Looking for a new hosting company

Products by on February 21, 2007 at 8:41 am

1and1, my cheap hosting company, lost a database server Tuesday around 2am (from what I can tell from the Urchin logs). This shared database server hosted my blog content (and I’m sure plenty of others as well). Support was horrendous (30 min phone queue times), and incredibly unhelpful. Answers to basic questions like: when was the last backup made? when do you expect this to be fixed? went unanswered.

And, the timing was awful. My post on banned sites at Digg made the Digg front page the day before. The site handled the 9,000 visits I received the hour the blog was dugg fine (wp-cache is my hero), and traffic had really tapered several hours before the server went down. Regardless, the blog was still seeing substantial post-Digg traffic as people were finding the site from various secondary sources. Matt has an amusing post on suing for lost reputational value.

So, I’m looking for a new shared hosting company. Not because they lost a server, but because it took them 24 hrs to recover and they had awful support during the process. Any suggestions (I’m guessing I should avoid those that are banned by Digg like Lunarpages)?

Can Google Avoid the RealPlayer Phenomenon?

Products,Search by on February 17, 2007 at 9:46 pm

I don’t know what it is with media players, but they are all scummy (yes, even Apple’s Quicktime). They are all locked in mortal combat with each other trying to win the battle of the default settings. After an itunes upgrade, shortcuts litter the desktop, new programs are running in the background and Quicktime has been set as the default program for all media files.

I was surprised when I installed Picasa to find this options menu (yes, these are the defaults).


The new default setting battle is over the search box. Google’s not at Real’s level yet, but I definitely didn’t feel great about those checked boxes.

Initial thoughts on Vista

Personal,Products by on February 16, 2007 at 8:31 am

I’ve been running Vista for a week now. I’ve had to put a lot of time into getting the environment set up the way I prefer (it still is taking up spare time).


  • Admin tools are better. I’m finding that I need random third party utilities a lot less. I was thrilled to fined the hard drive partition management tool - it allowed me to easily free up the 4GB of space occupied by the Dell pre-installed XP image.
    • However, they moved around a few functions and it is still taking me a while to get familliar with the functionality. It took me forever (required a visit to Wikipedia) to figure out how to add a folder to the start menu
  • Start Menu navigation has improved. I didn’t like the move from 2000 to XP - it seemed like I had to move my mouse more, but this change has made navigating quicker.
  • Desktop search just works. I no longer have a need to install Google Desktop search (or Yahoo Desktop Search)
  • Cleaner visuals. The graphics just feel cleaner. I love the way that images are automatically displayed as the icon, even in list view. The usability of the taskbar and icons on the desktop have improved as well. They use the edge of the screen well (keeps the item selected if you mouse off screen).

Don’t Like:

  • 512K RAM is too little RAM. Everything seems to run in slow motion and read/writes to my disk are pretty pegged. I should order more RAM, but I think I’ll try ReadyBoost instead.
  • Not all drivers present. I had to go searching around online for drivers. The one I found for my touchpad wasn’t technically the right one, but it works.
  • Not all programs are compatible. This sucks. I can’t get Firefox and Gaim working properly. Even in compatibility mode. Firefox works most of the time, but it sometimes is unable to download a website.
  • Can’t change the color of the taskbar. It is black and always black. I prefer a black desktop, but it just doesn’t look right with a black taskbar. I’d like blue back…

I don’t have enough graphics support for ‘Glass’ - My Windows Experience Index is below:


If I were to grade the experience on a scale of 1 to 5, I would give it a “2”. So, maybe the Windows Experience Index does a good job of indicating how you’ll like the experience…

Anyway, if you’re thinking about upgrading, my advice would be to wait and allow software and hardware vendors time to fix their compatibility issues.

All good ideas have competition

Business,Products by on January 30, 2007 at 8:01 pm

Even bad ones. I can’t tell you how many times I heard an entrepreneur claim that his competitive advantage was ‘being first to market’ or ‘a unique value proposition’ (and I’m not even a VC). If the idea is good, there are already other people working on it.

While looking at the local space awhile back, we realized that focus (geographic and category) played an important role in a site’s ability to gain critical mass. We loved sites such as DoctorOoogle, Citimove, Menupages and CampusFood which had all created profitable niches in their respective markets. Citimove was so dominant in NYC that the founders had received death threats from poorly reviewed movers.

With the help of external resources (Bob Glazer, Jason Henrichs and Fresh Tilled Soil), we briefly explored creating a few vertically focused local sites that leveraged a common architecture, but ultimately decided this was too fracturing of our limited resources.

Regardless, it is fun (and reassuring) to see ideas that we had considered become real companies and sites. A few of my favorites:

  • MyCurrency (coverage at VentureBeat and Techcrunch). A community pricing system for estimating real estate values. Our version was called PriceThisPlace, and we actually had a demo version of the site built, but never took it live. I love this idea and hope it succeeds. A long shot, with huge upside.
  • Unthirsty, CheaperDrinker, BeerHunter, ThriftyHipster, MappyHour, DrinkGuru, etc… Google Maps mashup with Happy Hour information. Our version was HappyHourPages. We got as far as html mockups. Thank god this was never launched - as it turns out, good ideas coupled with alcohol and low barriers to entry means you have too much of a good thing.
  • NormalRoom. Photos of real rooms. Ours was more focused on remodels - engaging the voyeuristic tendencies of neighbors that desire to see the work of architects on their neighbor’s homes. We never really had a name, but we did get to html mockups.

Every good idea has competition. Never assume that you’re alone in a market. As Seth Godin points out the execution is everything:

99% of the time, in my experience, the hard part about creativity isn’t coming up with something no one has ever thought of before. The hard part is actually executing the thing you’ve thought of.

You’ve got out execute.

Prices from 143 florists for a dozen roses

Judy's Book,Products by on January 29, 2007 at 3:24 pm

Doing work so our users don’t have to, we called 143 florists from around the country and found out how much it would cost for a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day.

Prices varied wildly by city. Philadelphians can get a dozen roses for about $50, whereas New Yorkers pay nearly $100. BTW, a round trip bus ticket between the two cities is just $20 and takes about 2 hrs. The average price from national florist websites is $65.

Next time we’ll hopefully include delivery fees.


Coverage at:

Thanks guys!

4 Websites I wish someone would launch

Business,Products by on January 23, 2007 at 10:54 pm

OK, many of these are just enhancements to existing products, but some of the features are differentiated enough that they could stand alone. These may already exist, so please let me know if you aware of anything similar.

  1. Photo sharing site for groups. Every time I go on a trip with other people, we all take pictures with our own cameras. Invariably we never reconnect and get each others pictures. No photo sharing service serves the group well - sharing is an afterhought, and they make it impossible to download the pictures in bulk - mine or theirs. Oh, and I want the site to allow me to build a web-based photo album that they host on one of my subdomains (similar to how feedburner handles feeds).
  2. Movie Listing Maps Mashup: Where is Borat playing near me? If you don’t know the theaters well, the existing movie listing sites are close to useless. You need to look up the addresses of theaters, and then map each one. Forget about trying to browse and see what’s playing nearby. This site almost had it right, then they got shut down for illegally using the source data. Sumit and I looked into building this, and got as far as having a conversation with the providers of the listings data.
  3. Random Email Address Generator: I leave my email address at hundreds of sites. Many times I only need to use the email address once (mailinator.com is great for this), however I frequently find myself needing the email address more than once. I want a website and firefox plugin that creates a randomized email address for every site I visit. I would have full control over what happens with them - I could delete them, forward them or just expire them. I would know exactly where my spam was coming from and could kill it as needed. Rahul and I have had a few conversations about this idea and think there is potential.
  4. Intelligent Email Assistant: I get tons of very predictable email that can easily be aggregated and made more useful. I’ll use airline receipts as an example. These emails all come in very predictable formats from known sources. They can be easily parsed automatically and aggregated into a single flight calendar or even better, automatically added into my existing calendars. I’d then have 1 place to go to find all my flights. Same with purchase receipts. This could stand-alone or work directly with the random email generator.

Update 1: 12 Nov 07
Two of these sites have been launched:

  • Photo sharing sites for groups. Sharpcast (My Review).
  • Intelligent email agent (for travel). TripIt. You forward them your travel emails, and they parse and build a travel schedule . Brilliant idea, and I’m playing with the execution.

Document Command – How does it work?

Personal,Products by on November 22, 2006 at 2:47 pm

I love my Paytrust account, at least I used to. At some point along the many acquisitions of what was once PayMyBills, Paytrust stopped focusing on their customers. They originally provided me a very valuable service that created value along two dimensions:

  1. Received & Archived bills (I didn’t have to change my mailing address with my biller)
  2. Automated payment of bills

Recently, Paytrust has made be choose between the two. If a biller offers an ‘ebill’ through their website, Paytrust will not allow you to automate payment. This is irrespective of the fact that the ebill provides less data – for example a cell phone bill without the call records. I’m eager to move off of Paytrust, but changing all of my billing relationships will be a royal pain.

So, I was pretty excited to hear about Document Command on TechCrunch. Unfortunately, details of how you set up the service are noticeably missing in both the TechCrunch post and the Document Command web site. PayMyBills handled this very well – they notified your billers, gave you change my address letters and wallet sized cards. I sent Document Command a note looking for more info – we’ll see what they say.

I don’t get podcasting

Business,Products by on November 12, 2006 at 8:06 pm

I’ve followed the hype around podcasting for a long time, and I simply don’t believe the opportunity is as large as many would have you believe. I don’t doubt that there is a podcasting business model, and I’m sure some startups will make money (probably those companies selling ads), but there won’t be a YouTube-like exit. A few reasons why I doubt the hype (hint: it’s all about the user):

Business / News podcasting:
  • Changes in user behavior are required. Currently people get their audio news through the radio (duh). The primary use case is people in cars (maybe there is a secondary use case for people that like background noise). It is very difficult in most cars to get anything from your iPod to your car audio system. The user behavior changes required to replace their radio time with podcast time are substantial.
  • Reading is faster than listening: You can get through much more material reading (scanning) than you can listening.
Entertainment podcasting:
  • Video is more entertaining than audio: Podcasts are most frequently listened to on either a computer or an iPod. Unless I’m walking or driving, I’d rather see the video.
Sure, there is a niche for podcasting. I think we’ll continue to see established radio and tv programs dominate the market. I just don’t see it being a big niche, particularly for non-mainstream content.

Apparently, I’m not alone. Plenty of other people don’t get it either.

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