Friday, January 20, 2006

The Personal Bee

Many of you reading this know that I have been hard at work on a new project, The Personal Bee. While we are far from ready to open our doors for visits, I thought I'd start writing a bit about the ideas that are driving this new business. We have also created a blog specifically about all things Personal Bee-related which you can find at and I have my own work related blog over there at

So what is the Bee? It is an attempt to rethink the traditional relationship between the people and processes involved in the production and consumption of news and information.

Maybe the best starting point is a little of the history of how I got here...

The Internet has had this amazing capacity to transform the way we think about media. From my earliest interactions with the Internet (in the late 1980's at the University of Chicago) I have been thinking about how this technology is transforming communications and society.

While working for a first wave Internet startup, WhoWhere, in the mid-1990s I had my first opportunity to really participate in this tranformation. The mission of WhoWhere was to build a suite of Internet based tools to allow people to find, connect, and communicate with each other. At the time our "communicate" tool was a personal home pages portal that we acquired (Angelfire). We had a lot of ideas about how we wanted to evolve this technology but (sadly) most of these ideas were never implemented by our acquirer, Lycos.

Some years later, after I had joined the executive team at Borland, I encountered the idea of blogging. I wrote my first Blogger post on August 8, 2000. I called my first blog "My life, as bizarre as that may seem." While I have removed the blog from public access, it still exists in the limbo of the Google/Blogger database. Here is my first post:

This is a first entry in my personal "diary" - I am trying out a new web site called blogger which is supposed to give me the ability to create a running log of comments to my site. We'll see how well that works!

I remember my feeling of excitement as I started to play with the rudimentary blogging tools. I thought to myself, this is the first truly new thing I have seen on the Internet for a long time! It also seemed like an interesting continuation of the kinds of things we had been doing with personal home pages through WhoWhere. Blogging was the next logical step in creating a medium for people to get news and information out into the world without the filter of publishers.

But the strength of blogging is also its weakness in that it only addresses one part of the dynamic -- it fractalized the writing component of the news production process, but did little to update the editorial and publishing sides of the media business. In addition, the ability to comment on blog posts (and more recently, trackback) has started to change the dynamic between readers and writers, but there is still much to be done here as well.

In 2004 I was introduced to a very interesting print publication called "The Week" which summarizes the top news from around the world and, in a thoughtful and useful format, presents this summary in a weekly magazine. This model seemed to me to be applicable to narrower topic domains and as a test of this idea I created a technology blog called IP Inferno in May of 2004. Here is a link to the first month of my posts to this blog.

As an explanation of the site's mission I wrote that IP Inferno would be,

The news, what the pundits said, and selections from bloggers... A complete roundup of news and current events on VoIP, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, mobile telephony and computing, and advanced IP applications.

I originally thought that I would create this type of vertically focused news portal for a number of different topics and I went so far as to create a Typepad account and sites on gadgets and investing. But the work of collecting the news, organizing it for presentation, and commenting on it in interesting ways proved to be too burdensome (if I was also going to have a day job). While I have kept up with IP Inferno off and on over the past two years, it has more often been as a writer contributing new material to the world of VoIP then as a news summarizer a la "The Week."

Nicholas Chim, then an associate with MDV in Menlo Park, started work on what we now call "The Personal Bee" early in 2005. His goal was to create a tool for himself, to help him sort through vast quantities of information that MDV partners wanted him to track on a wide variety of technology topics. He set up an account for me in May of 2005, but I didn't do much with the Bee at that time as I was busy with my job at Orb. But when that came to an end in August of last year, I stopped by to see Nick and chat about his idea.

I immediately saw something quite a bit different in Nick's product from his original vision of a reader's tool for aggregating and sorting through news. While the Bee could serve that need as well, I saw a set of tools that would automate the hardest part of the tasks that I had encountered in creating IP Inferno and a platform that would allow anyone to painlessly publish a vertical news portal on a narrow topic of their choosing. I saw the beginning of an ecosystem between readers, editors, and writers...

This has been a lot of background on how I came to be involved with The Personal Bee. For more on what it is today, and where it is headed, go over to my blog on the Bee site...

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