On and off for the past 15 years, entrepreneur Terry Jones has been working on a grand vision for The Way Computers Should Be. He dreams of a massive database of Everything, where anyone can add information, and items are linked and searchable rather than trapped in a hierarchy of folders.
When I interviewed Jones in January, he was talking about making the web “writable,” “metadata,” and “tag values.” His startup, Fluidinfo, had a working website and a tool for your web browser, but he admitted they were a little “geeky.” And needless to say, all this was a bit intimidating.
“It was too complicated for people,” says Jones. “It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that users are going to get everything that you get, and they’re going to see the world the way you see it.”
Jones knew something was wrong when even his investors couldn’t understand it – and he has some smart investors, including digital innovators Esther Dyson and Tim O’Reilly. I, too, gave up on the browser tool after futile attempts to figure it out, even though I was fascinated by Fluidinfo.
So with some reluctance, Jones and his team released a simpler version of Fluidinfo, with a simpler goal: to let you comment on any webpage. When you click on the Fluidinfo button, it pulls up a sidebar with all the related comments from Twitter and Tumblr (and soon from commenting service Disqus and Facebook).
A simpler Fluidinfo has also attracted some business clients, who are interested in using the database in industries like news, life sciences, and education.
Jones credits his new CEO, Russell Manley, for reining in his “crazy head scientist” side. And he’s not too disappointed: he says that tech companies succeed by doing something really simple and getting traction, and then possibly expanding their product. In other words, he still has the grand vision, but he knows he’ll have to be patient.