Posts from Weblogs

Was This About Me?

I often get people asking if something I wrote was about them or their company.

I have a rule for myself.

I don’t write a post about a specific person or company without making it clear that the post is about that person or company.

There are times when I don’t want to name that person or company, but when something is about a someone or some company, I don’t hide that. I make it clear.

On the day I wrote the “Greed Isn’t Good” post, I got a lot of questions about who or what it was about.

I replied on Twitter:

I do not send messages to people or companies via a post on my blog. If I want to tell someone something, I will do that privately.

A Public Record

AVC has been going on for almost 14 years now. I write every day, mostly about tech and investing in startups and observations about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship.

WordPress says I have posted 7,622 times. That is more than once a day but that is because I used to post multiple times a day. Now I can barely find the time to write once a day.

Anyway, posting your thoughts and investment ideas every day creates a public record.

That can be bad when you are consistently wrong about something, like I have been about Apple since Steve Jobs left the company.

But all in all, I would not have it any other way.

A few days ago, Founder Playbook posted a timeline of my writing on Bitcoin and Blockchain, stating that “Since 2011, Fred has been bullish, yet critical, on the crypto market.”

I have been a believer in Bitcoin, Blockchain, and Crypto since 2011 and my confidence in this macro investment thesis gets stronger every day.

And I will continue to critique the sector, calling it out when I see things like greed, infighting, or other issues that get in the way of its collective success.

One could do a similar lookback on my roughly decade long obsession with social media that led me to blogging and ended around the time I fell for crypto.

I tend to get obsessed about one thing and write a lot about it. Which creates a public record. You can’t hide from that, but then again blogging is the opposite of hiding.

Zemanta – From SeedCamp to Outbrain

In the summer of 2008, I attended the SeedCamp in London and the winner of that class was a company called Zemanta, out of Ljubljana Slovenia. I was taken with everything about Zemanta; a small team (three founders), out of a place that I had never been to and had barely heard of, winning the SeedCamp with a really smart blogging tool that I just had to have on my blog.

USV invested in a seed round that summer that was led by the SeedCamp folks and Eden Ventures. Zemanta was USV’s first European investment. Today, we have ten out of sixty-seven active portfolio companies (~15%) based in Europe.

The seed investment in Zemanta led to a nine year journey with Bostjan and Andraz, who founded Zemanta along with Ales.

The blogging tool is amazing. It recommends links and images in real time as you type into your blogging tool. I still have it running in my WordPress web application. It looks like this right now.

Zemanta sold the blogging tool to a company called Sovrn a while ago and refocused on the native advertising market. They understood how to place related content into a content feed as well as anyone and they decided to focus the company on that. Bostjan and Andraz recruited Todd to lead the new business opportunity. Over the course of the last three years, Zemanta DSP has become the leading buying tool for native advertising.

And the largest company in the native advertising market, Outbrain, became their largest customer. So a few months ago, Outbrain asked the Zemanta founders to join their team and help build some important new technology for Outbrain. After haggling for a few minutes, the deal was sealed and Outbrain now has an office and a team in Ljubljana.

Like every investment, Zemanta taught me a few important things. I learned how to work with founders from a different part of the world, I learned that Ljubljana is a lovely little city with wonderful cafes and restaurants along a gorgeous river, I learned that you can keep a company alive for almost a decade on less than five million dollars if you have a crack team of product managers, data scientists, and software engineers in a place that most people don’t know about, and I learned that tenacity wins, always.

I am pleased that Zemanta has found a home inside a larger company with a bigger opportunity, I am pleased that Ljubljana has a startup success it can point to, and I am pleased that USV is now a shareholder in Outbrain, an investment I mistakenly passed on a decade ago. But mostly I am pleased that Bostjan and Andraz, with a lot of help from Todd, were able to go all the way, from startup to exit, never losing that which makes them special. That’s a big win in my book.

Comment Policy

Our portfolio company Disqus, the company that makes the comment system we use here at AVC, released a new feature last week.

This new feature allows a blogger/publisher to put their comment policy above the comment thread.

You can see it here, at the end of yesterday’s post, above the comment thread.

For those of you who use the Disqus comment system on their blogs and/or publications, here is a knowledge base post detailing how to use this new feature and containing some advice on how to set a comment policy.

As always, we encourage comments here at AVC. But please be nice or leave. It makes everything so much better.

USV Team Posts

If you are reading this blog via email, you are missing out on a great new feature.

At the end of the first post on AVC, there is a widget that shows other blog posts by USV team members.

This is what it looks like today, featuring three posts by my colleague Bethany. I suspect she added her blog’s RSS feed to the widget yesterday.

This is a classic old school link sharing network. A number of my USV colleagues, including Nick, Albert, and Jacqueline also participate in this.

So we’ve added a little bit more USV to AVC. And that’s a good thing. And long overdue.

AVC – Issues With The Site

As many of you know, AVC was down for most of yesterday. We were experiencing what WordPress folks call the “white screen of death” issue. This issue emerged just after I posted the video of the week around 6:45am ET.

I was in Philly goofing off all day with some friends and couldn’t work on it until I got back early evening. Bill Soistmann was very helpful and we got the site back up by making some changes to the header code.

But as of now, the main page header is missing, and there are no comments.

I plan to work on this some more today with Bill and I expect we will get everything working before the end of the weekend. I appreciate everyone’s patience while we work through this today.

Hyphenation

I have been hearing complaints/suggestions that I turn off hyphenation on AVC.

This twitter conversation is an example:

I am curious to hear more from readers on this topic.

  1. do you notice the hyphenation?
  2. do you think it is off putting?
  3. would you encourage me to remove it?

To be honest, I can’t figure out how to find the CSS code in my WordPress setup to do this, but if I get a resounding “please turn it off” I will do the work to find the code and remove it.

Toxic Comments

We are fortunate here at AVC. We have mostly civil and respectful conversations. People behave themselves here. That is sadly not the case everywhere.

I don’t know what the people who post comments like this are feeling and thinking. It is horrible. Awful. Hateful. Hurtful. Painful. Disgusting. Disturbing. And a lot more.

If you operate a large social media service like Twitter, Facebook, or Disqus, you get to see stuff like this every day, hundreds of times a day. It is a view of humanity that is deeply upsetting.

Disqus, which is a USV portfolio company, where I serve on the Board, and which operates the comment service here at AVC and at millions of other websites around the globe, has been working on scaleable solutions to this problem.

They posted an update yesterday on what they are doing to combat this problem.

Here are some excerpts from that post:

The Disqus Platform supports a diversity of websites and discussions; with such a large network of publishers and commenters, having a policy against hateful, toxic content is critical. While we do periodically remove toxic communities that consistently violate our Terms and Policies, we know that this alone is not a solution to toxicity. Oftentimes these communities simply shift to another platform. Ultimately, this does not result in higher quality discussions, and it does not stop the hate. In order to have a real, lasting impact, we need to make improvements to our product. Which is why, if at all possible, we work with publishers to encourage discourse (even unpopular or controversial discourse!) while helping to eliminate toxic language, harassment, and hate.

Over the past several months, many passionate folks have reached out to us about severe violations of our Terms of Service. With the help of our community, we’ve been able to review and enforce our policy on dozens of sites.

We appreciate all of the help and feedback we’ve received and we are excited to continue to partner productively with users and organizations that are passionate about fighting toxic content and hate speech. To improve our efforts, we’ve built a Terms of Service Violations Submissions form. This form is a way for users to explicitly share with us when they’ve found a community to be in violation of our terms. In addition to reporting individual users (which helps moderators know who in their community is perhaps exhibiting toxic behavior), you can now report directly to us when you think there’s a publisher/site we should take a look at. When we are made aware of potential violations, we review them internally and make a decision about whether or not to allow the site to remain on our platform.

This isn’t a small scale matter; we know that to have a meaningful impact across our network, we need to build solutions into the product. With that in mind, we’re committed to building tools to make the moderation experience easier and better for publishers (and commenters, too).

Here are some things that we’re working on:

  • More powerful moderation features. We’re working on two features right now, Shadow banning and Timeouts, that will give publishers more options for managing their communities. Shadow banning lets moderators ban users discreetly by making a troublesome user’s comments only visible to that user. Timeouts give moderators the ability to warn and temporarily ban a user who is exhibiting toxic behavior.

  • Toxic content detection through machine learning. We are working on a feature to help publishers identify hate speech and other toxic content and then handle this more effectively.

  • Commenting policy recommendations. While we already provide suggestions for how to create community guidelines, we’ve realized that we can be more proactive and more assistive to our publishers. We’re working on helping our publishers expose their custom commenting and community guidelines by making them more visible to their readers and commenters.

  • Advertiser tools: Just like publishers do not want toxic content on their sites, we know that advertisers do not want their content to display next to toxic comments. Leveraging our moderation technology, we will provide more protection for advertisers, giving them more control over where they display their content.

If you think this is a simple problem to solve, you are sadly wrong. And if you think that Disqus and USV and I don’t care about solving this problem, you are wrong about that too.

Fun Friday: The Story Of My Avatar

I got this tweet today:

The answer is yes I have but it was eight years ago. I thought it would be fun to re-run that post.

Here is is:


 I saw this tweet when I got up this morning:

hey @fredwilson – whats the story behind ur avatar?

While longtime readers know it, I figure many of you don’t. So here it goes.

Starting about four years ago, Howard Lindzon started commenting actively on this blog. He was funny, he was smart, and I enjoyed our banter in the comments.

One march vacation, our family made a short stop in Phoenix, where Howard used to live. He emailed me and offered my son and me two tickets to the Suns game. We took him up on that and that’s how we met for the first time.

It turned out Howard was hatching an idea for a web show for investors. Think Rocketboom meets Jim Cramer. I told him it was a good idea and encouraged him to do it. Howard would fire ideas at me and I would give him feedback on them.

Out of that came Wallstrip. Here’s a post I wrote a little over three years ago announcing the launch of Wallstrip.

One of the original ideas for the show that never really worked out was that there would be a dozen well known bloggers who would write short posts about each daily show. Howard asked me to do that and I agree to do it at least once a week.

So that’s how the avatar came to be. Howard asked his friend Jenny Ignaszewski to draw up avatars for all dozen of the stock bloggers using photos of them that were available on the web. The first time I saw my avatar was when Wallstrip launched and there it was along with Howard’s and a bunch of others.

Fredwilson

From the minute I saw it, I liked it. It uses my favorite color (green) as the backdrop and the eye color (my eyes are sometimes blue and sometimes green and sometimes something else). It looks like me, but not too much.

So I began to use it a bit here and there around the web as I set up new profiles. But by no means was it the only profile picture I used. For corporate oriented services like LinkedIn, I’d use my Union Square Ventures headshot. For social nets like Facebook, I’d use a regular headshot. I used a photo of me taking a photo on Flickr for a long time.

But then I started to realize that the Wallstrip avatar was becoming my online identity. People would comment about it all the time. Around the time we sold Wallstrip, Howard asked Jenny to do a real painting of it which I now have in my office at Union Square Ventures. It’s a real conversation starter.

Sometime in early 2008, I just decided to go with it everywhere. It’s at the top of this blog and everywhere else I have an online identity. It’s my online brand now.

Like this blog, this was not planned. It just happened. That’s the way most of the important things in my life have come to be.

Grammarly

I have never had anyone edit my blog posts here at AVC. I write the posts, hit publish, and go off on my day and let the conversation follow. Often readers will send to me copy edits; typos, misspellings, grammar errors, etc. I am always very thankful for these reader-generated edits and almost always go make the changes and fix the post. This is how AVC gets copy edited. It works but there are issues. The emails that go out are based on the initial post and so they often have the errors in them.

Yesterday, I took a step in the direction of better-written posts by adding the Grammarly chrome extension to my browser. Grammarly works just like a spell checker but it is focused on making me (and all of their users) a better writer.

Grammarly works in any writing application that runs in my browser, so I benefit from it in WordPress, Gmail, Google Docs, Twitter, and anywhere else I write on the web.

So far, I like it quite a bit. I plan to keep using it. And I hope that you will all see the improvement in my writing as a result.