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The Guidewire blog has moved out of its one-bedroom condo to a lovely new permanent home at guidewiregroup.com. Please re-direct your bookmarks to the re-designed Guidewire Group site, where you can read all about our upcoming offerings and keep up to date with our usual blog musings.

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Finding Support from Women Entrepreneurs

Sometimes, I don’t exactly know what I think until I read what I’ve said or written in someone else’s media.  Such is the case with this interview with TheNextWomen, the London-based media startup that bills itself as the “business magazine for female Internet heroes.”

The site describes itself as. . .

the first Women’s Internet Business Magazine, with a focus on startups and growing businesses, led, founded or invested in by women. We bring news on business, events, funding and tech from a female angle and interview and profile Female Business Heroes, make them notable and quotable.

We are the female Business Week, the female Techcrunch and the business Red.

We [are] compiling a database on female founders, CxO’s and VC’s of internet companies.

Among the site’s heroes (thank, you, God, that they haven’t reclaimed that horrific feminist label “sheroes”) are women as diverse as Esther Dyson, Catherine Fake, Arianna Huffington, and Queen Elizabeth.

But enough about them. . . this was an interview with me.  Site founder Simone Brummelhuis’s questions were wide ranging, but the one that jumped out, asked what European women entrepreneurs can learn from their U.S. counterparts.

My simple-to-say-but-apparently-complex-to-do answer:

There are still far too few women who take the path of technology entrepreneur. No doubt there are many subtle and obvious reasons for that path.

I think at base, though, the best thing women entrepreneurs can do for each other is to challenge them to perform at exceptionally high standards, to create businesses with meaning and impact.

If women drive women to be the best entrepreneurs they can be, supporting their unique talents and limitations, then I do think we’ll see more women choose the path of startup CEO.

The fact is that women entrepreneurs do support other women entrepreneurs.  And we need to because frankly we often don’t get the kind of support we need from women who are outside the startup world and don’t understand the life choices that entrepreneurship requires.

Building a business is hard work (for women and men) and there is really no “balancing” of work and personal life in the earliest days of a company.  We need strong support systems: of other entrepreneurs, of family members, of our friends, and of communities both inside and outside the startup world.

Which reminds me: Thank you, Nancy, Mom, and all those friends I don’t see often enough.  You all, as much as my colleagues inside the company, allow me to do what I do.

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BT Acquires Ribbit for $105Million

When I identified VoIP application platform provider Ribbit as one of the “DEMO 10,” I wrote:

My bet: Ribbit is gaining momentum among a range of established companies who need Ribbit’s platform to deliver integrated voice capabilities into their products, giving Ribbit big company potential; expect an IPO in several years time.

I was wrong. There’s no IPO in Ribbit’s future.  Just 6 months after the company rolled out the Amphibian platform at DEMO 08, the startup has been acquired by British Telecom.  The company is among the fastest from DEMO launch to acquisitions ever.

Don Thorson game me the heads up late last week that something was in the offing, and today the company, along with BT, made the official announcement.

Ribbit architected the platform for what the company called “the first Silicon Valley Phone Company.” A high ambition to be sure, and one that has now been legitimized by BT.  The open platform enables third-party developers to deliver VoIP applications that integrate communications services into a range of use cases.

While the $105M price tag may seem modest by some standards, it is a measure of the velocity with which Ribbit – and this emerging market are moving.  The company only emerged from R&D stealth about 8 months ago, and announced the applications platform at DEMO 08 in February.  That the buyer is a telco affirms the shift to IP-based communications and reinforces the vision of Ribbit’s founders that a new-generation of integrated voice services lies just ahead.

The acquisition is also good news for companies like PanTerra Networks that have been pushing similar architectures to enterprise customers.  An endorsement-by-acquisition of the sea-change in telephony can only support their work.

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Search Takes a New Shape

Back in the old days – or the ’90s as some call them – we utilized the Internet as an information resource. What’s that phone number, where is that address, where can I buy that product – you had concrete questions and were no longer required to speak to a human to get answers. Sure, there were bulletin boards and Usenet forums for discussion but they primarily involved coding arguments and game walkthroughs. The Internet wasn’t truly upended into a community, and all that that entails, until just a couple of years ago. It was then that the inundation of bloggers collided with social networking and lifestreaming to produce a perfect storm of content. (And when I say lifestreaming, I mean the trend of putting as many pieces of our life online as possible – books we’re reading, music we like, etc.) We’ve now backed ourselves into a corner online, raging against the indundation of content even as we scroll through our fifth page of FriendFeed updates. We recommend well-written articles about navigating through the noise, right after sharing 25 items in Google Reader.

The logical next step in this technological journey is to therefore prune, to make our time online more meaningful and relevent, no matter how small the nugget of information. Whether I’m setting out to qualify findings in a drug discovery experiment or wondering when Amy Winehouse was last arrested, I want the most reliable, relevant answer in the shortest amount of time. The problem is no longer whether the information is out there but rather how we can get to it quickly and accurately.

It’s against this background that I’m seeing a gradual evolution of the semantic search market. Read the rest of this entry »

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Winding down SemTech and an exciting addition

My brain is beginning to melt from all of the deep-tech conversations here at SemTech. During the DEMO Road Show in Austin last week, I tweeted, “Just when you’re feeling smart, you meet a guy who built a server farm in his basement.” (That’s a story we’ll have to save for DEMOfall.) It’s essentially been my feeling this week as well, where the collective brain power in this building could likely have us colonizing Mars by next year. I consider myself reasonably well versed in semantic technology but this crowd puts me to shame. If you’re looking for an environment to really get your brain buzzing about the future of technology, make SemTech a priority next year.

I have a raft of new companies to follow up with in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on The Guidewire for new analysis on where semantics is heading. And of course we continue to gear up for DEMOfall – the first set of demonstrator invitations went out earlier this week – so you could say our plates are beginning to tip over with work. In our quest to feed the market with reasoned analysis of the startup landscape, we needed to expand our team. We needed someone super sharp about emerging tech, an early adopter with a sharp eye for innovative companies and products. We also needed someone who could take The Guidewire to the next level. Chris and I haven’t had the time to devote the creative energy necessary for building an engaging blog atmosphere.

With that, I am thrilled to announce Guidewire Group’s new research intern… drumroll please… Corvida from SheGeeks! Corvida will be with us through the summer, assisting Chris and I in all manner of ways: finding innovative startups to profile, fleshing out and updating The Guidewire, podcasting for DEMO.com, writing the occasional blog post, and much more. Fans of her SheGeeks and ReadWriteWeb posts, don’t despair; she’ll continue to blog regularly on both sites. I’m excited for both sides of the relationship. I hope we’ll offer Corvida a leg up into the business side of emerging technology and I know she’ll provide us with some much needed education on blogosphere success.

Join me in giving a warm welcome to Corvida. And watch this space!

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Geekery Fiefdoms at SemTech

For all my stewing about presenting an effective panel here at SemTech, I think we did it in spades this morning. I’m biased of course but if the amount of active, engaged audience members and lively conversation following the panel was any indication, Taking Semantic Technology to the Masses was a success. Thomas Tague, Josh Dilworth, Mark Johnson and I had an excellent discussion about the mess the semantics space is currently in, marketing-wise, and how to dig it out and shine it up for mass consumers. We spent the first 25 minutes parsing the problem – an indication of just how deeply semantics geeks can gaze at their navels – and about 20 more minutes discussing possible solutions.

Thomas coined a term I’m stealing that sums up the semantics space perfectly: geekery fiefdom. It’s a great description of a sector that is striving to achieve traction in the consumer space, but continues to pepper its messaging with semantic buzzwords and discussions of the plumbing behind it all. As Thomas quoted one of his customers in the financial sector, “If you have to explain it, I don’t want it.”

We came to a couple of good conclusions worth mentioning:

1) Companies in the semantic space need to take a portion of their impressive brainpower and turn it toward marketing. With literal rocket scientists on the benches, finding innovative, well-packaged messages around a product and company philosophy should be a piece of cake.

2)UI, UI, UI. Mark mentioned this several times and he should know; Powerset has one of the best out there right now. Once you’ve parsed out the complex algorithms of your semantics company, spend some time on a great design. An easy-to-use, intuitive interface can vault a product to the head of the pack.

3) Play nice and share. (I’m reminded of that annoying book/poster from the early 90s – Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.) It’s simple but true. If semantics companies were more open to partnering with each other, the resulting applications would without a doubt take this industry to the next level. The close-to-the-vest attitude is understandable in semantics, as some very sophisticated and complex platforms and algorithms are at stake, but I think we’ve reached the point where it’s time to open up a little.

Everyone seemed to agree, including members of the audience, that semantics is poised to graduate; that it’s time to dust off this fiefdom and take it out into the countryside among real users. When and how that will happen is still undecided but I’d bet on later this year or early next.

That’s it for the moment from SemTech. I’m huddling with Hakia in a bit and can’t wait to hear their news, then it’s time to concentrate on the French Tech Tour for the next 12 hours. More tomorrow…

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Semantics acceptance via the enterprise

I’m headed to the Semantic Technology conference in a couple of weeks, primed to mingle with the top minds in what is arguably the most exciting sector in technology right now. I’ll be participating in a panel, “Taking Semantic Technology to the Masses,” that tackles a key issue around the semantic Web. How do we take semantics to the next level? How do we extricate ourselves from the convoluted morass of geek-speak to make semantic technology understandable and appealing to consumers?

We’ll dig deeper into the issue at SemTech but I think the broad answer is very simple: remove “semantics” from the equation. I tackled this issue a few months ago, making the point that

…the ultimate solution will likely evolve quietly, organically, behind the scenes of a seemingly run-of-the-mill software app. We’ll raise our heads from our keyboards one day and find that the words we’re typing have taken on a life of their own.

I was reminded of these words recently when I spoke with Semantra, a Texas company that enables employees to conversationally interact with business software. Founded by semantics pioneer Marvin Elder, Semantra allows users, techie and non-techie alike, to easily pull needed information from complex relational databases within an organization. Semantra believes that, while the analytics tools designed for businesses do the job quite nicely, the only people in a company who really know how to use them are in IT. Read the rest of this entry »

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