The search for the elusive desktop RSS reader

 If you are searching for the perfect Desktop application for your PC, so you can read all of your blogs in one place, search no more. Literally. Stop looking. It does not exist!

I started the search for the perfect PC desktop news reader so I could scan all of the blogs that I like to read, in one place. Should have been easy. There were, after all, about a 100 blog reader applications to choose from. After several wasted hours - nothing!

  The Desktop RSS readers are vanishing - and with good reason. They leave a lot to be desired.

Here’s a round up of the desktop blog readers that we tried. Some of these (Snarfer, RSS Bandit) had received high ratings from sites such as CNET’s They work in similar fashion. You download the program and click on the web feeds that you want to read from a pre-selected menu of blog choices in several categories such as business and tech. You have the option of adding feeds for other sites that you like to visit.

Feed reader Price Issues
Snarfer Free Failed to install.Abandoned after two attempts.
RSS Bandit Free Installed ok, but never connected or displayed any posts
Microsoft MAX Free This reader is no longer available!
Google webclips Free Not a full featured reader but shows clips from sites that you visit. The reader “forgets” feeds that you have not read for a little while.


The biggest surprise was Microsoft Max desktop blog reader. They released in beta about a year ago. If you visit the Max page on the Microsoft site it says simply “Thank you for participating in the beta of Microsoft Codename Max. At this time, the Max services are no longer running“. It seems that Microsoft has abandoned the standalone Max for now, and moved on to bulking up the Microsoft Windows Live platform which has several new products including the Windows Live Writer for generating web content (which is a fabulous product, by the way), but no RSS readers as yet.

Google Webclips is not a blog reader per se - but pretty clever otherwise. It incorporates into Google desktop, and will show a feed of clips from websites that you visited recently, in the sidebar (if you have it turned on). The only problem is that it can pick up feeds from sites that you might have inadvertently landed upon but do not want to see clips from. You then have remove the feed. Also feeds that you explicitly add to the clips can vanish if you do not visit the web page for a while.

There are a few paid desktop news readers like NewsGator (19.95/yr), Attensa (20/yr) and Feeddemon ($29.95/yr) which we might check out in the future.

For now, if you are looking for a simple, “push” way of reading blogs, email is the best option (for example, if you enter your email in the box in the side bar of this blog you will get a daily digest of posts). As far as web based readers, there are several options that work well including Bloglines and the Google Reader.

Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web makes the case that Desktop RSS readers are nearly dead. They ran a poll to ask visitors which types of readers they were using in January 2007 and again in July 2007. According to their results, Web based readers grew the most (+7%) at the expense of Desktop readers which lost 6% market share.

Table courtesy of Read/Write Web:

Jul-07 Jan-07 Change
Web-based (e.g. Bloglines, Google Reader, Rojo) 59% 52% 7%
Desktop (e.g. FeedDemon, NetNewsWire) 13% 19% -6%
Start Page (Pageflakes, Netvibes, etc) 16% 16% no change
Browser (e.g. Firefox Live Bookmarks) 6% 8% -2%
Email or email-based client (e.g. Outlook, Thunderbird) 3% 3% no change
Social Network (Facebook, MySpace, etc) 0% - n/a
Other (please comment) 2% 2% no change

There is still a big need for a simple, easy to set-up desktop reader, and I am sure someone will come up with the perfect application soon. A free reader with a targeted “push” ad serving model - could be a winner!

Momentum Ventures: Helping start-ups start up

Momentum Ventures is a Venture fund in Los Angeles, CA, that funds early stage start ups, to get them ready for traditional VC investment. Rabinder Sekhon of Sekhon Advisers, writes about the fund, its investment strategy, and the work it does in getting start ups to the next level.

momentum ventures logo

As some first time entrepreneurs may already have experienced, attempting to get through to a VC with the hopes of securing a Series A round is really tough to do right now. There is a funding void left by VC firms shifting their investments downstream. This has left many unseasoned entrepreneurs to fend for themselves to bring great ideas to fruition.

Filling this void is Los Angeles based Momentum Venture Partners, founded in 2004 by a pair of veteran start-up executives - Matt Ridenour and Andy Wilson. Momentum works closely with a company’s founders to shape their business plan, find experienced management, finalize a product and gain customers - a process that typically takes about nine months to complete. At that point, they pitch the company to VCs with hopes of securing a $4 million to $5 million Series A round.

Picture courtesy Momentum Ventures

Momentum’s distinctive model dedicates far more time than a typical angel or seed-stage investor while also assuming considerable risk. A typical assignment begins with a six weeks first phase - usually for a fee of less than $20,000 - validating a business plan, building chemistry with the founder and carrying out due diligence before committing to the start-up. Upon approval, one of four Momentum partners then takes on an interim CEO role, moving the founder to the chief technology officer role. During the process, Momentum provides a bridge loan - typically $250,000 to $500,000 from a bridge fund pooled from high net worth individuals - to keep the company operating, all for a ‘nominal’ monthly stipend.

momentum ventures Andy Wilson, Stuart MacFarlane, Katic Cameron, Matt Riedenour, Dan Tamkin, Scott Shapiro of Momentum
Andy Wilson, Stuart MacFarlane, Katie Cameron, Matt Ridenour, Dan Tamkin, Scott Shapiro of Momentum Ventures

Unlike a traditional VC who might split his/her time with many companies, Momentum partners typically work with, at the most, two companies at a time spending half of their time on each, with an operating associate subbing in the other half as a project manager and director of operations. Momentum’s ultimate goal is to deliver the company to venture capitalists and secure that first round of capital, when the firm’s bridge investment converts, often at a discount, into Series A preferred stock. It’s at this point the firm gets paid for its work after having deferred the majority of its management fees during the previous nine months.

So far all seven of its start-ups have made it to the Series A level, focusing on Los Angeles-area technology companies that require less than $10 million in funding to break even on a cash-flow basis. The seven have raised a total of $30 million in Series A funding. The firm had its first exit in 2006 when Discovery Communications Inc. acquired Academy123 Inc., which had raised a $5 million Series A round the year after Momentum brought the company to venture firms Arcturus Capital and Hanseatic Group.

Momentum is especially beneficial to VCs because it’s bringing only companies with proven business models and customers. From the point of view of the entrepreneur, Momentum understands what VCs want and helps clear up legal and other issues that prove invaluable to companies who make the grade to be part of the Momentum portfolio.

WSJ also covered Momentum Ventures this morning.

Roundup: Cleverest voicemail apps

There are several innovative voicemail applications that we have tested and reviewed recently. They all have very useful feature sets, with one or two whiz-bang elements that makes them quite unique.

Jott: This is a voicemail to text or voicemail to email service. You leave a voicemail message at the Jott phone number, from your registered cell phone, and the message gets translated into text and delivered to your email inbox or phone sms, if you send it to yourself (reminder, calendar item etc.), or it gets sent as an email to anyone you pick from your contacts list.

The strong point of Jott is that the translation is flawless. I’d really like to know how they do that! Having tried various desktop translation softwares, where you have to train the application endlessly to recognize your accent, I have yet to find one that has better than 90% accuracy. Yet Jott works with your normal speaking voice. One thing though, the text gets delivered after a few minutes of “processing”, so one wonders if there is not some human editing going on in the background.

YouMail: YouMail is a service that takes over the voicemail service from the carrier and routes it to their servers where you can pick up your voicemail in the usual way, or have it emailed it to you, and of course you can store it all forever.

The nicest feature of Youmail is the fun library of greetings that you can use to set up your outgoing greeting individually, by user. You can also add a “This phone is disconnected” message for people you don’t want to hear from, or use their famous “Ditchmail” for unwelcome suitors.

CAllWave is a voice mail and voice to text service. Callwave lets you set up a voicemail box on their server so your callers can leave you messages.

The really useful feature is that the messages get translated into text and forwarded into your email inbox or to SMS on your cell phone, in text form, along with the name of the person who called (from the caller ID). The text translation does not work perfectly but you can get the gist of what the caller is trying to say. The ability to “read” the voicemail (specially when you are in meetings) - and getting it filed in text fashion in your inbox is a huge plus.

Pinger is a hands free alternative to SMS. It is unobtrusive voicemail that you leave for others. If someone is in a meeting and you don’t want to bother them, you “ping” them, ie leave a voicemail on their cell phone number. The Pinger site lets you check if they picked up your message. You can also use the service like an audio Twitter, where you leave voice clips on a website using an embedable widget.

With the carriers focusing on the size of their customer bases, and innovating very little over the last decade in the areas of messaging or voicemail, the door is open for entrepreneurial companies to develop exciting applications which make the mobile phone not only more useful, but more fun. It would not take a crystal ball to see some of the carriers snapping up these companies in the future when they find that consumers are beginning to expect more clever features on their mobile phones.

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Do Entrepreneurs have ADD?

Finely honed instincts, the ability to make split second decisions, and the agility to change directions in an instant - these characteristics are all the hallmarks of a great entrepreneur. But these are also the attributes of the classic “hunter” profile of a person with ADD.

egyptian hunterThe Hunter Vs. Farmer hypothesis was proposed by Thom Hartmann in an attempt to explaining possible origins of the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The classic “hunter” profile describes a nomad, who is always on the lookout for the next big kill. For the hunter, the excitement lies in planning the hunt, and executing the strategy. After the thrill of success, it is time to move on to the next hunt. A nomad at heart, the hunter is rarely satisfied with resting on his or her laurels for very long.

egyptian farmerIn contrast, the “farmer” profile portrays a person whose life is centered around a predictable life of sowing and gathering. Risk is mitigated through meticulous long term planning.

Over the centuries, farming populations have generally enjoyed more prosperity and stability over nomadic tribes. On average, farmers have more wealth, whereas the distribution of wealth among hunters is highly variable. While hunters move between feast and famine, there are, indeed, the small numbers of super-hunters who will make the big kill, and reach the pinnacle of success.

It is indeed the lure of the big prize, that motivates and drives most entrepreneurs, and makes them strive towards reaching greater heights. At the basis of the hunter-farmer theory is the feature of “hyperfocus” that successful entrepreneurs seem to universally posses. Hyperfocus is a form of mental concentration that is a benefit of ADD, and enables a person to accomplish very specific goals.

While hyperfocus is actually a gift, it can give a person a bad reputation as being absentminded because of ignoring events around them that do not pertain to reaching the goal, or for kids with ADD to be considered as “disrespectful of authority”.

egyptian farmerThe hunter-gatherer hypothesis seems to find parallels in the field of entrepreneurism. There is the prevalent feeling that an entrepreneur who starts a company might not indeed be the right person to continue to lead it once the organization has grown to a certain level. While a VC attempting to remove a founder from a company, and bringing in the “right kind of CEO” to lead it, is looked down in general by entrepreneurs, there might, in some cases, be a good reason for doing this. The “hunter” personality - the visionary - who initially leads the company, might one day need to hand the reigns over to the “farmer” - someone who excels at building teams, rules by consensus, and believes in meticulously planning where the company will be in a few years.

The lifecycle of many companies might indeed demand that it be driven by a hunter in the early part of its cycle and transition on to being led by a farmer as it matures - such as Ebay chairman Pierre Omidyar handing over the reigns to Meg Whitman, when the company got to a certain size. However, there have been as many examples of entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates, who lead Microsoft from a garage (dorm room) startup to a monolithic company. Yet again, there are examples of visionaries such as Steve Jobs and Michael Dell who left their companies (Apple, Dell) and then returned to re-innovate and re-invigorate their respective enterprises.

So while starting a company might indeed require the hunter mentality, the growth and future success of the company might call for the initial pioneer to either transition into a more “farming” mind set as the company grows, or find someone with the right skill set to take the company to the next level.

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