Thali and Foo Camp – Silicon Valley doesn’t like it, but the rest of the world will

Thanks to the outrageous lies that Jon Udell told about me to Tim O’Reilly and Sara Winge I managed to get invited to Foo Camp this year. I had a chance to talk to a bunch of people about Thali. What I learned is that Thali doesn’t fit the Silicon Valley model and that’s just fine.

Having fun at Foo Camp

Foo Camp was interesting. I got to meet a bunch of smart people and went to a variety of sessions on lots of topics (not just stuff I know about). But since I was there on my employer’s dime I did make it a point to talk to a bunch of folks about Thali.
What was particularly interesting to me is that everybody ’got’ what Thali was about and why, technically, it would work. I didn’t get any push back on the technical issues. Some people in particular had a minor ’ah ha’ moment when I explained that it was just CouchDB + Mutual SSL Auth + Tor Hidden Services. They realized that these were all battle tested technologies and that when put together they could do really powerful things.
But, to be honest, nobody really cared.
No one was mean or dismissive, but fundamentally Thali just wasn’t interesting to the folks I talked to. I think there are a number of reasons for this but the primary one is - Thali doesn’t fit the Silicon Valley business model.

So they are all stupid and blind, right?

No. They aren’t. The lack of interest I saw in Thali actually makes sense.
Ideas are a dime a dozen. And everybody has their grand plan to save/change/improve the world. If you live in Silicon Valley and it’s various possessions/territories (as just about everybody at Foo camp does) you are constantly being inundated with the idea du jour. To survive you have to learn to filter.
And right now if you are listening to pitches about software technologies for the Internet you are going to quite reasonably look at who has been successful and see how the new ideas stack up against them. Today the model for success on the Internet is based on finding a choke point you can monopolize and then using network effects to force everyone to go through the choke point. This is the model used by the tiny handful of successful social networks, by Google’s ad platform, by Amazon’s sales platform, etc. It’s a proven winner.
Thali is designed to actively avoid choke points. The data, programs, etc. are all on the user’s devices where they can control them. Thali also tries to leverage network effects to benefit the whole community, not a particular app, by sharing data via standard protocols and formats.
This means that the business model for Thali is not the business model that Silicon Valley prefers. So it makes sense for people from the Silicon Valley universe to ignore Thali, it isn’t on the path that takes one to success in Silicon Valley.

What Thali can learn from Foo Camp

Writing a Thali app means little more than writing a HTML 5 app that can run on all of a user’s devices. But not only is it cheap to write a Thali app, it’s cheap to grow a Thali app. Unlike centralized PAAS/IAAS systems where there is a real cost per additional customer in terms of extra hardware/bandwidth/etc., the marginal cost per additional customer in Thali is effectively zero.
Small companies with a focus on particular markets can live a good life with Thali because they don’t have the kind of ongoing costs per user that PAAS/IAAS systems have. If customers are willing to pay for software (one of the key bets that will determine Thali’s success) then a company with say a 100,000 customers who are willing to pay the cost of two frappuccinos a year for the company’s software can make a great living.
So I expect that Thali won’t create a tiny handful of billion dollar companies but thousands of million dollar companies. Thali is therefore a technology best suited for the tail and we should seek our customers there. Thali shouldn’t focus on selling itself at the usual Silicon Valley related venues. We shouldn’t look to the people trying to buy/sell start up lottery tickets promising billions in future stock returns. Instead we should look to developers, all over the world, who want to build solid businesses meeting the needs of real customers while creating communities that benefit themselves and others.
Silicon Valley may not like Thali, but the rest of the world will.

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