Thursday, July 27, 2006

Web Video and the Cambrian Period

Hmmm..... read that second sentence

USA Today
Web Video Madness!

USA Today columnist Kevin Maney says the Web video craze has gone off the deep end. How long will consumers be content to watch videos of people slathering butter on their heads to combat graying hair? Or teenyboppers bouncing around lip syncing to pop music? "Web video sites are proliferating like bunnies that broke into a vat of Viagra," he says. Noted tech blogger Om Malik simply calls it "the madness." There are now more than 240 online video sites. Venture Capital firms invested upward of $156 million in online video in the first half of 2006. Most of these sites will fail, Maney says, just like all the Web-retailing sites of the mid-to-late Nineties. Remember eToys and pet'scom? Well, now we have Eefoof, Bix, Guba, Stickam, and Frozen Hippo, each wanting to become the next YouTube. "This is classic American capitalistic thinking," Maney says, "believing that if there's one prize in the box, there must be another--even though such thinking is usually proved wrong." He says business is still looking for the next Google, eBay, and Netscape. And he reminds us of the dark side of video sites: "For all its usage, YouTube isn't making any money yet. These other guys are copycats at best, offering very little to differentiate themselves from the leader." -

Honestly? ME! If slathering butter on my hair gets rid of grey.. well hell.. I'll try that! ;-)

All you have to do is go to standard broadcast outlet (you know, that TV thing in the basement) and tune into a 'reality television' show.

Watch one of these. Take out the highlights (and pull all the fake 'tension' of 15 minutes of crap before they make the hot blonde eat a live African tree spider)... hey.. it's YouTube!

There is an (apparently) insatiable appetite for this stuff. Average people doing (sometimes) extraordinary things. Or, just average people doing average things... even that seems to catch folks fancy.

Plug in the Long Tail equation that the internet provides and you've got an almost infinite audience for almost all content, no matter how bad.

I do agree there will be a shakeout (there always is) but it makes sense. We're in the Cambrian period of internet video. Remember reading about that in school? It was the period in Earths history where 99% of all living things that ever existed on the planet lived.... only 1% remains. You've got to have that Cambrian explosion to decide what designs work right, throw out the silly creatures with 5 legs and 3 heads and settle on that 'best' 1%.

And, of course, the ride is always fun. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Boulder: Revisited

OK, gotta be fair here.

That last post was down on Boulder. I guess it comes from all the bad weirdness (vs. the good weirdness Boulder is famous for) that I've seen over the years. Things like the crossroads mall sitting nearly empty for a decade while tax revenue drained out of town to Superior and Broomfield because the city council couldn’t make up it’s mind. The requirement that any new house (or addition) to a house in boulder has to have a study done to make sure the shadow of the house doesn't impinge on the neighbors property (like, their tomato garden, I kid you not). The amazingly homogeneous population (I once brought a girlfriend to Boulder who was Japanese, she said she'd never seen anything as lilywhite in her life).

But, like any place that you've spent alot of time in, and gone deep with, you tend to, over time, see the faults and forget the good. And Boulder has LOTS of good.

The natural beauty is breathtaking. Literally breathtaking. When I'm gone for long periods and come back, I can't get over how it looks like some artists rendition of a perfect town in a perfect setting. And by god, it is.

It's full of passionate people. Some are passionate about things most of the US would consider offbeat, some downright weird, but man, they care. Some school back east (Harvard maybe?) did a study that had the number of 'activists' (people who have position and aren't afraid to say so, and act on it) in Boulder was 'the highest per capita in the US'. How the heck they determined that I don't know (number of people arrested protesting Rocky Flats maybe?). It says one thing though: We care about what we care about. "The 60's" started in San Francisco, Berkeley and Boulder. I personally know some of the ‘activitists’ from the period (now upstanding business owners, lawyers and professionals in town – which is damned ironic) These guys took over the bulldozers the police tried to use to force them off the highway into Boulder in the late 60’s and set them on fire. Some of that spirit, deep in the heart of these now ‘establishment’ activists still lives on in Boulder.

For 5 years Boulder was one of the few cities in the US with it's own underground pirate radio station (most last for a couple of months, get a visit by the FCC and shut down, pansies). Only 2 other cities (Berkeley and Santa Cruz) had longer running pirate stations. Why's this matter? It shows people are paying attention to the media, didn't like what they saw, and did something about it. They become the media.

The range of people you can meet on the aforementioned Pearl Street Mall (an amazing place as well: a multi block walking mall packed to the gills as soon as the temperature gets about 60 degrees) is incredible. Street performers, college students, families, punks, homeless people, beautiful people, music venues, world class restaurants with just about any type of food you can imagine, 5 star hotels, scammers, millionaires, blues musicians hanging on the corner, you name it. There's about 100 blocks of culture from the average town packed into that little 6 or so block area.

Ride bikes? This is the place to live. In Boulder, you have as much right to the road (at least in theory) as the cars, and the city has one of the most extensive bike path systems in the country. It's actually a lot easier to get around town on a bike than in a car. It's certainly faster.

And the open space. It's (one) of the big reasons housing pricing are so high, but it's also why the town feels like, well, a town. Not a suburb. Large parcels of land around Boulder are owned by the city. Purchased over the years to create a greenbelt around the city. Come into Boulder on US36 and as you reach the crest of the hill that leads down into Boulder Valley, you can't help but think: wow... what an incredible place.

We can't leave out the University. It has it's problems (the athletic department could use some retooling) but parts of it are world class and with time, attention and care, it could become one of the best universities around. And, of course, if you like party schools, well, not so much anymore, but it's still got the rep.

I could go on. There's so much here it would be impossible to list it a single post, or even several.

I miss some of the weirdness of Boulder (Penny Lanes coffee shop, hangout for some of the most interesting characters in town, around for 20 plus years, recently was replaced by yet another bike shop) but hey.. the Tridents still there. One of the original coffee shops (I remember sitting in there while in College getting completely wired on Quad Americano's and studying with friends).

I guess I won’t move to Longmont after all. I guess, naaa.. I know.. I’m already home.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Boulder No Longer A Best Place To Live (?)

Ahhh.. so the rest of the country is finally figuring it out!

Fitter, hipper Boulder

City's successes can become excesses

July 19, 2006

Judging by Money magazine's list of America's best places to live, Fort Collins is No. 1. Longmont is No. 61. And Boulder is, ahem, not on the list.
This is from today's Daily Camera. Full editorial, click on the title of this entry (registration required) or this link:


The author, who is interestingly left unnamed, nailed it. Being a middle aged non athlete (which I am) in Boulder, at times, sets me 'apart' from the crowd. Walking around the Pearl Street Mall, the beautiful people surround you. The perfect bodies, the oh so white teeth, the clear tobacco and caffeine free whites of their eyes makes me cringe at times.

I wonder if he's not being more than a little tongue in cheek though and I can't help but think at times that Boulder really has just gotten a bit full of itself and how cool it is. Kind of like a mainstream Vail or Aspen with a a few token trailer parks and mandated affordable housing (with a maximum income requirement of 'only' $70,000 a year to qualify).

Sometimes, I go to longmont, my hometown, where I grew up and where my parents still live, just to feel normal. Grab a dairy queen cone, have a greasy burger at one of the real diners, drag main (just once, for old times sake). You know... those 'comfort food' like moments.

Maybe I'll move to Longmont. Sometimes it feels more like home than Boulder.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Our answer to Magazines in the bathroom? The Craptop!

That's right.

Take an old pretty much useless for anything but simple web browsing laptop you've got laying around. Put a basic wireless card into it. Put it on a stand and leave it in the public use bathroom.

Viola! The Craptop! No more heaps of magazines in the can! We love it.

Brought to you by the development team at ClickCaster !

(p.s. we're absolutely sure we're not the only one's who've done it, but what the heck).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Brit's Trump the RIAA for 'at least they have balls' actions

Man, it just keeps getting weirder out there in Music land.

The Brit's RIAA equivalents are now trying to shut down file sharing, in the strangest of ways.

ISP Battle Flares in Britain, Independent Artists Join In

ISPs are now at the center of a fresh controversy in Britain, sparked
initially by major label trade group BPI. The group recently sent letters to
access providers Tiscali and Cable & Wireless, demanding that the accounts
of specified file-traders be revoked. "It is now up to them to put their
house in order and pull the plug on these people," declared BPI chairman
Peter Jamieson. That prompted a sharp response from Tiscali, which scoffed
at the demands. "It is not for Tiscali, as an ISP, nor the BPI, as a trade
association, to effectively act as a regulator or law enforcement agency and
deny individuals the right to defend themselves against the allegations made
against them," the group noted.

Others within the industry are also rumbling against access providers. The
Association of Independent Music (AIM) is just one of several organizations
interested in updating copyright law to hold access providers liable for the
infringing activities of its users. The consortium favors a system in which
the ISP participates in the policing and monetization of content transferred
over the web. The group has been lobbying British officials, asserting that
ISPs unjustly enrich themselves through the delivery of high-speed services,
which often fuel activities like file-sharing. "For too long, the ISPs have
shirked their responsibilities, using music as a tool to sell their own
services, whilst making little effort to ensure fair payment to its
creators," said British Academy of Composers & Songwriters chairman David
Ferguson in a recent BBC interview. From a broader perspective, the
consortium also aims to receive payments from any company deriving value
from the sharing or storage of music, including MP3 device manufacturers,
ISPs and cellular operators.

Let's consider this for a second.

If the ISP's are 'responsible' and 'profiting' from this horrid illegal activity, where's the concept stop? When does it become the responsibility of all hardware manufacturers to 'stop' the horrid illegal activity (in the eyes of the Music Business) of 'playing' songs that don't have the proper DRM and control mechanisms on them? Damn those hardware makers! They are STEALING US BLIND by PLAYING OUR MUSIC (without letting us check every single file on the device to make sure it's been legally obtained). SHUT them DOWN we say!!

How about those irresponsible phone companies? Don't they allow drug dealers to TALK with each other? Could those dealers be selling drugs and making money off of it somehow? My GOD.. SHUT them DOWN. Turn off the phone networks.. NOW!

Of course I'm overstating the point here, but I think it's obvious: those who provide a platform for generic activity (be it an ISP, a phone company, a cable network, a software service) can't be held liable for what the people on it do. Especially if they're even reasonably successful. Trying to 'track' what millions of people do online (or on the phone, or on a service platform) isn't really viable. And even if it was, is it right? Do we enable big brother to step in and watch everything and pass judgment?

My question is: where does it stop? And who gets to 'say what's right'.

What if, for instance, some nutcase got into the White House and decided he or she could just look at or listen into anything, anywhere, that they wanted to, and then pass judgment on what he or she heard based on what they thought was important. Just because he or she could do it by virtue of the 'authority of my position' (true or not).

Man.. can you imagine something like that? I can't...

No .. wait... maybe I can....

Apple Arrogance.. knocked down a notch

Well YEha!

Apple does the right thing! After doing the oh so wrong thing (and losing in it's attempt).

At least they know when they've lost and to quit being idiots.

Apple Drops Case Against Bloggers, Online Publications

Apple will not pursue its case against bloggers and insider websites,
according to court filings that surfaced this week. Earlier, a California
appeals court extended First Amendment protections to bloggers and online
publications, including PowerPage, Apple Insider, and ThinkSecret. The
original ruling also extended the Shield Law of California, which protects
the right of journalists to conceal their sources. The latest development is
a victory for online journalists, as well as the Electronic Frontier
Foundation (EFF), which defended the case against Apple. Over the next
several months, the ruling could also have a strong impact Apple and its
upcoming iPods releases, which are already the focus of heavy speculation.

Story by news analyst Alexandra Osorio.
When this first happened is when I started to really retool my opinion on Apple's general good intentions. Why would anyone SUE a blogger that was creating free pre-product hype around things coming down the road?

Does Apple actually think it's being truly innovative enough that no one's thought of a general product category (like a mixer that works with GarageBand... the subject of this lawsuit)?

It took me a while to really grok this (although I've always known it intellectually) date, Apple hasn't actually introduced a single 'new' thing. By what I can tell.. not once in it's history. Even the PC, credited to Apple, was a second generation product (The Altair was there first). Graphical User Interface? Stole it from Xerox Park. HyperCard? Ever Hear of Xanadu Steve? iPod? Sorry.. Creative and Archo's where there first.

Basically, Apple takes OTHER great ideas, and makes them mainstream enough for people to understand and buy. And it market's them brilliantly. That's it. That's Apple's magic.

And no doubt, it's good magic. Hard to do well. But hardly revolutionary. It's really just good execution on good ideas, sexy packages and kick ass salesmanship.

Suing someone for 'leaking' their top secret oh so special unreleased product info (especially for a company so driven in the publics eye by hype) It isn't just silly, it's arrogant.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Raising money for an internet startup #2

Talking to the angels.

Should VC firms take the occasional angel plunge?

Is the internet ‘seed’ VC as we know it, dying off and will angels rule?

The phone calls and in person meetings start.

Brad and I set up a list of potential investors. About 50 total, from our respective contact lists. He sent out an intro email to his, and I sent one out to mine.

We keep a Google Spreadsheet (so either of us can access it anytime from anywhere) that lists everyone, tracks contact dates, latest contacts, actions, interest, total raised, amount still needed and misc. notes.

Over the last two weeks, I've talked to a about a dozen people. A couple of not now’s, but most are interested and will 'get back' with us. Cool. To be expected.

All of them were really interesting, really smart and nice folks. People I'd want to go out to dinner with! Quite different than the VC world we'd dabbled in earlier. (One exception.. this person acted like a silicon valley VC.. barely looked at me, just sort of looked out into space the whole time, acted bored, slight air of arrogance- there's always one I suppose).

Also very different from Corporate America where one in 20 or 30 people I worked with were people I would want to hang out with. I remember interviewing at Microsoft back in the early 90's and thinking at the end of the day that not one of these people would I want to hang out with or spend an evening out on the town with (50% of why I turned down the offers. The constant rain in Seattle was the other 50%.. once a Coloradoan.. well, you're stuck. Gotta have that sun!). I also recently read that corporations, especially the big ones, attract a higher percentage of psychopaths and... hmmm.. I digress....

VC's as Angel Investors?

One interesting thing of note did happen. Another local VC that I'd talked to a few weeks earlier (they had read some articles the local press has done on us and wanted to say hello) decided that they might want to participate in the angel round.

A VC firm doing Angel investing! What a concept! I thought: well, there's hope yet. The VC I met with was great. He was a normal guy. No airs. No going through the motions. Genuinely interested. A breath of fresh air.

But it wasn't to be. The amount was 'a few hundred thousand dollars'. (about 1/10th what they'd normally do). His partners (?.. someone.. not sure who exactly) looked at it in a way very similar to how all the other VC's looked at us several months ago. They looked at the 'risk' (high: we're early stage), they did an analysis of the competitors (we don't really have any for our target market.. yet, but they didn't hear that, or didn't believe it) and in the end they just couldn't bring themselves to do it.

I get it. If you have $100M (of which you take, 2-3% of a year to 'manage' plus 20% of profits earned) it's hard to invest less than $3-5million at a pop. You can only manage so many deals. And you have to justify that big hunk o cash you take out each year for management fees. And you MUST manage risk and have a few big hits.

And they couldn't do it even with a business that's got one of the best VC's around putting his own personal money into the company, a great team, a year of successful growth, a pipeline of business, customers and signed contracts (but, granted, no real money yet) all lined up. We're not a sure thing, no doubt, but as seed/angel early stage companies go, we're pretty nicely positioned.

I just don't get the us of the term 'venture' capital. According to Princeton University’s online dictionary, Venture means:

any venturesome undertaking especially one with an uncertain outcome

Right, uncertain outcome. Risk.

That's what Venture Capital means right? Uncertain outcome. Risk.

With the low cost of doing an internet startup now, I have to wonder if what Brad's doing by leading an angel round isn't just his usual angel activity but is really a precursor to the true future of internet VC type activity. The VC's that figure this out, I suspect, will do well.

Here's a link to an interesting post by a VC (Paul Kedrosky) who I haven't met, but who's blog I read:

The Seed (Venture Investing) Rules

He says:

The following figure (click above link to see this- SGC) self-summarizes venture guy Vinod Khosla's investment returns by amount invested, and then stratified by whether he had a board seat. The upshot: His highest returns came disproportionately from investments where he put in less than $1m, and from where he had a board seat.

I think this is going to be true more and more as VC's who invest in internet related businesses dive into things. Can they turn this into a sustainable investment model? Maybe.

It means people that put money into venture funds will have to learn to accept a different model (and set of returns) though.

Or, it might mean that Angel networks replace VC's in the early stage and seed rounds of startups. At least, for a few years. I suspect the VC's, current or next generation, will eventually figure out how to do it in a way that Limited Partners, the people who fund their firms, can get those 50% annual returns. However, based on what I've seen of the majority of VC's out there today, it'll take awhile, if it happens at all. And it'll be a small percentage of existing VC's (like Brad and folks that think like him) that actually make the hard (and smart) choice to do it.

But hey, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

What are the chances you'll get killed by terrorists?

Time for some perspective.

The terrorist attacks of 2001 were horrible. They need to be guarded against. BUT.. this is getting stupid. We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars (if you count 'the war on terror') on this 'threat'.

I've gotta ask.. in relation to other things that can kill us... what threat? I mean.. really. For some perspective, look at these odds:

Chances of dying in:

A Natural disaster (earthquake, tornado, etc.) 1 in 3,357

An Airplane crash: 1 in 6.4 million

A Terrorist attack 1 in 9.3 million (AFTER 9/11)

So, what's going on here? Why all this constant 'war on terror' talk? What actual war? What Terror- in comparison? All the wars I see we started.

I see a president who ignores common and constitutional law in the 'name' of the war on terror.
I see a country divided. I see individual rights being trampled on. I see freedoms being taken away. I see fear; a lot of fear.

I'm an independent. I vote based on the issues, not a party line, but I've never seen anything like this in my life. Even the criminal acts of Nixon don't compare to what's being done today and, effectively, ignored by our press and our elected officials.

It's disgraceful.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Warning: You shouldn't talk, at all, in a car.

Now this is interesting:

Study: Hands-free phone not safer on road
Detroit Free Press - Jun 30, 2006
Drivers talking on cell phones are just as inattentive or likely to get into accidents as drunk drivers, even if they're using hands-free devices, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Human Factors.

I'm certainly not condoning it. I've cursed my fair share of people turning in front of me because they're on the phone, but, if this is true... doesn't it also mean if your just TALKING to someone.. anyone, like someone in the passenger seat or back seat, it's just as bad?

An excellent read from an ex-evangelical.

  As you know, I once was an evangelical megachurch pastor and my pastoral career stretched over many years. Eventually, I could no longer t...