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Tech Is Fascinating Right Now

I agree with almost all of Steve Blank’s points in this recent interview.

#geekcred: I wrote a case study on Fairchild Semiconductor in 1997, and just this weekend emailed my father and uncles about our new tech paradigm and the certainty of Microsoft’s restructuring at some point in the very near future.

The LinkedIn IPO “absolutely” marks the beginning of a bubble — and he thinks its going to be great. He likens it to the Netscape IPO in August 1995 that kicked off four years of boom times, but notes that this time VCs actually know how to build real companies with real revenue and profit.

Crazy investors — not geeks — are what makes Silicon Valley unique. Without the “crazy” financiers willing to take big risks in hopes of chasing “obscene” returns, the valley would just be “a bunch of smart scientists and entrepreneurs sitting in their labs and their garages.”

Microsoft will start to fail within six quarters. Blank put a timeline on Microsoft suffering the kind of huge loss that drove IBM to restructure itself back in 1993: six quarters from now. He thinks Steve Ballmer is a “miserable failure” and that the board should be blamed for not replacing him. He also suggests that buying Nokia and installing Stephen Elop as CEO might be a solution.

But Larry Page is doing the right thing at Google. By letting the geeks run the show, Page is following in the footsteps of one of the earliest Silicon Valley pioneers: Fairchild Semiconductor in the 1950s.

via Silicon Valley Guru Steve Blank Welcomes The New Bubble And Says Microsoft Is Doomed.

Written by dshan on May 25, 2011

Go That Way, Really Fast

A great post I just dug up from a VERY long time ago, from StackOverflow’s CTO on how they run (ran?) their company. Still a great read for anyone thinking about building things.

Chrome was a completely respectable browser in V1 and V2. The entire project has moved forward so fast that it now is, at least in my humble opinion, the best browser on the planet. Google went from nothing, no web browser at all, to best-of-breed in under two years. Meanwhile, Internet Explorer took longer than the entire development period of Chrome to go from version 7 to version 8. And by the time Internet Explorer 9 ships — even though it’s actually looking like Microsoft’s best, most competent technical upgrade of the browser yet — it will be completely outclassed at launch by both Firefox and Chrome.

via Coding Horror: Go That Way, Really Fast.


Written by dshan on May 25, 2011

Reputation & The Battle For Our Identity

This quote and link is a must-read piece from Twitter’s (and Blogger’s) founder Ev Williams, regarding digital identity.

Online identity is still a messy problem with lots of opportunities. I predict we’ll continue to see further integration of the five pieces by all major players, as well as more attempts to outsource these services across the Internet.

Hopefully we’ll also see more attempts at decentralized services that offer these features, as well.

Will there be a day when there’s one true identity system? While the big guys will keep getting bigger, I don’t think identity will be “owned,” per se—at least not on the open Internet. As we transition to a mobile-dominated Internet (and a more closed one), things are going to play out much differently, however.

via Evan Williams | evhead: Five Easy Pieces of Online Identity.

Identity is something that any technology builder thinks about early in the development of their product, and it’s an element that remains top of mind as that product evolves. Effectively authenticating, representing, and personalizing every user’s experience with your product is fundamental to the role it will play in their lives.

Meanwhile, in a broader sense, identity remains a fertile battleground on the web that will affect the future of your business.

Remember when you saw Facebook Connect pop up everywhere, alongside the now ubiquitous Like buttons?

The traction of the Facebook social graph has been impressive, and regardless of your feelings as to whether it’s a positive or negative development, it’s done a lot to further the conversation about our individual identities on the web. After early privacy missteps you don’t have to look much further than unproven startup Diaspora’s $200,000 heyday to infer that at least some of us find the idea of a centralized identity model concerning. At the time they merely suggested they’d build an open identity solution that wasn’t Facebook.

Facebook is by no means the only authentication solution available, and the identity landscape continues to develop. Williams breaks that landscape into five distinct areas…all of which, he points out, are currently and will continue to be hotly contested. Authentication, representation, communication, personalization, and reputation; important elements of ‘who we are’ offline and thus integral to our online and mobile experience as it matures.

At Foodtree, we’ve been thinking quite a bit about representation, personalization, and reputation lately. After a very thought provoking conversation with Tom Williams just over a week ago about that last one, I found this comment from Ev particularly poignent:

Though talked about a lot, reputation is probably the least developed of these five pieces in the online world. In the offline world, though, it’s built into all our interactions and choices. To me, this suggests it will get more important online when we figure out how to do it right. Ebay is the classic example of making reputation a large part of identity. Many other services have an internal reputation score of some sort, usually as a way of combating spam and other abuse.

via same.

As my comment yesterday on a great Techcrunch article from LiveFyre‘s founder Jordan Kretchmer made clear, I think that reputation is the next frontier of our digital presence.

What we know and care about is fundamental to who we are; our relationships, happiness, and self-worth. Who we’ve made ourselves into, and who we want to be, is what drives our decisions every day.

What this means is that niche communities and conversations will always have a place in our digital identities, and will continue to help us define who we are to ourselves and to other people. Today the web does a mediocre (at best) job of “floating” expertise and passion across applications and platforms; your reputation in a niche community rarely carries any true weight outside of it. Maybe you religiously comment on the New York Time’s website. Maybe you’re a respected member of the Reddit community. Unfortunately Facebook, Twitter, Google, and nearly every other platform doesn’t really care (unless they want to sell you something, in which case they use that insight for themselves).

This isn’t about empowering self-importance, either. This is about current solutions missing key elements of our daily experience. It’s likely that among your closest friends, each person has their ‘thing‘. My friends wouldn’t ask me about the upcoming baseball season. I don’t ask them where to find free music online.

All in all, as technology matures and becomes better at letting us immerse ourselves in its benefits, I think we’ll increasingly demand that it leverage insights as to who we are and why we matter.

Personalization has become a hotbed of innovation, especially in the mobile space. Reputation on the other hand is lagging, and that’s likely the case because it’s the most complicated of the five elements. At Foodtree, as we work with our community to deposit and share deeper insight into our complex food system, we think it’s important that contributors are ‘acknowledged’ wherever they go online…not just within our community. After all, they’re working for the greater good, and deserve that recognition.

I think reputation (and of course personalization) will play a major role in true value creation, delight, and ubiquity for tomorrow’s technologies. It is those three things which embody the inherent potential of technology for human beings.

Don’t believe me?

Answer me this: As it relates to your daily happiness, how important is your Picture ID, business card, or phone number?

Now, how about the fact that your barista has your single origin drip coffee ready each morning when you walk in to the cafe, and regularly asks you for tips on the great music you’ve been listening to?

Written by dshan on April 10, 2011

Founder Title

Almost every day I grow increasingly uncomfortable with the founder title.

The reason I think it was a mistake to emphasize founder status is that I was essentially implicitly trying to say I was better than the other, non-founder employees. That I was special, and had something they would never had. But that benefit was right there in the cap table: I had the ownership of a founder, and that ought to be enough. And my naked self-interest was for every employee to act like an founder and work their ass off — so rather than feeding my ego with a founder title, I should have been giving everyone the founder title and hoping they’d stay all weekend to get the software release out.

via Should you keep the founder title? | Josh Hannah.

Written by dshan on December 4, 2010

An Entrepreneurial Revolution

It really is incredible how commonplace new business mindsets are becoming. I think a jaded young population and relatively unattractive traditional investment market are hugely impacting the way Americans think about capitalism.

I believe that we will look back at this decade as the beginning of an economic revolution as important as the scientific revolution in the 16th century and the industrial revolution in the 18th century. We’re standing at the beginning of the entrepreneurial revolution. This doesn’t mean just more technology stuff, though we’ll get that. This is a revolution that will permanently reshape business as we know it and more importantly, change the quality of life across the entire planet for all who come after us.

via When It’s Darkest Men See the Stars « Steve Blank.

Written by dshan on December 1, 2010

One in Five Facebook Employees Has No Imagination Whatsoever

Interesting perspective on the flow of talent from one of the web’s best companies across the street to the other one. I know of some headed to Twitter, which I think might be a more noble pursuit.

Of course, Facebook is one of the few truly great Internet companies, and it’s easy to understand why anyone would want to work there. But if you’re going to leave the security of the world’s greatest software company, why not leave to try something hard, something raw, something completely different? A successful run at Google is the Silicon Valley equivalent of diplomatic immunity in Lethal Weapon 2:  every venture capitalist wants to give you money and any startup wants to hire you.

You could help someone who actually needs it, you could do something that hasn’t been done before. If you fail, you won’t be poor, and you won’t be unemployed long. I’ve heard Facebook is hiring.

via One in Five Facebook Employees Has No Imagination Whatsoever | Redfin Corporate Blog.

Written by dshan on November 13, 2010

Why Google Can’t Build Instagram

The startup will always have a place in the ecosystem.

The exec I was talking with said Google Wave had more than 30 people on the team. He had done his own startup and knew the man-month myth. For every person you add to a team, he said, iteration speed goes down. He told me a story of how Larry Ellison actually got efficiencies from teams. If a team wasn’t productive, he’d come every couple of weeks and say “let me help you out.” What did he do? He took away another person until the team started shipping and stopped having unproductive meetings.

via Why Google can’t build Instagram — Scobleizer.

Written by dshan on November 12, 2010

A Day In The Life

My bus rolled lazily down the hill towards downtown with a crest of sunshine peeking over the city’s leering mountains gathering an unusually light crowd of early commuters and the usual mix of destitutes making their way to the intersection of Main and Hastings, effectively an open air flea market of drugs and addiction in full swing day and night.

The intersection is, quite frankly, total mayhem…no matter it be eight in morning or ten at night, and it serves as as stark reminder that the bottom is quite a lot further down the rabbit hole than anything I’ll ever experience.

It’s a useful reminder, actually.

The bus opened its doors at that corner and the addicts jumped off eagerly, as always. I gazed out at a decrepedly thin Asian man crouched against the building facing me, happily handing single cigarettes to two young men and a woman huddled around him. The two young men moved off and the women, in a loose yellow v-neck, torn jeans, and supported by one of those four-legged walkers, swayed back and forth while chatting and stashing her smoke in a back pocket.  She was war-torn, to the point at which you could almost believe that the walker wasn’t even medically related; it was simply that balance is a luxury no longer afforded to someone who has run that many chemicals through themselves.

When you see this section of town, you’ll understand that I thought very little of the scene.

My day was hectic, as a meeting-filled day tends to be.  When building a web product it’s hard to feel productive unless you’re nestled up to your computer.  For good or for bad I feel a deep sense of urgency about our website and product right now so my senses are probably heightened a bit, and I get tense when I’m not feeling as if I’m getting shit done.

As I moved from coffee with an exciting new prospective hire to strategy planning with Anthony  I felt as if the productive part of my day was rapidly escaping me.

It’s ludicrous, really, as we’re moving a lot of people and pieces towards our goals and improved product, but hey, it’s how I felt. I think anyone who’s faced important deadlines can relate to the way a priority list can loom in the corner pointing at you like the Evil Monkey in Chris’ closet.

I settled into the early evening catching up on email and Foodtree code development, hesitant to leave because it felt as if the day had just gotten started.  A poker game was beginning in the conference room next to our kitchen and entrepreneurs wandered the floor looking for a few more last minute players.  The sun, now setting, crawled at length across the floor, and a team building an application for the hockey community gathered around a whiteboard discussing revenue models.

This is the stuff of ideas in motion.

My focus was off and it was getting late, and I knew I should reengage my priority list at home.

I boarded my bus and sat with a blank stare out the window, mentally reshuffling work stuff with my jaw clenched tight.  Zoned, but still mentally locked into things that need doing.

Three busstops later I snapped into focus as a yellow streak caught my eye, and there she was.

The woman from twelve hours earlier was hobbling across the street out my window, a few blocks from where I’d noticed her before.  She was just moving down the sidewalk…her walker, then a step…deliberate.  Awkward and slow. She hunched forward and to the side…

The struggle of it…of a block-long stretch of sidewalk, seemed almost unfair.

What must her day have been like?

I imagined a day of detachment and pain, craving and confusion. Alleys and sidewalks. Bartering and hustling and a never-ending quest for self-destruction.

A city block transformed into a mile long  journey.

A day that seemed to have ended before it began suddenly became endless, right before my very eyes.

Written by dshan on August 13, 2010

Ideafreaks As A Modus Operandi

It’s going to take me a bit to look back on the experience I had in Austin.

I actually just made it home a few hours ago.  I’m not going to walk through every detail in review of the conference, because there are other people who play that role on the web, and in a lot of cases they probably do a more thorough job of it.

I consider the five days and four nights I spent at South By Southwest Interactive to be the most rewarding and engaging five days I’ve spent anywhere in a long time.  Sure, it’s not the same as my annual trip to Upstate New York, (where I get quality time with some thirty cousins and basically get off the grid for a week) because that’s a different kind of payoff.

Yet having the opportunity to walk around a square mile of a city like Austin surrounded by people doing cool stuff as their modus operandi is like swimming in a sea of stimulation; nothing seems impossible and nothing seems outside the reach of whomever is willing to extend their arms.

Some quick thoughts…

  1. Entrepreneurs Take Over: I’ve read some recaps of the weekend, and will read more, but I get the sense that it’s becoming a founder’s scene.  Since SXSW makes their money on access to panels and workshops, I can see this becoming a problem, because an entrepreneur isn’t always going to prioritize panels when they could be outside having real conversations, and making real connections.  I know founders who made a point to show up at the end of panels, because it was then that you could really engage the presenters.
  2. Foursquare, Gowalla, Location: This was a big theme this year, and in my opinion a bit underwhelming.  I expected far more innovative takes on the space, and didn’t see them.  Location is interesting, but not in an of itself.  I don’t like to harp on new tech too much, but Foursquare & Gowalla really didn’t play a huge role in my weekend.  I was impressed when after checking into my hotel lobby, Gwen Bell sent me message that she was there too, but I got it after I’d already left, and never got to meet her.
  3. Twitter Still Wins: Twitter is still the most interesting thing I carry around with me.  Never is that more evident than in Austin, surrounded by other folks using it to communicate.  It’s still arguably more useful than texting, with the extra info in your stream and ability to reach more people.  As a sidenote, their CEO is not interesting.
  4. Idea Freaks Aren’t Haters: I think my biggest takeaway is that early adopters are a very willing crowd; in Austin everyone was seeking out the new ‘new’ (as Kid Cudi puts it) and they were largely willing to accept imperfect technology if the idea was interesting enough.  I think more young companies should have an Austin Plan, and it should focus around quickly communicating your idea in some interesting way.  A street team handing out stickers isn’t interesting.  Handing out pie during office hours is interesting.

More to come…especially some notes on the incredible people I was lucky enough to meet.

Got thoughts on SXSW?  Share them in the comments!

Photo by Brian Fitzgerald.

Written by dshan on March 18, 2010