October 25, 2005
The Internet is HyooogeFunny how a newspaper story can make your quotes look so, well, silly. "The thing that is just absolutely undeniable is that the Internet is huge," I'm quoted as saying, in a story today in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The reporter had asked me to comment on the state of VC investing and the fact that the internet sector is heating up. He brought up the term "frothy", and I agreed with him that "frothy" was an appropriate term to use. He told me that there is great interest on the part of VCs to fund consumer internet services right now. I had to chuckle. Two or three years ago, when I could've really used the funding, to mention those three words, "consumer internet services," to a VC would have been like saying "invest in my indie film" or "wanna buy the Brooklyn Bridge?" Now, consumer 'net services are hot. Go figure.
So I told the reporter that while there's lots of hype, you have to understand that there is no denying that the size of the internet market is incredibly large. I cited the Morgan Stanley numbers of 1 billion internet users with only 23% of them in North America. It's a staggeringly large market, and it's growing like you wouldn't believe. Sure, there will be fly-by-night companies trying to cash in, but that doesn't mean that a legitimate opportunity isn't there.
I mean, just look at mobile. Mobile is in its infancy, and it's huge already. The internet is still in its infancy, and it's huge already.
But, alas, as always happens when one gets mentioned in the paper, the quotes get chopped up and squished down to, "The thing that is just absolutely undeniable is that the Internet is huge."
I'm imagining Homer Simpson saying that. Or worse, John Cleese from the old Monty Python skit: "The internet is hyooooge! My brain hurts!"
October 24, 2005
Web 2.0? How about Gopher 2.0!Noticed Phil Wolff posted this satire on Eventful: Gopher 2.0.
Check out the pricing: "The attendance fee is US$4999 per head (reduced to $4998 for pre-IPO companies)."
Marketing by ControversyFor Michael Robertson, it seems like it's not build to flip, it's build to piss off.
First there was MP3.com. Flame the fires of controversy, taunt the RIAA, get as much press as possible, get sued, cash out.
Then there was Lindows. Flame the fires of controversy, taunt Microsoft, get as much press as possible, get sued, threaten to divulge in open court all that secret evidence you allegedly had that Bill Gates knew that "Windows" wasn't a defensible trademark, collect $20 million from Microsoft to be quiet, check out.
Now there's MP3tunes. Hire some hackers, taunt Apple, get as much press as possible . . . How soon before we hear MP3tunes is being sued?
The only one that I'm still trying to figure out where the controversy is, is SIPphone. Where's the controversy? Maybe it'll be Gizmo...
October 23, 2005
Interesting and OpenAh, the poetry of the grep command.
Here are all the cases of the word "interesting" in the transcript of the first USV Sessions event that recently transpired in New York. There's something, well, interesting, going on here:
Then there's "open".... fasten your seatbelts:
"We do want this to be more open." Yes, we do indeed. And it will be interesting once it is.
October 21, 2005
Oliver Twist meets Don CorleoneAnyone else see the Roman Polanski's new version of Oliver Twist?
The film's actually quite good, I thought. But the music! The music is very distracting.
Why? Because there's a blatant, and I mean note-for-note blatant, rip-off of a major Nino Rota theme from the Godfather movies, weaving its way all through the dark second half of Twist.
Specifically, this riff from "Wanted: Bill Sykes & A Fierce Dog" (Realplayer audio required). Geez, that's one of the crucial Godfather riffs! It was hugely distracting to hear that riff out of its original context. It just doesn't make any sense in 1800s London.
October 11, 2005
Try The Real ThingBased on Fred Wilson's enthusiastic rave for Throw Down Your Arms, Sinéad O'Connor's new reagge album, I picked it up while I was making my pilgrimage to Amoeba Music in San Francisco.
The album is a collection of covers of famous reggae tunes. While it's a nice collection, the new recordings don't improve on the originals, nor shed any new light on the lyrics.
"Downpressor Man", one of my favorite songs, is given a passionate reading by O'Connor but still, it just doesn't compare to Peter Tosh's original. One of the nice things about iTunes: I just did a search for "downpressor" and both songs came up. A careful listen to both and the jury is in: Tosh's version stands head and shoulders above the new interpretation.
Another example: the original "Marcus Garvey" by Burning Spear is so much richer and powerful than the O'Connor version that there's just no comparison. I'm listening to the Burning Spear version now. It's so amazingly powerful. Go listen to it.
I liked "Prophet Has Arise". Buju Banton's version of "Untold Stories" is way better than Sinéad's. "Throw Down Your Arms" is good -- feels like Burning Spear live. Well, except for the vocal.
I love Sly and Robbie and would listen to them play chopsticks or metronomes. But this recording needed more than just Sly and Robbie to really be something notable. Sinéad suffers from the same problem that U2 suffers from: no sense of humor. Everything is so dreadfully serious. She's gotta loosen up. (So does U2).
Bottom line: go fetch the original recordings by the original artists. Make a mix tape of all these tracks. Hear. Listen.
October 10, 2005
Beer and Loathing at Web2.0: Part TwoLast year's Web2.0 conference was held at Hotel Nikko elsewhere in San Francisco. This year the organizers had moved to The Argent. The Argent is a nice hotel but when I first laid eyes on the second floor conference space I thought, this is going to be too small. I was remembering the deafening insanity of the refreshment breaks and cocktail parties at the Nikko: six hundred people shouting at each other just to have some semblance of a legible conversation.
I went to look at the various rooms where the workshops were scheduled to take place. Most were quite small. There were going to be a lot of standing-room-only situations, I was certain. Although things were empty now, I could already picture the crowds. I could well imagine the stale oxygen-deprived air that would soon consume these rooms.
Late Tuesday afternoon I checked in at the registration desk. The lady asked for my last name. I gave it then added, "You're going to find two records in your database." She looked at me funny and then before she could respond, said, "You're right! There are two!"
I'd signed up for Web2.0 months ago. After I signed up, I continued to receive increasingly urgent reminders that I needed to sign up, as the conference was selling out. It was amazing how much spam I received for Web2.0, particularly after I had already paid the thousands of dollars to attend. I got spams to email addresses that I've never given to anyone, which made me wonder about the unsavory third parties the MediaLive/O'Reilly folks must be using for delivering their emails.
This is the second conference this year where I'd initially paid, and then months later found out the payment was unnecessary. First one was AlwaysOn Summit at Stanford. They invited me to attend as a blogger. This, after I'd already paid as an attendee. I went as the blogger. Come to think of it, I don't think they ever did refund me for that.
Recently I'd gotten invited to participate in a workshop at Web2.0 2005. Of course I said YES! Then, just a few days before the conference, I stumbled upon the knowledge that speakers, including workshop panelists, could attend the conference for free: registration to the full program was complimentary. I emailed the Web2.0 conference organizers and asked them if I could get a refund. They'd look into it, I was told. I asked again at the registration desk. Still looking into it. A week later, no news, but there's always hope. Web2.0 was not a cheap conference and a refund would be really, well, good. :-)
The workshop I was invited to participate in was entitled "Open Source Infrastructure." A Marc Canter creation, it would be a discussion on . . . well, I wasn't sure, since I wasn't sure what exactly what Marc meant by "Open Source Infrastructure." Infrastructure built with Open Source tools? That's been the way the Web's worked for many years. Open Infrastructures where everything is free and open and sharable and, did I mention, free? I worried that is what Marc meant. I decided the most valuable thing I could speak on was what efforts we already had underway to build a better Infrastructure for Open Sources. "Open Sources" meaning sources for event data everywhere, in other words. Distributed all over the web. So I put together six slides I was going to present during my introductory remarks in the workshop.
It was scheduled for 9:45am, the starting time for the second wave of workshops. The first wave was starting at 8:30. I couldn't attend any of them because, as I'd expected, they turned out to be standing-room-only affairs, with people out in the doorways and outer hallways straining to look and listen to what was going on inside. I'd made my way down to the conference around 8:15am, having gotten perhaps four hours of sleep after working on emails and the workshop slides. All the 8:30 workshops were filled up to the brim with attendees. I went to the Olympic room. Full. Even if there was a single seat here or there inside, there was a guard posted at the doorway, barring people from entering. The guard even refused to allow admission to one of the O'Reilly folks, co-organizers of the event. I wound up walking around outside the Olympic room during the first wave of workshops, catching bits and pieces of the panel discussion on Ajax and user interfaces from the hallway.
At one point I went and sat down on a bench near the Olympic. Andy Baio, creator of Upcoming.org which the night before had been acquired by Yahoo, came over and said hello. I pulled my PowerBook bag off the bench to make room for him to sit down.
I'd considered acquiring Upcoming many months earlier. I vividly recall how at ETech 2005 back in March, Andy had cornered me in the hallway during one of the noisy, crowded conference break sessions, begging me to acquire his project.
"Please, Brian, buy Upcoming!" I remember him pleading. "I just don't have the fascination or passion you have for events! Upcoming's just a hobby to me! Buy it so I can afford to go off and do the startup I want to do!"
Nothing came from that conversation; I hadn't even raised my "A" round yet, and Upcoming was at the time idle with barely any new features in months.
And then more recently, in late September, just a week before Web2.0, Andy had AIMed me. There was all kinds of chatter about the fact that a server named calendar.google.com now seemed to exist. Now, Google's calendar project is the worst-kept secret in the tech biz. And even though this server didn't do anything, its existence was enough to ignite fresh rumors all over the blogosphere. Andy asked me if I knew if Google was going to be getting into the event space with their much-rumored calendar application.
"Right..." I teased. "I guess you didn't get the memo." I added an emoticon smile.
"Apparently not," he said.
Another long pause.
"I'm kidding, Andy."
And then just the night before Web2.0, while I was working on the slides for the Workshop, someone had AIMed me the piping-hot news that Yahoo had just acquired Upcoming, and what did I think? I noticed at that same moment that Andy was online so I AIMed him to find out directly.
"What's all this about Yahoo... and Upcoming?"
"Didn't you get the memo?" came his lightning-fast reply, with an emoticon wink.
Now, here it was the morning of the first day of Web2.0 2005, and here we were, sitting on the same bench, me about to go on and participate in a workshop, Andy about to go onwards and participate in Yahoo, which I wasn't the only one to notice had a strangely dominant presence at this conference. They were everywhere, come to think of it. Attending. Speaking. Sponsoring. Exhibiting. Marc Canter was walking around complaining about Yahoo's takeover of Web2.0.
The Yahoo deal with Upcoming had come together only a few hours before last night's announcement, Andy told me. He was still dizzy with excitement. After a few minutes of small-talk, he got up to head off elsewhere into the conference.
"See you in the arena!" I said.
Yahoo had invited me up to visit back in August. I had no doubt they were already talking to Upcoming even then.
Frankly, the meeting did not leave me impressed. The meeting felt like a non-starter even before it started. A bunch of the expected people were there, but some had streamed in very late, or they didn't show up at all. It wasn't clear what the agenda was. They never quite explained why I was there; they were deliberately vague and they just wanted to know anything and everything I could tell them abut EVDB. At one point they wanted to know point-blank exactly how many events we had in our database. I told them point-blank I wasn't going to tell them that information. They told me, well, we'll just go crawl your site to find out. Actually, you're already doing that, I'd told them. I guess they didn't know.
I was not surprised when later that very week, Yahoo quietly launched an enhanced Yahoo!Local service . . . with local events listings buried deep within it. Funny, they never mentioned that at the meeting . . .
The thing that struck me the hardest about the first two days of Web2.0: the greed. The smell of money. The possibility of money. The imminence of money. Gobs of it. Truckloads. More than you could ever count. Huge, massive sums of money. The place was drenched in the presence of and desire for money. All of it. Now. Sooner than now. Gimme.
The buzz was exciting, exhilarating for some, clearly. But so much of what I saw felt like the go-go greed I haven't seen with such intensity since, gasp, 1999. Build-to-flip felt like it was now driving everything. I was nauseated when Business 2.0, a magazine I used to respect, had run its cover story -- what, a year ago? -- on the concept of build-to-flip. But it wasn't just a cover story. It was a how-to cover story. Ever noticed who advertises in Business 2.0? Take a look sometime. And it's not just the ads: it's become a lifestyle magazine, complete with reviews for Porsches and Bentleys. They ought to rename it Flipper: The Magazine for the Build-to-Flip Generation.
I don't want to flip EVDB. I was thinking about this every time someone at the conference would ask me, "So! When does EVDB get gobbled up for $75 million!" Gee, perhaps when it's worth $75 million and it makes total sense to have it "gobbled"? Two criteria, not just one.
This isn't a build-to-flip. We're building to grip here at EVDB. We're going to hold on and we're going to see the vision through. We're building tools for the whole world to gobble up and benefit from.
At breakfast, one person told me, "I see a lot of body parts, but very few bodies." This was a common observation of Web2.0: features galore, some products, but not a lot of businesses. One presenter even recommended that startups not bother doing a business plan.
Who, I wondered, who particularly among the startups premiering things for the first time at Web2.0, is really in it to change the world? Who, on the other hand, is just doing it to make a fast buck and move on to the next thing? Remember the subhead from that Business 2.0 cover story from a year ago: "How to get ahead in the postbubble world: Build a company cheap. Flip It fast. Repeat."
Gag me with a spoon.
This concludes Part Two of a series on the recently-concluded Web2.0 2005 conference. To be continued in Part Three . . .
October 08, 2005
Beer and Loathing at Web 2.0I was somewhere around Fillmore on the edge of Haight-Ashbury when the bugs began to take hold. I'd just finished my pilgrimage to the Amoeba, the only record store in the world I buy records from anymore, and after driving for blocks with one hand on the wheel and one hand desperately trying to open Stereolab's Oscillons from the Anti-Sun -- imagine, undiscovered vintage Stereolab, three discs worth, plus a DVD! if I could only open the blasted box! -- I'd managed to pop Disc One into my rental car's CD player without running over any pedestrians.
Stereolab plants musical bugs in my ear like no other band. I'll listen to a song one day and three days later it's still playing in my head. The Groop, as they sometimes call themselves, have this strange ability with much of their music to target that certain portion of the brain where neurons, having taken in and processed an auditory signal and discerned from it a kind of groovy riff and chord progression, broadcast neural announcements of "keep listening to that over and over!" to the rest of the brain. Some musical artists have an intimate understanding of these riff neurons, or perhaps are controlled by them themselves, as their music tends to drone on, and on, in long noisy jams of attitude and groove.
I had an appointment with a venture capital firm across town, and Stereolab was the perfect soundtrack for crossing it by car. The VC firm had recently moved to new offices at the end of Lombard Street, so I decided to go north, towards the Marina. A spectacular day: warm, blue skies, sunny. The bay and Alcatraz and Marin County glistened in the distance. When I got down near the Marina I decided to take Lombard as far east as I could go, up a steep hill, then down the famous brick zig-zag, replete with fascinated tourists, their video cameras rolling -- yes, I really did just drive down the hill!, yes, it really can be done! yes, this is actually is an automobile, no, I am not from Mars, no I don't have time to stop and chat -- and up, up again and around Telegraph Hill, stealing glances out to the view of the whole Bay, then snaking through some narrow side streets, one eye on the road and one eye on the sky and the trees, looking out for the famous wild parrots. None appeared.
Soon I was back down to the short stretch of street that makes up the resumption of Lombard, at the very end of which I managed to grab a parking spot right next to the building. The parking meter here took quarters, I noticed, lots of them. I came prepared, and fed in eight dollars' worth. Then, thinking I was early for the appointment, I got back in the car and listened to Disc Two. At some point, I decided to see if there was any free wi-fi in the area, so I pulled out and fired up the PowerBook to check. Lots of open wi-fi, including a proverbial unprotected "Linksys" router. I was in. There was an email waiting for me, from the VC's admin: "I don't have your cell number so haven't been able to call, but I was wondering if you were still planning to make your 1pm appointment?" It was 1:16pm. I had in my calendar that the appointment was for 1:30pm. Or was that the Stereolab playing tricks on me? I slammed the PowerBook shut, hopped out of the car, and raced into the building and up the stairs.
Like so many San Francisco buildings, it was old, and brick, and recently converted into brand-spanking-new office space. High ceilings and exposed beams and ductwork everywhere. An old black dog lifted its head off the floor next to the reception desk as I entered the roomy VC suite. He barked and grumbled. The receptionist was embarrassed and surprised the dog didn't like me. I instantly liked the dog, but the feeling was not mutual. I kept my distance.
So I met with the VC. He just came on board at the firm; this was his second day. I already pitched to this firm 18 months earlier, at their old offices. He didn't know that. Now he did. In those 18 months I'd raised an angel round and an "A" round from other VCs. While Jenny Ondioline played over and over in my head, we talked for a good while about my company and our plans. At the conclusion of the meeting we agreed to follow up in a month or so.
I wonder if the dog is their "invest" / "don't invest" signal? If the dog excitedly wags his tail with the arrival of a visitor, give 'em money. If the dog barks and growls, don't. In a few months maybe I'll know.
End of Part One. To be continued...
October 03, 2005
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