Sarah Culberson Has a Blog, Too!

With all due credit to Preston Smalley, for officially outing Sarah’s new blog recently.

Sarah Culberson is an interaction designer at eBay.  Although she doesn’t hang out with me as much any more, now that we work in separate buildings, she has always been extremely patient as I walk her through my latest set of baby pictures of my two boys.

You learn a lot about people by reading their blogs… on Sarah’s I find immediately pointers to her online portfolio, and the more famous Sarah Culberson who shares her name.

When Sarah first joined eBay, she was assigned to a very difficult project called Flexible Categories where I was assigned as the product manager. She may not have realized it at the time, but that was a bad sign.  You see, in my first few years at eBay, I had a particular gift for taking on features and concepts that had been debated internally for years without resolution.  This was one of them, and I think she always blames me just a little for that project.

She did a great job on that project, though, and the design was so elegant that most users didn’t even realize we were running the test.

In any case, here is the link to Sarah’s blog, dubbed “Taste Tester”.  Enjoy.

Mobile Search: What are People Looking For?

I feel like I’m perpetually behind with my blog lately.  This tidbit is from a few days ago, but I think interesting enough to still warrant a post.

JumpTap has a nice chart out on their breakdown of search queries from mobile phones.  Turns out 12% of the queries can be classified as “adult” in nature.

A few years ago, I worked on the Search team at eBay, specializing in popularity data.  As a result, I was able to really go through the data to see what people were searching for, and in what volume.  It’s really an amazing insight to see the aggregated searches of millions of people together, ranked.  Even on this blog, I still get a kick out of seeing what searches people use to find these articles.

In some respects, I’m a bit surprised that the number is only 12%.  I’m not sure I know whether that is low or high.  Does anyone know the rough breakdown of adult queries for major search engines like Google or Yahoo?

So, I’ll leave this one with a question to my recently acquired friends at TellMe:

When mobile search moves from text to voice, are people as comfortable making adult queries?  Is there an equivalent to these search lists in the voice search space?

eBay Express Germany Trip Wrap-Up

I’m back from my trip to Berlin to visit eBay Germany.  It was a great week meeting with the teams responsible for eBay Express in the UK & DE.

I have a few more pictures that didn’t make the original post, so I thought it was worth a quick wrap-up post to capture them.  In case you missed the original, here is my first post on my trip to Berlin, and here is a second post about the eBay DE offices.

Here are a few pictures of the eBay Germany office.  Notice the volleyball court, the small pond & bridge, and the extremely large customer support building.  It was a really nice environment, and with nice weather, we were able to take a quick walk around the water after lunch each day.

DE4 DE3 DE2 

Here is an impromptu shot of the eBay Express leadership team, with the heads of the US, DE & UK sites.


Lastly, just a few quick shots from the gym at our hotel.  The Grand Hyatt in Berlin has a spa on the top floor which is apparently fairly well known.  The gym overlooks the whole city, and you look out from the room when running on the treadmills.  I took a couple shots at dusk (hence the poor focus) because the views were really great.

DE7 DE6 DE5 

Otherwise, that’s it from Berlin.  I seem to have avoided jet lag on the trip back, and got to enjoy a really great weekend with Carolyn & the boys.

I now have about 5-6 hours of absolutely crucial television to catch up on, including the last two episodes of Battlestar Galactica, 24, and Rome.  The Tivo is a stern task-master.

It’s nice to be home.

Microsoft Acquires TellMe

The big news today – the rumors are true.

Microsoft acquires TellMe

Congratulations to GS & JS, and the rest of the TellMe team. No financial details were disclosed, but rumors are for a price around $800 million. The company raised over $230M in capital, and employs 320 people (approximately).

There is a nice write-up on the acquisition from Don Dodge.

Here is a funny piece from Jason Steinhorn’s blog on the Microsoft “rumor” from a few weeks ago…

The lady doth protest too much, methinks
— William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

Who Is Voting For Sanjaya? (American Idol, Season 6, Top Twelve)

Funniest thing about today. It was a record day for my blog, almost 2,000 page views. I’m going to write a separate post about the metrics because they were pretty interesting.

The funny part is when I checked the #1 search term from outside search engines to my blog before watching the Americal Idol, Season 6, Top 12 announcements today, I found this phrase:

“who is voting for sanjaya”

Number 1 search term! Hilarious. All the hits went to this post.

Well, I don’t know who is voting for Sanjaya, but he’s now in the top twelve. Wow.

Really, I don’t know what to say. Maybe someone has actually figured out how to “crack” American Idol, kind of like the Google bombing from a few years ago. I can see some clever hackers laughing about it:

“Hey, what if we bring American Idol down?”

“How can we do that?”

“We’ll rig it so that Sanjaya wins”

Well, whatever Sanjaya has, I’m going to have to watch him sing at least one more time. Ouch.

Update (3/9/2007): The answer was found on Blogging Stocks. Apparently, there is a growing movement (as I suspected) to damage these shows by voting for the worst contestant! There are actually sites that are encouraging people to “Vote for the Worst”. And I was just kidding when I wrote this post originally!

Update (4/7/2007): All of a sudden, this blog post is getting thousands of hits a day again. I guess it is because we still have Sanjaya to kick around! The comment trail has become hilarious, so I’m approving them as fast as I can. Just for the record, it’s now well known that Vote For the Worst isn’t the only contributor here. Howard Stern on Sirius Radio has been stumping for Sanjaya with his millions of fans. Also, there definitely does seem to be a very real Sanjaya fan base, as embarrassing as that might be for those people.

Update (4/11/2007):  Nice coverage of the Sanjaya phenomenon on Newsvine, including a link to this post as one of five primary points outlining the causes.  Special kudos in the post to the elaborate comments here on Psychohistory…

The Winner of American Idol, Season 6, is Announced Early

OK, major spoiler alert.

Watching the American Idol announcement tonight about the next four voted off, I could help but feel somehow detached from each exit. Why? Because the winner of Season 6 has already been announced… by Jim Ambach.

Yes, Jim has a blog on eBay, and he posted yesterday his grand prediction: Melinda (not Melissa) Doolittle.

Well, we’ll see. Jim’s American Idol skills may be a bit rusty from the 2.5 years he recently spent living in Switzerland. I haven’t placed my bets for this season, yet, but I will tell you that the size of Melissa’s head does freak me out a little.

Since we’re on the topic of American Idol tonight, can someone please explain to me who is voting for Sanjaya, and why? Please comment.

Jim, if you are out there, please explain.

Update (5/21/2007):  Well, it’s obvious now that Jim was wrong in 2007.  Clearly all that time in Switzerland has affected his read of the American voter.  The final episode is tonight, and it’s hard to believe that Jordin won’t be crowned the winner for Season 6… that is, unless Melissa’s votes somehow make their way to Blake (unlikely).

Cross Platform Development, Round 2

Even though my blog is now over six months old, I continue to be flattered when I see links to my posts on other sites. I love clicking through each one, and seeing what the author found interesting about my comments and my site.

Most of the links incoming to my site recently have been about coins. Apparently, my write-ups on the new Presidential $1 Dollar Coin program are finding a fan base.

However, I saw an interesting incoming link from the blog of an old friend of mine, Tony Chor, who runs the Internet Explorer 7 team up at Microsoft. It’s called, Cross Platform Development, and it’s basically a refutation of my recent comments about Joost.

I left a comment on Tony’s blog, but I thought it was worth a follow-up post here.

First, let me just say, Tony has been a Program Manager at Microsoft since before I even declared Computer Science as my major at Stanford.  So he knows what he is talking about.

However, in this case, I want to explain a bit more about why I think that high-quality, cross-platform development is an excellent indicator of a great software team.

As Tony points out, writing great cross-platform code is hard. It is very easy to end up with “lowest common denominator” code. Also, if approached poorly, cross-platform development can include layers of code that hurt performance and optimization for any platform:

Also, in order to ease development, cross platform apps often have intermediate layers to factor out the underlying OS. These layers can impede performance and may prevent the app from taking advantage of native services like DirectX or Quartz. The resulting apps aren’t usually as fast as their native counterparts. Microsoft’s Mac apps certainly ran into this problem when writing cross platform “core code” apps on our Windows Layers for Macintosh (WLM) back in the mid ’90s (anyone remember Mac Word 6?)

Yes, I do remember Word 6. Ugh. What a mess. Unfortunately, that was a classic example of a very poorly implemented cross-platform framework, in my opinion. Rather than find commonality across high-level OS services, the Windows Layer Framework attempted to “reassemble” native high level services by re-aggregating low level services. Result? Great Windows application, since that was the model for Windows applications at the time. Terrible Mac application.

I know where Tony is coming from. IE 7 is a platform-specific application. They have not made the browser cross-platform, and Firefox has. Strategically, I believe this was likely a mistake, since it left an opening for a new entrant (Firefox) to enter a market that long since should have been closed. But I’m sure Tony & team have put a lot of thought into the implications of taking applications cross-platform.

It’s actually Tony’s last comment that I want to take issue with, however, in relation to my impression of Joost.

Finally, developing cross platform reduces the overall innovation a developer can provide. Building for multiple operating systems (or browsers) is never less work than building for one. The time spent architecting, coding, testing, and debugging for multiple platforms is time not spent adding new features, making the product more reliable or secure, or satisfying other user demands (or saving investors’ money).

There are certainly no guarantees of a gorgeous, OS-exploitive, fast application when you target only one OS, but it’s way harder when you are trying to serve multiple masters.

There’s no doubt that teams that can execute cross platform consistently well over time are probably great, but just think what they could accomplish if they chose to focus all that talent and energy on one platform.

This is where I have to humbly disagree. The top 10% of software engineers are not just a little bit better than the average software engineer. They are many, many times better. And in my limited experience, I have found that the great engineers can and do produce cross-platform applications that are best-in-class.

More importantly, I believe that being cross-platform makes great engineers better. Some of the best Windows engineers that I worked with in the late 1990s had a history of working on the Mac OS. There is something about an engineer who stays cross-platform that is like someone who learns multiple languages at an early age. They end up with an innate sense of architectural design and trade-offs that is so much deeper and more robust than a single-platform specialist.

True, I believe my biases are based more on entertainment applications than productivity applications. Bungie, before Microsoft acquired them, was an example of a company that produced great cross-platform games with simultaneous cross-platform release. Blizzard, makers of World of Warcraft, currently release their titles with simultaneous cross-platform release. Would their games be better, or more optimized, if they focused on a single platform? More importantly, would their releases be any more successful if they were single platform?

Maybe the difference is that an entertainment application, like a video game, has a custom interface that doesn’t have to live or work with other applications. They just take over your machine, for the most part. Productivity applications have to “play nice” – they need to look and behave like all of your other applications.

I’m not sure, but I will tell you this – I still believe that when you see rapid or simultaneous release of high-quality, cross-platform applications, in general you are looking at a very strong development team.

Many thanks again, Tony, for reading my post, and taking the time to respond. And sorry, by the way, that your site is now filled with Mac OS and Firefox ads… 🙂

Greg Bettinelli: All Growth is Sexy

People who know me also know that I am fairly competitive.  I like to be best-in-class, and I like to win.

However, sometimes you just have to admit when someone does you one better.

Greg Bettinelli, a friend from eBay, just started a new blog.  And it’s title is:

All Growth is Sexy

That is a great title.  I like the title of my blog, but man, that is a great title.

He got the quote from our recent talk that Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, gave at our recent eBay Leadership conference in December.

Greg has been a regular reader of this blog, and he’s actually cornered me a few times to either tell me he really liked an article (like this one on Employee Stock Purchase Plans), or to tell me he really didn’t like another (any post about Battlestar Galactica).

Greg is now working in the exciting world of eBay Tickets, with our new friends at StubHub.

Congratulations, Greg, on the new blog and the blog title.

Cisco buys Reactivity for $135 Million

Super quick post this morning, but I’ll flesh this out later today.

However, I had to say a big Congratulations to the entire Reactivity team, and in particular, the close friends of mine who are founders. John Lilly, Brian Roddy, Bryan Rollins & Mike Hanson, a very special congratulations. Mike & Brian, I think this means your going to be working for Cisco for a while. 🙂

Here is the official press release from the Reactivity website.

Reactivity was in the XML Gateway market, which means that they made a secure, fast box that would allow the routing of XML messages. For modern distributed development, which involves exchanging messages in the XML format, a new level of security and management software is needed.

I feel very close to Reactivity, even though officially I was never an employee. The company was founded while I was roommates with John Lilly, and I even attended one of the earliest (if not the earliest) classic Silicon Valley lunches where the model was sketched out on a napkin. The idea was to build a technology business around the very best people coming out of top schools – people who wanted to start their own companies, but hadn’t found the right mix of people or ideas to get going.

Reactivity’s original mail server was my old PowerMac 8500, and I believe my old color laser printer went into the company as well. Later in life, as a venture capitalist, I was able to consult and help advise structuring during their Series B. I always felt good when I could be helpful to my friends and to the company.

Reactivity went through several generations. It began as a stand-alone product consultant and innovation factory, incubating people and startups. They were the hot place to work in the late 1990s for smart, savvy Stanford & MIT engineers and entrepreneurs. Zaplet came out of the company, as did Raplix (which became CenterRun). They became VC backed, getting funding from Peter Fenton and Mitch Kapoor at Accel. In the downturn, the company re-started with a focus on product, and their new product and platform was born.

A special congratulations to the team again. What a great way to start a day. I’m going to have an extra spring in my step all through the week.

Update:  Some nice words from John Lilly, on his personal blog, about the acquisition and about this post.  Funny.  I forgot the laser printer was called the 800 lb. Gorilla.  It was an Apple Color Laserwriter 16/600.  It was HUGE and LOUD.  Funny.

Seema Shah has a new Blahg (Blog?)

Wow.  Seema is cold.  Ice running in her veins.

Check out this brush-off post to Blogger.  See ya.  It’s been fun.

She has now moved to

It’s funny, but I continue to get several hits a day from people who type “Seema Shah eBay” into Google.  Clearly, people want to find her blog, and somehow they use mine to find it.  So there you go.

Seema, if you see this, 100 bonus points for the Douglas Adams reference. 🙂

Nate Etter Has a Blog!

I love outing friends who have blogs.

Now, Nate, it’s your turn.

I’ve known Nate since, oh, sophomore year at Stanford. 1992 I believe was the year.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with Nate since the beginning of last year, when he joined eBay to take over product management for the Sell Your Item form.  He now runs the entire product team responsible for listing on eBay.

His blog is already making me feel a little guilty about not having more family pictures here… I’m going to have to work on that.

As a side note, I found Nate’s blog through a most interesting turn – the tag functionality. I’ve started noticing that WordPress itself is becoming one of the regular referrers of traffic to my blog. I think their on to something, by getting bloggers to discover each other, and by using tools like surfacing “hot blogs” and “hot posts” to bloggers. I think they sample through some posts all the time, on every page, giving everyone a little bit of exposure.

Ironically, I noticed that one of the tags that people were using to find my blog was “Friends”. I clicked on it, and I recognized Nate’s Skype icon as the icon for the blog.

Thank you, WordPress, for reconnecting us. At least, our blogs.

How I Spent My Birthday Weekend (2007)

This year was special, because the entire United States decided to celebrate a three day weekend in honor of my birthday. I thought I’d jot some notes for you on what I considered a really great birthday weekend:


  • Woke up (8:00 am)
  • Had breakfast with Jacob
  • Watched Joseph
  • Helped give Newton & Darwin a bath (my specialty is drying the beagles as they go through “Beagle frenzy”)
  • Went to lunch in Los Altos at Tour Eiffel with Carolyn & Jacob & Joseph (Vietnamese Pho)
  • Took Jacob to get his haircut
  • Got coffee with my Mom
  • Listed about 8 items for sale on eBay
  • Ate dinner with my parents
  • Put Jacob to bed


  • Woke up (8:00 am)
  • Had breakfast with Jacob
  • Read the NY Times Sunday Business & Week in Review
  • Went to lunch at On The Border in Milpitas with Carolyn (Jacob & Joseph napped the entire time!)
  • Spent a couple hours online
  • Went to my parents house for dinner with my brother & sister, parents, and grandparents.
  • Blew out birthday candles & opened presents
  • Went home late! Put the kids to bed.


  • Woke up (8:00 am)
  • Had breakfast with Jacob
  • Watched the two boys alone for an hour or two.
  • Watched the first two hours of 24
  • Went to lunch at Chili’s
  • Went to Costco
  • Set up my new GPS unit for my car
  • Went out to a movie, Children of Men, with Carolyn (alone!)
  • Came home, ate dinner.
  • Put Jacob to bed
  • Packed & Shipped the 12 successful items that closed on eBay over the weekend
  • Blogging

My time with Jacob & Joseph is so precious. They are growing so fast. This weekend was filled with so many great and simple moments with them. Even a trip to Costco is fun when you’ve got Jacob in the front of the cart, and you’re racing down the ramp. I’m not sure how it could have been better.

And that’s how I celebrated the big 100000 (binary), or the big 20 (hex).

For Anneliese: Puppies & Babies

I received a comment on my end-of-the-year post from an old co-worker, Anneliese.  She included a link to her blog, which I really don’t understand.  🙂

However, she said for a personal blog, I’m not including enough “Baby & Puppy” pictures.   Which is fair since I’ve posted at least two posts about my tomatoes from my garden, but no puppies.

Well, here’s a teaser picture.  A great image, captured by the famous Eric Cheng, of my son Jacob (2) and my first Beagle Newton (4).


The Starfish and the Spider

I don’t normally do this, but my friend John Lilly featured a book on his blog that sounds extremely interesting. I’m going to pick up a copy myself, but I thought I’d let other people know about it here as well.

John’s post can be found here:
The Starfish and the Spider, by Ori Brafman & Rod Beckstrom

John is a good friend of mine, and also currently happens to be the COO of Mozilla, makers of the ever cool Firefox browser. This is his personal blog, but hopefully he won’t mind a few extra page views today.

John & I pursued similar programs at Stanford, separated by two years. We were both Coordinators for the famous CS 198 program, and we both pursued a Master’s degree in Computer Science, with a focus on Human-Computer Interaction under Terry Winograd.

Like John, I haven’t read a good book on human-computer interaction and/or design in quite some time. But this one sounds extremely interesting and relevant. A quote from John’s summary:

The premise of this book is that there are a couple of very distinct models for organizations: centralized (the spider) and wholly decentralized (the starfish). The authors (Stanford GSBers, but worth reading in spite of that…) use this analogy: cut off the head of a spider and the spider dies. Cut off an arm of a starfish, and you often end up with two starfish. Starts by exploring the Spanish conquests of the Incas & Aztecs (spider organizations) and comparing them to the United States’ mostly ineffectual campaign against the Apaches (a starfish organization). The Apaches were harder to fight against because decisions weren’t made by any one person, but were made on what the US would have perceived as the edges — by medicine men who were empowered by their community. The strange thing (for the US, at any rate) was that whenever they killed any of these important people, more would spring up in their place. I thought it was interesting that the authors point to the US giving the Apaches cattle as something that ultimately led to the disintegration of their coherent society. (The implication here is that the sedentary nature of livestock & farming necessitated the creation of societal structures which were more centralized and less flexible — spider-thinking, where there was only starfish-thinking previously.)

Understanding the right organizational structure to produce truly excellent software is one of the reasons I pursued graduate programs in Human-Computer Interaction and Business.  With the incredible amount of innovation and dynamicism on the web and in e-commerce today, it’s an incredibly relevant subject.

I think I’m going to have to pick up a copy.