Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ruby on Rails at SDForum Tonight

Tom Hill, one of our senior engineers at Zvents, will be speaking about Ruby on Rails tonight at the SDForum Emerging Tech SIG at the Cubbery Community Center in Palo Alto. Details here: Zbutton

Zvents is developed primarily in Ruby on Rails, and I can't say enough good things about it. Come find out more about the next wave in Web programming!

SDForum runs all sorts of interesting technical and business events related to software development- you can see their full schedule here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Squidoo and TechCrunch: Experts Rise Again

When I heard about Seth Godin's new startup Squidoo, I thought, "Aha! That fits perfectly into Nivi's Trillion Dollar Matrix in the 'experts' category." I did a quick Technorati search on the status of the conversation, and discovered that Adam Marsh at EconoMeta has taken the matrix farther in interesting ways -- but pulled the experts column! Not so fast, Adam! In addition to clever programmatic methods like Squidoo for managing and measuring expertise, there are plenty of other expert systems out there. Like Google Answers, or Amazon's Mechanical Turk, which I predict will bifurcate into two main areas of practice; one, the mass processing of tasks where non-expert humans beat computers, and two, the focused processing of tasks where human experts beat computers.

But by focusing on point examples like the Turk or Squidoo, we're missing the hundred-billion dollar present reality that should be smacking us in the face:

Media is about expertise.

I regularly hear about new startups like Squidoo from TechCrunch, which is one of my key personal filters for what matters on the cutting edge of the web. Is Mike an expert? Of course he is, and the fact that TechCrunch has more traffic and better adoption curves than a lot of supposedly hot search startups speaks volumes about the world recognizing the value of expertise.

Talent will out.

The computer era has made clear that talent is much more unevenly distributed than anyone would have thought. In 1975 or 1985, were all the best managers in the world Harvard and Stanford MBAs? No. No. In 1995 or 2005, were all the top engineers in the world at blue-chip corporations and top-tier universities? No. No.

Expertise requires talent.

Let me re-assert Barry Diller's claim that there's only so much talent in the world. Diller's rule of talent (you can probably find the Web 2.0 podcast somewhere, but it parses to "there are few undiscovered geniuses in closets anywhere") means that the best user-created content is a transitory phenomenon. A lot of what Jeff Jarvis refers to as "user created content" is, I would assert, a snapshot of the emergence of talent in new and unexpected places, like blogs. But these people usually don't stay "users." Talented folks who were unevenly distributed vs. the expected structures of recognition, wealth, and power, have a tendency to rapidly move into expected positions, or start reorganizing the structures to reflect new realities.

So we end up with new media, containing new experts, who continue to act as an incredibly valuable relevance mechanism for data.

Hats off to Seth. And hats off to Mike, whose user blog --> expert media site should in no way be thought of as any less complex, cool, or important than startup entities in a different, algorithimic column of the trillion-dollar matrix.

My next post will hopefully not be so long in coming: Thoughts on how it's easy to get stuck between media and practice, drawn from a couple conversations I've had with two guys who are doing both.

Mike: media & practice
Andy: media & practice

My media is here at Onotech; Zvents is my practice.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Tribe Founders Launch Startup Aggregate Knowledge

Paul Martino and Chris Law, both founders of Tribe Networks, have been hanging out at the NSV offices and working really hard on their new startup, Aggregate Knowledge. They have a recommendations web service, WSRelater, live now on the web. I've played with it, and it's awesome. There is some impressive math behind the engine, and the number of cool things I can think of to do with it is rather long. Keep them on your radar screen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Update: Google Responds, Urchin Works

I sent out an email to the team last night:
Hallelujah! We've got data!
After 49 empty hours, we've got data through 1pm today. Urchin works again!
Google customer service both called and emailed us yesterday as well, apologized for our troubles, and offered to refund money to us. I told them that a refund was nice, but what's really important is that Urchin works. To me, that means our website data consistently available with no more than 2-3 hours' delay.

The big issue is not one startup's angst about its temporary lack of web stats. The big issue is whether it's possible to reliably deliver complex software over the Internet at all. Google is the biggest player in this space, with vast resources of engineering, bandwidth, and servers, but everyone from Salesforce.com to Zvents is attempting to deliver significant software functionality remotely over the Internet.

We are asking our customers to bet their businesses on our ability to deliver. "Flaky but free" simply does not cut it any more. How many of you out there rely on Yahoo or Google email for business-critical communications? What if it went down tomorrow, for 48 hours? What if Salesforce.com stopped working for 48 hours? What if Ebay or Adwords stopped working? Marketing campaigns, communications, and commerce grind to a halt, and real damage is done to real people and real businesses.

Can this really work? The whole premise of the next generation of Web startups is that it can. Zvents is planning on embedding its calendars and serving events into a lot of other people's websites, such as early adopter LinkSV. If we go down, they have no events calendar on their site. As we grow, that customer reliance on us will grow to tens of thousands of similar sites, and if they have no data for 48 hours, there will be anguished screams that will sound very similar to my own post.

I think it can work, but it's going to require not only a business model, but a lot of grownup enterprise kind of thinking, with SLAs and obligations and recompense for failure clearly laid out in contracts. Otherwise, the level of trust simply won't exist to create the very cool future that we're imagining and building right now.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Google: Start acting like a real business or you're doomed

Zvents is an Urchin hosted customer. Yes, customer, as in we pay Google $200 per month to provide our web stats to us. We have been very happy with the quality of the tools that Urchin provides, but intermittently unhappy with the time lag it takes or our web data to appear, and the occasional gaps in our data (we are still missing two hours from last Monday). Google has been kind of OK on the customer service front.

Until today.

I don't know how many other people like us there are - people who paid for hosted Urchin before today's announcement. But I bet that all of them are pissed.

Here's what happened:

I tried to log in to Urchin. Surprise! Urchin now resolves to Google analytics. I typed in our login and password, and I was informed that this account "has to be validated". As it happens, this is a special account just for Urchin and I don't havedirect access to the email address - a not uncommon problem in any organization larger than, say, one. After a few hours of fumbling around and swapping phone calls and emails, I get one of the other guys to send me the validation information.

Next surprise: Because Google is switching to some damn unified login system, whenever I use the login for this account, it messes up any other Google logins I have. Apparently there's a way to pipe this login over to my Gmail account, but it's another hassle-filled step that I didn't have to take yesterday when Urchin JUST WORKED.

Eventually I get in to Urchin. Urchin is getting slammed with traffic. We hear all this hoorah about Google's hundreds of thousands of servers and their ability to host applications, and all I can say is, if casual interest in a service you aren't even accepting new registrations for grinds you to a halt like this, you are nothing like ready for prime time.

Here is a screen shot of what Urchin looks like to me after 10 minutes of waiting and a couple attempts at reloading:

urchin blank

Not very useful.

When I finally do get in to Urchin, I have no data since 3pm yesterday. That's 24 hours without data. Zero. Zip. None. I'm trying to run my business here, folks! Hello?

It's nice that it's now free. But I was willing to pay $200 per month for a service that Just Worked. Google may be all excited about advertising business models, but there are billion dollars businesses built on charging other businesses $200 per month.

Right now, I feel like Google doesn't care about me enough as a customer to tell me that they're changing a product I pay for. They don't care enough about me as a customer to make sure that my login doesn't change, or that they at least ask or warn me before changing my login. They don't care enough about me as a customer to make sure that the re-launch of their product doesn't dramatically impact the people who are already paying them lots of money.

Google isn't acting like a real business, they are acting like an over-enthusiastic Golden Retriever puppy. Oh, they just knocked the vase off the table with their tail, but aren't they cute? Um, no. Google, grow up.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Hand-waving hippie dreams of new media

Uncharacteristically, Jeff Jarvis posted some complete nonsense on Buzz Machine yesterday. He wrote:

Robin Good puts together a few PowerPointable lines on the future of media:

Consumers become producers of content, and niche content surpasses by orders of magnitude the value of traditionally labelled commercial television and film.

The value is not anymore in the best seller or in the blockbuster.

The value is in infinite choice of content and in the opportunity for the consumer to see content when she wants it: prime time is anytime, and anytime is prime time.

Meanwhile, allow me to quote from a recent Slate review of the new Comcast NHL coverage, a piece entitled "The latest desperate attempt to top ESPN":
...if OLN's occasionally amateurish-looking production affirms for viewers that only ESPN can do sports right, then Comcast's national ambitions could find an early, icy grave...

...The network's buffoonish studio show doesn't do much to enhance OLN's credibility....

...The telecasts also gain instant credibility because of play-by-play announcer Mike "Doc" Emrick, who leaves the cliché-ridden competition in the dust—skaters don't merely pass the puck, they "feather it along,"...

...It's easy to sympathize with OLN's early struggles. The channel won the rights to broadcast NHL games...not two months before the opening face-off. At this point in its nascent coverage, OLN's basic charge is to transmit a crisp picture; at least the network's production values compare in quality to local cable broadcasts...
Unless you're so bought in to the new memes of free content from all (dude) you'll note a trend in the Slate review (and yes, they are part of the horrible MSM, in a new-media kind of way)

1) Talent
2) Production values

- "Doc" Emrick is talented and a plus
- The studio team are buffoons and a minus
- Production values are not yet up to ESPN's standard since the OLN only had two months to put the broadcast together, and viewers will notice.

Media is valuable, because our time and attention is valuable. We all choose to consume media from preferred providers, and the two mechanisms by which we choose those providers are the talent on display, and the production values around that talent. I loosely define production values as "capital investments which make the consumption of the core content more pleasant, informative, or easier". For writing, production values include good web design, non-intrusive ads, reasonable colors and fonts (get busy, Andrew!) and so forth. For audible media, production values are things like the recording quality, background noise, the level of editing to remove slow or redundant sections, and so forth. For anything visual, the list of production values begins to be very long, and even more important.

It's a cliche that no one watches home video, despite its existence for decades. The two areas where I can think of home video having real general media value are a) occasional "man on the spot" news clips (Rodney King) and "America's Funniest Home Videos". What links these two together thematically is that they're essentially random -- something either funny or important happened in front of a turned-on video camera, and the value of the content outweighed its lack of production quality.

Here's a graphic that I put together in 2001 for a strategy I was doing for a mobile phone company. Any similarity to Web 2.0 standards is strictly coincidental - I've been thinking in power curves for a very long time. As you can see, based on the empirical data of a search I did on Amazon, there's a nice inverse relationship between cost of production and number of content items.


Why is this? There are two dynamics at play. First, in any gathering of people to create something, some people are more talented than others. I participate in some small-scale local theater and performance, and when there are six people in a room, usually everyone knows that one or two of them are better than the rest. These talented people tend to like working with other talented people, and over a small amount of time, quite a sorting effect occurs. Pretty soon the talented gang invents a name, throws out a shingle, starts charging, and voila! the naescent MSM is born.

When you add money into the equation, the effect is to enhance the differentiation. Perhaps a financier made money once, sometime, in a far distant past, by *not* seeking out the best directorial, writing, performing, and technical talent for his production - but I doubt it. When real dollars are at stake, people seek out the best, and then fund them. Those who aren't the best don't get funding. From movies to music to television to video games, this is an obvious trend even in relatively "new" media like video games.

Example of the "talent self-clusters" point here, here, and here.
Example of the "financier seeking the best talent" point here and here.

Oh, ze world, she turns but she stays ze same...

I do believe that temporarily, at least, some barriers have fallen in our new world. Here I am, writing this blog. But my choice with this blog is very clear: I can either a) invest a lot of time in it to create quality content on a regular enough basis to develop a readership or b) I can get on with my real life, which is running a cool new startup called Zvents, and only post here occasionally because I feel like it, and not worry about becoming a media property. I am never going to out-do BuzzMachine in popularity or readership unless I put some serious work into the effort, which I'm simply not going to do. Therefore I will 98% remain on the "Consumer" side of the blog equation, despite my reasonable levels of inclination, ability, and empowerment to become a producer. Meanwhile, Jeff will sit on the opposite side of the equation, and take each successive step up the production values and monetization ladder which develops over the next few years, and in 36 months, it won't be possible to compare my blog to his with a straight face - if it even is now.

Jeff will have, by dint of wildly disproportonate readership, a "blockbuster" on his hands, giving lie to the baloney in his recent post.

Whenever anyone starts talking about new democracy in media, just remember that for the past 100 years, any normal person with about $50 to their name has been able to buy a typewriter and a sheaf of paper, sit down, and create a novel. For the past 100 years, being a successful novelist has been a well-paying, respected position. The fact that so few have managed to do this, despite the legions who have tried out of the near-totality of all who could have tried, indicates that there's something slightly more fundamental going on than big mean corporations holding back the little guy.

That something is the rarity of talent, the social network clustering effects of production values, and the reality that all of our time is limited, and brands are a great way to short-circuit searching costs.

The wonderment of the current age of the internet is not that the new winners will look any different than the old winners, but simply that a window of opportunity exists to make new winners at all.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Real Microsoft Memos

Everyone is talking about the transparently leaked Microsoft memos. The version presented here (courtesy of the unchained snark that is The Register) is much more entertaining than the ones you've read elsewhere:

Gates stirs Microsoft with dramatic 'more meetings' plea

Published Thursday 10th November 2005 00:04 GMT

Analysis Ever the master of public relations, Microsoft has always been able to figure its way out of a tight spot with the use of a judiciously leaked memo.

...in the spirit of the excellent 500-word "digested reads" offered by some of our better newspapers, we give you the précis of the latest Gates and Ozzie memos. Then we'll put the whole affair in some historical perspective.

From: Bill Gates

Sent: Sunday, October 30, 2005 9:56 PM

To: Executive Staff and Direct Reports; Distinguished Engineers; All TV, print, radio and internet news outlets; All bloggers [delete last five before release]

Subject: Internet Software Services

Microsoft has always had to respond to innovators in the software business and seize the PR initiative.

Ten years ago this December, I wrote a memo entitled The Internet Tidal Puddle in which I attempted to undo the damage caused by my book, The Road Ahead, published just three months previously.

In The Road Ahead I failed to mention the internet at all. The same month, Netscape had floated on NASDAQ, creating the largest ever first day gain. Clearly, there was a puddle in the road ahead. So in my memo I warned that we could either step round the puddle, or step right into it, and risk being drowned.

In 1995 none of our products made use of TCP/IP. Now, a decade later, I can safely say that many of them do.

In 1995 I warned that we risked losing the mindshare of a new generation of internet software developers who chose to shun Microsoft APIs completely. Now, a decade later, I can say that close to 100 per cent of Internet-born viruses, Trojans, rootkits and worms use Microsoft APIs exclusively.

However, to lead we need to do far more.

In order to execute on this opportunity we must look as if we're acting quickly and decisively. Recently competitors [Steve, chair down. DOWN.] have gained massive public attention by rolling out products that remain in beta for many years. This is unacceptable. Products that remain in beta for many years should be first and foremost, in the public's mind, Microsoft products.

For three months Ray Ozzie has been sitting in his orgone accumulator devising a strategy to ensure we can execute. I've attached a memo written by him that I think strikes the right balance between pre-announcement and non-delivery. I'm happy to share it with you.


Go read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

NumSum, Nivi, and a Trillion Dollars

Nivi just posted a response to some of my stuff on social web. We also had a really interesting conversation over at Bessemer with James Cham on this subject the other day. Nivi's matrix is empty and hard to play with, so I put in in NumSum, which is Steve Yen's latest project:

Play away.

Monday, November 07, 2005

SDForum Search SIG @ Microsoft Thursday

John Battelle and an interesting panel. I will be here: Zbutton

Scoble asks what you call 'em? Raw Potatoes!

Scoble asks what you call things like Flickr, Microsoft Gadgets, Google Maps, Amazon Affiliate parts.

I’ve been struggling to communicate with others what the new Internet ecosystem is made up of and it hit me a few minutes ago.

They are Internet Connected Components.

Hear me out.

When you go to Kayak Buzz or Zvents, what do you see? Two ICCs. One is a Google Map. Another is a AdSense bar...

...I think we need a non-branded name to generically refer to these things. What do you think?
Here's my proposal: raw potatoes. Why? Because they're what you mash up.

If you call 'em rawpotatoes (no space) you can create a nice searchable tag/phrase that doesn't currently mean anything else. When's the last time you saw a search result this empty?

Hats off to Chris Law for reserving the URL already. I'm sure he'll be happy to build it as an open community resource for Web 2.0 just like he's done with WSFinder.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Yahoo clarifies Maps API

Vince has posted over at YDN about the Yahoo Maps API:
I wanted to take a brief moment to clarify our terms of use for Yahoo! Maps, as many folks have contacted us asking whether they could use the APIs on their site.

Our position has always been to allow usage of the Yahoo! Maps APIs free of charge for non-commercial use, as well as commercial use granted on a case-by-case basis. This is defined in our FAQ which also has instructions for how to contact us should you want to seek permission for commercial use.

In general, if you are displaying mashups featuring Yahoo! Maps on your site or application and you make your stuff available for free to users, you’re welcome to use the Yahoo! Maps APIs. This is true even if your site is supported by ads -- even ads from other vendors.

But while I've got you thinking about monetizing your site, allow me to make a shameless plug for something else we’re doing at Yahoo! -- take a look at the Yahoo Publisher Network BETA. Revenue, relevant ads, no hassle. Easy. Sign up today for your YPN beta invite.

Check out my follow-up post at the Zvents blog for the rest of the story.

The Zvents team is now going to get back to work building product. Google, Yahoo, Scoble, we love you all. Peace and APIs.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Blogosphere Speaks, Yahoo Responds (Cool!)

Yahoo launched a cool new maps service today, which got great reviews, tons of buzz, and complaints about commercial restrictions.

They also got a "Yahoo Maps are Doomed" post from Robert Scoble, in which he used my company Zvents as the poster child for Google's ongoing dominance.

Not so fast, Robert. More on this tomorrow, but I just got off the phone with the Yahoo Maps team, and they said that tomorrow they will be removing the "non-commerical only" clause from their TOS, and that Zvents, as a commercial site, is "golden" to start using their APIs.

Yahoo, you rock!

Robert has raised some fascinating points in his post. I'll address those on the Zvents blog tomorrow morning. Watch that space.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Sincerest Form of Flattery...

This post appeared on Craigslist the other day. It's funny enough that you should click through to Flickr to read the details:

The sincerest form of flattery

We thought it was awesome, so we created a proper home for it on the wall at the Zvents office:

Market Leadership Award

Humor aside, this raises a key point about Web 2.0. The same factors that mean that "two guys and a router" can build a business like Facebook in ten days and have it take off, mean that two more guys and another router can build a business and compete with your cool new business.

There are only three ways to get to market differenation: Technological advantage, network effect, or marketing-driven aggregation of eyeballs. There are great examples of success in all three categories; but there are no examples of success that didn't pull off one. And we all know that the first two are waaaaay cheaper than the third.

It's a marathon, guys. Keep running.

Comment Hurdles, Zipless Fucks, and the Extended Conversation

At the end of a great review of Zvents (Thanks!!), Zoli Erdos points to my blog and says,

"the last link happens to be Ethan Stock, Zvent CEO’s blog. Hmm… I don’t see any way to leave a comment or trackback – what happened to the “conversation”, Ethan?"

I thought about posting a snarky comment on his blog, but this is what faced me:

comments obstacle course


Zoli, it was easier to come here and write this post than it was to face that. You're linked to me, I'm linked to you. That's a conversation.

What's going on here, is the empirical demonstration that anonymity and conversation are inimical to each other; and that in order to participate in a community, you must commit and invest resources. In the classic phrase of Erica Jong, there is no 'zipless fuck' in the Extended Conversation.

Zoli has a blog, and I read it. I have a blog, and he reads it. We can converse through links and references. Each of us has put some time and effort (commitment and resources) into building up this presence in the community, and cautiously, bit by bit, each of us is willing to invest time and energy and possibly a RSS subscription or a delicious bookmark to the other.

Comments on blogs were conceived in a simpler time, or with a simpler mindset, that said that anyone should be able to drop in and speak their mind - the zipless chat. But spammers infected that ideal, as sure as hepatitis and AIDS ended Erica Jong's free-love early 70s.

This isn't a sad story -- community and relationships and investment still yield great results, and if we want unexected, serendipitious conversations with each other, the best way to do that works even better in this era of the Internet -- face-to-face,Zbutton the old-fashioned kind of communal commitment.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

What Kind of Society Are We Building?

I've spent much of the last six months heads-down building Zvents. I am incredibly excited about the opportunity to build a great new product that will, in some small way, change the world and make users happy. Users are these slightly foreign beings to us product-builders, and sometimes it's hard to get inside their heads and understand what their real concerns are. When I read something like this New York Times article on Wal-Mart's HR practices:

"...The [board] memo acknowledged that Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, had to walk a fine line in restraining benefit costs because critics had attacked it for being stingy on wages and health coverage. Ms. Chambers acknowledged that 46 percent of the children of Wal-Mart's 1.33 million United States employees were uninsured or on Medicaid.

Wal-Mart executives said the memo was part of an effort to rein in benefit costs, which to Wall Street's dismay have soared by 15 percent a year on average since 2002..."
I am stunned. How can any user be thinking about movies, or bands, or Little League games, when their kids don't have healthcare? Will they ever use Zvents? Not likely. Wal-Mart is the largest U.S. employer and regularly held up as a paragon of new business practices. Why isn't Wall Street worried about the 46% of Wal-Mart kids who don't have health care? Even in the most narrow commercial view, aren't those kids the future customers and employees of the Wal-Marts of the next generation?

Henry Ford single-handedly created the 20th century social compact in 1914 when he unilaterally raised the minumum wage of his workers to $5 per day, reasoning that if his workers couldn't afford to buy the cars they were building, the great hamster wheel of capitalism might stop spinning:

On January 5, 1914, Henry Ford announced a new minimum wage of five dollars per eight-hour day, in addition to a profit-sharing plan. It was the talk of towns across the country; Ford was hailed as the friend of the worker, as an outright socialist, or as a madman bent on bankrupting his company. Many businessmen -- including most of the remaining stockholders in the Ford Motor Company -- regarded his solution as reckless. But he shrugged off all the criticism: "Well, you know when you pay men well you can talk to them," he said. Recognizing the human element in mass production, Ford knew that retaining more employees would lower costs, and that a happier work force would inevitably lead to greater productivity. The numbers bore him out. Between 1914 and 1916, the company's profits doubled from $30 million to $60 million. "The payment of five dollars a day for an eight-hour day was one of the finest cost-cutting moves we ever made," he later said.

There were other ramifications, as well. A budding effort to unionize the Ford factory dissolved in the face of the Five-Dollar Day. Most cunning of all, Ford's new wage scale turned autoworkers into auto customers. The purchases they made returned at least some of those five dollars to Henry Ford, and helped raise production, which invariably helped to lower per-car costs.

We're a tiny little company at Zvents, and soon we'll have a health care plan in place for all our employees. Not just for the highly-paid engineering types, but everyone. Wal-Mart can do better, and if they don't, and if Wall Street doesn't lengthen its short-sighted view, the hamster wheel might start slowing down.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Update on Cringely's Bad Math

Following up on my highly skeptical response to Cringely's "the sky is falling" web-hosting post, Brad Gibson, who designs data centers for a living, dropped me an email suggesting that I check out his blog. Here's a sample of his analysis:
Cringely overstates the actual (as opposed to the name-plate rated value) power consumption of the drive arrays by at least double. He also gets muddled up when he discusses data center floor space; mixing up total square footage with the square footage of the connected load space. He uses an incorrect approach to calculating "necessary" space to support "equipment" space. He makes some incorrect assumptions about the types of drives used in many of the arrays. The Cringely argument also completely overlooks load diversity in a data center.
Check out Brad's excellent piece here.

Brad's post also pointed me to the coverage of the Cringely piece on Memeorandum.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Three Postulates: The 'Long Tail' <> User-Created Content

At this point, anyone who is reading this blog has seen Chris Anderson's 'long tail' graphic so many times that I can *not* post a link to it, and say, "the yellow kind of clashes with the red/pink background, don't you think?" and you'll all be able to bring up a mental image in your head.

Let me tweak your memory further. Remember Chris' examples? The two key ones that stick in my mind were Amazon's catalog, with that fantastic quote to the effect of, "half the things we sell in a given day, we only sell one of"; and Netflix's movie rental business, where 'infinite shelf space' enables even the most obscure movies to add to the bottom line of the business.

Sure, Ethan. So what's your point?

Well, may I humbly point out that pretty much none of the items for sale on Amazon, or for rent on Netflix, are user-created in the sense that all we Web 2.0 junkies think of user-created content. None of them are user-created in the way that blogs are user-created. They're all commercial movies, or commercial books or toys or power tools, that may be rare and obscure, but were created by some professional organization with commercial intent. You do not see things like Harry Potter Fan Fiction making up even a small part of Amazon's long tail. Why is this? Not to be mean or anything, but intellectual property issues aside, there's an obvious grammatical error in the first nine words of the top-rated Harry Potter story on that site, and it doesn't get much better after that.

Let's look at another bastion of user-created content, Slashdot. Slashdot works like this: It has a home page, and a set of topical sub-pages, which are run by editors. They choose what stories make it on to those pages, and then all and sundry comment on the stories, and moderate each other toward nirvana or oblivion. Note that the stories are a) written by someone who is not a Slashdot reader and b) edited / selected by someone who is not a Slashdot reader. Slashdot readers then, with either great enthusiasm or great skill, but rarely with both, comment on the articles, adding a valuable corona of information around the core star of the article.

Are crowds wise? Sure they are. But we all agree that committees are stupid, and isn't a committee just a small crowd?

Ethan's First Web 2.0 Postulate:

"The most successful new businesses will not be built on user-created content, but will utilize it extensively."

Google is a perfect example of this postulate in action. They crawl the web extensively, and aggregate everything they can find. They then apply relevance algorithms such as hubs + authorities to decide which pages to serve up. These relevance algorithims are, as several people have recently twigged to, social software -- aka user-created content. (Note: I blogged about this in late June -- I guess I need more readers!) However, the content which we are seeking via Google - the stuff which the users are ranking through their links -- is almost always professionally created content with commercial intent, although much of it comes from the very long tail of obscure professional content.

Interesting, huh? Google takes on the one hand, an index of all the content out there (most of the useful stuff professionally created) and then adds a relevance algorithm based on what a bunch of users think of that content, and voila! market-leading search. Then they add a bunch of professionally created ad content, and add a relevance algorithm based on what a bunch of users actually think of those ads, and voila! A $106 billion in market cap.

Does this story sound vaguely familiar? How about Amazon's professional-content store, with a heavy wrapper of user opinion and review? How about eBay's professional content marketplace, with a heavy wrapper of user opinion (seller and buyer ratings) plus user-specified value algorithms in the form of final auction prices? I think I see a trend.

Ethan's second Web 2.0 postulate:

"The number of users who will usefully comment or vote upon a topic is one to two orders of magnitude greater than the number of users who will usefully create content for that topic."

Since we all know about Metcalfe's law and its new-meme supercharged cousin Reed's law, which Fred Wilson has been talking about, it's clear that if we want to build highly scalable value in the network, we might be better off focusing on capturing user opinions at scale, rather than capturing user content at scale.

Huh. I kind of think as I write these (snarky readers will respond, "We can tell, Ethan," while super-snarky readers will respond, "Not that we can tell, Ethan"), and I've just realized Ethan's Third Web 2.0 Postulate:

"Every time I think hard about where the web is going, del.icio.us seems right in the middle of it."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Cringely's Math Makes No Sense

I read Robert Cringely compulsively - he's a lively writer, a deep thinker, and totally plugged in to several frontiers of technology. But every once in a while (as with his July column on Skype) he makes claims that are not just wrong, but ludicrously wrong.

Here's the essence of his last column, which I have condensed to save you the three minutes I wasted reading it:
"A lot of money is being bet on a future user computing experience based on web services" but "the cost of keeping [user] data online all the time will be huge. It's an energy crisis in the making." "202 million [U.S.] Internet users..." * "a free Gmail account with two gigabytes of storage..." = "400 petabytes. That's 400 times the current capacity of the Internet Archive."

"that's really only about $25 million in disk drives..."
+ "total power consumption up to just under 10 megawatts, which at typical U.S. industrial power rates will cost about $5 million per year."

"This is the kind of planning and provisioning required to support FREE services...That's a heck of a lot of ads."

"My point here is that we're entering another period of Internet exuberance...the Internet will change even more than it has the ways we live and work. But it isn't going to come easy and it isn't going to come cheap."

Huh? Cringely just wrote that the big portals can create a kick-ass email service for *every single internet user in America* for a disk drive cost of $25 million, and an annual power cost of $5 million. Generously speaking, let's say that the total capex would be $125 million and the total annual opex would be $25 million (5X on both his numbers). That's a capex per user of 62 cents, and an annual opex per user of eight cents. And he says this is a problem? Dude, that's two postage stamps!

There are three great systems of analog user-created content creation and distribution in place today. They are the U.S. Mail, the phone system, and the camera/photography/film infrastructure. Voice, text, and images, analog-style. To give Cringely as much slack as possible, let's look at the smallest and cheapest, film photograpy. I called a knowledgeable friend, who told me that in the United States, there are about 25,000 minilabs for processing photographic film, and that the average cost of these labs is about $200,000. That's a capex of $5 billion. And that's just for photo prints at your local Walgreens, CVS, or Ritz Camera. If we assume one $10 per hour clerk full time to run each of those minilabs, our annual opex is $500 million. Don't forget that behind those minilabs are film plants, paper plants, distribution networks, and SuperFund sites.

By any wild stretch of imagination, the new digital infrastructure being put in place will be vastly cheaper, both to build and to run, than the old analog infrastructure that it's replacing.

The value of that infrastructure, compared to its cost, is incredible: Cringely carps that $30m is "a heck of a lot of ads" the day before Google announced that they'd just sold $1.05 billion worth of ads in their last quarter alone.

Wake up, Robert, and smell the bits.

TechCrunch BBQ 3: This Dog Got his Dinner

Michael and Keith threw a great party for the 3rd TechCrunch BBQ. It's kind of amazing how fast things are moving out here - Just as an example, I met both Kevin Burton and Jeff Clavier for the first time at the second TechCrunch BBQ, and I've seen each of them so many times in the past few weeks that they're starting to feel like old friends.

I have been deeply conflicted about the whole Web 2.0 buzz. I think that a lot of us who have just been trying to build great products for the past 10 years feel like a dog that's been patted and kicked intermittently, and we're not quite sure if it's time for dinner or a beatdown. So everyone is working their tails off, but mixing it in with ongoing self-mockery and self-reflection. At my first startup ('96), we took to calling ourselves "the last software company" as we watched a bunch of "web" companies take over, take off, and fall off a cliff. Now Zvents is running as hard as it can, while looking around at some of the fluff and saying, "maybe we're... kind of... a web 1.3 company?" The Web 2.0 conference made things worse, not better. It was crazy -- at $2900 a head or whatever they were charging, it drew some people who think too much about money, and not enough about building stuff. People who needed to be talked to in big ballrooms by reassuringly profitable, public, branded figureheads, before going out to open-bar parties hosted by a bunch of cool 19-year-olds and saying, "so this is what '99 was like."

No, actually. For it to have been like '99 would have taken a lot more MBAs, a lot more New Yorkers, a lot more 24-year old sociology chicks making $150K in high-tech PR, with a vast fog of general cluelessness about technology AND business overlaying it all. Thank God it wasn't anything like that bad.

With all that angst rattling around in my head, Michael's party tonight was amazingly refreshing. It was pretty much entirely populated by real, genuine, Silicon Valley people. Startup people. Big company (Google, Yahoo, IBM, Ebay) people. People who've built stuff, and done stuff, and made things happen. People who understand that you have to cooperate to make standards, and compete to make great products. People who know that elegant solutions to computationally hard tasks matter, and that compelling end-user experience matters too. It felt very real. There are some great products being built, and we got some fascinating peeks at What is Yet To Come.

I feel much better about this whole Web 2.0 thing after tonight. This dog got his dinner.

P.S. A few pictures:

Michael Arrington

Dave and Kevin II
See Kevin's Feedblog for details on Dave Winer's $20

This post should probably be tagged techcrunchbbq or techcrunchbbq3 or somesuch.
It's the Tag Guess Dance, aka Bubble Up from the Bottom, Baby!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Kosmix.com, Vertical Search for Healthcare, Launches

All of Web 1.0 continues to be reinvented around the search paradigm. Healtheon/WebMD, watch out: Today, Kosmix.com launches to provide healthcare search. I know two very smart search engineers there, Jason Zien (from IBM's WebFountain) and Ram Subbaroyan (from Inktomi). Kosmix is founded and funded by the Junglee/Cambrian nexus, and I expect them to kick some serious booty.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Chris Law Interviews Yahoo Developer NW's Toni Schneider

Chris just pinged me and said that his podcast interview with Toni Schneider is up over at WSFinder. Toni, who was CEO of Oddpost before its acquisition by Yahoo, now runs the Yahoo Developer Network. If you're curious where this whole "web as platform" meme is going, knowing what Toni thinks is a big chunk of the answer. Toni discusses the Yahoo Music Engine, Rollyo, Confabulator, Flickr, commercial terms for APIs, and a lot of other stuff. It's a pretty interesting listen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

3rd TechCrunch BBQ This Friday

Michael is taking the wrappers off of Edgeio. Lots of cool demos. Loads of interesting people. Check it out on Zvents: Zbutton

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Web 2.0 -- amateur vs. professional?

Matt Marshall at Silicon Beat wrote a great, link-rich post on the open/closed debate of Web 2.0. Among other things, he cites Nicholas Carr's essay, The Amorality of Web 2.0, where, among other things, Carr shreds what he calls the 'cult of the amateur':

In theory, Wikipedia is a beautiful thing - it has to be a beautiful thing if the Web is leading us to a higher consciousness. In reality, though, Wikipedia isn't very good at all. Certainly, it's useful - I regularly consult it to get a quick gloss on a subject. But at a factual level it's unreliable, and the writing is often appalling. I wouldn't depend on it as a source, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to a student writing a research paper.
I think that Carr is right. I think that amateurs are unrealible. One of the most fascinating little plays of the Web 2.0 conference for me was watching people's reactions to Barry Diller's talk.Zbutton Diller is a very savvy billionaire media mogul, who has pulled off bigger bets against longer odds than anyone else who spoke at the conference - including the founders of eBay and Google. Diller made what I consider to be some obvious statements, like, "there's only so much talent in the world," suggesting that there are limits to what amateurs can accomplish. In several subsequent conversations, people went out of their way to criticize Diller, shaking their heads and mouthing variations upon, "he just doesn't get it." These being the same people who mouthed salutations about Terry Semel's respectable, by-the-book defense of Yahoo's experts+amateurs, us+users positioning in the marketplace. Zbutton

Well, Diller is right, and I think that Tim O'Reilly knows it. O'Reilly, after all, is possibly the man most steeped in open source on the planet -- and most open source projects are the creations not of a diligent factory of excited amateurs, but rather the crafting of a small, dedicated group of professionals who are working outside the established structures of traditional software firms. Apache wasn't written by a herd, and Ruby on Rails is largely the creation of one really smart guy. If anything, open source proves not just the appalling common denominator of the amateur, but the opposite - the transcendence of the truly talented. I liken open source to the kind of flowering that took place during the scientific revolution in England -- a relatively small group of really smart people working together openly to create some truly revolutionary advances, and then a much larger group of people taking advantage of the new climate to make the world a better place.

I believe in the value of user-created content. But I think that value is centered in, and almost entirely contained by, the province of opinion. Voting. Editorial. Commentary. Not core content, not data. We've got a hybrid us+user model at Zvents, and I'm happy if that makes us Web 1.5.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

What's different about Web 2.0? Left Replaces Right

Remember Web 1.0? All the graphs went up and to the right:


Like in this Google Image Search

But now we're in the vastly better Web 2.0...

Where all the graphs go up and to the left:

long tail big tail

Like in this Google Image Search

Yeah, it's a different, different world.

Web 2.0 Hype? Stewart Butterfield and Chris Law Bet On It

At the closing reception for the Web 2.0 conference Zbutton (Thanks, Yahoo!) I introduced Chris Law, a founder of Tribe Networks, to Stewart Butterfield, who founded Flickr. As the three of us chatted, it became apparent that Stewart and Chris have very different views of where we are in the Web 2.0 hype cycle. So different that with some small incitement from me, they agreed to a $20 bet, to be paid at next year's conference. I'm the judge and this blog post is a virtual holding-of-stakes. Here's the bet:

Stewart: "This is likely the top of the hype, and even if it isn't, by next year it is going to feel so overdone that the name will have to change. This conference will still happen, but it will be called something other than Web 2.0 and look a lot more like an ETech."

Chris: "This is nothing like the top of the hype; this conference will not only happen next year, it will still be called Web 2.0 and will be bigger and crazier than this year."

Stakes: $20.
To be paid: Next year's conference.
Proof point: Officially the name of next years' conference, but I think all three of us will know who won the bet no matter what it's called.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Web 1.9? Blog search is kind of broken

This whole Zvents launch has made me realize that blog search has a loooong way to go. For the first time, I was really trying to find everything (OK, everything important) in the blogosphere about a particular topic. I started with Technorati. I used Feedster. I tried pubsub, IceRocket, and Bloglines. The overall experience was frustrating and only moderately successful. People told me that they'd blogged about me, and I couldn't find their posts. Caterina Fake from Flickr runs or has run four different blogs, it turns out - Flickr, MyWeb 2.0, Bizwerk, and Caterina.net. I only knew about three of them, and couldn't find her post. Finally I did - by searching for her name on Yahoo. (Thanks, Caterina and Y!, for the post *and* the search!) Despite the fact that Bizwerk is a blogspot blog, it mysteriously does not appear to be indexed on Technorati - or at least Caterina's post on our Zvents calendar widget doesn't turn up.

This is a mess, guys. I know we're letting a thousand flowers bloom here, but some serious gardening is needed!

Cool new discovery - tracking how many people have bookmarked Zvents (and what terms they use) on del.icio.us is a really interesting buzz meter. If delicious tracked bookmarking activity over time, they'd have an even MORE interesting relevance engine than the one they're already building. As usual on del.icio.us, this is an awesome function that's completely opaque to mere mortals -- as far as I can tell, the only way to generate an explicit box and button for "show me tags for this URL" is to have already successfully done it once. (follow the link and look at the bottom for the magic box). And now that I look at it more, the magic box doesn't seem to do that. What, pray tell, does "Check URL mean?"

Maybe we're only to web 1.9.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Zvents, not Z e vents!

I knew that launching the coolest new local event search on the web with a name similar to an obscure calendaring product produced by a Swiss company was going to be a problem. Silicon Beat just wrote about us (Thanks!) got our URL wrong (Aargh!!) and then fixed it inside 90 minutes (Thanks!) This whole Extended Conversation thing is real....

Web 2.0: It's just a conference

I've been to quite a few conferences, and both for the ones I've attended and the ones I haven't, there's often this feeling as the time draws near that This is the Center of the Universe, and Great Things Will Occur. Well, it usually turns out that a conference is just a conference. Great things may occur -- you're seeing an enormous conncentration of activity timed to these three days, including the launch of Zvents -- but that isn't really happening "at the conference". I just sat through my first workshop session (never mind which one) where I saw some really smart guys present (with moderate success) some software that they've worked really hard on. This will be repeated, ad infinitum, for the next three days, with occasional wonk-fests about XML over HTTP, and at least one great moment that would have been great to see, if it hadn't cost so damn much to me bere. So even if this is the center of the universe, (a doubtful proposition at best) I keep reminding myself, the universe is a very large place.

Zvents Launches!

We turned on the lights at Zvents at ~2 am Pacific time last night. No passwords, no beta. Five minutes later, we had our first registration. Web 2.0 is cool. So I actually got a little sleep before the Web 2.0 conference started. The game’s afoot!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

It's all happening! Yahoo buys Upcoming.org

Yahoo buys Upcoming.org.

Events are a particularly exciting area of human knowledge -- chock full of rich local, social, and temporal data. People want to find out what's going on near them, know what their friends are seeing and doing, and plan their outings. And they want to do it when they want, wherever they are, on any device, in a way that's relevant to them.

Paul Levine and the folks over at Yahoo! Local are very smart. They've demonstrated that yet again with their focus on the social aspects of events and the opportunity to integrate in with personal content (360) groups (Y! Groups) and the extensive set of venues in Y! Local. This is a nice integration element for them, and Andy and team are a great fit. This space gets hotter every day - and Zvents launches tomorrow!

Monday, September 26, 2005

So what *is* the payment model for Web 2.0?

This is increasingly the most important question around. I started noodling on this in my last post, and Blogsicle really lays it out in this post:
Oh but the economics! you say. Why would one group with a kick ass AJAX’d calendar app let out event data to a less-than-beautiful but popular community event aggregator? Why would I let you view all this in RSS? After all, you’re not seeing my google ads…

BTW Blogsicle is a smart blog I found via Peter Caputa. Update: I've since swapped emails with Peter Brown, the man behind Blogsicle, and can put a name to the blog.

So how does this work? Capitalism works by people paying other people money. One of the reasons that Capitalism 1.0 had a very large granularity (meaning relatively few big companies) is that electronic payment systems were very expensive and non-electronic payment systems (cash and checks) were even more expensive. Micropayments died about twenty times. Web 1.0 (call it capitalism 1.1) saw the innovation of cheapER payment systems like PayPal, which enabled companies like eBay to get reasonably large (still nothin' on WalMart or GE). But they still ain't cheap, and they are still far from automatic. And oh yeah, they still rely on a platform of bank accounts and credit cards and other Capitalism 1.0 kind of expensive bits and pieces.

So if Zvents has an event in it (say, an NFL football game), and someone finds it via Technorati, who serves them an ad about a related event (say, a charity benefit before the game) that WhizSpark is hosting the PR for, and the user clicks on that ad, and ends up signing up for the $50 event, who gets what? And how is it different if they click through to Zvents from Technorati, and *Zvents* serves them that same ad from WhizSpark, and they sign up in the same way? Clearly the people who need to get paid here are:
The event host/promoter (the charity)
and possibly the "big event" host/promoter (the NFL team)

The way this happens in Capitalism 1.0 is a study in high friction. Ticketmaster goes and signs multi-year contracts with big venues. Big venues book touring acts months in advance. Ticketmaster buys advertising space in local media. It's all done with paper and signatures on multi-month timelines, and the granularity is tens of thousands of dollars in most cases.

In Web 2.0, the theory is that we can a) create a payment system that is low-enough cost that it can efficiently allocate that $50 among as many as five players and that b) such a system and its associated contracts, representations and warranties, fraud control mechanisms, return policies, and other necessary legal blother can all be rolled into some sort of open-market-like API so that Technorati, Zvents, and WhizSpark can all jointly work in this value chain.

That sounds like a Very Big Problem to me, that needs a Very Big Solution. PayPal? Google Payments? Some sort of open consortium? You tell me.

Mergers, customers, and Web 2.0

In a recent post, I mused about the timeline on which mergers and consolidation take place within technology. I neglected an obvious point in that post, which is that a lot of these mergers are in the best interest of the vendors, but not in the best interest of their customers. It was pretty clear that Larry Ellison viewed the takeover of PeopleSoft as an opportunity to raise prices and reduce customer choice. It is pretty clear that Adobe and Macromedia merging will eliminate troublesome competition from both the web authoring tools and web content distribution space. None of this is very good for customers and users.

One of the precepts of Web 2.0 is that new technologies and standards like RSS, XML, and web services are going to allow flexible, customer-driven interoperability and integration -- "mashups" driven by customer desire for functionality rather than mergers driven by vendor desire for profitability. There are several assumptions built into this governing philosophy of Web 2.0:

a) That such mashups will actually work and add value - that the costs of integration really have fallen to the extent that you can effectively and usefully integrate at the desktop, not the boardroom.

b) That some sort of business model will emerge that would allow a convoy of solution elements like the ones posited by Peter to actually charge customers a reasonable fee, and split that revenue among themselves.

c) That vendors (that'd be us Web 2.0 companies) will not act in our own greedy short-sighted self-interest, but (perhaps because we are chastened by the threat of open-content examples like Wikipedia and, kind of, Craigslist) instead really allow our customers vast choice and freedom.

In order for Web 2.0 to work the way it's been hyped, all three of these have to come true. The existence of many mashups and the existence of Google AdSense are indications that a) and b) can happen, though they are very early, partial steps. C) remains entirely hypothetical for now, though it can be argued that Craiglist is an example.

I am really curious for others' thoughts on this.

News: Dan Brown to be Catholic Cardinal

Yahoo! Finance just did something really dumb. They hired Robert T. Kiyosaki, author of the best-selling Rich Dad, Poor Dad as a columnist for their new foray into editorial content. The only problem is that Kiyosaki is about the worst possible authority on finance and money managment that they could have chosen. It's like the Catholic Church reading The Da Vinci Code and deciding to make Dan Brown a cardinal.

Here's the press release:

SANTA MONICA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sept. 26, 2005--Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO), a leading global Internet company, today announced that Yahoo! Finance has launched a series of exclusive finance columns from nine of the nation's most respected authors, economists, and financial advisors. The columns will cover a range of personal finance topics, offer investment insights, and cover the most important economic trends and issues. The new Yahoo! Finance columnists include David Bach, Stephen Covey, Ken Dychtwald, Robert Kiyosaki, Daniel Pink, Laura Rowley, Jeremy Siegel, Ben Stein, and Charles Wheelan.

...Robert Kiyosaki is a best-selling author, investor, entrepreneur, and educator. In his column, "Why the Rich Get Richer," he will discuss why many commonly held truths about managing money are obsolete. His column will run every other Tuesday.

In my opinion, Kiyosaki preys on the aspirations of struggling middle-class folks by feeding them baloney about how they can become rich. His financial advice is not just bad, it's downright dangerous to your financial health. I am sure that someone, somewhere, has gotten rich following his recommendations, but I am also sure that the vast majority of his readers are at best poorer by the cost of his book as the net result of their relationship with him.

I highly recommend John Reed's highly analytical takedown of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I don't know Reed personally, but on the basis of this analysis alone, I would let him invest $100,000 of my money before I would give Kiyosaki $20.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Acquisition for exit, acquisition for profit

Peter Caputa has a new post up about potential consolidation in the calendars/time/events space. As usual, Peter's on to something, but as usual, he seems to want this all to happen at the speed of thought.

Let's have a reality check. Siebel Systems and Oracle just merged. This merger was pretty much foreordained when Tom Siebel left Oracle after a dispute with Larry Ellison about the relative value of databases and the applications built on top of databases. When was that? 1993. In the intervening 12 years, Siebel has built billions of dollars of value-added apps on top of databases, and to a large extent built its company with Oracle talent. This merger is a reunion that has always made sense, and yet it took a decade, because that's the kind of timeframe over which real business power and profit are sorted out.

There are other examples that are more complex, like Macromedia. Quoting from this site:

Macromedia was formed in April 1992 by the merger of Authorware and MacroMind-Paracomp. Authorware began operations in 1987. Founded in 1984, MacroMind merged with Paracomp in 1991. Macromedia extended its vision further in January 1995, when it acquired Altsys, maker of FreeHand, the leading design tool for print and Internet graphics. In September 1995, Macromedia acquired Fauve Software, developer of xRes, the fast creative tool for imaging and the Internet. Macromedia acquired OSC Software, developer of Deck II, in November 1995 Macromedia acquired iband, developer of Backstage, in March of 1996. Most recently, in January 1997, Macromedia acquired FutureWave, developer of FutureSplash Animator which was relaunched as Macromedia Flash, the easiest way to create small, fast Shockwave multimedia.

Let's see. That's seven years of operations before the first merger, and then five more mergers over six more years, ultimately leading to Macromedia owning Flash, which is pretty much why we all think of the firm. Now, of course, a further eight years later, Macromedia and Adobe have (finally?) merged, which, one could argue, made sense way back in 1984.

Patience, Peter. It'll all sort itself out. And as Kevin Hughes said to me the other day at CommerceNet as we discussed his great paper and events, "This market is wide open, and no one has figured it out yet."

Zvents is coming Real Soon Now!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Proxy Fight Brewing Over MySpace

Who needs soap operas when you can watch blood n' guts drama in real life? Check this out! Anyone who's read the details of the Intermix/NewsCorp deal knows what a dog's breakfast that company is. The total employee ownership of MySpace is tiny - of the $500m+ deal, the founders only got a small fraction. I will be curious to watch this unfold.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

TechCrunch BBQ Meetup - It's All Happening

Just got back from the TechCrunch Meetup. Can I just say that the best way to arrive at any event is in Paul Martino's pimpin' ride, soundtrack and all.

Had lots of interesting chats with interesting folks. Demos were in the air:

Demo 1

Demo 2

Demo 3

I am sure Michael will post details tomorrow over at TechCrunch.

It's all happening, folks!

[Tag: TechCrunchBBQ]

Summer Slumber is Over

EVDB updates. They're now Eventful.com. Check 'em out.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Events Search is Definitely in the Water

Zvents is days away from launch and a delightfully accomplished competitor has emerged. Check out BeThereBeSquare, which appears to be a one-man effort by Tim Martin. If so, I'd put him in the Bob Dylan class of one-man bands. Nice!

Kevin Hughes on Events

Intrigued by EVDB and Upcoming.org? Can't wait to see what Zvents is up to? Read Peter Caputa's blog?

Then you will definitely be interested in this: A way-smart paper by Kevin Hughes of CommerceNet, written one year ago, called "Event-Driven Information: A Core Component of the Now Economy." I just found this about a month ago, and was amazed at how Kevin had anticipated so much of our thinking at Zvents. I was so impressed that I'm headed over to talk shop with him later today. And with some people talking smack about who copied who, I thought I'd give a big shout out to a guy who published a lot of smart stuff first. Go. Read.

Open-Source Ad Network vs. Slashdot's Proprietary Ads

So the big rumor that flew by at the VLab tonight is that there's an open-source ad network forming. Scott Rafer spoke at moderate length about how AdSense/Words and Overture are becoming big pieces of proprietary, complex, unmaintainable, inefficient code (not sure how much of that was rhetoric ;-) and it is clear that the Google and Yahoo ad networks lock a lot of people - publishers and advertisers both - into models that they don't necessarily best benefit from. So it was interesting to say the least that an open counterpoint appears to be forming.

It was claimed that John Battelle's FM Publishing, Feedster, Jason Calcanis' Weblogs Inc., and Mark Pincus' latest (currently known as TagBadge, I believe) will all use this network, which is based on the phpAdsNew ad server. Scott made the interesting point that Slashdot, Ground Zero for open source, uses DoubleClick to serve its ads, and "maybe they'll come under some pressure from the open source community to change that." Grin. Yeah, maybe they will. Down with Slashdot, closed-source enabler!

Stanford VLab rumor roundup

This post is a bullpen for all the rumors and tidbits that flew by at the Stanford MIT VLab search event and don't get their own special post.


- Delight.com is launching a search service in a couple of weeks that, basically, will be search for women. I don't know what that looks like, but a good guess would be the search equivalent of delight.com. Lynda Keeler, who also launched LA.com, is apparently expanding her media-savvy ways toward more search functionality. Stay tuned.

- Barney Pell, currently an EIR at Mayfield, told a great story about Snap.com, which he is advising. When they first launched Snap, they discovered that their users skewed much older than average web demographics. They got ahold of some of these people and asked them, "why are you using the site?" The response was, "Because your fonts are big. All those other sites use tiny fonts and I can't read them." So Snap is launching big.com whose value proposition is simple: "The Most Readable Results on the Web."

- Near the beginning of the session, Barney asked, "Who here is starting or working at a vertical search company?" About 25% of the ~150 people there raised their hands. Of those ~40 people, 100% were in the front half of the room's seats, and none were in the back half, whereas people were pretty randomly scattered all through the room's seats. So do people who sit in the front start companies, or do people who start companies sit in the front?

- Feeva, which launched at Demo today, is going to be providing geolocation and personal targeting information to GoogleFi or GoogleNet or whatever the heck the big Google WiFi play is going to be called.

- Quote from Evan Williams, founder of Blogger and now Odeo (via Scott Rafer): "Never mistake a clear vision for a short distance." This re: Scott's first attempt to start an RSS feed search company... in 1998.

- Looksmart is apparently about to launch "hundreds" of vertical search sites for various B2B verticals - shades of VerticalNet, circa 1999?! What was old is new again...

- Barney Pell's comments on the panel can be found here.

- Paul Flaherty: "Vertical search is a trusted intermediary between a set of authors and a set of readers. 'Vertical' means either a narrow set of authors or a narrow set of readers. We tend to focus on narrow authors (travel = airlines, jobs = firms who are hiring) and forget about segments of readers. Don't."

- Since the definition remains unclear, a reminder that I blogged about "what is vertical search" the last time I went to one of these panels.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Vertical Search Firms: Google Commoditizes Google

I just attended a fantastic event on vertical search at the Stanford - MIT Venture Lab (VLAB). This is the first of several posts driven out of my mad scribbling during the session, the highlight of which was Scott Rafer, recently of Feedster and now of Wireless Ink, among other things. I had heard Scott speak before (most notably at Sylvia Paull's CyberSalon with David Sifry and Doug Cutting) and somehow it had escaped my notice that in addition to being really goddamn smart, he has a fantastic sense of humor.

Anyway, one of the tidbits of insight that I am blogging from his talk is that you, as a vertical search entrepreneur, should know that Google-like search is a commodity, and that you should layer more goodness on top of it. If you are unclear that Google-like search is a commodity, and the existence of Lucene and Nutch does not persuade you, and further the existence of GigaBlast! on the backs of two grad students in friggin' New Mexico does not convince you, then perhaps this will:

Google Search Appliance
Google Search Appliance
Google Search Appliance

Yes, the Google Search Appliance. The GoogleBox. Scott made the stunningly obvious observation (obvious only after he said it, of course) that you, as a vertical search startup, can almost certainly afford $30K for one of these, and should almost certainly point it against a targeted set of URLs for your vertical effort, as kind of a cheap base case get-to-parity move before you start stirring that secret sauce.

So get out your credit card, and it's off to the races!

Monday, September 19, 2005

It's in Wikipedia, it must be true

Ivan Pope from Web API Tracker just emailed me and wrote, "I added a page for Mashup (web application hybrid) to Wikipedia." If you're reading this, I'm pretty sure that you care, so go over there and pitch in your two cents to improve the definition.

And yes, the musical definition of mashup is also in the Wikipedia.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

John Robb's Global Guerillas

When I was doing my PhD work at Berkeley, I often said that I was interested in the intersection of science, technology and society. At the time, I focused more on how society influenced science; for instance the effect of Victorian Bengali culture on the physics and biology work of J.C. Bose. Over time, it dawned on me that it was much more interesting to look at technologies' impact on society; and warfare is one of the cutting-edge social applications of technology (sex and profit being the other two).

John Robb is flat-out the smartest thinker out there on the impact of technology on warfare; he thinks in systems, kind of a mashup of Bruce Schneier and Henry Kissinger. His blog may not be well known to a lot of people in the technology sphere, but I guarantee you that you'll spend a fascinating half hour there, or half a day if you've got the time.

A sample:
The rapid innovation of the Iraqi open source insurgency is yielding improvements in guerrilla technology. In the words of one British Army bomb disposal officer, "These guys have picked up in two years what it took the IRA a quarter-century to learn." infraredbeam.jpgThe most recent innovation (after the arrival of shaped charges) gaining popularity are infrared triggers for IEDs (improvised explosive devices). These triggers are a conversion of the simple "light" beams used in burglar alarms (see image) and as safety mechanisms on garage doors. The beams are activated remotely by radio controls when a patrol approaches. When the light beam is crossed the bomb goes off. Unfortunately, unlike radio controls the beams are not easily jammed. These new triggers have been used in numerous deadly attacks on British forces over the last several months.

This innovation may be due to Iranian involvement, but a more probable explanation is that the insurgency itself is finding low-tech solutions to difficult problems through an open source development process. Regardless, this innovation will rapidly proliferate throughout Iraq. Our problem is that the cycles of innovation that yield deployable counter-measures for US and British forces are slow and non-responsive by comparison. This is another aspect of global guerrilla math: our deployed innovation is measured in years and theirs in months. -OR- that a $1.2 billion program for IED counter-measures could be trumped by a $10 burglar alarm sensor.

Check him out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Minion notes: New Yahoo! Mail

The Minion writes to me that Yahoo! has updated their mail, and notes, "Sounds like gmail will have to improve now." Thank God. Gmail is yet another cool idea that Google has launched in to the world, and then failed to turn into a real product. I've been waiting for Yahoo! to integrate the awesome functionality of Oddpost, which they acquired over a year ago (July, 2004). Looks like it's finally happened.

This is yet another jab from Yahoo in the battle of heavyweights... I love watching this prize match.

Remote comment on Searchblog: How to Search

John Battelle's comments seem to be broken - I get sent here when I try to post one. So here's the comment I was trying to post in response to this post from John:
I'm surprised that you don't mention in this post another interesting thing that you said in Mountain View last night - namely that you're teaching search at your kids' school. While that is the elementary facet of this problem, it's the same problem, and I am curious for your thoughts or anecdotes from that experience.

I can imagine a new version of "media studies" - the sort of classes that help you, as a viewer, deconstruct the staging, editing, and filming that goes into producting a TV news blurb, and help you to understand its relationship to fact and truth. Seeing inside the sausage factory of news production can help us make informed decisions about how to evaluate its product, and with search, that same kind of informed decision seems critical to a) getting what we want out of search and b) knowing what *to* want, and what to expect, from a search result.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Blogs are the universal editorial opinion layer

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time, and I've finally been spurred by the emerging reality of FM Publishing to lay out my thoughts before John Battelle goes and changes my mind.

I don't have a handy history of journalism at my fingertips, but I'd say that all of our model of how it's supposed to work is Ben Franklin at Poor Richard's Almanack, or Cary Grant ande Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. Those intrepid folks who go out and gather the news, and have a pretty direct and individual relationship with both their sources and their readers. That directness has been lost over the years, partly through the growth of society from Franklin's Philadelphia of perhaps 12,000 people, and partly through intervening layers of technology and bureaucracy and the rise of giant media conglomerates.

One of the things that these conglomerates have done is to vertically integrate, in order to maximize profit -- and if you look at the profitability of local newspapers and local television affiliates, still the repositity of the majority of journalism in this country, they are staggering.

In a previous post, I said that editorial + reporting + advertising = news. Well, those three + distribution = media, and your typical newspaper or television puts them together like this:

integrated media

The three major categories of blogging that first emerged were political blogs, technology blogs, and teenage girl blogs (aka LiveJournal). If we look at the blogging phenomenon across all three, what is apparent is that a blog is a way to express an individual editorial opinion about some body of knowledge or events, that can be pointed or linked to. Blogs are the superstructure on the ship, and must point to an engine room which drives them.

In the case of technology and political blogs, the bloggers pointed to the widely available volume of reportage available online; and the drumbeat, time-driven nature of political and technology news is kind of like a CPU clock, making sure that the conversations continue to be synchronized and move along in a nice orderly fashion -- today we talk about the iPod Nano and FEMA; tomorrow we talk about Sony's cool new gadets and the collapse of the stock market. Or whatever.

In the case of teenage girls, I don't know what exactly started it, but one day they were suddenly all online gossiping about each other, and the content of their editorial layer was themselves, and intense recirocal linking activity unknowable to mere male mortals occurred.

I read several political blogs, and I get my news from the New York Times. The New York Times is either picking a moment in history to make its stand, or shooting itself in the foot right now, because they're closing a lot of their content off behind a paid subscription wall very soon. But I'm not sure that I care - the only Times columnists I regularly read are Friedman and Krugman, and they are fairly formulaic at least 40% of the time. The guys that I do read -- Kevin Drum and Josh Marshall, among others -- I find to be more interesting, more complete, and more persuasive on a regular basis. Once they actually get a business model figured out, Kevin or Josh should be able to make millions of dollars a year from expressing their opinions -- MORE than a Krugman or a Friedman can make, because they've gone free agent vs. the profit-maximizing intgrated media monopoly of the NYTimes or other big papers.

My take on MySpace is that, without quite realizing what they'd done, they enabled and captured music blogging. We (by which I mean NSVG) have done a lot of work with some big phone companies which has caused us to coin a phrase, the "Extended Conversation". Conversations today already happen across many mediums, and involve complex references, creation of content, commerce, and in many cases, actions. Politics is a huge area of conversations; technology another huge area; and teenage girls are the world's leading acknowledged source of conversations.

Music (specifically, hip emerging indie music) is a very fertile conversational area -- just watch the movie Slacker to see -- and MySpace built a 'platform' of band sites, band schedules, band singles, and band photos that allowed the fans of those bands, the conversational participants, to all converge in one place, and to start expressing their opinions about music. Voila -- music blogging, and $500m. As other forms of content become widely available in linkable, bloggable form online, I think that we will start to see the emergence of whole new categories of blogging, which can't exist today because the foundations of linkable information are fragmented or have high hurdles to discovery and discussion.

Blogging is the wave of the future for editorial opinion. We'll have a whole class of financial blogs, movie blogs, gadget blogs, local blogs, food blogs, music blogs, political blogs, health blogs... you name it, it'll be blogged. Because as this ecology emerges, it will be the most profitable and interesting way for the best writers and editorial opinion creaters to express themselves.

This of course begs the question, what will happen to reporting and journalism, the ship on which this superstructure sails? Dan Gillmor has and idea - citizen journalism - that I'm not sure I entirely believe; and the short answer is that I don't know. But I'm quite certain where the editorial opinion layer will go, and blogs will lead the way.

So what is Federated Media? That speculation is the topic for yet another post. But I don't think it's a coincidence that a couple recent interviews of John have included the capitalized phrase, the Force of Many.

Google to launch blog search

I just met John Battelle offline at his Mountain View book signing. Isn't it a strange reversal that with the term "offline," reality has now become a referent to the Internet? At the event, he said that at 9pm, Google would be pushing something live, and he'd blog what, exactly, as soon as he got wireless connectivity. Well, I presume he's sitting at Red Rock right now, because he's written that Google is launching blog search. Somewhere, Dave Sifry is screaming. Or, chortling that his category has been validated and his acquisition by a Google competitor assured? Stay tuned. This is probably a propituious time for me to finally write a long-delayed post about the blogeconomy... coming next.

Update: Google Blogsearch is now live and can be found here.