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Why we invested $5 million in Attensa: RSS Investors Fund

News is out on the RSSI investment in Attensa, announced today. >
Red Herring

When John Palfrey, Richard Fishman and I founded the RSS Investors
, our aim was not simply to make money.  The idea was to
direct serious institutional funding to the syndication ecosystem, in
order to accelerate its growth and development as a whole.

Really Simple Syndication is, for us, a new web services design
that encompasses simple data interchange formats (RSS, OPML, SSE
), open, interconnected web superservices, and Web 2.0 businesses based
on end user solutions provided by networks of cooperating,
densely-interacting web services.  We knew that there were
thousands of entrepreneurs who saw the potential of syndication and Web
2.0 businesses, and that there were very few serious financial players
with any interest or knowledge at all.  Our goal was to change
that situation, and bring informed financial support to entrepreneurs.  The
growth of the RSS Web 2.0 ecosystem is my most important personal concern, and
this is what has guided my thinking about Attensa and other activities
in which I am engaged.

A key premise of our theory about the RSS ecosystem is that there are
vital elements of infrastructure
that are essential services for the community as a whole.  In
order for the community to grow, these platform services must be in
place, they must be affordable, and they must be open to third-party
applications and businesses.  One of
those essential services is “plumbing”–ultra-high-reliability RSS
traffic management, high volume routing. This is what Attensa provides.

A second premise of our theory is that while most of the dramatic growth
of syndication has currently been on the consumer side, the enterprise
side of syndication is already at an inflection point and is poised to
explode.   Within the past 18 months essentially all of the
world’s newspapers (e.g. New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, Seattle Post Intelligencer, LA Times) as well as online
news sources (BBC, MSN, Google), as well as video channels (ESPN, CBS
) have come online with RSS feeds. In many cases a single source
will have more than a hundred feeds.  Within the next 18 months
more than 110 million desktops will be fully RSS-oriented, due simply
to the distribution of Microsoft’s new operating system, Vista. 
The first desktops to be upgraded will be within enterprises.  At
the same time, enterprise sources of RSS are proliferating, for example
notably Charlie Wood’s Spanning Partners’ instrumenting of Salesforce.com outputs,
converting proprietary APIs to RSS.

To cope with this volume and complexity of traffic, enterprises need
partners that understand syndication, that understand corporate
requirements and culture, and that can lead them to realise the
reengineering potential of the new world of technology.  Attensa
is focused on doing just that.  Attensa is built around a core
team lead by Craig and Eric, who have accomplished similar
contributions in previous waves of technology, over the course of more
than a decade.

We put $5 million of RSSI money into Attensa, and were joined by
Attensa’s A round investor Smartforest.  We are pleased to be
joined by Smartforest.  Smartforest is a Portland-based venture
capital firm that is central to the technology
world of the Pacific Northwest.   We are delighted to be
working with them.  Our objective in this
investment is to enable Attensa to rapidly expand the platform services
it is providing to enterprises, and in turn promote the expansion of
the syndication ecosystem as whole.

Finally, I would like to thank Allan Miller of IDG, the director of the
Syndicate Conference, who brought Attensa to my attention last summer.

And it goes without saying, thanks to Dave for bringing the potential
of RSS to our attention way back in  early 2003,  when we
were all together at the Berkman Center.

“The details are not the details. They make the design.”

Charles Eames


The Seattle Post Intelligencer notice on the Attensa investment drew a comment about Findory
Findory does not strike me as an enterprise infrastructure company, but
it does look interesting from the standpoint of using attention data to
help users make sense of the web–and this is of course part of the
Attensa vision, as well.  If you are interested in the use of
attention data, make sure you check out Attention Trust and the Attention Trust blog, as well as Steve Gillmor.

My view is that infrastructure companies are going to be adding
attention data and making available ways to examine it for insights and
recommendations, and some attention data companies are going to evolve
into infrastructure companies.  I guess right now I am in the camp
that believes that attention data, like earlier generations of click
through data, is a feature and not a business.  On the other hand,
Google Ad Sense and Yahoo Overture can be seen as making a market in
clicks.  Clicks are an expression of attention, albeit a narrow and mute expression.

In any case all of these companies will have to deal with the tension
between enabling the user to control his or her attention data, and the
desire by advertisers (and governments, especially in less free parts
of the world) to use that data in covert ways.  The tension in
this space between distrubuted user control of the web and centralized
control of the web is just one subset of the global struggle for
control discussed in Larry Lessig’s book Code.

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