Posts from Weblogs

The Blank Screen

I was at dinner last night with some entrepreneurs and VCs in Berlin and we got talking about my ritual of blogging every day. I told them that many days I stare at the blank screen and think “ugh, what am I going to write about today.”

blank screen 2

They asked if there was any correlation to knowing what I am going to write about and the quality of the post. I told them that I don’t think so. The best posts come out in real time and often they start with me staring at the blank screen. Same with the worst posts.

Posting every day isn’t easy for a host of reasons but for me the hardest is that much of what I work on every day is off limits. I wake up thinking about a drama unfolding in one of our portfolio companies and I can’t blog about that. I wake up thinking about a new product one of our portfolio companies is going to launch and I can’t blog about that. I wake up thinking about a neat company we just met and I mostly can’t blog about that.

So on a typical morning, I run through four or five ideas, tossing each out for a variety of reasons, before settling on something, and then I start writing and I go from there. I enjoy the real time nature of this approach to writing. I often don’t know what the gist of the post is going to be until I write that last line and hit publish.

Sometimes this process produces great insights for me and possibly others. Sometimes it produces garbage. But I’ve come to realize that the daily post, and its quality or lack thereof, is not really the thing. It is the ritual, the practice, the frequency, the habit, and the discipline that matters most to me. And, I would suspect, the same is true of the readers and commenters who frequent this blog.

A Note On Anonymous, Pseudonymous, Guest, and Regular Commenters

One of the best things about AVC is the engaged and active community that envelopes this blog. It has been for many years a conversation among friends and the occasional stranger. I’ve called it a bar where I get to be the bartender. The people in the community come and go. There are regulars who come every day. There are regulars who come every few days. Some come once every week or two. Some have left never to return. Some return on occasion. That’s all as it should be and quite like what goes on in the real world.

I’ve always chosen to allow people to comment using a guest login. I’ve always allowed people to comment anonymously. And I’ve always allowed people to comment using a pseudonym. I believe that allowing people to comment the way they want makes a community richer. I do not think comment identities should always be mapped to a real name and a real identity. It’s great when it is. But there are many reason why that’s not a good option for some.

We’ve managed the trolling and spam by actively moderating the comments. I did that for many years myself and in recent years I’ve been aided by AVC regulars William and Shana who swing by every day even when I’m not active to make sure a thread isn’t filling up with spam or there isn’t some sort of other bad behavior going on. Our moderation policy has been heavy to clear the spam and light on everything else. We lean in favor of giving everyone a voice even when its a tough call.

There is one thing that has evolved into a community norm that is important and I’d like to highlight today. Regular commenters use Disqus Profiles to comment here at AVC. These profiles can be pseudonyms like Fake Grimlock, abbreviations like JLM, or real names, like fredwilson. That really doesn’t matter and I think its best to have a lively mix of all of that. But the frequency of seeing the avatar next to the name in the comments breeds trust, respect, and in many cases real friendship.

If you are a drop in commenter, none of this matters. But if you want to hang out here on a regular basis, I encourage you to build a Disqus Profile, invest some time and energy into it, and participate as everyone else does. It’s how we do it around here and it is one of the many reasons this community works so well.

Topic Mining AVC

So I’m on sitting on the couch waiting to go out to dinner with the Gotham Gal and friends last night, and wasting time by scrolling through Twitter and I came across this tweet:

I didn’t have time to check it out, so I favorited it and made a note to come back to it. And I did that this morning.

Bugra is a Data Scientist ; he likes machine learning, data, Python and NLP, not necessarily in that order. He did some data science on this blog, starting on September 23rd, 2003, which is when I wrote the first post here.

Here is his post. It’s worth a full read but I’m going to gank a few images from it to summarize his findings for those who don’t feel like clicking over to it (you should).

Bugra mined 22 topics based on things I wrote most about and then did some analysis on those topics. Here is a frequency graph of them:

topic-frequency

But of course my interest in these things rises and wanes over time.

I mentioned at year end 2014 that I thought social media had become uninteresting. Well the data on what I write about proves that:

social-media-topic-trend

Sometimes it’s a lack of interest. But it could also be a conscious decision to stop writing about something. As the readership of AVC grew, it became a lot less personal. That was a conscious decision on my part.

family-topic-trend

Not everything has gone down over time.

I’ve become a policy wonk (thanks to my partner Brad mostly):

internet-regulation-topic-trend

And some topics just reflect the changing landscape we operate in, like this one:

mobile-apps-topic-trend

And some topics reflect the changing patterns of my blogging, like the rise and fall of MBA Mondays:

company-management-topic-trend

Anyway, I found Burga’s post fascinating. I would like to see him add a few more topics, like bitcoin/blockchain, education, healthcare, and crowdfunding. Those are all things that I think a lot about and I’d be very curious to see how my interest in them has risen and/or fallen over the years.

In closing, I’d like to thank Burga for his work. It is valuable and revealing to me. Thank you Burga.

Rant of The Week

I am interrupting our regularly scheduled programming (video of the week) to rant a bit.

Yesterday morning, Tom Labus left this comment on AVC:

You’re on the scroll on CNBC. Quoting you that “the Apple Watch will be a flop” A bit of creative editing

I had already seen Business Insider running that headline and that just put me over the edge. I got super pissed off and fired out this tweetstorm:

tweetstorming

That led to a lot of discussion on Twitter that lasted most of yesterday.

Business Insider has been cross posting my blog posts for years on their website (totally allowed under my creative commons license) but they used to rewrite and sensationalize the headline. I hated that so much and told them so and to their credit, they’ve stopped doing that.

When someone takes the time to carefully craft their words, it is super annoying to see someone twist them into something else entirely. I know that it’s wishful thinking to imagine that media outlets that live and die on clicks will change their stripes on this one. Maybe I should get some thicker skin. But I am not sure I can on this one.

Feature Friday: Topic Pages

Yesterday we relaunched usv.com. A team inside USV has been working on it on and off over the past few months. Though it’s not perfect yet, I encouraged them to launch it and fix the inevitable bugs in public. And that is exactly what they did yesterday. Nick Grossman, who led the effort, wrote a post outlining some of the goals of the relaunch.

To summarize, we want to make usv.com less “real time” and more thoughtful. We would like less noise and more substance. We want it to be referential as opposed to news driven. And the biggest step we’ve taken in that direction are the topic pages. Here’s the blockchain topic page. Here’s the policy topic page. We’ve started with four topic pages (blockchain, policy, marketplaces, mobile) but we intend to build out a bunch more.

I think this line in Nick’s post sums up our goals for usv.com and I’m pleased to see we are moving it in that direction in the new year:

The goal of [usv.com] is to expose more of our thinking, and to do it together with others

What I Write About And What I Don’t

There was a discussion in the comments on this week’s fun friday post about me “pimping” our portfolio too much. To which I responded with this:

i am my portfolio. its all the same thing. i go to bed thinking about it and wake up thinking about it. i would blog way more about it than i do but i can’t talk about most of the stuff that is going on in my portfolio.

It’s the latter point I want to talk about a bit today. Every day I run a bunch of blog topics through my head before deciding what I am going to write about. And most of them get rejected because they are “too close to home” meaning they are too specific to something that is going on right now in my work life. There is one thing right now, for example, that would make a great blog post but there is no way I can talk about it. That is almost always the case.

Here are some rules I live by:

1) If an entrepreneur walks into our office and tells us/me something that is not publicly known, it is confidential unless I explicitly ask for permission to mention it on AVC and receive permission.

2) If something happens in our portfolio, in a board meeting, in the company, or even in the market, and it is not public, then it remains confidential and I do not blog about it unless I’m asked to.

3) I don’t mention people by name unless I ask them and they OK it. There are times I don’t comply with this one perfectly. Last week I mentioned AVC community member Kirk Love in a blog post by name but left his wife’s name out. Kirk is known to this community and the mention was pretty harmless. This is something I manage as best I can. I think I do a decent job of it but it’s always a calculation.

4) If its a grey area, I don’t blog about it. Better to be safe than sorry.

What I should do and don’t, at least right now, is write down all of these things I’d like to write about but can’t, so that I could come back to them in the future when they are in a place where it is possible to talk about them. Not everything gets to that place. But a lot of things do. I will think about starting to do that.

I find myself in the middle of, or have a courtside seat for, a lot of super interesting things. But I can’t and don’t write about most of them. Which is a bummer for me and a bummer for all of you too.

Feature Friday: Embedding Spreadsheets In WordPress

So yesterday morning was a bit nuts. I decided to flush out some thoughts on valuations that I had talked about on stage at LeWeb. I started writing a post that would become this. I started building a spreadsheet that would become this.

I had an 8:30am breakfast and as it got closer and closer to 8am, I realized I was screwed. I had cut and pasted certain rows from the google sheet into my post and they were not fitting properly on the screen. As I played around with the underlying code, it just got worse. I was digging myself into a hole.

So at 8:10am, I made a decision. I wrote a note to everyone that the post was messed up, jumped into the shower, and got to my breakfast about 5mins late.

When I got to the office after my breakfast, I learned that a meeting I had in my calendar was not happening. Oh happy day. I love when that happens.

So I googled for a wordpress plugin that allows the embedding of google sheets and found this one.

It is called Inline Google Spreadsheet Viewer and it gives you a wordpress shortcode that looks like this:

gdoc key

If you want to embed a google sheet in a blog post, you install the plugin, you insert that shortcode, and you put the URL of the public/open google sheet into the ” ” and that’s it.

What I could not figure out how to do was to embed different tabs from the same sheet, so I ended up creating four different sheets and embedding each one separately.

But it all worked out fine. Within ten minutes I had cleaned up my post and put that to bed. Had I known about this plugin when I started the post around 7:30am, I could have easily polished the whole thing off and even had time to shave in the shower. Fortunately, it takes days for my beard to show up :)

AVC’s Creative Commons License

I get asked to write stuff for other publications all the time. I tell them that I don’t write anywhere other than AVC.com, but if they have an idea for something they’d like me to write about, they should suggest it, and I might write about it here.

All of the content that is published at AVC can be reposted without my permission anywhere that is not commingled with hate, porn, or spam. All I require is attribution and a link back to the original post here at AVC. That is my creative commons license. I used to have a link to this creative commons license at the bottom of the page on AVC but we lost it in the redesign. I suppose I should get it back on there.

So if you would like me to write something for your publication, send me an email, I might write about it here, and then you can repost it on your publication.

Comments Are Dead, Long Live Comments

Yet another mainstream media site took down comments this week. In the post explaining the move, Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher explained that “as social media has continued its robust growth, the bulk of discussion of our stories is increasingly taking place there, making onsite comments less and less used and less and less useful.”

That led to a fair bit of discussion around the notion that “commenting is dead.” And like many things that are “dead”, the truth is that they are flourishing elsewhere.

Just this week we had a post here at AVC with 880 comments, which is not a record but is damn close to one. Commenting activity has been fairly steady here at AVC over the past two years with comments down a bit and voting on comments up a bit:

comment history comment history

But let’s look elsewhere on the web.

Let’s take Reddit where comments are the center of activity. They are growing faster than pretty much any site out there and are now #38 globally and #10 in the US according to Alexa. And the time spent on site is a whopping 17mins.

reddit

 

Let’s look at Buzzfeed, another super fast growing content site. Buzzfeed uses Facebook comments as they drive a lot of traffic from Facebook to Buzzfeed. But the comment activity at Buzzfeed is strong and some posts, like this one, get over 1000 comments. Buzzfeed is a top 30 site in the US and is a top 100 site globally.

buzzfeed

 

Here are some stats from Disqus, a USV portfolio company that powers the comments here at AVC (from their about page):

– 20 million comments a month

– 80 million votes on comments a month

– 1 bn visits to disqus comments a month

– 2mm new commenter sign ups a month

And although they don’t show trends on their about page (they should), all of these numbers are up and to the right year after year after year.

Commenting is alive and well on the web and mobile. It’s just dead on sites that would prefer to have the conversation happen elsewhere. AVC is not one of those places, and even though I sometimes find the discussions hard to take here, I am committed to making this a two way experience for everyone who wants it to be.

Tipping Tuesday

One of the most promising use cases for Bitcoin is micropayments. And one of the most promising use cases for micropayments is funding content. There are two primary ideas for how to do this with micropayments.

1) A paywall that requires a tiny micropayment to read something (like a penny or less).

2) A tip mechanism. Think of a facebook like or a twitter star with money attached.

We are testing out the latter on AVC starting today. Our portfolio company Coinbase launched a tip button today.

You will notice a tip icon at the bottom of this post (and every post at AVC). If you click on that tip icon, you will see this dialog box:

coinbase popup

For those that don’t know, CSNYC is a non-profit I helped to start that is bringing computer science education to the NYC public school system. They will be the beneficiary of all tipping here at AVC.

300 “bits” is 0.0003 bitcoin, or roughy 10 cents. If you are logged into Coinbase on the web or on your phone, you will see the option to use Coinbase wallet to send the money. If you are not, you can type in a bitcoin wallet address and send the money. If you enable one click tip, you will send 300 bits every time you click on the tip button. You can also do this on William’s blog.

Since not all AVC readers have Coinbase wallets or own Bitcoin, we are doing a Bitcoin giveaway today on AVC to jumpstart the bitcoin tipping thing. We will give away $10 in bitcoin to the first 200 people to raise their hands, virtually, for this giveaway.

Here’s how the AVC Bitcoin Giveaway works:

2.) Receive an email back from Coinbase to “claim $10 worth of free bitcoin”
3.) Create a Coinbase account with that link
4.) Receive funds

Please don’t send that email if you don’t think you will go through this entire flow as you’ll be taking one of the 200 spots.

I think that’s all there is to say about this right now. Let’s see how this goes. Should be an interesting experiment. Here are some other blogs you can tip at today: