you discount their enthusiasm based on the fact they were talking to the governor of Colorado, it was sincere and substantiated by their perspectives on the capability, quality, and loyalty of their Colorado-based workforces.  It was clear that regardless of future acquisition activity, both companies had plans to continue to grow their bases in Colorado.

Now, acquisitions are always complex and this one isn’t expected to close until sometime this summer.  However, given the existing presence of both companies in Colorado, I expect there will be additional focus on the appropriate integration dynamics.  While they will likely include some rationalization of people and facilities, I expect it will be healthy for the long term growth of Colorado as a technology center, especially given the positive experiences each company has had with large workforces in Colorado.

The Tech Engine Revs Back Up – Maybe

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One of the neat things about business is that it runs in cycles.  I’ve been involved in the software business since 1985 when I started my first company.  Since then, I’ve seen numerous cycles with a wide range of amplitudes.  I don’t try to time any of the cycles, the peaks, or the troughs; rather I just invest and work hard all the way through each of the cycles.

Given the negative sentiment across many parts of the business universe (e.g. the NY Times headline this morning Jobless Rate Hits 8.5%; 663,000 Jobs Lost), I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Q1 performance of many of the companies I’m an investor in.  Several had record quarters, most made or beat their Q1 plan (obviously the easiest plan of the year to make since it’s usually baked near the beginning of the quarter), and a couple had extraordinary growth that surprised everyone.  Some struggled, but when I look at the overall distribution of behavior across our entire portfolio, it was kind of what you’d expect from a typical economic environment versus one that is either distressed or bubbly.

This morning during my daily information consumption routine, I noticed four things that stuck out.

All of these are nice leading indicators that the exit environment for tech companies, which has been frozen for the past few quarters, is starting to thaw out.  It’ll be interesting to see if this is just a warm day mid-winter or actually the beginning of spring.

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