Posts from Web/Tech

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.

Reblog: The Future Of Media

I wrote this post almost nine years ago, before our investments in Twitter, Tumblr, Wattpad, SoundCloud, Kickstarter, and a host of other bottoms up media businesses.

I can remember the moment. I was in my home office in our old home at 11 West 10th Street. That was a sweet office, top floor, with windows facing front and back. I wrote it on my laptop on the conference room table that I took from Flatiron’s offices when we shut that firm down. I have no idea what happened to that table. I’m going to find out what happened to it.

I recall the feeling of writing this post. I was filled with inspiration. It was as if I was Moses and God had just handed me the ten commandments, but there were (and are) only four.

I still think it’s one of my best posts. I hope you agree.
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I have seen the future of media and it looks like this:

Mashed Up Blog Posts at tech.memeorandum

Mashed Up Funny Videos at delicious

Mashed Up Playlists at webjay

Here is the future of media:

1 – Microchunk it – Reduce the content to its simplest form. Thanks Umair.
2 – Free it – Put it out there without walls around it or strings on it. Thanks Stewart.
3 – Syndicate it – Let anyone take it and run with it.  Thanks Dave.
4 – Monetize it – Put the monetization and tracking systems into the microchunk.Thanks Feedburner.

Leaving aside the rights issues, which I know are large, if I were a television executive right now, I’d take my content, microchunk it, put a couple calls to a video ad server in the middle of it, and let it go whereever it wants to go, safe in the knowledge that whenever the show is viewed, I’ll get to run a couple 15 second spots in the middle of it (which I could change whenever I wanted to and which I could measure).

This is where media is going and its not going to be stopped.

I know that Jason Calacanis hates the really simple stealing that goes on with Engadget or Autoblog posts.  But you know what?  He’s not going to stop it.  What he should do is monetize each and every post with an ad of some sort and a tracking mechanism of some sort and let the content flow.

RSS is a new medium.  It’s not like the web any more than the web was like print.  Remember back in the late 90s when the media execs tried to use the web to sell more papers?  It doesn’t work.  Content wants to be consumed in the media its delivered in. 

So RSS content is not going to be used to send people to the web.  It’s going to be consumed in the RSS medium, whatever that turns out to be.

The data is pretty clear about this. The publishers that put only an excerpt of their posts/stories in their feeds get pretty low click thru on those excerpts. Those that put the full post in get a lot more readership.

So the trick is to figure out how to monetize RSS right in the medium, not as a way to send traffic back to the web where it can be monetized with the traditional web techniques.

Why did I decide to write this post today?  Because in the last week I have gotten between five and ten requests to use my RSS feed in some sort of syndicated and mashed up RSS or web service.  I’ve told all of them to go for it.

Here is the deal with my RSS feed. Anyone is free to use my RSS feed to produce whatever content they want to produce with the following exceptions.  I do not want and will not allow my content to be used in pornographic or hate related properties.  And the posts must be shown in their entirety with any advertising and tracking tools that I decide to use in them.  And I must be given attribution for my work.

Other than that, go for it.  Take it.  And build something great with it.

Trolling

The New York Times has a post on Trolls and Trolling today. It cites an academic named Whitney Phillips who has written a book about Trolls.

Whitney says “As long as the Internet keeps operating according to a click-based economy, trolls will maybe not win, but they will always be present.”

We’ve had our fair share of Trolls here at AVC over the years. They are most notable whenever I write something negative about Apple.

But we also get them on posts that are more personal in nature.

Yesterday I got a Kik from William who helps me moderate AVC.

trolls

The comment in question was a tasteless comment about the Gotham Gal. William deleted it as I would have.

Had it been a tasteless comment about me, I would more likely have let it stand as I’m inclined to let everyone see how warped these trolls are.

I think Whitney is right that we are unlikely to have an open Internet without trolls. They are annoying, as is comment spam and many other things, but I’d rather have an open forum where anyone can comment, than close things down and lose all that comes from the freedom to say and do what you want.

Trolls are annoying but I am certainly happy to live with them given the alternatives.

Feature Friday: Embedding Tweets Inside Tweets

Since the very beginning of Twitter, users have wanted to take tweets from their timeline and tweet them out to their followers. Initially it was just users copying the original tweet and pasting it into the tweet box. Quickly the user convention became to put the initials RT in front of the pasted text. And the retweet was born. Birthed by the users like many of the best things about Twitter.

When I showed up at Twitter in the summer of 2007, there was a debate about how to productize retweets. Some wanted retweets to be hard coded so that the only thing that got retweeted was the original text. Others wanted to continue to allow users to mark up the tweet while retweeting it. The argument in support of the hard coded retweet was that would treat the original tweet as the atomic unit and retweets could be tracked as a signal of super valuable and popular content. The argument in favor of the marked up retweet was that users wanted to editorialize with stuff like “this is awesome” and such.

The timeline is blurry to me, as is so much about those early years at Twitter. But I think that debate raged on and was not resolved until Ev took over as CEO. It is my recollection, although I could be wrong about this, that one of the first product changes that happened under Ev’s leadership was the hard coded retweet was launched and this button started appearing underneath tweets in your timeline.

RT button

Users could still cut and paste and manually retweet but if they wanted it to be counted as a retweet, you had to use the retweet button which did not allow manual editing. Like all product changes at Twitter, that created a fury of outrage from the users. But Twitter stayed the course and the productized retweet has become an enormous success.

At some point, clicking on the retweet button started to support the idea of adding some text to it. I can’t really recall when that change happened.

But recently Twitter has added another solution to the “share this tweet with my followers” need. You can now embed a tweet inside a tweet.

I started seeing embedded tweets in my timeline yesterday. My favorite was this one from Dick Costolo:

So this morning I decided to embed a tweet inside a tweet. It’s really simple. You just grab the permalink of the tweet and insert it into your tweet. Here was my first embedded tweet:

You will notice that when you embed a tweet on a blog that has an embedded tweet in it, the embedded tweet doesn’t render. My first embedded tweet looks like this in the timeline:

embedded tweet

So Twitter isn’t finished completing this feature. This blog post will suffice as a feature request to Daniel and the product team to do that.

But I’m quite excited about this feature. Sometimes you don’t want to do a hard coded retweet. You want to editorialize the tweet. This is a very elegant way to support that. Well done Twitter.

The Dentist Office Software Story

I’ve been telling this fictional story about Dentist Office Software for years to describe why we are so focused on our “networks” investment strategy. Yesterday I told it at a HackNY event we did at the USV office and my partner Albert provided a finishing touch that really drives it home. Since I’ve never told the Dentist Office Software story here at AVC, I will do that and then I will add Albert’s alternate (and better) ending.

————-

An entrepreneur, tired of the long waits he is experiencing in his dentist’s office, decides that dentist offices are badly managed. So he designs and builds a comprehensive dentist office management system and brings it to market. The software is expensive, at $25,000 per year per dentist office, but it’s a hit anyway as dentists realize significant cost savings after deploying the system. The company, Dentasoft, grows quickly into a $100mm annual revenue business, goes public, and trades up to a billion dollar valuation.

Two young entrepreneurs graduate from college, and go to YC. They pitch PG on a low cost version of Dentasoft, which will be built on a modern software stock and include mobile apps for the dentist to remotely manage his office from the golf course. PG likes the idea and they are accepted into YC. Their company, Dent.io, gets their product in market quickly and prices it at $5,000 per year per office. Dentists like this new entrant and start switching over in droves. Dentasoft misses its quarter, citing competitive pressures, churn, and declining revenues. Dentasoft stock crashes. Meanwhile, Dent.io does a growth round from Sequoia and hires a CEO out of Workday.

Around this time, an open source community crops up to build an open source version of dental office software. This open source project is called DentOps. The project takes on real life as its leader, a former dentist turned socialist blogger and software developer named NitrousOxide, has a real agenda to disrupt the entire dental industry. A hosted version of DentOps called DentHub is launched and becomes very popular with forward thinking dentist offices that don’t want to be hostage to companies like Dentasoft and Dent.io anymore.

Dentasoft is forced to file for bankruptcy protection while they restructure their $100mm debt round they took a year after going public. Dent.io’s board fires its CEO and begs the founders to come back and take control of the struggling company. NitrousOxide is featured on the cover of Wired as the man who disrupted the dental industry.

—————

That’s the story. I hope to fine folks at YC, Sequoia, and Workday don’t mind me using their names in this fictional story. I picked the very best companies in the industry and my use of their brands is a compliment. I hope they take it that way.

This story is designed to illustrate the fact that software alone is a commodity. There is nothing stopping anyone from copying the feature set, making it better, cheaper, and faster. And they will do that. This is the reality that Brad and I stared at in 2003 as we were developing our initial investment thesis for USV. We saw the cloud coming but did not want to invest in commodity software delivered in the cloud. So we asked ourselves, “what will provide defensibility” and the answer we came to was networks of users, transactions, or data inside the software. We felt that if an entrepreneur could include something other than features and functions in their software, something that was not a commodity, then their software would be more defensible. That led us to social media, to Delicious, Tumblr, and Twitter. And marketplaces like Etsy, Lending Club, and Kickstarter. And enterprise oriented networks like Workmarket, C2FO, and SiftScience. We have not perfectly executed our investment strategy by any means. We’ve missed a lot of amazing networks. And we’ve invested in things that weren’t even close to networks. But all of that said, our thesis has delivered for us and we stick to it as much as we can.

So here’s Albert’s alternate ending (with my editorial license on the colorful aspects of this story):

—————

A young dentist, named Hoff Reidman, just starting up his own private practice, decides that he wants to network with other dentists. Because Hoff went to CMU before going to dental school, he’s pretty technical and he hacks together a site in Ruby called Dentistry.com. He emails all of his friends from dental school and they sign up. Every dentist wants to be on Dentistry.com and the site takes off. Hoff realizes he has to quit his dental practice to focus on Dentistry.com. Albert Wenger, who happens to be a patient of Hoff’s, convinces him to let USV do a small seed round of $1mm to help build a company around Dentistry.com. Hoff comes up with a product roadmap that allows patients to have profiles on Dentistry.com where they can keep their dental records, book appointments, and keep track of their dental health. It also includes mobile apps for patients to remind them to floss and brush at least twice a day. While Dentistry.com is free to use for anyone (dentist or patient), it monetizes with native advertising, transactions between dentists and their patients, and transactions between patients and providers of consumer dental health products, and transactions between dentists and providers of dental equipment and products. Dentistry.com ultimately grows into a $1bn revenue company and goes public trades at a market cap of $7.5bn. Wall Street analysts love the company citing its market power and defensible network effects.

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I hope you enjoyed this fictional story. I find it explains our network thesis simply and easily. I will keep telling it to groups I talk to, but now with Albert’s ending. I like it very much. Thanks Albert.