Posts from Weblogs

Online Publishing Should Look At Steem, Not Spotify, For Inspiration

Yesterday Medium announced that they are moving away from ads and thinking about a different kind of business model for their online publishing network.

I saw this tweet suggesting they are looking at Spotify for inspiration:

I don’t have any inside information here. USV is not an investor in Medium and I am not privy to any of the strategic thinking at Medium. So they may not be looking at Spotify for inspiration. But they are certainly looking around to figure out where to go from here.

I don’t think Spotify (music), or Netflix (video), or Amazon (books), should be the inspiration for online publishers in search of a new business model. The sad truth is most people are not going to pay a monthly subscription for online publishing content. Certainly not for blog posts by people they have never heard of.

The new online publications that have a paywall have built nice small businesses that pay the bills and maybe make some money for the founders. That’s a great way to go if you want to be small. But if you want to be a large network with millions of readers and publishers, as Medium already is (2 billion words written on Medium in the last year. 7.5 million posts during that time. 60 million monthly readers), a paywall is not going to work.

I think the blockchain based social network Steem would be a more interesting place for the Medium team to poke around at. Here’s the Steem white paper. That’s a good place to start.

To be clear, I don’t think Steem has this all figured out. I don’t own any Steem (or at least I don’t think I do). And I think they have made things a bit too complicated with their tokens and incentives. To their credit, they have taken steps to simplify things and they are headed in the right direction.

The thing about token based business models is that the token captures the value of the network as it grows and it is the only business model that exists for the network. You can buy tokens if you want to speculate on the value of the network (or invest in the online publication business, as it were). You can earn tokens by participating in the network (or by publishing content on the online publishing network, as it were). You can spend tokens to participate in the network (or by engaging in or curating the online publishing network, as it were).

Twitter could also go this route but clearly it would be harder for them to move away from an ad-based business model than it was for Medium. And believe me, it was not easy for Medium to do this.

The most likely companies that are going to figure out this token based business model are startups. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It would be stunning, bold, and brilliant for Medium to do this. I hope they do.

AVC Community Code Of Conduct

I received a few suggestions yesterday that I outline the “rules” for participating in the AVC Community (the comments section).

So here they are:

1) We do not tolerate racism, sexism, and hate speech of any kind

2) We seek to encourage a wide diversity of opinions

3) Debate and discussion is expected

4) We respect each other and are careful to use polite and civil language

5) We avoid aggressive “in your face” language and trolling

6) We do not ban, mute, or delete comments unless they are spam, porn, or hate speech.

I may add to this list if anyone comes up with additional good ones but this covers the basics.

I acknowledge that I have violated rule number five at times. I am not perfect but I believe the totality of my comments over the 13+ years is a pretty good record and is one of the reasons this community is a model of civility in an increasingly challenged medium.

Headlines

One of the issues in all of the concerns about “fake news” is the way headlines are used on the Internet. Newspapers and magazines certainly took the construction of headlines into account to drive readers into the stories. But on the Internet, headlines have become that and more. They are the links themselves that fly around the Internet and “convert” someone into coming to your site and reading a story. They are “clickbait.” If we want to address the veracity and authenticity of content on the Internet, we might want to start with headlines.

I’ve had my issues with headlines for years. Many years ago, I allowed a number of publications to repost content I write here at AVC on their online publications. The publication that does that most frequently with my content is Business Insider. You can see the hundreds of posts that BI has republished on my author page at Business Insider. When they started doing this maybe seven or eight years ago, I would notice that they would leave my post intact, verbatim, but rewrite the headline. It would drive me crazy because I view the headline as an integral part of my post. I think about the words I use to title my posts. So I would send them angry emails and most of the time they would change it back. But it was a lesson in the difference between a headline that I liked and a headline that would drive clicks.

I also have seen hundreds of stories written about me, USV, and our portfolio companies that have sensational and often inaccurate headlines followed by stories that are essentially correct and well reported. It drives me nuts but I don’t often do much about it.

It makes me think that someone, or some company, or some open source community ought to build software that parses headlines and the stories that follow and rate them for how well the headline represents the article. That “headline veracity ranking” could then be offered to anyone who presents headlines to readers. That would be social media like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. That would be email applications and browsers. That would be search engines. Etc, etc, etc.

It would be nice to see some competition in this sector so that one company doesn’t become the arbiter of what is an accurate headline and what is not. That doesn’t sound like a good outcome. But if this is done via open source, or is community powered in some way, this could be a very helpful tool in getting publishers to behave and represent their stories accurately.

And that would be a wonderful thing for the Internet.

Some Thoughts On The AVC Community

The community here at AVC is possibly it’s greatest strength. But like most things, it is also it’s greatest weakness.

Over the past five years I’ve gone from the most active community member, to a regular participant, to an observer, to an avoider.

I wrote yesterday’s post for an entrepreneur (and every entrepreneur) who wanted to know what the Trump election means for startups.

As I wrapped up the post, I thought very seriously about closing the comments because I knew what they would become. But I didn’t do it. Because that’s a slippery slope. What is the bright line test for when I should open comments and when I should close them? Frankly I’d rather just shut them down rather than turn them on and off whenever I randomly feel like I should.

But I cannot accept the behavior that goes on in the AVC community whenever politics, or gender, or race, or taxes, some other hot button issue is raised, either by me or by the community when a thread gets hijacked and goes astray.

There is a lack of respect. There is a lack of civility. It makes me crazy. So I just skip the whole damn thing.

But I am enabling this behavior because I choose to make AVC a community instead of just a blog. So it is on me that AVC turns into a cesspool some days

As you can tell I am struggling what to do. I’ve thought about banning certain long standing members of the community. But I also don’t want to censor people. They should censor themselves though.  That’s the problem. They can’t

So that’s where I am. Fed up to my eyeballs and pissed off and struggling with what to do.

If nothing else, consider this a warning. If you don’t police yourself, the community here will be history. There is a very big piece of me that wants that to happen.

AVC Down Time?

Yet another post about something I supposedly don’t actually care about 🙂

I am pursuing a theory that the cause of the AVC down time that I posted about last week has to do with a burst of traffic from social media (mostly Twitter) that happens right after I publish a post on AVC.

I almost always experience this downtime in the 5-10 minute period right after I post. That is also frankly the time when I pay most attention to AVC each day. After that I tend to move on to other things.

So I am curious. For those of you who have experienced this downtime (I realize many of you have not), do you recall when it typically happens to you?

Follow Up To Yesterday’s Post

I really had no agenda with yesterday’s post other than to let all of you know that I am well aware of the reliability issues but don’t have any plans to address them at this time.

But when I walked out of our weekly team meeting yesterday afternoon I had three unanswered phone calls to my cell phone from the same number in Utah. I returned the call and got Bluehost, the web hosting company for AVC.

I have not talked to Bluehost yet, but I will.

It seems that they are more eager to fix this issue than I am.

It would be even more awesome if they could just fix it instead of calling me. But I understand that I may need to do something on my end.

So I will talk to them and maybe these reliability issues will get fixed after all.

Stay tuned.

AVC Reliability Issues

For a number of years, AVC has been plagued by nagging reliability issues. There are times when the page won’t load. Regular readers are familiar with this issue. William sent me a screenshot this morning of one typical issue:

Here is another typical error message:

I have come to believe this issue is related to my web host, Bluehost, and CloudFlare which provides a host of services for AVC.

My goal in posting about this is not to try to fix it although I know the comments will be filled with suggestions and that I will get a ton of email suggestions too. Thank you in advance for that.

The truth is I am not particularly compelled to fix this issue. If it was magically fixed, I would be thrilled. But I’ve come to view it like some of the annoying things about me that the Gotham Gal puts up with on a regular basis. It’s all part of the relationship I have (and you have) with AVC and I’m OK with it.

New Disqus iOS App

Disqus, the USV portfolio company that powers the comments/community here at AVC, released an iOS app this past week. You can download it here.

The Disqus mobile app has two primary features.

The first is the ability to follow channels and discover content and conversations in those channels.

Here’s a screenshot of my home tab which features this discovery capability:

disqus home tab

The second primary feature, and possibly more interesting to the AVC community, is the notifications tab where you see your comments and related activity:

notifications tab

notifications activity

I have found that Disqus works really well on the mobile web now (a big improvement over where it was a few years ago) and so I mostly review and respond to comments in line in the browser, but it’s nice to have this mobile app to be able to read and respond quickly to all of your activity.

I expect that Disqus will follow with an Android app in due course and I also believe they will add features for the publishers (ie me) into these mobile apps as well.

Following AVC On Twitter

I stopped manually tweeting out all of my blog posts on my main twitter handle a year or two ago. It just didn’t feel right to me. But you can still follow AVC on Twitter if you want.

This exchange yesterday reminded me that I should let everyone know this.

So if you want to get my daily blog posts delivered on Twitter, follow AVC.

AVC – A Publishing Dinosaur

I was listening to Benedict Evans and Chris Dixon talking about micropayments, ad blockers, web and mobile publishing, and a few other interesting topics this morning and they were making the point that publishers have to go to platforms where their audiences are these days (Facebook, Apple, Medium, etc). I thought about that in the context of AVC and realized that we are most certainly a dinosaur. I publish using a wordpress instance running on a server in the cloud on my own domain. Direct traffic is the largest form of traffic AVC gets. Organic search still drives as much traffic as social. RSS still generates a meaningful amount of traffic (it is called (other) in the chart below).

all traffic channels

Within the social category, Twitter is king and Facebook is an also ran.

social category

Referrals come mostly from Twitter and Hacker News

referrals

All of this results in 250,000 web sessions a month, plus RSS and email which about double that. Over the course of a year, it’s over 5mm user sessions across web, email, and RSS.

This pales in comparison to a real commercial publication. But it’s not too bad for a small community tended to by a single operator.

We are most certainly old school in terms of the way this audience comes together.

Maybe that’s why the audience has been flat for over five years now.

2008 to 2015

But it still works very well for me and hopefully for all of you too.