Blogs & the Death of Stealth Mode

Fact: “Folks at Path101 are doing a very interesting experiment. They are liveblogging their start up. Everything about the startup is out there, including their to-do list from Monday meetings – with items such as preparing presentations for investors, etc.” (from Toni DasGupta’s BizOrigin, 10/29/2007)

Analysis: Silicon Valley chronicler Michael Malone used to say that the greatest new company in the Valley is the one being formed late tonight by two engineers sitting in a back booth at a Mountain View Denny’s, bouncing ideas off one another with napkin sketches. Today, the napkins would be personal blogs, and the engineers may never have met and may be sitting halfway around the world from each other, working for different companies, but engaged in the same technically promising pursuit.

I’ve become used to blogging frequently, even daily. It’s not easy to keep up the pace, but it’s doable. Most of my blogging has been on Intelink TS, the Top Secret secure intranet that hosts many of the intelligence community’s web and social-software services. On Intelink, my old Requirements & Research team (R2) publishes the well-regarded “R2 Daily Report,” a blog featuring project updates and research reports. I authored a fair number of the blog entries for several years and edited the rest, and I sent email alerts to peers at a dozen different intelligence and DoD agencies.

So I’ve developed enormous respect for the power of individual and team blogs as a great medium for narrating the advance of research. What I find most intriguing, not to say astounding, is the willingness today of commercial companies – and their leaders – to share their ongoing research through blogs. What previously would have been bottled up within tightly guarded internal corporate white papers, is now shared in personal blogs by the researchers and entrepreneurs involved.

Before the explosion of blogging, following the exploits and labwork of tech-intensive companies would have required journal subscriptions and private detectives, since those companies are nearly always led by serious technologists with academic credibility, and by entrepreneurs with responsibility for the millions in venture capital being spent to commercialize the research. As recently as Google’s founding in the late 1990s, the best way to follow its progress was either to “get to know the founders” on the Farm at Stanford, or to read their periodic writing (proto-dissertations) in staid academic CS fora.

You don’t need to do either anymore. Today, you can follow the players and their work through their blogs. In fact, the blogosphere now affords any assiduous reader a constantly updating window on cutting-edge research.

The whole notion of what is a “stealth” company is changing radically (and has been ridiculed before). Let’s look at three young companies hoping to commercialize various aspects of one of my favorite new-tech areas, the semantic web: Radar Networks, Powerset, and Hakia. Each has apparently decided that there is more to be gained than lost, by sharing publicly in blog form detailed discussions about their technologies and application development.

We might call this R3, or Realtime Research Reporting. Nova Spivack, CEO of Radar Networks, wrote this week about the definition of a semantic graph in his “Minding the Planet” blog. He describes his blog as a “Journal of Unusual News and Ideas” but typically writes in-the-moment updates on his company’s developing work in emerging semantic technologies, including lately a lot of realtime reporting on Twine, Radar’s new app for the social sharing of information. Nova’s posts offer a close peek into Radar’s technical directions and Nova’s own brilliant insights.

Barney Pell, Powerset’s founding CEO (and now fulltime CTO), blogs about the company’s technology, management, competitive context, and semantic science in general. He blogged last week about his keynote talk at the 6th International Semantic Web Conference and the 2nd Asian Semantic Web Conference, 2007. In another example of the value of R3, his post includes links to the original video and presentation slides from his talk, which give great detail into Powerset’s approach and direction.

Various personnel at Hakia, not only COO Melek Pulatkonak but also the company’s brainiac natural-language engineers, frequently blog about their research efforts and progress in improving the Hakia semantic search engine.

All in all, these companies and many others are betting that they have little to lose by describing their current thinking and efforts in the broadest possible way. Indeed they have much to gain, for their discussions in the public square of the blogosphere could spark a network effect of collaborative research maturation. Sure, lots of proprietary information is still hidden, and protected under lock-and-legal-key, as is undoubtedly necessary. But the back booth at Denny’s is still an attractive mental space, and the folks sitting there aren’t getting jazzed by the thought of lawsuits or closed-door meetings. They’re eager to share ideas.

Oh – and Mike Malone now blogs, for ABC News as the “Silicon Insider.”


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3 Responses

  1. Very interesting, though I’d like to see numbers – which of course would be unreliable if startups are being truly stealthy! But if you’re right, there may also be a backlash, in a fear of too much information, enforced by VCs, who’ll drive their startups back into stealth mode and enforce it.

  2. my brother just started in stealth mode a month ago and he cannott stop blogging, i teas him about it and i wonder if the money guys are even aware, they are all from saudi and probaly dont read his blog

  3. […] I have several different semantic blogs and research sites I follow on my own blogroll (right margin), and I also read the technical blogs published by startups themselves, for example Radar Networks, Powerset, and Hakia (see here for their blogs).   […]

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