Blair seeks secret of Silicon Valley’s success

Wow, it’s a banner day here at Venture Chronicles! I get to post 2 items today about Jonathan Schwartz and blogs.

So picture this if you will, Britain’s Prime Minister Blair is at a round table discussion with CEOs from a range of Valley heavy weight companies and Schwartz pipes up:

“Tony, I know you have that Israeli/Hezbollah conflict, and the Israeli/Hamas thing, and then there’s North Korea, Nukes for Mullahs, UN reform, the EU constitution, continuing conflict in the Balkans, Russia reverting to her old ways, China, India and Pakistan at it again, Global War on Terror, warlords taking over in Somalia (again), Hugo Chavez, trade with the U.S., helping your party come back in upcoming elections, budget issues, and reviving your economy… but you should start a blog!

A lesser person would have laughed out loud. If there was ever a “doh, I can’t believe I just said that” moment, this would have to be it. Can you imagine the Tony Blair using a blog to “express opinions, post pictures and share experiences.” Crikey, I almost knocked over my diet coke when I read that.

Blair seeks secret of Silicon Valley’s success – Yahoo! News:

He (jeff: Jonathan Schwartz) said it would be a good idea for government leaders such as Blair to keep Web logs, or blogs — online journals people use to express opinions, post pictures and share experiences.

Just what does a CEO do?

In reading this article featuring Jonathan Schwartz from Sun I was struck by a couple thoughts. The first being the fixation on whether or not CEOs blog, which are usually cries heard from bloggers themselves and the equivalent of adolescents seeking the approval of adults.

I think that the addition of large company CEOs to the blogosphere en masse would add remarkably little to the quality of the discourse. In fact, because CEOs get media trained to the lowest common denominator in the course of their rise to the top, I think it’s entirely possible that the quality of discourse could actually decline.

Insofar as a CEO’s “#1 job is to be a communicator,” I must respectfully disagree with Schwartz. A CEO has 4 jobs:

1. Plan. A CEO above all else must be able to think in the future about what investments are appropriate for the company, strategic directions to be embraced or abandoned, and ultimately, forecast future performance accurately and consistently.

2. Control. A plan without the ability to execute on it is academic at best. If the CEO has a primary job it is clearly to deliver on forecasts and projections.

3. Develop people. A CEO is also the chief human resources officer, it is his/her responsibility to create the conditions upon which all employees of the company feel rewarded appropriately, confident in the future of their company, have just just the ability but also the opportunity to grow professionally, and perhaps most importantly, apply accountability to management itself.

4. Develop culture. Closely aligned to #3 is the notion of company culture, which is ultimately a reflection of the values that the company holds itself to and reinforces in every employee of the company, from the CEO down to the lowest level.

Schwartz would no doubt argue that being an effective communicator is essential to all 4 jobs a CEO holds, a point that would be hard to argue. However, like most things in life it’s not so easy to just say “my number 1 job is to be a communicator,” especially in light of the fact that Sun as a whole has done all 4 things above so poorly in recent years.

I sure hope more CEOs don’t decide to “do a blog” and if they do maybe they will take Paul Otellini to heart and write a blog for internal consumption only.

All the Internet’s a Stage. Why Don’t C.E.O.’s Use It? – New York Times:

“My No. 1 job is to be a communicator,” Mr. Schwartz told me last week. “I don’t understand how a C.E.O. would not blog if committed to open communication.”

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Why MSN Video Will Never Be a Contender

The screenshot says it all… not only do I need IE6 (no word on whether IE7 is acceptable), but I need Media Player 10 (10! ferchristsakes, at this point just call it “Media Player”), and Flash 6. The screenshot tells you “to download these free software applications, click on the links below…”. What links, there are no download links on this page?

What do I need to use YouTube? Answer: a browser, any browser, and none of the other crap.

I didn’t even get to the service itself, I’m using a Mac.

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Beta Meter

Writely has a really interesting approach to their beta status… they allow users to vote on whether they are ready or not. The “beta meter” is currently running at 62%.

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Cogenz – bookmarking for the enterprise

I’ve been using a beta version of Cogenz’s social bookmarking service. First and foremost, Cogenz is different from public bookmarking sites in that organizations can get a “silo” for their users to post bookmarks into, thereby fulfilling the “enterprise” part of their pitch. Because I’m the only one using this at SAP (as far as I know), my silo is pretty narrow so I really can’t talk about the utility effect generated by having multiple people within one organization use the service.

Administrators have a nice degree of control over how much of the Cogenz functionality to expose to users in their silo, and the ability to restrict access to specific IP ranges. As one would also expect, there are usage statistics features but in all honesty I didn’t see any of this in action so I can’t comment on it.

I would imagine that some organizations would want to have a locally installed version of Cogenz, but it’s not clear to me whether or not they intend on delivering an on-premise implementation. Personally, I think they would be better off avoiding this option and sticking with the hosted model. Behind the firewall issues are non-issues because you are just posting bookmarks as opposed to content itself, and because the integrity of your firewall is intact no security exposure is realized, with the exception that there could be aggregate metadata scraped off the bookmarks and that may provide some exposure but even in that case it’s pretty thin (and would be a lot of work for someone to do this with only the promise that they would get something that is of limited value at best).

It appears that the single biggest value to having multiple people within an enterprise bookmarking on Cogenz is that there is a degree of social networking realized in that tags can be associated with people and areas of interest/expertise identified as a result. This is potentially very powerful but only when some undetermined critical mass is achieved, and even then only if there is some degree of comprehensiveness to the tags applied to each bookmark. Having said all that, this is challenge is certainly not unique to Cogenz, but rather is applied to the entire category.

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There are all the usual tools available in Cogenz, including the ability to post private bookmarks, subscribe to bookmark “spaces”, and use RSS for updates. There are bookmarklets for easier posting (although they work in Firefox they did not work in Camino… I have no idea what the deal is with IE). The ease of posting is one area that all of these tools could be seriously enhanced. Bookmarklets are fine but at some point power users want a dedicated client applications to manage the process. I love using Cocoalicious to manage my del.icio.us bookmarks, and even the Del.icio.us Firefox extension is far better than a simple bookmarklet. Integration with the browser search bar is also a must have feature in my opinion, but given the early version that Cogenz exists as right now it doesn’t surprise me that this is not yet available.

Lastly, one very smart feature in Cogenz is the ability to simultaneously post to del.icio.us. The reason I like this is that it means you are not abandoning your investment in one service to pick up another. The simple fact is that del.icio.us is the largest repository of user generated bookmarks and tags, the ability to integrate with that service is a no-brainer. I would like to next see the ability to consume del.icio.us tags into Cogenz.

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Local news and reviews, and user generated content

Just a few years ago it was that the Palo Alto Daily News was the best source for reviews on local (and regional for that matter) restaurants and attractions. They approached it like all newspapers do, send out a reviewer and write a review, many of which were out-of-date and in some cases just inaccurate. But for lack of an alternative this worked. Then came along Citysearch and OpenTable which offered not just reviews but also interactive features that made the services much more attractive.

The latest in this trend is Backfence, a community generated news site. I was talking with one of the owners of a restaurant in Palo Alto that has become a favorite of mine, Mantra, and he made two interesting comments about these online services. The first being that Citysearch is always a top sponsored link in search sites when you search for a restaurant and that ends up driving a lot of traffic to their restaurant reviews. Secondly, when I asked him about the economics of OpenTable he said that even though he pays them $1 per reservation for those made through their network, and some percentage of that for call-ins (OpenTable owns the reservation computer in their member restaurants), the service is invaluable because of how many reservations they drive. It’s true, I make almost all of my reservations in OpenTable.

What Citysearch, OpenTable, and now Backfence are doing is investing in community news and user created content while at the same time local newspapers are cutting back on services and continuing to ignore the very features that make the other sites attractive. In the case of OpenTable they are also controlling a transaction and that puts them in a powerful position in the value chain.

By the way, definitely have lunch or dinner at Mantra the next time the occasion presents itself, it’s a really elegant restaurant with some solid people behind it and most importantly, fantastic food.

UPDATE: Julia points to Yelp, which from first impressions appears to be well designed and content rich.

UPDATE2: Brad adds Judy’s Book and InsiderPages to the list of local community resources.

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EarlyStageVC: Business Model, Schmizness Model

I’d love to comment on this in detail, but I am feeling a little brain dead this morning so all I’ll say is that I think Peter has hit on something meaningful with his post about business models. Having said that, it has been my observation that when most people ask the “what is your business model question” they are really asking “how closely does your idea of how you are going to make money match to my own opinion.”

EarlyStageVC: Business Model, Schmizness Model:

Hopefully some will find this useful as a checklist. There is nothing Web 2.0 about this framework. And there shouldn’t be. Business is applied microeconomics — Web 2.0 or pest extermination (perhaps a poor juxtaposition – I need an editor.) Anyway I feel better for having shared my quick and dirty model of a business model.

Business Model Levers
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