Thursday, July 29, 2010

Progress on privacy

When I took on the role as Spoke’s CEO, I committed that Privacy would be front and center to everything we do. At the time, I received touching and sometimes angry messages from some of you who were disappointed by Spoke’s perceived attitude towards privacy and the previous responsiveness to users’ request. While we can’t change what has been done in the past, we are committed to do what’s right in the future.

Working with our Privacy advisors, we conducted, at the time, an audit of Spoke’s practices and zeroed in on four major enhancement:

  1. People could not remove their public profile without registering;

  2. People who had registered could not cancel their registration;

  3. People had difficulty correcting their company profiles or personal profiles; and

  4. More importantly, our customer support was overwhelmed and was dealing with massive amount of users’ requests asking us to perform actions manually.

I committed to fixing those issues, and I am glad to report that we have released features (to fix those problems) ahead of schedule and, since June 1st, the majority of our users are taking advantage of the automated features we released. Additionally, we are now processing all manual requests in less than 48 hours, and finally have caught up with our customer support backlog. TRUSTe is also very satisfied with our efforts, and BBB has upgraded our site from F to B. We’re thrilled with the validation of our improvements, and continue to work very hard to get our BBB rating further elevated to an A- or an A.

Obviously, we are constantly reviewing our methods for collection, processing and disseminating information to make them even better, and we have many other features that we intend to release in the next few months (for example, ability to claim multiple profiles, highlight non co-workers on a person profile, etc.), so stay tuned and do not hesitate to reach out if you sense that we are not addressing issues timely enough.

We will post our Privacy Product Roadmap on Uservoice so you can comment on the features we want to develop. We want to deliver the privacy features that are users want to see, so please let us know what’s most important to you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The curious case of Spoke Software:

Today, I was exchanging emails with a Friend Venture Capitalist for whom I have a lot of respect for and verbatim here is what he wrote: “I generally tend to avoid start-ups that are getting long in the tooth, but would be happy to take a look at the executive summary if things have changed under your astute leadership.” As I didn’t know the expression “long in the tooth”, I went to check it on the dictionary, and it is usually used in the case of a horse because unlike humans’, horses’ teeth continue to grow with age so that you can make an estimate of a horse’s age by examining them. Of course, long in the tooth means old or very old.

Born in 2002, Spoke is indeed old and its teeth have probably grown a lot in the day and age of the Internet and can appear passé but I also feel that these observations don’t give justice to my daily experience in the office and working with the Spoke team. The reason is that I see them experiencing with new things: for instance, we are now implementing the latest and greatest technologies available: implementing Hadoop to process data and evaluating tools like Cassandra for scalable data storage and Solr or ElasticSearch for search. I also see on the business side our self service support team crunching through a backlog of 16,000 support requests in less than two months and our marketing team working really hard to implement our new vision. Yet, if I except Sherry Willhoite and myself, all have been there for more than four years and could be tired but they are energetic, engaged and dedicated. All virtues usually associated with youth.

In fact, when I see them, I can’t stop but thinking about “the curious case of Benjamin Button”, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. For those who have not read the book or seen the movie, this is the story of Benjamin Button who was born old and lives his life starting old and dying being a baby. Linda Silverstein described Benjamin’s state of mind very well: “Born at the most scorned of all ages, Benjamin never developed the arrogance of beautiful youth. Never really expecting anything, he enjoys everything. Always willing to try, he experiences things when those less prejudiced let him in. Age and physical appearance are curiosities to him because he knows that they herald his end, not his beginning.  Thus two central tenets of our lives are sent packing here — we are how we look and we are our age. Neither is true for Benjamin Button and they need not be the only truth in our lives either.  On the ship, somebody tells him: “Age don’t matter here- only can you do the work”.

Last Monday, during our company meeting, somebody asked how we felt about ourselves, the answer was that they found themselves being a collaborative team dedicated to innovation and focused on building a great product that a lot of people are going to use. Yes, indeed, this is the “Curious case of Spoke Software” that is developing right now right in front of my eyes.