Posts from Web/Tech

Traces – A Group Show For Young Artists

It always makes me happy to see my daughter Emily send a tweet, my son Josh repost a song on SoundCloud, and my daughter Jessica post something to her Tumblr. They aren’t always so keen to use the services we back at USV, but they do come around to them from time to time.

But I think the biggest kick I got in this area was a few weeks ago when Jessica and three friends launched this Kickstarter.

It was funded quickly, over the course of a weekend, and they don’t need more money so if you are in the giving mood today, you might want to find another project to back.

If you live in NYC, you might want to attend the show. It will be at the Gowanus Loft in Brooklyn on June 6th, 7th, and 8th. The opening will be the evening of the 6th.

Although I have funded many projects on Kickstarter over the years, I have never made one. It was enlightening to watch Jessica and her friends Lenora, Zoe, and Lolita go through the process of defining and explaining their project, making a video, and scoping out the rewards. I gave them some advice here and there, mostly on the rewards which are great btw, and also on setting up Amazon payments. I came away with an appreciation for what a project creator goes through in making a Kickstarter. And of course, I experienced the thrill of pushing it out and the joy of seeing it funded.

I’ve said this many times on this blog, but I will say it again. Kickstarter is an iconic example of what makes the Internet so awesome. I am proud to be an investor and I am equally proud to be the father of a Kickstarter project creator.

Cryptography

So much of what interests me and consumes the tech industry these days relates to Cryptography, and in particularly public key cryptography. The list would include Heartbleed, NSA spying on citizens, and of course, Bitcoin and Blockhains.

And yet, when I hear people talk about Cryptography or when I read about Cryptography, my eyes tend to glaze over because I never studied Cryptography and am a self taught coder.

So I need to fix this. I want to bone up on Cryptography. Where should I start and what should I read?

Heartbleed: What Is The Correct Response?

My friend Stephen emailed me and said he’s changing all of his passwords in the wake of the Heartbleed bug.

I thought about that and wondered to myself “what is the appropriate response to this?”. So I thought I’d blog about it today and generate a discussion. I am sure I will learn something from it. And hopefully all of us will.

Is the correct response, as Stephen suggests, to change passwords on every site and app you have a stored password for? Is that even possible? What about that podcasting service I signed up for eight years ago? I can’t even recall what is is called anymore.

Or is it correct to respond to password change requests from the services that recommend that? I just did that on a bunch of services that notified me via email that I should do that.

Or is it correct to scour the Internet for suggestions, like this post on Mashable, and follow their advice?

Or is this the time we should all move to 1password, or something like that, to manage our passwords?

If you use two factor auth, as I do on many services, does that mean you don’t need to change those passwords?

There are a ton of super smart and technical folks who read this blog. What are you doing and what would you recommend we all do?

Hypercard – Way Too Early

I have always loved the name of my friend Howard Morgan‘s now dormant blog - Way Too Early.

Some ideas are just way too early. And one of them was Apple’s Hypercard, which was a Mac application that came with a built in programming language. The interface was a series of cards that were mini apps inside of the Hypercard application. I built a few Hypercard based applications in the late 80s and early 90s as I was winding up my programming “career”.

But as I look around the mobile landscape, I see cards everywhere. Benedict Evans wrote a good post about this trend a few weeks ago. Google is pushing cards as a UI inside Android and their Google Now UI is the best example of that. Twitter has had cards inside of Tweets for several years now, although I wish they would display them by default in my timeline. The Facebook mobile UI looks like a series of cards, although you can’t really do anything with them, yet. And, of course, my favorite example are theKik Cards that are mini mobie web apps that run inside of Kik’s messenger. I’ve blogged about them a number of times here at AVC as Kik is a USV portfolio company.

It feels like the Hypercard metaphor has arrived as the atomic unit of content in mobile, both inside of native apps and, if Kik is going in the right direction (I think they are), as the default mobile web atomic unit (cards instead of pages).

The problem with the native app environment is that there are things you cannot do inside of a card without violating Apple’s and Google’s terms of service. If Facebook wanted their cards to allow the purchase of music or video natively in the card, well that would not be possible in the current regime.

On the mobile web, that is different. You can do anything you want in a browser, even if that browser is on iOS or Android. That’s a legacy of the desktop web and it’s a damn good thing. Innovation happens best when there are few if any limitations on what you can do as a developer.

So keep your eye on cards. I think Apple was on to something important from a UI and usability perspective thirty years ago when they started building Hypercard. It is now coming to life again on mobile and I think this will be the most interesting battle ground on mobile in the years to come.

The Behavior Of Your Users Normally Doesn’t Change Overnight

A few weeks ago the traffic coming to the new usv.com dropped off by 20 or 30% week over week. Brian and Nick were wondering if it was related to the new design we rolled out at the end of January. They decided to take a deep dive into our analytics to see what was going on.

I told them it had to be some sort of plumbing issue. Something that was hooked up to usv.com must have gotten unhooked. Because I have rarely seen the behavior of an entire user base change drastically overnight because of something like a redesign. Change can come pretty quickly, but in my experience it is months not weeks or days for something to drastically change in your user base resulting from a subtle product change/tweak.

They noticed in the analytics that front page views were steady but traffic to the article pages was off by a lot. I suggested that something in our twitter plumbing was off. And sure enough, we figured out that the autoposting of popular articles on usv.com to this twitter handle was broken (it is actually an RSS issue that is being fixed today).

I tell this story because we all encounter this sort of thing along the way of building and launching and growing a product. We make tweaks and something changes right away. That immediate change is usually related to something that brought traffic (google, twitter, rss, email, appstore) and not a design change. More gradual changes (up or down) are usually because of design changes.

There’s a difference between these two kinds of effects and it is important to understand that.

Lightweight Engagement Gestures

I was on vacation with my friend John and he asked me how I used the favorite button on Twitter. I told him it is a way to tell people that I’ve seen the tweet when I do not want to reply.

I use it in two primary ways. To signal that I saw and liked a tweet. And to signal that I saw a tweet to the person who sent it. The two are different only in that in the second case, I probably did not like the tweet but I still wanted to acknowledge it.

I really like super lightweight engagement gestures. I am bombarded by stuff coming at me all the time. So if I can acknoweledge something publicly without having to do much work, I get a huge amount of value from that.

Bumping on usv.com and upvoting on disqus are like that too. Because the identity of the bumber and the upvoter are on display publicly, they are an efficient way to signal that you saw it and liked it.

I am going to try to upvote more on disqus. As I reply less and less in the comments, I need to upvote more and more. I will make an effort to do that.

Feature Friday: Google Maps Shortlinks

In the google maps android app, if you search for a place, you can click the share icon and send that location to anyone via a wide assortment of apps. I did that last night and emailed this to myself.

Buvette

http://goo.gl/maps/7dzMz

I absolutely love this feature and use it all the time. I email places to people, I kik places to people, I text places to people, I tweet places to people.

But for the life of me, I cannot figure out how to do this on the web. When I locate a place on Google Maps on the web and select Share, the only option I get is to share the place via Google+ which is the one way I would not want to share it.

Does anyone know how to locate a place on Google Maps on the web, pin it, and then share it out via a shortlink in email or otherwise?

I am sorry for turning back to back feature fridays into Google Apps help requests, but I love these features and then they go and change them on me and I can’t figure out how to get them back.

The Mutual Company

I remember a time when I was growing up when many of the savings banks and insurance companies were mutual companies. A mutual company is one where the customers own the company, more or less. It seems like the concept lost favor and many of these banks and insurance mutual companies were “demutualized” in the 80s and 90s. I don’t really profess to understand all the reasons and history behind mutualization and demutualization. I suspect some of you may know a lot more than me about this stuff.

I started thinking about mutual companies after reading Joe Nocera’s column in the New York Times which was based on his read of Jaron Lanier’s “Who Owns the Future?

Joe asks in the title “Will Digital Networks Ruin Us?” and here is the money quote:

the value of these new companies comes from us. “Instagram isn’t worth a billion dollars just because those 13 employees are extraordinary,” he writes. “Instead, its value comes from the millions of users who contribute to the network without being paid for it.” He adds, “Networks need a great number of people to participate in them to generate significant value. But when they have them, only a small number of people get paid. This has the net effect of centralizing wealth and limiting overall economic growth.” Thus, in Lanier’s view, is income inequality also partly a consequence of the digital economy.

At USV we invest in digital networks, so this is a fundamental question that we think about a lot. We would not want to be investing in something that “will ruin us” and we don’t think we are investing in something ruinous. But we do talk about this issue all the time.

I will come back to the mutual company thing in a bit, but first I want to say that Joe and Jaron are leaving out the notion of consumer surplus in their analysis. The newspaper costs money. Twitter is free. In a world where “we” create the newspaper instead of the NY Times Company creating it, the newspaper can and will be free. That is happening all over the place, because of the efficiency of digital networks, and the result is a large amout of consumer surplus that is landing in all of our laps.

But maybe that is not enough. Maybe the creators of these networks ought to mutualize so that their users, who are creating the value, can participate in the upside. We have not seen anyone do this to date. We have talked to a number of startups and networks about the idea. We have not seen any takers yet. But we will continue to have the conversation because this is worth trying and seeing how it would turn out. The result could be a much more sustainable and lasting network. Something for everyone to think about this morning.

UPDATE: My partner Brad wrote a long and thoughtful comment on usv.com about Joe’s column. You can read it here.

New Outlets & New Voices

The greatest thing about blogging is that it has opened up so many new voices and new outlets. 

Just in the past few weeks, we have two new outlets, both from WSJ veterans.

The All Things D team has flown the coop and has resurfaced as Recode. The formula seems to be pretty similar to All Things D, the team is intact (at least it looks so to my untrained eye) and the format is familiar. They will do a big conference to anchor the whole thing. At least right now, it seems that the only things that have really changed here are the URL, the color scheme, and the ownership structure. But a new home and a new ownership structure may open up possibilities that they could not pursue in the past. We will see about that.

Jessica Lessin, one of the top tech journalists at the WSJ over the past ten years, launched The Information in December. I am not a fan of paywalls and barriers to the free flow of content and information and so I am not a subscriber or a reader and I don't plan to link to anything behind a paywall. But this is an ambitious experiment and an attempt to make a challenging business model work in the tech news sector. As I told Jessica in a private email last month, I am happy to be proven wrong about the paywall business model and there is nobody I would rather see prove me wrong than her.

But maybe more exciting to me is the proliferation of new voices that I am seeing out there. One of the driving factors is the emergence of Medium as a blogging platform that is home to many of these new voices. Every day I seem to find a new blogger on usv.com who has written something interesting on Medium. 

But it isn't just Medium that is hosting great content. You can still find great stuff on old platforms, like the one that Ev built before Twitter and Medium – Blogger. This post from Duncan Anderson on the important trends in mobile is on Blogger.

As far as I can tell, there has never been more diversity and quality of content than there is right now. And the reason for that is the printing press of our times, the cms in the cloud, is just getting better and better, easier and easier, and cheaper and cheaper. I will continue to do my part in feeding the blogosphere and I hope and expect that usv.com will continue to be a good filter for those who are interested in the intersection of technology, startups, policy, and capital markets. With all of these new voices and new outlets emerging, we need filters and discovery more than ever.