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Mileage Calculator a Life-Saver @ Tax Time

What tax-time, you may ask.  It’s April 15th, at least in the US. Wrong:  Anyone can get an automatic 6-month extension, which means the real tax deadline is October 15th… closing in on me … ahhhh. No, I am not a procrastinator,  my tax forms are always almost done by April 15th and I pay my dues, but there is this one ugly thing I hate to do every year: calculating business mileage deduction.

The IRS requires proper documentation and I do have it .. well, almost: it’s in my electronic calendar, with dates, locations, purpose of meeting..etc, except for one thing: the actual mileage.   So every year the ugly process that takes several hour is:

  • export my calendar entries to csv format
  • massage them in a spreadsheet (fill missing data, delete non-business ones..etc)
  • manually look up trip mileage for every single line using Google Maps
  • plug in mileage, let spreadsheet calculate claimable $ amount.

It takes several hours, is the only reason why I wait till the last minute and then some.  But this year, it just dawned on me: this is so bad, someone must have come up with a way to automate the process (and if not, I’ll find a developer). That’s basically the mantra of Web 2.0: whatever your (productivity) problem is, likely millions share it, so someone must have come up with the solution.

In this case the magic comes from a very simple site: Mileage Calculator. It does not look like a fashionable app, in fact it does not look like an application at all – you might think it’s just a blog post writing about the real thing.  That’s because it was not created with the mindset of bringing it to market:

It was created by Ade Olonoh who used Google Calendar heavily to track meetings, but neglected to record his mileage for tax purposes. Sure, it would’ve taken him less time to figure out the mileage than create this tool, but that wouldn’t have been any fun.

So yes, it lacks the bells and whistles, pastel colors and rounded corners.  Here’s the one-and-only entry screen:

Yes, no more list, export /import, data lookup:  Mileage Calculator will look up your trips from Google Calendar, fetch the mileage information from Google Maps, presents you with a list and total, then finally saves it as a CSV file to be used in a spreadsheet.   Simple, yet a life-saver – a free one.

Now, after all the praise, let’s be a bit critical: what would it take to turn this into a product?  Fix two weaknesses:

  • It’s not particularly smart parsing address data: i.e. it does not understand “Moscone Center, 747 Howard St, San Francisco, CA‎”, it has to be strictly in the format of “747 Howard St, San Francisco, CA‎”
  • The ugly UI

With those two fixes Mileage Calculator could become a nifty little service, or perhaps a feature that SaaS accounting and tax providers might want to pick up.  In the meantime, it’s a useful little productivity tool.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve)

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Simplifying the Gartner Hype Cycle – 2.0 Style

Fellow Enterprise Irregular Vinnie Mirchandani did a good job of un-hyping the Gartner Hype Cycle for emerging technologies.

gartnerhype

He points out some inconsistencies comparing this year’s chart to the 2007 version. He should know, he is a Gartner Alumnus himself.  But I’ve been wondering if there was a way to further simplify it, i.e. make it digestible to average folks like yours truly .. and I’ve just found it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s the simplified,  scobleized, oprahized, too-oh-ized version of the Gartner Hype Cycle:

gartner hype fun

Courtesy of Geek & Poke.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve)

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US Army Wikified

videof459941485e2.jpg

WetPaint is one of my early “discoveries”, three years ago I called them the “wiki-less” wiki, as it blended wiki-like, forum-like and blog-like features long before it became fashionable.   I haven’t followed them closely, but apparently they’ve been growing nicely, and today I saw this post:

The US Army on Wetpaint! – hm .. let’s see.  The PE350 Wiki is a Virtual Classroom, set up by Major Mark Rea, who put his Cadets’ physical education plan online.  This is cool on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin…

First of all, it’s a truly professionally maintained wiki, with a Wiki 101 for new users, then details of the Syllabus, Lessons and Assignements, Cadet Fitness Challenge..etc.  They use text, photos, videos, podcasts – you name it, this is a fully featured interactive social site.

Second, I grew up in a country where anything even remotely related to the Army was surrounded with utmost secrecy, and I am still somewhat amazed at the level on information publicly available about the US military.  Granted, there are no strategic plans or weapons specs in this wiki, but still … smile_wink

Third… quick IM reaction from the first person I shared this news with:

Cool. Why is US Army resorting to free sites? Credit crunch

What a perfect fit for the Power of Less theme I just wrote about earlier today, in my Web 2.0 Expo post.  Major Rea and his cadets are using Wetpaint instead of Blackboard, the market leader commercial software for Education.   No, the US Army as a whole did not replace Blackboard with Wetpaint – but this particular unit did.  It’s a good start – just like corporations using Google Apps or Zoho Business services here and there … usage grows, initially it may just be leverage in licence negotiations with Blackboard, Microsoft and the like… but one day, who knows…smile_tongue.  It’s nice to see the US Army SaaS-ified. 

Oh, and for that Power of Less: it’s certainly less when it comes to what hey have to spend on software – but I’m not even sure it’s less when it comes to usability, participation.  Could this also become the case of Less is More?

(from the PE350 video page)

 

(Cross-posted from CloudAve.  To stay abreast of news, analysis and just plain opinion on Cloud Computing, SaaS, Business grab the CloudAve Feed here.)

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Disgusting

This fart-fight is just disgusting.

And here’s what I really think of this monkey-business.

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The Tale of Two Notebooks, and Yes, It’s All About Earning a Buck

One down, one running better than ever.  Thanks to the irony of TechMeme, the two news are juxtaposed almost side by side:

I’ve never considered these two Notebooks comparable, despite the common name.  Google’s one was your web-based post-it notes, barebones, easy to use.   Zoho’s version is a full-featured multimedia application to create, aggregate, share, collaborate on just about any type of content easily, be it text, database, spreadsheet, image, drawings, audio, video – you name it.  It offers a lot more, but may be “too much” if all you want is the yellow stickies.  The two apps serve entirely different needs. But I don’t want to focus on the products here, did it before: Not All Notebooks Are Created Equal.

Let’s talk about the economics: Google is simply ditching some of the money losers which is clearly the right strategy in a recession when it saw it’s primary revenue source, advertising drop radically.  A while ago (before the economy collapsed) Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu provided great insight into why getting into applications does not make much financial sense for Google, whereas it is Zoho’s primary business.  Today we’re seeing that logic in action.

Of course  Google is not the only one, we’re seeing startups shut down service, or give up the free-for-all principle and start charging for their services.  Over at CloudAve we’ve discussed Jott as an example, but there are many others.   We may have enjoyed all these free services, but deep down had to predict this bonanza would not last forever. It’s time for rationalizing business – after all, it’s all about making a buck.

Update (1/20/09):  Surprise, surprise! (not really).  Zoho came out with a tool to import your Google Notebook data into Zoho Notebook.

Update (1/22/09) Two days later here comes Evernote with an import process.  Who’s next?

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Farting Our Way Through the Recession?

Global warming. The U.S. losing its edge in science and technology. A growing income gap. And what are the best and the brightest working on?

-asked Tim O’Reilly, Father-of-all-things-Web-2.0 at the  Web 2.0 Expo in September.

Do you see a problem here?  You have to ask yourself, are we working on the right things?

Some of the negative examples he cited were the Facebook application Superpoke and the popular iPhone app "iBeer," which simulates chugging a pint of beer. Has anything changed since O’Reilly’s alert?  Let’s see:

The most popular of 50+ (!) fart applications, iFart Mobile generated $10,000 a day at 99c per download until it got written up just before Christmas, then it exploded, bringing in $27,249 on Christmas Day.  Dou think it’s jus a crazy name for a useful program?  Nope: all it does is to make farting noises.smile_speedy

Tapping into the Apple phone craze, accidental entrepreneurs rake in millions by creating popular applications.

-says the Washington Post in an aptly named article: The iPhone’s Golden Touch.   At least Smule, the showcased company does not make fart noises: they have applications like virtual lighter, a virtual firecracker, a voice changer, a virtual  wind instrument. They are on track to make $1 million this year, a buck a piece.

If this is not crazy, I don’t know what is… Brian Greenstone, who has been writing (real) games for Apple computers for 21 years agrees:

It’s crazy. It’s like lottery money. In the last four and a half months we’ve made as much money off the retail sales of iPhone apps as we’ve made with retail sales of all of the apps that we’ve made in the past 21 years — combined.

Spending 99c a time does not feel like a big decision – yet it all feels like a gigantic waste. An it will get written up as showcases of entrepreneurship. 

I would like to amend the definition of entrepreneurship to include the creation of something useful (yes, I know, I’ve just opened a Pandora’s box, but …). Let’s differentiate opportunity seekers (nothing wrong with that) from Entrepreneurs.  I’d like to stand on a soap box and yell: People, wake up!  Don’t you have anything better to do?

But my voice isn’t loud enough.  I thought Tim O’Reilly’s was … shall we heed his call to do something worthy?  Make it a New Year’s Resolution for 2009?

(Cross-posted from CloudAve)

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Google Layoffs May Affect 30k Workers. Sort of…

Google Layoffs – 10,000 Workers Affected reports WebGuild with a bombastic title.  I can beat that: all Google workers will be affected, at least emotionally. 

As to what the real numbers are, several sources point out that while employee headcount is around 20K, Google has about 10K temporary workers, so whichever way you count, laying off 10K workers would equate to:

  • eliminating all the temp positions
  • letting go 30% of the (extended) workforce, which seems to be the Silicon Valley rule
  • cutting the employee headcount to half (if we ignore temps)

Either way it sounds way too dramatic, a step companies in deep structural trouble would resort to.  I seriously doubt this is really coming, but let me be clear: I have no factual information, am simply speculating, or actually responding to speculation.

But there’s something else worth noticing here: the source.  WebGuild had a bit of a clash with Google this spring, when Google withdrew their support of the WebGuild events it used to host.   Their stated reason was WebGuild’s refusal to change the name of their Web 2.0  Conference & Expo, at O’Reilly’s request. Here are the juicy details in a WebGuild post aptly titled Shame On You Tim O’Reilly.  Without getting into details of the original conflict,  suffice to say that WebGuild has been on somewhat of a vendetta against Google ever since.   They’ve been a little bit too trigger-happy with posts reflecting negatively on Google.

Once again, I do not have factual information, but if this indeed turns out to be false information, I wonder if WebGuild went a step too far this time.  (Remember the Steve Jobs death story?)

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Uncov’s Back… Sort of.

I’ve never particularly liked Uncov, the anti-web 2.0, anti-startup, anti-everything rug.  Not that it was always wrong: it’s criticism was often well-deserved, just a bit too vitriolic for my taste.  But vulgarity is popular, and titles like  I’m Going To Scale My Foot Up Your Ass certainly grabbed attention.

Of course it’s always easier to criticise than actually build, and for Uncov editor Ted Dziuba the opportunity to put his money where his mouth was came when he finally launched his own startup, Persai – soon renamed Pressflip.   To focus on the startup, Ted and his fellow authors shut down Uncov.

Will Pressflip make it?  Too early to say, but TechCrunch wasn’t too positive about it a few months ago.  (they can always rebrand it again, this time to Pressflop).

A few days ago Uncov came back to life, but with a twist: it opened up to guest bloggers.  And here’s Dziuba’s Ars Poetica, which perfectly sums up why I still dislike Uncov:

If you want to blog at uncov.com, it should be in the style of Uncov. It doesn’t have to be technical or nerdy, and you should feel free to take shots at people, so long as you do it in the Uncov fuck-you-and-everyone-that-looks-like-you fashion.

The latest twist in the story: Ted Dziuba has just quit Pressflip.

I’m leaving for personal reasons: mostly because I’m going to be a father in March and need some stability, but also because I’m tired of the fight.

The announcement is on Ted’s personal blog, not Uncov. It probably does not meet Uncov standards.  For the first time Ted Dziuba sounds perfectly normal. Family man. Human.

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3-year Old Millionaires

No, not talking about babies here, but two Tech icons who both reached the Million milestone around their third birthday.

TechCrunch, launched 3-year ago as Mike Arrington’s hobby blog had 1 million Feedburner subscribers for the first time last week.  Of course it’s no longer a hobby blog, but a blog network run by a professional CEO, supported by a growing blogger team.  Mike himself has become a Silicon Valley institution, his Atherton home Web 2.0 Central.

Congratulations, Mike!   And Congrat’s to the other 3-year old millioinaire:  Zoho.

When Zoho Writer launched three years ago it was the underdog compared to Writely (which later became Google Docs). But it improved week by week, was soon joined by Zoho Sheet, and one had to be blind not to see the benefits of a complete Suite on the Net.  Today Zoho has a million users, is recognized as a leader along with Google, has made inroads to the Enterprise (400K users at GE?  Not bad…), The Economist calls them the force that will Deflate IT… a lot of achievements in three years.

Once again, congratulations to both… and now the race is on: who will reach the 2 Million mark first? smile_wink

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Morsels from the Crunchies, or Whatever Happened to Business Software?

Now that The Crunchies, the Internet Startup world’s equivalent of the Oscars are over, the winners announced, a lot of champagne consumed, let me go back to a few thoughts that have been on my mind throughout the whole show.

First of all, it was nice to see so many startups recognized, meet familiar faces again, and I join the chorus in thanking TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, VentureBeat and GigaOm for putting the show together. Special kudos to Om Malik for coming only three weeks after his heart attack.

Second, I can’t help but think that some of the categories were .. well, almost deterministic, leaving zero chance of winning for the “little guys” lumped together with a giant. Right out of the gate, the first category, Best gadget/device: iPhone, Kindle, Ooma, Pleo, Wii. C’mon, did anyone doubt for a minute the iPhone would win? Or look at the Best mobile startup, where the finalist were AdMob, Fring, Loopt, Shozu, Twitter. Oh, please, 3 relatively unknown names against Twitter, a mega-phenomenon… smile_sarcastic

The other thought I’ve been pondering ever since the show is whatever happened to business software? The Crunchies were yet another proof that “enterprise isn’t sexy“: this was all about consumer-glitz, with a few startups who cater to businesses. That said, at least there was an Enterprise startup category, and I was really glad to see my friends at Zoho win it. Although I wholeheartedly believe they deserve it, this was by far not a slam-dunk category, with Zoho and 37signals, which has a religious cult-like fan-base being the two chief contestants.

Perhaps the Zoho team felt a bit of extra satisfaction, given that 37signals originally questioned their viability, and called them copycats rather than innovators. Well, the innovation debate definitely ended a few weeks ago, when PC World picked Zoho’s Notebook as one of the 25 Most Innovative Products of the Year. While the Crunchies were clearly a popularity contest (with over 100,000 votes) PC World’s list was compiled by professionals. This list was notably full of gadgets, and the only other software products preceding Zoho were Google Gears and the Facebook API.

Back to the Crunchies, Enterprise category, 37signals and Zoho are diametric opposites in many ways: 37signals product philosophy is all about simplicity, “products that do just what you need and nothing you don’t” while Zoho believes in functional richness, and their customer service attitude is quite different, too. Yet I believe they are both good companies, and there’s a clear demand for their products, which is well proven by the hundreds of thousands of loyal customers. Neither of them are really Enterprise software companies though. 37signals caters for what they call the “Fortune 5,000,000″ and Zoho clearly stated their mission to be the “IT for Small Business” – not that a subset of their portfolio, the Office Suite could not become Enterprise-ready, but for now it’s not their primary focus. And focused they are …

I think the Crunchies used the term Enterprise quite liberally – I would have called this category Business Software. Now, if the names IBM, HP, SAP, Citigroup, Boeing, BMW, Shell, McDonalds, Pfizer sound familiarsmile_wink, I’m sure you agree that the company who claims these and others customers is truly an Enterprise Software company. Yet Atlassian ended up in the International category, to their bad luck, as they got paired up with Netvibes. The two are apples and oranges. Atlassian is a very successful company, but the people who buy enterprise software are not the types who hang out at the Web 2.0 tech blogs or vote for the Crunchies; Atlassian stood no chance against Netvibes, with their tens of millions of individual users, all potential voters in this popularity contest.

What do three so different companies, Atlassian, 37signals and Zoho have in common? All three are bootstrapped, fast growing, financially successful and follow the “old-fashioned” business model of making good products and charging for it. I could not help but think of these guys while listen to the announcement of the Best Bootstrapped startup category, decided between FriendFeed, PoliticalBase, ProductWiki, Techmeme, UpNext. Or while listening to the panel discussion moderated by Dan Farber, where Matt Marshall expressed his astonishment how far the ad-based business model propelled us, and was wondering if advertising as the only business model would work in the downturn (no R-word!). If we had to pick the survivors of a potential downturn, these three companies are certainly safe candidates. The good old business model of charging for your product, which, incidentally, your customers love works wonders. smile_regular

Of course there was a lot more to the Crunchies, but it’s been all more then adequately covered, and I wanted to focus on business software now. But…well, I am a guy and guys love cars… so I have to mention the Cleantech category, won by Tesla, makers of this beautiful electric sports car. The only problem is, the car does not exist yet, release date has been pushed out repeatedly, the company had to go back for repeat funding, just fired a bunch of people, including the VP Manufacturing, Lead Engineer if the motor team… but hey, why not give them the Award and keep on dreaming (about the car). smile_embaressed

Update:  Apparently I am not the only one questioning the rationale of some category assignments at the Crunchies; read CenterNetworks on user-generated content.