Archive for December, 2008

Thank you, Steve!

December 30, 2008

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Steve Spalding of How to Split an Atom was kind enough to include me in his “Lessons from Entrepreneurs” series.  I hope you’ll take the time to read it, as it gives a really practical peak into what it is I’m working to create.

And be sure to keep reading Steve’s blog if you want great startup tips and news without all the arrogance of most tech bloggers! 🙂

Yep, Swig.me is a Mess

December 30, 2008

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A month ago, I thought I’d get some videos up at Swig.me in order to help explain what Swig is.  But I’ve wound up having to take a few of the videos down, including the initial three minute introduction that was most important.  An investor is too concerned that I’m “giving too much away.”

That, plus the fact that my web guy never actually finished putting the site together in the first place, and basically, Swig.me is pretty much a disaster at this point.  J

I think I’ll just take that site down, maybe point people to this blog from there.  Once I have all the capital in hand and can get the development up and running, then we’ll have the real site there just three or four months later.  Perhaps that’s a tall order given the current economic conditions, but I still have faith in my vision and my business plan.  We’ll see what happens.

You can’t be afraid to crack some eggs if you want to make an omelet.  I’ll be a crazed perfectionist come launch time, but right now, other things are more vital than colors and fonts.

Sorry for the inconvenience.  I’ll get the site taken care of soon.  Please just start coming directly to this blog.  I’ll share all I can here.  Thanks for being patient.

What the Web Needs is More Women VCs

December 29, 2008

Tech is male dominated.  Venture Capital is male dominated.  Small wonder the Web doesn’t serve women and all humankind as well as it could.  And should.

This is the most recent detailed article I can find about women VCs, from Forbes dated January 2007.  Here are some quotes from it:

The Midas List reflects the glaring underrepresentation of women in the venture capital industry at large.  In 2000, the last year for which data is available, women made up only 9% of venture capitalists.

Indeed, in the first half of 2006, only 4% of VC-backed companies had women chief executives, and those companies with women at the top received just 3% of the total dollar amount raised, according to VC research firm VentureOne, in San Francisco.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that women investors are providing invaluable insight to entrepreneurs and fledgling companies–the kind of perspective that often eludes men.

“It’s definitely a boys’ club, and they don’t expect a lot of female entrepreneurs to be coming through….Women haven’t really had advocates in VC to help push against the glass ceiling.”

Another barrier: Many tech investors have advanced degrees in engineering, but few women do.

But the industry looks poised for remarkable change, according to VCs like LaPorte. She theorizes that since women entered the business ranks just within the last few decades, sizeable numbers have risen to the top only recently. As a result, more women will go into venture in the coming years.

Okay, the above article was written two years ago.  I don’t see any sign that “the coming years” have started coming.   In fact, this article from just three months ago claims that the percentage of female VCs is now 7%, down 2% if these statistics are indeed accurate.

Note that none of this takes into account the practical consequences this female dearth has on the Web.  I say the loss of “the kind of perspective that often eludes men” has been a huge drag on the Web’s ability to monetize.  As I keep saying, and as techies and VCs keep ignoring, it takes understanding human motivation to be able to monetize human activity. 

Imagine if even 25% of VCs were women.  How would the Web be different?  It’s interesting, and sad, to speculate.

Merry Christmas, World!

December 24, 2008

This piece called “Waiting for the Miracle” is from one of my favorite artists, as is the current header on this blog.  He’s a Russian named Vlad Gerasimov.  You can see more of his work and purchase computer wall papers and clocks from his website.  I think they’re a lot of fun and encourage you to take a look.

Merry Christmas!  God bless us, every one!!

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Creating Web 3.0 using Anthropology

December 24, 2008

 

The Semantic Web, speculated to usher in Web 3.0, is a vision whereby machines intelligently talk to machines so that information may be easily processed and retrievable on a global scale.  To put it simply, right now, information is locked into HTML web pages.  The ability to search this information, and thereby make it usable to others, is limited to the keywords that the creator attaches to it.  For example, say that a young Marine writes in his blog about his experiences in the Battle for Fallujah.  The problem is that this man’s “Fallujah” may be a researcher’s “PTSD,” a student’s “The Bush Doctrine” and a military officer’s “battle tactics.”  Content that is invisible to search engines may as well not exist.  The Semantic Web is a dream to make information accessible and helpful to a greater variety of people the world over – to make content repurposable.

Technology’s unrealized idea can be anthropology’s practical implementation.  Instead of a huge engineering solution requiring artificial intelligence that many argue is unfeasible, and certainly beyond our current economic reach, why not simply leverage human intelligence? 

 I would argue that human beings talking to human beings is more powerful than machines talking to machines can ever be.

My solution is to create a mesh of information created by humans, linked up by humans, and easily accessible to humans, on a global scale.  This solution requires an understanding of and respect for anthropology.  Here are three essential requirements:

1) First, this mesh must not be just another social network.  A true and lasting social network must simultaneously be an economic network, as it’s been for 200,000 years.  What’s called for to usher in Web 3.0 is a socioeconomic network.

2) This new network must allow users to sort and navigate our online lives in the same way we do offline.  No current social network even comes close to doing this.

3) Each individual human must become the center or his or her web experience; websites as destination-centers and activity-centers must cease to matter.  In other words, information must orbit users instead of users orbiting information.

My plan incorporates all of this and more, in one relatively simple and inexpensive design. 

If you are an angel investor or a capable software engineer who is interested in breaking out of the Silicon Valley echo chamber, if you are willing to accept anthropology as an equal partner to technology and are eager to help move the Web forward to its next evolution, feel free to write to me for more information.  My email address is dawn_douglass at Yahoo.  Thanks.

Anthropology is the New Technology

December 18, 2008

For the past 15 years, we’ve been riding a wave of technological marvels:  Internet connections, cell phones, iPods, DVRs,…. Out of all the things that get invented, the endless websites that get developed, the many devises that get launched, how do we know which will “stick” and which won’t?

Take a look at the product’s anthropology.

Technology is all about opening and closing circuits.  It’s about machines talking to machines.  Technology is the how-to of the gadget. 

Anthropology is the how-to of the user.  It’s about opening and closing imaginations.  It’s about humans talking to humans.  It’s about culture.  And people are much more complex than any circuit board.

Now that tech is no longer the nascent market it was just a decade ago, now that most technologies can’t be protected from competition and are, in fact, used over and over and over again…in other words, now that “technology” is a largely undifferentiated, indefensible given in Silicon Valley the same way cameras are a given in Hollywood, how does a “tech company” break out to become the next Google?

By dropping the haughty patent-pretending pretenses of “tech” and becoming just another company.  A real company.  Not a nifty tech feature with no revenue stream.

Sorry,  you can’t be a legitimate business without a business model .

So what can make or break a tech company if not technology?

Anthropology.

Anthropology is the new technology.  It’s the new differentiator, the new “language,” if you will, that can be used to create exciting trends and gadgets and services.  In deed, anthropology is, for now, the surest weapon for sustainable competitive advantage that we have.

If you don’t understand anthropology and how to code it, then you’d better find somebody who does.

 

Yes, Virginia, there is an Angel Investor

December 17, 2008

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DEAR EDITOR: I am 48 years old.
Some of my little friends say there are no Angel Investors. 

Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there an Angel Investor?
VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is an Angel Investor. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Angel Investors. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which entrepreneurship fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Angel Investors! You might as well not believe in CEOs! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch an Angel Investor, but even if they did not see one coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Angel Investors, but that is no sign that there are none. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see venture capitalists dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Angel Investor! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of entrepreneurs.

2009’s Big Startup Opportunity: The End of Yertle-the-Turtle Social Networking

December 15, 2008

yertle-jpg1Remember Dr. Seuss’s book Yertle the Turtle?  It was one of my favorite stories when I was young.  I still have a copy. 

“On the far-away Island of Sala-ma-Sond, Yertle the Turtle was king of the pond.”  From the perch of his rock, he ruled all that he could see: “But I don’t see enough.  That’s the trouble with me.”  So one day he decided to build a tall throne out of his fellow turtles so that he could see more.  

And it worked.  “I’m Yertle the Turtle!  Oh, marvelous me!  For I am the ruler of all that I see!”

Never satisfied with his growing empire, King Yertle kept demanding more and more turtles so he could get higher and higher.  “Turtles!  More turtles!  He bellowed and brayed.”  And one after another, they came.  “They obeyed.”

Until finally the small turtle on the bottom named Mack had enough.  “Your Majesty, please…I don’t like to complain, But down here below, we are feeling great pain.  I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, But down at the bottom we, too, should have rights.” 

“You hush up your mouth!” howled the mighty King Yertle.  “You’ve no right to talk to the world’s highest turtle.”

Then, Yertle the Turtle King started to give the command for more turtles, but this time: “That plain little turtle below in the stack, That plain little turtle whose name was just Mack, Decided he’d taken enough.  And he had.  And that plain little lad got a little bit mad.  And that plain little Mack did a plain little thing.  He burped!  And his burp shook the throne of the king!”

Then “Yertle, the King of all Sala-ma-Sond, Fell off his high throne and fell Plunk! in the pond!” J

Ha!  I still love this story.  Maybe that’s why I can’t help thinking of it whenever I read somebody once again crowing about how many friends they have on Twitter or MySpace or Facebook or FriendFeed.   “I have almost 2,000 friends!”…”I have over 13,000 friends!”  It’s as if they are building thrones for themselves out of fellow human beings.

I believe Yertle-the-Turtle-type social networking, and the social networks themselves that rely on it, will start falling from grace in 2009.  Here’s why:

1) Time and usage are naturally maturing social networking and this kind of “I have more friends than you!” status climbing smacks too much like “My dad is bigger than your dad!”  People (and networks themselves) who cling to old standards of prestige are going to look increasingly pathetic.

2) Most of these connections are totally meaningless, often brought about because somebody befriended you and you felt compelled to do the same in return (or it was done automatically for you), without so much as even looking at his or her profile. 

Face it, if you are but one of thousands of “friends” what’s the likelihood that this person will ever respond to you?  Now that the economy is in decline and people’s stress level is correspondingly rising, real friendships with consistent interaction will increase in value.  Fake friendships will be discarded as noisy distractions that only waste time and feed irritability.  Our increased sensitivity to betrayal and intolerance for things we can’t count on will demand that we shed false friendships and house-of-cards networks. “Scaling back” will happen psychologically as it happens economically.

The good news is that a growing appreciation for true connection will have the benefit of increasing our social fabric’s thread count.  Today’s Web mesh is largely held together by widely separated Yertle Kings who gather eyeballs but don’t generate much genuine discussion, and thereby little bottom-up connection.  Tomorrow’s social fabric will have a much tighter weave, and hence be softer, more satisfying and stronger.  Luxury brought forth from hardship.  Ahhhhh.

 3) The number of Macks who are brave enough to burp will begin exploding soon because of the increasingly bad economy that will make them ever more cognizant of (and desperate for) this truth: authentic and lasting social networks are simultaneously economic networks serving the material good of all members – as it’s been for 200,000 years.

Lane Hartwell was the first “Mack” that caught my attention.  It was exactly a year ago this week that we had the blow up regarding the Richter Scales video about the tech bubble.  (Awww, the good ol’ days!! J )  It’s a fabulous video, and we need to foster more mashups like this, not fewer.  But all creators in the value chain must be paid.

Why should Michael Arrington, who is making millions of dollars from TechCrunch, be able to run such a video for free?  Newspapers and magazines pay creators for content.  As blogging moves closer to “real” media, bloggers will inevitably start having to pay their fair share, too.  The technology is now available to make it all workable as a win-win for all concerned.  (See my video on Saving Digital Artists if you want to learn my own approach.)

So far, social networks have been designed to enrich nobody but the owners, too often, off the backs of others.  For example, how much of the $1.65 billion that YouTube fetched was shared with the creators of all those videos that made the site successful?  Answer: Not one dime. 

4)  Belching Macks won’t be limited to artists.  Network members themselves, who are feeling the collapsing economy’s weight on their own backs, are going to increasingly become resentful of business models that drown pages they create in ads that earn other people money but nothing for themselves.  King Yertle can link to your brilliant web post, just as he can feed his own readers with your comments and reactions, but unless you’re a Yertle yourself who is big enough to have your own revenue model in place, you’ll get nothing out of it except maybe a few comments in return. 

In social networking, monetization models, if they exist at all, are not distributive.  How much ad revenue does billionaire Mark Zuckerberg share with the users of Facebook who create all that advertising inventory in the first place?  Answer: $0.00.  Resentment already exists and will build in 2009.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with having thousands, even tens of thousands of followers.  More power to you!  But don’t call them “friends” and don’t gather people like baseball cards just to feed your ego.  Being at the top of your social network shouldn’t demand treating it as a throne.  You should be mindful to serve your network as much as it serves you, and you should be provided the tools to do so.

The bottom line is, 2009 is going to prove that social networking is far from being a won space.  If you want to build a different kind of social network, don’t be intimidated by naysayers who think it’s too late.  No, the window won’t be open forever, but it is still open now. 

Remember, kingmakers like FriendFeed and even that “oh, marvelous” Facebook – which acts as oblivious to the risks of their own fevered climb as Yertle was to his – are all vulnerable to falling Plunk! in the mud.  Design something better.  I am.  You can, too.   Nobody is the Google of Social Networking.  Not yet. (See my post on “The Next Calvin and Hobbes vs. the Next Google: 5 Tips” )

Sharp VCs will listen to us and take advantage of the new opportunities that this recession brings, mindful that nobody is chained to any existing social network.  As Dr. Seuss says:

And the turtles, of course…all the turtles are free

As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.

Microsoft, Yahoo, Google – What They Need are Editorial Cartoonists!!

December 11, 2008

Back in the Spring, cartoonist Matthew Meskel (who lives here in the Portland area, too) and I were experimenting with a comic strip.  At some point along Swig’s path, we’re going to launch something like it as “Swiggle: the official comic strip of Swig the Social Market.”  He’s going to draw it and I and Swig employees will write it (with Matthew’s input, too, of course).  It will be based on actual things that are happening within the company.

I thought of it today because I was writing on FriendFeed that I wish websites (and other companies!) could/would hire cartoonists.  Somebody had kindly pointed me to editorial cartoons at investors.com, but that’s the online edition of the daily print newspaper Investor’s Business Daily.  If any website-only publication or social network has its own dedicated cartoonist, I don’t know about it – unless it’s the owner himself, of course.  Like Chris Pirillo writes a gag cartoon for his own site (or at least he was…I’m not sure about the current status of that).  If you know examples, please point us to them in the comments.

Of course, it would take something like a TechCrunch to afford its own cartoonist.  But I think it would be a great investment.  Cartoonists have long proven their ability to attract readers and keep them loyal. 

Imagine being a cartoonist going out on location with a company’s CEO, or to industry conventions with the marketing department, and so on.  I flew cartoonists Alan Gardner and Keefe Chamberlain to a geek conference in Seattle in August of 2007.  They drew editorial-type cartoonists of what was happening on stage.  It was an experiment that went over well.  They did a great job and we had a fun time.

Here is an example of a gag Matthew and I did about an introductory meeting I had with Marshall Kirkpatrick of Read Write Web.  I had had a second mastectomy in March and just got my new prostheses.  Nobody I knew had seen them yet.  So, yes, I really did ask Marshall this.  It’s a true story.  He was a great sport. J

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I think Microsoft should hire its own cartoonist!  And Google.  And Facebook.  And on and on – for company blogs and newsletters and annual reports and bathroom walls.

If nothing else, doing so will put a human face on the company and make you stay more humble and open to criticism, even if gags are only used internally.  There’s nothing like being forced to laugh at yourself to knock down arrogance barriers.

What if the CEO’s of GM and Ford and Chrysler had had good editorial cartoonists following them around and getting feedback from customers these past several years?!  Hey, we probably wouldn’t have to be bailing them out now!  And that’s no joke.

Cartoons are powerful.  They’ve taken down governments.  Unless you’re a dictator, you should be using them.  Do your company a favor and hire a cartoonist.

Editorial Cartoonists – A Great Example of a Wasted Resource

December 10, 2008

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I lifted this cartoon from my friend Alan Gardner’s blog, The Daily Cartoonist, who relayed it from Politicker.com.  It’s a shot back against a newspaper that brusquely fired their editorial cartoonist after 25 years of service.  Here’s the background story.

I laughed out loud at the depiction of his old employer’s building (and thus the newspaper itself) close to falling to ruin.  And the sentiment that this artist, Brian Duffy –respected by his peers and beloved by his readers – has chosen to view his termination as a bright new beginning is inspiring. 

However, the sad reality is that as he walks off into the sunrise, as so many local editorial cartoonists have been forced to before him, there are few places for him to go.  The collapsing market for local editorial cartoons has not been replaced.  While Duffy is extremely talented and I have no doubts about his ability to create paying gigs for himself, unless something forces change, he will likely never again be a local editorial cartoonist.  At least not fulltime.   

The absurdity of this situation is that while there is not a good market for local editorial cartoons, demand for them by readers has never faltered.  So what’s standing in the way?  As I’ve been arguing for years, the villain is the Internet’s culture of free.

We now have the technology to shift that culture from free to “free plus compensated.”  If you haven’t seen my video which explains all of this, I’ll post it here again.  You’ll have to excuse my delivery…my thyroid cancer treatment these last several weeks has left me feeling like it’s two hours past my bedtime 24 hours a day.  Unfortunately, you can tell that even my mouth feels tired as my tongue is sluggish.  I apologize for that.  Still, I think you’ll get most of what I’m saying if you take the 9 minutes to watch it all.  That’s a major time commitment these days, so I’ll thank you in advance.

As I explain in this video, cartoonists were once treated as economic heroes.  Now they are being discarded like trash.  That’s not only sad, it’s tremendously stupid.  Cartoonists could be generating wealth for a lot of different people, if their skills were being utilized properly. 

The good news is, when I started this blog just ten days ago to attract resources to my plan, I was in need of $250,000.  I already have $50,000 of that now.  Twenty percent is a good start.  If you have a blog, please help me spread the word about Swig by directing people to this blog, as the swig.me site still isn’t finished…oh well, we can only do what we can do.  By the New Year, these months of surgery and treatments will be history, my cancer will be gone, the holiday slowdown will be over and Swig and me both can get our butts moving. J

Here’s the other side of the coin.  If we save print newspapers, editorial cartoonists can come get back to work in print, as well.  Hey, at least this video is shorter. 😉