A note from our Gurgaon office:
Diwali, the festival of lights was celebrated in the Gurgaon office in a colorful way. The dress code was ethnic Indian dresses as the “fun group” organized a bay decoration competition and also got a few stalls put up by the employees. The ambiance was fun-filled with good food around as enthusiastic team members came up with amazingly creative decoration ideas.
Our industry modeling team won by a slight margin over the source management team, with both depicting the various facets of celebrating the Diwali festival. The games put up and the stalls were equally exciting.
Overall, it was great to see the technology and research savvy team show off their creative and artistic abilities.
Guest post: Marty Betz, VP Technology
Today, YY and I attended ReadWriteWeb’s Real-Time Web Summit. It was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, hosted by Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb.com.
Like many conferences recently, they’d adopted a structure based on an open, spontaneous agenda which gets filled in by the participants during the first hour. It turns the meeting into a focused networking event that fosters exchange of technical questions and information between the attendees, and minimizes the time spent having one person speak at a large audience. This worked surprisingly well. It seems this is a natural evolution of conferences. Now that much of the information that was once delivered from a lectern can now be found online, meeting new people and discussing specific problems is where unique value is found. I’m always impressed by how many attendees are willing to put themselves out there and deliver a semi-impromptu presentation, or run a discussion.
The talks ranged widely, from protocols underlying real-time communication, to human factors associated with information processing, to data extraction and natural language filtering techniques. Of course, there was also a good share of “how do we monetize this” chitchat.
My initial observations are that, even though the crowd was self-selected for real-time web interest, there was healthy cynicism about it’s value. One talk was even titled “Why do you hate real-time…” On the other hand, there was a palpable sense that something important will emerge out of the web’s new, faster and denser information flows; we just can’t predict what it is yet.
The host, Marshall, started by proposing a spectrum on which ideas were organized based on whether they focused on person-person communication, person-machine communication, machine-to-person, etc.
Every hour had several different talks to choose from. I first dropped in on a talk about the service PubSubHubbub from Google, and then another about linguistic techniques for filtering twitter feeds. My next hour included discussion of structured information and tools for collecting and deriving structured entity relationships.
YY ran a great session on how to make use of the way the web changes, over the course of the day — and longer time periods. It raised questions about how can you distinguish the significant change patterns from the incidental ones? It evolved into discussions of when and how long “old” information remains valuable, and it gives valuable context to recent data. Others in the group talked about filtering highly noisy sources, the practical requirements and limits of human attention, questions of push vs. pull information delivery, and the frequency with which people can really ingest and make use of content streams.
I finished the conference attending two light afternoon talks. The first was on the importance of “emotion” in the value we attach to real-time content. There was animated conversation about how data you get from another specific individual can come with the baggage and the benefits of your immediate relationship and that person’s mood. Finally, I enjoyed a round table discussion of how soon “augmented reality” will become a reality.
Overall, I thought the conference was a great experience. As usual, the web continues to change year after year, and new problems arise, raising new opportunities. I am confident that the increase in real time data will, like other changes in the past, inspire FirstRain to find unique loads of derived value in the web.
We’ve seen a distinct increase in client interest in Governance over the last couple of months – probably as a result of the increased market volatility and risk. Looking at the pick up from a high level, we’re seeing four topic areas being requested and expanded – and they are requested by pension funds, by hedge funds trying to comply with their investor’s requirements and by companies wanting to remain on top of the investment communities requirements for their industry. The four areas are:
Corporate Governance: executive compensation, shareholder rights, board independence, proxy fights, and anti-takeover measures / by-laws changes.
Market Regulation: rule proposals and disclosures from the SEC, FASB, FINRA, NASDAQ, Department of the Treasury (US), and Internal Market and Services Commission (EU).
Regulatory Comment: from pensions, trade groups, financial firms, subject corporations, large investors, hedge funds and university endowments.
Environmental and Social Responsibility (ESR): United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI), country- and market-level environmental, social and governance oversight standards, and ethical divestiture risks.
All four are areas where we build out many topics (precision filters to serve up only the most relevant documents), research sources and continuously enrich the subject matter we pick up as the categories change in public opinion.
In addition, with the dramatic changes and exits at the top of the US banks, and the presidential candidates apparent outrage at the “excesses of executive compensation”, there is a great deal of focus on this area. And since I chair one compensation committee (RMBS) and sit on another (JDSU) it’s an area I personally pay a lot of attention to. The pundits are of course piling on – Gerald McEntee ‘s “Fundamentally Wrong” and RiskMetrics Group’s post have views from senators, lawyers, and governance advocates. My favorite callout is from an un-named Washington attorney calling the bailout terms “good governance coming through the federal backdoor.”
We’ve already see prior scandals like Enron and WorldCom leading to Sarbanes-Oxley and its ramifications for company governance. It seems unlikely this time around, with much broader repercussions, that today’s events won’t drive an ever more aggressive regulatory agenda from governments and shareholders, whomever gets elected.
Got email from a client last week really pleased with the information they had found on FirstRain to help them with a campaign.
Here’s the story: A small software company selling to a large energy utility. They sell software to help automate and improve customer communications.
In this case the sales team was doing a detailed business process analysis to show the utility how much money they could save by upgrading their customer communications, and how they would also improve their quality.
Friday afternoon – meeting with the CIO to present their findings. The CIO walks in, out of sorts, the company had just been in the news as losing customers because of their inability to invoice customers correctly (right in the sweet spot for this sale). On a break during the meeting the sales team looked for the news story – wanting to make sure they understood the severity of the issue and how to use it in their sales cycle. They looked on Google – not there – then on FirstRain – straight to the link and then able to use the research engine to understand the background.
The sales team is now using their additional knowledge to help the customer get on top of their billing issues quickly – and sent us an email saying “Thank you FirstRain”.
(the story is anonymous until they win the contract – then we can name them)
Regular readers of this blog may remember that the FirstRain team likes to take on physical challenges together – like last year’s AquaBike. Well this year (yesterday) ten of us completed the San Jose Rock And Roll Half Marathon and I am very proud of them all for taking it on and every one of them for completing the course.
It was a perfect day for it. The FirstRain team and 15,000 people lined up at 8am in downtown San Jose to try to conquer the distance each in our own way. Hats of to our controller Eugene who ran the race in 1 hour and 42 mins – we were still walking in the first half when we saw him running the last stretch and cheered him on from across the road. Also hats off to Ana, David and Dennis who did their best distances and times – very impressive.
A few of us walked it, some in more pain than others, and YY comically awarded me the “Stubborness” award for doggedly finishing with the slowest time of the team. After the race we retreated to BJs for much needed food, water and alcohol (purely for medicial purposes of course).
Next FirstRain race is a 7km in Delhi on November 1 – the Great Delhi Run. David is planning to be in Delhi that week anyway so he’s challenged a team from our Gurgaon office to run it with him. We’ll see how many sign up for it!
Now we have to decide what race we’ll chose for 2010 in California. Frankly I found the half ironman aquabike last year was easier to finish than the half marathon this year so I’ll be lobbying for something in the water next time.