Friday, March 22, 2013

Jon Williams - Consultant

After having been a full-time employee & CTO for the last 12 years, I am excited to announce that I am now doing full-time, independent consulting, as Gumtree Tech LLC. Consulting is not new to me, I was an independent consultant for 3 years from 1999 to 2001, helping large and small companies build web-based systems. This was also around the same time that I co-founded the New York CTO Club, so I have many found memories from that time.

I look forward to helping companies in NYC (and surrounds) manage technology, using the combination of my start-up digital experience and my corporate CTO experience. I've seen a lot, both what works and what doesn't.

Another exciting aspect of starting consulting is that there are so many productivity tools for small businesses today verses 1999, making the overhead of operating your own business much less laborious. The first three tools I am using in my business are Freshbooks, Asana, and Google Apps. Spreadsheets be gone!

This is a Gumtree, aka Eucalyptus, common throughout Australia (let me know if you can spot the Koala :-)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Started at Experian CheetahMail

I started this week as CTO of Experian CheetahMail,  an industry-leading email marketing provider of Experian Marketing Services, a division of Experian Group Ltd. (LSE:EXPN).

I am very excited to be joining a large software-as-a-service company, CheetahMail was started in New York City in 1998 and a dot-com success story. I look forward to combining my past corporate CTO experience with my recent start-up/online experience to help CheetahMail be a lead-edge user of technology for the benefit of our global customers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Common name...a curse in online profiles

Having a common name can be quite tricky online, and takes advanced planning to make sure you dont get left with a bad choice for username. As 'Jon Williams', I try to be the first one claiming 'jonwilliams' in any new online system.

In the 90s and early 2000s when the online population was smaller, I was always successful. I got jonwilliams (at),, , and many other online accounts. I also claimed domain (which I dont use but own). But as the online population grew, my hit rate dropped. I missed jonwilliams (at) and jonwilliams on Facebook, but I did get jonwilliams on twitter. On linkedin, I had to take jonwill, but no big deal as it only shows up in my public profile link - . Since so many new online services become available weekly, I frequently find that jonwilliams is taken, most recently, jonwilliams on . If takes off, then I'll have to compromise with punctuation or numbers in my name!

Clearly, a single sign-on solution would solve this, but we still seem to be far away from this. Microsoft Passport was a colossal failure. Facebook has done a successful job of single sign-on, but I am not comfortable using that for accounts that may have my credit card. Google may become a standard here, but then I will be jonaussie (at) everywhere.

I have some friends with unique single word name handles, like glemak or r0ml, but for me this would feel like I have decided to rename myself to sound like a new start-up (like jonio or jonwillr?). I feel sure this multiple account dilema will go away in the distant future, but for now, I'll keep claiming jonwilliams whenever I can!

... and my apologies to all the other Jon Williams's out there, I feel your pain.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Switched from Blackberry to Droid Pro

UPDATE - 2/19/2012 - Newly acquired a Droid 4, replacing my DroidPro. First Reaction - Much Better! Definitely way faster. Will post new blog post soon.

UPDATE - 3/23/2013 - I am ready to dump my keyboard, and go full touch screen, but awaiting Verizon contractual obligations until October. The main change in my usage is...type less! With wireless everywhere, I spend more time on my MacBook.
I've been using Droid Pro (Verizon) for one week now, having ditched my Blackberry after 9 loyal years as a thumb user. I was a Blackberry power user, and I have been waiting years for a device like the Droid Pro because I must have a physical, usable, tactile keyboard. It was difficult not to get an iPhone, watching other developers and CTOs enjoy them, but in the end I decided that the iPhone is just not a business email device.

My verdict is... Droid Pro beats Blackberry. I am still getting past some significant keyboard differences, see below. A number of journalists have written reviews comparing the two devices, but with so many smart-phone devices available now, it wasn't really that useful to a long-time Blackberry user like myself. Here is my review (in bullet form)...

  • Much better notification controls than Blackberry, can configure both sound and vibration for different apps
  • Getting to phone, gmail, yahoo mail, text messaging, calendar, and much easier than Blackberry
  • Keyboard is almost on par, with one major exception (see 'Cons')
  • Screen timeout, controls, off in pocket all work extremely well. Only bug is screen sometimes flips between portrait/landscape when first coming our of pocket and activating
  • Apps work fantastic, very much like iPhone (I know, IPhone nailed this years ago). My Blackberry 8300 SUCKED at this, and probably always will
  • In general, seems highly configurable as a phone and apps.
  • LOVE Verizon, always works for me in the NYC area and when traveling
  • MAJOR Keyboard issue - When hitting keys in top qwerty row, I frequently also hit touch screen command with my fat thumbs (menu/home/back/search), which jumps out of the app I am typing into. Took me a few days to figure out what was happening. Now that I am watchful, happening less, but needs resolution
  • MINOR keyboard issue - No capital letter on key hold-down, must hit shift (I often used this feature on Blackberry)
  • Battery runs out before end of day. I have 2 chargers, one at work and one at home
  • Reading email always seems to be an extra click away, but getting used to it
  • Contacts are a little slower (I have over a thousand), not quite as easy as Blackberry, but getting used to it
Things I haven't yet figured out
  • I like notifications (drag top down to see what's new since last use, email, apps, etc), but haven't quite figured out how best to use
  • How to easily take multiple notes/files? (on Blackberry, was Notes function)
  • Different apps for same function (i.e. text messaging), always prompts me for which one on action, annoying and caused me deinstall 2nd text message app I was testing
  • Allows me to send text messages to non-mobile phone numbers, why? It's just stupid.
  • No easy way to show unread emails in gmail or yahoo mail
The Droid Pro is definitely a learning experience, but after just one short week, I am hooked.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What is "Open"?

I am a huge advocate of open source software, and now that I am CTO at an open textbook company, I am pondering the question "What is open?". Let me use the moniker "open product" for covering open source software and open textbooks (and if anyone has a better term, please let me know!).

Some criteria for an open product:-
1) A version of product available at no cost
2) A company developing an open product needs a revenue stream to support product development (in what manner those revenues are derived can vary widely)
3) Product needs to be remixable (in technology parlance, "mashable"), allowing for an even better product or use of product

As an open source expert once told me, "without revenue, there is no open source". I believe this applies to all open products.

Many, many products meet the above criteria for "open", let me pick a few:-
- Linux
- Google search
- Flat World Knowledge open textbooks

Not to say Flat World Knowledge open textbooks are in the same league as Linux and Google, but what's interesting is that each of these products provides different revenue streams. Redhat makes revenue by providing support to enterprise Linux users. Additionally, other companies like HP make revenue using Linux on their hardware (HP has claimed that open source software has accounted for billions in indirect, additional revenue sales). Google makes revenue selling keyword and ad placement inside their search results. Of all the open products, in my opinion Google has made the most significant revenue, and interestingly using that revenue to support other open products (i.e. Google docs, email, maps, etc.), which in turn can drive additional revenue.

At Flat World Knowledge, our revenue stream is selling print-on-demand textbooks in addition to our no cost online textbooks. We also sell additional material useful for students, including audio study guides, flash cards and quizzes.

In open source software, you get the "source code", which itself is changable and remixable (depending on creative commons licensing terms). At Flat World Knowledge, our open textbooks are "customizable" (i.e. changable) by educators who adopt our textbooks. They can move chapters and sections around, add anotations, and in the future do many other customizations with our open textbooks. It really is quite amazing how open products have really changed they way products are developed and used, with many, many more changes to come!

With new technology, the tech community at large looks for a moniker to understand and grab on for new concepts. Recent ones include "web 2.0", "cloud computing", and "NoSQL". I wonder what is the best moniker for covering open source software, open textbooks, open courseware, and other "open" things as a group? What about "open product"? I would like to hear from others if this works for the category, or if they have or have heard of better terms. Clearly, this is a space of growing interest, and we will benefit from have a term to describe this new concept wider than just open source software.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Started today at Flat World Knowledge

I started today as CTO at Flat World Knowledge, a publisher of open-source college text books (a good article describing the model here). It's very exciting to join a start-up and be in the education industry. I also like its similarities to the open source software industry.

While I've been on the corporate route since 2001, I've spent most of my career at small companies. I am really looking forward to the scrappiness and nimbleness of small. While I will be crazy busy, hoping I can regain my blogging activity.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How to choose between a Mac and a PC?

Simple. Is price the major factor in your purchase decision?
YES -> buy a PC
NO-> buy a Mac
Apologies to anyone who was expecting more. FYI, six months ago I purchased a MacBookPro, it had been 20 years since I my last Mac.

UPDATE 3/23/2013 - Never looked back from this decision, and have become a 100% Mac household. For startups in NYC, almost all are going with Macs. For developers, a non-brainer.