Douwe Osinga's Blog: August 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bye bye Google Labs, hello Triposo Labs

A few weeks ago Google announced it would be shutting down Labs. I had been meaning to blog about this for a while, since I have been a fan of Labs even before I joined Google. Labs was one of the key elements in the Grand Story of how innovation at Google works. Single engineer spends his 20% time to implement a new idea, launches it on labs after which it proofs itself in the market place and is added to the list of successful Google products.

When I started at Google in 2004 this model was already outdated. I built the news bit of Google trends in 20% and this was subsequently launched on labs, but only in the context of a larger project; as a rule things launched on labs were built by fully staffed teams. More and more labs became a marketing thing; something to point at to prove continuous innovation at Google. Also since Google products typically remain in beta for a long time, the company needed a different label for products that might not be quite ready. Labs more and more became that label.

Not everybody agreed and there was a lot of grumbling about how hard it was to launch new stuff. As a reaction, individual products like GMail, Youtube, Maps and Search launched their own labs that allowed for the launching of experimental features . Soon another effort came under way to make it a lot easier to launch experiments on labs by using standard components like AppEngine. After Wave got canceled, me, pamela and tirsen got together and built Shared Spaces that way in our 20% time and launched in on Labs.

And now labs is going to die. No doubt this has to do with the founders desire to focus on Big Problems. Like I wrote elsewhere, I am skeptical you can get a grip on the Big Problems without starting small; Labs seemed like a good place to start small. Bits of Shared Spaces reappeared in the Hangouts of Google+. Last week Google announced also the closing of Slide, another bit of the empire meant to experiment. All signs point to that in Larrys new Google innovation is top-down rather than bottom-up.

Enough history. Google Labs might be gone, but I am happy to announce Triposo Labs. We collect data from all over the web and use clever algorithms to produce travel guides. Obviously before we get something working we play around a lot with that data. Quite often we hit upon something that is interesting, but maybe not immediately applicable, but if they make us go, ooh, that's cool, why not share it with the world?

The first experiment we're publishing, tracks the development of the wikipedia on a world map. Each geocoded article is plotted in order of appearance showing how the Wikipedia initially focussed on the US and partly on Europe and later spread to cover the world.

So if you're bored, go checkout Wikigrowth

Sunday, August 7, 2011

On being homeless while launching a start up

In the last few months I've founded a company and put together a great team. Together we've launched various iterations of our product and raised an angel round. That this all happened without Triposo having a physical office anywhere is in these enlightened days maybe not that surprising. That it happened without me having a place to live maybe a little more.

Rather than finding first a new place to live, me and my wife left Sydney with a single fare ticket to San Francisco, a general idea to keep moving east and a whole bunch of luggage. We left Sydney early June, from September we'll be living in Berlin. This blog post describes some of the things I've learned in the process.

Living off mobile devices means carrying around a lot of batteries that could be low. While trying to put together our angel round I asked this guy with some experience when you ask a potential investor whether he'll invest. "You always ask", he said. I'm not sure about that, but when you are a digital nomad surely the rule is, you always charge.

Most devices charge through USB, so you can make your laptop your charging hub. Finding outlets is a continuous adventure, but most places seem to have them close to the ground, presumably for vacuuming. Also get an outlet-doubler; that way when you find that outlet but somebody else got there first, you can just share.

Connecting... connecting...
The idea of techno nomads working on their laptops from whatever venue that will provide them with Internet in return for you ordering a steady supply of double espressos is romantic but in practice not yet a global reality. In San Francisco it works reasonably well, but in Sydney for example, not a lot of cafes offer free wifi or wifi at all. In Europe, you often get a code with a purchase of a drink that is only valid for 30 minutes. Two double espressos an hour will make you feel distinctly jittery.

It's probably better to get a (pre-paid) 3G card and treat the wifi as a bonus. Set up tethering (the networks don't like it, but it works for me) and you can take the 50 dollar a night deal on the hotel even if they charge you 19.99 a day for wifi. Lobbies of bigger hotels often have free Internet even if their rooms don't. On airports camping out just outside the lounges you can often hitch a ride on their Internet.

Lugging luggage
Living out of a suitcase means you have to carry that suitcase with you. After a while, you really start to see the attraction of a shopping cart. If you move hotels, there is always the time between check-out (generally around 11am) and when you can check in to the next (around 3pm). On top of it all, the airlines have become a lot stricter; when we moved to India we were at least 20kg over the limit each; these days airlines always seem to weigh your luggage; both hand and normal (of course this also keeps the growing of luggage somewhat in check).

Best of course is to follow the old adagium to take twice the money and half the luggage you think you need. Hotels will usually keep your luggage for the day - if that fails, the cloak room of museums are good alternatives. Mailing luggage ahead is cheaper than paying the airlines overweight fee.

It's time consuming
Not having a home takes a lot of time. Especially if you want to work more than a full time job also. We generally do standups at 9am (over Skype), though this depends rather a lot on your time zone. After that, you have to check out, find a suitable coffee shop with decent wireless, find a lunch place, travel to the next place and check in again, you have to scramble to put sizeable blocks of work in your day.

Sticking to a schedule is the best way to fight this, though schedules are easier to keep in a corporate environment. Working on the train is nice though. 3G tends to only work on the stations so you have automatic little Internet breaks and leave Twitter alone the rest of the time. Working from a place through DeskWanted costs a little money, but creates a bit of office discipline.

Living like a local
The nicest thing of living and working on the road is that you get to experience a lot of places if not quite like a local then certainly not just as a tourist. Figuring out a daily schedule to get work done, staying in airbnb apartments that let you do your own cooking, it's all more living than sightseeing.