Posts from June 2008

Where To Go For Inspiration?

I posted last weekend about the difficulty of blogging every day. It’s something I want to do for a bunch of reasons, most of them selfish. But it’s not always easy to find something interesting to write about.

Sometimes I wake up with a blog post in my head. Sometimes a reader will leave a comment and I’ll think to myself, "that’s a blog post". Sometimes, I’ll simply read something and it will fill me with a desire to say something about it.

But there are many times when I think to myself "what can I write about?"

I suspect many professional bloggers and journalists face this issue all the time and have developed tricks and techniques to deal with it. One of my tricks when I don’t know what to write about is to read blogs until I find something interesting and then start blogging.

For the past year or so, I’ve relied heavily on aggregators like delicious/popular, digg, techmeme, hacker news, reddit, and others to give me the links to stories that will be interesting to blog about.

In that past couple months, that technique is letting me down. I think its largely because I am not finding the news of executive departures at Yahoo!, the latest iPhone rumors, and the like particularly interesting these days.

On the other hand, posts like this one from Umair or this one from Alan Kirby are getting my juices flowing.

As technology blogging has become defined by blogs like Techcrunch, Gigaom, VentureBeat, Valleywag, PaidContent, AlleyInsider, and many others that are quickly becoming news organizations optimizing around scoops and driving readership, I am feeling that we’ve lost something, or at least we need to look elsewhere for that magic that was existent back in the first half of this decade.

Please don’t take this as a criticism of the professional blogs I’ve mentioned above. They are providing an important service to the technology industry and we need them to keep doing what they are doing.

But more and more  I want to read the thoughts of people who blog because they want to as those who blog because its a job. I went on about that last weekend on twitter and some friends sent me custom built pages with some of the things I want. I appreciate their efforts. But that’s not what I am seeking.

Who knows if what I want exists or can exist. But I want techmeme for inspiration. I want a place I can go every day and get inspired by real people. It hasn’t happened for me in many years in traditional media and honestly it’s happening for me less and less these day in online/social media.

If you have any ideas, I am all ears.

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Covestor Opens Up

Yes, this is "Fred promotes the USV portfolio" day at AVC. Sorry but I can’t help myself. The launch of outside.in’s new radar service and the opening up of Covestor are two things that we have been eagerly awaiting for quite a while and they happened on the same day, yesterday.

This post is about Covestor. For those that don’t know, Covestor is a service that allows active investors to build a verifiable track record for themselves by automatically passing on all of their trades from their brokerage firm to Covestor, who then compiles the returns and related statistical information. Here’s my verified track record on Covestor.

Covestor

If everyone on Covestor was like me, they would not have a business. But fortunately, not everyone is like me. There are some damn good investors on Covestor. Check out these returns and the risk profiles and sharp ratios:

Top_ten

So here’s what happened yesterday. Covestor opened up the doors to everyone. Until yesterday, you had to share your trades with others to be able to follow investors like this. Not any more. Now anyone who wants to get trading ideas, or just follow one or more of these investors, can do it. For free.

Go to Covestor and check it out. I think you’ll be amazed at the quality of the investors who are sharing their trades with the world.

Related links:

TechCrunch’s post on Covestor this morning

My partner Albert’s post on this news (he’s on Covestor’s board)

The Company’s post announcing the news

Outside.in launches Radar

Outside.in launched its new "radar" user interface yesterday and had their single largest day in the company’s history in traffic and new registered users. Here are three screenshots of the radar UI (because I can’t get the whole page with the screengrab too I use). These three sections are all delivered on a single page.

I am in SF today and staying on Geary near the tenderloin. Radar knows
where I am and tells me what’s going on nearby (within 1000 feet).

1000_feet

But Radar also knows about the neighborhood I am in and shows me "conversational content" about the larger neighborhood I am in. Note that the "conversational content" includes tweets about the local neighborhood.

Neighborhood_2

Finally, Outside.in remembers that I care about other places like the Shake Shack and Pier 40 in NYC and Pizzeria Mozza in LA. If things are happening in places I care about, Radar lets me know about them.

Places

Everyone who has seen the new Radar user interface (it’s been in private beta for the past month) loves it. So if you’ve been looking for a web-based tool to keep track of the goings on in your neighborhood and the places around the US you care about (outside.in is not yet available outside of the US), give it a try and let me know what you think.

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Startup Workshop at Web 2.0 Expo

My partner Albert and our friend Charlie O’Donnell are doing a startup workshop at Web 2.0 Expo in NYC this September.

Albert just posted on the Union Square Ventures weblog seeking suggestions for topics to cover. If you’ve got ideas, go visit his post and leave a comment.

Why Widgets Is The Wrong Word For What We’re Doing

I am speaking at WidgetWeb today. They asked me to talk about widgets as startups, but I am not going to talk about that. I am going to talk about the end of widgets as we know them, starting with the word itself.

I got excited about web widgets in 2005 and spent a lot of 2006 and early 2007 writing about them, playing with them, and filling this blog’s sidebars with them.

WIkipedia says that "In computing, the term has become frequently used to refer to objects on a computer screen the user interacts with

In another entry, Wikipedia goes further:

A web widget is a portable chunk of code that can be installed and executed within any separate HTML-based web page by an end user without requiring additional compilation. They are derived from the idea of code reuse.
Other terms used to describe web widgets include: gadget, badge,
module, capsule, snippet, mini and flake. Web widgets often but not
always use DHTML, JavaScript, or Adobe Flash.

Widgets have made a great contribution to the web in the past four years. They have allowed us to mashup our web pages and create experiences that express dozens of web services on a single page. This blog’s front page expresses at least fourteen web services at this point in time. It was a lot more before I went on my recent housecleaning spree.

And yet, at least in my experience, widgets suck. That was the top search term on this blog for most of last year. And everytime I clean up my act, I get a huge number of readers thanking me. The widgets (and the javascript I put on this blog) slow down the page load times considerably. And they are distracting to many of the readers. I imagine if I took a poll, about 2/3 of my readers would vote for  widgetless sidebars.

So if widgets suck, then how do we continue to express all of the web services on the pages we create? I think we need to move to a model where the content is all in the same flow. My tumblog is a good example of this. Here’s a screenshot of fredwilson.vc for those of you who have never visited.

Fredwilson

That page shows an mp3 I posted this morning (the same one that is on the upper right of this blog), a twitter post from dick costolo that I liked, and a wallstrip interview with Daniel Ha, co-founder of disqus.

I didn’t want to put a larger picture on this page, but if you visit fredwilson.vc, you’ll find a couple of posts from this blog, my last.fm weekly top listens, and a few more twitters on the front page. It’s all in a single column, and flows from web service to web service in a "river of content".

That’s where we need to get to. Putting all of this stuff in widgets all over the page is ugly, distracting, slows page loads, and creates a bunch of other problems which we’ve all experienced.

That’s why I believe we need to move beyond widgets to a more integrated model of mashing up web services. That’s going to be my message this morning at Widget Web. If you want to debate it and are in NYC, come to the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. I go on at 9:15am.

UPDATE: Here’s the powerpoint deck I used at Widget Web today. Great discussion afterwards. The two big areas I left out of my presentation were Facebook apps (and all social apps) and RSS.  If I were to give this presentation again, I’d add some thoughts on both of those.

Firefox 3 Launch Tomorrow (and Party)

Mozilla Firefox

Image via Wikipedia

I suspect everybody knows by now that tomorrow is the official launch of Firefox 3. For me, there is no other browser. I’ve tried them all and Firefox (despite all of its issues) is the browser for me.

A couple things to note about tomorrow. Firefox is trying to break a record for the most downloads in a 24 hour period. So if you plan to download FF3, you might as well do it tomorrow and contribute to a record being set.

And if you are in NYC, the official NYC FF3 launch party will be held at our portfolio company Adaptive Blue. Details are on the Adaptive Blue blog, but here’s the most important stuff:

– it’s completely open to one and all
– we’re hoping for Firefox fans and
users, startups developing addons, and anyone interested in the web
– Mozilla’s sending swag
– Adaptive Blue is providing free beer/pizza.

Tuesday June 17th, 6-9pm
131 Varick St
Suite 909

You can RSVP in the comments to the Adaptive Blue blog or on the Mozilla party page.

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What Comes After Post Modernism?

Horacio (aka vruz) pointed me to this 2006 essay in Philosophy Now by Alan Kirby on "the death of post-modernism."  I read it yesterday evening (on paper taking notes). Yes I am old school when reading anything over a page or two.

I am no expert in art, philosophy, and literature so the terms modernism and post-modernism don’t run deep in my brain. But from a simplistic point of view, I understand that modernism and post-modernism define the 20th century in western culture. Modernism first emerged in the late 19th century and was a reaction against the romanticism that had defined western civilization in the 19th century. Modernism embraced the industrialization of society and the emergence of breakthrough scientific thinking. In art and architecture, modernism brought simplicity and and new artistic forms.

Post-modernism was the post-war (WWII) reaction to modernism. It re-embraced historical contexts but in a modern form. Post-modernism was complex, ironic, and ambiguous.

So with that backdrop, what comes after the "modernist" era (which in my mind includes both modernism and post-modernism)? Kirby suggests a new ethos is emerging that he calls pseudo-modernism. I don’t like that word. But his observations ring true to me.

I believe there is more to this shift than a simple change in cultural fashion. The terms by which
authority, knowledge, selfhood, reality and time are conceived have been altered, suddenly and forever.
There is now a gulf between most lecturers and their students akin to the one which appeared in the late
1960s, but not for the same kind of reason. The shift from modernism to postmodernism did not stem from
any profound reformulation in the conditions of cultural production and reception; all that happened,
to rhetorically exaggerate, was that the kind of people who had once written Ulysses and To
the Lighthouse
wrote Pale Fire and The Bloody Chamber instead. But somewhere in
the late 1990s or early 2000s, the emergence of new technologies re-structured, violently and forever,
the nature of the author, the reader and the text, and the relationships between them.

And

the
culture we have now fetishises the
recipient of the text to the degree that they become a partial
or whole author of it. Optimists may see this as the democratisation of culture; pessimists will point
to the excruciating banality and vacuity of the cultural products thereby generated (at least so far).

And

Postmodernism conceived of contemporary culture as a spectacle before which the individual
sat powerless, and within which questions of the real were problematised. It therefore emphasised the
television or the cinema screen. Its successor, which I will call pseudo-modernism, makes the
individual’s action the necessary condition of the cultural product.


Kirby is right. We’ve moved into a new phase of society. One that emphasizes participation in culture and society and and technology and politics. If it weren’t such a mouthful, I’d suggest we call it participatism. Kirby makes a bunch of additional observations worth sharing.

pseudo-modern cultural products cannot and do not exist unless the individual intervenes
physically in them. Great Expectations will exist materially whether anyone reads it or not…..Big Brother on the other hand, to take a typical pseudo-modern
cultural text, would not exist materially if nobody phoned up to vote its contestants off.

and

Pseudo-modernism also includes
computer games, which similarly place the individual in a context where they invent the cultural content,
within pre-delineated limits. The content of each individual act of playing the game varies according
to the particular player.

and

The pseudo-modern cultural phenomenon par excellence is the internet. Its central act is
that of the individual clicking on his/her mouse to move through pages in a way which cannot be duplicated,
inventing a pathway through cultural products which has never existed before and never will again. This
is a far more intense engagement with the cultural process than anything literature can offer, and gives
the undeniable sense (or illusion) of the individual controlling, managing, running, making up his/her
involvement with the cultural product.

and

In all of this, the ‘viewer’ feels
powerful and is indeed necessary; the ‘author’ as traditionally understood is either relegated
to the status of the one who sets the parameters within which others operate, or becomes simply irrelevant,
unknown, sidelined; and the ‘text’ is characterised both by its hyper-ephemerality and by
its instability.

and

Much text messaging and emailing is vapid in comparison with what people of all educational
levels used to put into letters. A triteness, a shallowness dominates all. The pseudo-modern era, at
least so far, is a cultural desert.

and finally

There is a generation gap here, roughly separating people
born before and after 1980. Those born later might see their peers as free, autonomous, inventive, expressive,
dynamic, empowered, independent, their voices unique, raised and heard: postmodernism and everything
before it will by contrast seem elitist, dull, a distant and droning monologue which oppresses and occludes
them. Those born before 1980 may see, not the people, but contemporary texts which are alternately
violent, pornographic, unreal, trite, vapid, conformist, consumerist, meaningless and brainless (see
the drivel found, say, on some Wikipedia pages, or the lack of context on Ceefax). To them what came
before pseudo-modernism will increasingly seem a golden age of intelligence, creativity, rebellion and
authenticity.

That was a lot of quoting of someone else’s work. I fear not enough of you will click thru and read the essay so I’ve cut and pasted (is cut and pasting itself a fundamental part of participatism?) the best parts here so we can have a conversation about this essay. I think it’s an important discussion. On to the comments. We embrace participatism here on this blog.

Comments Can Be Blog Posts

Windows, GNOME and KDE keys for cut and pasting: Control + x (cut), Control + c (copy), Control + v (paste)

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday evening I took a quick look at techmeme and saw that the top two posts at that point in time were Tim O’Reilly and my responses to Mike Arrington’s Yahoo post. I clicked through to see Tim’s post and noticed that Tim had done the same thing that I had done; simply cut and paste the comment I had left on Arrington’s post onto my blog. It was interesting to see that the top two posts on techmeme at that moment in time were in fact comments to another blog post.

I then twittered that thought and went to dinner.

Here’s the thing. I get comments every day on my blog that are as good as any blog posts I see on the web. And they are stuck behind the comments link. They need to be on the front page, not on the back page.

What Tim and I did needs to become more prevalent. Comments are often way more insightful than blog posts. That’s because there are a lot of super smart people who for one reason or another don’t or cant’ blog. But they can comment and do so actively. Techmeme could have easily linked to Stone’s comments on my blog post or Jeff Bonforte’s or Joe Laz’ comment. They are as good as anything Tim or I wrote about Yahoo in the past 24 hours.

Here is what I want. I want to be able to easily reblog onto my front page any and all great comments in a format that shows that they are comments and a link to the post the comment is from. I want to be able to easily reblog the comments I make on other blogs to my blog. I want services like techmeme and friendfeed to understand that comments are as important as blog posts (friendfeed is on its way with disqus and intensedebate integration). And I want commenters to have their own blogs that are simply aggregations of the comments they leave on the web. That’s happening too, here’s my disqus page. But the commenter should be able to own that page they way they own a blog; themes, sidebars, widgets, domain mapping, etc

What’s the difference between a great comment and a great blog post? Nothing. What’s the difference between a great commenter and a great blogger? Nothing. At least in theory. It’s time for practice to meet theory.

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A post a day

I’ve posted every day for almost five years. Its a routine and a habit that’s hard to break

But today, I’ve got nothing to say that’s blog worthy

I’ve twittered six or seven times and posted three times on tumblr

I think its time to acknowledge that long form blogging every day may be coming to an end

My Thinking on YHOO

Mike Arrington calls Yahoo!’s decision to partner with Google and finally walk from Microsoft a "Massive Destruction Of Shareholder Value, Employee Morale and Internet Balance Of Power" I don’t agree with that view and have stated my opinion about this deal on this blog since the day Microsoft started it’s hostile attempt to buy Yahoo! [YHOO]

Here’s my comment to Mike’s post:

Mike add me to that list of Jerry, Sue, and Tim [O’Reilly]

I’ve been rooting for this outcome since Microsoft first started
their effort to acquire Yahoo! It’s worth noting that at today’s
closing price, Yahoo! stock is trading about where it was a year ago
and above where it was at the start of the year.

The Microsoft hostile move backfired on Microsoft and pushed Yahoo!
closer to Google. Yahoo! finally woke up and did what they should have
done years ago, cede search monetization to Google who simply does it
better and will always do this era of search better than anyone else.

Now Yahoo! will do what it needs to do. Clean house, get lean, get
out of businesses it shouldn’t be in. Focus on what it’s good at. And
start making money and growing again.

They may need new leadership to do that. But selling this asset to
Microsoft just because they had the wrong leadership and probably still
have the wrong leadership is a mistake.

Imagine what the right CEO could do with Yahoo!