# Monday, January 14, 2008

The dot com era was crazy. Companies that had no business plan, no revenue, no customers, but a great team, web site and investors would IPO for $100 million. Everyone had stock options and got rich on paper. Once all of these companies went bankrupt and were delisted in the crash of April 2000, everyone was poor again since their options were underwater and worthless. The common phrase is “I wallpapered my house with my useless stock options.”

I too wallpapered my apartment with Zagat Survey stock options. I was the Chief Technology Officer for two years during the .com era and saw it all. I got there as a consultant in 1998 when the company had just 30 employees and the server for the web site was under Sal’s desk. (Sal being the entire IT department at the time.) When I joined as CTO in late 1999, I helped with my colleagues secure $34 million in Venture funding from General Atlantic and Kleiner Perkins and build a great team.

The place became a true .com with 27 year old Harvard MBAs running around, employees bringing in their dogs to work, an air hockey table, and a web site that had one mission: drive traffic. The company swelled up to 200 people, but I build out an amazing web farm and an .NET application a year before .NET shipped. We filed for an IPO. Then the crash happened. I then had to preside over massive layoffs and the eventual loss of my own motivation and left in January 2002 to start Corzen.

Today it was announced that Zagat is up for sale and at a valuation of at least $200 million. When General Atlantic and KPCB invested in the height of the .com bubble, Zagat was valued at $96 million. That means that all the employees and former employees with vested stock options (including myself) now have .com options that are above water. Well above water. I am going to scrape down the wallpaper and deposit them into my brokerage account (I hope Fidelity Investments does not mind the glue.) I guess the .com era is not over if some companies are still paying out.

Why would Zagat sell? They do a nice little business of book sales (estimated 5.5 million books sold a year) and online paid subscriptions. The problem is that Zagat is so Web 1.0. While it is technically user generated content (the ratings are not by reviews, but surveys), Zagat is still stuck in the Web 1.0 mindset (no-one pays for content anymore! Wait that was Web 1.0 too!) and has to compete with Chowhound, Facebook applications, blogs, and scores of other user generated sites. Its business model is obsolete in a Web 2.0 world. It is adapt or die. Or adapt or sell to the highest bidder and let them figure out how to make Zagat 2.0.

posted on Monday, January 14, 2008 9:49:20 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [1] Trackback
# Sunday, January 13, 2008

In Saudi Arabia, a country not known for its openness, blogger Fouad al-Farhan has said: “The television stations are completely owned by the government. The newspapers are highly censored, and some of their chief editors have been in their positions for more than 30 years.” Fouad has found a way around the establishment and censorship: a way to have his voice heard, and a way to have his ideas expressed directly to the Saudi Government and the world. He does this through his blog.

On December 10th 2007, he was jailed for “violating the rules of the kingdom” or basically expressing free speech. US President George Bush is due in Saudi Arabia this week on a tour of the Middle East. While he is there, President Bush is going to press the Saudi Arabia leaders to release Fouad.

The President of the United States, one of the most powerful men in the world, is going to come to the defense of a normal Saudi citizen who he has never met.  A blogger. On January 10th, Reporters without Borders sent an open letter to the Saudi Monarchy asking to have Fouad released. A reporter? No, a blogger.

Then on Friday, Wei Wenhua, a blogger in China, was reporting about a confrontation between local authorities and the villagers. He was filming the happenings for his blog and then was beaten to death by the police. CNN has reported that “thousands expressing outrage in Chinese Internet chat rooms, often the only outlet for public criticism of the government.”

These two incidents have shown us the power of technology. Authoritarian regimes have successfully suppressed free speech throughout the course of human history. For the first time in human history, the tide has turned; the authoritarian regimes can’t fight the blogs. For the first time in human history, the masses have the edge. Sure China can censor Google and run tons of pattern recognition software to disallow blogs and other Internet media, but as soon as they ban one, another will come up. It is similar to the RIAA and Record Companies suing Napster and College Students. Authoritarian regimes now have to cope with their citizens now having a voice. A voice heard by the entire world.

Get ready for Civil Disobedience 2.0.

posted on Sunday, January 13, 2008 2:42:11 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Friday, January 4, 2008

Everyone sends me Facebook requests. I don’t reply since I am not a member of Facebook. I am not a member of Facebook because my sixdegrees, Friendster, MySpace, Plaxo, LinkedIn and countless other memberships have went nowhere. Just because Facebook has a few added bells and whistles, why should I join?

Let’s say that Richard Campbell wears me down (who sends me more requests to join Facebook then my 17 year old god-daughter) and I join Facebook. If I joined I would want to be cool and have 300 “friends” or whatever they call them over there on the first day. It would be cool if I can press a button and my LinkedIn contacts would be imported automatically, or from Plaxo, etc.

Well uber blogger Robert Scoble was trying to do something like that. He was running an alpha feature of Plaxo Plus that went up against Facebook to scrape your contacts. Facebook banned him. Scoble authorized Plaxo to log into Facebook and get his data. It is HIS DATA, yet he got banned for trying to access it via Plaxo. Facebook does not own the data, Robert Scoble does.

This is not the way to start the new year, closing your site to your own users who just want to export their data. Facebook’s api should allow this (it does not allow the export of an email address.) Scoble has since had his account reinstated, but not before comparing himself to Gandhi (please!).

I am sick and tired of not having profile and data portability on the internet. Google has supported the OpenID but that just gets you in the door, what about bringing my data with me or interoperability between different sites. If Richard Campbell is a member of Plaxo and LinkedIn and is my business “pulse“ on Plaxo, he should automatically be my “contact” on LinkedIn if we both agree in a semi-automated way.

So, Facebook should open up! Allow the masses to have data portability. Earlier today Chris Saad from the DataPortability Work Group issued an open invitation to Facebook to join with them in working towards data interoperability. (Note to Facebook: Yahoo, Myspace,  and several others are already onboard. )

Data portability will force the social networking sites to differentiate themselves based on features and functionality. It will make the web lots of fun, creating a platform for apps. Facebook can compete not on the data it holds but on its API and how many developers it attracts to create third party apps on the Facebook platform. I have always said that Web 2.0 is web sites as a platform (Amazon, eBay, Google, Facebook’s APIs) much like MS DOS was a platform. Web 2.5 is the platform with open data portability standards and single sign-on.

Time to free up the data on the internet. It is yours to begin with.

Bring on Web 2.5!


posted on Friday, January 4, 2008 6:22:27 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [1] Trackback
# Wednesday, January 2, 2008

At the start of a new year we have an opportunity to be reflective and think about the experience of the past year and how we can spot trends and apply any lessons learned in the new year. At the start of 2008 I am equally reflective on the past year and what it has taught me. A lot has happened in the last year: I completed 75% of my MBA degree, I sold my company Corzen and find myself mired in a new startup, I traveled so much that the government had to give me a new passport, and I attended many weddings and unfortunately a few funerals of friends and loved ones.

While a lot has went on, I find myself looking at the impact of technology on my life and the world in general. In a year where blogs have helped shape the presidential debates and VOIP has made communication so much easier, the world has gotten smaller. Microsoft released new versions of Windows, Office and Visual Studio, and as usual I got to travel the world to explain it to developers. In the past year I got the pleasure to visit many countries and several parts of the United States.  As I visit these places, I develop close friendships. I seem to attend more weddings overseas then at home!

Because of technology, the world is smaller. You realize just how small the world is when major news becomes personal. For example minutes after Benazir Bhutto was killed, I received several text messages and emails from my friends and colleagues in Pakistan. A bomb goes off in Hyderabad, India, and Kim Tripp texts me that she is ok since she knows I know she is there.

Why I Love Technology

My career in technology is completely accidentals. I was studying for a PhD in History when I went to Wall Street after I graduated University to earn some money before I went to graduate school. I was in my managers office and he just wrote 20 reviews in a MS Word template and kept hitting “Save” not “Save As..” He asked me to retrieve the documents (but asked me not to read them since they were my and my colleagues annual reviews and bonus. I told him it was impossible since he overwrote them all. He told me to go report to the IT department the next day for a new (and better) job.  My knowledge of Save As in DOOM games got me my first technology job!

I love technology because technology is a great disruptive force. It levels the playing field. It creates new business models. It breaks up monopolies.  It makes the world smaller. Think of life 20 years ago in the United States. A political leader in another country is killed. What do you do? Turn on TV and get the “official” version of the story at 6pm or 11pm. In 2008 we get instant stories from local sources with videos of the event almost immediately on blogs from folks on the scene. We also have CNN and other networks. What if you want to call your loved ones overseas to see if they are ok? AT&T will charge you $3.55 a minute to connect to Pakistan. In 2008, there is no more AT&T as we knew them and it is free on Skype, or just $0.02 cents a minute on VOIP.

Take the music industry.  In the past you had to deal with the big, evil, monopoly RIAA. In 2008, artists are promoting their own music on MySpace and their own web sites and MP3 files are available for  $0.99 on iTunes or free if you are willing to break the law, but I still download free music to protest the RIAA. But now Radiohead broke the mold and bypassed the RIAA and record labels and posted their new album on the web and said that you can name your own price to download. How is that for a “strategic inflection point” for an industry?

The list goes on and on. Just try looking for a job today, who uses the newspaper anymore? Or the Yellow Pages? Technology creates a new opportunity for us all.

Do you believe that software can change the world?

I had the pleasure to work on a project in a small way that can greatly help society. Microsoft sponsored a project to be built by InterKnowlogy for The Scripps Research Institute. The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, is one of the largest private, nonprofit biomedical research organizations in the US and a world leader in the structure of biological molecules.  Scientists at Scripps Research wanted a better way to organize biological research information and share it with their colleagues.  InterKnowlogy developed an application built on .NET 3.0 with WPF, and Windows Vista giving scientists a powerful tool to visualize and annotate research results.  This application allowed for faster scientific collaboration, easier access to data and a dynamic development process.  (You can read the full case study on Microsoft.com.)

I came across this application about 18 months ago. It used technology to break down barriers in Cancer research. In the past if a doctor was looking at a sample, they would annotate it and then mail it to other doctors who would look at it and mail it to more doctors. This is called “peer review” and is very important, but it takes a ton of time. InterKnowlogy built an app that used SharePoint, Office 2007 and WPF to make this collaboration instant and permanent. The application is speeding up the peer review and collaboration to levels not imagined just a few years ago. It was so impactful that Tim, the owner of InterKnowlogy got to help Steve Ballmer in New York with the Vista launch. I was invited to hang with the big boys since Tim, via technology, is a good friend of mine.

I then suggested to someone at Microsoft that they should help pay for phase II of the application. They liked it so much that they “hired” me (for free!) to recruit a virtual team of four developers overseas to help Tim with Phase II. I put out a call for developers on my blog, nothing else. I got hundreds of responses. Ultimately I referred four developers, one each from: Egypt, Mexico, Poland, and India. Microsoft paid their salaries and Tim gave them tasks to do. They worked on it for six months and came up with an amazing application. We went on .NET Rocks this summer to talk about it.

Later this year I met the Polish developer in Bulgaria at a conference. Tim hired him and now he is working full time at InterKnowlogy. When he met me he told me point blank that I changed his life. I was moved by that and realized the power of technology. Not only did we work together to cure cancer by empowering doctors and researchers, we were helping people in other countries get new jobs that make a difference and more money, all from home.

How Technology Will Change the Future

This is the tip of the iceberg. This is what little old me could accomplish in 2007; I was able to put together a team of developers from three continents and really help cure cancer (the doctor from Scripps will probably get the Nobel Prize) without leaving my house. What can you do?

posted on Wednesday, January 2, 2008 6:44:35 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [1] Trackback
# Monday, December 17, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007
An Introduction to Scrum

Subject:  You must register at https://www.clicktoattend.com/invitation.aspx?code=122285 in order to be admitted to the building and attend.

One of the most popular Agile project management and development methods, Scrum is starting to be adopted at major corporations and on very large projects. After an introduction to the basics of Scrum like: the Scrum Master, team, product owner, and burn down, and of course the daily Scrum, Stephen shows many real world applications of the methodology drawn from his own experience as a Scrum Master. Negotiating with the business, estimation, and team dynamics are all discussed as well as how to use Scrum in small organizations, large enterprise environments, and consulting environments. Stephen will also discuss using Scrum with virtual teams and even an offshoring environment. The session will finish with a large Q&A on best practices.

Speaker:  Stephen Forte, Corzen, Inc.

Stephen Forte is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and co-founder of Corzen, Inc, a Manhattan (USA) based provider of online market research data for Wall Street Firms. Corzen was recently acquired by Wanted Technologies (TXV: WAN). Stephen is also the Microsoft Regional Director for the NY Metro region and speaks regularly at industry conferences around the world. He has written several books on database development including co-authoring Programming SQL Server 2005 (MS Press). Prior to Corzen, Stephen served as the CTO of Zagat Survey in New York City and also was co-founder and CTO of the New York based software consulting firm The Aurora Development Group.

Date:  Thursday, December 20, 2007

Time:  Reception 6:00 PM , Program 6:15 PM

Location:   Microsoft , 1290 Avenue of the Americas (the AXA building - bet. 51st/52nd Sts.) , 6th floor
Directions: B/D/F/V to 47th-50th Sts./Rockefeller Ctr
1 to 50th St./Bway
N/R/W to 49th St./7th Ave.

posted on Monday, December 17, 2007 9:53:45 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I have spoken at many user groups over the last 12 years. The last time I was the speaker at the first meeting of a user group was when I founded the predecessor to the NYC .NET User Group, the NYC Access & VB Users Group in April 1995.

I am honored to be speaking at the first ever .Network.org user group in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday December 11th.


posted on Wednesday, December 5, 2007 10:45:26 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007
Silverlight 101: What, Where and How

Subject:  You must register at http://www.clicktoattend.com/?id=120984 in order to be admitted to the building and attend.

This session will include an overview of Silverlight – What is it? Where did it come from? and how do I develop for it. Topics will include the current state of Web Development (customer expectations, developer view, designer view), Coding with Silverlight (XAML, C#, JavaScript), Silverlight Development Tools (Expression Product Suites/Visual Studio) as well as some live demos/ and hands on coding. Both versions of Silverlight(1.0 & 1.1) will be covered.

Speaker:  David Isbitski, Industry Platform Team, Microsoft

David is a Developer Evangelist for Microsoft working on the Industry Platform Team covering both Financial Services and Health/Life Sciences Industries. He has over 12 years total IT experience and has been creating enterprise solutions with Microsoft Products since Visual Basic 5. He enjoys talking about technology and has taught full day courses on various Microsoft topics as well as being a presenter at numerous Microsoft Events including MSDN RoadShows, Code Camps and Remix.

Date:  Thursday, November 15, 2007

Time:  Reception 6:00 PM , Program 6:15 PM

Location:   Microsoft , 1290 Avenue of the Americas (the AXA building - bet. 51st/52nd Sts.) , 6th floor
Directions: B/D/F/V to 47th-50th Sts./Rockefeller Ctr
1 to 50th St./Bway
N/R/W to 49th St./7th Ave.


posted on Sunday, November 11, 2007 8:32:47 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I am speaking next week at TechEd in Barcelona, Spain.

DAT302 Database Design Patterns: Architecting the Right Data Model for the Right Application
Mon, Nov 5 17:45 - 19:00 Tent 1

Architecting an application starts with the database. Different applications need different data models. Fifth normal form is great for an OLTP database, but reporting databases need more of a flat denormalized structure and different Web sites need several different types of data models: eCommerce sites need different data models than traditional publishing sites. You need to optimize your data model for your application's performance needs. Concurrent users, data load, transactions per minute, report rendering, and query seek time all determine the type of data model you will need. See how different applications and different parts of an application can use different data models and how you can architect your database to fit into your application's needs and not the other way around.

DAT315 T-SQL Querying: Tips and Techniques
Tue, Nov 6 17:00 - 18:15 Room 117

Take your queries to the next level! This highly technical, yet entertaining session focuses solely on advanced querying techniques to get the most out of your SQL Server 2005 database. See a series of real-world examples to extract data from your databases in ways you've never seen before. Techniques demonstrated include an ultra-fast way to do crosstab queries in SQL Server, running totals and ranking. Along the way you'll get some insight into how SQL Server works and we’ll preview some of the new capabilities in SQL Server 2008 (“Katmai”).

WEB02-IS Top Ten ASP.NET Scaling Tips
Wed, Nov 7 15:45 - 17:00 Room 112

This interactive session pulls together the best methods for improving the scalability of your ASP.NET Web site. See a variety of techniques, including caching, pooling, paging and asynchronous processing. But more importantly, learn a method for ranking each of the techniques according to the benefit to your Web site. By comparing the potential benefit of a technique with its cost to implement, this interactive session will give you a plan for what to do next to most improve your site’s performance.

posted on Wednesday, October 31, 2007 1:10:03 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback