Saturday, November 25, 2006

Post Thanksgiving Post

Now that I've recovered from the tryptophan-induced coma from Thursday, I figured I'd get back on this blog. First off, I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, and I'd like to wish everyone a happy holiday season.

Luckily, the Valley has entered the lull between Turkey Day and the start of new year, so I haven't missed out on much. The biggest news from the past week-ish has probably been the release of the two next gen gaming platforms, Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Wii.

I actually had a draft of an analytical piece on the gaming market, focusing on the new platforms, but decided to trash it when I realized that, well, I don't know jack when it comes to video games. My favorite system is still probably N64 or even SNES, both from back in the day (you really can't beat Bond, Smash Bros., Mario Kart, and the rest). And I get smoked whenever I play Halo, but you can't blame me, those new controllers are so hard to figure out. Finally, forgetting to save the draft of the piece (as I was engrossed in Manchester United's riveting UEFA Champions League game) sealed the ensured that the post would never see the light of day.

Anywho, the point of that post was that I'm betting on the Wii to emerge as the dominant platform. And the point of this post is that I want your opinion. My thinking behind conjecturing the Wii's success is that it's the cheapest and aims to simplify games, enabling it to target a market outside hardcore gamers. But let's hear what you have to think...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Snakes on a Blog

So the recent spread of the (false) rumor that MyBlogLog had been acquired got me thinking. How have the emergence of blogs affected the way news is reported and consumed? And, overall, are they a good or bad thing?

Unfortunately, my opinion on this is pretty middle of the road, so don't expect a scathing piece. That said, I'll try.

The rapid propagation of the MBL rumor yesterday highlights the negative aspects of blogs, especially compared to traditional media.

For starters, there's the unreliability. Bloggers usually ink what they hear immediately, vying to be the first to report a piece. Furthermore, as soon as one prominent blog has broken a story, the others swoop in and report it as well, assuming its accuracy has been verified. For example, yesterday, Valleywag reported that MBL had been bought out in the morning, and, by noon, Techcrunch and GigaOm had followed suit, tacking on that the buying company was, in fact, Yahoo.

Now, this particular rumor did no harm. But what about the ones that do? Reputations tarnished once are never again made completely whole. In that sense, bloggers, especially the big names, need to verify the accuracy of a story when it could have a potentially damaging effect on a person or group.

In a larger sense, we, as a society, need to keep the blogging phenomena from decaying into exaggerated journalism. Anyway who has seen the Google World Domination video (EPIC) knows its underlying message is scary. The video portrays a future in which we "consume" our news via a network of popular blogs, making for embellished and sensational reporting. And that might not be too far from the truth.

However, blogs do have a positive effect on society as well. As I wrote before, they are truly revolutionary because they give the average joe a voice. Personally, my blog has given me a forum to discuss issues on my mind and, hopefully, has provoked thought and opinions in my readers (once in a while, maybe?).

It's this sliver of light that keeps me optimistic about blogging. Blogs can empower the individual in ways this world has never seen.

And that brings me back to the title of this post. Most of you have heard of the movie "Snakes on a Plane" (side note: best worst movie ever. Seriously). But what you probably don't know is that the promotion for the movie, and the cult-following that had built up even before its release, stemmed from articles on blogs. The movie's blogging-based viral marketing campaign caused more people to go see Samuel Jackson combat hoards of serpents than most ever thought possible.

Long story short, it's crucial that we, as bloggers, realize the power of the double-edged sword we wield. Failing to do so can have disastrous consequences for the future of news and journalism.

(Personal note to the Penn Sixers who dared me to title a post "Snakes on a Blog" and have it make sense: Booyakasha, wugwan.)

MyBlogLog Rumor

MyBlogLog, a company loyal readers know I've blogged about a few times, is currently in "very early stage" talks with Yahoo. Contrary to the rumors today, Yahoo has not actually bought them, yet. Stay tuned for updates (and possibly a post on how blogging has affected news reporting, now that I think of it).

As always, best of luck to Scott, Eric, and the team at MBL over the next few days as this plays out.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

So Close, But So Far

Tuesday, November 7, was a historic day. Guess why. What's that you say? Something about an election?

No, it was important because it was the beginning of the 2nd annual Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. And it's the place to be. It's the flashiest, sexiest, coolest conference in the Valley this year (and I'm stuck in Philly. And it's raining, of course).

And not without reason - Web 2.0 is the rage of the Valley right now. But we've seen rages come and go. The last one, lovingly nicknamed Web 1.0 after the fact, we probably remember all too clearly. I blogged about the new Internet early in the summer, and those thoughts are mostly still valid, but they also represent the oogling of wide-eyed newbie.

And, in that post, I never really addressed the what: what's the real deal with this Web 2.0 nonsense? I'd say it's mostly glitz and glamor - Silicon Valley doing its version of Hollywood. We have our gossip, and our rumors, and it makes sense we have that thing, that ideal, that is very much en vogue right now.

And, as with all buzz words, Web 2.0 has come to mean a lot of things - anything social, viral, AJAX, API-related, and much more has been dubbed "Web 2.0" at one point or another. However, some of the really "2.0" attributes, especially the social features and user generated content, have always been around, albeit with much less fanfare.

But I'm beating around the bush and avoiding the question - does the Web 2.0 represent a fundamental shift in the way we use the internet, or not?

Yes - but not for the reasons you'll hear from most people. Gurus will tell you that the Web 2.0 phenomena is unique because of the great, lifestyle changing ideas that are being churned out. I'd argue the enabling technologies and changing social norms, far more than the ideas and websites themselves, deserve credit for bringing about the online movement.

Disagree? Think about it. Think about the sites that come to mind when you think Web 2.0. YouTube? Brought to you by faster internet speeds and a cool new flash player. Facebook? Brought to you by the ease of internet access on college campuses. MySpace? Ditto, for homes and kids. (Venturing into the more geeky...) Digg? The proliferation of computers and the adoption of the internet as a form of entertainment, causing people to turn to the Web when they're bored. Flickr? The mass adoption of high quality digital cameras and, again, increased connection speeds, making it possible to upload more photos online.

The point is, Web 2.0 has it's roots in the development of computers and electronics - stuff is easier and faster, and some smart people have found ways to leverage that into neat businesses. You can deduce factors, social or technological, behind the success of most 2.0 sites that have little to do with the sites themselves. But don't get me wrong - the ideas and web sites of today are great - brilliant designs by brilliant people (well, some).

In the end, Web 2.0 should not be thought of merely as some cool new web sites, but the harmonic convergence of a variety of variables, empowering the individual to do much more on and with the internet than he ever has in the past.

But that is where we must be careful. "Web 2.0" is great, but it's far too sexy of a term for what should be a fairly long lasting era. And with that "sexy-ness" comes the requisite over-investment.

So VCs beware - the darkside of Web 2.0 is creeping in - irrational exuberance is in the air. (I totally didn't mean to rhyme there.) Money is being poured into start ups at a record rate once again, even with the memory of the bust fresh in our heads. VCs are enamored with the new "generation" of web start ups, to point where it could be dangerous. Whether Web 2.0 causes another bubble is yet to be seen.

But evil, good, fake, real, or bubble, Web 2.0 is currently being discussed. A lot. And I really, really wish I were there...

Thanks WEP

The Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs quarterly newsletter did a piece on Wharton-pedigree bloggers, and, for some reason, I made the cut. The article is here, in case you wanted to give it a read, and I'm mentioned about halfway down. I especially like the comparison of this blog to a flamethrower (as opposed to a flashlight) - I don't think they could have given me a higher compliment. :)

Anyway, thanks to Tim, Peter, and everyone over at WEP for the shoutout.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Powerset Update

Powerset, the natural language search start up I mentioned on a previous post, has raised some money. $12.5 million, to be exact, from Foundation Capital ($7m), The Founders Fund ($3m), and some pretty studly angel investors ($2.5m combined), as VentureBeat reported just a few minutes ago.

The kicker, though, is that they got a $31 million pre and $42.5 million post valuation. Wow. Google just may be in trouble if these guys can do what they say they can do.

Stay tuned, this could be the beginning of an epic battle...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

MyBlogLog's new look + lessons

I figured after a piece on Rafer, the logical next post should profile his "day job" - MyBlogLog. I've mentioned them in the past, as I worked on a couple of their projects over the summer. This will be the first of three posts (about the three companies I worked for) where I include what I did, what I learned, random thoughts, etc.

For a full description of the service, refer to a post I wrote on them earlier in the summer.

In short, my MyBlogLog work was mostly marketing and business development-oriented. I got to contact some of the major gossip sites on the web and convince them to use our service, which was pretty cool.

I think the biggest lesson I learned from the experience was the fallibility of the "build it and they will come" approach. Sure, a good product is necessary, but it is far from sufficient. By actively recruiting big name sites and strategically positioning themselves as not only a blogging tool but a social network and all purpose click tracking service, MyBlogLog has gained users and opened up their target market significantly.

The company has a great product (if you're a serious blogger, blog reader, gossiper, etc., go use it), but their ability to convince users to adopt them will determine if they are successful in the long run. "Build it and they will come" sounds great but isn't always reality.

The second biggest lesson I learned was flexibility, though that was more from the company's story. Basically, they started out as just a click tracking site but were astute enough to change directions when they realized they could expand their offering. Yes, it's trite and cliche, but it was still cool to work for a company that successfully was able to switch gears and take advantage of a growth opportunity.

As a side note, their recent relaunch has went over fairly well. The site's new look cements their service as both a social network and functional tool for bloggers and many others. Good work to Scott, Eric, and the MBL team.