First, a brief explanation of a process that has begun. I am starting to post lengthy Q&As with people who are likely to be covered in Global Neighborhoods. Later, after I have developed a Table of Contents and have found a publisher, jewels will be extracted from these naked conversations and incorporated into early drafts of chapters, which will also be posted.
What I am looking for is feedback. I want to know from you readers out there, which interviews you find the most useful or interesting and which portions you find the most memorable.
So I am hoping to get as many comments as possible in these Q&As, because your comments, pro or con will help me write a better book and that is one of the two reasons I'm writing this book on the blog. The other is so that you insiders will tell others that you know about this book and you think they should read it.
I met Marco Palombi in Moma's a Roman coffee house. The meeting was set up by the US State Department and was supposed to last an hour. Instead, we hung out together for over half the day. I found Marco to be profoundly interesting and I envision two or three places where he will fit into Global Neighborhoods. But, dear blog reader, please tell me what you think of him and what he has to say. In the next round, when I post early chapters, you get to tell me what you think of what I have to say about what he had to say.
So without further ado, and with very light editing, heeere's Marco:
Q1. For the benefit of our studio audience, can you tell me a bit about
your background? Can you describe the similarities and differences of Tipic,
Splinder and Motime?
I live in Milan now. I studied engineering in Italy, with a few semesters in
the US. I got my first job at Procter & Gamble in France, then moved back
to Italy to work for the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. After that, I spent 2 years in Brazil setting up the South American offices of a large multinational corporation before coming back to Milan where I began to focus on entrepreneurial activities in the communications and technology sectors.
Tipic Inc., a US company based in NYC with a development team in Italy, is the second start-up that I founded and sold. Tipic creates Instant
Messaging (IM) and Content Management Systems (CMS). Very early in 2001, we started investing into Open Protocol services and Open Source Software adopting Jabber for the IM and Drupal as a CMS. I was also a member of the Jabber Software Foundation board of directors, back in 2002.
I sold Tipic Inc. along with the proprietary elements of the platform that powers the Splinder and Motime brands.
2. And what will your role in these three connected entities be moving forward?
I will be a consultant for 10 more months, to facilitate the integration.
3. Why don't the major IM vendors just adopt Jabber so that everyone
can speak to everyone?
Heh. This is a tough question that has been asked for years. Jabber, or
more precisely XMPP, is becoming a standard. Google and Apple have adopted it, as well as many Telco Operators and small- and medium-sized companies.
What's interesting about IM right now is that it is merging with the Web, via browser-based experiences. For example our online communities--Splinder and Motime--integrate the concept of presence within the web page allowing the user to contact an online friend through a browser-based IM client. If you think about it, IM is developing into an "intercom system" within specific web communities. For example, think of MyspaceIM and the more this happens the less you need interoperability from a user's perspective, because you are offering an integrated service within a community with a right-place, right-time proposition.
Of course interoperability and a single standard would be much better for a
general purpose IM, audio and video communicator,which could replace the
To answer your question, vendors are scared to use a single protocol, because they think they would lose their user base, which is why today users are obliged to use their clients to access their networks. Vendors think that the business is distributing as many of their clients as possible, but the
real business would be to have a common protocol, a few standards-compliant clients (IE, FF in the web world) and then to compete in terms of services offered through IM: think of alerts like your personal information butler, answering machines, location based services, instant maps, and so on and so forth.
4. How big was Splinder when you sold it in terms of revenue and users? What percentage of the Italian market was using Splinder?
Splinder had 5,2 Million unique users per month when we sold it. In a country with a population of 50 million people, and an internet penetration of less that 33%, that's pretty big.
5. Why did you decide to do Splinder in Italian language rather than
We started with the Italian market because we had our development in Italy
and decided to test the service in one country first. We also had a great first-to-market advantage there, offering an Italian-language service in a country with a relatively modest knowledge of English.
We then launched Motime, the English version, but unfortunately, I had serious family problems and could not move to the US as planned. In addition, the US market was developing rapidly in a rather competitive environment requiring an investment in time and capital that would have put the rest of the business at risk.
6. Once Splinder was successful in Italy, why didn't you make versions
in French and/or German or other European countries?
We were leaders in one European country with a staff consisting of 10 people. I bootstrapped the company in 2001, when nobody wanted to invest in communities and Instant Messaging. If we wanted to make a French version, I would have had to hire at least 2 more people--a 20% staff increase. I would have had to dedicate a percentage of my time to that, instead of investing in product
7. How long do you plan to stay with DADA/RCS?
DADA/Rizzoli Corriere Della Sera bought us in October 2006. I plan to stay
with them for one year to help them with the integration, after that I just don't know. I might stay or might start something new. 10 months
from now is long in Internet time.
8. When I met you in Rome, you told me it was time to move beyond blogging. You are a pioneer looking for the next big thing and blogging is becoming yesterday's news. What makes you think blogging is old news?
I would not say blogging is old news. I is actually very new, we are at the
beginning of it, that is why new and old media companies are buying
companies like the one I created. On the other hand, I would say that
blogging is old news for an entrepreneur, because too many people know about
it, which makes the blog game--and User-Generated Content in general--a
place ripe for consolidation, where only medium/big companies will succeed.
9. Where do you expect to find the next big thing?
I don't know! I try to spare some time to browse randomly on the Net
every day, to read Sci-Fi books. Accelerando, by Charles Stross is the latest.
I try to make sense about the big overarching trends of this time, which is
actually very difficult because technology development is accelerating every
day. Also, in 2001, the social, economic and political changes brought on by
the Net were minimal, however today they are starting to be felt strongly, so
there are more variables to take into account besides technology.
When I founded Tipic in 2001, I wanted to create services and applications
to let people meet on the Web, because I actually wanted that kind of
application for myself. Back then, the Web was actually used mainly as a
broadcast medium, a bit like TV.
I also wrote a short piece about that, which is called the Lonely Net.
When I looking for the next big thing I ask myself the following questions:
- What would I like to have which is not out there yet?
- Is it something that I can build with limited resources?
- Is it something very few people (best none) are working on right now? (e.g.: I want very limited competition in the early stages)
- Is it part of a major trend that will shape things to come in the future?
In general today, some trends are clear:
- We must simplify and extend the interfaces between users and the NET; I want to touch virtual things or speak rather than use a mouse or keyboard.
- We must empower users to be in control of their personas on the NET; the "Metaverse" is already here (now through a web-based interface) even if 3D worlds are not yet well-developed.
- We must merge the NET with everyday things like furniture, clothes, cars, etc.
- We must allow people to be always connected to the NET.
The above trends are just a few, and mostly those are technological trends.
It is very interesting now to try to figure out what the sociological, economic trends are.
10. What, in your view, will the connected world look like, five and ten years from now?
I cannot possibly imagine 10 years out, and even 5 years is very difficult, but here goes. In 5 years, we will have:
- Bandwidth will be progressively cheaper or even free except for specific applications. It will be either paid for by advertising or by government, as they do now for roads, or by a mix of the two.
- More efficient payment systems will be available in order to allow small/medium service and content providers to make profits.
- The Net will shift even further from a content distribution medium to a communications medium where people will be engaged in conversations most of time, rather than passively consuming content.
- A single personal and portable device will be available and affordable. It will take video, pictures, record audio, do chat, make phone and video calls, will have all your music and video. It will have all the features a PC has now.
- The Net will be integrated into very diverse consumer applications such as telemedicine.
- Location-based service and content will finally start to be available and useful.
11. How does technology lower the international barriers of language?
More and more people will learn English, that's how! We need a "lingua franca" and English is the most likely candidate now. Sure, it will be easier than in the past to learn other languages, because people will be exposed to different cultures, but in the end the Net needs a common denominator. This is good and bad news for Americans; it is good, because you already speak the language, bad news because you will have very little incentive to learn a new language thus losing the advantages you gain when you learn a lot from a new culture.
Naturally, machine-translation will become better and better, perhaps lowering the barrier to inter-language communications, but the side-effects of less people actually knowing multiple languages is a negative result, IMHO.