Sunday, November 23, 2008

Reflecting on the past

Towards the end of the last millenium I led the innovation and development activities at a Dutch technology start-up company called Small Planet Software based in Amsterdam.

From a standing start in December 1996 with an empty office and a blank sheet of paper it took a further three years of dazzling creativity and an extraordinary amount of individual personal sacrifice (which characterised this company) for the BeyondChat platform to be born.

Guy Chater, a British inventor whom I'd met during a visit to the Netherlands at the end of 1996, had shown me a VHS recording of a promotional movie that he'd had produced using actors to play a sequence of interactions using a mock-up 'future video-dating service', which was all based on an idea that he was keen commercialise.

I was imediatley sold on the idea and Guy recruited me as CTO to lead the product development. After moving to Amsterdam from Darmstadt in Germany where I'd been working in the same team as Don Box contibuting to the 'DCOM on Unix' work for Software AG, Small Planet quickly became my life for more than 3 years between the start of 1997 and mid-2000.

At Small Planet I built and managed an international team that included some of the most talented individuals I've ever worked with, and together we set about creating a completely new communications platform.

BeyondChat was the world's first software communication platform to allow visual filtering and visual selection of user-generated, multi-media profile content, from a dynamically updated visual directory service.

Before BeyondChat, the user experience for online communication services was highly fragmented based on many separate software applications such as CU-SeeMe and NetMeeting with Internet Locator Services, which were operated by many different service providers across disperate networks of varying quality.

BeyondChat successfully integrated multi-media profile creation and publishing with visual presence, visual Caller ID, video streaming, and videoconferencing along with functionality for micropayments, credit card transactions and CPA online advertising.

CamCrowd was a popular online community launched in 2000 using the BeyondChat software platform. CamCrowd targeted the then nascent worldwide market of home PC users having both webcams and broadband Internet access. CamCrowd supported a large service user community and massive concurrent usage.

Ultimately Small Planet would become just another casualty of the dotcom bubble. The BeyondChat intellectual property was lost to the Dutch bankruptcy administrators, although privately held patents have survived.

Building a start-up business and then loosing everything you've worked for during a bankruptcy is a truly spiritual experience. Typing this blog post now I realise that you never really forget the pain of the loss, but the more time passes it does become easier to reflect positively on the experience.

BeyondChat R.I.P.