30 posts categorized "November 2010"

Sparkbuy, Laptop-Specific Shopping Site

Blogger and entrepreneur Dan Shapiro has a new startup that's all about making it easier to shop for the perfect laptop. It's called Sparkbuy and a beta version, accessible by invite codes, launched yesterday.

John Cook and Greg Huang each posted the news yesterday, here and here respectively. John also posted some invite codes with his story. I have some invite codes to give out, too; email me or leave a comment if you'd like one of mine.

I played with Sparkbuy yesterday and I very much like how everything is click, drag & drop and slide-oriented.

Have a look at the left column in the screenshot below. When I pulled "Long battery" from the list of twenty or so features into the the top of my "Your Prioirites" list, the order of the laptops profiled immediately changed. You can add, eliminate and re-order the features in the "Your Priorities" list. Sometimes your tweaks cause the laptops profiled to change, sometimes they do not.


What's more, you can click on a feature you've prioritized to reveal a slide bar that lets you get more granular with the given specification. The popup in the screenshot illustrates this. I clicked on "Fast" and as I dragged the slide to the right, the popup told me how many laptops were being progressively eliminated from those profiled. I really like that feature.

I don't know hardware well enough to know if Dan's company is hitting on all the right criteria, nor if its database is comprehensive enough. But I love the user experience and will certainly use this site before I buy another laptop. And I'll likely put off buying a new TV until Sparkbuy begins to index those - that seems to be the electronics category planned next.

Update 2:40 pm PT: As I mentioned, I don't know laptops that well. But someone who does, who is a world-class UI expert to boot, emailed me a critique after trying the Sparkbuy beta himself. With permission, I am pasting his emailed thoughts here:

"It's kind of interesting, though I think it could be improved by displaying the value sliders for each attribute so you you don't have to slide them out. (Travel sites typically show you the flight times that you can tweak while looking at the results and filter real time.) I'd also add the ability to sort the list by name, price, etc. and finally add a search feature for the results, so that you don't have to page through.

"I'd also add a Processor category (their "Speed" rating is meaningless to me) and offer Android and Linux OS options (especially for the tablets).

"Also the database seems to not be fully current as Dell's new Inspiron Duo didn't show up."

"Montage" from Microsoft's Fuse Labs

Here's a screen shot of a kind of Flipbook I put together last night, on the subject of startups, using a new tool called "Montage" from Microsoft's Fuse Labs.

Picture 3

And here's a link to the live Montage-Startups site. Presumably the live site should look considerably different, as the different feeds pulled into the site are updated.

I haven't put this publishing/curation tool quite nearly through the paces it deserves, but already I like it. My first impression is it won't default into mass media or consumption the same way other tools do. (I suppose, long term, how Montage fares in this respect will depend on Bing's developing priorities.)

Right now the tool lets you pull RSS feeds, Twitter searches, and news and images found by a search term you specify. Oh, and maps and video and "text," but I haven't tried those fields yet. If Microsoft uses its influence with Facebook to access pictures, updates, fan pages and other feeds, I can imagine many Facebook users would consider shifting attention to this more personalized, scrapbook-like activity.

Talking Heads Not Talking

Somehow, Harry Shearer intercepts satellite feeds of TV network news personalities as they sit waiting for the show to start or resume.

It's mysterious to me how he does this technically and how he clears copyright. Perhaps because the images captured are of public figures - Anderson Cooper, David Gergen, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, to name a few - statutory and common law rights of personality do not apply? –

Shearer In any case, each feed seems to loop longer than any typical break for commercials. And you get to see how each personality passes the time. Chris Matthews stares into the camera as though he were facing himself down in a mirror. Larry King presses his chin into his upturned fist, just as he does when listening to his guests. Then-Senator Obama languidly flips the pages of what looks like USA Today.

I find the "before and after" moments on C-SPAN to yield more insight on the political character, but these silent passages of Harry Shearer's curation - if you give them the same attention you would lend the pictured celebrities when they are talking on the air - do throw into relief how driven these people are. I imagine the average person would look restless and guilty, like she had better uses of her time.

To see things as they are not meant to be presented, that is a gift and that is an essence of art.

So it is fitting that you may see a collection of the Harry Shearer videos, running simultaneously, now at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. The show is called "Silent Echo Chamber."

Sponsored Tweets a False Start?

I've lamented what I've taken to be Twitter's recent, demonstrable commitment to advertising and mass media.

But in a post yesterday, Dave Winer noted with admiration that Twitter's CEO has just admitted that the company has no long term vision. The admission is admirable because, Winer says, Twitter's lack of a vision is "so obviously true."

Winer goes on to to lay out two options for Twitter . . . both based on advertising.

There's a third option, and that is to work relentlessly with the Twitter user base to destroy advertising altogether.

Twitter might yet be subversive. And not just politically.

At the level of consumer culture, Twitter could threaten the very premise of advertising, which is that people cannot efficiently access accurate, relevant information on demand. Any thoughtful Twitter user can imagine Twitter turning the tables on advertisers in this way.

Sure, we'll need more tools. Search and mapping will have to work better, and Twitter and any independent developers let back in will have to further experiment with other ways to filter and retrieve (or serve) relevant tweets. But conceptually we're there. Or we were.

Imagine honest “brand experiences” there for the sampling without effort or latency. Brand owners would participate, of necessity; but "advertising" would be replaced altogether by real-time engagement with consumers.

The returns on the investment of one’s genuine engagement (not consumption, but engagement) on Twitter remain high, even now. Twitter should put at the center, not the advertisers, those who had passively sat things out waiting for the "audience" to build, but instead the crowdsourced, the participants, the content creators, who will all be sold short if Twitter does indeed become just another shopping mall, multiplex, or Facebook.

Long term, the right business model for Twitter will be one that permits Twitter to remain loyal to its best users.

"The instruments of social media," Malcolm Gladwell wrote earlier this year, "are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo." Some company will prove Gladwell wrong. If Winer is right that Twitter's jury is not in, that company might yet be Twitter?

Portions of this post are adapted from my comments in a Disqus thread on Chris Dixon's blog.

Seattle, Delaware

It's unusual to find a big firm corporate lawyer with an open mind about incorporating in Washington rather than Delaware, let alone the independence to dispassionately list the ways in which Washington law may afford advantages.

But Trent Dykes of DLA Piper has done that, in a post Wednesday titled, plainly enough, Delaware vs. Washington: Where should I incorporate my startup?

The post is excellent and will become a standard reference in my practice. Even very experienced entrepreneurs should read this before forming that next entity.

And by the way, welcome to the new startup law blog from Asher Bearman and Trent, in which Trent's post appears.

We're seeing an emergence of original, independent thinking in blogs by lawyers from Seattle. Venkat Balasubramani or Joe Wallin came first, both before me; and now it looks like Asher and Trent will post regularly. At some point someone may give the region's lawyer bloggers a moniker.

Federal Safe Harbor for Big Media Company Vigilantism?

One thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day is Senator Ron Wyden's efforts to stop S.3804, the "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act" sponsored by Senator Leahy. The Washington Post reported this week that Sen. Wyden will likely be able to delay Senate action on the bill until next year.

Sen. Leahy's bill was most notorious for calling on the Attorney General to establish a blacklist of domain names that, "upon information and reasonable belief," would be determined by the Department of Justice to be "dedicated to infringing activities." That provision has been stricken from the bill as reported on November 18.

Senator Leahy has a press release page with a link to a file that summarizes how the original bill has been modified, but I wasn't able to find an actual redline. I did find a Government Printing Office "blackline" but it is not helpful; it merely strikes the entire text of the bill as introduced and substitutes a clean, restated version! So, I ran my own redline and posted it to JD Supra, here. (Subject for another day: why do legislators go out of their way to obscure the changes they make to proposed legislation?)

The following new provision pops out in the redline:

"VOLUNTARY ACTIONS- No domain name registry, domain name registrar, financial transaction provider, or service that provides advertisements to Internet sites shall be liable to any person on account of any action described in this subsection voluntarily taken if the entity reasonably believes the Internet site is dedicated to infringing activities or to prevent the importation into the United States of goods or services described under subsection (a)(2) offered by such an Internet site."

I've tried to read this addition several times in context, hoping to find that it merely functions to insulate entities that cooperate with the DOJ and the courts in proceedings pursuant to the Act. But there was already a section in the bill that covered that point, and that prior section is still there.

It would appear that the new section is a safe harbor for actions media companies might take, without cover of an actual court order under the Act, to do their own private policing of "infringing activities!"

Snow on Sidewalks

We Seattlites are holding our biennial Adventures in Snowy Commutes this week. There seems to be more good cheer about it this go round. Last time, public disgust with the City's response was so toxic, it lingered and cost a good mayor reelection.

Photo (2)_2So I'll keep my one weather-response gripe strictly circumscribed.

Why can't all downtown property managers and retailers be as sensible as the fellow at the Union Square complex who yesterday morning was sweeping walkways clean of snow using a simple kitchen broom?

Pictured is what happens to that snow by midafternoon, when it's NOT swept. Just as I snapped this photo in the vicinity of Fifth and Olive, a person traversing the unswept sidewalk across the street fell ass over tincups.

Plows, blowers, shovels are not required. For all the snow we ever get downtown, a simple indoor broom will do.

Apart from that, I'm happy. The light rail runs without a hitch; the articulated bus drivers are amazingly patient and determined.

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