Posts from October 2009

Net Neutrality

The FCC votes today on adopting Net Neutrality rules. This is an important debate and you can be sure that the telcos and their lobbyist's have been throwing all the money and influence they can at this issue.

One of the arguments from the telcos is that Net Neutrality will hamper investment in the infrastructure. I agree that is a risk. But if the FCC does not set the ground rules and insure open access to the infrastructure for everyone, that will hamper investment in what runs on top of the infrastructure.

That is why I signed my name to this letter earlier this week along with many other leading VCs and entrepreneurs:

Dear Chairman Genachowski:

We write to express our support for the Commission’s ongoing
efforts to adopt rules to safeguard the open Internet.  As business
investors in technology companies, we have first-hand experience with the
importance of a guaranteeing an open market for new applications and services
on the Internet.  Clear rules to protect and promote innovation at the
edges of the Internet will reinforce the core principles that led to its
extraordinary social and economic benefits.  Open markets for Internet
content will drive investment, entrepreneurship and innovation.  For these
reasons, Net Neutrality policy is pro-investment, pro-competition, and

Permitting network operators to close network platforms or
control the applications market by favoring certain kinds of content would
endanger innovation and investment in an investment sector which represents
many billions of dollars in economic activity.  The Commission is
absolutely correct to propose clear rules that require competition.  The
promise of permanently securing an open Internet will deliver consumers and
innovators a perfect free market that drives investment, job creation, and
consumer welfare.  These principles should apply across all Internet access
networks, wired or wireless.

Investment and innovation at the edge of the network will
create not just jobs but also new tools and opportunities for communication,
education, health care, business, and every other human endeavor.

We look forward to working with you in developing clear
rules to protect the open Internet, and in building together a framework to
secure its future and promote its continued growth.

#VC & Technology

Digital Father, Analog Daughter

My daughter Jessica wrote this post on her blog earlier this week. I have spent much of my career investing in the “digital revolution” but I take great pride in the fact that my daughter has the ability to step back and evaluate that revolution on her own terms.


the return of the polaroid through the eyes of a teenage film photo blogger

October 9, 2009 was the last day that unexpired Polaroid film could be used, marking the end of the film world’s instant photography. Just four days later, Polaroid announced that, with the help of the Impossible Project, they would relaunch (for a limited time) the most famous Polaroid instant cameras. Their statement reads:

“Large-scale production and worldwide sale of The Impossible Project’s new integral film materials under its own brand will already start in the beginning of 2010 – with a brand new and astonishing black and white Instant Film and the first colour films to follow in the course of the year.”

I’ve been watching the Impossible Project for some time now, and their achievement seems to be a small but significant push back — like in an arm wrestle, before the back of the losing hand almost hits the table it is clear who has won, even a resistance to defeat is amazing when the winning hand has both strength and gravity on its side. By no means is film going to win, but the supporters can enjoy this achievement for a limited time.

The recent news has influenced me to think about my own photography and how I go about it. Why do I shoot film? For what reason is polaroid so important if what I enjoy most about film is the process? As someone who embraces technology, why am I not conforming to digital photography?

In January I started this blog because after the college applications were done, I was ready to spend my free time doing things I actually enjoy while still reaping the benefits of feeling productive and achieving a goal. I knew that taking photos would be included in this, and I knew that fashion would be a key component. Yet, to this day, I’m not exactly sure what directions this blog could take. When asked currently what exactly my blog is “about,” I usually respond: “I post photos that I take and then images that inspire me.” This blog has definitely transformed into a photo blog; I’ve even changed the dimensions to fully accommodate the images.

I know that this particular post does not fit into the realms of this definition of my blog. However, I feel that as a young blogger, completely supporting the technology world and integrated into it, yet still passionate about analog cameras and film, I have a unique view on this film vs. digital argument we have been reading so much about and experiencing these past few years. Whereas my mom and dad will write long blog posts, provoked by something that happened to them that week or something they’ve read in the newspaper, my best thinking is provoked by images. For the first time in a long time, however, I feel that this recent event is something I want to write about.

For all of you readers who prefer just looking at images, believe me, I understand if you do not want to read this blog post.

I’m often asked, whether its when I load a roll of film, or when a friend opens my fridge to find stacks of film, or when someone asks to “see the picture” I just took and finds a blank back as opposed to a display, why I choose to shoot film. I used to think that, no matter what, film would ensure you a better picture than any digital camera would. Over the years, I have found this to be false. Most professional photographers shoot digital now. The issue is, the price of a digital camera that can give me the results that a film SLR can is astronomical. Also, I love the black and white contrast in film. Still, its not as though my choice to shoot a film is a financially beneficial one. I’m certain that the money I’ve spent on film and scanning images so frequently has, by now, equaled the amount it would cost me to purchase a beautiful digital SLR that would make my life so much easier. Especially, now, in Middletown, CT, where my friends at photomax 2 (where I can tell anyone to drop off my rolls of film and they’ll know that the rolls are mine because I’m the only person who uses 400 Tmax black and white film) are not right down the street, and the local rite aid takes weeks to scan images into grainy awful messes.

from a photoshoot I did with lenora:
a film picture (above) vs a digital picture (below)

Although this might be corny, I still feel the excitement in my stomach when I develop a roll of film. Its surprising, satisfying, and fun all at the same time to see a roll of film that you take. Where does that go when you can look at the back of a camera and see everything?

Then the argument is, why is polaroid so significant? Why do I care so much about the fact that polaroid has been relaunched? There isn’t a process…its instant, just like digital. Yes, I can completely appreciate polaroids as an art of randomness, for no one polaroid can be the same. Yet, an expensive art it is. Two dollars for a picture that could come out black? I own a few polaroid cameras, but I never use them.

Maybe I’m excited because it could mean a return of other endangered and extinct types of film. I’ve learned to love photography in such a rapid time of transition, and as my passion and admiration grows, the types of films available for experimentation shrinks. I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve gone to galleries of photo masters and been told that the type of film that these geniuses used is not available any more.

An image from Avedon’s series “The American West.” Avedon used a Deardorff 8×10 camera
with 8×10 format film for most of career, as did Annie Leibovitz, Helmut Newton, Jim Myers,
Kent Kirkley, Mary Ellen Mark, Larry Fink, and many others.

I often think that I should be taking a different approach. Instead of studying the older masters, think ahead and learn digital photography. Why shouldn’t I? I was raised in a house where technology was always important and changing. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I could type before I could write. While my friends were building blocks and playing with dolls, I was playing computer games. I remember instant messaging for the first time with my dad years before any of my friends got an AOL account. While I listen to peers complain about how technology is damaging our generation, I dismiss it, because I can think of ten positive outcomes of technology for each negative one.

As a blogger, all of my images are digital anyway, just scanned from my film negatives. Although I love the darkroom, the convenience and flexibility of working on my laptop are both significant benefits.

It is not just the photography world that is going through this transition.

Print media is dying: magazines are shutting down rapidly. The music industry is in transition as well: how do emerging bands make money anymore when CDs are rarely purchased compared to the illegal downloads online? My uncle, who produces television commercials, has been trying to reshape his business before advertising makes a complete shift to online.

My initial excitement and joy for the return of polaroid has provoked an intense examination of what I plan to do in this time of transition. Instead of the blinded optimism I shared with film lovers that this one more year of polaroid could stop the decline of film, I’m thankful that I can now have a little more time to get acquainted with the rise of digital photography. Who says I can’t do both? I’m only 18 years old! Should I really be feeling the melancholy for this decline of an old art medium? Film will forever be my first love, but I have to be realistic.

Cannon EOS 5D, which apparently is the preferred digital SLR amongst
photo bloggers Garance Dore, Scott Schuman, and Craig of Altamira.

This is by far the most I’ve ever wrote for something that was not school related. There is no conclusion, no answer that I can provide for the sets of questions and concerns I’ve just thrown out there. I’d like to know how other people feel about this pandemic issue and what other artists, journalists, musicians, etc. are doing about it.


I’ve closed the comments on this thread because I’d like Jessica to get all the comments on this post on her blog. If you’d like to comment (via Disqus!) please tell Jessica what you think.

#Random Posts

One of my all-time great moments as a web user was the launch of Yahoo! Finance. It was everything I had ever wanted as an investor, at least as a public market investor. I could not believe that all of it was free and in one place. I was a loyal Yahoo! Finance user for the better part of ten years. Recently I've found myself using Google Finance a bit more. But rarely does a day go by when I don't find myself visiting a service like Yahoo! Finance or Google Finance.

For the past few months, I've been using a new service instead of these two workhorses. It is called and it is a Union Square Ventures portfolio company.

We've never been much for "stealth" projects and this is our first. We invested in in the summer of 2008 and have watched it slowly but surely take shape over the past year. And we are very excited that it has now launched publicly (it was quietly available on the open web for the past few months under a different URL). is the brainchild of Mike Yavonditte, who ran and sold Quigo to AOL in late 2007. Mike has recruited a top notch team to go after this opportunity.

The opportunity is simply to redefine what a business information service should be on the open internet. Yahoo! Finance and Google Finance are largely ticker driven. If the company you want to learn about is not publicly traded, then you aren't going to find much information on these services.

Contrast that with services like LinkedIn or Crunchbase. These services are company and people driven. If a company or a person is well known, there is a good chance they have a page in And if they don't now, they will soon.

There is one more piece to that is important to talk about. is social. Users have a profile in the service and can send messages to each other in the service (and via twitter and facebook very shortly). Objects in the service (news, quotes, charts, public filings, companies, people) can be sent around like links in twitter and facebook.

I like to say that is what sits in the triangle that you can form with Yahoo! Finance on one point, LinkedIn on another point, and Twitter on the third point. It is not designed to compete with these services. It is designed to complement them and extend their usage models.

But as I said yesterday, it's a lot better to spend 15 minutes using a service than reading about it. So go check out and let me know what you think of it.


Just Try It Out

When somebody tells me about a new musical act, I always just go listen to them. No point in reading about something when you can experience it.

Same with a new web service. This morning I read about DailyBooth getting funding from Sequoia, Betaworks, and an excellent group of angel investors. I'd heard about DailyBooth before. It was a Y Combinator company this past summer and some of my colleagues at Union Square Ventures had seen their pitch at demo day. My partner Albert had mentioned it to me as a company that was relevant to many of our portfolio companies.

So, I decided I needed to wrap my head around what DailyBooth is doing. And the only way I know how to do that is to use the service. Here is my DailyBooth timeline. You'll be familiar with most of those images if you follow me on Tumblr.

It took me all of fifteen minutes to set up an account, follow a few people (including Gary Vee), and post a few photos myself. I can't say that I am an expert in what they are up to, but I sure have a good feel for the service, what it is all about, and why it works. And I can't get that from reading a blog post. I have to actually use it.

That is why our firm rarely invests in a company pre-launch. We've done it a few times with successful serial entrepreneurs we know very well. But it is not a comfortable thing for us to do and we won't do it with a team we don't know well. We need to touch and feel a service to get our heads around it, understand who uses it, why they use it, what the value proposition is, and what the potential is.

I get emails all the time that are ten paragraphs or more, and include a twenty page attachment. I do my best to read them and give a good response to them. But honestly, a one paragraph email explaining who you are, why you are writing, and a link to you web service is a whole lot better. If I am going to spend fifteen minutes on your business, I'd much rather it be fifteen minutes using your product than reading about it.

#VC & Technology

The Donors Choose Meetup: November 4th, NYC

As I promised at the start of the Donors Choose campaign, I am going to do a Meetup with everyone who gave to the campaign.

Here are the details:

Who: Anyone who gives to the current Donors Choose Bloggers Challenge via my giving page

Teachers: We will have several of the teachers whose classrooms we gave to in attendance

Bloggers: We hope to have some of the other bloggers who participated in the challenge in attendance

Where: Washington Irving High School cafeteria Union Square neighborhood, NYC

Date: November 4, 2009

Time: 6:30pm to 8:30pm

What: I'll give a short talk, then work the crowd for the rest of the event

If you want to attend, you have to do two things:

1) Give to the current Donors Choose Bloggers Challenge via my giving page. Any amount will do. It's not about the amount, it's about the donation.

2) Sign up for the event on the Meetup page

We'll have a list of everyone who gave via my giving page at the event and we'll check everyone in that way.

I am really excited about this event. It was a reader, Dave in Hackensack, who gave me this idea back in August when I was doing my birthday challenge. I want to thank Elaine Perez of Donors Choose who has helped to make this a reality. I look forward to seeing you there.

#hacking education#Weblogs

A Big Week For The Mobile Web

When I use the word "mobile web", I am not referring to the web running in mobile browsers, although I understand that is what the words have come to mean. I believe that mobile devices are bringing web services into our pockets and purses, onto restaurant tables and bars, and into schools and stadiums.

I am not particularly concerned about whether these web services are deployed in a browser or in an app running on a mobile device. I realize that these are big issues for developers and that the mobile web suffers from too many browsers, too many operating systems, and too many device configurations and screen sizes.

But the power of the web in your pocket is so large that none of this really matters at the end of the day. The "mobile web" is where "it" is at right now. And it is also where it is all going.

And this past week was a big one for the mobile web. We got three big things we've needed badly:

1) A real competitor to the iPhone – the Droid

2) A scalable business model for mobile apps – in app transactions in free apps

3) A standard for broadcasting video (and audio) to mobile devices

Here's why I think these are all big deals.

First and foremost, we need competition in the mobile web market. If Apple were to own the mobile web opportunity that would be very bad for developers, for consumers, and for innovation broadly. Nothing against Apple, it would be true with any company. Android is the best hope for a strong competitor to Apple. In fact, as I've written here before, Android is a lot like Microsoft's Windows OS. It was a copy of Apple's operating system in many ways, but it was open and it could run on many devices. And it became the standard with Apple retaining a small but important share. I believe the same thing will happen with Android and the Motorola/Verizon Droid looks to be the first really great Android phone to come to market. And I love this ad for it.

In addition to competition in the mobile web market, we need a scalable business model for mobile web apps. Display advertising is not likely to be that answer. In app transactions seems like a good one. It has worked very well in social gaming and is starting to show up in other web apps. But it is even more powerful on mobile devices where the user already has a transactional relationship with one or more providers of the device. Apple has decided to allow in app transactions on free iPhone apps, something they have been reluctant to do until now. This is a big deal. I think this could be an "order of magnitude" kind of inflection point for monetizing mobile apps.

We also need a way to offload bandwidth sucking applications from the carrier's networks. The AT&T network has suffered as iPhone users have adopted rich media on their devices. The same could happen to Verizon if the Droid is as popular as I think it can be. But there are ways to offload much of the high bandwidth services. Instead of watching the Yankees game via the AT&T or Verizon network, you can watch it over the digital TV broadcast spectrum using the ATSC standard that will ultimately find its way onto mobile devices. We've already seen this happen with the digital audio broadcast standard, HD Radio, that is now on Microsoft's Zune and will soon be on all kinds of mobile devices. Last week, I started listening to radio on the Zune via the the 102.7 hd2 channel here in NYC. There is a lot of one way spectrum out there that is now digital and can be used to push high bandwidth content onto mobile devices. I expect we'll see mobile device manufacturers and carriers work to leverage that spectrum to free up their networks for more interactive uses.

As important as these three developments are, I suspect we'll see like weeks like this past week a lot in the coming years. The mobile web sector is developing quickly and innovation is happening all over the place. It is very exciting to see.

#VC & Technology

Blog Stars

We had a discussion about "blog stars" in the comments to my post yesterday. Kid Mercury has been saying for as long I recall that niche communities are the future of the Internet. And he believes that niche communities are led by "blog stars".

So I asked him to name 10 "blog stars". And this is what he said:

1. fred wilson
2. heather armstrong (
3. kottke
4. jdawg (gotta admit it….you know i don't run from the truth boss)
5. mike masnick
6. dave winer
7. kanye west
8. richard macmanus
9. om malik
10. mike shedlock (

that's off the top of my head; there are many others …..

to clarify, blog stars
can simply be defined as independent media creators/publishers who have
created and continue to engage their own niche community. because of
the influence they hold over the community, they will have the assets
required to crowdsource labor and to make endorsements. their
relationship with their fans, if managed properly, can enable P2P
transactions as well. it is critical to note that when evaluating the
potential profitability of a blog star, we need to consider not only
the quality of the content they produce, but their governance/political
skills as well, as their influence must be used to manage/lead/inspire
the crowd.

there will be many blog stars in the near future,
as blog stars are the epitome of the "power to the people" nature of
the internet.

I was tempted to take my name off the top of the list, because that is not what this post is about. But I left it there because it would be weird to start with number two. And I think it's also true that this was not a "top ten" list, but simply a quick demonstrative list of what "blog stars" are.

I'll add a few more "blog stars" to Kid's list.  I enjoy and belong to these communities:

Gretchen Rubin

Jeff Jarvis

Howard Lindzon

Alan Patrick

John Battelle

Sarah Bunting

Please don't get upset if I left you off this list. It was not intended to be exhaustive, just instructive.

Blog stars are real people, not companies. You can't be a blog star if you blog for a company, unless it is your company (Om and Richard are examples of that kind of blog star). And the Kid says you have to operate a community on your blog. That is why Seth Godin is not a blog star in the Kid's definition. Honestly I struggle with the example of Seth because I think he is able to execute the "blog star" model even though he has no community on his blog.

I suspect there are thousands of blog stars operating in various sectors out there. It's an interesting model to study. I know how powerful it is already. If the Kid is right, it will become even more powerful in the coming years.


The Blog Where Everybody Knows Your Name

This blog attracts around 125,000 unique visitors a month pretty consistently. That's a lot of people.

But there's about 1,000 to 2,000 who I'd call regulars who hang out here and talk about stuff. I know all of them by name. And they know each other by name.

I was reminded of that while wading through the comments to my post yesterday. In the midst of a serious discussion about venture deals and the venture industry was this exchange:

Kid talk
The Kid, David, Brooks, and Shana are all regulars. And we had a little chat about The Kid who in addition to being a brilliant thinker about where the web is taking us is also a kook and a conspiracy theorist. But he's our kook and conspiracy theorist.

It's like a bar where a bunch of regulars show up every night. You aren't sure which of them will show and what the talk will be, but it's fun and everyone is respectful and you learn a lot. I can't exactly explain how it got to be this way, but it is. And I am so grateful for it.


The 'We Need To Own' Baloney

Over the past few months, I’ve heard countless VCs utter the words ‘we need to own’ followed by some number. Often it is 20pcnt, but it is frequently 30pcnt. I heard someone tell me about a VC yesterday who said they needed to own 44pcnt. I was tempted to ask them to give me the number to four digits.

This behavior by VCs is not productive. I’ve said this before and I will say it again. We are putting our needs before the needs of our portfolio companies and the entrepreneurs who form them.

And this “need” is just greed. We don’t need to own any specific percentage. We just want to.

How much of Google did KP and Sequoia own? You can say ‘well that was Google’ but it wasn’t the greatest venture deal of the decade when they made their investment.

We took 10pcnt of a company a few years ago that has become our best investment. We own less than 10pcnt of it now. And we will make a ton of money on this investment, probably more than any other investment in our fund. And we own less of it than any other investment in our portfolio.

The VC business is not about grabbing the largest slice of the pie. It is about getting involved with very big pies. If you let your need for the biggest piece keep you out of the pie eating contest, you will lose eventually.

VCs can do what they want and they are doing it. But please don’t use the words ‘we need to own’ around me. I am calling bullshit on it and will do it to your face.

#VC & Technology