Australian entrepreneur with FanFooty (alive) and Tinfinger (dead) on his CV. Working on new projects, podcasting weekly at the Coaches Box, and trying not to let microblogging take over this blog.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Twitter and IRC: meet the twain

As Richard Giles has already blogged, the Australian Twitterati have been gathering for the past little bit at the #twitter channel on the Freenode IRC network. This caused some interesting discussion on today's edition of the 2Web Crew, starring Richard himself.

Like Richard, I can't see much conceptual difference between IRC and Twitter. Twitter has a 140 character limit, IRC has about a 410 character limit before it inserts linebreaks. Twitter has a gateway to SMS and IM, but there is no insurmountable technical hurdle for anyone who wanted to do either of those for IRC. Similarly, it would be trivial to write an IRC bot to convert links into tinyurl URLs. Twitter has canonical identity, but IRC bots can enforce unique nicks with password-protected logins.

Then you come to the advantages IRC has over Twitter. Twitter is only now catching up on the idea of channels, and it's even stealing the # prefix from IRC. Most importantly, IRC has already encountered and solved the scaling problem many times over, with multiple servers all feeding the same chat space and netsplits handling server failovers.

You could pretty much replicate Twitter in a distributed format by setting up a tightly-securified global network of IRC servers, writing some AJAX/Java/Flash/Silverlight/whatever to pump it through, and then putting a Web front end on it all. If architected correctly, the Web site wouldn't fall over nearly so much as Twitter because the bottleneck would be on the IRC end, which would naturally have many backups. Server outages would be handled as IRC netsplits, which would (hopefully) be invisible to the user. The whole thing could be handled without relational databases given some tricky work with flat text log files.

Does anyone have the smarts these days to do that and make it work? Or would they rather roll their own db and architecture and not have to rely on a clunky 90s-era technology? IRC is like a library of reliable code, IMO. It would be foolish to not at least consider retrofitting it for a new application which is, at its heart, just a redeployment of the original IRC concept with a few more bells and whistles. I wonder if the Dave Winers of this world, who have been agitating for a distributed Twitter alternative, are capable of delivering (or funding) this sort of system.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Time for Aussie 2.0ers to Hitwise up

Ben Barren broke a blogging silence of three months today with an uncharacteristically lucid mini-essay detailing his thoughts going into the fourth year of Feedcorp, the business he started with consiglieri Michael Corleone but which is now headed by Pete Burley. Ben pledges to concentrate more on Gnoos, something which I have been urging him to do for some time now (perhaps too pushily?). Judging from the numbers he mentions obliquely in his post he seems to be doing okay with Feedcorp's hired goons strategy.

The Australian corner of the industry is doing just fine. We're in our fourth year (first lines of code on 27 October 04) as is Feedcorp, and Cameron Reilly noted that The Podcast Network officially turns 3 today too. TPN is going gangbusters according to all reports. Norg Media is expanding to new cities, Scouta TV is doing deals, Tangler is growing with a new CEO as well, etc etc. We're already running at over 100% year-on-year growth on last year's stellar traffic figures for FanFooty, and with yesterday's launch of a $5,000 fantasy competition (using all our own money) called Lethal League we should have an awesome 2008 where the growth of Tinfinger will be gravy, not our staple diet.

Notwithstanding the recent bad news about Omnidrive, there doesn't seem to be a lot of negativity in the Australian Web 2.0 community. It's all systems go from my perspective. So is the gentle backhander that Ben delivers to his peers warranted?

Knowing how hard it is to do (build a valuable company that creates more dividends individually than a job/freelancing etc or is acquired etc + being able to scale/keep your site up/pay bills/keep investors happy etc) I only feel empathy for the other Aussie startups trying to do it locally, but I wouldn't say I'm too optimistic on the likely 'home runs' with far too many consumer only/google ads/low cost plays, that are still pet projects not scaleable businesses.

This is a longstanding, if cheerful, debate that I've had with Ben: me on the side of sacrificing short-term profitability to spend long hours of drudgery building your own IP, him on the side of getting some B2B moolah while the getting is good from dumbshit oligarchs who need Remora 2.0s to sandblast the barnacles off their rotting underbellies. At this stage I don't doubt his numbers would most likely trump anyone else's in pure turnover terms (save for Atlassian, but they shouldn't really count in this context as they're on another plane already).

When it comes down to it, I don't see any approach as being "wrong" unless you fail, as it appears (from admittedly second-hand hearsay) that Nik Cubrilovic has done, sadly. From the sounds of it Nik just ran out of money, which is a win in my book for the "low cost play". Some business concepts have a greater ceiling than others, but then again the higher the ceiling the greater the potential for a GEMAYA player to lay the smack down, as Google recently did to Topix (and maybe Gnoos as well?) by adding local search to Google News.

I remember sitting down with Ben after a speech he gave last year and discussing the Hitwise model, which is to build a limited-growth business first and then use the solid cashflow to fund the slow-burning development of the "home run" concept. That is what Ben has done with Feedcorp, where his outsourcing work is the Sinewave equivalent and Gnoos is his Hitwise. In my case, FanFooty is the cash cow and Tinfinger is the home run, although FanFooty is obviously on a different level to Feedcorp in terms of revenue. I think this is the most likely strategy for successful Australian Web 2.0 ventures, because the first business not only gives you funding, but also the experience and confidence which are invaluable in making the second, harder concept work.

I look forward to seeing what Ben does with Gnoos in 08, and after launching Lethal League yesterday I will now be getting back to Tinfinger. I've given myself and Tai until October to make a living out of it. Next one to run out of money is a rotten egg! ;)