When I first heard that Bob Bickel was considering jumping back into the technology fray, I was deeply intrigued. Here's a guy who made a lot of cash with JBoss and promptly let absolutely none of it go to his head. Instead it went to his feet.
But then I talked with Bob and was even more excited to see what, exactly, he was up to, and with whom: David Skok of Matrix Partners, Rich Friedman, Jason Kinner, Rich Frisbie, and Mark Lugert of JBoss and/or Bluestone.
As for the what, think social networking meets open source. It all started with Bob trying to build "social" into a running store Web site, as Bob explains:
Well, it turns out that is easier said than done. You can throw some widgets on your pages to do things like polling; you can install a php forum, and so forth--but it winds up being very disjointed. Of course, you can build a Facebook Group--but then they wind up owning all the data and there is no good way to integrate it with the rest of our Web site. I tried some of the "white label" community builders and hosting environments like Leverage and Ning. Those are great for "out of the box" communities with a ton of nice features and cool social apps. But the problem was I still could not very neatly tie that into my Web site. I got the feeling that if our dinky Web site needed social, then many, many Web sites needed social applications built into their Web sites and integrated with the rest of the emerging social capabilities on the Web.
The proverbial "itch" needed scratching. Unlike Marc Andreesen with a proprietary background, Bob's background is in open source. So instead of locking customers into a proprietary social fabric, Bob and crew are opening it up.
This is exciting news, and a great outlet for some exceptional members of the open-source business and development community. It remains to be seen whether Bob will fully step into the ring or whether he'll be an active coach from behind the ropes, but either way this team looks to be building an important new piece in the open-source puzzle.
Wondering what the company will be called? Five minutes of due diligence will tell you that. You have all the starting clues you need.