Posts from August 2007

The Internet Is As Dead And Boring As You Want It To Be

I have friends who loved music in high school and college, would spend hours going through the bins at the record store, and would hang out all night playing music and talking about music. And some of these friends barely listen to music anymore. They think rock music is "dead and boring". They are right. To them it is.

But not to me. I read music blogs, hang out at the hypemachine and last.fm, write about new music, and go see live music as much as I can. Music is as interesting to me now as it ever has been, maybe more exciting now that is so ubiquitous.

That’s the first thing that came to mind when I read Mark Cuban’s assertion that the Internet Is Dead and Boring. It is to him. He doesn’t care about the Internet anymore. That’s fine. He’s moved on to other things that are alive and exciting to him like professional sports, HD video, etc.

The main thing I take objection to in his post is the use of second and third person. Take this paragraph:

Some of you may not want to admit it, but that’s exactly what the net
has become. A utility. It has stopped evolving. Your Internet
experience today is not much different than it was 5 years ago.

If it ended with "my Internet experience today is not much different than it was 5 years ago", I’d be nodding my head in agreement. Clearly Mark’s not using the Internet the way I am.

My delicious toolbar records my most visited web services. Typepad, Google Finance, Techmeme, Delicious, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, last.fm, hypemachine, yottamusic. I did not use one of those services 5 years ago. Not one of them!

The other thing that I think Mark is wrong about is his focus on bandwidth as the essential element for innovation. He says:

The days of the Internet creating explosively exciting ideas are dead.
They are dead until bandwidth throughput to the home reaches far higher
numbers than the vast majority of broadband users get today.

I’ll be the first one to agree that here in the US we are way behind the rest of the world in broadband to the home and our telecom infrastructure policy would be laughable if it wasn’t so critical. But I don’t think innovation on the Internet is driven so much by bandwidth.

Moore’s law continues to work it’s magic and we can do more with less bandwidth than ever before. And software developers continue to build new technologies that deliver better experiences. Look at Adobe’s new "moviestar" version of Flash for an example of what can be done with today’s internet infrastructure.

But even more importantly, the web is primarily a communications platform, not a broadcasting or publishing platform, those are secondary uses. We don’t need vast amounts of bandwidth to communicate. We seem to be doing just fine with new communication services like voip, blogging, social networking, etc. The key to these innovations is not more bandwidth, its thinking about what the internet/web makes possible that is not possible in the offline world.

And the second wave of internet creativity, dubbed web 2.0, is doing just that. And it has made my experience vastly different than it was 5 years ago, 1 year ago, even 6 months ago. Hopefully if you read this blog, you get to share in all of these exciting new developments and aren’t bored either.

#VC & Technology

Is The Tech IPO Market Back?

Keith Benjamin, who was a wall street analyst when I first met him almost 10 years ago, has posted twice in the past week and a half about the impact the "credit crunch" could have on tech IPOs and venture returns. The first post is on Keith’s blog and the second is on Venture Beat.

As an aside, I don’t know why both posts aren’t on both blogs. Content should be everywhere you might want to read it.

Keith argues that public investors are going to move away from sectors that are affected by the tightening of credit we are now seeing in response to the mortgage lending mess. And he points to VMware as the kind of seminal IPO success story that will lead to more (remember how Netscape kicked off the web IPO boom in the late 90s?).

VMware is indeed a fantastic success story. Virtualization of servers (and desktops) is a big deal. It allows the IT organizations to buy whatever hardware they want and to run whatever software they want on it. VMware is trading at a $27bn valuation. And a huge multiple of the next 12 month’s expected earnings (almost 100x). But it’s a big time growth story with significant revenues and earnings. Maybe it can hold this valuation. Maybe it can keep going up. I honestly don’t know enough to predict what’s going to happen with VMware.

But I do know a bit about the IPO market’s desire to buy tech companies. Our Flatiron portfolio had two IPOs this summer, comScore (SCOR), and Mercado Libre (MELI). Both have peformed very well for investors who bought into the offerings. comScore is up 35% from its offering price and Mercado Libre is up 67%.

I don’t know what the average tech IPO is up this year, but I suspect it’s a good number. And given the amount of money sloshing around in hedge funds seeking returns, there may be a growing appetite for more deals like VMware, comScore, and Mercado Libre.

If so, that is indeed good news for VCs. But maybe we can learn from these three offerings and our past mistakes too. VMware was started in 1998, comScore and Mercado Libre were started in 1999. They’ve all had nearly a decade to become seasoned well run companies. All are profitable and have been profitable for a while. All are leaders in their sector. All have bright prospects of being solid public companies.

So if we are, in fact, witnessing a return to a favorable climate for tech IPOs, the best way to keep it going is by being very selective about the companies we take public. I think the bankers, the public market investors, and the VCs are certainly going to try to do that, but at some point greed will get in the way and we’ll screw it up. We always do.

#stocks#VC & Technology

Unlocked iPhone (continued)

My original post on this topic, which is still on the front page of google when you search for unlocked iphone, suggested we’d have an unlocked iPhone by July 5th.

It took a month and a half longer, but we are there now. It’s funny that there are a flurry of unlocked stories all happening today. Must be something about two months worth of work.

Anyway, congratulations to everyone who hacked the iPhone. Awesome job.

Next question is who should I send my brand new "still in the box" iPhone to in order to get it to run on T-Mobile? And how much will I have to pay them?

#VC & Technology

The FPhone

When I was a high school senior, my parents were eager to see me go to West Point, where my Dad and many of my parents’ family members had gone. I applied but I satisfied all the requirements (physical, recommendations, interview, etc) on the last possible day. My heart wasn’t in it. One day my Dad came to me and said, "you don’t want to go to West Point, do you?". I said, "I don’t, but how do you know?". He said, "because the people in the admissions department tell me you aren’t acting like you want to go". Sometimes actions speak louder than words.

So the fact that my iPhone is still sitting unopened in my office tells me something. I don’t want it. I have absolutely no interest in it. I’ve held an iPhone before. I’ve taken a picture with it. I’ve typed on it. I’ve used the awesome browser and maps. It’s a work of art for sure. But it’s not what I want in a phone to be honest.

The rumors of the GPhone that are running in the blogs this morning make me optimistic. Could Google actually deliver what I want? I am sure they are headed in the right direction. Here is my dream phone:

1 – same form factor as the iPhone – 3" x 2" super crisp display
2 – pull out dual slider keyboard like the Helio Ocean
3 – no operating system – just a browser, everything happens in the browser
4 – gmail, gcal, gmaps, gsearch, and the web
5 – flash audio and video
6 – data plan only, no voice, and also wifi
7 – voice delivered via voip (gtalk and skype) integrated with gmail address book
8 – sold unlocked only, not through any carrier
9 – a GSM radio – thanks Craig

Now that’s a killer phone. Because it’s not a phone. It’s a mobile browser that supports voice. That’s what I want. Who is going to be the first to deliver a mobile device like that?

#VC & Technology

Pier 40 Partnership

In my spare time this summer, I’ve been working on something important. I’ve been part of a group of community and business leaders in lower Manhattan who are working to explore alternatives to the current proposals to redevelop Pier 40. Our group is called Pier 40 Partnership.

Pier 40 is the closest thing that lower Manhattan has to Central Park. It is 15 acres of outdoor recreation space surrounded by 1.2 million square feet of underused space that is in need of repair. This picture shows the vast amount of green space inside and on the roof of Pier 40 that is available for outdoor recreation.

Pier_40

Pier 40 is owned by the Hudson River Park Trust, the organization that has given us the amazing waterfront park that runs from Battery Park to the Upper West Side. It is the greatest thing that has happened to the west side of Manhattan since I moved to the city 25 years ago.

Pier 40 was given to the Trust by the State of NY in the Hudson River Park Act which created the Hudson River Park. Pier 40 is supposed to provide much of the income required to keep up the entire park.

And so the Hudson River Park Trust has been trying for the past five years to find a way to redevelop the Pier, fix it up, and produce much needed income to maintain the park. All of this is a great thing.

But the problem is that all of the proposals that have been made to date, including the two that are on the table right now, ignore the fact that Pier 40 is the the largest and most expandable available space for active recreation in lower manhattan. The developers are rightly focused on generating a return on the investment they’ll make in fixing up the Pier. So they propose things like a Performing Arts Center that includes Cirque du Soleil. Inevitably the developers propose turning a park that is a central part of the downtown community into another South Street Seaport. And these proposals result in universal community rejection. The current proposals on the table have been rejected by the community boards, the working group appointed by the advisory board of the Trust, and many of the elected officials who represent the lower manhattan community.

Pier_40_related

Pier 40 Partnership believes there’s a better way to accomplish all of the things the Trust needs and all of the things the community wants. It will take a combination of creative land use planning, and some private fundraising to help the Trust make the needed repairs that cannot wait any longer. If you are interested in learning more about Pier 40 Partnership and how you can help, send me an email and I’ll let you know how you can do that.

#NYC

Stars

I’ve been listening to this record, Set Yourself on Fire, which came out a couple years ago. It’s from a Canadian band called Stars. They are one more member of the Broken Social Scene scene. Which is maybe how I came upon this. Anyway, I am digging this song called Reunion this morning.

Reunion – Stars – Set Yourself On Fire

Thanks scissorkick for the mp3.

And they have a record called In Our Bedroom After The War that is coming out next month. Gotta check that out.

#My Music

Distributed Media and Comments

I want to write something and have it run anywhere it wants to be read. My blog is just one place it can be read. It can be read in your inbox via Feedblitz. It can be read in Google Reader, Newsgator, Bloglines, or a host of other feed readers via Feedburner. You can read all of my posts on my profile in Facebook. Maybe some day Owen will pick up one of my posts on Valleywag. Or maybe Venturebeat will run one of my posts. Silicon Alley Insider ran my post about Rhapsody yesterday morning and I like that (and please note the link to my comments right there on Silicon Alley Insider).

I don’t think that content should be consumed exclusively in the service in which it is created. That’s the old model. Command and control. The new model is about creating it and letting it go. Dave Winer and the others who pioneered the feed ecosystem saw this almost a decade ago. I started to understand it when I started blogging and the post I wrote about the future of media has framed my thoughts on this topic for the past several years and led to some of our most recent investments.

I want to practice what I preach. And I will be making some more moves shortly to further distribute the content I create. Nick Denton inspired me some time ago when he told me how they had architetcted the Gawker media content management system. Content is created in whatever blogging tool each blogger prefers. Then, via RSS, they assemble it into the various blogs that Gawker operates. That makes sense. Distributed content creation and distributed content presentation.

But what about comments? They are critical to the blogging experience. I know enough to start an interesting conversation but I rarely know more than my readers on any particular topic. Comments let you finish what I started.

What happens if my posts start showing up in Valleywag, Venturebeat, Silicon Alley Insider, and countless other places on the web? Where do the comments reside? We can’t have one set of comments for each place the posts reside. We need a centralized place for all the comments to be collected and presented.

The comments could continue to reside at avc.blogs.com and everyone could point back to them. But I think it’s actually better to put the comments somewhere else hosted by a service that is focused exclusively on improving the commenting experience. I’ve been using typepad for four years now and I’ve come to realize that they can’t or won’t address the shortcomings of their comment system. That’s understandable. They have a lot of things to focus on; MT, Typepad, Live Journal, Vox, and hundreds of features inside each of those products and services.

I sort of accidentally chose Disqus. They needed a well-read blog to demo on at YC demo day. I said yes without really thinking through the consequences. One of which has been that the commenting experience on this blog has been less than optimal in the past two weeks. Some of my top commenters hate disqus. But we’ve given disqus the feedback and we’ll see how they deal with it. If they built the service in 10 weeks, I am willing to give them another 10 weeks to fix it. After that, we’ll see how well everyone likes it. If they don’t get it working to my satisfaction (which will be a reflection of yours), then I can easily pull all of your comments out of disqus and go with something else. Honestly I am pretty confident that I won’t have to do that.

But disqus has already solved (not without its bugs too) a problem that has been bothering me for years. My feed now comes with a comments link. You can see right in the feed how many comments a post has and click to see them. Some have suggested that the feed link should be to the comments page on my blog. I am not sure why that has to be the case. What if disqus hosted the original post and the comment thread? What’s the difference in that content being presented on my blog or on disqus as long as it is presented in a familiar post + comments format? Given the slow page loads on my blog page (due to my widget obsessions), it might be faster and better for the all the links to go to avc.disqus.com instead.

That is where disqus collects all the comments anyway. What they are presenting at avc.blogs.com is the comments on the post via javascript. I realize there are problems with the javascript presentation. They need to fix that, or go to some other approach.

But here’s my point. We need to think of content as bits that can be created, assembled, re-assembled, anywhere at any time. Because that is, in fact, what digital content is. I am slowly but surely breaking the content I create up into parts and creating them in different places and then re-assembling them in various ways. The posts I write and the comments you and I create don’t have to be housed in the same system and they aren’t anymore. And I think that’s a lot better.

#VC & Technology

chartreuse is back

chartreuse is one of my favorite bloggers. He doesn’t break stories. He doesn’t provide insights into new technologies. He doesn’t fit into any category of blogger actually.

But its the way he composes a post, with a combination of pictures, words, and links that makes his posts so special. He tells a story and he tells it well. It’s almost poetry at times.

He’s back blogging. I never took him off my blogroll. I hoped he’d be back.

#VC & Technology