#22 on Seattle Web 2.0 list

I was pleased to see that BigOven.com moved up another 5 places to the #22 position in the Seattle Web 2.0 List for December of the 243 sites tracked by the list, just behind #21 Redfin.com, and beating out many fairly well-known (and/or well-funded) sites like Avvo.com, Cozi.com, Bag Borrow or Steal, Yapta, Earth Class Mail, TripHub, Jott, SmartSheet and more.  Even more promising is that if you just sort on Compete.com rankings, BigOven.com is now #13 on the list.

Thanksgiving & Christmas — Record Growth for the Site

Following up on my last post, now that we’re past the holiday season, it’s a good time to reflect on the trends in food search & recipe lookup.

Google shows the following trend for the term "recipe" over time.  Note the repeated and significant peaks at Thanksgiving and Christmas:


BigOven certainly saw these two significant peaks in new user signups, and also in software sales.   We now have over 72,000 registered users, and thousands join each month. 

The Thanksgiving Effect

Most retail stores get 50% of their net income or more in the last quarter of the year.

If you’re running a food & cooking website, I guess an equivalent is new user registrations leading up to Thanksgiving. 

Check out the pace of new BigOven.com signups overthe past 60 days — (vertical axis removed for competitive reasons): 


BigOven Cooking Groups Now Live

Today, we’ve released BigOven Cooking Groups, an easy way for people with common interests to chat about food.  Its mission is to be the easiest way for people to congregate to talk about any food-related subject. 

Food is social. 

Several years ago, in the lead-up to kicking off the BigOven project, I was reflecting on how social and viral discussion about food really is.  It was that trigger — that food really is one of the most "viral" subjects (in the information sense) — that caused me to begin a site to let people share their cooking.

Recipes have a great information-flow — it’s almost as though the recipes themselves want to be shared.  People get passionate about food.  There’s a togetherness around the preparation and consumption of food.  People share food as expressions of love, joy, celebration, honor and ritual.  We’ll certainly see this during Thanksgiving week.

People also gather together to learn the latest diet craze, whether it’s Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Zone, or more.  Right now, in my neighborhood, I’m noticing dinner and cocktail chatter often revolving around people wanting to cook more organically; more locally.  But information is scarce on how to do this best. 

We may be moving from the era of the celebrity chef to the celebrity farmer; who knows.  But I have to say that information on how to do this best is quite scarce.  Who makes the best cheese in the northwest?  If I want to minimize my carbon impact this Thanksgiving, but still want a terrific, traditional yet elegant Thanksgiving, how do I do it? 

(I’ve created a Pacific Northwest Organic cooking group on BigOven.com as one of the first groups — hopefully, this time next year, we’ll have many experts you can call upon for answers to those questions.)

After a bit of development work to get this going, I’m pleased to report that tonight, the beta of BigOven Cooking Groups is live.  It allows any (free or paid) user to create or join a cooking club around any topic, contribute recipes to the club’s pool, and chat. 

(Notice I’m intermingling the terms club and group here?  We haven’t quite decided whether this should be called Cooking Clubs or Cooking Groups.  Feedback welcome.)

Perhaps you’re a fan of Italian food, or need some ideas for a special occasion.  Maybe you’ve got a finicky 3 year old and need some great suggestions from other parents of children of a similar age.  Maybe you’re in the Northwest and looking to cook more locally and organically.

BigOven Cooking Groups  makes all this possible, by providing a framework for the grouping of recipes and people.  (Videos will be added to this framework shortly.)  It’s better than newsgroups, because photos and even videos can be contributed.  Recipes can be tagged and linked together.  Hyperlinks and rich text can be added in your comments.  And more.

Since it’s a social network, we had to think through some important modeling aspects of this — e.g., if anyone can add recipes, can the group owner delete them?  Can Person X delete contributions by Person Y?  What if Person X is the one who started the group?  What happens if the one who started the group wants to leave the group?  Can you transfer ownership?  How?  Etc.)

Food is social… My goal is to make BigOven the easiest, friendliest social network about food, and groups were a vital part of the framework.  We at Lakefront Software are happy to get this major pillar of the platform out the door, even if it’s still in v1.0 beta stage. 

(More about BigOven Cooking Groups is discussed on the BigOven Message Board.)

BigOven wins Gold Award in 2008 Recipe Software Roundup

I was very pleased to note today that BigOven won the "Gold" award in the annual Cooking Software Roundup at www.toptenreviews.com.  BigOven scored a perfect 5/5 in every category measured (Ease of Use, Recipe Manager, Menu Planner, Feature Set, Ease of Installation and Help and Support). 

What’s even better is that a google query for "recipe software" currently has the software roundup showing up as second on the search results page. 

BigOven Deluxe Inspired Cooking is the only cookbook and recipe organizer software to link to an online recipe archive that is constantly expanding. The program offers all of the features to inventory your own collection and gives you access to recipes from thousands of home cooks. Printing options are limited, but if you’re looking for recipes and meal management this is the one. Here is a program for cooks, beginner to expert, complete with more search functions and recipes than any other software.

Microsoft Access Launch Team — Where are they now?

I was reading a Seattle Times news story today and ran across a quotation from Ross Hunter.  Ross was one of the lead program managers for the very first product I worked on at Microsoft, called "Cirrus", which launched as Microsoft Access in 1992.  A couple years ago, I knew that he was running for State Representative from Bellevue, but frankly hadn’t followed up to even see if he’d won.  Well, he not only won, but he’s now the Chairman of the House Finance Committee, that oversees things like tax policy and corporate policy for the entire state of Washington.  It got me thinking about all the amazing people I had the privilege of working with on that team. 

Here’s a short list of just a few of them:

  • Tod Neilsen was group marketing manager, and later Product Unit Manager of the Access team, and by far the most visible face on the project.  He was later to become quite visible during the Microsoft Antitrust trial, often providing the evening quotation from Microsoft, and then went to Adam Bosworth’s startup Crossgain, and on to BEA when it was acquired.  In a great ironic twist, he’s now CEO of Borland International, his old arch nemesis during Access days.
  • Adam Bosworth was to become a leading figure in the ushering in the XML revolution, then created a company called Crossgain, which was sold to BEA Systems.  Boz was a VP at BEA for a little while (along with Tod), but left to become a VP at Google (yes that was before their IPO).  He’s left Google now and is rumored to be working on a new startup.
  • David Risher, once a product manager working on Access — and whom I shared an office with for a couple years — led the Microsoft Investor team, then was recruited by a tiny Seattle online bookseller called Amazon.com in 1995.  He was a Senior VP there (#2 behind Jeff Bezos) during its meteoric IPO and e-commerce dominance.  He was so influential in the company’s growth that they created an everlasting Easter Egg in Amazon.com in his honor.  He now lives in Barcelona with his wife and two daughters.
  • Matthew Bellew, once a lead software engineer for JET (the underlying datastore for Microsoft Access and other desktop products) and George Snelling, once program manager for Access, joined fellow Microsoft alums Adam Rauch (VB/MS Research) and Mark Igra in forming Labkey Software.  (Before this, they had launched Westside Software together, which was bought, not coincidentally, by BEA Systems when Tod and Adam were there.)  Labkey focuses on building world-changing data-collaboration software for cancer and biomedical researchers.
  • Chris Caposella, once a product manager on FoxPro and Access, runs the multi-billion-dollar Office business for Microsoft as a senior VP at Microsoft.  The Excel, Word, Access, PowerPoint, Project, etc. groups all report into him.  Chris was to have his own 15 minutes of fame with the infamous Windows 98 Blue Screen of Death moment on stage with Bill Gates.  (Chris was Bill’s right hand man on demos and new technology for a couple of years, accompanying Bill around the world on his various speaking engagements.)
  • Chris Payne, once a product manager on Access, ran Microsoft Investor for a while after David Risher departed, then was recruited (by David) to run all video and music for Amazon.com in about 1998.  Then he re-joined Microsoft as a Corporate VP running MSN Live Search in their race to catch up to Google.  He departed Microsoft in 2006 to create his own startup.
  • Dave Kaplan, former Group Program Manager on Cirrus along with Ross Hunter, is CEO of the ambitious V2Green, which aims to create the leading power regulation and distribution system for electric cars.
  • Lisa Brummel, once a group manager for the FoxPro Line, is now running all of Microsoft’s Human Resources as Corporate VP.

This is just a short list off the top of my head before I head out the door.  All of these people came together in 1991-1993 or so to help launch Microsoft Access and bring Fox Software into the fold. 

There are many other folks that are worth mentioning; sorry in advance for the omissions; this is not an exhaustive list.  But what an amazing group of people!

Escapia Launches ClearStay.com

Since January of last year, I’ve served as chairman of Escapia.com, the leader in the web-based vacation rental software business. 

This month has been a big one for Escapia, with its launch of ClearStay.com, a consumer site for the booking of vacation rentals. 

Bill Furlong, Escapia’s President & CEO, summarizes the important milestones:

The last several months have been incredibly busy and rewarding ones at Escapia.  My apologies for a long email…but there is a lot to tell!

By far the biggest milestone we hit was launching the beta/preview of our consumer site, www.clearstay.com.  We’ve launched ClearStay.com with a great selection of inventory, with several thousand homes. All of those units are fully integrated with Escapia’s property management software and therefore have real-time availability information, rate quotes down to the penny and are bookable online.  There’s no easier way anywhere to book a vacation rental than on ClearStay.com.

·  How about Spring Break on the Big Island of Hawaii?  Maybe you want to bring the neighbors and the kids so you need a place for four adults and two kids?  And you want to go from 3/15 to 3/21?  No problem.  ClearStay.com has five pages of homes on the Big Island that can accommodate your crew and are available for those exact dates.  You’ll see on ClearStay.com that the cost ranges from $788.32 to $11,045.94 (a four bedroom home in a Four Seasons resort!).  No back and forth on email to find that out.  No phone calls to managers in Hawaii during business hours.  No wondering whether the availability information is right because on ClearStay it always is.  No wondering what the total price will be when it says $2,500 to $3,500 per week on some web site because on ClearStay you get exact and complete price quotes.  And when you are ready to book, no need to call the owner or manager and send a check for thousands of dollars to someone you don’t know.  With ClearStay.com you can book the place at 11 p.m. on Saturday night if that’s when you’re ready to book.

·  Want to head to Central Oregon with the kids to ski at Mount Bachelor over New Years weekend this winter?  ClearStay has 7 pages of rental homes in Bend and Sunriver that accommodate 2 adults, 2 kids and are available from 12/28 – 1/1.  The total price for those four nights ranges from $1008.25 – $2054.38.  Ready to go?  Book it online at ClearStay.com.

·  Thinking that skiing in Tahoe over President’s Day is a good idea?  ClearStay.com has 20 pages of condos, homes and cabins in Tahoe that are available over President’s Day weekend from 2/15/2008 to 2/18/2008.  Absolutely have to bring your dog along for the trip?  Good news…20 of those units are dog-friendly!  Wondering if it will cost extra to bring a dog?  The price quote automatically includes any additional pet fees.  And you can book online at the click of a mouse!  That was easyJ

ClearStay.com is the first site powered by EscapiaNET, our API.  EscapiaNET makes it very straightforward for web sites to include Escapia clients’ units.  Several other sites are in discusssion and should be launching over the next few months.

Part of the ClearStay.com launch is introducing a new way that property managers can work with Escapia.  Until now, the only solution we have for managers is our complete property management software suite.  It is a phenomenal tool for managers and the linchpin to providing a better consumer experience.  But it is a big decision for managers.  So we have introduced EscapiaNET Express – a way for managers to take advantage of our distribution network without adopting the whole platform.  At launch, EscapiaNET Express is a quick and easy way to list on ClearStay.  In the months ahead, we expect to add additional distribution points.  You can see more about that new program at http://clearstay.com/JoinClearStay.aspx.

While launching our consumer business is the biggest and most visible product milestone in the past several months, we have also released a number of enhancements to our core property management software.  Most notable is the service order accounting module.  Letting managers track the charges and billing for maintenance projects and integrate those into their accounting and owner statements has been a needed addition to the platform and we’re excited to have it.  We’ve also released a new feature that lets managers produce multiple pieces of correspondence (e.g. welcome letters) and print them at one time rather than individually.