Sunday, October 12, 2008

Evri, a new way to view the internet

A few months ago I was searching for already developed semantic web application. I faced a limited access, beta version application named Evri so I registered in it. After a while I received an e-mail from Evri telling me that the service is no longer limited. I visited the site and I was instantly amazed but what it does. Evri helps you find connections between people, places and all kinds of stuff you might be reading about on the internet. It’s not a search engine so you don’t find a lot of information about the keywords you search for but it tells you what you are searching for is related to, giving you a way to find more information that might be useful to whatever you are doing. It provides a brief Wikipedia description of the keyword and the coolest Evri feature “the connections graph”. It is a simple flash graph that shows other objects on Evri that are connected to the object you are searching now. The rest of the UI is simple with a lot of information, pictures and even YouTube videos. The best way to know how cool it is is to go now and try it either by visiting Evri or using the small icon at the end of any of my blog posts.
On the technical side Evri uses a mix of natural language, learning and semantic algorithms to build its network of information connection. It’s build of the idea of giving machines the power to understand data and the relations between them not only process them as strings. That is very useful as it saves us the time we spend trying to match information and for sure it will enhances search results and enable the machine to do much more than it does now.
I am not sure if it’s going to be of daily use to anyone of us any soon, but I know that with their slogan "search less, understand more" it represents a future of easier to use internet, a semantic future.
Please comment with what you think of evri and the article.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A talk with Samer El Sahn The CEO of eSpace Technologies

“It's all about the team”, “The business plan comes first”, “We need more start ups”. Those are some of the sentences that was repeated during my talk with Samer El Sahn – CEO of eSpace technologies.
The business side of the developing world has always been one of my main interests so I could not waste the chance of having a conversation with the CEO of the company were I am training now. I am not a professional interviewer but I tried my best.

I decided to start by asking questions that I had when I read the IBM CEO global study for the year 2008. The study was titled “The enterprise of the future”. My first question was about the flexibility of a company and the ability to adapt market change. His answer focused on having a specific business plan that has everything obvious and clear especially how the project is going to make money. If the business plan was clear enough the manager shouldn't get carried away by all the possibilities that will appear along the way unless the targets of the project proved not to be worthy of the effort or the money. “Plans are made to be changed”, he said “As long as the change is done without losing the main focus of the project”.
My next question was about a belief I had which was that the career of any developer should end up with an office profession away from the developing and coding. I thought the seniors focus on the management and planning for a certain project or the company in general. But his answer showed that it was a wrong belief. The path of the your career is your choice.”At some point you will have to choose weather to take the managing path or the technical path”, he said. Mohamed Ali which was the CEO of eSpace chose to step down and preferred to be the CTO, and he still contributes to the codes of the products of eSpace.
Two days before I read about a technique of execution of processes. The new technique was mentioned in the last issue of the Harvard business review magazine. The technique is named execution-as-learning which was devised as replacement for execution-as-efficiency technique. So I asked about how eSpace evolved and learned. He told me that eSpace was based on learning from mistakes. He explained by saying that they found the process they are working to now now by trying different techniques and learning from the mistakes they have made. “It was all trial and error”, that's how he described it “But all of that could have been avoided if there was a system for sharing experience with investors and bigger companies”.
The following question was about how to guarantee the quality of the code that the developers produce. The answer was a little well known “code reviewing” but what is more important is what that question led to.“Developers are obsessed with their code that they forget about the user”, he said. Which brought us to an important point which is focusing on the users' need is much more important than focusing on the code as the user doesn't care about how the implementation is done; all that he cares about is the experience which he has when using the application. It's the user experience that matters. Leaving space for implementation improvement is important too, but delivering good user experience fast and often is much more important.
When asked about the Egyptian market he said that he saw it was not good. “The developing level here in Egypt is below expectations and can do much better”. I was shocked to hear that. When I prepared the question the night before I had other question depending on him saying it was good. I asked how can we improve the market here he answered without hesitation “We need more start ups”. He told me that our students now don't have the mentality of making a start up although our chances now are better as the number of investors ready to invest in start ups are more than ever. So I asked about what will he do to change that so he told me that he had planned to make sessions meant to change the mentality of the students. “It's a challenge but it pays off”, he said “You don't have to give up your right for a salary. The investors will fund your whole project. But you need to keep in mind that they are investing in you not the idea you are coming with. They are not investing in you alone, but they are investing the team. It's all about the team not the idea.”. A team that can get things done, that's what investors are looking for.
I asked him if he thought of a global future for eSpace and he said that they want to keep the structure of eSpace light and flexible, they don't want it to be a big heavy company and lose the agility they have now, and that's why they spread by making spin offs which was a new word for me. He explained by saying that they create other companies with independent management systems with eSpace having shares in it and that's how eSpace grows.
It was educating, surprising and fun. I hope you found it that too.