30 posts categorized "June 2011"


First I want to thank Josh Maher for sending me an invite and also Ariana O'Dell for offering one while I didn't yet know I had one from Josh.

I also want to say that I really enjoy reading Dave Winer's blog these days. He's not a prose stylist but he's an efficient communicator of interesting thoughts. He sees big context in small things, makes details tell, yet his style is spare and his syntax simple.

So he's been posting recently about Google+, and in one piece dismissively said this:

"Their [Google's] 'social' offerings have been rebuffed repeatedly, and they will continue to be rejected by users, no matter how promising they are, no matter what they are, different from Facebook, a Facebook clone, doesn't matter."

He gives two reasons for this permanent and inevitable state of affairs, the second of which is, "Everyone's watching."

This means that:

" . . . on Day One your service pretty much has to be feature-complete, and ready for hundreds of millions of users. Forget about corner-turns. Forget about dipping your big toe in to get a sense of the temperature. These are the advantages of the upstart, when they're starting."

Photo (1)Well, he may be right, but damn if the darn thing (Google+) doesn't do a lot of shit right out of the gate.

I was so excited at getting Josh's mail that I started playing with Google+ with my iPhone, rather than wait to get back to where I had left my Android phone. Right away it started throwing choices at me, like telling me where I happened to be and asking if it should locate the post I was about to write. Then it threw out dozens of names as suggested connections, and let me select from the list even as it kept refreshing it with new finds.

Google+ appears to be promising that you can gradate access/permissions/exposure by placing your peeps in different "circles." I hesitated at how to categorize some folks, but soon enough I saw I could create and name my own custom "circles" (take that, Facebook).

Screen shot 2011-06-30 at 12.52.36 AMWhen I got back to my Android phone, Google+ really knew me and added additional nuance to my control. Once the a couple apps from the Android Market were installed, Google+ was asking about automatically uploading photos as I take them and inviting me to initiate a "huddle" (those features are not on the iPhone).

But I imagine I'd still play the heck out of Google+ even as a web app on the iPhone. The experience on the iPhone is like other Google services on iOS: work fine; feel like the mobile setting of a web page rather than a native app; are missing the touches that supercharge the experience but yet get the job done.

The delight of Google+ will come first on the Android apps. (Apple's answer to be Twitter integration?)

FourSquare Cap

Here's an update to FourSquare's cap table, reconstructed from its most recent charter filing and taking at face value TechCrunch's report of a $550 million pre-money valuation for its most recent financing.

Screen shot 2011-06-28 at 8.25.24 PM

I don't know how many of the estimated common shares are in the option pool, but even if it's a healthy number, the founders appear to have control, subject to the right of the Preferred (all three series voting together as a single class) to approve a sale.

Spam on Twitter

My impression has been that Twitter keeps up well with illicit marketers' will to spam.

They show up as @ mentions, unsolicited uses of your Twitter handle that normally mean someone has quoted or referenced you. Spammers count on your natural curiousity to see how you're referenced in others tweets, to draw your attention to an ad or some phishing link.

Klout spam pageBut yesterday a startup I otherwise would have regarded as legit descended to this tactic. It was an @ mention from Klout promoting Pepsi. Totally uncool.

It will be interesting to see how Twitter deals with this kind of spam if and as advertising takes more of a hold of the mainstream Twitter experience. Will it be okay if Twitter takes a cut? Will it be something only Twitter and/or preferred partners will be allowed to do?

PS: Notice the message in the short bio for the spamming Klout account: "We use this account to notify people of Perks, if that bugs you please feel free to just follow @Klout instead." Nice try, but not a fair trade practice!

Founders & Risk Temperature

One thing I'm noticing among founders who eschew financing past the point when it would actually be available to them: some of them are stressing out.

161898848_da4d9c9049_zSome are taking risks they wouldn't take if they had a venture capitalist or an experienced angel investor on their boards.

I don't mean the risk of failure. That's an acceptable risk. I don't mean the risk of leaving vendors unpaid. That's the ordinary course of startup business.

I mean persevering past the point that any investor, willing to write off her own investment, would urge you to pay final wages, lock down member data or other sensitive information, call it a night.

I used to say that I'd never seen anyone cross over from the corporate world to startupland and ever go back (except brief tours as part of the price of a liquidity event). But this stress of pushing past the point of the capacity of the system to wipe the slate clean . . . that may ruin entrepreneurship for some talented folks who would do better to take the money, make it big, and self-fund next time.

Photo: Vienna graffiti, by southtyrolean.

A Kinder, Gentler Hipsterism

Walking home Friday night after the Sounders/Red Bulls game, my girlfriend and I passed Knee High Stocking Co., a new speakeasy I had read about and tucked away in the Google map in my mind.

2011-06-23_21-55-19_109No sign visible from the street marks it; the windows are covered from the inside with black, gauzy curtains; the entrance is a wooden door and an instruction to "ring" implies that you can't let yourself in.

While we circled the triangular building that houses it, a hipster couple approached the door and one of them pressed the buzzer.

"Oh good," I called out, skipping up and standing over their shoulders. "I'll have a peek inside as you go in." My girlfriend, who has manners, stood off a respectable distance.

2011-06-23_21-55-29_461Eyeing my attire (Sounders pullover and scarf), the fellow said, "you'll get us kicked out!" The gal made a remark about how great the place was, and in those brief seconds, the fellow remembered he was yet in Seattle, after all. "Just kidding," he assured me.

The door opened, there was an efficient negotiation, and in they went.

Facebook & That Dreaded Word, "Censorship"

Vadim Lavrusik is a discriminating Twitterer, worth following in spite of being someone you might fairly place in that category-otherwise-to-be-avoided, “social media expert.” His credentials include roles at the NY Times, Mashable, and (currently) Facebook.

But Vadim showed his humanity this week in the comment thread to this piece by Mathew Ingram on Gigaom.

Normally precise, I think Vadim stumbled when, speaking for Facebook, he commented:

"We seek to create a safe environment for all users and investigate reports from users about violations of the terms. In those cases, the Pages are sometimes frozen while the claim is investigated to ensure that malicious behavior is taking place. Calling it “censorship” is not only misleading, but grossly inaccurate."

Actually, censorship is exactly the right word for the process of reviewing material and removing it on the basis of its content.

4327205239_6145958833_oVadim may have been recoiling from the word's prejorative connotations of government censorship. It's true that Facebook's censorship doesn't violate the US Constitution, and that Facebook is perfectly free to censor in ways prohibited to federal and state governments.

"Discriminating” in the first sentence of this post is used in an approbative sense. In this context, it means “precise,” “selective,” and “reflecting good judgment.” But for many, the word is ruined; they can’t hear it without a negative connotation, something insidious, such as the classification and division of people by race.

Like "discrimination," "censorship" may be irredeemably tainted by its negative connotations. It's natural that a spokesperson for Facebook would instinctively reject the word and look for a euphemism.

Euphemisms can be funny, as long as you are in on the joke. At the end of the day, “revenue enhancements” are taxes; and "safe environment" means someone is watching you. Whatever friendly phrase Facebook puts to it, policing content against guidelines, standards or rules, however well intentioned, is censorship.

For a future post: imagining terms of service that disclaim any right to censor.

Photo from the National Archives UK: "Opened by censor."

You're Living in Disneyland

Couple reports this week about corporate censorship of speech, or the will to realize it.

First, Roger Ebert's Facebook page is taken down. Then, Apple is putatively looking to be able to shut iPhone cameras down, perhaps when you are taking videos at a concert or some other corporate environment where the experience isn't to be your own.

3308844038_fc5bd65d3c_zThese instances of branded paternalism aren't what we should be worried about. Whether you use an outlet like Facebook for creative work you need to control, whether you use a phone you know the manufacturer could remotely shut down - those are decisions within the realm of personal control. There are other social media sites; there are plenty of manufacturers of cameras.

And, sad to say, there probably is robust market appetite for marketplaces like Facebook and Apple, where tacky comments can be punished and dissemination of creative work can be prevented or controlled.

To worry about acts of petty corporate censorship also, in my opinion, distracts us from the actual, structural threats to free speech, which are (a) the buying of legislation by corporate interests, and (b) reliance on a contractual approach to hosted cloud services, which we probably really do have to think of as utilities or public commons. (See my post from a couple months back, "What Cloud Politics Mean for the Hosted Startup.")

I left comments on the two pieces (at Gigaom and Huffington Post, respectively) linked above. First, regarding Facebook:

It's good that things like this happen because they warn all of us to not be lulled into the sense that the proprietors of Facebook would ever allow the service to be turned into a public commons. Some irony in the fact that the Facebook service illustrates many of the things a digital commons might be about, but, whatever that future is, Facebook won't be it. Too centralized; too lacking in imagination; too bound to the service of a tired, corrupt industry (advertising) that the commercial side of a truly social media would free us from.

But it's a private business, so the only fair remedy to the problem is for individuals to choose with their eyes open.

The far more difficult problem, I think, is what to do about data centers and cloud services that really do function as de facto public utilities, when (a) they don't like content they are hosting, and (b) government wants to search or seize a server and doesn't know how to distinguish between the suspect and it's virtual neighbors? That's also infrastructure for . . . well, everything: commerce, education, the arts, politics, everything.

And regarding Apple's (hypothetical) remotely controlled camera:

Tim, what's the remedy? If it's to warn people that speech can't be free using an iPhone to take pictures or communicate, that Facebook has a corporate agenda (selling stuff and not offending conventional mores), that's awesome, because informed people can make better choices. But I worry that there's a lurking suggestion in your piece that government should do something about it. Perhaps I am misreading you.

There are arenas where a civil society has to think hard about limiting corporate censorship. One is in the arena of voting and corruption of politics, the de facto buying of legislation. Another one would be cloud services that are turning out to be very much like public utilities and public commons, both.

But at the level of Facebook and Apple, warn people, sure, but let it go. If people have the will to cage themselves, that's part of freedom, too. Our problems are more structural than this. It's the buying of politicians. It's the dependence on Facebook-like terms of service, not at Facebook's level, but up in the open cloud.

Picture ("no cameras or recording equipment") by Vitamin-K.

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