Zillow Faces Potential Legal Issues in Arizona

Zillow, a great web 2.0 tool for real estate, has been sent a cease and desist in Arizona. I used Zillow as a way to get a feel for what my existing home was worth during the sales process and to understand the potential value of the home that I was purchasing. Zillow pulls its data from public records and aggregates them together into a really nice interface based on Google Maps.

A few more details:

The Arizona Board of Appraisal issued two cease-and-desist letters to the company that operates the popular real estate Web site Zillow, saying it needs an appraiser license to offer its “zestimates” in Arizona.

“It is the board’s feeling that (Zillow) is providing an appraisal,” Deborah Pearson, the board’s executive director, said Friday.

Zillow warns users the estimates it provides are not a definitive value but a starting point for consumers. Launched in February, 2006, the company claims it has 4 million users a month, including people wanting to how much their homes – or their neighbors’ homes – are worth.

Zillow issued a statement Saturday saying it disagreed with the board’s view, and pointed to an opinion issued by a national appraisers standards group that said online estimates aren’t formal appraisals.

“We strongly believe that providing Zestimates in Arizona is completely legal and in fact an important public service, given that Zestimates are the result of our ‘automated valuation model’ and are not a formal appraisal,” co-founder and company President Lloyd Frink said in the statement. (Quotes from The Columbian)

I seriously doubt that this would hold up in court; however, a small web 2.0 start up might not be able to weather the cost and resource drain of a court battle. I hope that they are able to come to some resolution. It would be a shame to lose such a helpful tool.

Stuart Cohen Announces New Collaborative Software Initiative

Stuart Cohen, formally CEO of OSDL who left during the merger with FSG, has started his own for-profit company focused on applications built on an open stack using open source methodologies. Cohen wanted OSDL to focus on more than just Linux, including open source applications, but the OSDL and FSG were really focused on Linux. Forming the Collaborative Software Initiative was a way for Cohen to lead a company focused on open source applications. This initiative is funded by OVP Venture Partners and has a strong advisory council including industry luminaries like Brian Behlendorf, Dan Frye, and Eben Moglen. They are also partnered with IBM, HP, and Novell.

According to eWeek, the company will

“focus on building non-competitive, essential software for vertical industries in a collaborative environment that helps companies solve shared IT problems. The business model for Collaborative Software Initiative is simple: Develop and support essential code that does not exist today and that meets the needs of competitors in vertical industries, such as financial services, at a significantly lower cost than if the companies were to develop such code internally or outsource it—and then support it.”(Quote from eWeek)

This is an interesting model, but the details are still unclear:

“CSI is taking a cue from open source methodology, but it’s not a “pure open source play,” says Cohen. Right now, CSI doesn’t have any specific licenses in mind to offer software under, though Cohen does say that they plan to open source the projects when they are mature, and indicated that they would prefer Open Source Initiative-approved licenses.” (Quote from Linux.com)

It will be interesting to see how well this works. Companies may not need a company like the Collaborative Software Initiative to help facilitate collaboration across industries. I also think that it will be difficult to provide support for a diverse range of vertical industry solutions, so I am skeptical about how well this will scale. I will also be curious to see whether communities will form around these efforts that are similar to the communities for other open source applications.

Despite my skepticism about the details and implementation, I really like the focus on open source applications. I do think that over time more applications will be built using open source methodologies building on the years of success that open source operating systems, infrastructure and tools have garnered. I hope that this initiative will lead to more successful open source applications.

Camps and Conferences – Synergy or Animosity?

I was talking to Scott Kirsner yesterday about BarCamp Portland and other unconferences. He is writing an article for BusinessWeek on unconferences, and some of his questions got me thinking about the similarities and differences between camps/unconferences and traditional conferences. Are these two ideas synergistic or is there animosity between traditional conferences and unconferences? I think that answer is both.

Are traditional conferences worried about unconferences taking business away from traditional conferences? Maybe. Unconferences are usually free and are often local. The unconference is an adhoc gathering shaped by those who attend with the sessions and agenda being driven by the participants. The framework is defined in advance, but the sessions are organized and produced by the attendees. In other words, instead of a full agenda with sessions and speakers clearly determined in advance, you start with a blank grid containing times on one axis and rooms / locations on the other axis; lunches and any other common activities are often added to the grid in advance to provide some basic infrastructure for the event. You never what discussions, demos, and other interactions to expect before the event, but you can count on it being an interesting time!

Unconferences and traditional conferences may even attract slightly different types of people. Some people really like the traditional conference structure. They can plan out exactly which sessions to attend way in advance, and easily justify the cost of attending by making a business case to the boss for what will be learned from the conferences which appeals to many traditional companies. I know this because I used to be one of these people. I viewed conferences as a time to passively soak up knowledge from the “experts” while completely missing the value associated with networking and learning from the other participants. Traditional conferences also have the appeal of drawing in speakers who may not attend your unconference. For example, it is unlikely that Jeff Bezos and Eric Schmidt will show up at the Portland BarCamp; however, I could see both of them speak at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco next week.

Unconferences on the other hand may tend to attract people who enjoy shaping their environment and who may value networking and conversation more than presentation. You become a participant, instead of just an attendee. Sessions are proposed, refined, and often combined as the event progresses and conversations evolve. I also find more networking opportunities at unconferences, since many sessions are discussion based rather than a single person giving a presentation.

It seems like fewer people are attending traditional conferences and some of the large technology conferences have been canceled over the past few years (COMDEX). It used to be that we went to conferences to learn about upcoming technologies in an age before every company had a website and before we had thousands of blogs and podcasts providing information on any topic possible. Now, with more information available online, conferences have to provide compelling reasons to attend – amazing content, networking opportunities, and more.

Will traditional conferences suffer in this new environment? Some will, but it depends on how they react to it. Conferences that embrace the unconference format in some way are probably more likely to succeed.

O’Reilly, as usual, is handling the situation with style by being generous with their conference space and encouraging people to hold unconferences along side their traditional conference program. The most recent example is the Community Roundtable happening alongside the Web 2.0 Expo. O’Reilly also holds their own unconference, FooCamp, every summer. Companies like O’Reilly “get it”. O’Reilly knows that synergy and cooperation will be more beneficial than animosity. More conference organizers could learn from this example.

BarCamp Portland May 11-12

BarCamp Portland, May 11-12, 2007

Tech + Geek + Culture. The event for the Portland tech community, produced BY the Portland tech community.

What is BarCamp? It is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment, with discussions, demos, and interaction from participants.

BarCamp is a FREE event and the content is determined by the attendees. The event will be hosted at CubeSpace, which has a number of conference rooms for breakout sessions, a large main meeting area, wireless access, easy access to public transportation, bike storage, and ample parking.

If you are interested in learning more about the event, please visit the BarCamp Portland web site. Please add your name to the wiki if you are interested in attending, and tell your techie friends!

Operating System Convergence and the Palm Linux Announcement

Details are still a bit light, but Palm announced that they would be building a mobile computing platform based on Linux and open source.

The platform is described as a “new foundation for Palm.” … The Analyst presentation concluded without any technical or developer details revealed about the new Linux based platform. Many questions remain to be answered as to what the official name will be, what Linux technologies are included, how Palm OS Garnet compatibility will be handled and what the development environment will be composed of. Colligan ended the Q&A session stating that the Linux based platform will be a integral “core technology” for Palm for the foreseeable future. (Quote from Ryan Kairer on Palm Infocenter)

I suspect that this is actually part of a larger trend toward operating system convergence with Linux at the center of this trend as the primary open source operating system. Companies building set top boxes, mobile products, and other devices realize that there is not much value in maintaining an entire operating system when the value is higher up the stack. By using the Linux kernel and other Linux operating system components, companies like Palm can focus on the software above the kernel that adds real value to the product. We’ll know more when they release the details, but my guess is that they will eventually replace low level PalmOS components with the Linux kernel and other parts of the operating system while focusing more on developing the user facing software.

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Wireless Power Moves from Science Fiction to Reality

It sounds like something out of Star Trek. Power broadcast through thin air to charge electronic devices like computer peripherals, MP3 players, cell phones, medical devices, and more. Darren Murph at Engadget sums up the idea pretty well, “energy without wires has always seemed like one of those novel concepts that sounds terrific in theory, but remains a tad difficult to imagine hitting the commercial scene for some time to come. Apparently, all that is about to become nonsense, as a Pennsylvania-based startup is set to capture the wireless-loving hearts of, um, everyone when it tackles contactless power products.”

An article in Business 2.0 Magazine has a few more details about the company and their upcoming products:

A startup called Powercast, along with the more than 100 companies that have inked agreements with it, is about to start finding out. Powercast and its first major partner, electronics giant Philips, are set to launch their first device powered by electricity broadcast through the air.

It may sound futuristic, but Powercast’s platform uses nothing more complex than a radio–and is cheap enough for just about any company to incorporate into a product. A transmitter plugs into the wall, and a dime-size receiver (the real innovation, costing about $5 to make) can be embedded into any low-voltage device. The receiver turns radio waves into DC electricity, recharging the device’s battery at a distance of up to 3 feet.

Picture your cell phone charging up the second you sit down at your desk, and you start to get a sense of the opportunity. How big can it get? “The sky’s the limit,” says John Shearer, Powercast’s founder and CEO. He estimates shipping “many millions of units” by the end of 2008. (Quote from Business 2.0)

The technology is not quite ready to charge large consumer devices like laptops, which currently require more power than what can be effectively generated by this technology; however, as manufactures continue to develop laptops with increasingly lower power consumption, this might become feasible in a few years.

Personally, I am pretty excited about this. I tend to charge my electronic devices in the living room, and I am constantly tripping over cell phone chargers, laptop cords, iPod connectors, etc. Being able to plug a charger into an out of the way location to charge a cell phone sitting on a table without any wires is really cool!

GPL v3: Yet Another Draft

The FSF has released yet another draft of the GPL v3 today. Needless to say, people are getting pretty frustrated by the lack of progress and difficulty in completing this update to the GPL. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols on Linux-Watch considers how much longer it could possibly take: “Mid-2007? At least. Late 2007? Quite likely. 2008? Could be. 2010!? I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Allison Randal at O’Reilly is pretty skeptical, and I have to admit that I have heard similar skepticism from others, including many who have been strong supporters of the FSF for years:

“I will say this much: I’m a believer in free software, and in the importance of free software in advancing the freedoms of individuals. But I’m beginning to lose confidence in the FSF as the primary defender of free software principles. The image they’re projecting right now is more of an ineffectual nanny slapping the wrists of naughty children than it is of the bold community leader confidently striding on to the visionary future of the free software movement. It’s unfortunate. Maybe we’ll see change in this draft and the next. Maybe. (Quote from Allison Randal on the O’Reilly Radar)

At one point, I was following the changes and keeping up with the progress toward GPL v3, but I have to admit that toward the end of last year I gave up. I’ll read the final version if they ever manage to complete it.

Are You a Twitter Ninja?

Are You a Twitter Ninja?

News: Online or Print Format?

InfoWorld announced today that it is folding the print magazine to focus on events and online content. I think this is a good move for InfoWorld, and it made me think about how I personally use online and print content.

I still subscribe to several magazines, and it is a great format for anything that is not time sensitive – cooking, business analysis, etc.; however, I gave up my print copies of technology trade magazines and other news sources long ago in favor of online access facilitated by RSS feeds (official news sources, blogs, and podcasts). Technology moves way too quickly to be suited to longer lead time print format publications. Even articles in daily newspapers are usually out of date by the time the print version arrives on your doorstep.

Most of my daily news comes from podcasts, which I listen to during any downtime activities (getting ready for work in the morning, doing dishes / laundry, grocery shopping, driving, and much more). Podcasts are an ideal news format for me, since I can get quick snippets of news from NPR, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNET, InfoWorld, … If I need more details on any story, I can always check my RSS feeds or Google News to find a few in depth articles with more information.

Over time, I think that we will start to see news moving away from print sources in the direction of online content. Like with the InfoWorld example, this will happen first for technology publications. Although most newspapers have embraced online content, Newspapers will be one of the last to move their news to an online-only format. They are still the best source of news in rural areas and other places where access to the Internet is more difficult and for older readers who may never be comfortable using the Internet as a primary source of news. I could even see newspapers gradually shifting more of the news content onto the Internet while focusing the print version on news analysis, lifestyle (fashion, cooking, travel, etc.) and other features (comics, crossword puzzles, etc.) I still think that magazines have their place, but not as a primary source of news.