So, you want an Elevator Speech?
The "elevator speech" is a deeply ingrained part of Silicon Valley mythology. Here's the idea: You're riding a random elevator somewhere off the 101, and you happen to notice that standing right next to you is a Kleiner Perkins VP and he or she happens to be not quite on his or her iPhone. So you whip out that succinct but compelling paragraph that you've been fine-tuning and rehearsing for months. Two hours later you're sitting around a solid mahogany conference table with a bunch of your closest new friends, Montblanc in hand. Come on, we've all had that dream at some time or other. The one that turns into a nightmare when you discover that you're that one guy in The Social Network who apparently didn't bother to actually read the shareholder agreement.
It's true that good ideas are often easy to explain. But is the inverse always true? As an exercise, try coming up with a elevator speech convincing someone to invest in VisiCalc before anyone had ever seen a spreadsheet. Or a web browser in the mid-eighties. I'm not saying that it can't be done (probably a B-school exercise, come to think of it) but it's going to lose a lot in the condensing and the part that isn't going to come out is the overall deeper vision -- the thing that makes an iPod not just another MP3 player. I'm not that observant a guy, but one thing I've noticed about Silicon Valley is that a lot of the buildings there are only two or three stories high. Now, look at all of the innovations over the last ten years or so compared to the innovations in the previous ten or the ten before that. Is it any coincidence that these innovations have become progressively more feeble, more one-dimensional? They make a lot of money and everyone talks about them, but Facebook? Really? The whole thing makes me think of pop music. Does it have a snappy hook? Anyway, as you've probably figured out by now, the previous two paragraphs were just a cheap excuse for why I don't have a decent elevator speech. But I'll give you my bad one, since you (didn't) ask...
The good news is that the last thing I want is traditional venture capital. Yuck. But that doesn't mean that I don't want to talk with people that have management expertise, money or other important stuff to contribute. I just want to be sure that folks understand that vision is something to share, not to negotiate.
"[bing] Um, ok, so it's an application that... Well no, it's not web based, actually, although we can make one of those, it just won't be as fully featured, but the product really benefits from a rich client experience...anyway, like I was saying it's integrated with a web browser...yes, yes, I know that there are already a few companies -- yes, like Apple and Microsoft -- making web browsers and right, yeah, they give them away for free, but [bing] that's not relevant, here's the cool part.. Oh, it is? OK, nice talk.. [footsteps recede, doors close] ..ok, bye. [under breath] Nice Porsche, [bleep]."
Oh hey, I just glanced over at the right-hand column there. Maybe that's useful.
Sounds cool -- if a touch hyperbolic -- but it doesn't help much, does it? So how about a long-form elevator speech? Think Petronas Towers and then the power goes out. And you forgot to charge your iPhone.
"Butterflyzer™: a revolutionary tool for researching, analyzing and visualizing social media."
Here's the manifesto, i.e. the part you should have skipped ahead to if you were looking for so-called "content". The idea behind Butterflyzer is to provide an integrated set of tools that lets you:
- Do all of the things that you currently do on the web, but in a much more organized way. And it's fun!
- Do a bunch of things that ordinarily you would need to hire or become a web analyst to accomplish. Javscript, JSON, REST, SOA, etc..
- Navigate and comprehend connections in the web in natural but completely new ways.
- Analyze those connections using powerful tools and techniques previously only available in much higher-end tools, if at all.
- Easily share the results of your explorations with others.
And all of that functionality should probably cost you around $100. Of course, there will be the inevitable Enterprise editions, etc.. but all of the cool stuff will be in the base version. We've got two main slogans that capture what is really unique about Butterflyzer:
- Think outside of the Browser.™ If we step back in time a bit, browsers really haven't come that far since Mosaic. That's because they're stuck thinking about better ways to present single web pages. I can't reveal everything that supports this, but a lot of the magic is in the current Alpha version. The basic thrust is to think about social media browsing as a holistic, shared experience.
- See the web as it was meant to be seen.™ Hey, it's a web, right? As in a network or a graph? Aren't there tools for doing that sort of thing? Well yeah, there are, and while it seems like a neat thing to do, there haven't been any mainstream tools that do it all that well. Why? Is it because most people simply can't handle the idea of a graph? I don't think so. Sparse graphs like we see in business process diagrams are easy. But it's actually quite difficult to make visual tools that fluidly, naturally and automatically support interaction with large interconnected graphs. I think we've made a lot of progress in this area -- in turn based on a lot of great work by other people in the Eclipse community -- and there is a lot more potential to exploit.
Let's get a little deeper into how this is done. There are many aspects to how the tool provides all of this. We could think of this as a sort of web surfing life-cycle but that's really just techno-babble, and the way you'll actually work with Butterflyzer isn't this linear.
BrowseYou surf using the integrated browser. While Alpha users will notice that the usability isn't quite up to the level of current commercial browsers, we'll get there easily. The browser itself uses the same web engine as the one you're using now -- in fact you can even pick the engine you want to use. So everything renders quickly and looks as nice as in your standard browser. (It's also very easy to import the things that you find using Butterflyzer back into your desktop browser.)
Search and CollectWhile you're browsing, pages are collected seamlessly in a number of different ways. For example, you can click a button to collect pages and links from sites you visit. (We can also do this automatically but that might be overwhelming.) Most importantly, in addition to the page information itself, you get all of the other information that you get with searches as described below.
Right now, when you do an internet search the information is provided to you from one service in a way peculiar to the service you're using. You can't really get information from multiple places, least of all when the information represents completely different kinds of information. Here's what you get when you do a single Butterflyzer search using the current default settings, with more to come:
- Google Web Searches You know them, you love them.
- Topsy Searches Topsy provides current pages and tweets that reflect what people are currently interested in.
- Topsy Analytics All results are tagged with Topsy rankings and other information so you know what other people are finding valuable.
- Live Tweets What are people saying about the topic now?
- Content Authors Who is saying it?
- Yahoo Placemaker Geo-location for pages and tweets where appropriate.
- OpenCalais Semantic tagging for all of this, so you can quickly identify which information you're actually interested in.
- Twitter Users This is all integrated with a deep set of features for Twitter Author and Tweet exploration.
CatalogIt is easy to collect a lot of information from the web, but what do you do with it? Think about how clumsy the process of simply creating and managing bookmarks is using conventional browsers. Butterflyzer also allows you to organize items in a tree, but these aren't simple bookmark hierarchies -- they're live connections to the data we've collected above and they can be organized in much more sophisticated and dynamic ways. But the really cool thing is that thanks to OpenCalais, cataloging is done automatically for you! As a really simple example, when you search for a page on Obama, you'll get an entry "President Obama" under "People", "White House" under "Organization", etc.. You might then create a "Politics" collection, perhaps as part of a "Interests" collection, and so on.
CurateCataloging naturally leads into curation. You have the information that you want, but do you know what it contains and why it might be important? A lot of the curation process can be accomplished simply through working with collections, but in addition to current support for keeping track of things we're building in rich meta-data features. Most significantly, we're working on support for page-scraping and other techniques to collect this meta-data automatically.
One of most important aspect of curation is integration of various data sources, and this is a key Butterflyzer advantage. As we described above, when you search and collect pages, you're actually getting information from a number of (properly credited, naturally) services and it is all seamlessly weaved together. For example, when you look at a web page, you can quickly navigate to all of the related tweets. Of course, you can get all of this information from various web tools, but think of how much time you spend just moving from one search page to another.
NavigateNow we get to the fun part. How many tabs do you have open in your browser right now? (For some reason, I can't stand the things, but a lot of people use them.) How do you find things that you're looking for? When you think you're done with something you close the window. Then you have to go and do that Google search again. Or did you find it in Topsy? And once you're done all of the work you close out of your browser and it's gone. Unless you can find it buried in your browser history... somewhere.
ExploreThe graph tools allow you to get a sense for the bigger picture. How are all of the things that you've been looking at related? What kind of information is on this webpage that isn't available on that one? Who's got something to say about this, and how are they related to other people? It would be nice to be able to see this information without visiting each individual page, wouldn't it?
But Butterflyzer's deeper agenda is to find stuff you weren't looking for but that you're really glad you found. If Butterflyzer can do that well, then we'll have accomplished what we've set out to do. After all, you probably can find everything you need using Google. It might take time, and you might have to dig through a bunch of irrelevant stuff, but you'll find it eventually.
What you won't be able to see from the search results is the deeply embedded information linked to your local information context. That's because Google doesn't really know much about your local context -- beside what it is presumably inferring from your previous searches. And sorry, but generic semantic web tools really aren't going to get you what everyone thinks they will, for all of the reasons that I discussed in the last post. But because Butterflyzer does know -- not in a sneaky way, but because you've actually told it -- is what you're interested in right now and what you were interested in a while ago within the same context. This sort of seamless local contextualization is the key to what we might call the "Butterflyzer Effect" (sorry) and it is simply not possible without close integration with the browser itself.
AnalyzeNow, we want to get deeper into what we've collected, curated and explored. We want to understand how things are related in a more rigorous, reportable way. We can do that with the graph analysis tools and we'll be developing this capability in a lot of novel ways. But what you can do now is already quite powerful.
For example, let's say that you are an Oracle executive and you want to find out how recent changes in OpenJDK are being received. You could do a search through google reading through random sites and then do a Twitter search to see who is talking about what. Or, you could use Butterflyzer to do things in a much more systematic way. You could search for other companies and see how their OpenJDK related news is being received. And you can correlate all of this information.
You can easily collect and integrate charts on interest in various subjects (something that search providers seem to deliberately make difficult). And -- this is a really industrial strength feature -- you can then integrate them with tweets, news items and other sources to create a single timeline for events and interests.
ShareNow that you've collected, curated, explored and analyzed this information, what else can you do with it? Whatever you want. Buterflyzer information isn't kept on someone else's server somewhere. Of course, your usage is governed by the terms of service from the original provider, but we don't tell you what you can do with it. Instead, we help you to share it with the rest of the World Wide Web.
All Butterfyzer data is stored using OMG standards based technology (EMF) that allows us to swap out the back-end, which will allow us to create future versions to support all sorts of storage and communication approaches, including all of the common RDBMs systems, fully collaborative multi-user environments, and even really advanced stuff like MongoDB and High Replication Datastore. (If you don't have any idea what I'm talking about, this is all just internal plumbing.) Currently we support two file storage methods; an easily parsed XML and a highly efficient binary format. Butterflyzer files can be emailed or shared on servers. (You could even use a tool like git to keep track of shared versions.) Butterflyzer information can be exported to bookmarks files and we'll be developing export features for many other common formats.
But perhaps the neatest thing that you can do with Butterflyzer is to create web documents that you can then provide to others. With a couple of mouse clicks you can build faceted search pages with tables and indexes, interactive timelines and even interactive charts with annotated web links. All of these are based on open web tools and can be shared without any restriction. It's your data, right?
This part is up to you. We're taking a novel approach to measuring interest in and potential for our product. If you like any of what you hear, and you want to see Butterflyzer development continue, then you need to let us know. Getting involved in the growing Butterflyzer user community is simple. Download the free alpha and follow us on Twitter.
One other note for the business and media sides of the technology house. We'd love to think we can bootstrap the entire thing so that we'll have the freedom to innovate in exactly the way we want to. But that may not be realistic or even desirable. Satire aside, capital and, just as importantly, an experienced management team are a critical part of the picture. Perhaps you have resources or executive experience that might multiply our potential, and if what I've said so far makes sense to you, let's talk! And if you're a media person, market analyst or blogger, I'd love to hear from you too. I think we have an interesting story to tell.