Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Paul Graham Missed the Mark on This One

Let me start by saying that Paul Graham is the man...the guy is doing a lot for the start-up community in this country and I truly enjoy reading his essays.

Furthermore, I give all the respect in the world to anyone willing to candidly discuss their thoughts, ideas, etc. in public view. They open themselves up for criticism, ridicule, etc. - so I don't want this blog post to be taken in the wrong way...

I'm NOT "Graham bashing" here, but something has to be said about his most recent post on "Cities".

In his latest essay Graham essentially talks about the "messaging of cities" -- in his opinion, the same way a brand or company projects a message to the public, so do cities. It's his contention that these cities project the following messages:

  • Silicon Valley: Power is important
  • Boston/Cambridge: Knowledge/ideas are important
  • New York: Money is important

This is probably one of the first times I've ever read anything from Graham and thought to myself, "Holy fuck, how did this guy reach such generalized conclusions that show such a clear lack of depth in thought!?"

I mean, does NOT matter in Silicon Valley!? Are you freaking kidding me? I guess Sand Hill Road is known for its charities and its many not-for-profit initiatives. And entrepreneurs only go there to take in the scenery.

And I love this one:
This suggests an answer to a question people in New York have wondered about since the Bubble: whether New York could grow into a startup hub to rival Silicon Valley. One reason that's unlikely is that someone starting a startup in New York would feel like a second class citizen. [3] There's already something else people in New York admire more.
The "something else" Graham refers to here is, of course, money. Hmm...I wonder why New York has been a hot bed for artists, musicians, actors, actresses, writers and various other occupations that are done more out of passion than for compensation for decades now?

While I do agree that it's probably easier to find more people who are interested in participating in (financing, partnering, working for) start-ups on the West Coast, I certainly don't think the "New York only cares about money" message is valid and it's borderline ignorant. Tech start-ups are far from the only industries out there that require boot strapping, ingenuity and creativity.

Arguably, one of the most influential (on ANY level) movements over the last 20 years was born and bred in the streets of New York: Hip-Hop music!

In fact, another guy I really admire, Gary Vaynerchuk, has even compared the web industry to Hip-Hop, circa 1985. And to tell you the truth, I couldn't agree more!

Granted, certain cities maintain a certain culture, but trying to pick a specific message for a city as large, deep and diverse as New York is like trying to say Moby Dick was just about a guy who went fishing.

Paul, not sure where or for how long you lived in New York but next time you come through, we need to hang out so I can show you around a bit. Might teach you a thing or two about a thing or two ;)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Offline - Where the Real Cheesecake Is

So we have FriendFeed, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, Google and all sorts of other cool, fun and sometimes useful tools.

FriendFeed lets me know whenever one of my friends uploaded a new Flickr photo, Twitter keeps me up to date on whenever a handful of people I know are taking a dump, Facebook makes me a better friend (haven't forgotten to e-mail someone for their birthday in 2 years) and the list goes on. These tools are pretty damn amazing - I love them all. But while they've made a meaningful impact on my online life -- which is taking up the vast majority of my day lately, but that's another sad story -- they haven't done nearly as much for my off-line life.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while these applications have changed the way I use the web, they have NOT changed the way I live my life. Facebook was coming close, in fact, while I was in College and the network was still closed, it was an integral part of my life...invaluable even.

And THAT is what I'm really looking for. I'm looking for a service that becomes indispensable to my REAL social life. Something that changes the way I live my off-line life!

Because that's what this is really all about - search engines, social networks, social news, etc....these aren't tools that are supposed to keep us locked into our chairs all day and our eyes fixed on a monitor. They're supposed to help us derive meaningful value for the other parts of our life: work, school, social, etc.

At the moment the only site that's truly integrating with my real life in a meaningful way is - mad props to Scott - I've met more people, learned more things and have gotten more value out of signing up for that site, than ALL of the other sites combined. And the kicker is, I don't even go on the site that often!

I see a link for a Meetup somewhere else, usually in a tweet or an email, and then I hit up Meetup for 2 seconds to RSVP for the event, and that's it! Brilliant!

So that's what I'm looking for - more "Meetup-like" sites. That's what I'm challenging the start-up community to put together.

Sites that change REAL LIVES and in doing so, will change the world.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Why Google Opening up AdSense is Important

For some reason the Microsoft-Yahoo! news got a lot more coverage on Monday than an announcement that came out of the Google camp…an announcement that I’d argue is much more significant to all three companies than Microsoft “possibly” buying Yahoo!’s search business.

Google is announced that it would be opening up its content network (AdSense) to display ads from 3rd party advertisers and networks.

That means other advertisers can now tap into Google’s publisher network and start serving up display ads. The advertisers have to be certified by Google, of course, but this is a fantastic move for Google even with a limited number of certified ad networks.

Here’s why:

  1. The move diminishes the possible effects of a combined Microsoft-Yahoo! display ad business. Any type of closed ad network Micro-hoo would’ve created has just become much less valuable.
  2. By Google giving its publishers more ways to make money the company stands a better chance of being the primary ad platform used by millions of web publishers (why go to the ad networks if the ad networks are already coming to them?). This is makes me think of Warren Buffett’s ideal investment: “a toll booth in a one bridge town”.
  3. I haven’t seen any details about monetization yet but this could also be a monster revenue driver for Google, especially when you look at it in the context of the Double Click deal.

In any case, it’s a major move for Google and I think the implications are going to be huge for Google and especially for Microsoft and Yahoo!.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Got my visa for China!

Wow, I can't even begin to describe what kind of f*%kin' production it was to get this thing!

The first time I went to China all I had to do was show up at the consulate with my visa application and a passport - 4 days later, POOF my Visa appeared. But this time they're making people jump through hoops (almost literally) to get a Visa.

I show up on my first day and it's obviously more packed than usual due to the Olympics. So I waited for 4 and a half hours only to be told I need the following:

1. Copies of my plane tickets
2. Copies of my hotel confirmation so I can prove I have lodging when I'm there
3. Bank statement showing I have enough money to spend in China
4. A letter from my employer (or a business license if self-employed) stating I'm allowed to take vacation

I couldn't believe it!

My bank statement!?

A letter/business license!?

These people were out of their minds.

But, I did what I was told, came back later in the week and waited another few hours before handing in my "permission slips".

I guess all's well that ends flights, hotel and visa are all in order and on June 19th I'm heading back to China!

I wonder if I can reach out to some Beijing tech bloggers before I land...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Where Does Facebook Go From Here?

I was lucky enough to have been in college when Facebook first launched. Luckier still, I was at one of the first few universities Facebook opened up to, Columbia.

I watched as the site evolved from a place to either:

A) Hook-up
B) Find out who else was in your anthro class

to a world class social utility that has not only helped redefine social networking, but also the web as a whole. It's one of the most well designed products I've ever seen...the company seemed so focused on solving real problems for real people. And that's certainly what propelled them from niche social network to one of the largest web sites in the world.

But where do they go from here?

What's the goal of the company now?

They've certainly changed the way we use the web, but have they changed the way we live our lives? Once upon a time I would've made the argument that, "Yes they have!". But I don't find that to be the case anymore.

When I was using it as an on-campus utility to engage classmates, attend a random meet-up over at Lerner Hall, or to find out where the next party was, I thought, "Wow, now this is a useful tool for my day-to-day life." But not so much anymore.

Now I get friend requests from people I've never met, I get updates when my friends comment on photos of people I don't know. I hear about parties I would never care to go to all because I added a stupid app to my account.

I feel like Facebook is becoming Starbucks. Too big for its own good. A man without a country. A cause that lost its way somewhere.

I know Umair isn't very fond of Facebook and makes a number of compelling arguments with respect to strategy and competition. But I think the reasons for Facebook's uninspiring performance as of late could be put much more simply - they've lost their reason for being.

And that begs the question, how does ANY company, once they get to be a certain size, maintain the core values, mission and vision they originally started with?

Is it a fallacy to even think that this is possible?

Which BIG, ultra-successful companies have stayed true to their users and to their original mission and values without being corrupted by their scale and size?



I don't know the answer, but I'd love to hear some opinions.

On another note - and probably a separate blog post - which companies ARE changing how we live our lives?


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wrestling with Midgets...oops, I mean Widgets...

I'm a big believer in the web trending towards disaggregation.

I have this vision of the web as a gigantic supermarket with all of these different items on the shelf. And we, as consumers, get to stroll up and down the aisles picking and choosing what we want our dinner plate to look like.

But, picture life before supermarkets - before America operated as a surplus economy. We ate what we killed or what we were given. Same goes with how we used to consume content...

In the mid-late 90's it was all about the "portal" and the aggregation of as much content as possible. We would go to the portal that had the most content (e.g. Yahoo!) because chances are we'd find something we liked there.

Then we slowly evolved towards the aggregation, indexing and searching of content via sites like Google, Digg, etc.

But now we're at the point where people are savvy and willing enough to take charge of their experience on the web and decide what their "dinner plate" will look like. And if the web is the super market, then the widgets are the groceries.

For those that don't know, a widget is basically a small software utility that resides within another web site...think of it like having a site within a site. Some widgets play music, others allow visitors to communicate with one another, etc.

For entrepreneurs of today, widgets will play an increasingly important role in how we build our respective businesses. The game has changed from, "How do we get the community to come to us?" into, "How can we go to where the communities already are?".

The most popular application of widgets has obviously been on sites like Facebook and MySpace where widget developers have been able to build monstrous followings in very short periods of time - I've seen some Facebook widgets explode from 0 to 5 million registered users in a few short weeks. That's unprecedented in the "destination" web, but when you go to where the audiences already are, you really begin to leverage the physics of the "widgetized web".

So how does this apply to me and TickerHound?

Well, since we have such a belief in the web becoming more decentralized, we want to capitalize on that trend and position ourselves to take advantage of it. So we're building a suite of widgets for TickerHound that other financial publishers, content providers and communities can use to enhance their sites and make their lives easier.

We've already kicked off development on a couple of the widgets but now that we're approaching the more complex stuff, we've been wrestling with some tough questions.

I'll be sharing some of those issues here and on the TickerHound blog in the coming weeks. I hope to get some great feedback from all of you!