Posts from Web/Tech

The Interview Mess

So Sony has decided to pull the plug on The Interview after the major theater chains decided against showing the film.

This is a fascinating story on so many levels. It is not clear  to me who was behind the hacking attack on Sony, but there are some obvious candidates. We are witnessing cyber warfare in real time. And there are real costs involved. Who knows how much Sony has lost or will lose as a result of the hacking incident and all the repercussions. But we do know that The Interview cost $42mm to make and there were “tens of millions” of marketing and distribution costs already spent as well. All of that comes from the article I linked to at the start of this post.

How will this impact the entertainment business going forward? Will they now harden all of their systems? Yes. Will the cybersecurity industry get a boost from this incident? Yes. Will it change how they think about making films and other entertainment? I would have to imagine the answer to that question is yes.

And what of the film itself? Should we allow censorship of this form to exist in our society? Should the film get released in some form?

I think the Internet, which was the source of so much harm to Sony, should also provide the answer to what happens to this film. If I were Sony, I would put the film out on BiTorrent, and any other Internet services that want it. Give it to Netflix if they want it. Give it to iTunes if they want it. Give it to HBO if they want it. Give it to Showtime if they want it. Essentially give the film to the world and let the world, via the Internet, decide what they want to do with it.

Of course this is about money to Sony. $42mm is a lot of money to write off. And it is a lot more than that given all the extra costs. But keeping the film locked away in a vault is also a cost. Both to Sony and to society. It says that the attack worked. I think the best thing Sony can do at this point is give the world the film and let us all decide what we think about it. We should not let cyberterrorist censorship have its way.

Hashtags As Social Networks

Our portfolio company Kik launched hashtags yesterday. Kik is a mobile messenger so in Kik’s model hashtags are private or public group chats.

If I send a hashtag to a friend in Kik that says let’s chat about tonight’s knicks game at #knickskik, then that becomes a private group between me and that friend (and any others who we invite). I’ve done that so the #knickskik hashtag is now private on Kik.

But hashtags can also be public. If you have the latest version of Kik on your phone (came out yesterday), type #avckikgroup into a chat and then click on that link. Up to 50 of us can be in that group.

The cool thing about Kik is that it doesn’t use phone numbers like other messengers. It uses usernames and is not tied to your phone number or Facebook username. And so Kik, unlike other messengers, is used for both chatting with people you know (like other messengers) and people you don’t know.

That makes Kik an ideal platform for these public (and searchable) group chats. You can meet people in these public chatrooms and then take your conversations private in a one to one chat in Kik.

Ted Livingston, Kik’s founder and CEO, called this “hashtags as social networks” in a blog post yesterday.  I agree with Ted that Facebook’s model of the one network to rule them all has not really worked and that many of us are using messengers as defacto social networks. My friend Kirk told me that his wife’s family uses a group in WhatsApp like their personal family facebook feed. I think that’s the phase of social networking we are now into and so Kik’s hashtag as social network model makes a ton of sense to me.

Development Is Cheap. Production Is Not.

This is a line from a blog post written by my brother in law Jerry Solomon. He is talking about film production, specifically short form videos. But the point is true of all projects, from designing a building, a home, a film, an art project, a hardware project, a software project, or whatever.

The design process is relatively inexpensive. The build process is not.

In the kinds of companies we invest in the “development” work comes from the product organization. The “production” work comes from the engineering team.

I have seen engineering teams spin their wheels and burn through countless hours of writing code that ends up getting tossed out just because the design process was not right or not specific enough or not thought through enough.

While we might think these issues and challenges are unique to the world of tech, software, internet, and mobile, the truth is these issues pervade everywhere you are making something.

This is not so applicable to a startup trying to find product market fit. But it becomes very relevant once your company starts to scale. A commitment to thinking things through, getting it right at the start, and being efficient in the “production” process is something all great companies figure out how to do. It’s really important.

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.

Twitter Time Machine

I saw my partner Andy tweeting last night about the first time certain words showed up in Twitter:

twitter firsts

That told me that Twitter had rolled out the ability to search the entire archive. I’m not sure when that happened but this morning I took a trip down memory lane and revisited my first four months on Twitter, from my first tweet on March 12, 2007 until the end of June 2007. The query is “from:fredwilson until:2007-6-30″ and it returned these results.

There are a few gems in there but its mostly “I had grilled cheese for lunch” sort of stuff.

What is more interesting is I did four tweets over the span of two days and then stopped tweeting for three weeks. Then I found myself in LA and for some reason I started tweeting again. From then on, I tweeted almost every day for the next three months, sometimes two or three times a day. I was hooked. And lots of good things came of the habit I started in LA in early April 2007.

Here are a few favorites from those early days on Twitter:

Getting married in a downpour is good luck

I think this was my first visit to Twitter HQ

Still is

What’s a Blackberry?

When I met Ali for the first time (and mispelled her name, sorry Ali). Might also have been when Mark convinced me to invest in Zynga

Anniversaries were big that month for me

I still remember that moment. The kids went nuts.

Feature Friday: Distributed Identity

Last year at LeWeb I talked about four areas that we are looking at closely to make investments in. One of them is identity. I said this at the very end of my talk:

I predicted that there would emerge a “bitcoin like protocol” for identity. And we’ve been looking for that.

One thing we realized along the way is that this could be built on top of bitcoin or another blockchain. And so earlier this year we made a seed investment in a startup called OneName that is building exactly that. On Wednesday of this week, OneName announced a bunch of things, including our investment, and my partner Albert wrote about OneName at usv.com.

Now many will say “well Facebook, Google, and Twitter handle that pretty well for me” and they would be right. But are you really comfortable with Facebook or Google operating the identity layer of the Internet? I am not. And I think over time less and less of us will be.

But the answer isn’t another startup controlling the identity layer of the Internet either. The answer is a distributed ledger of identity that is open and not controlled by any entity. And that sounds like an application for a blockchain if there ever was one.

I have cleared my identity on the blockchain and it is here. I have verified it on Twitter and Facebook and you can send me bitcoins through it. It’s not much today, but in some ways it is everything. Because everything can be built on this and our hope is it will.

To date about 20,000 people have cleared their identity on the blockchain via OneName. My hope is that number will be in the millions within the next year. If you want do do that today, go here and get started.

The First Law Of Internet Physics

I’ve written a lot about free vs paid here on AVC. There was a time I was obsessed about this topic. We even coined the word freemium here at AVC (thanks Jarid) during that phase. I’ve moved on to other obsessions but I still think a lot about it. I got in a long twitter discussion with a bunch of people yesterday about this topic, spurred by this tweet by Jonathan Weber:

That led to a long twitter discussion in which a bunch of people joined. I can’t find a good way to showcase the discussion so I’m not going to. But during the course of the discussion I tweeted this. I made it up last night but it’s something I’ve experienced many times over the years.

Isaac Newton observed some things about motion and encoded them into his three laws of motion. I think we should do the same thing with the Internet. There are some things that just are, and we should acknowledge them. I posit that one of them is this:

many users * low arpu >>>> few users * high arpu

I’ve seen so many people try paid content on the Internet and the result is less users, a lot less. You can extract a higher average revenue per user (arpu) from a paid model, but you get so many less users that is it better to extract a lower arpu with a free model and get many more users. I guess a corollary to the first law of Internet physics is that you can implement a freemium model on top of a free model and turn some of your users into high arpu customers, but they will always be a small portion of the total number of users.

That’s a long way of saying that you can do paid, but you had better have a free tier first and foremost as most users will go for that. And if you put too much of your content behind a paywall, you’ve effectively turned your core product into a paid one and you are back to {few users*high arpu}. So be careful with the freemium offering.

Scripting For Others

Yesterday I was cleaning up a google spreadsheet that contained a data dump I wanted to do something with. The spreadsheet had a bunch of blank rows and columns and garbage data in it that I needed to remove. So I was going through the sheet deleting stuff, moving stuff, and in general cleaning it up. It was super boring work. I got about half way through this mundane chore and was so bored that I decided to tweet about it to relieve the mental drain this chore was creating for me.

This is what I tweeted out:

tweetstorm

I don’t think I will ever have to do the same set of cleanup actions that I did yesterday afternoon and I don’t expect to get a data dump in that general format again so I think the decision not to write a cleanup script was the right one. I got through the cleanup in about 15-20 minutes, not including the time I spent on that tweetstorm, and it would have probably taken me as long or longer to write the script to automate the cleanup.

So I think I made the right call.

But then I got this reply on Twitter:

And I thought to myself that my current “script or not” algorithm is a selfish one and I need to add another factor which is a modification of the 2nd tweet in the tweetstorm. It should be “if I or others are going to find ourselves doing this again.”

Thanks Francesca for correcting me on that one.

A Problem

I use gmail’s priority inbox to sort my mail into stuff I need to see and stuff I don’t. The reality is that I don’t see anything that does not go into my priority inbox unless I do a search (which I do quite often).

Google launched priority inbox four years ago and I have been using it from almost day one. And it has worked well and reliably for me until recently.

Sometime this summer (mid/late summer I think), I started noticing that emails from people that I dialog regularly with (including people at USV!) were not getting into my priority inbox. So I started wading into the “everything else” section of my inbox and finding those emails and manually tagging them as “important”. I did that for a week or two religiously and then went back to my habit of just looking at the priority emails and ignoring everything else.

But the problem continues to manifest itself. I am not entirely sure what happened. It feels like google has changed its priority sorting algorithm and it’s not working as well for me as it used to. Has anyone else experienced this issue recently?

And to everyone who used to get regular and rapid replies from me and now never hears back, I apologize. It’s not me. It’s google :)

It’s Not Really Social Media, Maybe It’s Anti Social Media, But Regardless, It Is Here To Stay

The President said this the other day:

The world’s always been messy… we’re just noticing now in part because of social media

I don’t think terrorists posting gruesome videos on YouTube and spreading them virally via Twitter, Facebook, and many other internet media channels is “social media”. It’s just Internet media, in which anyone can post anything on the Internet. There is nothing social about it. It’s anti-social in fact. Maybe we should call it user generated media. That’s an accurate term.

The same is true of some hacker getting access to celebrities’ nude selfies and posting them on Reddit and elsewhere. That’s not social media either. It is just Internet media.

We are going to test our notions of free speech and civil rights as we go forward. Should Twitter and YouTube be actively taking down this stuff? And if so, where is the line drawn? What do they take down and what do they leave up? They have been dealing with this issue for as long as they’ve been around but it sure seems like the stakes are getting higher and higher for them and every company that allows the posting of user generated content on their service.

The President is right about one thing. Humanity is at times horrible. Seeing that horror in your timeline next to something familiar and pleasing is deeply troubling. But we may need to get used to it. I don’t see any easy ways out of this mess.