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November 24, 2008 9:10 AM

The Future of App Development Found in Ruston, LA

While on my last trip to Lafayette, LA for the inaugural CampFiber I took a couple of days to head up to Ruston at the invitation of the good people at NiFTy TV to tour their facilities. In so doing I think I may have seen the future of application development.

NiFTy TV is shorthand for Network Foundation Technologies. Their vision is to transform the promise of live P2P video into reality in order to help anyone webcasting live events save a tremendous amount of money on the cost of delivering that video, over 50% in most cases, while also realizing higher quality.

Like traditional P2P, NiFTy relies on its users to download clients that allow their computers to not just receive video but also send it back out for others to watch. Unlike traditional P2P, which can eat up bandwidth indiscriminately by peering with lots of other users, NiFTy utilizes "polite" P2P based on the concept of binary branching trees, which means each user is only sending out two streams at a time and therefore not overloading networks.

Already NiFTy's being used to deliver hundreds of primarily sporting events each year from entities like the Central Hockey League, the Arena Football League 2, the Total Fighting Alliance, and Hampton University football. Many of these groups had never webcast their events before as it cost too much, but now they're able to keep their fans engaged wherever they may be.

But to be honest, while I find their technology incredibly intriguing, after getting a chance to visit their facilities I'm even more enamored by how they've built up this cutting edge app development company in one of the last places you'd think of as a hotbed of technology.

I'll admit that riding up to Ruston I had my reservations. While I had met the NiFTy guys at an event in New Orleans a few months ago and knew them to be smart, decent people, I wondered if there'd be anything interesting to find in a city of 20,000 I'd never heard of in northern Louisiana.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only is NiFTy building a really cool app, they're also establishing a synergistic model for development that should provide a model for institutes of higher learning across the country.

First off, while Ruston may only be a city of 20,000, it's also the home of Lousiana Tech University, a well-regarded institution with more than 10,000 students. Also, NiFTy's cofounder and chief scientist is Dr. Mike O'Neal, who's both an LA Tech alum as well as an associate professor in the computer science department. His long ties to the university are what led to the decision to open their development office and broadcast operations center in Ruston in addition to their offices in Shreveport, LA and Los Angeles, CA.

But they didn't just open an office in Ruston; they're located right on campus in a incubator that offers flexible office space to startup technology companies.

One of the most exciting results of their decision to locate here are the jobs they're creating for LA Tech students doing things like helping manage events in their virtual broadcast center. Not only are these high tech jobs that look good on a resume, they also pay a good deal more than the prevailing wages for more typical college jobs. Plus even better is that NiFTy has hired many of its full-time employees directly out of this workforce, which is allowing students who get high tech degrees to find a high tech job in Ruston rather than having to leave for a bigger city like Houston to find employment.

And this setup works tremendously well for NiFTy as they're able to pull in the best students from the computer science department and beyond to staff their growing, vibrant company. In fact, the model's been so successful that they're starting to burst out of the space they currently have, and they already have an entire floor set aside for them to move into in the new enterprise center being built on campus so they'll have plenty of room to grow.

I just can't get over how smart and synergistic this model is, delivering a true win-win situation for the university and NiFTy alike. It's the kind of model that can and should be duplicated across the country as it proves that apps can be developed anywhere. And by embracing entrepreneurs, universities and colleges can help create employment opportunities for students that can help reverse the brain drain of everyone with tech-related degrees having to move from small towns to big in order to find good jobs.

Best yet, in nearly all respects, NiFTy is only just getting started. It's exhilarating spending time with someone like Dr. O'Neal who has the big picture vision. He's one of the few applications developers I've talked to who has already been thinking about what's possible in a world where full fiber networks are commonplace. And his plans for NiFTy go beyond live webcasting to include applying their underlying algorithms and ideas of polite P2P to improving the delivery of data of all sorts.

Needless to say, I'm couldn't be more excited about what they're doing in Ruston. These are good, hard-working, honest people who have not only proven their commitment to their community but also have proven the viability of small town America as launching pads for the next generation of app development. I truly believe the sky's the limit for NiFTy, and I can't wait to see both how they continue to grow and hopefully how their successes help inspire others to consider opening up shop on campuses and in small towns all across America.

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