Archive for June, 2006

Site Makeover

June 29, 2006

We gave the site a much-needed makeover, both to make it more aesthetically appealing as well as more functional. It sets the UI groundwork for a forthcoming wave of features by giving us a roomy right sidebar area for contextual controls and help.

While there are several dozen minor changes, the most immediately apparent are:

  • Sidebar is now on the right, and wider
  • The common starting money and library tasks are merged into one “Report” box
  • The site font is bigger
  • Links are purple, not green
  • “Your Account” tab is replaced by an “Account” link next to your name

Here’s a sketch of the kind of thinking that goes into such a redesign. It should be pointed out that this is Chuck’s best possible handwriting. His high school history teacher once remarked that “my german shephard has better penmanship than Chuck.”

redesign.jpg

Business 2.0 magazine article

June 22, 2006

BillMonk opens the July 2006 Business 2.0 article The Bank Account in Your Phone. We’re delighted by the story, and doubly-so since it’s our first major coverage by a national publication. It was a real pleasure discussing social money and mobile applications with Michal Lev-Ram, the journalist.

The magazine is out in the stands now. We’ll put up a link to the article once it’s available online.

[Update 07/11/2006]

Check out the article online here.

Net Neutrality and small businesses

June 20, 2006

We were contacted by Kristi Heim, Business and Technology reporter for the Seattle Times, this morning to discuss our stance on net neutrality.  [Update 6/22: her article Plan for two-tiered Internet puts higher price on speed quotes us at length in the last section]

While there is ample news on the positions taken by large companies on this issue (Amazon, Google, Microsoft vs. AT&T and Verizon), the views of small technology businesses like ours are often overlooked. We were happy to discuss our thoughts with Kristi, and wanted to share them with you too.

Should broadband providers providing "last mile" Internet connections to customers be allowed to provide improved quality of service for a particular company?

We say "no." We advocate laws that protect an unbiased Internet. As a small business, we believe that having to pay a myriad of broadband providers fees to guarantee higher-quality service would hurt us (and our users) significantly because it would:

  • Raise costs. We're on a shoestring budget.
  • Waste a lot of our time trying to contact and form agreements with several different broadband providers.
  • Enable unfair competition. A large company could oust BillMonk from the market simply by purchasing a much faster connection to the end-user. A small business like ours would not be able to compete solely on the basis of delivering a better product. (E.g. Would YouTube be able to afford fast enough network speeds to compete with Google Video and be as successful as it is today?)

More broadly, we believe that unless such laws to preserve net neutrality are enacted, broadband Internet service providers will come to exert significant control over the end-user Internet experience. In time, this will favor bigger established businesses over small entrepreneurs (like us), and would stifle innovation. Since most web-application innovation happens in the Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston areas, there are regional implications to this debate too.

Granted, the entire topic of net neutrality is fairly abstract. The big broadband providers have said that they would like to have to ability to charge companies for tiered levels of end-user service, e.g. Comcast could ask Skype to pay extra for so its customers have have low-latency guarantees within the Comcast network. But a specific price has yet to be decided, as do ground rules of how to deal with services that do not wish to pay.

We're not unsympathetic to the argument that the broadband infrastructure costs a lot of money, and telcos need to fund such a build-out. We believe they should pass along costs to customers and let fair market competition determine the price that balances people's need for broadband with the costs of providing these services. Econ 101, eh? We're not philosophically opposed to allowing for categories of different types of internet traffic (web, voice, movies) and allowing customers to pick a pricing plan (e.g. I'll pay $5/mo more for low-latency VoIP guarantees), as long as these categories are divided by type and not by company. It's precisely these kinds of rules about what broadband provider may and may not do that deserve to be codified into regulations.

This is a very timely issue. After the June 9th defeat of a US House bill that would have protected net neutrality, the issue has moved to the Senate Commerce Committee. Lots of action; the most recently proposed compromise would guarantee safeguards against blocking sites and services while allowing tiered service levels. There's a vote on this committee compromise this Thursday, and there will be a Senate vote in July.

If you would like to make your voice heard, write to your senator or representitve and let them know where you stand. (In Washington state? Get Maria Cantwell off the fence!) Tell them that small companies like us need net neutrality to innovate, and that deregulation puts too much power in the hands of what are rapidly becoming monopolies on everyday Internet access.

The Wikipedia article on Net Neutrality offers a good starting place to learn more.

BillMonk talk at Google

June 19, 2006

We were invited to speak at Google on Friday (6/16/06). A bunch of our users work at Google, so this was a great chance to meet them and share the thought process that went into building BillMonk. We even have the T-shirts to prove it! (I'm not kidding. It reads: I gave a tech talk at Google.)

Since it was rather last minute, we decided to just go ahead and drive down from Seattle to the Bay Area. Mmmyep, 12 hours on I-5. On the plus side, it gave Gaurav and me a great opportunity to chat about a huge range of BillMonk topics, from short-term technical designs to the 20 Year Plan.

While we were duly impressed with the Google campus, the tasty free breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, the electric scooters, the shuttle from SF, &c, our estimation did fall a notch when we learned there are, in fact, no Google company ponies. Honestly. How can you have a high-tech company offering its employees a weath of perks and forget the ponies? When WE get big, we'll have ponies. Promise.

Matt, Tommy, Nori, Larry, everyone else at Google, thanks again for hosting us – we had a blast!

[Update] You can see the talk on Google video

Moving our servers this weekend

June 7, 2006

Our little BillMonk is all grown up and *sniff* moving out of the house! That's right, the time has come to move our servers to a co-location facility. Once this is done, you'll see faster page load times and improved service reliability.

The service will be down for a few hours as we whisk our servers to their secret remote bunker. This outage is planned for Saturday June 10th, from 8:30am until noon (Pacific time). Check this blog for updates!

Update @2pm

The installation went smoothly, our servers are now securely lodged in what I'd say is the computer-equivalent of a penthouse suite.  

Seattle Tech Startups meeting

June 7, 2006

Since we launched BillMonk in January, we've attended and spoken at numerous geek and entrepreneuer gatherings. We've met a lot of great people, made many friends, and learned a lot. We noticed that people say they want to talk shop more, both about technical tricks and on running a startup. There is a need for a cohesive Seattle startup community where entrepreneurs can give and seek advice.

For this reason, we're organizing what will hopefully become a regular series of of meetings between tech entrepreneurs in the Seattle area. If you're involved in a startup, please come, and also spread the word! These events are free and open to the public. So far, 5 local startups have signed up, and we expect several more will attend.

Save the date! Thursday June 22nd, 6pm to 7:45pm, at the Seattle Public Library, Capitol Hill Branch, upstairs.

Website: Seattle Tech Startups