As 2008 closes I find myself pondering what’s good and bad about 2008. I find it hard to do this with complete clarity. Overall I’ve had a really excellent year. 2008 started with a couple of exciting projects and this post is ultimately about recognizing those that helped me most in 2008.
2008 took off with a project that Andrew Hansen and I were working on. While it began with a Facebook app, it was a broader API and platfrom play which the company to its credit is moving forward with (and I still think about). Andrew, Bo McFarland and Gabe Wachob were key to delivering my portion. We worked fast and hard under crazy deadlines. While we created something special, changes in management meant it never saw the light of day. I’m very proud of the guys I worked with and what we managed to do.
Then in April I had this little idea. What if telephone calls could be set up by just exchanging a URL? What if the call signal was sent as a text message rather than DTMF tones? Could we create a world in which the user controlled the callerID? In fact could others join the call. I’d had this idea while playing with jailbroken iPhone apps, Twitter and looking at where mobile social communications were headed. You can learn more by just trying Phweet.
I wrote long screeds – mini books on examples on why it was cool and how it should work. I started sharing this with some of my VoIP friends and others who I’ve worked with over the years. I realized that many of them didn’t get it. By this time I’d invented the name Phweet for “phone + Tweet”. Twitter represented the initial way to bring this new “communications revolution” to life. During this formative time I’d been sending David Beckemeyer notes and I still remember the day early in June when he agreed… Phweet should be done. Now David much better than me really knew what I was getting into. We were effectively prototyping a new form of communications with zero budget and just our own efforts. I’ll reflect on Phweet in all its details in a separate post. I praised David at launch and time has not dimmed my views. David’s a rock star (good and bad!) and it’s too easy to look at the simplicity of Phweet and miss the deep understanding, years of experience and his innovate flair that went into it.
Phweet came to life on July 30th. Without David it may never have happened. Bo helped out with the design elements and the logo. From my perspective I just felt like I was launching the second VoIP solution for social networks in less than six months and this time it was ours. I had that adrenaline rush and literally went weeks on 4 hours sleep and 7 day+ weeks. It was all-consuming and probably suffered all the usual stresses that startups go through. We had an idea, we put it into action, we had to go public alpha to get our testers and we ended up with more notoriety instantly than we were ready for.
Those early days of Phweet had another important contributor, someone my blog buddies will know I’ve relied on for years. My Mosoci partner Dina Mehta became my 24 hour solution to answering tweets and setting up calls and testing with others. This effort kept us both very busy throughout August and September. Phweet would not be complete without Yusuf Motowala whose Tringme provides an API which enabled our flash solution.
Dina and I also collaborated on a few India research projects. One in particular merits attention. Helping a large technology manufacturer to explore the top end of mobile social computing and media in India. It involved in-home ethnographies, blog diaries, and additional groups and interviews. As always we looked to report and look deeper. Our client (Liz) was fantastic also wanting to push the boundaries and interested in getting quick and rapid insights. The final report we delivered certainly lived up to my expectations of “delight the customer” and we worked really hard on our observations. It must have worked for we have another opportunity coming up to do more, and are now consulted upon as part of their ‘brain trust’!
In fact, I want to really beat Dina’s drum here. I’ve been indirectly involved in almost all of her projects over the last year. A few directly (they’re the best!) and some indirectly where we’ve formulated learning journeys, added in blogs to research panels, and the balance of ethnographies, groups etc. If anyone were to catch a glimpse of the mobile, social, media, and consumer clients she’s served over the last year then you would understand. It’s a banner list! She was also heavy into tweeting #mumbai. For me the future of mobile social communication is India and that too is another story.
Phweet has been my fulltime job effectively for 7 months. It’s an unfunded startup with zero resources other than the efforts of the founders. Each month forward has brought new learnings. It’s also brought a share if disappointment. There is nothing like a startup to find out who your friends and real supporters really are. I always believed in the “right people will step forward” type of approach. Mark Petrovic created an iPhweet app for the iPhone which also tested the Phweet API. It’s cool and points to directions we could go. Ethan Zuckerman gave us some valuable early feedback. Friends like Jon Husband, Gabe Wachob, Ed Prentice and Estee Solomon Gray consistently provided support and good counsel. Many others on Twitter who I did not know previously, showed interest and helped us test it out. Too many to name, but some folks that come to mind – @rojajimmy, @chinarut, @a_f, @markmayhew, @jamesbody, @minhaaj, Ben Davis, Ed Moltzen ……
Andy Abramson did even more. I remember going in to SF to share Phweet with Andy. I had an early pitch and he had every “connect to the internet/portable solution” available. I demoed Phweet to him over some combination including a P2P network. Phweet worked flawlessly. I felt good. The next day Andy used Phweet to break the “no talking, now VoIP” on airplane bans. When we can take Phweet to the next level Andy will play a key role. And thanks to all my VoIP blogger friends who have kept the chatter going and more importantly been consistently willing to test, or jump into impromptu conference calls. You know who you are! Particular thanks to Ken Camp, and Sheryl Breuker, Dan York, Dameon D. Welch-Abernathy aka PhoneBoy, Michael Bauwens, Phil Wolff and Jim of SkypeJournal and Alec Saunders. Jeff Pulver also promoted Phweet and stimulated a neat thread around Phweet and Ham Radios.
I also worked through much more slowly how to tell the Phweet story and the business model. Well it started in a rush — launched …. ouch need money… need business plan…. need resources… Yes I know!!! So I don’t quite feel crippled by the times but almost do. The financial crisis didn’t exactly hit at the right time for finding investors. I’ve been disappointed and disheartened although that has just served to make the “Evolution of Phweet” potentially more interesting and powerful.
Our Angel is still out there and I think they are really missing out. Most importantly on people that have proven they can get things done, adapt and learn fast.
To close 2008 again proved to me that “all of us” are better than anyone of us. That I’ve been lucky to have worked with friends that fuel a creative and innovative set of solutions. It’s never been without tension or challenges. I’ve also seldom had a year that is more rewarding in terms of what I believe we have achieved and what got done. Not everything should be measured in how much you made on it (although important – we took personal risks and many won’t or don’t.). The saddest thing for me is this group is so “virtual” that I’ve never really had the opportunity to say thank you. Usually that’s done in public with the group. It would make a wonderful achievement to be able to celebrate with you this time next year.
I can’t predict what 2009 will bring. 2008 brought me a deep appreciation and admiration for a few people that consistently step up and also follow their beliefs. I want to be part of a much bigger business as a result and a little less virtual. I’m always better when working with others even when I’m driving them crazy. I am totally satisfied that in the mobile social product development and research space I and “we” can create world first innovative solutions. At the end of the day I know that is what I strive most to do and it really doesn’t matter what the industry is.
So if you have ideas for me, want to work with me, think I should head in new directions etc in 2009, you can leave me a comment, drop me an email or simply Phweet me.