Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fisher Price Disappoints

I hesitated before buying a Fisher Price product. I already have a bad impression of this brand as being associated with poor quality products. My latest experience, buying a "Kid Tough" Fisher Price digital camera for my four year-old has reinforced my negative opinion. This camera is a piece of junk.

The ergonomics attracted me to the device, first suggested by my mother. My daughter loves taking pictures but we worry about her holding our "expensive" digital camera because she has a tendency to swing it around... So the idea behind "kid tough" is that the camera is easier for small hands and built to take the likely bonks from dropping or swinging.

Three fatal flaws:

1) The camera provides an easy to use two-eye viewer for selecting the shot (think binoculars) -- BUT the image shown doesn't line up with the image the camera takes. Result - heads always cut off in photos.

2) Simple anti-jitter software would have helped an enormous amount -- come on! Kids are not going to stand still to take pictures! And with the slow shutter speed of the cheap ccd they used, every photo comes out blurry.

3) Speaking of cheap ccd -- advertised as 1.3 megapixels, don't miss the word "interpolated" -- which is to say, the photos are all very grainy.

No more Fisher Price for this household! It may be inexpensive, but junk at any price is a waste of money!

Monday, December 17, 2007

What is the story with CLEAR?

So I signed up for the new airport program called "CLEAR" and today at the SFO Northwest Airlines terminal I had my first experience... But now I just want to know what it is all about! Is this just an elaborate way to cut in line at the airport security line? I still had to go through the regular security procedures, like any other traveller... What is the story? Is this a half-implemented system?

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Originally uploaded by Ted Shelton
" is the dogma of the few and not the faith of the multitude."
-James Connolly 1907

Starry Plough

Starry Plough
Originally uploaded by Ted Shelton
wasting away at the starry plough in Berkeley instead of being at the creative commons party..

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Twitter and T-Mobile

A new case study for conversational media is created every day. This time it is a conflict between a wireless operator and and an Internet startup. Another case of a network operator blocking the free and open Internet? YES says Chief Twitter Biz Stone on the Get Satisfaction website, one of the first places the question arose. NO says T-Mobile's official customer service answer which is that the problem is with Twitter.

The story is now in all the major blogs and forums. Twitter is actively engaging in the conversation, spreading their side of the story that T-Mobile has blocked them. So far T-Mobile hasn't shown up to the conversation to tell their side of the story. If T-Mobile doesn't respond and solve the problem, it will be in mainstream news outlets by the beginning of the week, and a much bigger headache for them. Given the sensitivity over "net neutrality" issues, it could end up being a part of a congressional hearing. That is definitely NOT the kind of PR that T-Mobile wants.

There are two important questions that a company like T-Mobile should be asking right now (or at least after the fact). How is that we allowed this bad decision to be made and implemented, which would clearly be visible to our customers and would make them mad? And how is it that our communications department wasn't on top of this issue?

UPDATE: Great letter from a T-Mobile customer to the CEO of T-Mobile...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why I think the Blog Council is a Good Idea

Let me begin by saying that I am entirely supportive of:

1) Big companies engaging in the blogosphere

2) Big companies recognizing that they have distinct challenges in engaging authentically and transparently in the blogosphere, which is to say in a useful and effective manner


3) Big companies talking to each other about these challenges

therefore, I can only be wholly supportive of an initiative like the one described in this press release announcing the creation of the "Blog Council," a group organized to facilitate having big companies who are already blogging, and have significant blogs, to talk about their challenges in doing so.

One thing I am NOT supportive of, is big companies seeing blogs (and conversational media more generally) as a new "channel" to do "marketing." I don't believe that the blog council intends to promote that idea, but I do think it is at the heart of the healthy ongoing debate in the blogosphere about the creation of the Blog Council.

Forget "blogging" for a moment. What is happening in the world right now, with the Internet as its midwife, is the re-emergence of core human behaviors in markets, transposed into a time and space independent global world.

Unfolded one more level:

Transactions in markets have historically (pre-industrial age) been driven by trust, which is established through reputation, social networks, and word of mouth. The industrial age alienated us as "consumers" from this core sociology of markets. For the past 150 years we have increasingly been asked to establish "trust" on the basis of mass media (public relations) and advertising.

But the past 30 years have undone the previous 100 -- first the evolution of the PERSONAL computer, then the expansion of the Internet, along comes accessibility via the Web, and then the mainstream adoption of online communities -- all leading to the re-emergence of our very human desire to establish trust from peers, not from the media or advertising.

And so what is a marketer to do when the very definition of marketing is being turned on its head? One possible route, and the one that is so vociferously being opposed, is to try and use the new medium like the old -- use blogs to market TO people.

Using a press release to communicate, talking about "tactics," operating behind closed doors, creating private groups that lack transparency in their operations and membership -- these are all the hallmarks of the old, and not the new. These do not establish authentic peer trust in markets.

I believe that this is why so many have been so critical of the start that the Blog Council has made for itself in the world. But it is not too late, it is never too late. The Blog Council can become more transparent, be more about conversations with markets, be more about the core set of reasons that it seems to have been created to serve -- big companies figuring out how to engage in this new medium. A starting point would be to engage with the critics and have a conversation.

Why do I stick with Blogger?

Nostalgia, I guess. Or Google PageRank :-) I started my first Blogger account on August 15th, 2000. The first set of posts aren't even available anymore. Originally I had created several different blogs for different topics and then tried to cross-link. Blogger didn't have categories back then. Oh yeah, it still doesn't :-)

How optimistic I was back on August 16th, 2000 when I posted this:
I will try to enter something into this space each morning. I have been thinking about what kinds of things I could possibly say in a "public" diary. As an officer of a public company (Inprise/Borland) I have to be careful not to say anything which the SEC would frown upon -- they don't like it if officers disclose material information about the companies they work for. Nor is it a wise idea to say anything that would indicate expectations on future performance.

Today I am headed to LinuxWorld Expo for the second day.
I wonder if I was the first officer of a public company to start blogging?

Hey, Google, when will you catch up to Typepad or Wordpress with the feature set? Anyone there? Hello?

Monday, December 10, 2007

War is Over

It is very hard to do as Jon Burg suggests and watch this video of John Lennon's "Give Peace a chance" campaign all the way through. But I agree with him in strongly recommending that you do. If we learn nothing else from George Bush's Iraq, I hope we learn that war wasn't the answer. The war is over, if you want it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Why I hate Joost

So I downloaded the beta of Joost, since I feel a professional responsibility to try these things out and understand what they are trying to accomplish. I came away from Joost profoundly disappointed. I spent half an hour or so watching the adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle with my daughter. The good news -- only two problems. The bad news, they are both deal killers for me.

First, the quality of the picture and sound was very good -- most of the time. There were these sudden glitches where the sound began to stutter or skip and the images would falter. With the enormous investment that has been made in this proprietary technology platform I would have expected it to work a lot better (at least as well as YouTube).

But the real disaster is that they seem to want to duplicate the horrible interrupt advertising model of television. We were tortured with terrible commercial for Coca-cola every few minutes of our viewing experience. Worse yet, unlike the sometimes artful way in which television has evolved to interrupt a show with a commercial (at a natural cliff hanger or break in the action) Joost's ads seemed to be inserted according to a schedule -- even if it meant that the ad appeared in the middle of dialog.

Attention Media Moguls -- I am not returning to interrupt driven television programming. And Coke execs? Your ads make me hate your product and your company. Give it up.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Poor iPhone Sales in Europe

While in Cambridge and London for SVc2UK I asked a number of different people -- students, professors, entrepreneurs and even taxi drivers -- how the iPhone was being received in Europe. Everyone agreed that it was an attractive device, but no one thought that it could satisfy their needs! Here is a list of reasons given that show the differences between the US and European mobile markets:

Slow network speed

Low camera resolution

No ability to record movies


No integration with automobile mobile

Can't use Bluetooth to move files around...

This last one was especially interesting -- a few people told me that they now use their mobiles as storage devices for files -- word or powerpoint documents -- so that when they are at a meeting they can say "oh, let me transfer this white paper to your computer via bluetooth." Wow. I hadn't even thought of doing that with my mobile!

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Cambridge Union Society (SVC2UK)

Cambridge Union Society
Originally uploaded by Ted Shelton
On our first evening in Cambridge for the "Silicon Valley comes to the United Kingdom" (SVC2UK) event, we were invited to dine and debate at the Cambridge Union Society. Founded in 1811, the Society formulated the following proposition for the evening:
This house maintains that Europe, not Silicon Valley, will become the best place to build future billion dollar companies."
I am sorry to report that your team from Silicon Valley did not prevail in opposing this motion in front of the partisan European audience. However, a wonderful evening for all was experienced by 600 students, faculty, and business people from the Cambridge area.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I am so far behind in blogging the events these past few days here in Cambridge. Somehow I thought I'd be able to write about everything as it was happening. But Ellen Levy and Sherry Couto have kept us all on our toes with a tightly packed schedule -- not that I am complaining! I am having an enormous amount of fun at the first ever Silicon Valley Comes to the United Kingdom -- SVc2UK for short!

The event is the joint work of Ellen Levy's new organization,Silicon Valley Connect, (which I expect you will be hearing a lot more about in the months and years to come) and Sherry Couto via her association with the Cambridge Judge school of business and NESTA. Ellen is an incredible person and I feel fortunate to have known and worked with her for over a decade. This is my first time meeting Sherry, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have a very high regard for her as well. Between the two of them, I expect that just about anything is possible!

And the schedule that they created for us is proof of their amazing abilities. Beginning on Thursday evening with a debate between the Cambridge and Silicon Valley business communities, attended by 600 students and faculty, and continuing through two days of classes at Judge, and countless opportunities to participate in the Cambridge community, I am awed (and exhausted).

I would write more now, but we are off to yet another event and then on to London where we will be engaged in yet more classes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Silicon Valley Comes to the UK

Tomorrow I will board a United jet to London, on my way there as a guest of Cambridge for an event titled "Silicon Valley Comes to the UK." I am joined by a host of notable Silicon Valley execs, all invited by the expert networker, Ellen Levy.

Our visit starts off with a debate at the Cambridge Union on whether Silicon Valley will remain the place that the "next billion dollar" company will come from. Fellow invitee Reid Hoffman has already started the debate at his company's website.

Friday and Saturday we will be participating in a series of "Master Classes" on a variety of web 2.0, Internet, and general tech entrepreneurship topics -- I'll be blogging from the event, so watch this space!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lobby Conning the Palace Hotel

I wonder if there were more people in the "lobby con" or in the main conference? The Palace was packed with badge-less folks. Attached -- a photo of Richard Jalichandra, Technorat's new CEO, standing with past CEO and founder David Sifry.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Does Silicon Valley Matter?

The debate is back (continuing) with this post by the thoughtful Brian Oberkirch commenting on an exchange at the Future of Web Apps and a speech by Paul Graham (also note this follow up from Paul on why to move to a "startup hub")

Here is my reply:

Best thing I ever did — come back to Silicon Valley from Chicago in 1995. I say “back” because I grew up here, then lived in Chicago for over 10 years…

The reasons I came back are the same today:

(1) access to capital. Nowhere on earth is there more money being invested in startups than on Sand Hill Road. And even if they give lip service to investing in other markets, these VCs don’t want to travel and will prefer investments within 20 miles of their houses

(2) access to advice. Nowhere on earth is there a similar concentration of executive expertise in building a startup — all aspects from operations to strategy, to managing personalities — then in Silicon Valley

(3) access to talent. I can’t even recruit in Berkeley as well as I can in Palo Alto, and that is less than 50 miles.

(4) willingness to take risks. everyone in this market “gets it” from the office manager to the CMO, and understands the risk/reward paradigm of startup life

(5) low/no friction — accountants, lawyers, real estate — all know how to deal with startups which in other markets is RARE and sucks up a lot of valuable time

(6) oh yeah, and lastly, synergy with other startups that are doing similar interesting things. Which happens more easily when you see the people all the time in coffee shops, school fundraisers, etc. But you are right - that could happen by being nomadic. The other stuff? not so much.

Want to make your life easier in building a successful web company? Go west young man.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

United: Struggling and failing

I flew back from London yesterday on United Airlines. I was excited to have them offer a cheap upgrade to me at check-in so that I was able to move into a business class seat. What a disappointment though!

No wonder they have so many empty seats in business and first that they can offer cheap upgrades -- on my plane, a 747, one of the lavatories in my section was out of order, the power outlet in my seat didn't work, the seat wouldn't stay upright (it kept tipping back), and my footrest wouldn't stay up at all!

Three things that the flight attendants (who are terrific) told me that makes me wonder whether or not I should continue flying on this airline at all:

1) When United flies a "codeshare" flight with its partners, like Lufthansa, as soon as the customers of that other airline find out they are on a United plane they immediately try to change flights and the ones who can't are very upset to be on a crappy plane

2) United doesn't do its own maintenance anymore and so the problems I experienced are "common" according to one flight attendant -- and they just don't get fixed when reported

3) According to one of the members of the flight crew, that old beat up broken down 747 is expected to continue to be one of United's primary workhorses on the London-SFO route for ANOTHER YEAR.

So I am shopping for a new airline. By the look of how empty its planes are, I'll be one of the last rats to abandon ship. Which brings me to another point. Doesn't United understand that by providing a terrible product they are destroying their brand and driving away their most loyal customers?

Hello United, anyone listening?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Conversations are not marketing

I have been enjoying reading James Cherkoff's blog Modern Marketing which I rushed over to after having met him here in London yesterday morning. He offers this great tidbit from The Conversation Group advisory member David Weinberger:
"Marketing has to change. It has to recognize that market conversations are now the best source of information about companies and their products and services. It has to recognize that those conversations are not themselves marketing — you and me talking about whether we like our new digital cameras is not you and me marketing to each another. Neither is our conversation a "marketing opportunity." But the temptation to see it as such is well nigh impossible for most marketers to resist."
You can just imagine somewhere right now there is a marketing department person in some company going around to the product development staff saying "I need 4 blog posts a week from each of you. Go out and pump our product in the blogosphere." The temptation is real -- we in the industry keep saying that getting engaged in the conversation is important, and that the people who should do it are the real people in the business. But it must not be forgotten that this is only a useful activity if it is authentic -- if it is done because the person really wants to participate in the market and has something to add that the market will appreciate as valuable. Just flogging a product is a waste of everyone's time.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Conversing with Airlines

Following up on my post yesterday about conversing with companies, I realized that I have a lot to say to airlines. I just took United's online survey and was very disappointed by the experience. I appreciate that there are specific quality metrics that United is interested in measuring and that they think the only cost effective way to do so is through statistical analysis, but this is VERY dissatisfying as a customer. I have specific feedback and I want to have a conversation with them!

And as a customer, I should be important to them. I am working on my second million miles on their airline and I also frequently fly on their competitors airplanes. So I am an experienced consumer of their product. Given my current projects, I will easily spend $20,000 on airplane tickets next year including domestic and international travel. So why wouldn't they want to know what I have to say?

Furthermore, there has to be the reward of talking to them that comes from (a) feeling like I am being listened to; and (b) that there is some accountability -- someone will do something about the issues I raise. The "reward" for filling out their survey was entry into some ridiculous contest that no one ever wins. That is not a reward, that is an insult.

There are a lot of things I like about United, but I have a few complaints. They would be a better company if the figured out how to converse with their customers and they would win me over as a greater advocate for them. This is a good example of how companies could be engaging in conversational media as an alternative to traditional advertising.

Hello United, anyone listening?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Want to 'converse' with companies?

I have been thinking about the recent article by Elinor Mills of CNET entitled "Want to 'converse with advertisers? Me neither" which was written as a response to the recent Federated Media conference, CM Summit. Elinor makes a good point in observing that if all companies do is insinuate advertising copy into social media, there efforts will fail. But she doesn't go far enough in discussing the changing relationship between companies and the markets in which they participate.

Elinor can hardly be blamed. The Federated conference continued a long history of marketers talking about what the have done or will do TO the people they are trying to attract or retain as customers. But there were some bright spots in the conference agenda and there are some bright spots in the market and it would be a shame to believe that all companies want to do is stick their advertising into another new medium.

There are actually some companies out there that understand that they have an opportunity to reinvent themselves -- they understand that the future in a post-industrial economy is creating a great experience -- which means a relationship -- which means listening and participating WITH not broadcasting TO the people that used to be called their customers.

The fact that we all have a voice now means that successful companies will learn to listen and talk with the people who are in their markets -- customers, employees, vendors, and even competitors. There will be more transparency, more accountability, and a higher quality experience around the best companies and their products or services.

Product development processes will change. Customer service will change. Vendor and supply chain management will change. Oh yeah, and advertising and public relations will change.

Who wants to 'converse' with companies? I DO! In fact, I can't wait 'till they actually start listening. There are so many things I want to tell them about what doesn't work, what is frustrating, even what they are doing right.

So don't through the conversation baby out with the advertising bath water.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Terrific Video (new homepage)

Another "placeholder" web page has gone up at The Conversation Group and with it a really terrific video made by our friend (and member of our BOD) Peter Hirshberg. Peter interviewed Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, on blogging. This is a snippet of the conversation which specifically touches on the question of brands "controlling" their image in the market. Summary? In Jonathan's words, "Control is an Illusion"

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Advisory Board for The Conversation Group

Today The Conversation Group is announcing the formation of our advisory board. We have sought to bring together a diverse set of practitioners, approaching the participatory Internet from a variety of perspectives. Our goal is to work with these individuals on two important missions -- first, we will rely on their advice and direction as we develop The Conversation Group into a global class company. Secondly we will work with this group to develop analysis, critique, and insights into the evolving role of the Internet in business, with a particular focus on conversational and participatory technologies and trends. As many of these people have written in their own work, the Internet is a change agent for the relationship between individuals and organizations -- we hope to work collectively with this group to shed light on the changes underway, and the changes to come.

Founding members of The Conversation Group advisory board:

Chris Brogan, Community Developer at pulvermedia, cofounder PodCamp
Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology
Todd Parsons, founder Buzzlogic
Mitch Ratcliffe, founder Internet/Media Strategies Inc.
David Thorpe, Senior Partner and Global Director of Innovation, Ogilvy Worldwide
Deb Schultz, independent consultant on social media & marketing strategy
Doc Searls, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto
David Weinberger, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Conversation Group

PR Week broke the news this morning, there is a new kid on the block -- The Conversation Group has officially formed, out of work that Peter Hirshberg and I started earlier this year at Technorati.

Here is our official press release:

Giovanni Rodriguez of HububPR, Chris Heuer of the Social Media Club and Stephanie Agresta, a nationally recognized leader on affiliate marketing join me as founding partners. Peter Hirshberg of Technorati and Mark Adams, co-founder of the global technology PR firm Text100 join our board of directors.

We also have an incredible advisory board and an amazing list of other folks involved in this effort -- more announcements to come. And of course there is our growing list of clients.

More to come in the days ahead -- with thoughts on what this all means for the Internet, for marketers, and for all of us involved in global markets as buyers, sellers, and observers!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Conversational Media Mis-step: Apple?

Apple is often held up as a shining example of a company that really understands the power of conversation -- how to engage with the "faithful" (as Apple fans are sometimes called), how to listen, how to respond positively to criticism... But Apple (and especially CEO Steve Jobs) has a penchant for trying to control that conversation.

In articles like this one today Apple is being accused of purging negative comments about their $200 price cut on the iPhone. The article claims that
this morning, a check of those forums themselves (negative comments on Apple's site) reveals not only are those topics from the screenshot indeed missing, but at least one of their creators' usernames has been purged from the forum's rolls.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Train from NYC to DC

This morning I took Amtrak's Accela Express from New York's Penn Station to Washington D.C. This afternoon I will be taking it back again. Bottom line: it's as if your flight was 3 hours of turbulence, ugh.

I investigated the train option when I discovered that it is cheaper to fly to Lisbon from New York than to D.C. Really. I am not making this up. The front page of the US Airways website is promoting a roundtrip airfare to Lisbon for less than $600. The roundtrip airfare on the "shuttle" to Washington is almost $700.

So I was pleased that the train was around half that round trip. And I figured that I would be able to work on the train for three hours since, of course they must have WiFi by now. And if I compare the time it takes each -- even though the flight is short, getting to the airport early and getting through security and all that means that it would take just as much time to fly (Ok maybe a bit less, but the train time would be 100% productive time).

The first dissapointment -- no WiFi. Gosh, I even have WiFi on the bus in San Francisco. What is wrong with people out here? Is Verizon paying Amtrak to keep WiFi off the train so that they can sell more EV-DO cards?

But the biggest dissapointment -- the ridiculous bumpy ride. Really -- like sitting on a plane with bad turbulence and bouncing for 3 hours. Why do people put up with this? Next time? Maybe I'll drive. Or buy my shuttle ticket far enough in advance to qualify for a reasonably priced ticket. But not the train. I can't even stand the thought of taking it back to NYC this afternoon.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Boarding Virgin America

Boarding Virgin America
Originally uploaded by Ted Shelton
Today I flew on Virgin America from SFO to JFK. Everyone I mentioned this trip to was excited -- Virgin seems to have some great press out there. "I hear the service is fantastic" people said. Well, let me tell you something. Its just an airplane. Sure, when you get on it is purple and blue and the soundtrack is playing a dance club beat... but once it takes off it still is just an airplane. It really doesn't have anything over Jet Blue.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A New Era at Technorati

I have spent a lot of time in the San Francisco offices of Technorati over the past 8 months. As a result I have had an opportunity to observe this company from a unique perspective -- on the one hand, having sold them my company (The Personal Bee), I had a stake in what was happening and had a chance to be involved in conversations about the future of the company and I had the chance to get to know Dave and his team. I am impressed with the group's ability to make hard decisions about the best way to move forward in revenue, growth opportunities, and how to get the team focused on execution.

For the past couple of months I've been working with Peter Hirshberg and his team at Technorati on the opportunities in conversational marketing and I'm exciteD -- there is a lot of momentum, they remain a great brand and at the end of the day their ability to adapt and make tough decisons is a mature thing to see from a start up. I expect great things from Technorati in the near future; change is never easy, but its often necessary to keeps growth companies vibrant.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

AT&T: Sick and wrong

I know other people have written about this but I just need to vent -- 27 PAGES?! WTF!? Why do I need a bill from you, AT&T, that has 27 pages of "data transfer cost $0.00" ?! Who benefits from this? Are you guys on crack? I wouldn't be an AT&T customer except that it was the only way to get an iPhone (thanks Apple). And as soon as it is possible to have an iPhone and STOP being an AT&T customer I will.

By the way, $0.35 per minute for overage minutes and a 1 minute minimum for a call that doesn't even connect us usurious.

I can't wait to DUMP AT&T

Monday, August 13, 2007

Linkedin vs. Facebook

About a month ago Jeff Pulver wrote a blog post on why he was ditching Facebook in favor of Facebook. Then to add insult to injury he wrote "viewpoint" for Businessweek on the topic, Confessions of a LinkedIn Dropout. Having known Reid and LinkedIn for a very long time (I was an early beta tester, before the site was live) my investment in LinkedIn is considerable. I have invested in using the tool as a professional network (over 350 contacts) and as a resume ( and used it successfully to recruit employees, do background checks, and stay in touch with old colleagues. On the facebook side, I had a login with no profile - just created as a holding place.

But at the same time that Jeff was writing his post and article, I was watching an interesting thing happen. While it had taken years of deliberate active effort to build my Linkedin network to 350 people, within 2 months my Facebook network grew to 60 people and is still growing - organically with no effort on my part. And as it has grown, I have gained significant benefits from being in closer touch with these 60 people -- I am finding out about events, interesting articles, and gaining insights into my friends lives.

In short, I am being drawn into Facebook and can also see a day when I might abandon LinkedIn. How did this happen? What did LinkedIn do wrong? And will Reid's recently announced attempt to launch his own open platform for applications on LinkedIn help save the company?

I believe that crux of the problem lies in the way each company looks at "first circle" uses (as Reid might call them). In LinkedIn terminology, you have different kinds of things that you would do with people depending upon whether you know them directly (first circle) or whether they are a friend of a friend (n circles). To me, this distinction is the primary strategic difference between these two social networks. Where LinkedIn focuses on things you might do to connect to people n circles away from you, Facebook is focused on first circle uses -- how do you stay connected with the people you already know.

For awhile now I have thought that this would mean that the two tools would have distinct uses and that I would continue to use both. But I am realizing that first circle uses absolutely trump n circle uses in a tool like this, and I think the reason may hold a lesson for all social media applications.

Because Facebook is alerting me now multiple times a day with interesting items from my friends, I am spending more and more time adding content to it myself, resulting in a positive network effect. As each of the people get more engaged, more value is created for all of the participants and each participant is encouraged to get more engaged. LinkedIn, by contrast, is a cold and distant planet that I might visit once in awhile if I have a very specific objective in mind.

So while LinkedIn becomes a more and more core part of my online existence, LinkedIn becomes a more and more peripheral part. I don't have to write a blog post and an article for Businessweek about abandoning LinkedIn in favor of Facebook - it is just happening without my even noticing.

It is definitely not too late for LinkedIn. There is still time to correct the problem. But the place to focus on product development is the daily experience with my first circle, not the application platform. While the open API will eventually be useful, developers will only write applications for a platform that people use. That problem must be solved first.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Future of Publishing

Long time friend Sean Wolfe has launched Red Herring TV ( and is, IMHO, showing the way for print publishers to take their brand value and make it relevant and exciting for web consumers. Sean's interviews with leading VCs for example, make great viewing and MUST viewing for anyone planning on pitching their business plans to these leading folks. Take this example, Kef Kasdin of Battelle Ventures -- I love Sean's opening question "...what do you think, broken or not?" with respect to the early stage VC model.

Check it out!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Apple: Best Customer Service Ever

The USB power adapter from my iPhone was acting flakey -- sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn't. Seemed to me to be a short. So I went to the Apple store and told them of my problem. They said, "normally we'd like you to go to the Genius bar so that they can confirm your problem, but the line is really long today so lets just swap it out for you." Wow. In 5 minutes I was out of there with a new adapter. THANK YOU APPLE. Imagine that happening at an AT&T store! Hah! Tell me again why you partnered with them? Oh, that's right. Because King George the Decider and his government decided to give AT&T a monopoly. Sigh. Oh well, soon everything will work over WiFi, right Apple? ;-)

Friday, August 03, 2007

With the Many

Great article from about 7 months ago by my friend and colleague Giovanni Rodriguez on social media and its adoption by larger companies -- read more on his blog. Giovanni explains his use of the word "peer" in framing the discussion about why some social media projects are succeeding. Having spent the last few months trying to explain this concept to companies, advertising agencies, and PR firms, Giovanni's clear thinking on the subject is very welcome. I have been boiling down a similar set of thoughts to the following equation:

Public Relations has been about communication WITH the FEW

Advertising has been about communication TO the MANY

Social media demands communication WITH the MANY

Giovanni's "peer" is a deeper look at this challenge and I encourage you to read both his shorter blog post and the longer version on the Journal of New Communications Research, here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Good iPhone Wishlist

As the post says, I absolutely love my iPhone... But this is a good list of wishes for the next update. Some of them are unlikely -- the ring tone issue is apparently a dispute about whether AT&T is going to make money on selling us the right to have our songs as ring tones... but all of these should be on Apple's list for the next rev:

Sunday, July 01, 2007

It's Not Fair

"It's Not Fair." That seems to be the universal reaction. At least amongst those that don't have one. "I just got my new phone and I loved it. Until you showed me that iPhone. Go away, I don't want to see you again." That is what the lady with the brand new top of the line Nokia said. "What are all the problems?" asked the man hoping I would tell him something reassuring about hiw purchase of a new Samsung.

But I had to tell them the truth, that Apple really has done it right. The next group of people saying "it's not fair" will be the other phone manufacturers who don't get what is at the heart of this new device -- that it is about Apple being a USER EXPERIENCE company. Not a computer company. Not a consumer electronics company. Not an entertainment company.

While other mobile device manufacturers think about APIs for data integration, Apple is already moving the cheese and creating an incredible integrated experience.

I called my iPhone "Trinity" -- its about a phone, Internet access, and a media experience. And it does all three beautifully.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Naysayers May Now Stop Saying Nay

The iPhone. OK you are tired of the news. So I won't bore you with my first experiences. I'll just observe that it truly is wonderful. Apple has a huge hit. They really have redefined the cell phone experience. Other phone manufacturers should really think this through and not discount the impact that Apple will have in this segment.

My two complaints so far -- AT&T is stupid. But then again, they all are. It was fascinating watching how much Apple has done to make the integration of the AT&T part of the experience work in a smooth Apple way. But Apple can't cover for everything. So when I happened to type in my street address with the full word "Avenue," AT&T's computers responded that the didn't recognize the address but did have a similar one... it was my address but with the abbreviation AVE. This strikes me as the kind of user experience that Steve Jobs would never allow in an Apple product. It just screams "we are stupid!"

Second complaint is that I can't download software. I can't switch from the horrible Safari to the much better Firefox (or Opera or). I can't add in Adobe Flash (why did Apple leave it off the device!? it is part of the web stack!). I can't load my favorite apps...

But there are so many surprises lurking inside this device. There are fundamental changes in the way you think about your phone when it synchronizes seamlessly with your contacts, email, photos, videos, music, calendar... By the way I think it works incredibly well with the Mac but I have no idea how well it works with Windows.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Internet as Creativity Driver

In the April issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, a group of authors published a paper (link to PDF) with some interesting scientific evidence supporting what a lot of us have known anecdotally -- as a city grows, its creative output also grows at a faster and faster rate. Or as Deborah Byrd writes in her EarthSky blog:
They found that the creative output of cities grows in a way that is superlinear, meaning as the city grew its creative output grew faster and faster.
Deborah also points to a longer popular article on the topic at

I started thinking about the dynamics underlying the increased creative output from people living in cities and how they might apply to understanding the Internet. In cities communications time is reduced, practitioners in like fields can more easily find each other and collaborate, and there is a regular introduction of diverse thinking into city dwellers activities. The Internet is even more effective at shortening communications and helping connect like minds. But does it provide the serendipitous introduction and exposure to new ideas and different ways of thinking? Or maybe another way to ask this is, how can our use of the Internet replicate the best aspects of living in cities so that it can be a super-enhancer of this "city-effect" on creativity?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wharton West Bandwidth

wharton bandwidth
Originally uploaded by Ted Shelton
Here I am at Supernova2007, along with hundreds of other highly connected colleagues, all beating on the Wharton West network as hard as we can... And it is crumbling under the load. Maybe it isn't this bad when students are here trying to learn, but Internet Frog ( tells me that network reliability is down to 19% and bandwidth... sucks. Hopefully Wharton West will get this problem fixed before Supernova2008!

A Second Life For All

I was privileged to be interviewed yesterday by Annette Moser-Wellman for a project she is doing for Northwestern University’s Media Management Center on innovation. She was very kind to put up with my rambling thoughts for an hour - I bet the audio is edited down to about 10 minutes! How much more efficient would I be if I could self edit down to the interesting 10 minutes ;-) But here I am rambling again and what I really wanted to write about this morning is Second Life.

One of the things that Annette asked me about was how to lead an organization to be innovative. In answering this question I observed that there are people that are more likely to be innovative and people that are less likely to be innovative -- so you can't just lead any given group of people to be innovative. As an example of this I went on a tangent (yes, too many tangents is why my 10 minutes took 60+ minutes...). The tangent was about how people deal with innovation. I mangled a quote from Douglas Adams which with the help of Google I can now bring you from the Douglas Adams website:
1) everything that's already in the world when you're born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you're thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it's been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
Then I went on a further tangent to reminisce about how I would argue with people when the fax machine first appeared in general business circles (only 30 years ago) about whether or not every business would ultimately have a fax machine. And then in the early 1990s I tried to convince people that eventually everyone would have an email address on their business cards ("just like we now have fax numbers"). And websites, and etc. At each step of the way, there were a set of people that said "no way, don't need 'em" -- my argument was that a sense of curiosity and imagination about the future is a key component to innovative people and some people have that and some people don't. You might be more likely to find this characteristic in younger people (Douglas Adams' point) although some young people are close minded and some older people are open minded.

This tangent of course led me to another tangent -- what is the example of something now that most of the business community rejects but, like fax machines and email addresses and websites, will be an accepted part of our business environment in 5-10 years? The example I came up with was virtual worlds, like Second Life.

Yep, a whole bunch of you out there are saying, huh? Second Life? That "game" thing? Yes, Second Life or something that looks like it is going to be an important part of your business life in the future. Don't believe me? I just saw my first business card two weeks ago with a second life ID on it. That made me start thinking about why this is going to become an important business tool. That made me go start spending time "in world" as the locals say, trying to understand what it is today and what it is going to become in the future.

Here is a really simple formula -- there are mediums to which people willingly give their attention. TV, Radio, the Internet, now Second Life. Anywhere people are willing to give their attention is a place that marketers will want to be with their marketing messages. Where marketers go, a whole service chain will follow. And when all of these parts of the service chain get involved, new market opportunities are created that go well beyond the initial impulse to participate in the medium.

Second Life creates a virtual space that facilitates interactions between physically distributed teams and introduces a set of tools that encourage innovation, creativity, and engaged collaboration. Already there are classes, press conferences, parties, financial transactions and a lot of entertainment (from G to XXX rated) going on all over the virtual space of Second Life. Just like in your first life, there are different times and places for different kinds of activities.

Go ahead, pooh-pooh the idea that you will be doing business in a virtual world. After all, its against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Engagement: Does it Matter?

Originally uploaded by Ted Shelton
I have been thinking about the question of if and when companies and brands should engage in this thing we call "social media" and it occurred to me to apply that old favorite, Pascal's Wager, to this question.
You might remember that guy Pascal from a college philosophy course. He thought to apply logic to the question of whether or not to live as if God existed... to quote the Wikipedia article:

We are faced with the following possibilities:

  1. You live as though God exists.

    • If God exists, you go to heaven: your gain is infinite.

    • If God does not exist, your loss is nothing.

  2. You do not live as though God exists.

    • If God exists, you go to hell: your loss is infinite.

    • If God does not exist, you gain nothing & lose nothing.

So I wondered whether one could use this same logical system to address the question of whether or not a brand should engage (authentically!) with their audiences using social media. Here is the revised synopsis:

In his Wager, Pascal provides an analytical process for a person to evaluate options in regarding belief in God. This is often misinterpreted as simply believing in God or not. As Pascal sets it out, the options are two: live as if God exists, or do not live as if God exists. There is no third possibility.

Therefore, we are faced with the following possibilities:

  1. You join in the conversation authentically.

    • If engagement matters, you go to heaven: your gain is infinite.

    • If engagement does not matter, your loss is nothing.

  2. You fail to join in the conversation or do so in-authentically.

    • If engagement matters, you go to hell: your loss is infinite.

    • If engagement does not matter, you gain nothing & lose nothing.

I kind of liked leaving in the going to heaven or hell as the metaphorical equivalent of what happens when a brand screws this up. But here is the serious question:

Take all of the examples of social media engagement (or lack) and see if they fit into this grid? Can you find an example of a company that engaged authentically but still went to hell?

I can certainly come up with examples of the opposite -- companies that have engaged authentically and reaped the rewards. And companies that have not engaged or have engaged in-authentically going to hell.

On this last point, Chris Heuer (a friend and someone I am working on a project with) and I were just discussing one such in-authentic participant which he just posted about on his Social Media Club blog -- Ragan. Will they "go to hell" for this?

I believe that the most powerful thing about this new "social media" is that the truth eventually comes out and the people that care enough (the ones who matter) learn the truth.

There is an axiom in the news business that the lie is on page one while the correction lands on page 23. That happens because mainstream news has, as a default, a short attention span. But the blogosphere has a very long attention span.

If you know of an example that shows my "pascal's wager" to be wrong -- especially in that upper quadrant, please let me know.

Whistle-Blowing Teen

OK, so perhaps the teen that filmed this video of his high school english teacher (MongZilla) didn't do it with the intention of being a whistle-blower. But the story that the Seattle PI is reporting misses the really interesting point here.

As a parent, I watched this video and thought, if my child was ever in this person's classroom I would be raising hell with the school. This person shouldn't be teaching. How is it that this person has apparently been behaving like this in the classroom for years and hasn't been terminated?

We should give the kids some credit for expressing their frustration that their education is being compromised because the system can't give them qualified teachers.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Singularity Part 2

This is a follow up post to the one I made on Tuesday about Vernor Vinge's 1993 essay "The Coming Technological Singularity." In part one I lead with a quotation from the essay. Here it is again:
Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.
In part one I offered some thoughts on the first sentence of this quotation -- the time horizon for the development of superhuman intelligence. In this second part I will discuss the second sentence.

Vinge is wrong.

The human era has already ended.

And this points out an interesting fact about Singularities as a phenomenon. When you are in the midst of one, you can only see a little ahead and a little behind. So you don't really notice the gradual change underway. Only in hindsight can you look back and see that something fundamental changed at some point which made everything that came afterwards different.

Why do I say that the human era has already ended? Over the 40 years of my lifetime, humanity has developed a symbiotic relationship with computers -- a relationship which has now become a dependency. Over the 100 years before that we developed a dependency on industrialization and electricity, but this is fundamentally different. Imagine for a moment what would happen to our civilization if we were, for some reason, no longer able to use computers. Would the human race come to an end? No. Would hundreds of millions of people around the world perish? Almost certainly.

But leaving aside the obvious dependencies on computers for agriculture, transportation, safety and the like. And focus on one specific category of human endeavor, what economists like to call the "knowledge worker." The most productive category of our citizenry, the category that makes all of the advances in the rest of our society possible, is the knowledge worker. Scientist, engineer, designer, analyst, adviser... All of these people are dependent upon computers to do their jobs.

The next amazing medical breakthrough, the next computer chip, the next bridge or political campaign -- all of these things will be possible because a human being and a computer are working together. When you think about "superhuman intelligence" don't leave the human out of the equation. The very first superhuman intelligences are already here amongst us -- they are us, every time we use a computer to do something that, as a human, we couldn't have done on our own.

What is the most populous city on the planet? Mumbai, with over 13 million people. Am I so smart that I know this? No. Google told me about Wikipedia which has a page listing the most populous cities in the world.

Trying to understand Colony Collapse Disorder in which huge numbers of bees are dying? Scientists are using computerized DNA sequencing to uncover the reasons.

Designing a complex new product? You are probably using one of the many specialized Computer Aided Design software packages to make it possible.

Reading this post? Even if it is on paper, someone needed a computer to access it and print it out for you.

Our symbiotic relationship with computers has already made it possible for our generation to accomplish things that no previous human being could have done. We are already living in an age of "superhuman intelligence" -- one that will continue to accelerate as these computers continue to become more powerful and as they become more integrated into everything that we do.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The End of Flickr?

UPDATE: Stewart offers an apology and explanation and says it was a mistake...

On May 2nd, the Digg Community took control of Digg's editorial policy, ensuring that the encryption key for HD DVDs would be widely publicized.

Flickr may similarly remember May 15th as the day that their community rises up against an editorial policy decision which seems, to them, to be unfair.

On Monday, May 14th, respected photographer (and Zooomr CEO) Thomas Hawk published this post on his blog, relating the story of another Flickr photographer who alleged that her photographs were being ripped off. Along with this blog post, he posted this photo, which if you click on the link you will see is now missing, removed by Flickr staff.

So far, there are 8 other Technorati posts linking to Thomas Hawk's post.

And 18 comments on Flickr -- MOST FROM PRO USERS.

I predict that this is going to be an important moment for Flickr, which under Yahoo's watchful gaze has pretty much kept its independence since it was acquired a little over a year ago. But Yahoo (like Digg) would prefer not to be in the middle of a lawsuit. So they would rather remove content, on request, then get into the debate about who is right on the underlying issue. But what does it mean then to be the printing press for the citizenry?

That was the underlying test over at Digg, and Digg ended up giving in to the demands of the community. Yahoo is a bit bigger and more able to combat an angry audience. So will the audience rise up, as they did with Digg, and keep posting the photograph at the core of this conflict over and over again?

Half way to Vernor Vinge's Singularity

In 1993 Vernor Vinge wrote:
Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.
He didn't write this in a science fiction novel. This was not hyperbole. Vernor Vinge, a faculty member of the San Diego State University department of Mathematical Sciences is also a science fiction author. But his goal, in the non-fiction essay "The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era," was to outline what he calls "The Singularity" -- defined as a course of events that would bring the human race to "...a point where our old models must be discarded and a new reality rules."

We are now almost to the halfway point of his 30 year prediction. With 15 years behind us and 15 years to go, are we still enroute to the Singularity?

It is easy to think, living in the early 21st century, that human life goes on much as it has in the past. As Ray Kurzweil details in his book on this subject, The Singularity is Near, human beings are ill-equipped to evaluate the pace of change that they are experiencing. Our perceptions of the now are mired in our own personal memories of the past. We judge our surroundings according to the relatively limited knowledge that we each contain. Furthermore we have no historical or personal experience that prepares us to comprehend the speed of change which is now occurring.

Just the changes that have occurred in the short 41 years I have been alive are staggering. As Vinge points out in his essay, the core technical innovation necessary to bring about the Singularity is computational power. In 1966 nothing on the planet existed that we would think of as a computer. In 1993, when Vinge wrote his essay, there were only a handful of computers. Last week I walked into the co-location facility where a portion of Technorati's server farm lives -- the room (one room on one floor of an immense building) throbbed with power -- heat and light came from every rack. There was more computational power in that one room than has previously existed in the history of mankind... multiply that room by the dozens of such rooms in that one building and then the thousands of such buildings around the planet and the size and scope of the transformation begins to come into focus.

In reviewing his own essay, in a set of thoughts 10 years after his original prediction, Vinge writes (in 2003) of his prediction of sufficient technical progress to bring about the Singularity within 30 years:
Now in 2003, I still think this time range statement is reasonable.
The Intel website details the hypothesis proposed by Gordon Moore commonly known as Moore's Law:
In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore saw the future. His prediction, now popularly known as Moore's Law, states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles about every two years. This observation about silicon integration, made a reality by Intel, the world's largest silicon supplier, has fueled the worldwide technology revolution.
Amazingly, Moore's 1965 vision has continued to hold true to this day. So following this graph out to the 2023 date in Vinge's Singularity prediction, we can expect that the 1 trillion transistors available in 2006 will double roughly 8 times to 128 trillion transistors. The computing power that will fit into that Technorati server room will be roughly 128 times more powerful than it is today in just 15 years.

In Ray Kurzweil's 2001 essay The Law of Accelerating Returns, he provides an analysis of the computational power necessary to represent a functioning brain of a variety of different species -- insects, mice, humans... and when that computational power is likely to be available (again according to Moore's law). The date by which he has proposed modeling a mouse brain is right about now. And is if on cue, just last month a team was about to run a "simulated mouse brain at 1/10 time." From the team's write-up:
We deployed the simulator on a 4096-processor BlueGene/L supercomputer with 256 MB per CPU. We were able to represent 8,000,000 neurons (80% excitatory) and 6,300 synapses per neuron in the 1 TB main memory of the system. Using a synthetic pattern of neuronal interconnections, at a 1 ms resolution and an average firing rate of 1 Hz, we were able to run 1s of model time in 10s of real time!
The scientific team working on this research noted that there were numerous problems that they encountered in trying to provide a realistic simulation of a mouse brain in this test. But the news bulletin for the rest of us is simple -- the supposedly radical suggestion that Vinge made way back in 1993 is now coming to pass. 15 years into his 30 year time horizon, the milestones are being achieved, on schedule.

What does this mean for all of us alive today who are still likely to be around in 15 years? Stay tuned for part 2 of this post...

Friday, May 04, 2007

Business Blogging

Recently I have been speaking to executives about getting involved in the conversations about their companies and products that are already happening in the blogosphere. Everyone wants a shorthand for thinking about the "best practices" and so I have been working on boiling down my recommendations to a few simple and easy-to-remember guidelines. I thought I'd throw them into the blog here and perhaps generate some interest in a conversation -- can we as a community together refine a set of messages to use in speaking with folks that really should be involved in blogging but aren't yet because they need help understanding the why, how, etc?

First, I talk about how the blogosphere is about peers and that the challenge any company has in joining the conversation is that they start out by being something other than a peer. So the first key is that joining the conversation has to be perceived as authentic. Here is my simplified equation:

access + accountability = authenticity

The point I am trying to communicate is that real executives have to join the conversation so that the other participants in the conversation feel like they are talking to a real person who actually can speak for the company and influence outcomes.

Secondly I talk about what it takes to be a good citizen in the blogosphere:

1. Listen

2. Engage -- correct inaccuracies, respond to issues

3. Be a conversation leader

Participation means joining the whole conversation not just the parts you want to join.

I make the point that there will typically be a whole range of voices out there -- from supporters to detractors and everything in between. Most people are in the middle but you can't ever hope to win these people over in a conversation if you merely ignore detractors. Certainly some of the most extreme will never listen and never change their views and there is typically nothing that can be done to change those people's minds. But their issues left un-addressed will capture mindshare amongst the middle in the conversation. So it is always worthwhile to pay attention and provide reasonable responses (and corrections) for those extreme voices - even if the point isn't to win those people over.

This is just a start -- very interested to hear from other folks also struggling with how to explain this medium to others.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

An Innocuos String of Characters

A very interesting drama has been playing out over the last 24 hours amongst the technical sophisticates of the Internet economy. Digg, which allows it users to post and vote for stories has come under enormous pressure to cease censorship of a simple string of characters.

As this article in UK magazine "Computing" explains, the key is part of a battle over the future of digital rights management (DRM). Google now finds 297,000 references to this hexadecimal sequence, a key to unlocking certain copy protection systems.

The Advanced Access Content System (AACS) which developed the affected DRM system has been attempting to use legal strong arm techniques to prevent the distribution of this string. The result has been an enormous increase in attention to what otherwise would have been a minor matter ignored by almost everyone.

Digg has become ground zero for the conflict because it attempted to comply with the cease and desist order sent to them by AACS. But an enormous portion of the sites community began to repeatedly post and vote for the offending information, incensed by the imposition of their free speech rights. Finally, on the Digg blog, CEO Kevin Rose wrote that the community cannot survive if all of the members are at odds with the sites staff:
But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be. If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.
This is an important day for the people's Internet. A company bowed to the possibility of an expensive lawsuit, testing first amendment rights of free speech. The company's customers then said "NO!" and forced the company to reverse course.

This kind of first amendment test has happened before. In an earlier case a math professor was pursued by the US government (under Clinton) for violating export controls when he wished to publish cryptography code on his website. Ultimately Daniel Bernstein won this case, with a federal panel determining that software source code is a language, and therefore export controls violated his first amendment rights.

This case is somewhat more complicated, in part because of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Here is a copy of the AACS complaint letter to Google. As the above link explains in the notes below the complaint, there is a substantial conflict between the first amendment and the DMCA:
The tension between the DMCA and the First Amendment is at the heart of several ongoing lawsuits. [Felten v. RIAA; Universal v. Corley] The mere posting of a link to a computer program that can be used to circumvent technical protection measures was held to be a violation of the DMCA. [Universal v. Corley (2d Ciruit cite)] The Recording Industry Association of America used the threat of a DMCA action to silence a professor whose research paper discussed circumvention of a technical protection measure. The professor subsequently mounted a legal challenge to the DMCA on First Amendment grounds and presented his paper. While courts in both of these cases have found in favor of the copyright industries, these cases are being appealed and the state of the law is yet to be determined.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mission Possible

A friend sent a link to this Daniel Pinchbeck article, Mission Possible, after a long conversation about mainstream media and how it is being affected by the blogosphere. Pinchbeck calls for us to "...deepen our commitment to transformation..." rather than flinch away from the disaster looming in our future. But the "transformation" he calls for is a spiritual one, not a technological one. Indeed Pinchbeck seems to have greater faith in the possibility that mainstream media can be used to change the way people think and live on this planet, then that technology can help correct or mediate the imbalances that we have created on our planet.

I found this disturbing for a number of reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, I don't believe that we as a species have enough time left to convince people to think and live differently. There are too many of us, we are too dependent upon destructive technologies just to eat every day (much less everything else we need and want to do), and the underlying compulsion to consume is too powerful. Thus I believe that for us to save ourselves, we have to invest in and use technology to fix our world.

But I also found it to be paradoxical that Pinchbeck is arguing that using one of the tools that humans have invented (mass media) can be a successful strategy to correcting the worlds problems while using other tools (science, technology) will fail. I tracked Pinchbeck down to ask him about this. As a side note, shame on the Seattle Conscious Choice website for not making this easier. But I did find an email address by simply googling him.

Pinchbeck writes back "Every potent new technology has unleashed a deeper level of damage. The law of unintended consequences: biotech now kills the honeybees, what will nanotech destroy?"

Well, the latest news out (LA Times article) suggests that it is actually a fungus affecting bees, not biotech. And we wouldn't know this without science, much less have the ability to find a way of solving the problem.

Let's face facts -- we have already passed a key tipping point. Human beings now have the responsibility to manage the ecosystem, it is no longer self managing in a way that will sustain the health and well being of our species. We need more technology and more management of the ecosystem, not less. Just arguing that we should all become earth friendly in the way we live will not pull us back from disaster that is now brewing in our future.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Engaging the Author

Having tracked down Thomas Claburn -- the author of "Media Companies Confront Mortality" -- I have engaged in a spirited conversation with him about CMP, his article, blogging vs. journalism, etc. With his permission, I repeat some of that conversation here.

Claburn points out that it is CMP and not he (or any individual writer) who (1) doesn't provide "community" tools and (2) and does spread articles around their network without attribution to the original author. So to be clear - my criticism on this point was not of Thomas or of his article -- but it was of CMP.

Regarding the specific comment, Thomas writes: "Your point is well-taken. It was certainly snarky and perhaps an unfair characterization of the state of the companies present."

But he goes on to point out that I was snarky back in calling his comment "ugly." We then debated whether there is a difference between blogging (which I characterized as editorial) and writing a news article for Information Week. I contend that there is a difference -- my expectation is that something labeled "news" will be presented with an attempt at conveying an objective perspective. Snarkiness is fine in an editorial, where it is clearly an individual's perspective. This blog, for example, is unapologetically my own perspective. And while I recognize that journalists are people too and have their own perspectives and biases - I expect that news will be written in a way that doesn't broadcast those perspectives.

But the most important part of this for me is that when I did track down the author, he did reply, was accountable, was engaged with the topic and the audience. So kudos to Thomas for being the kind of journalist that can make a difference in the media 2.0 world -- even if his company is following far behind in supporting him.

Here's What's Wrong

UPDATE - See bottom of article...

Dear CMP Media, thank you for your recent coverage of the Web 2.0 Expo. I enjoyed your article covering the panel I spoke on. Your article, "Media Companies Confront Mortality" demonstrated what is wrong with mainstream media very effectively.

#1) There was no byline. The article was written by "Staff Writers" -- since it wasn't written by a specific person, there is no accountability, no ability to respond, no knowledge of whether the person writing the article actually knows anything about the topic that he/she is writing on... So this is just a pronouncement from on high -- big media saying "this is what you should believe about what happened and you should believe because we are in charge."

#2) There is no comment mechanism. I read the article and then I have no ability to discuss the article with other people reading it, no trackback mechanism so that I can link to the article from my blog and point out problems or discuss issues...

#3) With the appearance of objectivity, the article puts ugly opinions into the public sphere. Where does CMP Media get off saying that our opinions were "...coming from a panel full of poorly capitalized Web startups..." How do they know? Did they bother to inquire with any of the four of us about our capital structures?

No need to read CMP Media any more, they discredit themselves through their practices, behavior, and poor reporting.

UPDATE: It occurred to me that the version of the article I was seeing was picked up from somewhere else within CMP, and sure enough the original version is in Information Week -- here.

I have written to author Thomas Claburn - let's see if he replies!

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Over a year ago, when I was just thinking about starting The Personal Bee, I sat down with Dave Sifry (CEO of Technorati) to chat. I felt then that the work I wanted to do was a perfect complement to Technorati.

While the timing wasn't right then for us to bring these ideas to Technorati, Dave and I maintained a friendship and communication over the 9 months that we built the first beta version of Personal Bee. And after we launched that beta, in September of last year, Dave and I agreed that we should have another conversation about bringing the two companies together.

I am happy to announce, as Dave has on his blog, that as of today The Personal Bee is a part of Technorati.

All of us on the Bee team are excited about the opportunity to participate in the evolution of Technorati, and to Be of Service to Technorati's many constituents.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Grokking Twitter: Presence, Scope, and Permanence

Should we care about twitter? I addressed this question back in February over on my IP Inferno blog but I think I did a lousy job. Since then I have used (and thought about) the service a lot more. And I have increasingly found myself in conversations with my fellow over-40 digerati trying to explain why they should care about twitter...

And in the last week both the San Francisco Chronicle and USA Today have published articles about twitter and neither of them really get to the heart of why twitter is important and why we should care.

Stowe Boyd offers an amusing rant on the USA Today article but while he correctly points out that author Andrew Kantor does not "...understand the benefits -- or even the possibility -- of moving to a flow state of interaction..." Stowe doesn't explain what this means or why it is important.

So in the spirit of Time Magazine's Person of the Year I have taken it upon myself to explain twitter...

As the Internet has moved from obscurity to a staple of our society over the past two decades there has been an explosion in new communications tools. A useful way to think about this explosion is to think about communications around three characteristics: presence, scope, and permanence. Each of these characteristics, as I will go on to explain, has a continuum of modalities and each communication tool has optimized for performing within a particular part of that cube.

Is it necessary for the participants in the communication to be present at the time the communication is created? For example if you are taking a class, you need to be present in the classroom to get value from the lecture. But you can read a book thousands of years after it was written. The recipient must be present to receive the lecture but is usually not present when a book is written. Similarly, a phone call is a synchronous form of communications -- both speaker and listener must be present. Voice mail is asynchronous -- the listener need not be present at the time the recording is made and the speaker need not be present at the time of listening.

Classrooms engage a defined group of people in a conversation, newspapers engage an undefined group, a phone call typically involves just two people. Scope is about the number of people involved, the relationship between those people, and the privacy of the communication.

Information has a shelf life (or even a half life). Some information is valuable for thousands of years, other information is valuable for only a moment.

Think about the kinds of communications tools that we commonly use, applying these three characteristics:

Synchronous communication (presence required), the scope is typically one-one, and (short of a recording) it is a medium best used for information of little permanence.

Email is asynchronous, allowing for long delays between exchanges. The scope can be one-one or one-many but there are few facilities for managing complex many-many communications on a topic. As information can be stored and retrieved for later use, it can be used for topics with some permanence though various limitations generally cause users to move to another medium for longer term storage of documents or issues of more permanence.

Instant messaging is mostly synchronous, though it can have delays in replies. It is typically a one-one communication and the information usually has a very short period of value.

Like email, a blog is asynchronous. The scope is typically one-many although commenting facilities can make them into more of a conversation. Information of value for a long time (though perhaps not decades) can be stored on blogs and accessed by a wide variety of readers.

So what is twitter? It is asynchronous (although there can be more value if both speaker and listener are present); the most valuable uses are when the communications are within a particular defined group (friends, a company); and the information has a very short term value.

I might tweet "Headed out for a soy chai, anyone want to go?" -- this emphasizes the value of presence, the fact that I am broadcasting to people within a defined group (my office), and has a very momentary value (miss it by 5 minutes and I am already gone).

Another example (from Stowe Boyd) Chris Pirillo points to an article written by Paul Graham claiming Microsoft is dead: -- this is completely asynchronous, anytime I find out about it, it is valuable to me. There is little definition in the group (other than perhaps interest), and the information has some permanence.

So two things that emerge in looking at twitter in this way -- First it has an interesting ability to be useful over a range of states but tends toward group communications that are impermanent and where presence can add value but isn't necessary. Second that it complements other communication types without replacing them -- indicating that there is a place in the ecosystem for this type of communication.

Another interesting thing that you can ask about twitter is whether you can compare the role it serves in online communications with some similar off-line communication. Within every social group there are adhoc communications that serve the same purposes that twitter serves in an online world. Announcing that I am going out to get a cup of chai tea, or people sharing an interest in an article happens all the time within social groups. The difference online is that time and space become less of a constraint for allowing these group communications to occur. This is the role that twitter is serving.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Cult Of The Amateur

Perhaps it is the poet lost inside me, aching to be free. But I find this post, at so many levels, to be the perfect response to Andrew Keen's hopeless "cult of the amateur" and a subtle message to the industrial media complex about what they don't get about how the Internet is changing everything...

Get it?

SF Chronicle You Have Our Attention

A case of cause and effect? Just a week ago, Tim O'Reilly was opining that the SF Chronicle was "in trouble." Noting that he hates to " Valleywag..." Tim goes on to say that Phil Bronstein (editor-in-chief at the Chron) held an emergency meeting with staff in which he stated that the "news business is broken, and no one knows how to fix it."

And then this week, he started to fix it.

What is it that local journalistic endeavors can do better than anyone else? Provide coverage of whatever makes their own local scene special and different. The San Jose Mercury News could have (but hasn't) made the tech industry their special beat. But in the last week, the SF Chronicle has been making this weird thing called "web 2.0" and what author Andrew Keen is calling "the cult of the amateur" their special beat.

Today it was a story about something just 11 days old -- -- which is capturing the interest of the technorati but who would of thought that mainstream news readers would be interested? The Chronicle made their story on Justin and his fellow nerds front page news.

Crazy? Or brilliant? Sure, most San Franciscans are like people in the rest of the country -- interested in the Iraq war, local politics, and weekend sales. But what makes this area DIFFERENT from the rest of the country is people like Justin and the crazy new companies that get created from their ideas. This is the future of local journalism -- uncovering and writing about what is special and unique about their local area.

As one of my old journalist friends used to say "three is a trend" -- the article about wasn't the only interesting piece in the Chron this week.

On Monday it was Dan Fost's article on phenom twitter.

On Thursday it was Dan's coverage of Kathy Sierra.

For me, this kind of coverage makes the Chronicle relevant again. It makes me visit their website and talk about them and maybe even spend $.25 to buy the paper as I make my way onto BART in the morning (the current discount for BART morning commuters).

And I think it shows the way for other local papers -- dig into what YOUR region is known for, or what you think is special. Maybe you can build an online audience, maybe you can get your local readers interested again, maybe you can be relevant again in a world where you can no longer just re-run AP articles that we are already getting on our Blackberrys...