Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Interview with Phil Windley, Kynetx
One of the biggest areas of innovation in the web space in the last year has been in real-time search and interaction -- the use of social media, social networking, and other interactive websites. One of the local startups focusing on that market is Kynetx (www.kynetx.com), a developer of a platform used to power web experiences. The firm is headed by Phil Windley, a serial entrepreneur whose credits include cofounding and selling iMall to Excite@Home in a $450M deal in 1999, and heading up Utah's information technology efforts as CIO. We caught up with Phil, who is co-founder and CTO of the firm, to hear more about Kynetx, as well as the firm's conference in March featuring Robert Scoble and Doc Searls, among others.
Phil, thanks for the time. For those who haven't heard of your company, what is Kynetx all about?
Phil Windley: Kyntex provides a development platform that allows developers to create what we call Live Web experiences. We view the live Web as the next evolution of the Internet, going beyond the interactive websites of Web 2.0 to provide an even richer, more compelling experience for users online. We have a development platform which makes it easy to create these types of experiences.
When you say "beyond Web 2.0", what do you mean?
Phil Windley: The Live Web is an idea that got started seven or eight years ago, when people realized that as people were creating content -- in particular, bloggers -- and that content was syndicated by RSS, search engine pages which were ranking items by relevancy were not necessarily giving you the most recent data. It might be that you said something yesterday about at topic you are interested in on a blog, but because it did not have the right links, it just wouldn't show up in Google PageRank. The idea behind the Live Web started with the idea that search results need to be ranked not just based on relevance, but also on timeliness. The Live Web already surrounds us, but we're continually seeing more and more real time data coming online. The things that people are most familiar with are Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare updates. Those kinds of live data feeds create a different kind of experience online. If you think about Twitter, it's not so much of a web site, or a Web 2.0 service--it's not a place where people to go to interact. Twitter is, instead, a service, which you can use for weeks without going to the Twitter web site. It's nota bout the website, it's about having real time data and figuring out what you can do with that data to make an interesting experience.
How are people using your platform, then?
Phil Windley: The idea of the live web is pretty grandiose. We have a few examples of what people might do with our tools. I mentioned that the Live Web is about timeliness, but it goes beyond timeliness to something we call context. If you think about Web 2.0, each website has context -- when you're in Mint, it's different than when you're in Facebook, and it's different than when you are using Twitter. As users go from website to website, there is a different context they establish. So, one of the applications a developer has created using our tools is called Hover Me (www.hvr.me), which tries to knit together the context from various social media services. Rather than the silo'd experience in Twitter or Facebook it tries to pull that context together. If However Me is installed, and if you're on Twitter, if you mouse over someone's name it will show the social network they are on, showing you where they are in Facebook, where they are in Foursquare, and where they are in Flickr. Likewise, if you were on Facebook, it would show where they are on Twitter.
It might be interesting for our readers to understand your prior background--could you talk about that a little bit?
Phil Windley: I consider myself, at my most basic, a computer science professor. That's what I set out to do in life, and was what I trained to do. I've been in and out of the university throughout my career. I kept quitting to start companies, or do other things that seemed interesting. In 1994, a friend of mine and I created the company that became iMall. We were one of the earliest e-commerce companies, selling products online even before the term "e-commerce" was coined. We eventually sold the company to Excite@Home for $450M, in 1999. Following that, I was CIO for the State of Utah for Governor Mike Leavitt, and helped the state launch Utah.gov. I went back to BYU after that, and then quit and started Kynetx just a few years ago with Steve Fulling, my longtime partner and friend in these different activities.
What made you feel like it was the right time for this technology and this company?
Phil Windley: One of the things that always interest me, is what John Hagel and John Seeley Brown are saying about shaping strategies. We're not only exploiting a niche in the market, but also creating and entirely new market. The idea of the system, about context and the live web, sort of grabbed me, in terms of being something that has the potential to change how people use the Internet, and how they do things online. iMall was a similar thing. In 1994, using the Internet to sell things was a really radical idea. Those kinds of ideals always fascinated me--using technology to change how people do things and make things better.
Tell us a little bit about the conference?
Phil Windley: This will be the third Kynetx Impact conference. It is a developer conference, where we reach out to the community of developers using our platform, to help them understand more fully the abilities our system have, and the philosophy around the Live Web. But, it's not just a training conference--we have a number of really exceptional keynotes from people like Doc Searls, Robert Scoble, Louis Gray, and Sam Ramji. All of these people are experts in their own right. They're not just there to talk about Kynetx, they are going to talk about the ideas of the Live Web. It's happening March 22nd and 23rd in Salt Lake, and is without a doubt the best tech conference in Salt Lake, and probably the best in the West.
Finally, what do you think people should be watching about the real time/live web?
Phil Windley: One of the things that is going to change how those services are perceived, and how people use them, is the addition of the thing we're calling context. Another way to think about it is personal data. There's a movement afoot in the area of personal data, the idea that people are exchanging data, going about the web and doing things, and creating information. If you have a way of capturing that data, and using that to your advantage, that would change how you use the web and change the experience you have on the web. If you can use tools like Kynetx to mash up that data, you have the opportunity to create a very compelling experience, which is richer and much different than what you see today.