Posts from Web/Tech

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.

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.
————————-
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.