Posts from February 2019

A Small Change To The Comments

David Steinberg, founder and CEO of Zeta Global, the owner of Disqus, saw my blog post last week expressing a desire to make this blog easier to manage. He reached out, asking how Zeta/Disqus could help.

I explained my frustration with the comments here at AVC and he asked the Disqus team to see if they could help.

And less than a week later, we have the first result of that assistance. AVC is running an experimental feature that Disqus is working on called “collapsed comments”.

One of the things that I find challenging with the comments is when a group of people decide to have a conversation with each other and it results in dozens of replies, one after another.

I don’t want to stop them from doing that, but I also don’t want that conversation to take up a ton of space on the page.

It is also the case that it is often in those rapid reply discussions where the flames come out.

So we are going to collapse the replies on multiple reply conversations here at AVC and it has been live since late yesterday.

It looks like this:

Behind that “Show More Replies” link are sixteen more comments, taking up four pages of screen real estate.

I am not saying that those conversations aren’t valuable. They are and people can still dive into them.

But they are not longer going to be the primary thing people see when they wade into the comments here at AVC.

I think that is a good thing and a small step to making it a bit easier to manage the comments here.

#Weblogs

The Convergence Of The Phone And Laptop

The Gotham Gal wanted to get a new laptop. Her late 2015 Macbook has started to fade on her.

So yesterday we made a visit to the local Apple Store and checked out the options. We looked at the Macbooks, the Macbook Airs, and we also looked at the iPad Pros. We debated the choice and she ended up deciding to go for the iPad Pro. We work with a few people who have iPad Pros and love them. And she noticed how much I am using and enjoying my Pixel Slate.

One of the most interesting things about these hybrid tablet/laptop devices is that they run operating systems that are designed for the tablet or phone. They are touch devices like our phones vs mouse devices like our laptops.

A good example of this is how I do email on my Pixel Slate. I could run Gmail in the browser on my Pixel Slate. But I have found it much more pleasing to do email in the Gmail Android App on my Pixel Slate. I swipe emails away like I do on my phone. But I also have the keyboard when I want to write a long response. It is literally the best of both worlds.

I am writing this post on my Pixel Slate (in the WordPress web app in Chrome). When I want to go back up to the start of the post and re-read/edit it, I just swipe up. No messing around with the touchpad, up button, or down button. It is so much more natural, although it took me a while to get used to it.

I am helping the Gotham Gal set up her iPad Pro this morning and we are downloading all of the mobile apps she likes to use on her iPhone. I think that is how she will want to use her new “laptop”.

So if this is the future we are heading into, where the user interfaces and applications our computing devices and our phones use start to converge, it suggests that there is a bit of an opening for new applications that are designed from the ground up to work in this way.

#mobile#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Audio Of The Week: Reimagining The Well Woman

One of the areas we have been investing a lot in at USV is women’s healthcare (Clue, Modern Fertility, Nurx).

Another interesting company in women’s healthcare, that USV is not an investor in (at least not yet), is Tia, which calls itself “The Women’s Health Clinic.”

In this discussion with the Gotham Gal, the founder of Tia, Carolyn Witte, talks about her inspiration to start Tia and how she has evolved the business over the last couple years.

#hacking healthcare

Funding Friday: Young Women Teaching Coding To Others

First of all, I’d like to say that I have a number of connections to this project that I am highlighting today. The young women who are behind this project are the same ones I mentioned at the tail end of the talk I posted last saturday. I have been inspired by these young women and their teacher since I met them at the Annual CS Fair a few years ago. And in this project, they are “modeling our curriculum and teaching practices on NYC’s Computer Science initiative (CS4ALL)”, which is a project that I helped start and am leading the fundraising effort for. So this project is very close to home and heart for me.

OK, on to the project. This summer six young women will travel to Mendoza Argentina to teach coding curriculum to teachers and students in an effort to get computer science classes into the schools in Mendoza.

Here is a video that explains the project:

This morning I helped launch their GoFundMe campaign with a $5000 donation. Their goal is to raise $15,600 to fund their summer trip to Mendoza. Hopefully some members of the AVC community will join me in backing this project on GoFundMe and help them make this trip a reality.

#crowdfunding#hacking education#hacking philanthropy

The Amazon Backlash

NY State Senator Michael Gianaris is leading the efforts to stop Amazon from opening up a large presence in the borough of Queens in NYC.

I get that this makes for good politics at some level. Standing up for the taxpayer and expressing outrage at a massive tax giveaway to the one of the wealthiest companies in the world, run by one of the wealthiest people in the world, makes for great stump speeches.

But there is one problem with all of that. The voters and taxpayers in Queens, particularly the minority voters and taxpayers, approve of Amazon’s move to Queens by very large margins.

The very people that Gianaris and others like Ocasio-Cortez represent and are “standing up for” want Amazon in Queens by large margins.

What the voters and citizens of Queens seem to understand is that this is a once in a decade type opportunity to change the face of a borough and a city.

As historian Kenneth Jackson explained in this excellent NY Times Op-Ed piece yesterday, history shows that the economic fortunes of cities change quickly with once dominant industries moving on and new ones arriving. This is a fantastic opportunity for NYC to cement its role as a leading tech sector and one that should not be missed. There is no guarantee that the NYC of tomorrow will be as vital as the NYC of today. We have to work to make it so and this effort to recruit Amazon to NYC is exactly the kind of work which will make it so.

My friend Kathy Wylde also penned an important argument in favor of Amazon in yesterday’s Daily News. Kathy explains that Queens has been planning for this sort of thing in Long Island City for over a decade and many of the issues that the rabble rousers are raising have been considered, planned for, and are already being worked on.

In my view, politicians like Gianaris and Ocasio-Cortez are being irresponsible and reckless in their opposition to Amazon while playing politics with something that is without question good for NYC, good for Queens, and good for their voters. Their voters know it and so should they.

#NYC#policy#Politics

The Seed Slump

I have written a bit about this topic in recent years, at the end of 2017, and again when the 2018 numbers started showing up.

What has happened over the last five years in venture capital is the seed boom stalled out, the late stage market exploded, and the traditional venture capital business (Series A and Series B) largely remained the same except round sizes, valuations, and fund sizes have all gone up.

Mark Suster posted a great analysis last night of why the seed stage market has stalled out. It comes down to the fact that the traditional venture capital market has not changed much so creating more supply has not resulted in materially more demand.

This chart tells the story well:

As Mark explains, the seed market remains alive and well, but it has grown so large that it can’t continue to grow unless the traditional venture capital market grows too and that has not happened, at least not anywhere near the rate that the seed stage market has grown.

In a companion post, Mark lays out the new architecture of the startup capital markets:

In the first five years of this decade, we saw the seed portion of the market explode. In the last five years of this decade we saw the growth portion of the market explode. But over those last ten years, the middle part, the traditional venture capital market, has not changed much.

That’s an interesting observation in and of itself and something that makes me wonder if that is the next shoe to fall.

#VC & Technology

Feedback

Thanks for all of the feedback on yesterday’s post.

There have been about 250 comments to date and a similar number of email replies.

Not surprisingly the feedback from the email replies was overwhelmingly supportive of removing the comments. It seems that most of the people who read via email don’t wade into the comments. And they email me directly with comments which often leads to a one to one private conversation.

The feedback in the comments was overwhelmingly to keep them. And there were lots of strong arguments for that.

I did get one email from a reader who told me the ability to engage in the AVC comments helped him get through a difficult time in college. That got my attention.

I also got a ton of suggestions on how to modify the comments to make them more manageable (limiting the number and length of comments, limiting the time allowed to post one, charging people to comment, etc). I like that line of thinking a lot but I am limited in terms of what I can do by the Disqus feature set.

I will ponder all of this for a bit and let it all sink it. Thanks for taking the time to tell me what you all think.

#Weblogs

Rethinking AVC

I read a lot of email newsletters and I love the simplicity of them.

Receive, read, forward, maybe reply, delete.

If I was starting AVC all over again, I’d head over to TinyLetter, which my daughter uses, and start writing.

But I’ve got legacy issues to consider. I’ve got an archive, a three letter URL with a lot of Google Juice, an RSS feed, a community, and a number of other things that I’ve built up over the years.

Many AVC readers don’t bother with any of that and simply subscribe and read via email. For them, AVC is an email newsletter. The number of readers who engage that way has been growing a lot in recent years and it is now the majority of readers. That speaks volumes to me and suggests that is how most people want to get this content every day.

So I’ve got an email newsletter with a lot more overhead. The community requires moderation and maintenance. We have to actively manage spam. I need to keep up with WordPress, which introduced a new UI that most people dislike (I’m mostly fine with it). I have a hosting service to deal with. And the email and RSS feeds are powered by third parties who do a great job for me but need some level of staying on top of.

That is a fair bit of technical debt that I’ve built up over the years and would go away if I was using a modern newsletter service like TinyLetter.

So I am going to experiment with simplifying AVC a bit in the coming months. One thing I am going to do for sure is cut back on the comments. I have seriously thought about shutting down comments and I have done that for a few posts.

I am either going to shut them down for a week and see how that feels. Or shut them down except for a few posts a week (like Sunday and Tuesday).

The truth is comments are used by a very small portion of the AVC readership. But the people who use the comments are very active and engaged. So removing comments won’t impact a lot of readers, but it will impact the most loyal readers.

So I want to tread lightly here. But I also want to lower the overhead of writing and managing AVC and comments are the highest overhead feature on AVC.

I’m interested to hear what people think of the overall goal and objective of simplification and how I’m thinking about it. And I’m specifically interested in feedback on cutting back on comments.

How I go about doing this is still a bit of a work in progress in my mind and I appreciate the feedback as I think this through.

#Weblogs

The Free And Open Internet

I realize that publications need to have a business model to stay afloat. And the past month has seen a number of online publications (and offline publications) layoff a large number of employees. So it isn’t even clear that all of these hard paywalls, soft paywalls, and advertising based models are going to make the online publishing business work.

But the cost of all of this business model exploration and extraction is a continued degradation of the clean and fluid user experience that made the early free and open Internet so compelling.

A few days ago I saw a link on my phone that said “John Dingell’s Last Words For America.” I thought it was worth reading what a lifelong public servant had to say on his deathbed. So I clicked on the link and got this:

I never got to read what a lifelong public servant’s last words for America were. Sure I could have purchased a subscription to the Washington Post, but I don’t believe opinion pieces should be behind a paywall and I certainly don’t believe that something like Dingell’s last words should be behind a paywall. So I’m not going to reward the Washington Post for bad behavior with my money.

The truth is Dingell’s family should never have asked the Washington Post to publish his last words. Even the Washington Post’s owner Jeff Bezos knew to publish his words that he wanted everyone to read on an open platform like Medium.

The mainstream publications, like Washington Post, have ceded their role as the public square to places like Twitter and Medium that remain open and free.

That further limits their relevance. In search of a business model they cede the very thing that made them what they once were.

So what is my point? That paywalls are bad? No, I think subscriptions have their place in the publishing business. But the way paywalls are implemented today stinks. Some content should never ever be put behind one. And paywalls should federate, like the early ATMs did, so that joining one means joining them all.

That won’t get us all the way back to the free and open Internet that sucked us all in twenty plus years ago, but it will get us a lot closer to it.

#rants#Web/Tech