Archive for February, 2009

“Don’t stop believing”

February 26th, 2009

Jason Calacanis has some great thoughts about what to do when you think your startup is about to fail. I’ve gone through this experience once as a founder of, and I’ve seen it at a couple of companies that my friends have been involved in. This advice is bang on. Let me summarize, and you can read his long but highly readable original missive here.

1. Test your funders. Tell them you believe, and that you are going to stretch things out but you want them to put in more now (even though you still have a ramp).

2. Test your employees. Make the cuts. Consider salary reductions, but make sure that the employees who remain are still happy.

3. Test your landlord and vendors. Negotiate for a little free rent, subletting permission and other discounts. Losing you completely is not in their interest.

4. Put yourself to the test. Offer to sell your car to put the money into the company! Take the same reductions as the staff.

5. Put your product to the test. Make sales calls yourself. Celebrate the process of sales: new leads, pitches, etc.

6. Know when to quit. Use your last 120 days of burn to wind down honorably.

Great stuff–thanks Jason [x2].

(And if you are as obsessed with failure as I am, check out my other post “Why failure isn’t the worst outcome.“)

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Senator McCaskill responds!

February 25th, 2009

Yesterday, I examined why “Celebrities love twitter.” Today, Senator and twitter Claire McCaskill (@clairemc) just tweeted this concise answer:

The best part is being able to directly talk to Missourians about my day without reporters editing!

Thank you, Claire!

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Why celebrities love twitter

February 24th, 2009

I was at lunch with Scott Orn, a VC at Lighthouse Capital Partners, and he encouraged me to pursue this idea as a blog post.

Increasingly, A-list celebrities like Shaquille O’Neill and Demi Moore are actively updating their fans through twitter. In Demi Moore’s case, she has nearly 50,000 people following her! Even Congress is getting into the act, as 20 Senators and 50 Representatives have started twitter accounts. A friend from college has launched, an amazing site that has gotten hundreds of professional athletes to blog on a regular basis and has the inside scoop on sports in general.

Why are so many celebrities and public figures “wasting” their time on social networks? Disintermediation. Now, they can offer tidbits directly to their fans bypassing the gossip rags and traditional media. By offering the personal tidbits of their own choosing, they can simultaneously help satiate their fans while controlling the spin about their lives.

Is this disintermediation a good thing? My brother-in-law, Sam, is a sport reporter, and he was bemoaning the fact that Tiger Woods issues press releases directly to his fans through his web site but does not do press conferences. Sam worried that ultimately fans were getting a disservice because they lost the chance of indepth, knowledgeable follow up questions on potentially sensitive subjects. His concern translates into a more alarming question when we turn to politics. Can we really imagine a “Watergate moment” by a blogger?

At the present time, I think the disintermediation trend is very real. We are losing our traditional “fourth estate” in the process, and hopefully entrepreneurs will create new institutions that are native to the new media to speak truth to power.

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

Oscars: two wins and one loss

February 22nd, 2009

Perhaps it wasn’t a bold prediction, but I picked Slumdog Millionaire to win Best Picture and it did. Bravo! (Win #1) Although Sean Penn was indeed terrific in Milk, I was sad that Micky Rourke did not win Best Actor for the Wrestler. (Loss #1)

But the unexpected win for the Oscars: the new format. (Win #2) I loved having previous winners make the case for each of the nominees. The new format was much more compelling than the short clips and voice overs they had in previous years. (Although Halle Berry did make a somewhat awkward speech by talking about herself, rather than the nominee.)

A few other notes. Thank goodness Benjamin Button only won a few minor awards–what an aweful movie. Thank goodness Revelutionary Road got bageled. Loved Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Understandable but sad that Frost Nixon did not win anything, but it was a very good film too.

I’ve never watched the Awards ceremony before because I found it unwatchable. I enjoyed it this year’s ceremony, which befits one of the best crop of movies I can remember in a long while.

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The incredible lightness of Twittering

February 22nd, 2009

From the amazing chorus:

You’re no one if you’re not on twitter!
And if you aren’t there already, you’ve missed it.
If you haven’t been bookmarked, retweeted or blogged,
you might as well have not existed.

Watch the whole thing now:

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Best license, ever!

February 22nd, 2009

Are we “a nation of cowards”?

February 21st, 2009

Charles Blow accuses most citizens of being biased against blacks in today’s NYT. Moreover, he accuses the vast majority as “cowards” because they are biased, but they won’t admit it. To support this accusation, he sites evidence from a controversial new measurement called the IAT, or “Implicit Attitude Test.” It measures how closely you associate concepts in terms of response time.

You can try the test out yourself on this site. It’s pretty crazy, and you will almost certainly come out with a slight bias against blacks no matter how hard you try.

But the question remains: does that measure have any real significance? Does it imply that we treat people with racial bias? These questions, applied to gender rather than race, are a central part of my dissertation.

In short, I find that implicit attitudes do matter, but it depends on the circumstances. Implicit attitudes affect behavior unconsciously, so they are indeed pernicious. When all else is equal, they probably influence decisions. But they do not overwhelm conscience decision making, or overwhelm more relevant information.

For example, race probably factors heavily in low information races. When you do not know about a minor local race (say, city council), you may unintentionally favor a white candidate over a black candidate. But in high information (e.g., the Presidency), race probably places only a small role.

I plan to post more about this topic in the future, but I wanted to react to this interesting item that appeared in today’s paper!

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How makes money giving away content

February 19th, 2009 looks like an amazing service: they offer a tremendous number of streaming videos of sporting events, from soccer, tennis to premier college hoops. No ads. The only catch: the service is only available if you get your Internet from particular ISPs. So, I think that they have an innovative new business model where they are going to charge ISPs to participate in their giveaway. For ISPs, striking content deals is an interesting way to differentiate an otherwise commodity product. Imagine if AT&T locked up lots of exclusive distribution deals that comcast Internet missed out on. Which ISP would you choose? Would it matter if AT&T charged a little more? (I think the Olympics may have tried a similar tactic, but for some reason the importance of the innovation was lost on me at that time.)

Net neutrality folks: what do you think of this business model? I say, diabolical!

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Who is responsible for posts on Internet forums?

February 13th, 2009

At, we long ago adopted the policy not to police what members posted on our boards. We adopted this policy for several reasons. First, we wanted to allow the members to be responsible for defining and enforcing the community standards. Second, we did not want to incur the (unscalable!) costs of moderating a large forum. Third, we were worried that we would risk legal liability by selectively moderating the content on our site.

Well, it seems that the third reason may not be valid. According to this legal argument, newspapers and other publishers are not usually legally liable for the content on their sites. Scrubbing out expletives is ok! Removing posts is ok! Here are the takeaways:

— The first is if you passively host third-party content you are going to be fully protected under Section 230.

— If you exercise traditional editorial functions over user submitted content, such as deciding whether to publish, remove or edit material, you will not lose your immunity unless your edits materially change the meaning of the content.

— If you pre-screen objectionable content, correct or edit or remove content after publication, you are not going to lose immunity.

— If you encourage or pay third parties to create or submit content, you will not lose immunity.

— If you use dropdown forms or multiple-choice questionnaires, you should be cautious of allowing us

I hope he is correct, for the sake of free speech! But I do worry that big sites will always be big targets for law suits, regardless of the legal merit of their cases. (Hat tip: Jay Rosen)

1. technology, 2. politics , , , ,


February 12th, 2009

At SocialFeet, we ask ourselves every day: “why is discovery engaging?” and “how can we enable discovery?” The authors of this presentation have provocative and interesting answers to these questions. They have applied these insights to an interesting project, called MrTweet. A key insight: unlike recommendation engines, users will tolerate–perhaps even enjoy–some random results so long as they are kept in the flow of discovery. Enjoy!

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Twitter experimentation, T+2 hours

February 12th, 2009

At Nathaniel’s urging, I am jumping in a little deeper into twitterSpace. Practically, that means a few things:

1. I’ve added 67 people to follow (see them here but you’ll need to sign up with twitter first)
2. I’ve installed TwitterFox in order to follow the tweets in firefox and avoid needing another place to check messages
3. I’ve installed TwitterBar to make it easier to post stuff I find online in Firefox
4. I tried to install TweetSuite on this blog, but currently it isn’t working properly (tweets not appearing on this blog)

Here’s my first impression after 2 hours of twittering: compared to blogs, it takes navel gazing to the next level!

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Playdate expectations

February 11th, 2009

What do you expect when you drop off your kid for a playdate? Reduce the uncertainty with this handy, dandy release form for the anxious and busy parent. Nice one, Peter!

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona

February 10th, 2009

I think Woody Allen is back. I liked Match Point a lot, but I liked Vicky Cristina Barcelona even more. Like Revolutionary Road, this movie critically examines whether modern success has meaning or if it is just a hollow notion. But unlike Revolutionary Road, though, it explores the fundamental tradeoffs–some positive and some negative–that alternative ideas of success (i.e. leading an “interesting life”) may have. In addition, it further complicates the question by comparing two women who value things in life differently.

And it doesn’t hurt that the movie has nice comedic moments too. The acting is very good, and the plot moves at a nice pace. Penelope Cruz is fantastic as the crazy ex-wife. Not quite awards material with so much stiff competition this year, but very much worth watching!

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But how do you *feel*?

February 6th, 2009

That’s one of the questions that Leonardo DiCaprio repeatedly asks Kate Winslet in the movie Revolutionary Road. It’s pretty well done, so I guess I can see why some critics and viewers would like it. But I thought it was a bit slow for my taste. Leonardo’s character had a fair amount of depth, but Kate’s character was almost singularly sad. This movie earns no award votes from me.

And how did it make me feel? Depressed!

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