Are Embargoes Done?

Marcus Brauchli, who takes over from Paul Steiger at the helm of the powerful business newspaper, is a noted opponent of the media embargoes that Silicon Valley companies love so much.

Valleywag is speculating that the WSJ will lead the charge to end the PR practice of embargoes on press announcements. I think the WSJ could easily do away with this vestige of traditional public relations practice. The desire for companies to break news in the WSJ is simply greater than their desire to adhere to a practice that has outlived it’s utility.

On a related note, I’m always amused when a PR person sends me email that begins with "embargo until such-and-such time". I don’t ask for PR people to send me anything, they just do so why should I give a crap about violating some "arrangement" they are accustomed to? I am typically not sufficiently motivated to post about press releases anyway so I don’t give the topic must attention, but it does seem like we should get beyond the notion that anything can be "sprung" these days.

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Cambrian House – Crowdsourcing Gets Real

Up until now a lot of the talk about wisdom of crowds has been theoretical in nature, lot’s of sites like Digg claim the title but in reality a very small percentage of the user base ends up steering the market. Cambrian House is a company that aims to put crowdsourcing to work, literally, but throwing out an open call for new ideas and promotion of concepts, as well as talent sourcing and eventually venture investment.

Crowdsourcing was coined by Jeff Howe of Wired Magazine in 2006 to describe a business model in which a company or institution takes a job traditionally performed by an employee and outsources it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call over the internet.

The concept is really quite simple, you register to become part of the community, find other people that you can connect with, share ideas and collaborate, get something started and then tap into the “people”, “ideas”, and “businesses” to get other people or services involved. There’s a bazaar where people, ideas, and businesses are bought and sold (people have services they offer).

I really want to like this service but I find it less than convincing. The concept is compelling but the execution is confusing. Different areas seem overlapping, for example there is an ideas section but their is also a ideas bazaar. In browsing the people, ideas, and businesses areas I am struck by how trivial many of them come off.

This goes to the main weakness, I’m not going to share what I think is a great idea and more to the point, a great idea is nothing without an ability to execute on it. I don’t team up with people just because they have a funny avatar and a few keywords I recognize, I work with people that I believe I can develop relationships and trust with.

I did like browsing the Idea Explorer area as there were a couple of concepts that actually sounded pretty interesting, like the CodeWiki. The Crowdsourced Debt Collection idea could probably work, if it’s legal.

Lastly, CH (as they apparently refer to themselves) has a novel payment mechanism, which I presume is used for inter-network commerce, and a cooperative membership model where every member is a shareholder. Hoooowwwever, in reading the fine print, CH has set aside 1% of their 260,000 total million shares to share with members, so I’m not going to be shopping for a vacation house off my equity.

I also questioned how they are doing this considering that the SEC requires any company with more than 500 shareholders to report as if they were a public company, but the FAQ does detail an important point, the “Cambrian House Coop” is a separate legal entity with 1% of the equity and 1% of the revenue of Cambrian House.

So basically the “everyone is an owner” makes for great marketing but is a lot of bullshit. Members don’t own any equity in Cambrian House, they own shares in Cambrian House Coop that has a 1% equity and revenue cap in Cambrian House. If you are happy sharing 1% with a few thousand people you don’t know, then more power to you. At least they can get to 26 million members before they have to split the stock!

While I have some complaints and concerns about how this is implemented, I very much like the idea. I’ve seen some other initiatives that aim to help companies identify the initiatives that they should be investing in, like Dell’s IdeaStorm. Dell’s initiative is powered by Crispynews, an interesting little company I came across last year while looking for a community powered news site I could implement. I abandoned the Enterprise Crispynews site reluctantly after realizing that the market requires a far larger number of people participating in the market than I could muster (enterprise software not being “mass market”).

Keep in mind that these concepts are not totally new, SAP had a system in place before I joined the company almost a decade ago that gave customers a number of votes that they could apply to customer nominated development projects, if they felt strongly about a specific project they could put all their votes to that one project or spread them around to a portfolio of initiatives that they wanted to see developed, and if other customers cast their votes to the same projects, well they would get built.

Crowdsourcing is a great concept and I hope these initiatives get traction. Maybe it’s my age showing through, but I think I would have gravitated to a system that is cleaner in it’s layout and moves users through a set of pathways, like IdeaStorm. Also, how about highlighting some successes!

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Top 10 VC Lies

The post is here:

10. We’re all on the same side here.
9. A lower Series A valuation is good for you too.
8. We’re not funding XXXX companies anymore.
7. I liked it. Really. But we just don’t have the bandwidth right now.
6. We don’t do deals we can’t drive to.
5. Come back when you have a lead investor.
4. Absolutely, we know top people at Google and Yahoo well.
3. Absolutely, we know people at Sequoia and KP well.
2. We love your CEO.
1. I liked it, but I couldn’t get it past my asshole partners.

As soon as I get my series B done I have a few more to add to the list… and I already have an account on The Funded where I’ll be posting my reviews in glorious anonymity.


Civics 101

I remember watching an interview with that Duke prosecutor Nifong last year where he made a point of saying that the case should go forward so that the victim can have her day in court. My reaction at the time was that a prosecutor should know that his client is not the victim; the prosecutor’s client is the People (as in his/her county, his state, or at the federal level, the entire country). In other words, the People also being the government, in our legal system the prosecutor’s client is the government.

Furthermore, the victim doesn’t get a "day in court" as the presumption of innocence that frames our entire judicial system dictates that the defendant is the one who goes to court. The victim, as any first year law student can tell you, is merely a witness to the complaint filed by the prosecutor.

This is his job and he doesn’t understand something as basic as who the client he represents is?

Today I read this statement from Barack Obama:

"I am extremely concerned that this ruling will embolden state legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman’s right to choose, and that the conservative Supreme Court justices will look for other opportunities to erode Roe v. Wade, which is established federal law and a matter of equal rights for women."

The statement was in response to the Supreme Court decision upholding the federal ban on partial birth abortions, a passionate topic from either side of the debate. I’ll reserve judgement on the issue, which I do have an opinion on but is not relevant to the reason for this post. Let’s parse Obama’s statement:

"I am extremely concerned that this ruling will embolden state legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman’s right to choose,…"

Okay, I can go with that. In fact I agree with Obama’s concern here and consider that the ruling runs counter to long held Federalism principles. However, Obama is on a slippery slope here because one can’t embrace Federalism just when it’s convenient, so if his argument is that the Federal government is empowering the states with this law and ultimate ruling, then he would have to agree that laws that limit state’s ability to impose restrictions are equally onerous in priniciple.

"…and that the conservative Supreme Court justices will look for other opportunities to erode Roe v. Wade, which is established federal law and a matter of equal rights for women”

This is where Obama is flat out wrong. Roe v. Wade is a legal decision handed down by the Supreme Court and is therefore the ultimate precedent, and while it has much the same effect as law it is not "established federal law". A federal law, which I guess is the precursor to "established federal law"(?), is a measure that moves through the Congress and is signed into law by the President. Remember Schoolhouse Rock’s "I’m Just a Bill"?

I’ll skip the "equal rights for women" part of the comment because I have no idea what he could be trying to suggest, unless he believes that men can get abortions unhindered.

A court decision, even a Supreme Court decision, can be made null through the constitutional process of law making, providing those laws don’t violate our Constitution. If anything Roe v. Wade is the antithesis of established federal law because lawmakers, our elected representatives, never had a hand in making it.

I suspect that what Obama was trying to suggest is that Roe v. Wade is "established precedent" meaning it is not subject to debate by the broad mainstream of American society. However, Obama seems like a very smart man so I would be surprised if he ever said anything that he didn’t intend to say. With that in mind, is it too much to ask that elected and appointed government officials, in other words the people who should understand these things, correctly state the processes of our system of government?

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Google Releases Feed API

The Google AJAX API team has announced a genuinely useful Feed API that gives an Ajax developer the ability to access feeds, cached in the fast Google edge cache where appropriate, from across the web using a simple JavaScript API.

This is similar to Pipes but uses Javascript rather than a visual editor to manipulate the actual feeds. We’re building something similar, which at first I resisted because I believe the visual editor opens the services to more users but Rod is right that the Javascipt capabilities result in something that is just more powerful.

You are going to see more utilization of feeds as data sources in applications, it certainly something we’re working on (and will be releasing soon).

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Yahoo! Jumps! on! the! Bandwagon!

”Jerry Yang and I just announced at our quarterly employee all-hands that Yahoo! has committed to going carbon neutral this year.”

Apparently they are also committed to going profit neutral.

“All in all, there didn’t seem to be a lot to get excited about,” said Derek Brown, an analyst with Cantor Fitzgerald. “There was no tangible proof that Panama is working well or better than expected. There was reference to it, but no concrete evidence in the numbers.”

I don’t have any issue at all with a company deciding that green is good, but that decision should also be based on factors that go well beyond the feel good nature of the initiative and into the unsavory topic of whether it’s good for shareholders as well.

To be quite blunt about it, Yahoo! should be more focused on improving their bottom line than decreasing their carbon footprint. If they want to invest in datacenters that generate their own power and dissipate their thermal loads through some mechanism other than HVAC, then I’m all for it. However before they commit to that investment there should be some analysis to determine what the payback period and if it’s like Al Gore’s solar panels then I’m not interested, speaking as a Yahoo! shareholder.

Given the lack of specificity about what exactly they are doing, it’s hard to form much of an opinion about it but I suspect this is more about planting trees somewhere rather than decreasing energy consumption.

BTW, in case anyone gets the urge to comment, or more accurately “scold me”, for being a global warming “denier” (gee, not a loaded term there is it?) let me give you some hard facts that impacted my personal pocket book. Over the last 2 years at our home I went through a rather costly process to:

  • replace all of the windows (1959 vintage) and double insulated the exterior walls (on the ground floor of the southern exposure side of the house we actually had a second wall built to double the thickness of the wall… this not only gave us a seismic benefit but also allowed us to double the thickness of the insulation).
  • I did have a solar assessment done but the payback period based on my usage was too long to justify the investment (if we had a pool I suspect this would be a no-brainer).
  • I also installed an irrigation system that triggers not off a timer but off ground moisture readings.
  • Installed wireless theromstats to adjust heating based off the rooms we are in rather than a fixed location where the thermostat was installed.
  • I replaced all of our exterior lighting with with low voltage (and low wattage as well) systems.
  • I also replaced landscaping with soil that was more “composty” and therefore better retained water, and plant species that were more appropriate for our climate. I still have lawn areas but decreased the overall square footage by increasing stone patio areas.
  • Replaced a lot of internal lights with CFLs, but I was unsatisfied with options for can (recessed) lighting so we still have a lot of that (one room has 18 recessed lights on two circuits so I’m hoping we will see some CFL innovations that accommodate dimmers).
  • Replaced 2 vehicles with 2007 models that are ULEV rated and get better mileage than the ones they replaced. I refuse to not enjoy driving so these are still rated as “gas guzzlers” but they get better mileage and have better emissions ratings than what we had before. It’s a compromise that I can live with.
  • Lastly, for meetings in San Francsicso I have started to take BART. I still have to drive up to one of the BART stations but the bulk of emissions that are created by vehicles come from stop-and-go rush hour or city traffic. By not taking my car into the City I figure I’m having a bigger impact than the distances would suggest because of this factor.

The result of the above measures has been that my electricity consumption at home is 20% less than the same period a year ago. I know this because my utility bill gives my consumption for “the same period last year”. My natural gas usage only reduced by about 7% (I think we had a colder winter than last year). My water consumption has also been reduced and my monthly gasoline bills are lower as well. In short, I didn’t plant trees anywhere but on my own property… I actually reduced my energy consumption instead.

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Maybe RIM Should Call Amazon as Well

NEW YORK — NewsChannel 4 learned of a massive system failure that affected all BlackBerry users in the western hemisphere late Tuesday.

The RIM Company, which stands for Research In Motion, developed BlackBerry technology and said its infrastructure failed around 8 p.m. Tuesday and was until about 7 a.m. Wednesday.

E-mails were not being pushed to portable blackberry devices.

I was wondering why I wasn’t getting any email last night (I think the reported 8pm was EDT). One would think that RIM could at least send out a system alert telling their customers what is going on.


TurboTax Runs Out of Gas

"Intuit is working with the IRS and has notified them that throughput on our electronic filing system was not what we expected, resulting in a system slowdown," the company said in a note on its Web site. "We encourage customers to continue trying to e-file as we continue to work on the issue."

Quite honestly, it’s hard to imagine the challenges that Intuit has in running a service that is the epitome of mission critical yet does almost all of their business in one quarter. It’s like the mother of all Christmas rushes. Considering that the service failed under heavy loads yesterday, it would appear that they didn’t handle the challenge as well as their customers would expect.

Why doesn’t Intuit have the equivalent of Amazon’s EC2 to buffer unanticipated demand? Surely the cost of paying premium datacenter rent for EC2 would be worthwhile considering the alternative, a service that fails under heavy load that then creates a "federal case" quite literally when the company has to arrange an amnesty period with the IRS to avoid causing their customers real financial damage.

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