Posts from Web/Tech

While You Were Away

I saw this in my twitter feed this morning

while you were away

I like that a lot. I don’t see every tweet that is in my feed. I like the idea of Twitter figuring out the ones I’d like to make sure to see and put it right up front and center. Kind of like Gmail’s Priority Inbox, a product I am absolutely reliant on and could not live without.

Well done Twitter.

Full disclosure, I am long TWTR.

Video Of The Week: Dick Costolo at Re/code

I like how Dick answers the question about whether he’s going to be CEO of Twitter by the end of the year. It is about time that Twitter articulates how large their audience really is and why their usage numbers can’t be compared directly to Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.

Full disclosure, I own a lot of Twitter and am a big fan of the company and of Dick. I do not plan to be more critical of Twitter in the coming months.

Getting Your Emails Outed

So I got an email from a reporter on Friday. The note said “…. some emails from you to various Sony executives were part of the collection released on Wikileaks. I’m working on an article for [   ]  about some of them—how they depict a behind-the-scenes look at Silicon Valley dealmaking. And I plan to include a few where you’re either the sender or recipient.”

If you are looking for a clever way to do a phishing attack, this would be it because I clicked on that link as fast as one can possibly do so. Fortunately the email was mostly tame, about the Gotham Gal and I looking for a ride to a conference from LA on someone’s plane. I didn’t insult anyone and no confidential information was revealed. Phew.

I replied to the reporter that I appreciated the heads up and I had nothing other than that to say.

If you want to look at all of my emails in the Wikileaks email dump, you can see them here.

This is the future for all of us, as I’ve stated more than a few times on this blog. When writing emails, assume they are going to end up on a site like this. Because they will. I’ve been changing my email behavior over the past few years and this latest incident has caused me to be even more cryptic. I think the vast majority of my emails will start looking like “my cell phone is [   ]. i’m free at [  ]. give me a call to discuss”

Don’t Automate, Obliterate

On Friday we did our monthly two hour “deep dive.” That is when our entire investment team spends two hours going deep on one topic. This time we talked about how the Internet, twenty years in, has only really disrupted a few large industries so far and there are many that are largely operating in the same manner that they were operating before the Internet came along. Albert postulated that we are only now seeing these large industries be impacted by the Internet.

That led to a discussion about how to recognize the most interesting opportunities in these “laggard” industries. We went back and looked at our portfolio and what we have learned from that. I observed that many entrepreneurs look to use technology to automate a workflow as a basis to build a technology company, but we have learned that creating an entirely new workflow seems to produce bigger outcomes.

Albert brought up a famous Harvard Business Review article from 1990 by Michael Hammer titled Don’t Automate, Obliterate. In this article Hammer argues that reengineering industries using technology is much preferable to automating them. You can read the whole thing on the link above. It was written 25 years ago, but it seems as fresh and relevant today as it was when it came out.

So, to me, the thing to look for when investing in technology opportunities in “laggard industries” is entrepreneurs that want to obliterate business processes instead of automating them. That is hard to sell to the established companies. They will not willingly adopt an entirely new process. They will want you to automate it for them. So coming up with a back door into the industry is often better than a full frontal assault if you intend to use the obliterate approach.

Like most deep dives, we did not come away with a fully formed investment thesis. But we did come away with some important observations and words we can use to talk about them. Automate vs Obliterate is great and I am sure it will be quite helpful as we start looking around laggard industries for investment opportunities.

Video Of The Week: NYC’s Internet History

This is an oldie but goodie. I’ve posted it here before but not since I delivered this talk almost seven years ago. This is my history of the NYC Internet community from 1995 to 2008. It’s about 25mins long.

Where Protocols Come From

There’s an interesting discussion on usv.com this week called Where Protocols Come From. Here’s the anchor to the discussion:

Protocols play a vital role in computing, as well as a vast array of our online interactions. The device you’re reading on now has a USB connection; without it, your device couldn’t interoperate with other devices. You’ve probably sent an email to someone in the past hour; without the standard IMAP/SMTP protocol, you wouldn’t be able to send email to people who aren’t on Gmail.

While protocols make interoperability possible, and in fact many are governed by standards bodies, history shows that standards are often imposed by one dominant player. For example, Apple may have quietly invented the new standard for USB. JVC played a large role in the invention of the VHS.

On the software side, the history is a little murkier. Among file formats, Adobe invented the PDF and Apple is largely responsible for the proliferation of MP4HTTP was invented by a computer scientist and widely adopted without the domineering of any one industry player. Attempts to establish social networking protocols, such as Tent.io, have largely failed. We are, however, beginning to see an uptick in protocols proffered by companies, such as our portfolio company Onename.

This week we’re asking:

  • Why have hardware protocols been driven by dominant players but not software?

  • What might it take for a software company to establish a protocol?

  • What conditions must be met to establish to establish an internet protocol?

The discussion is here. We are collecting both comments and posts in the discussion, which is how we do every topic of the week at usv.com.

We Live In Public

I’ve written about Josh Harris here before. He envisioned all of the stuff that has happened on the Internet in the early 1990s, roughly ten to twenty years before it happened.  And he tried to bring much of it to market in the mid to late 90s, but the technology and the market weren’t ready for it. I talked a fair bit about Josh in my “history of the NYC Internet community” talk that I gave at Web 2.0 in 2008. Josh was one of the seminal figures of the NYC Internet community and we owe him a lot for what he imagined and what he made.

Josh’s ultimate project was We Live In Public, which is also the name of the movie about Josh that was released in 2009. In the We Live In Public project, Josh put cameras all over his loft apartment in NYC and livestreamed his and his girlfriend’s everyday life, which ultimately led to their breakup. It’s always been unclear to me how unscripted or scripted that project was, but it hardly matters. It was entertaining in a voyeuristic way. It predated reality TV and all that has come since.

I got to thinking about We Live In Public after reading The Verge’s post about our portfolio company YouNow. YouNow is the living breathing realization of Josh’s imagined world where everyone is broadcasting their lives in real time on the Internet. There’s been plenty of media attention to Twitter’s Periscope and also Meerkat, but YouNow has been at this since 2012 and has amassed a huge audience who tip the live broadcasters enabling them to make a business out of livestreaming their lives. If you want to take a look at how all of that works and what goes on on YouNow, give this a read.

I have been watching the livestreaming category emerge for years and it’s been fits and starts for sure. Most of the stuff that is getting livestreamed is hardly entertaining and many of us have more important things to do with our time than watch other people hangingat work or at home. But it sure seems like the category is alive and well and maybe even here to stay. Just as Josh imagined it would be twenty years ago.

Feature Friday: Twitter Video

I tried posting video to Twitter today. It works simply and easily.

I haven’t seen a ton of video in my feed so far, so it’s not clear that posting video has become popular with Twitter users.

But it’s just as easy as posting a photo so I expect it will become more and more common over time.

Sending Stuff To The Wrong People

I got a bunch of emails yesterday that were clearly not meant for me. I replied to let the senders know and deleted them without reading beyond what I had read to know it wasn’t for me.

Then I saw this tweet by Chris Dixon:

Then it all jelled in my mind. Gmail was autosuggesting the wrong people to a large swath of its users over the weekend. I was struggling with the same problem but I hadn’t realized it was a service wide issue.

Sending emails to the wrong people is embarrassing and potentially much worse. The same is true of google docs, dropbox, and a host of other cloud based services where we create and store sensitive information. At least google docs pops up the warning “you are about to send this outside of your domain.” That has saved me many times from sending a google spreadsheet or doc with personal information to a woman with the same first name in Mellon’s Private Bank instead of my wife. You would think Google would know my wife is more important. But it does not, particularly on mobile.

The thing of it is that Google is so good at knowing who you might want to send something to that they should do more than they do right now. They could easily pop up a warning saying “you don’t normally send this kind of document to this person” or “you don’t normally include this person in the group you are sending this to.” These sorts of data driven protections/warnings would further cement the already airtight lock they have on me and many others who use gmail and google docs.

But try as we might, we are human and prone to error. It is almost certain that each of us will send something super confidential to someone who should not see it at some point in our life. My hope is when I do that, the person on the receiving end is decent enough to do what I did, inform and delete, not store and forward.