Liquid Information Gets Email Flowing | Article

email surfingThe Internet will be bigger than the world’s telephone networks by 2002. And email is the killer application on the Internet. As Frode Hegland sees it, there’s just one problem. “Today you have to learn a lot about a computer to use it. Who cares about that?” he asks.

In Frode’s world view, email users should have less hassle and more control. To make this a reality, Frode founded The Liquid Information Company, based in London, England. The company offers a complete outsourced email solution. Frode, the CEO, says his email program “makes it as easy to communicate with millions as it is with one person.”

He says he decided to concentrate on text because words have been virtually ignored in Internet technology. Users can spin, twist and color images in Photoshop, a professional graphic design program, but word processing can still just check spelling or grammar and edit on the screen. “There was nothing magical here,” he says.

Liquid Information’s new email program differs from the ones in use now, which Frode says haven’t changed significantly since their appearance in 1971.

His program has a special news group feature because it is here that he believes global communities exist. The software is integrated with the Usenet software which hosts these discussion groups. If someone replies to one of your posts, their reply will end up in your email box. But Liquid Information’s program also adds an actual link, so you don’t have to spend precious time scrolling through dozens of posts to find the one you want. “The program makes things ridiculously simple,” he says.

An Outsourcing Solution for Corporations

There are three versions. The first is designed for individuals and can be used with domain names. It is free; users simply register at the company’s Web site. The second permutation is the company’s premium service. However, customers can not use their own domain names with this version.

The third version aims at corporate users. The company’s servers host the application, making it maintenance free. Liquid Information calls this package “the outsourced version.” Currently Citigroup and the San Francisco Marriott are corporate users.

He chose two forks in the same stream to distribute his services. The first is the Web. The Web offers what he calls “large real estate,” meaning people receive their information on large screens. However, some emails can be pressing. This doesn’t jibe well with the Web because it is not very mobile, since most people log on to the Internet at home or at work on laptops or desktop machines.

Mobile devices like cell phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) like the Palm Pilot offer true mobility. However, their real estate is the size of a postal stamp. Any cell phone numeric pads are a poor substitute for a traditional keyboard. Liquid Information’s email programs are designed to maximum both media.

Ten years ago Frode was studying human computer interface design. “I learned no one wants to interface with a computer. They want to interface through a computer,” he reports. “My goal was to make information more fluid,” hence the name of the company.

He started the company in 1997 and hired a friend who was a programmer to write the code for the email program he wanted to create. The friend worked for 18 months “and spent a lot of money” before dropping the project. “I was in a bad situation,” recalls Frode.

Outsourcing the Programming

So he went to Yahoo to search for as many programming resources as possible to try to find the talent he needed. He found eJobShop, a Java placement service based in Los Altos, California.† Owner Steve Schmidt is a match maker, finding experienced Java programmers who will work as independent contractors for customers who need code. The world is his marketplace, hence his moniker, “Java WWWorkforce.”

Frode sent an email to Schmidt. He says he received an email in 24 hours announcing Schmidt had accepted the assignment. EJobShop currently has over 1,200 Java developers in its stable. Frode hired a programmer in Germany and a group from India off the eJobShop roster.

Frode says the main reason his friend left the project was a dispute about money. “He complained he was paid a pittance,” says Frode. In contrast, the entire project plus testing using the eJobShop programmers cost the same amount of money Frode paid his first programmer to get nowhere. “That was eye opening,” says the CEO.

Today, if a customer requests a feature in the Liquid Information program, Frode emails the request to Schmidt for a quote. Frode then sends the cost to the user to see if they are willing to pay for the customization. “A school teacher can decide she needs this feature and will pay $100 for it,” he explains.

Frode says he no longer has to worry about finding the right programmer for future projects. “All I have to do is tell Steve my budget and he gets the job done. He’s a one man marketplace,” says the CEO.

Frode’s investors had no problem with outsourcing the programming to eJobShop, a plus for fledgling dotcom companies.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:

  • Outsourcing Java programming can provide top results at cost effective rates using offshore coders.
  • Outsourcing allows companies to customize their applications at reasonable rates.
  • Investors approve of outsourcing solutions in dotcom companies they invest in.
  • Outsourcing relationships can be successful when telephone and email are the sole methods of communication.

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