Congratulations to TechCrunch

TechCrunch is being acquired by AOL . I’m sure you picked up something about this in your reading today…

I met Mike many years ago when he started TechCrunch and it was evident that his particular genius was identifying a segment of the media ecosystem that was ripe for disruption. His single minded focus and borderline maniacal intensity about doing things his way earned him many enemies over the years but like journalists of years past he never seemed to care.

Lot’s of smart people have said that Mike would flame out or that he was overreaching but the fact remains that he didn’t and he hasn’t. I wish him and Heather well at AOL and of all the things said about Mike today I think the one thing that could not be more true is that AOL won’t change how Mike writes… nobody has been able to do that, nobody will.

More on this topic (What's this?)
Oil and Dispersants are Changing the Gulf Ecosystem
AOL to Become Part of Verizon?
Drunk Driving at BP
Read more on Aol Inc, Ecosystem at Wikinvest

Quora as Content

Mike Arrington posted an interesting account of a meeting of investors that he dropped in on and then artfully avoided naming names. So I see this in Techmeme but what really catches my attention is a question posed on Quora that attempts to uncover who was there… this is the first time that I’ve seen Q&A content posted on Techmeme but in retrospect it makes perfect sense because it’s about developed a 360 degree view of any story or subject. Cool.

Joining Get Satisfaction

“The years teach much which the days never knew.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been thinking about this quote a lot lately, maybe it’s because I have become more introspective about myself and the lessons that the years have brought but I think the real reason is that I am at a point in life where I am very comfortable being me, which means accepting the things I like and dislike along with acknowledging what I am good at and those things which I am not.

I started out my career as a geek, very good with edge technology,which at the time was desktop computers and a few years later the Internet. I moved through marketing and sales role, and then venture capital to general management but all along the way I missed the hands on aspect of product and connection of products to people.

Despite the seduction of media and consumer applications I also realize that my strengths are in enterprise technology, which is only really defined as selling something to a business customer. I understand these markets and how to optimize for them and with my acquired knowledge, which is constantly evolving, in non-traditional business models I have found that I can bring a unique perspective to enterprise focused technology companies.

Over the summer I started working with Get Satisfaction as a result of a conversation that I had with my good friend Wendy Lea, who is the CEO of the company. Wendy asked me to help define and refine market and competitive landscape, optimize pricing, and work with her to raise a round of fresh capital. As I started to get more involved in the day-to-day management at Get Satisfaction, and with the impending completion of the financing event, I was confronted with a choice to make about returning to the workplace in a full time capacity. This turned out to be an easy decision to make considering how strongly I felt about the team I had been working with, made even easier when Wendy offered me the VP Product Marketing role, which I gladly accepted because it brought me back to my roots and the connection between products and people that I had been missing.

It’s also a pleasure to announce that Get Satisfaction has closed a $6 million in Series A funding led by Azure Capital Partners with O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and First Round Capital participating. Cameron Lester, General Partner, from Azure joins Wendy Lea, CEO, Thor Muller, CTO and Co-founder and Bryce Roberts, Managing Director from OATV on Get Satisfaction’s board of directors. This is an amazing investor team that has seen Get Satisfaction through a phenomenal period of organic growth, the opportunity is now to take that and accelerate the pace and amplify the impact.

Over 40,000 communities are hosted on Get Satisfaction and we are adding new clients at a fast pace across CPG, consumer electronics, social gaming, education and government markets. With applications for service and support, social commerce, and social CRM, the ability for Get Satisfaction to span multiple application categories (think social onramps to CRM and ECM) puts the company right in the middle of some very exciting market trends.

Lastly, you really have to check out the results of an extensive rebranding effort that affects the website, communities, and widgets!

Consumer RSS: 1999-2010

paidContent made an interesting connection about Bloglines being shut down and the broader question of RSS in the age of Twitter.

Indeed, in its announcement, Bloglines similarly blames broader trends for its demise, saying, “As Steve Gillmor pointed out inTechCrunch last year, being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people as Twitter and Facebook dominate real-time information flow. Today RSS is the enabling technology – the infrastructure, the delivery system. RSS is a means to an end, not a consumer experience in and of itself. As a result, RSS aggregator usage has slowed significantly, and Bloglines isn’t the only service to feel the impact. The writing is on the wall.”

A month before Steve published his post I wrote a post that remains one of the most popular pieces I have written to date.

Twitter provides publishers with several key advantages over RSS, namely the ability to control brand and force traffic back to their monetized site. Of course none of this precludes them from also using RSS to distribute content and there are equally compelling reasons for doing so but if I were to make a prediction it would be that publishers increasingly find primary utility for RSS in the backoffice while de-empathizing RSS for audience acquisition, in the process embracing Twitter as a mechanism for engaging an audience and promoting content at the same time.

The issue isn’t Twitter and RSS but rather consumer RSS applications have remained for the most part locked in a paradigm that turns out to not be very useful for anyone but a small segment of the market. RSS is at it’s core plumbing and it will remain a key technology for the foreseeable future but the way that people find, collect, and consume content is changing and RSS has diminishing importance because of what it doesn’t enable for the people who create content… any monetization of content, brand control, traffic funneling, and audience acquisition.

This is not to say that some very innovative applications are not being built on top of RSS, like Feedly and Newser, but in both cases the subject of RSS takes the back burner to user experience, presentation, and social layer. Simply put, there is no market for RSS.

Bad Form in Ad Placement

I really wish that media sites would build some intelligence into their ad placement services that enables them to exclude ads from content on the grounds of poor taste. Take a look at the screenshot I grabbed today from SFGate on the horrific gas line explosion in San Bruno that destroyed dozens of homes, killed 4 people and left many others in the hospital, some with critical burns.

Retiring Ecto

I have used Ecto to write my blog posts for almost as long as I’ve been writing this blog. I just like having an offline editor to write with and doing so gives me the added benefit of having an offline archive of everything I have published, plus Ecto handles images really well and like a lot of things when you get used to something you stick with it and overlook the shortcomings.

For as good as Ecto is, there are shortcomings… it’s not particularly stable and as far as I can tell it has no real support, despite being acquired from the developer a few years ago. It also doesn’t benefit from any updates and when Twitter changed to OAuth last week the Twitter add-on I was using broke, which means I don’t ping Twitter with a “just blogged about x” tweet when publishing.

As of today I am banishing Ecto from my daily routine, I will use WordPress’ dashboard to write my posts and eventually I’ll get used to it and find things that I couldn’t do with Ecto (I already have).

The lesson here is for developers who are adding value to a service that has functionality that you are also competing with. A great app will earn much goodwill but over time that goodwill will erode if you don’t feed it with the occasional product update and minimal support.

More on this topic (What's this?)
Attend charm school before retiring
The Secret to Retiring a Millionaire
State Workers Retiring En Masse
Read more on Retiring at Wikinvest

Craigslist and Prostitution… Again.

It’s the issue that just won’t go away. I wrote about this over a year ago, here and here.

The New York Times makes a ridiculous assertion that Craigslist has removed the section and replaced it with the word “censored” as a ploy to inflame public support. It is a ridiculous assertion because the only groups who would be engaged by such a ploy are civil libertarians who have already been rallying in support of the company and people who engage in offering and soliciting adult services through Craigslist… so to follow the logic of the brain trust at the New York Times, the only net gain would be those people who are the least likely to get engaged in the public debate. Brilliant.

I read Jeff Jarvis’ piece and am inclined to agree with him on many of his points. I’d suggest you skip the vacuous NYT piece and go straight to Jarvis.

Before I end I do want to write about my thoughts on the macro issue here, prostitution. Craigslist is but a flash point in a much larger public debate about the legalization of prostitution and civil libertarians who are rallying to Craigslist’s defense fall into two categories, those that hold an academic argument about the appropriateness of government coming down on Craigslist to force changes in the way that they intermediate speech and commerce. They have a legitimate argument to make and strict constructionists would agree with them but this is the problem with strict constructionism, the Constitution and the laws that are derived from it are much more than the words alone so I agree with Justice Scalia in that laws “should be construed reasonable, to contain all that it fairly means”.

The other group of CL supporters I want to call out are the ones who offer that prostitution shouldn’t be criminalized and removing the adult section from CL won’t change anything. This may be true but it’s a disingenuous argument because chaos would ensue if we were simply to ignore the laws we don’t agree with and haven’t been reviewed through the legislative process… I see few people driving the speed limit on i280 so we should simply do away with speed limits as a result? If you don’t like the law, mount a campaign to build public support and then elect public officials who will change it or do so through the ballot initiative process. In the face of legislative inaction this is exactly what the organized groups supporting the legalization of marijuana have been doing.

I’ve been careful to not insert my own view on this issue but it is important to recognize that this debate really has 4 major components that have to be considered and to ignore them is to do a disservice to your own argument:

1) Exploitation of children for sex.

2) Pimping, the economic benefit derived from the prostitution of others.

3) Cross border trafficking of women for forced prostitution.

4) The commercial sex industry in the broadest of terms.

The Nordic countries have for many years evolved different laws and approaches to prostitution, Finland and Sweden are perhaps the most interesting to study from a comparative standpoint. If you are interested in this debate you should do your own research on the experiences of the Nordic countries because it’s very clear that simply legalizing the commercial sex industry does little to resolve the serious crimes of sex involving children, pimping, and human trafficking.

I don’t know why Craigslist replaced their adult services section with the word “censored” but it does seem like a childish move that fails to recognize the human issues playing out. Newmark and Buckmaster also need to reconsider their approach to this issue over the years because their detached and awkward demeanor at the various stages of this debate has done little to help them advance their cause.

If anything they seem to be going backward and I think no better example of this exists than Buckmaster explaining why they stopped giving money to non-profit organizations helping women, saying (to paraphrase) that they were tired of seeing these organizations hold media events to tear up the check that Craigslist was giving them. I don’t think Buckmaster has the self-awareness and humility necessary to understand why these organizations didn’t want Craigslist money that was the result of payment for sex service advertising, but I wish he would consider that question.

Vox Shutting Down

Six Apart is shutting down their Vox blogging service at the end of September. I’m surprised it has taken this long…

I, like most people, never got why Vox even launched in the first place but it’s a great lesson in product portfolio management. Vox was originally pitched as a blogging platform that embraced video and images, was easy to use, and had a social layer, which is all great but I thought that these are attributes that their Typepad service, the flagship product, was supposed to embrace. In other words, they created a new product that highlighted how their flagship product was deficient, or at a minimum redundant.

This, like a lot of things that Six Apart did, were distractions that opened a very large door for WordPress to walk right on through. I say this as a frustrated former customer of Six Apart, my first blog was on Typepad and when I implemented blogs internally at SAP I used Movable Type but in the end these were both decisions I regretted and this blog has operated reliably and to my satisfaction on a self-hosted WordPress installation and SAP now uses Jive and other products behind the firewall.

Six Apart has some redeeming qualities, they do very well in select international regions and I understand that their ad strategy is paying off, but they are also a great example of a company that pioneered a market segment and became dominant only to lose their status, permanently at this point, to an upstart with a better product and clearer vision coupled with really good execution.

There’s been some deal buzz around Six Apart for the first time in a long time, it would not surprise me to see them get acquired at this point, they have been around a long time and their investors certainly will want to see something happen.