Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Russell Manley takes the reins at Fluidinfo

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Russell Manley became Fluidinfo CEO last November. Although many people are aware of the change, we’ve not announced it until now as we’ve been busy working on the new UI, have been settling in with how Russell is running the company, and he’s been getting to know our investors better.

Russell pointed me to Delicious back in late 2005, after he’d read the early work I did on Fluidinfo in the late 90s. That led directly to the founding of Fluidinfo in London. The corporate address was Russell’s home, and the two of us formed the board. Because we only needed programmers early on, we planned for Russell to join full time once the Fluidinfo architecture was developed and deployed and we had significant external interest. Last November Russell took the plunge, resigned from his London job, and took over from me as CEO.

Russell is extraordinarily competent. He spent 10 years as a “company doctor” in London. He went into a dozen companies as CFO, COO, or CEO, charged with turning them around. Walk around central London with him and it seems that almost everything you see he’s had a hand in running. The diversity of his operations and management experience is extraordinary. In 2005 he joined SMIF, a Secondary Market Infrastructure Fund, where he helped acquire, manage, and eventually sell hundreds of assets: long-term management contracts and debt on UK schools, motorways, hospitals, prisons etc. Russell was frequently in the middle of deals worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. SMIF sold themselves to Land Securities Group for $1.4B, where Russell became an Investment Director. Soon afterwards he and a few others spun themselves out of Land Securities to form Semperian. Russell became Group Communications Director and also CIO. He directed the set-up of their entire IT infrastructure in the clouds, a daring and difficult move to pull off in 2007, especially with the stakes so high (Semperian supports about $3B of public sector infrastructure). Russell devised and ran Semperian’s company systems and processes and sat on the board of over 30 companies. Just before joining Fluidinfo he spent 9 months restructuring one of their companies and then negotiating its very complex sale. In the final act he spent two full days signing the 600+ documents he’d coordinated among 28 parties involved in the sale. He knows how to close a deal.

That’s just a sample of Russell’s background and skills—there’s a lot more where that came from. As you can probably guess, we’re extremely happy to now have him running Fluidinfo :-)

Neil Levine joins Fluidinfo as VP Product

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

We’re delighted to announce that Neil Levine (LinkedIn, Twitter) has today joined Fluidinfo as VP Product. Neil has been working in the industry for over 17 years and has a great track record of taking both consumer and enterprise products to market, most notably at Canonical, where he was VP of Corporate Services and also Director of Information Infrastructure. He’s based in the Bay Area.

I met Neil a year ago via an introduction from Jamu Kakar (also of Fluidinfo). Neil had been Jamu’s boss at Canonical, and had a stellar reputation. We got on really well immediately, and stayed in contact. I often wondered if one day we’d be lucky enough to find someone like Neil to join us on the product side. We’ve always been careful and patient in hiring, looking for people we think are brilliant and who really “get” Fluidinfo at a fundamental level. People who can’t stop thinking about what a Fluidinfo-enabled future could offer. Neil certainly fits that category, and we’re thrilled to have him on board. So, please join us in welcoming him to the team!

How we built the O’Reilly API using Fluidinfo

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve imported the O’Reilly catalogue into Fluidinfo thus giving them an instantly writable API for their data.

How did we do it..?

There were three basic steps:

  1. Get the raw data.
  2. Clean the raw data.
  3. Import the cleaned data.

That’s it!

I’ll take each step in detail…

Get the raw data

Since we didn’t have an existing raw dump of the data nor access to O’Reilly’s database we had to think of some other way to get the catalogue. We found that O’Reilly had two different existing data services we could use: OPMI (O’Reilly Product Metadata Interface) and an affiliate’s API within Safari.

Unfortunately the RDF returned from OPMI is complicated. We’d either have to become experts in RDF or learn how to use a specialist library to get at the data we were interested in. We didn’t have time to pursue either of these avenues. The other alternative, the Safari service, just didn’t work as advertised. :-(

Then we remembered learning about @frabcus and @amcguire62‘s ScraperWiki project.

Put simply, ScraperWiki allows you to write scripts that scrape (extract) information from websites and store the results for retrieval later. The “wiki” aspect of the ScraperWiki name comes from its collaborative development environment where users can share their scripts and the resulting raw data.

In any case, a couple of hours later I had the beginnings of a batched up script for scraping information from the O’Reilly catalogue on the oreilly.com website. After some tests and refactoring ScraperWiki started to do its stuff. The result was a data dump in the easy to understand and manipulate CSV or JSON formats. ScraperWiki saves the day!

Clean the raw data

This involved massaging the raw data into a meaningful structure that corresponded to the namespaces, tags and tag-values we were going to use in Fluidinfo. We also extracted some useful information from the raw data. For example, we made sure the publication date of each work was also stored in a machine-readable value. Finally, we checked that all the authors and books matched up.

Most of this work was done by a single Python script. It loaded the raw data (in JSON format), cleaned it and saved the cleaned data as another JSON file. This meant that we could re-clean the raw data any number of times when we got things wrong or needed to change anything. Since this was all done in-memory it was also very fast.

The file containing the cleaned data was simply a list of JSON objects that mapped to objects in Fluidinfo. The attributes of each JSON object corresponded to the tags and associated values to be imported.

Import the cleaned data

This stage took place in two parts:

  1. Create the required namespaces and tags
  2. Import the data by annotating objects

Given the cleaned data we were able to create the required namespaces and tags. You can see the resulting tree-like structure in the Fluidinfo explorer (on the left hand side).

Next, we simply iterated over the list of JSON objects and pushed them into Fluidinfo. (It’s important to note is that network latency means that importing data can seem to take a while. We’re well aware of this and will be blogging about best practices at a later date.)

That’s it!

We used Ali Afshar’s excellent FOM (Fluid Object Mapper) library for both creating the namespace and tags and importing the JSON objects into Fluidinfo and elements of flimp (the FLuid IMPorter) for pushing the JSON into FOM.

What have we learned..? The most time consuming part of the exercise was scraping the data. The next most time consuming aspect was agreeing how to organise it. The actual import of the data didn’t take long at all.

Given access to the raw data and a well thought out schema we could have done this in an afternoon.

O’Reilly Fluidinfo Chrome extension

Monday, March 21st, 2011

To help people get going with the API competition announced today on the O’Reilly Radar site, Emanuel Carnevale has written a cool extension for Google’s Chrome browser. The extension shows some of the non-O’Reilly tags on the book objects and also lets you indicate which O’Reilly books you own. It does this by putting tags onto the objects representing O’Reilly books in Fluidinfo.

To install the extension onto your Chrome browser click on the following link (from within Chrome): https://fluiddb.fluidinfo.com/about/oreilly.com/fluidinfo/chrome-extension.crx. Your browser will guide you through what to do. It’s pretty obvious stuff. Once it’s installed you’ll see a new icon in the top right hand corner of the browser window between the address bar and the little spanner icon:

Click the icon and sign in with your Fluidinfo credentials. If you don’t yet have an account on Fluidinfo you can sign up here.

How do you use it..?

Simple. Go visit the O’Reilly catalog and click on one of the books you own. For example, I happen to be the proud owner of Natural Language Processing with Python. If you visit the page for the book you’ll notice a new small Fluidinfo icon in the book details:


Click the icon and you’ll see a pop-up like this:

You can click on the appropriate statement at bottom to indicate ownership or not, as the case may be.

The writable API gives us all a voice

The extension uses an “owns” tag in your top-level Fluidinfo namespace to indicate book ownership on the objects in Fluidinfo. For example, my tag is called “ntoll/owns”. The extension attaches this tag to the object representing the O’Reilly book whose page you are visiting.

Because the extension tags the exact same Fluidinfo objects that have the O’Reilly information, I can start to do some really cool searches. For example, I happen to know Terry has a particularly large O’Reilly “zoo” as do I (in fact, doesn’t every developer..?). We can see what books we both own about Python with the following query:

oreilly.com/title matches "Python" and has terrycojones/owns and has ntoll/owns

The following code snippet for running this query uses the fluidinfo.py client library from within the Python shell. Alternatively, you can see the result directly if you visit this URL.

>>> import fluidinfo
>>> import pprint
>>> headers, result = fluidinfo.call('GET', '/values', tags=['oreilly.com/title',], query='oreilly.com/title matches "Python" and has terrycojones/owns and has ntoll/owns')
>>> pprint.pprint(result)
{u'results': {u'id': {
                      u'01371c03-9097-4267-a137-ae88a23790ef': {u'oreilly.com/title': {u'value': u'Python Pocket Reference, Fourth Edition'}},
                      u'4e9c42b6-68cb-43f5-9b75-60af9c0bd5a7': {u'oreilly.com/title': {u'value': u'Programming Python, Fourth Edition'}},
                      u'cd0838db-96ae-42ae-98c9-248a1507e2bb': {u'oreilly.com/title': {u'value': u'Python in a Nutshell, Second Edition'}}}}}

This illustrates how anyone can add tags to the objects being used by O’Reilly, and can then search based on their own additions and those of others. That’s why we say that Fluidinfo provides writable APIs. Cool :-)

Run with it!

There’s obviously a lot more that could be done with this extension. We kept it simple mainly because we wanted to give an example of how such an extension could be written. We hope it can provide a basis for your own efforts, especially if you’re entering the O’Reilly API competition. Emanuel has released the source code for the extension so you can grab it from Github and take it from there!

Fluidinfo named as Tim O’Reilly’s favorite startup

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Image credit: The Guardian

Tim O’Reilly was interviewed by Jason Calacanis on stage on the opening day of SXSW last week. Jason asked Tim to name his favorite start-up and Tim nominated Fluidinfo! Thanks Tim :-)

You can read excerpts from the interview in A SXSW fireside chat with Tim O’Reilly and Jason Calacanis on the TechChi blog:

O’Reilly’s favorite startup is Terry Jones’ Fluidinfo “because I’m not sure it’s going to work. He’s got his teeth into something that is bigger than he is. He may be overwhelmed and he may not get it,” O’Reilly said.” That passion it’s kind of like the Wright Brothers that wanted to fly or Thomas Edison and the light bulb… It’s not the entrepreneur chasing the million bucks, it’s the entrepreneur chasing the big idea.”

The interview was also picked up in a Business Insider article: Tim O’Reilly’s Favorite Startup.

Wanted: a UI/UX virtuoso who wants to help change the world

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Image: brandon shigeta

Fluidinfo is an always-writable information layer designed to hold metadata of any type about anything. It has an information model simple enough for everyone to understand – as simple as using Post-it notes. We’ve reached the point in development where we want people as well as applications to be able to create and interact directly with information in Fluidinfo.

Our core and driving passions are based on thinking about how humans work with information: how we find, consume, create, remember, organize, and share. We’re looking for a UI/UX wizard who also thinks and cares deeply about these things, and who has experience and exquisite taste in building elegant and super low-friction interfaces to information. Someone who can tell us what Tufte got wrong, and why.

Most of our computational experiences take place in read-only environments, or ones in which we can only add information in ways that have been anticipated and approved. This read-only world makes working with information using a computer very unlike the way we work with information in the natural world. A read-only world inhibits ad hoc, creative, unanticipated uses of information. It inhibits personalization and customization and therefore effective filtering. It is wrong because it puts information ontology ahead of evolution, inhibiting the natural emergence of information communication conventions like @addressing and hashtags.

With Fluidinfo we’re trying to imagine and build a computational world in which we always have write permission. In which people are free to add information to anything – to personalize and customize, to filter and search on their information and combinations of information. A computational world in which we can collectively make information more valuable by storing it in context.

There’s a huge and challenging UX/UI component to this. We believe humans are actually very good at working with raw information. It’s applications that are confusing. Part of our challenge is to create an interface to anything (i.e., in a web of things sense) and to do so in as transparent a manner as possible.

We’ve been thinking about these ideas for years and have built Fluidinfo as a platform to support this kind of simple and always-writable information storage. Now we want to put a face on it and we’re looking for someone truly great to join us.

About Fluidinfo Inc.

Fluidinfo is an angel and VC backed start-up based in New York, which is where we want you. (Our development team is currently distributed.) We have a world-class set of investors, including: Betaworks, IA Ventures, RRE Ventures, Lerer Ventures, Chris Dixon and the Founder Collective, Esther Dyson, Tim O’Reilly, Joshua Schacter, Michael Parekh, and Andrew Rasiej.

We’ve been quietly working on architecture since our seed funding in 2010, but are now starting to show the world the kinds of things we want to enable. Just for a small taste, read about the writable API we recently built for BoingBoing in a single evening, or how to use Fluidinfo to put metadata onto tweets. To get a flavor of what Fluidinfo is aiming at, see Truly Social Data, Information. Naturally, Fluidinfo as a universal metadata engine, and Kaleidoscope: 10 takes on Fluidinfo.

We also have some exciting news coming up on Feb 14 at the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference in NY, so keep an eye out for that too.

About you

We’re not going to tell you in detail what skills you need, because you’ll hopefully know that better than we do.

As a guideline though, in terms of technology for UI, we’re mainly interested in things built using ubiquitous web tools and standards like HTML5 and Javascript. We’re less keen on Flash, and cannot stomach heavyweight proprietary UI platforms. Anything that requires a clunky download is a non-starter. We do everything with Linux and will be very happy if you know your way around that world too. Experience with mobile or desktop UI/UX will also be valuable.

The three most important things we’re looking for are, in order of importance: 1) brilliance in UX/UI thought and execution; 2) proficiency in building dynamic web content with Javascript / modern HTML etc; 3) graphic design skill or experience working with graphic design teams to convert working prototypes into beautiful products. 1 and 2 are much more important than 3.

Above all though, you need to be able to show us interactive interfaces you’ve built or designed, be passionate about UI/UX, and be able to talk convincingly and in depth about what makes things work and not work.

Hiring process

To apply, send email to jobs at fluidinfo dotcom and include:

  • An outline of why you’d like to join Fluidinfo
  • A CV
  • Pointers to your previous work
  • Names and contact details of at least two references

Hiring will involve initial telephone/skype interviews, to be followed by in-person interview(s).