Wednesday, August 24, 2005

How Wired is Ethan? 2:19 behind the curve

Per sent me an email at 9:35 about Google Talk. I checked Battelle for the gold standard on Google news; he posted at 7:30pm. Since Technorati apparently uses relative pointers on their search URLs (bad, Dave, bad!) by the time you read this post, this search will probably no longer point to the two-hours-ago transition from "preview" to "released" in the blogosphere; but I clock in at 2:19 behind that moment as I write this.

Despite the fact thatTechnorati was built on the premise, "who first and how fast" usually isn't a very interesting a question. But admit it, every once in a while, you want to see how fast your car gets from 0 to 60, don't you?

Update: Doh! I must not be very wired... I originally posted this to the wrong blog.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Google Talk's biggest winner: Global IP Sound

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Robert X. Cringely was wrong to consider Vonage and Packet8 the equal of Skype. Skype has fundamental advantages over other VOIP services, I argued, because they use the awesome Global IP Sound codec.

Well, today Google launched Google Talk, and lo and behold, it uses GIPS as well:

Google Talk

I'll repeat what I said three weeks ago:

"And someone really smart should buy Global IP Sound."

How do I know so much about GIPS? A mis-spent youth:

NTTE Global IP Sound demo 3

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Liquidity Changes the Definition of an Asset

I spent a few years of my life working on eMarkets. It was a business that created a ton of hype, most of which came to naught as the protagonists were exceedingly ahead of their time, and even (gasp!) poorly thought out and even more poorly executed. I've always admired eBay for building a phenomenal market out of of exactly the kinds of customers that your MBA marketing classes would tell you never to go after -- the flea-market, short-a-dollar, nickel-squeezing types that make up the collectors, traders, antique dealers, and general sharp bargainin' eye-for-a-deal secondary market of the world.

eBay has done this so well, says the UK Guardian (new bastion of cutting edge tech analysis?) that the average wealth of a UK household has increased by 3000 pounds (about $5000 at current dismal exchange rates).

I suspect that increase in value is almost entirely attributable to two factors; a) the ability to monetize previously unsellable "long tail" items and b) the ability to maximize one's selling price for many "big tail" items that previously might have been sold at a discount for want of multiple competing buyers. Both of these are different aspects of a decrease in transaction costs, most particuarly the costs of locating a willing buyer, or (the flip side of the same deal) the buyer's costs of locating an appropriate item to buy.

This is probably a good time to go sideways into policy and plug Hernado de Soto's fantastic book The Mystery of Capital, which analyzes how a lack of clear, efficient system for allocating property rights in many countries prevents people from borrowing against the value of their homes, and causes cradle death for capitalism.

It's kind of startling to stop and think that the ability to borrow against one's home is a fundamental basis for making our capitalistic world go 'round - and that liquidity is reflected in reasonably efficient mechanisms for turning a house into cash, or vice versa. eBay has taken a whole second tier of capital goods -- mostly what government statistics bureaus are fond of calling "durable goods" but plenty of other stuff, too -- and creating a market of sufficient liquidity that rather than being a straight purchase, the acquisition of many items can now be thought of more as a financial transaction where you go "long" the item in question against an expected curve of depreciation vs. usefulness, with an exit at some future date for a signficant fraction of the item's current value.

It's these kind of tertiary unexpected effects of the Internet that make world-changing techno-social systems so cool.

Friday, August 12, 2005

More Thoughts on Events, Media, People

I've made the claim before that events are news, and I've implied that Zvents is going after the media angle of the whole landscape. Peter Caputa is blogging about when, and how, Zvents and WhizSpark will collide; I'll lay out a few components and he can draw his own conclusions.

First, check out this above-the-fold Sunday Merc from a few weeks ago:

merc news events tagged

I should just say "Events = News" and let the image do the talking. More or less the entire selling point of this Sunday paper is four key events: The Grand Prix in San Jose (55,000 attendees expected) The Gilroy Garlic Festival (122,000 attendees last year) a jobs fair (paid placement advertising, no doubt really profitable for the Merc) and some kid-friendly events. The Merc is one of the more important papers in America - 268,000 circulation - and all the most important things that they can think of to splash across the front of their Sunday paper are events.

Is it any wonder that we're interested in this space? The web provides the opportunity for phenomenal search tools, personal managment tools, near-effortless communication with your friends about items of mutual interest, an unlimited volume of content, and incredibly cheap distribution to the end-user. Once the nitty-gritty process of "what to do" starts getting reinvented - the first task on our list - it's a few hard but short steps to a drastic rethink of local media, with implications numbering in the billions of dollars of ad spend.

So here's my map of the events space - I could have done this a number of different ways, but this is today's way of thinking about it + 10 minutes in PowerPoint.

events landscape

Zvents is going to try to make the media connection to people about public events. Peter is trying to help event promoters/venues connect to people. His revenue model is primarily direct, with some indirect; mine is primarily indirect (ads) with some direct. And since the media side is so huge, where we will likely first collide is somewhere right around Evite, which is the management of personal events. I don't find that space interesting in and of itself, but when someone starts adding a public event to their personal calendar and forwarding it to their friends; or creating a "Joe's 49ers game party" on the back of the public event of a 49ers game, I'm solidly into that territory. And when Joe starts blogging about both the 49ers game and his party, it starts to smell an awful lot like WhizSpark's "local bloggers promote events" model.

Fascinating times.

Closing question: Where's Nick Denton in all of this?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Events: Long Tail + Big Tail

Most readers of this blog are familiar with Chris Anderson's seminal "Long Tail" article in Wired. In the year or so since that article was published, we've seen an explosion in both real business and baloney rhetoric built on the long tail concept. Lost in the shuffle-play, perhaps, has been a point that Anderson makes on the final page of the article: That was a classic long tail business, which had no "big tail" to draw people in:
The problem with was that it was only Long Tail. It didn't have license agreements with the labels to offer mainstream fare or much popular commercial music at all. Therefore, there was no familiar point of entry for consumers, no known quantity from which further exploring could begin.
Here's a modded graphic from the article:

long tail big tail

Events are in many ways a classic long-tail business. I have a bunch of spreadsheets where I try to calculate how many public events there are in a given metro area (the Bay Area, being home, is most often subject to such numerical indignities) and at some point, the hapless Excel hacker has to throw up his hands. Rolling Stones concerts and 49ers football games are easy to count. Bands at local bars are easy to count.

But what about implicit events, like the opening hours of the local go-kart race track? Is that an event? What about the daily classes at 6pm at Hot Yoga 101 or Fred's Karate Studio? They are scheduled for a certain time, or available any time; they are activities "to do" - the public can walk in and pay a fee - are they events? And then let's look at that 49ers game. Maybe 50,000 people get tickets. Maybe a million watch it on one of several local Bay Area TV stations. So one physical event generates multiple virtual events. 150 local bars have "49ers game Sunday" special events. Add 150 more. 15,000 fans throw "49ers game at my house" parties. Add those as well, though we begin to cross the threshold from public to private events.

When one adds all of these up -- and throws in the Meetups, the radio-controlled airplane club meetings, the church services, the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, the extension courses at local universities, the City Council of Sunnyvale public forum for comment on the new library... I consistently get numbers like 50,000 events a week in the Bay Area. Can you say Long Tail?

But Long Tail isn't enough -- there's the Big Tail, too. The reason that Rolling Stones concerts and 49ers games and movie listings make it into the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News, with their limited print space and their expensive distribution model, is that they are wide-swathe high-popularity events that many paying customers care deeply about. And when folks are trying to figure out what to do on a Wednesday night, dinner and a movie is very often their first and best choice.

Figuring out the right mix of Long Tail + Big Tail is a huge business opportunity in events, as it is in many other fields of commerce. I'm pretty excited about what we're doing at Zvents, and I look forward to showing the world and getting your feedback in (gulp!) less than a month.