Monthly Archives: August 2007

About Dogs

It seems like there is a lot of negativity in the world these days regarding dogs.  I barely can even stand the thought of commenting on the Michael Vick situation.  While it was good to see him apologize this week, it’s a very small step in a long road to recovery.  I also found it interesting to hear him blame many of his actions on “immaturity.”  While juvenile behavior was certainly responsible for some of what occurred, it’s hard to justify that characteristic being so signficiantly responsible for grotesque behavior over a six year period of time. 

Regardless, I was sent the attached file today and really loved it.  Some of the quotes and pictures speak so squarely to all that is great about dogs and animals in general:   About Dogs

The picture below is my new family dog.  His name is Kiva. 

The new family dog

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Into the Wild

Into the Wild cover art 

I saw a movie trailer for Sean Penn’s new film, Into the Wild last month for the first time.  My friend hopped out of his seat the moment he recognized the film and immediately commented that it was the adaptation of the Jon Krakauer’s 1997 book Into the Wild.  He encouraged me to pick up a copy of the book and we both agreed that the movie looked fantastic and would be a “must see” this fall when it comes out late September.

I did grab the book and recently completed it. Into the Wild is the true story of the actual and existential journey of Chris McCandless who, in 1992, trudged in to the Alaska wilderness and subsequently died of a combination of starvation and poison just over 100 days later (there isn’t a surprise element to the ending–it’s even noted on the front cover of the book.)  Chris was an intelligent, passionate, young man from a well-off Washington DC suburban family who graduated at the top of his class from Emory in 1990 and then sold all his possessions, gave away $25,000 in cash and commenced a two-year voyage.  The journey, which included virtually no communication with friends or family from his previous life, took him to Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and South Dakota primarily.  His vagabond lifestyle included several meaningful encounters with people along the way who admired his intellectualism and strong personality.  After spending a portion of the early spring of 1992 with a new friend in South Dakota, McCandless headed north to Alaska in April of that year.  In a Thoreau type manner, Chris intended to “live off the land” of the great Alaska wilderness for that summer before, potentially, ending his several year journey and returning to the mainland.

 

The underlying story of Into the Wild is powerful and gripping.  As a reader, I was intrigued and perplexed by Chris’ complicated personality, his ambitions and his passions.  He struck me as, at once, oddly idealistic yet grounded.  And, the complete dismissal of his family was both sad and confusing.  He left his family tortured, both in his absence and then eventual death, and it appears as if they’ve only discovered consolation in working with Krakauer and now Sean Penn to recount his life and journey. 

 

As much as I wanted to be, I wasn’t a huge fan of Krakauer’s book as a whole.  The book became a national bestseller in the late ‘90s and was described, in some senses, as a nonfictional  Catcher in the Rye but I didn’t get much of that sense.  The non-linear style of writing read more like a continuation of Krakauer’s original Outside magazine article than an extended book.  I also would have preferred more narration or story of Chris’ journey as compared to the choice of frequent playback and speculation on what Chris might have been thinking at various points.  There was also too much recollection of the author’s similar and personal life experience for my taste. 

 

That said, I liked much of the prose in the book and will likely read another one of the author’s books in the future—most probably Into Thin Air, the story of an amazing Mt. Everest experience in 1996.  I also appreciated and found meaning in much of the author’s recount of Chris’ youthfulness.  In one place, Krakauer talks about similar Alaskan journies during his own youth and comments that he was, like McCandless, “a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic.” (155.)  I also loved this quote, which was found within the abandoned bus where McCandless lived and dived in Alaska, and is the basis for the book’s title: 

 

“And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure.  The climatic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual revolution.”  (163.)

 

I am fairly certain this is Sean Penn’s directorial film debut.  The film was many years in the making but never officially commenced until the McCandless family was ready to put it on the screen.  Penn, whose brother Chris died just a few months before this movie began filming, was said to have committed two years of his life to making this project.  He’s certainly put together a stellar cast for the film:  Emile Hirsch, Vince Vaughn and Catherine Keener among others.  Eddie Vedder reportedly composed much of the music for the film which should also be a nice addition.  Typically, books pale in comparison to movies but, in this case, I have a feeling the opposite may occur.  The underlying story of McCandless’ journey seems almost made for the big screen and, when combined, with a potentially great director and strong cast, may make for a powerful movie this fall that tells the story even better than Jon Krakauer’s book did one decade ago.        

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LinkedIn vs. Facebook and the Need for Innovation

LinkedIn 

I realize it’s a fairly cliche topic to post about the comparisons between LinkedIn and Facebook today.  So, I’m not really planning to do it here.  Or, I should state, I’m planning to do it but only to make a straightforward observation and point. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I have been somewhat biased against the Facebook for quite some time.  And, they’ve also likely known I appreciate the verticalized, professional network approach of LinkedIn. 

But, seemingly against my will these days, I’m finding myself using Facebook more and more and LinkedIn less and less.  The rationale has some to do with the fact that many of the people I interact with appear to be much more active in Facebook today.  Even more so, the continued innovation and progress, product wise, of Facebook as compared to LinkedIn seems dramatically apparent to me now. 

Facebook effectively became the de facto social utility platform several months ago when it made the move to open up its APIs for allowing users to integrate outside apps in to its network.  I blogged recently about the business objective of developing a platform when it can be achieved and, in this case, the results appear to have been significant for Facebook.  There is so much dynamic activity happening within the platform daily.  My contacts are not only inviting new friends in to their network but they’re pinging me through the Facebook inbox, uploading pictures, joining groups, installing new apps and generating thousands and millions of page views for the network.  One almost can’t help but be intrigued by the level of activity and sheer volume of things to do. 

On the other hand, LinkedIn appears increasingly stagnant.  I can see which of my contacts are adding new contacts as well as questions that are being asked, and answered, inside my network but, beyond that, what else is really happening with the product these days?  I appreciate LinkedIn’s capabilities as a job hunting network, as Jason Calacanis talked about a few months ago, but beyond that, isn’t there other valuable things that can occur within the network?  I’d be interested to hear about upcoming conferences, posting photos would be fine, joining groups would be great, Amazon commerce service integration could provide value and so much more seems possible.  Conversely, the only features that appear present to generate repeated usage are items such as the Q&A, checking out who’s “viewed my profile” and one or two other occasionally updated items.  Even in the case of the who’s “viewed my profile” feature, which honestly is a little sketchy anyway, I’m not sure it’s been getting regular updates in the LinkedIn database over the past two to three months. 

There was a part of me that felt for a few months there that Facebook’s seeming growth in popularity was more about its near-daily coverage in blogs like TechCrunch than actual usage.  At this point though, I’m realizing that’s not the case.  I’m not ready to get on the Facebook bandwagon fully yet but, from a user perspective, I truly have come to appreciate the dynamic and powerful nature of their continued product development.  And, the fact that they have outsiders at other companies achieving that goal for them makes it all the more impressive.  LinkedIn is starting to claim that they, like Facebook, should open their APIs soon to acheive the same goal–they need to do something soon or the prediction I made three years ago about trendy networking sites like the Facebook going stale is actually going to happen to them first.   

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CNET Piece This Week on VoD (Video Two Step Cont.)

I saw this piece today as I was going back through old news from the week:

http://news.com.com/8301-10784_3-9759029-7.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20

This speaks largely to what I articulated in my piece from the beginning of this week regarding the notion of lean-forward versus lean-back video viewing experiences.  Interestingly, however, the author cites quality and content selection as the principal issues more than user experience.  I find it surprising that the user experience matter continues to get downplayed coverage in these types of analysis.   

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The Video Two-Step

Rabbit ears TV 

Much of the buzz on the Internet today in news, research, blogs and elsewhere is about digital video.  While streaming media and digital video has been around for well over a decade now, generally starting with folks like Rob Glaser and others back in the early ’90s, YouTube will get much of the credit for the boom in video on the Internet in the history books.  Comscore recently reported that YouTube gets approximately 2/3s of the user generated content and social media traffic on the Internet these days–a stat that has fallen only nominally during the past 14 plus months. 

I saw a series of interesting articles today about entertainment consumption on the web including this piece in Advertising Age.   While I have little doubt that more people are using the web now for entertainment purposes, particularly in the college aged demo, I do question the merits of this type of data when linked to digital video. 

But, then, I also saw this piece today from Reuters and it made me think harder about this kind of data and information.  According to some research I recently unearthed on this website, people generally recall 10% of what they read but over 30% of what they see and 50% of what they see and hear.  That kind of stat clearly helps make the case for news and educational oriented media online and also helps explain why redesigns of main news websites such as CNN are so media centric. 

The other aspect of digital video I started contemplating more today was the notion of the Video Two-Step.  (I really like this term BTW and am thinking about trademarking it since I might have coined it. :-))  What I mean by this expression is something that a university administrator told me a few years ago:  that is, there is a very different user experience involved in the lean forward vs. lean back viewing environment for meda.  The Internet is inherently a lean forward user experience and consumption of media content online, thus far, has been about quick-hitting, fast-paced, ADD-like, low attention span activity.  YouTube has worked because the content is short.  The CNN website will likely work because it is providing succint video news coverage which keeps your attention, for the most part, and addresses the recall point made above.  A friend of mine wanted to post a piece on YouTube the other day but was concerned that the length of the piece would limit the number of views it would receive.  And, this was a professionally produced piece approximately only seven minutes in length–he felt it needed to be no more than four to five to successfully achieve any meaningful distribution on YouTube.  He’s probably right. 

On the other hand, there is the lean back user experience, which I’m summarily linking to passive television viewing experiences–or the “legacy” device as anothe friend of mine refers to the good ol’ tele.  As archaic as the device may feel to some, I personally believe that the failure, thus far, of services like Movielink to successfully connect to the television platform have largely contributed to the struggles in achieving greater adoption for premium, entertainment content sites.  Today alone, it was confirmed that Movielink was sold for less than $10 million to Blockbuster and Google Video was rendered extinct.  Movielink, reportedly, raised over $100 million during the last five years of its existence and Google Video’s strategy quickly shifted from premium content licensing and distribution to throwing all its resources at the Youtube acquisition approximately ten months after its hyped announcement at CES in 2006. 

The Video Two-Step makes me somewhat skeptical when I hear about the appearance of new folks trying the dance such as Joost.  I don’t want to continue harping on this subject, as I did a couple weeks ago, particularly in the face of a management team and group of investors who really seem to know how to make businessses fly, but why will Joost be successful on the lean forward PC platform, with a mainstream content licensing product model, when it really hasn’t worked well for anyone else yet?  The product may end up being effectively interactive and the content quality may continue to improve but, thus far, only iTunes appears to have nailed the right elements for such a play.  And, in that case, digital video still doesn’t appear to have the traction of music and it still doesn’t appear to be about the sale of media–it’s about the sale of the devices that support the media.  I’ve had plenty of incentive and time but little desire to use Joost since my preliminary experience with it a few weeks ago–which wasn’t a bad experience. 

Business models around digital video may continue to become more innovative and the content providers may become increasingly open to experimenting with release windows, pricing models, etc but, at the end of the day, none of it will likely matter for most web properties if the Video Two Step isn’t acknowledged and addressed as part of technology and product planning. 

I know that I’m personally going to go take a break now to watch some video content now before going to sleep…and, I’ll be doing it from the passive confines of my couch and with my legacy TV platform in front of me.             

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The Megalomaniac Pleasure of Creation

construction.jpg 

I had the great pleasure today of finding the below blog post on Guy Kawasaki’s weblog.  It’s a post that resonates extremely well with me and, based on the number of people that responded to it on Guy’s blog, touched a lot of other people as well.  I actually first found it at Digital Media Wire, which is one of the few websites focused on digital media news these days that focuses more on news and less on editorial–while still nicely incorporating opinions and perspectives in to the mix occasionally. 

This posting is from a gent named Glen Kelman, who is the CEO of Redfin up here in Seattle.  It’s a company doing increasingly well in online real estate and one that has been consistenly well regarded in the tech start-up space in Seattle for the last couple years.  Without further ado…

http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2007/08/on-the-other-ha.html

Here is some of the piece also directly posted here.  Enjoy:

Last month, Guy called James Hong and Markus Frind heroes for running multi-million dollar websites like Hot or Not and Plenty of Fish in their underwear. Their stats are jaw-dropping: twelve billion page views, 380 hits per second, two hours of work a day.

Lately I’ve been thinking how hard, not how easy, it is to build a new company. Hard has gone out of fashion. Like college students bragging about how they barely studied, start-ups today take care to project a sense of ease. Wherever I’ve worked, we’ve secretly felt just the opposite. We’re assailed by doubts, mortified by our own shortcomings, surrounded by freaks, testy over silly details. Trying to be like James or Markus has only been counterproductive.

And now, having been through a few startups, I’m not even sure I’d want it to be that easy. Working two hours a day on my own wasn’t my goal when I came to Silicon Valley. Does anybody remember the old video of Steve Jobs launching the Mac? He had tears in his eyes. And even though Jobs is Jobs and I am nobody, I knew how he felt. I’d had the same reaction–absurdly–to portal software and more recently to a Redfin, a fledgling real estate website.

“The megalomaniac pleasure of creation,” the psychoanalyst Edmund Berger wrote, “produces a type of elation which cannot be compared with that experienced by other mortals.” Jobs wasn’t just crying from simple happiness but from all the tinkering, kvetching, nitpicking, wholesale reworking, and spasms of self-loathing that go into a beautiful product. It was all being paid back in a rush.

Like the souls in Dostoevsky who are admitted to heaven because they never thought themselves worthy of it, successful entrepreneurs can’t be convinced that any other startup has their troubles, because they constantly compare the triumphant launch parties and revisionist histories of successful companies to their own daily struggles. Just so you know you’re not alone, here’s a top-ten list of the ways a startup can feel deeply screwed up without really being that screwed up at all.

  1. True believers go nuts at the slightest provocation. The best people at a start-up care too much. They stay up late writing Jerry Maguire memos, eavesdropping on support calls, snapping at bureaucracy, citing Joel Spolsky on Aerons, and Paul Graham on cubes. They are your heart and bones, so you have to give them what they need, which is a lot. The only way to get them on your side is to put them in charge.
  2. Big projects attract good people. If you aren’t doing something worthwhile, you can’t get anyone worthwhile to work on it. I often think about what Ezra Pound once said of his epic poem, that “if it’s a failure, it’s a failure worth all the successes of its age.” We’re not writing poetry, but it matters to us that we’re trying to compete with real estate agents rather than just running their ads. You need a big mission to recruit people who care about what you’re doing.
  3. Start-ups are freak-catchers. You have to be fundamentally unhappy with the way things are to leave Microsoft, and yet unrealistic enough to believe the world can change to join a start-up. This is a volatile combination which can result in group mood swings and a somewhat motley crew. Thus, don’t worry if your start-up seems to have more than its fair share of oddballs.
  4.    

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World Wide Web article and Related Musings

This article was highlighted in Jason Hirschhorn’s daily feed, Media Redefined, today:

http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2007/biz2/0707/gallery.web_world.biz2/index.html?section=magazines_business2

Frankly, I cringed when I saw Joost getting headliner spotlight here and Babelgum shortly thereafter.  There were several more interesting and innovative sounding plays mentioned amidst this article and I’m honestly getting a bit fatigued by all the Joost press and blog postings.  I experienced the Joost beta product for the first time recently, as I mentioned here, and remain both impressed and somewhat confounded by the buzz surrounding them.  They reported 1M users of their beta product last week but, frankly, that’s due almost entirety to the hype maching surrounding the company.  The product is really neither that solid or interesting, yet, and I have a hard time believing many of those 1M users returned for a follow-up visit or spent any extensive time on the product at this stage.   A friend of mine, who is very involved in the digital media space, told me today that Joost content is being distributed at 300 kbps, which is about 1/4 the bit rates of the content distributed from sites like CinemaNow or Movielink today.  Furthermore, Joost isn’t really a live P2P solution despite the prevaling notion that is how its distribution model works. 

Separately, I’m enjoying Jason Hirschhorn’s feed quite a bit these days.  It’s a succint yet solid presentation of relevant media and technology news every day without all the editorial perspective and imagery found in blogs such as PaidContent or TechCrunch.  I am a bit surprised, and impressed, that Jason is able to aggregate these daily newsclippings amidst how busy he must be helping run Sling Media these days. 

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