web-based software for virtual team meetings

Our hiring philosophy at FamilyLink.com has been to recruit the best talent we can find, regardless of location. So we have engineers, designers, and marketers scattered in several states and in two countries as well. As we have grown from a dozen to more than 60 employees and contractors, the challenge of communicating and collaborating becomes very significant.

Our social development team has been holding the equivalent of daily standup meetings for 15 to 30 min each day. We’ve been using some voice-only conference calling systems, but as of today, we’ve officially decided to dump voice-only and implement by tomorrow morning a new web-based collaboration system.

We aren’t going to take weeks to decide which system to use. We’re going to take a few hours. After all, the real-time web makes it possible to harness the wisdom of the crowds very quickly. I will use this blog post, LinkedIn Answers, and twitter to gather the information we need to make a good decision today. It may not be the best decision that is possible–but it will be a good one. And tomorrow’s social developer meeting will be far more effective than today’s.

I know that WebEx and Gotomeeting are traditional and well-known options for virtual meetings (both are in the top 5,000 of Quantcast), but I wanted to find some other options that might be easier to use, less expensive, and perhaps more innovative. Some quick Google and Twitter searches brought up several options that look more appealing than WebEx or Gotomeeting. The top five candidates so far are: Yugma, DimDim, YuuGuu, Adobe Connect, and Zoho Meeting.

We have a small internal team that is hoping to try all 5 services today, and evaluate them for ease-of-use and functionality. By this afternoon, we hope to make a decision. And by tomorrow morning’s meeting, we hope to have about 15 remote workers using the new system.

One of the filters I use when checking out new technologies, before making a decision whether to bet on them or not, is how well funded the company behind the service is. Typing in “company name” and “funding” or “venture” into Google usually helps me find what I need.

Quick Google searches showed the following:

I like to check Quantcast charts for companies too, to see if they seem to have marketplace momentum.

Then I also like to see if the company has been hit with layoffs recently, so I search for “company name” and “layoffs” in Google. I didn’t find any evidence that any of these companies has had layoffs lately, but several discussions about how the software from these companies can help other companies save money and even avoid layoffs by having more effective remote meetings, and boosting productivity.

Here are a few more interesting links:

  • 7 Web-based Collaboration Apps (Information Week, July 2009)
  • Top 12 Web Conferencing Vendors (Inside CRM,  Dec. 2008)
  • review of Yugma from January 2007 (from Center Networks)

If you have love any of the top 5 web-collaboration candidates that I mentioned, or if you use a different one that you think is perfect for a virtual team meeting every day, please share your comments on this blog.

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Now Hiring: Mechanical Turk Project Manager

If you look on Simplyhired.com, a job site that 4,982,434 listings, and search for “mechanical turk” you’ll find several positions available at Amazon.com, where the Mechanical Turk is one of their most innovative web services, and two other job listings, both in San Francisco, that mention it.

I don’t know how many companies are using Mechanical Turk at this point, but I think it is one of the most amazing tools ever conceived. Here’s an example of how it could be used: Yesterday I showed my staff a book that was published 12 years ago in the genealogy field. It took the author months to compile it. She sent questionnaires to thousands of people to compile the data that she ended up publishing.

Based on our recent experience with Mechanical Turk, we calculated that we could compile the same data in approximately 1 hour for about $80. And then we could publish a similar book or just organize the data and publish it online. Of course there would be some editing and verification and layout required, but the existence of the Turk absolutely changes the information gathering piece. It turns it from a several month project to less than a day.

We also need a list of all the public libraries in the U.S., along with a phone number. Normally I would turn to InfoUSA.com or another mailing list company. But in this case we already found a good list online. But if we hadn’t, we could use the Turk and probably within a day or two have phone numbers for thousands of libraries for our call center to contact.

One of my former BYU students wrote a great blog post about how he used the Turk to conduct a survey on journal keeping and the unanticipated side effect was that 26% of the survey respondents turned into quality leads for his company’s online journaling software.

I won’t go into too many details about how we have used the Turk so far, but it has been so valuable to us that we have created a position (it could be part-time or full-time) for someone who wants to manage our Mechanical Turk projects and help us utilize this system to gather and organize genealogical and historical content from around the world.

Since we are located 1 block from the campus of Brigham Young University, I’m hoping to attract a student in Information Systems or Computer Science, who also has an interest in history, GIS, or genealogy.

The pay will be $12-15 per hour DOE, but the experience will be invaluable.

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Prediction: Facebook will be the largest social network in the world

I saw history in the making today.

For some reason, I was lucky enough to be in San Francisco for the Facebook f8 Platform launch event. This announcement was at least an 8.0 on the Richter scale. It was a whopper.

In fact, I haven’t come away from an event so excited since September 21, 1995, after attending the Online Developers II conference, also in San Francisco, when it hit me that my CD ROM publishing days were ending, and that I would soon become an internet entrepreneur. In the next five years, our team quickly shifted from publishing to online, launched Ancestry.com and MyFamily.com, and then went on to raise $90 million, acquire Rootsweb (and later Family Tree Maker / Genealogy.com) starting what has since become the largest genealogy company in the world. (Note: I left the company in Feb 2002 and have recently started a competing firm, with two properties: WorldVitalRecords.com and FamilyLink.com)

For me, that journey all started at Online Developers II.

That story doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending for any of the company’s founders or even its early employees or investors. Like Ray Noorda used to say, “Finders Keepers, Founders Weepers.” Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey Moore explains why pioneers (company founders and innovators) don’t often do well in the end, while settlers (who are usually better are operations) do. I’m actually fine with that, and reading that in Moore’s book was one of a dozen things that helped me move on emotionally.

Today felt just like September 1995 to me.

And it makes me wonder what the next 10 years might bring.

I sat on the third row and drank deeply of the kool-aid as Mark Zuckerberg, who turned 23 years old just 11 days ago, presented what may be the best business opportunity for internet entrepreneurs in the past ten years.

A huge new opportunity was presented to the few hundred people in the room, including 65 companies that have spent the last few weeks developing applications for the launch of Facebook Platform.

Facebook is inviting anyone to develop applications for their users on top of what Mark calls their “social graph”–the core of their service which basically keeps track of real people and their real connections to each other.

Facebook has 24 million active users (meaning they’ve used the site in the last 30 days–I like how they aren’t overstating numbers like SecondLife) and 50% of them login each day. Mark says the next most active social network is not more than 15%.

Last fall as I taught Internet Marketing at BYU we learned that a UCLA survey showed that 50% of college age females said Facebook was their #1 most important web site (even more than Google, Wikipedia, or anything else) and that 1/3 of college age males said it was their #1.

Look how many “addicts” Facebook has, according to Quantcast. 63% of visits are from addicts. eBay is only 56%.

Facebook is adding 100,000 new users per day. That’s 3% growth per month. And the fastest growing segment is over age 25. At this rate, they’ll have 50 million users by the end of this year, and 75% of them will be out of college. I read just on paidcontent.org that Facebook is the fastest growing social network in the UK, and today Mark said that 10% of Canada’s population is using it.

With 40 billion pages view per month, Facebook has passed eBay in page views, and is now in 6th place, just behind Google.

So this is no small thing for a 3 year old web site. Facebook is absolutely for real. I like Facebook a lot; while I can’t stand MySpace. Facebook is clean and nicely designed and architected. MySpace in my opinion is messy and mostly full of garbage. Facebook is a real social network for real people. And it is really, really popular.

And it’s growth will be dramatically accelerated by the Platform announcement. If Facebook is adding 100,000 new users per day with its own few simple applications (like its photo sharing, a very simple service that has given Facebook twice as many photos as all other photo sharing sites combined), what will happen when thousands or tens of thousands of developers start building apps in Facebook and marketing them to more users?

Facebook will reach 50 million, then 100 million, then 200 million users, and beyond.

Rather than continue to try to develop features within its own proprietary, closed network, basically keeping all of its users to itself (and kicking out widgets they don’t like, like MySpace does), Facebook intuitively gets the concepts that are so brilliantly discussed in Wikinomics (which are so non-intuitive to old school business types), and has chosen to open up its network for all to participate in. Because they embrace the winning philosophy, they will win.

Application developers can now have access to core Facebook features, such as user profiles and user connections, and even publishing to the News Feed, all with the control and permission of Facebook users. So if a Facebook user chooses your app, it will show up on their profile for all their friends to see, and they can enable that app with a single click, and so your application can spread virally to the 24 million other users.

When Facebook has 100 million users, in the not too distant future, having the ability to develop an App in their system will almost be like being able to get a link on Google’s own home page.

Can you imagine Google ever doing that? No way. They have too much at stake. Their $147 billion market cap couldn’t take it. Google’s philosophy was to not be evil. But I think Facebook’s philosophy is a decade fresher and even more in line with where things need to go than even Google–a company that I admire more than any other.

When Clayton Christenson spoke at the first Open Source Business Conference (again in San Francisco) about three years ago, he spoke about how the LAMP stack has provided a powerful low-cost platform for companies to develop applications on top of. Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP enable companies to develop applications that used to cost millions, but by building on top of all these projects, companies could move “up the stack” and focus on providing unique value that wasn’t in the stack already.

There are more and more free layers being added to the stack all the time, powerful services that can be embedded in your own new applications, like Skype, Maps from Google or Microsoft, storage and utility computing from Amazon, and video layers like YouTube and Google Video.

When anyone develops an application on top of the LAMP stack, like a CRM system for example, they always risk being disrupted by someone who provides that for free on top of the already existing stack.

Any new open source application or creative commons layer can be added to the stack, which might commoditize that application and put some companies out of business, but then that enables everyone else to again add more value on top of the stack.

This process continues, and all the while the consumer benefits greatly, and developers can continue developing innovative and valuable services on top of the ever-growing application stack.

The way I view the Facebook Platform announcement is this: the LAMP stack has just been extended by the huge and growing “social graph” that Facebook is opening up to the world. (It’s not completely open, because you have to develop apps within Facebook, but it’s a start in the right direction.)

Now, instead of application developers having to each build their own web site and try to get people to find it and use it and share it, the viral marketing of any good application site will come right from the Facebook interface itself. As users adopt new apps, they will spread quickly through the network.

Mark made three big announcements. 1) Applications can be deeply integrated with Facebook 2) Distribution of the applications will occur through the network, and 3) The business opportunity Facebook is providing will give 100% of advertising revenue (for third party applications) and 100% of transaction revenue to the application developers.

Now that is the true spirit of Wikinomics.

VPs from Microsoft and Amazon were present to express their support for the Facebook Platform. Microsoft will enable application develop with Silverlight and Popfly, and Amazon discussed how its web services enable Facebook Platform apps.

The CEO of Slide mentioned that the Platform developer wins big, but that applications developers also have a huge business opportunity here.

Microsoft’s market cap is $280 billion. But the top three application developers on Microsoft’s platform have a combined market cap of $40 billion.

I don’t think Facebook’s market cap vs it’s application developers will be nearly that lopsided. In fact, the way they are treating their own applications versus Platform applications makes it a pretty level playing field. Facebook users can deselect apps they don’t want to use–even Facebook’s own apps–and sign up to any other.

The core asset Facebook wants to own, extend, and leverage, is the social graph–who is connected to whom.

It is even possible that some future Facebook app developers could end up with a greater market cap than Facebook–if they permanently maintain the 100% of revenue going to the partner model. For example, a MMORP game built into Facebook might someday have 10 million users paying $10 per month, or $1 billion in revenue, when Facebook might at that point have $500 million in advertising revenue. (Reportedly it will make $150 million this year.)

Okay, not likely, but maybe possible.

The cool thing is that the marketing costs for these application developers will be basically nothing. All viral. All courtesy of Facebook’s users.

One of the self-serving reasons why companies like Google and Amazon create so many APIs and web services is to get a vast community of developers doing R&D for them and prototyping applications to see what works best. Then, they acquire the ones the like best.

Facebook will certainly be in a strong position, once it has a liquid currency, to acquire some of the most interesting application developers using its Platform.

If you haven’t read it recently, read Chapter 7 of Wikinomics, “Platforms for Participation” in the context of today’s announcement.

Here are a couple quotes.

“The winners in this evolution will be companies that can create the most comprehensive incentive frameworks to adequately reward all stakeholders.” (p. 207)

How about letting them keep 100% of their ad and transaction revenue? That’s quite an incentive.

“Winning in a world of cocreation and combinatorial innovation is all about building a loyal base of innovators that make your ecosystem stronger.” (p. 210)

Like I said at the beginning, I felt very lucky to be invited to this event. I got the invitation because we invested in YackPack last year, which is one of the companies that is launching its application within Facebook.

I didn’t see anyone else from Utah there, partly because every internet entrepreneur and marketer in the state was probably attending Seth Godin’s speech in Salt Lake City, which was probably very good.

If you are from Utah and went to the Facebook f8 event, please comment here or email me. I really want to connect. I think we need a Facebook Platform Developer Community here in Utah.

I searched LinkedIn tonight and found 140 Facebook employees, board members, etc, on LinkedIn. I’m 2 degrees away from many of them. But then I searched for “facebook api” to see how many people in my 2 million + network have any experience developing for Facebook and only 1 person came up.

Hopefully there will be some developer forums that emerge quickly so that more people can get guidance on how to proceed.

So here is my final thought. I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career to kind of see the big waves and trends coming and to get positioned to take advantage of them. I think I have pretty good instincts, because my brother Curt taught me to read everything (and he buys me new books from Amazon almost every month) and to go to conferences all the time. I already mentioned the transition from CD ROM publisher to Internet Publisher. After reading Net.Gain in 1998, we created Ancestry.com’s user generated content strategy (it became our most popular database) and launched MyFamily.com which was really an early social network for families. At our peak we were adding 20-30,000 new users per day. Unfortunately, our investors stopped supporting that free site because it wasn’t making money. Doh.

After reading an article in Industry Standard in 1998, I decided to attend the first ever affiliate summit held in New York City, where Commission Junction, Be Free, and LinkShare all presented. We chose Be Free, launched our affiliate program, and over the next few years, affiliate marketing was our #1 source of new customers at Ancestry.com.

In the last few years, I blogged before Google’s IPO that it would disrupt Microsoft by offering free software (including Office apps) and said it will one day pass Microsoft in market cap. And, more recently, in my latest example of prescience, I blogged about Lindsay Campbell of Wallstrip after her first day as anchor, and suggested that she might one day rank up there with Soledad O’Brian and Diana Sawyer, and now CBS paid $5 million for Wallstrip, and Lindsay’s career will soar. Way to go, Lindsay!

The only reason I’m reciting these past predictions is to try to lend a little weight to my next prediction: that Facebook will become the #1 social network worldwide (and the first to get 1 billion users–I love Facebook mobile, by the way) and that thousands of entrepreneurs will become extremely successful by developing to this new platform.

I hope that Facebook won’t be acquired. I hope it will go public and become the next major Internet company along with Google, Yahoo, Amazon and eBay. Another hugely profitable company that can potentially acquire lots of other great smaller companies.

I like Mark Zuckerberg a lot. I met him tonight as he was just visiting with lots of the individual companies supporting the launch event, and thanking them for their support. He was very genuine. I can see him in 10 years with the influence of the Google founders and in 20 years with the influence of Bill Gates. He is just getting started. At the recent Startup School, he advised startups to hire coders — even in the marketing department — and he talked about time he spends thinking about philosophies and how at this young age his life is not cluttered with things and family responsibilities.

Can you imagine in a couple years when Facebook has 200 million users worldwide, with half of them logging in every day, and a 25 year old will be CEO of this company? I can’t think of a parallel in world history where someone this young had this much influence. Oh wait. Alexander the Great.

Ok. I’ll stop now. It’s 2:40 am. And my post is going on and on and on, and all over the place.

But I’m serious about this Facebook Platform. Check it out. Mark’s philosophy of openness is an open invitation to co-create something remarkable with him and his 24 million users.

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Unlimited storage at World Vital Records

World Vital Records recently added new hardware to triple our searching capacity and almost 10 times our storage capacity for images. This allows us to collect family trees and historical photos as well as post newspaper images much faster. Our images server now has over 7 terabytes of storage. All of our searching is done using 64 bit operating systems on quad processor boxes with 8 gig of ram.

In addition to bulking up our own server capacity, we are signing on with Amazon’s S3 web service so that we can basically have unlimited storage capacity as index and host genealogical record collections from around the world.

Jeff Barr (visit his blog) who evangelizes Amazon’s web services recently spoke at the Provo Labs Academy and convinced many of us there that Amazon’s huge investments in this area mean that smaller companies can utilize the vast computing and storage power that Amazon is providing to us. We love their passion for this new business. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos spoke at the Web 2.0 Summit last November and was interviewed by TechCrunch: he sounds very committed to this new line of business. I liked this comment on the TechCrunch blog:

Kalpesh Patel: “This is heaven for startups. Imagine having the power of provisioning unlimited space and unlimited computing power. You are actually building your apps using 10-15 years of experience already behind you taking care of scalability and reliability issues. I am very much excited about it. EC2 is still in infant stage but definitely has an early movers advantage in this space. I wonder VMware guys must be having nightmares when it really rocks in.”

With this kind of “unlimited space and unlimited computing power” we can offer free hosting to large non-profit genealogical organizations that have their own web sites and we can work in a flexible manner with anyone who has a large genealogical database that they want us to index, or host, or link to original images. The possibilities are just not constrained by hardware anymore.

Our team is really jazzed about our new inhouse capacity and the unlimited capacity that we get through Amazon’s S3 services.

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Jeff Barr from Amazon at Provo Labs Academy at 10 am

We have more than 75 RSPVs for today’s Jeff Barr presentation. It will be held at the Provo City Library at 10 am.

The event is hosted by Provo Labs Academy, which trains entrepreneurs on internet marketing. (Next 12-week course will start in March. Fill out this Contact Me form to learn more.)

I think we may have room for 5-10 more people, so if you’d like to show up in hopes of getting a seat, you might want to give it a try.

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Amazon’s Jeff Barr visiting Provo Labs

Jeff Barr is coming to Provo Labs in February!

This is going to be a great opportunity for Utah’s entrepreneurs and IT crowd to learn more about what Amazon is doing with web services. Jeff is a Web Services evangelist at Amazon; he has an great inside view of the powerful tools and services that Amazon has built for internal use that they are willing to provide to other companies, some for free and some for a fee.

I’ll post information about time and place later. We will have room for all our Provo Labs Academy members and may have space for others. So please let me know if you’d like to be on our waiting list.

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