people!

August 20th, 2014

Forgiveness or Permission? How to avoid being an “inconsiderate jerk”

April 1st, 2014

One mantra of entrepreneurs is “beg for forgiveness, don’t ask for permission.” (For example, see Mark Suster’s post and VentureHack’s post.)

But many people are afraid to ask this way, or even more extremely, they take offense to this kind of behavior. Here’s a passionate plea against this mantra:

How would you feel if your spouse cheated on you, let you know afterwards, and asked for forgiveness? Sounds like a pretty inconsiderate and jerky thing to do, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be better to ask for permission instead? Discuss what needs aren’t being met and how to make it better? Maybe figure out ways to improve the relationship as-is, maybe consider polyamory? By talking about it rather than acting first?

So are entrepreneurs just “inconsiderate jerks”, akin to cheating husbands?

The answer is: not really. In some cases, yes, but I’d like to offer a simple test. When you take your action without permission, is there a reasonable or plausible case for why the other person would find your action in their interest? You must consider the perspective of the other person, even if you don’t ask for permission first.

I fail to see how the cheating husband can pass this test. How is it possibly in his spouse’s interest for him to cheat? He is just trying to avoid the repercussions of his selfish action. You deserve the slings and arrows if you pursue this activity.

However, many entrepreneurs “bend” rules in ways that helps everyone. Google did not ask for permission to crawl everyone’s web pages, but the result benefits everyone, including web site owners, web users, advertisers and google. Google had a vision, and it would be impossible to get everyone’s permission in advance. And in theory, some might have been against it! (And a small number of newspapers and other sources have asked to have their content removed and Google obliges.) But the rest, as they say, is history.

As Venture Hack puts it:

We would rather have someone do something wrong than ask permission to do it. Or better, we would rather have someone do something right and not need permission to do it. This is the most common outcome.

So now, go build something interesting and don’t be an inconsiderate jerk!

3. et cetera

Four Things That Truckers Can Teach Silicon Valley about Innovation and Politics

October 11th, 2013

Yesterday, TechCrunch ran a piece on why innovation has no place in fixing problems in our democracy, like the shutdown. I say, if 3,000 independent big rig truckers with a Facebook page can organize to gridlock Washington DC–literally!– to protest the shutdown, are we really going to just throw our hands up? Thousands of profiles on AngelList include “democratization”, and we can’t do anything to democratize democracy?

In Silicon Valley, where others see pain, we see opportunity. Think of all the amazing example how we harness the adoption of new communication technologies to empower consumers. Google organizes the worlds information at our finger tips. Amazon and eBay let us conveniently buy anything from anywhere with the click of a mouse. Facebook and Twitter let us exchange photos and updates with a swipe on our iPhones. Politics may lag, but it is not different in kind.

So, how can citizens harness technology to impact their government?

  1. Make informed voting decisions. Politicians respond to electoral pressure. The best way to ensure that politicians make decisions that are informed is to make sure that the electorate is informed. Where do the candidates stand on the issues? Technological innovation can ensure that there is no excuse for not knowing!

  2. Make their voices heard. Extremist voices are dominating the conversation in Washington. That can only be counteracted if the voice of the moderate middle express their opinions too. Technology can help politicians hear from the majority, not just the radical fringe.

  3. Understand different points of view. Much of the polarization comes from the fact that we are increasingly living in echo chambers of our own devising, from customized feeds to hyper-targeted media. Technology helped create this problem, but technology can also help solve it, by creating spaces that prioritize exchanging diverse viewpoints, rather than reinforcing existing ones.

  4. Take action. As the big rig truckers show, technology can be an incredibly effective tool for organizing grassroots action. Developing tools that allow more people to catalyze and take part in such actions means less power for well funded fringe groups and more power for the people.

Technology can make all these tasks of a good citizen easier and more effective. This government shutdown should be a wakeup call, not a free pass. The opportunity is enormous, so what are you doing to help innovate our democracy?

Disclosure: I am a founder and trustee of e-thePeople.org, a non-partisan, non-profit whose mission is to leverage new communication technologies to make it easier to be a good citizen.

1. technology, 2. politics

Facebook Home: Are you ready?

April 4th, 2013

Today’s launch of Home by Facebook, highlights a key mobile trend: the hardware and software through which people access the Internet through mobile devices is proliferating. Google, Facebook and others are vying to innovate and drive down prices for consumers. So mobile devices aren’t just less powerful than desktops, but the variability of capabilities, constraints and new features is *much* wider than that of desktops.

So, we live in a world where even small startups like mine, Tip or Skip, need to support many screens. How do we do it?

The answer: focus on the interaction layer. For us, that means supporting basically one simple interaction: either click “Tip”, or swipe “Skip”. Display one picture at a time.

After defining the interactions, you can write the API. The API critically tells how a potentially low-powered mobile device exchanges information with a super-charged backend. Once you have an API, you can split up the front-end and back-end work.

On the front-end, you have to build multiple clients. Start with HTML5, because it works OK in most places and you can iterate the product quickly. But soon, you’ll need to also slog out native iOS and Android apps. Luckily, mobile users expect apps to have simple functionality and to use standard interface elements. This speeds development. (And don’t forget to think about how to market your app.)

On the back-end, you probably have a lot of work to do. We’ve built a social network where lots of interactions are shared with thousands of people. Handling this is no small feat, and I have awesome respect for what companies like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook have done.

But have no doubt: although LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook have complex backends, their basic architecture is pretty similar to ours, and much of the front-end work is comparable.

A pro-tip: watch out for issues where concerns of the front-end and back-end collide. For example, scrolling through lots of images at once or providing “seamless video.” In these examples, technical limitations of mobile devices drive new concerns for the backend that the desktop web never exposed. In the future, I hope to blog more thoughts about how to solve these kinds of problems and what enabling technologies they will spawn. But for now, suffice it to say that these issues are at the cutting edge of mobile architecture.

Finally, what does this say for engineering talent? For backend folks, there continue to be robust growth for engineers (especially for the very, very best). But the demand for great mobile talent who are obsessed with user experience is extreme far outstrips supply, since we are just at the beginning phases of mapping and creating all the meaningful mobile interactions that need to be developed.

The biggest piece, that no one yet has solved, is the interaction layer. The top mobile companies are in various stages of developing this infrastructure, and this is where the most valuable work is being done. And out of this work, some interesting enabling technology will emerge that will add even more fuel to the development of mobile apps.

If you focus on a strong engagement layer, you will rapidly be able to exploit these new mobile opportunities like Facebook Home. For what it’s worth, Tip or Skip is well integrated through our own interaction layer so we should be in good position if Facebook Home takes off.

How about your mobile apps – are they ready for Facebook Home?

3. et cetera

Add a Tip or Skip widget to your site!

December 14th, 2012

You can play my tips (ie, Tips.by/mike) right here is this blog post:

If you want something like this on your site, just modify a width/height (gotcha: they appear in two places in the code) and replace the user=mike with your tips.by/username. Grab the code and go!

<iframe width='600px' height='450px' frameborder='0' style='border:0' scrolling='no' src='http://embed.tiporskip.com/plugin.php?width=600&height=450&user=mike'>

Next up, I’m going to try to integrate the widget into my site more permanently. Enjoy!

1. technology, 3. et cetera , , , , ,

Ballmer: Why should developers make apps for the Surface???

October 25th, 2012

Balmer Microsoft SurfaceRobert Gray, a reporter at Fox News, asked my thoughts about Microsoft’s new tablet, the Surface. He sent me this email:

Great seeing you and Nat at Glimpse [ie Glimpse conference in NYC and the twitter chatter about #glimpsenyc].

Hope you are well. Are you publishing for Windows 8.0 and/or Surface?

I am covering the big unveils tomorrow and the dearth of Apps is striking.
I’m trying to find out why there aren’t more, and would appreciate any insight from a developer’s perspective.

Is it the architecture, low expectations for adoption, or difficulty working with Microsoft vs other tablet and software folks?

Also is there one thing you’d love to know from Ballmer?

I am covering the event and interviewing him in the morning.

Can you remind me which platforms you are publishing on?

Thanks for any thoughts you can share on the record or for background.

As an app developer, we have a strong, informed opinion on the subject. In a nutshell, it’s distribution, distribution, distribution. Technical capabilities of the phone also matter a bit, as does monetization potential. Of course, Apple has the best of these qualities as well. And with HTML5, Tip or Skip is available on almost all platforms by supporting just one code base. (BTW, can anyone go to www.tiporskip.com and see if works on the Surface?) Here’s my elaboration on these points:

By far, the most important consideration for a platform is distribution. The platforms that reach 100MM folks with significant growth are golden, for example Facebook and ios for developers.

The secondary considerations are technical capabilities and monetization opportunities. It is hard to beat ipads and iphones in terms of capabilities. Retina displays, fast cpus, lots of memory & storage, GPS, accelerometers, batteries with long life, high quality camera , push notifications, fast internet — there isn’t much missing on iphones and ipads. And Apple has more credit cards on file than Amazon, and the app store is proven payment platform for digital goods.

The ease of development is a relatively minor issue. Apple is actually a hard platform to develop for, using a previously obscure language called Objective C. But is well worth it.

As for us, we develop for HTML5-first. Almost all devices (mobile and desktop) support it, and we can provide a near-native experience with a single code base. I bet that you can play Tip or Skip quite nicely on a surface through their web browser. You can play Tip or Skip this way on mobile Safari, android devices, modern blackberries, and desktop browsers.

As a user, you do miss some features in the HTML5 app. First, you can’t make photo tips (although Apple is opening up that up). Second, our app uses a lot more battery power in mobile safari than as a native app. Third, you can only get notifications if you have the native app. Fourth, although you can add web apps to the home screen, it is more natural to add apps to your home screen through the app store.

I think the most interesting question to ask him is: What can you do on the Surface that you *can’t* do on an iPad? Presumably, he will talk about how much better microsoft software will run on it (like Word, Excel, etc). An interesting follow up is: Will Surface sales canabilize office & window sales — how big a factor was canablization in causing Microsoft to enter the tablet market so late?

But of course, you should definitely ask him “why *should* apps (like Tip or Skip ;) develop for the surface?”

I’ll be interested to see what Steve Ballmer has to say. Why should Tip or Skip develop an app for the Surface?

1. technology , , , , ,

Dinner with Barack: How to sell mass influence

September 17th, 2012

Everyone decries money in politics. The typical phrase used is “selling influence to the highest bidder.” Considering how much money is in politics, it is actually remarkable infrequently reported cases of overt corruption you hear. But how do politician sell access and influence for money?

The Obama campaign is perfecting a new technique: the raffle. Here’s an email I received from the campaign earlier today:

Subject: I’m saving a seat for you
From: Barack Obama <info@barackobama.com>

   I’m only going to get to sit down to dinner with grassroots supporters on this campaign one last time.
   It’s one of the most meaningful things we do, and represents exactly the kind of politics we believe in: All of us, at one table, together.
   So if you’re someone who is helping to build this campaign, I want to meet you. I want to thank you in person. And I’d love to hear what’s on your mind.
   This is the last time we’ll be able to sit down together for one of these — so I hope you’ll take me up on it.
   Your donation of $19 or whatever you’re able to chip in will automatically enter you.
   Thanks.

Barack

P.S. — Flight and hotel are on me. All you have to do is come and eat.

It is a fairly safe assumption that many donors, even small ticket donors, are asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?” Even for those who prefer Obama to Romney, why not free ride off everyone else’s donations? This raffle solves the problem by holding out the possible of a free trip and meal with Obama. Viola: money for access.

But a raffle is a bit different than selling access to the highest bidder. A raffle isn’t constrained to the number of people who can fit in David Geffen’s backyard– any number of people can enter. So the entry price can be much lower (here just $19, what a bargain!) Influence is sold here at the mass market level.

No such thing as a free lunch, you say? Well, then I guess I won’t be seeing you at dinner with Barack then!

2. politics , , , ,

Why did Facebook kill all the Social Readers?

May 8th, 2012

It’s boom and bust for social readers! Just weeks ago, they were gaining tens of millions of readers. Now usage of them is massively declining. Is it because users are revolting against “frictionless sharing”?

Josh Constatine at TechCrunch does not think so. He guesses that Facebook’s new aggregration as “trending” is the new culprit. His main piece is argument is the precipitous decline inconsistent with a mass exodus. But in fact, such declines, aka “jumping the shark“, are highly common in low engagement but viral apps.

But if Facebook was seeing such tremendous click through rates from friends of social reader users, why would they shut the social readers down? Facebook must have seen something else very troubling in their data: mass uninstalling from sharers. I believe that they are trying to protect users from over-sharing, in order to preserve the dream of frictionless sharing.

No doubt their actions to limit the exposure has increased the decline of traffic, but the root cause must undoubtable be based on high install rates. And no doubt developers must understand that Facebook will open and shut viral channels to balance the interests of both sharers and their friends.

1. technology , , ,

Stop SOPA & PIPA

January 18th, 2012

We must stop SOPA and PIPA, two proposed pieces of legislation that would serious undermine our freedom of expression.

If these laws pass, essentially anyone would have the right to shut down my companies web site, www.tips.by, merely because it hosts shared content on an overseas web site. I am part of a tech community that is innovating and creating new jobs.

As a father of four children, I oppose this legislation that further criminalizes sharing. I am pro-sharing.

As a founder of e-thePeople, I think that sharing of information is the cornerstone of democracy. It’s called the first amendment, because it is the fundamental right that protects all others.

Sign Google’s petition here: https://www.google.com/landing/takeaction/

Spread the word on Facebook & Twitter. Black out your profile image too before the government does.

1. technology, 2. politics, 3. et cetera , ,

Mobile-first development

December 13th, 2011

Kleiner Perkin’s iFund really has the criteria for mobile success nailed. For the quick hits, here are what they call the “10 Criteria for iFund Success”:

1. Inherently mobile use cases
2. Context ver content
3. Real-time, immediate utility
4. Simplicity
5. Frequent usage
6. Inherently viral
7. Massive scale possibility
8. Natural business model
9. Cross-platform with mobile integral
10. Take full advantage of iphone platform

There is a ~8min portion that is definitely worth watching starting at about 14 minutes into this lecture at Stanford on iTunes U. Enjoy!

1. technology , , ,

What’s the benefit of merging your online lives?

July 25th, 2011

John Ason, one of our investors at SocialFeet, forwarded me this interesting link about the presentation that spawned Google+. In the post, Paul Adams explains the problem of how facebook’s social graph works. On Facebook, you have one pooled set of friends, regardless of what your relationship is with each person (shown on the left). In real life, you have separate circles of friends based on common interests, geography or life stage. Here’s the graphical depiction of it:

A lot of the innovative “circles” for groups on Google+ stem from this concept. Based on interest, geography and life stage, you have different circles of friends that you want to exchange different information with. Fair enough.

But embedded into Google+ is the notion that you want to have all of these circles on a single platform. But if this diagram is to be believed, each of these circles has little or no overlap. So what’s the benefit of merging your online lives?

In contrast, there are lots of costs associated with a single platform. Complex privacy. Harder to innovate in each specialized social network space. Greater exposure to the risk of privacy violations. In other words, I think that the very analysis done to spark Google+ has the data to show that multiple platforms will serve people better than one unified platform.

[Hat tip to Rebecca Tadikonda for the inspiration for the title of this post.]

1. technology , , ,

Google+: Does it have a shot at being successful?

July 5th, 2011

No doubt, Google+ is pretty slick, from a tech/UI perspective. It combines good elements from both Facebook and twitter, with a spartan google feel. It is powerfully integrated into google’s suite of products, like picassa and gmail. It is a major improvement over buzz. Google plus should get more interesting as more people use it.

Still, I think it may be too ambitious though, which will eventually cause it have unworkable privacy issues. They want to provide a master social network, which requires a complex, granular privacy model. They have created such a privacy model with the “circles” implementation of groups.

However, my thesis is that consumers will opt to belong to have 6-12 specialized social networks each for a specific content or activity vertical. For example, FB for photos, twitter for interests, linkedin for resumes, zynga for games, SocialFeet for commerce [disclaimer:I am a founder], etc. Each of these networks will have appropriate (but highly differentiated) privacy models, and users will basically adopt the default privacy model for each in a binary yes/no decision. As Fred Wilson blogs:

You either want to be totally public or totally private, but never sort of private and sort of public. It’s just too complicated to be semi-private. That middle ground is treacherous.

Could it be the one social network to rule them all? Fairly unlikely. My guess of what happens to google plus: it gets co-opted by some geography (like urkut) or vertical segment and becomes a niche social network of some sort that survives. So far, the most interesting segment is about google itself (like Sergey Brin’s kite boarding pics from Alaska) and the twitter-like public discussions.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out, especially as Google continues to experiment with social at such a large scale.

1. technology , , , , , ,

How to engineer “a liquidity event from God”

March 30th, 2011

One of my heroes, Steve Blank, has just given a terrific interview over at Giga Om. Here’s the money section that starts almost exactly at the 14 min mark:

What is that I want to do in this bubble? As I said, in this one, the valuations are not going to be based on concepts. I think they are going to be based on either large networks of 10s or 100s of millions of users, or they’ll be be based on high revenue growth, or maybe a combination thereof. I would use the money to buy scale as quickly as possible. I would use the money to buy visible as quickly as possible. Not for BS, but to promote the first two items. And that’s an opportunity that can easily be squandered if you don’t think about it strategically. The goal in this bubble is to be the largest possible business, not to become boo.com. Boy if you are smart entrepreneur with a big pile of cash, I believe you can engineer a liquidity event from God.

Here’s the entire video, cued to the right spot. Enjoy!

1. technology , , , ,

How Facebook can attack Google’s Ad Words castle

March 25th, 2011

Bill Gurley has posted a great piece about Google’s business strategy that has turned into today’s “must read” post. In it, he accurately describes Google’s ad words as its “castle” and its open source strategy as its “moat.” Simply put, Google creates, supports and gives away platforms like Firefox and Android that enable Internet access in order to ensure its lead position as the default search engine everywhere.

As Bill rightly points out, direct assaults on Google by land look pretty hopeless. It looks pretty dark for direct competitors like Bing. It also creates collateral damage by destroying any business that wants to make money building a phone operating system or browser. But does that mean the castle is perfectly defended?

I believe that Google has a massive vulnerability, but it isn’t from a direct search competitor. Essentially, Facebook is substitute for search, not a direct competitor. As people discover products and services socially, they will go directly from intent to purchase–bypassing search entirely. This threat is not theoretical; indeed, one of customers at SocialFeet has truly zeroed its SEM budget in 2011. While dramatic, I think this move is a leading indicator of where smart merchants are moving. If so, this is very bad news for Google’s adwords castle.

This dynamic is an air attack, and Google’s castle, despite its incredible land moat, looks entirely defenseless against it.

1. technology , ,

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