Theme: Glue

by Seth Levine

In our continuing series discussing some of our investment themes, we’d like to introduce a topic that we’re calling “glue”. Glue is our term for the web infrastructure layer that facilitates the connections between web services and content companies. As this ecosystem becomes increasingly complex and as web sites and web based applications rely on more underlying services, this “glue” layer of the Internet is becoming more and more core to overall web infrastructure.

Commerce, content and relationships are increasingly moving online, enabled by user-generated content, social networking, distributed applications and the underlying commerce and advertising infrastructure that supports the economics of the new web.  As the variety and robustness of this content increases, the web has become a powerful platform – enabling light weight applications to be easily delivered to a variety of different endpoint locations. Not only are web sites more robust and interactive than in the early days of the web, but sites on the Internet now collect content from disparate repositories (other web services, multiple advertising platforms, various widgets, RSS feeds, etc.) before delivering them in one unified view to their end users.

In many ways the web is paralleling changes that took place in the enterprise environment during the 90’s when once disparate systems were stitched together through what was termed enterprise application integration (“EAI” for those old school software folks in the audience) The result of these efforts was the freeing of data from traditional corporate IT silos for use in a variety of enterprise applications. This enabled an explosion of applications that could now more easily access corporate information and share that information with other services. The programming required to create these overlay applications became much simpler and the result was that application development could be accomplished much more easily and with less specialized resources. Past investments by Foundry Group partners that took advantage of this enterprise trend include Dante Group (acquired by WEBM), DataPower (acquired by IBM) and Cyanea (also acquired by IBM).

We believe that enabling web technologies are going through a similar development cycle as enterprise application integration technology did 10+ years ago. Companies are creating tools, applications and platforms to enable more productive and automated uses of resources that have become ubiquitous parts of the online ecosystem. We think about these enabling technologies as the glue that will increasingly hold together that ecosystem.

Many of our initial blog posts have focused on the themes that we use at Foundry to guide our evaluation of companies and technologies for potential investment. Ryan has written at length on our views of Human Computer Interaction and The Implicit Web and Jason has provided an overall backdrop to how we think about themes. We believe that the trend described above is both broad and enduring and we’ve been working in the last year to develop a theme that encompasses our thinking in this area. We’re also working with Eric Norlin on a conference (also called “Glue” – see the conference site at www.gluecon.com and Eric’s Glue blog at www.gluecon.com/blog) that will bring together thought leaders in the area of Internet infrastructure to further explore and develop these ideas.

We’ve also made two investments that fit into the Glue theme. Both are in development stage and we’re not talking about them much (although one was reported on TechCrunch – a new business that we’re working on with Eric Marcoullier). As these businesses further develop and as we make additional investments in this area, you’ll hear us talk more about our Glue theme and our evolving thesis around it.