Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's Hard to Beat the Bullshit Detector

For a few years now I've had an idea for a screenplay stuck in my head. The idea is original and I believe that it has the ability to entertain millions. Those who've heard me describe this idea agree that it has value. It's full of intrigue, twists, turns, and all the necessary dramatic elements required to hold the attention of a full theatre for about two hours (or so I hope).

Although I've defined the main plot, the characters, and the settings, it turns out that it's much more difficult to write a good script than I believed. The issue that keeps getting me is the dialogue. Apparently it's quite challenging to make inherently artificial conversations seem real and pertinent to the plot. Every time I conceive a verbal exchange, the results seem fake.

I've begun to make progress and to develop more realistic dialogue. But this frustrating exercise has reminded me of the difficulty of writing both relevant and realistic conversations. Maybe this is why written speeches and presentations are so difficult to pull off, or why improvisation often comes across more naturally. Practice has helped me get better in my writing. But the innate bullshit detector that is present in most people is a tool that shouldn't be forgotten, no matter what message is being conveyed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Destructive Force of Exhaustion

Exhaustion is a powerful force, a disease of modern society. It empowers laziness and complacency. It diminishes goodwill and cheerful cooperation. A fundamental lack of rest destroys productivity and gives rise to careless mistakes. In aggregate, exhaustion is a great economic detriment.

Thus we do everything we can to fight exhaustion. Coffee is one way to fight the symptoms. The proliferation of energy drinks, such as Red Bull, illustrates that we crave better, stronger, longer ways to remain sharp. Although it's hard to believe that anything but sleep or meditation can fight the fundamental illness, any organization that comes close to curing the disease (without significant side effects) will quickly build a global brand, a powerful counterforce.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Principles of the Digital Gaming Generation

Since I only briefly introduced the Digital Gaming Generation yesterday, I thought that it would be helpful to dive a little deeper and to further describe the core principles of this generation. These principles relate the basic laws, trends, and offerings of video games to personal and professional life:
  • High Score. Nearly all digital games have traditionally offered a way to objectively score progression and overall success. The Digital Gaming Generation expects this implied objectivity to universally apply to personal and professional matters.
  • Lives. Most early and many current games give the main protagonists some form of multiple lives. This most clearly relates to the concept of second chances. My generation doesn't view failure in the same way that previous age-groups did - it's a badge of honor that allows us to quickly get up, dust off, and try again by applying the lessons-learned from failure.
  • Reset. This concept is similar to Lives but is more absolute. A video game allows players to restart and relive - this option for a new beginning applies to personal relationships and careers.
  • Pause/Save. Video games allow players to grab a snack, go for a walk, or play another game by having a Pause or Save option - essentially freezing the game while ensuring that the player will be able to start from the same point. This is most relevant for career decisions, since sabbaticals, vacations, and other forms of free time become more highly valued. Employer-flexibility and less-stringent intellectual property rules also become more relevant.
  • Upgrade. Gaming technology has consistently improved by offering better graphics, richer sounds, more complex concepts, etc. This means that there is an underlying expectation for consistent improvement, new experiences, new endeavors, and new challenges.

Although I'm positive that there are more core principles, these five represent the basis for a completely unique perspective on life and the world that we live in.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Game of Life for the Digital Gaming Generation

I am part of a generation that was born to a world of video games - I am a member of the Digital Gaming Generation. We are a group that hasn't lived without the option to score digital points, explore virtual worlds, or "compete" for hours-upon-hours against pixilated adversaries.

It is within this context that we view the world. My generation functions within a completely different paradigm from all previous age-groups - where reality can and should be augmented at all times by computers large and small, where measuring success, i.e. seeing the score, should be explicit and constant.

It is within this reality that a new crop of mobile and Internet-based offerings begins to bridge reality and the digital domain. For example, the newly launched Booyah links real world accomplishments (such as travel) to a virtual self in a virtual community - fully linked to Facebook and Twitter. Foursquare takes a similar but more localized approach - rewarding real world socialization with virtual badges and titles.

These games are made possible in part due to the proliferation of location-based technology in mobile phones. They also represent the obvious tip of a major game-life iceberg that is yet to come. These early examples link real world fun with virtual world fun - an easy connection to establish. The really interesting innovations will come when games are linked to more serious matters such as personal health, political involvement, financial decisions, on-the-job effectiveness, etc. Mine is the generation that incorporates the principles of gaming into all parts of life.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Truman Show

I love quirky movies - movies that can't be easily defined, that are poignant and moving, and that are persistently memorable. A prime example of such a difficult-to-find movie is The Truman Show. The film, which was released in 1998, combines comedy and drama, reality and science fiction, subtlety and extravagance.

The core of the plot is naturally unbelievable. Truman Burbank is a seemingly common guy who isn't common at all. His life is actually one sensational 24/7 television show in which everyone but him is a participating actor. The plot evolves as Truman's psyche devolves - as he realizes that something is fundamentally wrong with his perfect yet shallow life. The whole movie builds brilliantly to a culminating third act - an emotionally moving progression that always gets me.

I'm not quite sure why this film resonates so strongly with me, why I always watch it when it is on television. It could be the predictive nature of the plot - that it strongly foreshadowed the rise of the absurd phenomenon that is reality television. It may be the strong performances, my respect for Jim Carrey, or the overall quality of the production. Or it could stem from my core need to find meaningful context in every-day reality.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Hurdle Rate

Yesterday I wrote about how the economic recession has allowed a new generation of Internet and mobile-based financial services organizations to gain a foothold and gain new customers. Although there is now an opportunity for these firms to fundamentally alter a stagnant industry, three large hurdles still remain:
  1. Regulation. The FDIC, SEC, and other acronym-wielding regulatory institutions are keeping a close eye on emerging players. Prosper was required to stop operating for nearly a year while its legal status was established. Not only has regulation been stepped-up since the meltdown, but I also suspect that lobbyists representing the established corporations are hard at work trying to slow the progress of new entrants.
  2. Security. Although the digital world may realistically be safer than the physical, negative perception of Internet security still poses a threat to new companies. News of data breaches and various new scams must be avoided through new protection methods and security measures.
  3. Human Interaction. The Internet has minimized the need for physical infrastructure but it hasn't completely removed the need for actual human interaction - especially when negotiation and large transactions are involved. Companies like Scottrade have been successful because they continue to maintain a minimal live presence. Some level of face-to-face communication will continue to be necessary.

None of these hurdles are unbeatable. But they must be recognized and consciously tackled by new entrants that wish to grow and establish widespread trust.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

First Comes News, Then Comes Finance

The Internet has had a tremendous impact on how news is documented and disseminated. From basic websites, to blogs, to Twitter, the digital-communication revolution has nearly destroyed the traditional newspaper business. The Internet has left news up for grabs with new entrants such as the Huffington Post increasingly replacing the old-style, corporate-news behemoths.

It took nearly 20 years for the Internet to bring traditional news to its knees - and in the next five, many physical newspapers might be extinct. But only now has this shakeup hit the mainstream consciousness. So what industry has been experiencing a similar, quickly escalating transformation that will very soon destroy fundamental assumptions and long-accepted business models? Financial Services.

Since the first banks began to utilize the Internet as an additional channel, this new, digital form of communication has quickly grown its power to substantially augment the old, stodgy traditions of finance. But the recent credit crisis and bank-driven economic meltdown has finally opened the door to new and yet unestablished entrants to successfully compete. No longer are Bank of America or Morgan Stanley perceived to be any more reputable than new Internet-based startups.

The past year has seen the rise of numerous new companies which now offer competitive and very innovative financial services products:
  • Savings. This foundational component of banking is now offered by specialized startups such as SmartyPig - added is a touch of social networking and collective encouragement
  • Personal Lending. Credit cards and banks now must compete with the crowd. Peer-to-peer lending platforms such as Prosper and Lending Club give private individuals the ability to lend to other private individuals
  • Student Lending. Individuals can also utilize People Capital to pool their money and fund loans for students
  • Money/Investment Management. Companies such as Mint and Wesabe aggregate one's financial activities and provide an added layer of oversight and simplicity. Covestor has just launched a new form of investment management that promises transparency and democracy.

These and many other examples depict an industry quickly approaching the same tipping point that traditional news is now struggling with. After all, as Fred Wilson likes to say, money is just information. We no longer trust the established system with our information any more than we trust innovative entrepreneurs. Change is quickly coming to an industry that is finally ripe for a tectonic shift.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What I Learned from Esperanto

Last week I wrote a blog entry about the lessons that Twitter must learn from Esperanto in order to become the "pulse of the planet." Although the intent of the post had a pretty common theme - learn from the past to succeed in the future - I received an unexpectedly loud response from Esperanto speakers and followers. It was fascinating to see what I perceived to be an esoteric and niche subject receive so much support.

This little experience taught me a few things. Here is what I learned:
  • Any movement/knowledge/method/language that's existed for nearly 150 years clearly has innate value that shouldn't be underestimated.
  • The Internet gives any group, new or old, large or small, the ability to organize, mobilize, and experience new growth. Although this might seem trite, it's so powerful that it can't be ignored and can't be talked about enough.
  • As new content is created at all times on all subjects, real-time search and notification is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
  • The Internet disproportionately magnifies the value of knowledge and communication - effort seems to be the most important tool of any movement.
  • I need to write about Esperanto more often.

Although I still believe that Esperanto hasn't succeeded in fulfilling its primary goal - to become the global second language - it is still very much alive and kicking.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Little Games Could Save the Big Newspapers

A lot has been said about the death of newspapers and the established print media. Although most traditional news and magazine companies have developed a relatively vibrant Internet presence, this additional channel hasn't generated enough revenue to make up for the loss of the paper-product readership. A viable Internet-based business model doesn't exist yet.

I believe that The New York Times finally stumbled upon a potential new revenue source today. The Times rolled out a simple game to demonstrate how easily drivers can be distracted by fiddling with a mobile phone while driving. Although the game is only a bonus meant to augment a serious article, I found myself spending more time "playing" than reading.

Newspaper websites and casual mini-games could be a match made in heaven. Newspapers have the content to drive repeat website visitors. Companies like HeyZap have the little games that can provide occasional relaxation and fun. The gaming companies are also able to tap into large networks of developers that can create custom games that are tailored to particular articles or themes.

Revenue models are pretty simple - either embedded advertisements or virtual-goods marketplaces generate small incremental payments that have the potential to significantly add up. Since a growing percentage of adults were raised while playing video games, gaming is no longer associated with purely childish acts and can now seriously co-exist alongside most articles.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fear Is Contagious

I find fear to be an important topic because many important decisions are influenced by this fundamental emotion. Last month I wrote about Fuzzy Fear and ironically I stumbled upon another interesting fear-related insight in the same magazine, New Scientist.

Results of a recent study indicate that fear is a contagious emotion. When we experience fear we emit an additional chemical in our sweat that triggers fear in those around us. This makes evolutionary sense, since groups of humans probably benefited from the rapid spreading of fear - i.e. it allowed our predecessors to quickly flee danger in unison.

This trait has interesting implications in our current society. Stock trading groups (either on trading floors or sitting next to each other) could be quickly debilitated by a rapid contagion of fear. Our military would benefit from somehow eliminating the release of fear-causing chemicals. Less experienced (and thus more fearful) doctors might negatively affect the performance of those physicians around them.

This also means that as communication over digital channels continues to proliferate and replace face-to-face contact, our culture should theoretically experience less collective fear. But this is far from reality. We have apparently developed new evolutionary fear-related triggers that depend on cold data and vivid images. It seems that collective fear is unavoidable.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Giving Grid

New York City is like many other cities in the U.S. and the world because, unfortunately, beggars of all shapes and sizes are relatively common. In the subways, the streets, and other public spaces, many individuals attempt to make a living by requesting charitable acts from passersby.

I try to be a giving person and to donate whenever possible. But recently I realized that I apply a subconscious method of evaluating who to give my hard-earned dollars to. I realized that not all beggars are created equal and that I use two instantaneous filters to evaluate my act of giving:
  1. Need. Need is the obvious filter for triggering a donation and is determined by a collection of different observable traits. These characteristics include how the beggar is dressed, the beggar's cleanliness, the begging-story (written on a paper or spoken), the beggar's physical state (e.g. weight), etc.
  2. Likeability. Likeability is the less obvious filter. Likeability is boosted by a coherent and logical verbal case for donation - including tone and passion. A non-threatening approach and appearance always helps increase the likeability factor. A musical and/or physical performance also usually boosts likeability.
I instantaneously apply this 2x2 grid to determine whether or not I open my wallet. Boxes II. and IV. sometimes receive a donation but a fundamental lack of a particular trait might prevent me from donating - e.g. a scary but clearly needy individual or a well dressed street performer. Box III. never receives a donation - e.g. a pushy yet well dressed beggar. Box I. always receives a donation - e.g. a talented performer who is modestly dressed.

Although it might seem odd and potentially cold that even the act of giving has a logical method, it does point to the fact that most decisions in life are far from random.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Will Twitter Be the Modern Esperanto?

With the recent disclosure of numerous internal and confidential documents from Twitter, the world has gained a deeper insight into the core business strategy and goals of this fast-growing company. The most major goal seems to revolve around the total number of users. With that, Twitter states that it desires to become "the pulse of the planet" and questions whether its role is to build the "new Internet."

Even a fractional success could change the way we communicate using the Internet and other digital platforms. But unfortunately, these lofty aspirations remind me of the intent of another global man-made communication system: Esperanto. Esperanto is a modern language first designed in the late 19th century. It is a hybrid of primarily European languages with its own grammar, alphabet, and other communication rules. The language was conceived to unite the world and to serve as the new global method for understanding and interaction - to essentially become the new "pulse of the planet."

Although Esperanto did at one point have millions of supporters and speakers, it has failed to reach its intended status. This lack of success is due to numerous fundamental flaws including the fact that the language didn't take into consideration the increasingly influential world outside of Europe. I believe that Twitter faces the same fundamental flaw. It seems to be failing to consider the increasingly influential world outside of North America. Its founders, staff, and most successful users still come from a predominantly U.S.-centric culture. If Twitter truly intends to be "the pulse of the planet" it must quickly expand its source of inspiration, design, and usage.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Persistence can be a trite subject. So it's extremely difficult to write poignantly about the matter. But I'll give it a try and we'll see what happens.

I'm very confused about how to define persistence - there seems to be a consensus that it's good, but no one seems to offer a valid definition. It's challenging for me to differentiate between persistence and stubbornness, persistence and hope, persistence and luck. Whether in sports, social matters, or business, the line between unwise resistance and brave fortitude is usually very thin.

This is why I have difficulty in applying the lessons of Seth Godin's famous book, The Dip. How do we know when the boundary has been crossed? How do we know when a particular fight is not worth fighting? It's hard to tell without the right definition.

Any quantitative approach is in the end based on various assumptions - which are at best reasonable guesses. Competing studies place their respective bets on either snap-decisions or prolonged contemplation. It's frustrating to realize that there is no absolute answer.

So my best guess at the moment is that persistence is actually some functional combination of stubbornness, hope, and luck. As a wise friend keeps saying, maybe the solution stems from answering why instead of how.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Fun Factor

I spent this evening with my friend Brian, taking advantage of the different options that New York has to offer - great food, great scenery, and a vibrant diversity. Today is Tuesday, a weeknight evening in the middle of the greatest recession of my generation. But the people of New York aren't huddled at home. I was surprised by the sheer amount of people on the streets, in bars, restaurants, and other venues.

Fun it seems, isn't a want, it's a need. Just as the people of the Great Depression danced, as the people stuck in shelters during World War II played cards and sang, as the people that managed to laugh following September 11, the people of today are continuing to have fun. Fun maintains sanity, productivity, and society.

Fun is obviously different during tough times, but it can't be irradiated. It usually takes a new shape, often a more social twist. It usually comes at a lower price (that's another reason why mini-fun is such an opportunity), but it fulfills the same innate human needs. So those developing new ways to have fun shouldn't have anything to worry about - as long as it doesn't demand too many resources, your product is almost as indispensible as food, shelter, and clothing...almost.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mini-Fun Has Room to Grow

I enjoy mini golf and table tennis (also known as ping-pong). I also love Twitter. What do all of those activities have in common? They are all miniature versions of larger acts: golf, tennis, and blogging. Unfortunately all three activities are often considered immature, not serious, or in some way trivial.

I believe that is a huge mistake. Miniature activities should be taken seriously and further developed. In a world where time is the most precious commodity we possess, bite-sized fun will only grow. I want to be able to get a taste of something fun in a relatively short period of time, near where I live (potentially in my home), with as little hassle as possible.

So all those out there looking to start a new business, how about shrinking old pastimes and creating miniature baseball, football, paintball, carnivals, zoos, camps, get the big picture.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Another Middleman Bites the Dust?

I stumbled across an interesting website recently: RentHop. For anyone interested in looking to rent an apartment in New York City, this resource offers quite a bit of information on available listings. The website seems to bypass brokers and gather information directly from the horse's mouth, the New York City landlords. In this way various broker fees can be avoided.

RentHop, and websites like it, have the potential to do what I spoke about in one of my recent entries, to completely bypass the real estate middleman - at least for the act of initial scoping and rental-information discovery. As a former real estate broker in NYC, I believe that such Internet-based resources will need to meet three requirements to successfully compete with good New York City brokers:
  • Timeliness. The rental market in New York moves very quickly - especially during the summer months. Good brokers have up-to-the-minute information and thus give the advantage to their clients in a fast-moving market.
  • Completeness. Landlords are a clever bunch. They know how to control the flow of information about current listings, in order to maximize profit - i.e. they can time the release of certain facts so as to rent certain apartments before others. Good brokers know how to go beyond these barriers and can dig deeper to find the necessary data.
  • Neutrality. Websites looking to replace brokers for rental search must remain neutral. If particular landlords are given an advantage then the resource will be no better than the advertisements in a local newspaper. Good brokers don't take sides, they don't favor particular landlords, and will do what's best for the client.

Although I believe that all three requirements can be met, brokers will always be required for fair negotiation and other "softer" rental steps. Although this middleman won't be killed yet, he does have something to worry about.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

In Defense of the Business Card

The business card has been taking a beating recently. The digital age is looking to once-and-for-all kill the little piece of cardboard that has been a staple of the business world for more than a century. Companies like DubMeNow and rmbrME are looking to capitalize on this trend by utilizing mobile technology to completely digitize the business card and to remove the need for any physical business-related insignia.

The arguments against business cards fail to realize the actual purpose of these little personal identifiers. Critics offer only weak and disconnected arguments. Sure it's easier to store and share digital data but this only gives us a glorified, digitized phonebook. Business cards are relatively small and could easily be printed only from recycled materials, removing the resource argument.

The purpose of business cards is to build or augment a brand, to signify a basic level of mutual understanding, and to offer a memory and reminder of a positive communication. Business cards give professionals a small bit of creative outlet in a world that often lacks such pleasures - the most memorable cards are slightly different in some way. The exchange of cards is a process that is valuable in itself - usually requiring a meaningful conversation and a basic level of mutual respect.

After I arrive home following a conference, networking event, or some other meeting, I usually empty my pockets and wallet. What I often find is a few business cards that remind me of the conversations and the people that I encountered throughout the day. I remember the insights and quirks of the characters I communicated with. It is this nearly unavoidable reminder and additional thought that gives business cards their real value which cannot be replicated by a few kilobytes of digital text.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

At Arm's Length

Since humans first developed rudimentary tools to solve simple problems, we've felt very comfortable and seemingly attached to useful handheld items. A recent study offers a potential explanation as to why we so easily utilize inanimate objects to solve countless problems and to better our lives. The investigation concludes that it's likely that our minds perceive handheld mechanical tools as natural extensions of our arms, as actual continuations of our anatomy.

"The brain maintains a physical map of the body, with different areas in charge of different body parts. Researchers have suggested that when we use tools, our brains incorporate them into this map."

This makes a lot of sense. It also potentially explains consumer behavior and technology adoption patterns. Our physiology could be the reason that the personal computer truly experienced rapid acceptance when the mouse was attached as a standard interaction-feature (a much more handheld tool than the keyboard). This could also partly explain why mobile communication, with the mobile handset, has so quickly spread to surpass personal computer penetration or why the Nintendo Wii is so revolutionary for gaming.

It's pretty obvious that a lot more handheld gadgets will soon be available, and now we know that our anatomy is already prepared.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The City of Options

New York City is a wonderful place. But it's also one of the most expensive cities in the world. The cost of living, including food and shelter, makes residing in New York a sacrifice. Other sacrifices include the fact that one must accept a below-average level of personal space, both within the home and in public.

So what makes living in New York a worthwhile endeavor? Options. There are the obvious options given to NYC residents: access to a diverse employment market, a wide array of cuisine choices, exceptional cultural experiences, solid educational offerings, and a higher probability of finding romantic connections.

But I believe that it's usually the less obvious options provided by major global cities, especially New York, that really balance the value-equation. These options can be small: such as overhearing incredibly interesting conversations, meeting young visionaries (entrepreneurs, philosophers, economists, writers, actors, etc.), encountering movie stars as they walk their dogs or yell at their children, seeing old movies in basement theatres, and many other small wonders. The options can also be large: like
pitching a business idea to the same man who invested in Twitter, playing a Grandmaster of chess in Washington Square Park, or being a part of the backdrop for American culture.

New York has something to offer to nearly everyone. Only not pursuing the large and small options that New York provides would make this city too expensive.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Trust is the first and primary currency of the Internet.

Yesterday I spoke about how the Internet is a seemingly infinite source of content with very few limitations on the delivery of that content. Although I genuinely believe that the Internet has been a predominantly positive development for humanity, this new platform has also promoted certain, negative human characteristics. In particular, guarded skepticism seems to be more prevalent in our current cyber-society.

The same mechanisms that support a near-free and open flow of information also make massive scamming operations a nearly risk-free endeavor. Because of this, the sheer scale of false advertising, phishing, and many other forms of digital crime are extremely widespread. From Independence Day to the death of Michael Jackson, bad guys exploit every event to find an "in" and to create false trust. Even URL shorteners offer a weak-spot for those wishing to mislead.

The reality is that the Internet often feels like the Wild West. This environment nurtures a heightened level of skepticism. I've not clicked on passed links, downloaded certain files, or even opened online birthday cards for the fear of devastating digital repercussions. For every headline that I read about a new scam or a new virus, the walls of fear get a little larger and my choices become a little smaller.

So in this new Internet-economy, the first foundational commodity and vital resource is trust. A level of trust represents the bare minimum for any Internet-based affirmative decision. Trust is the primary currency that must be guarded, saved, and wisely utilized.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Internet Isn't Radio

When I first began to consciously listen to FM radio in the New York area (in the late 1980s and early 1990s), the breakdown of music stations was similar to what it is today. There were a bunch of "current hits" stations, some modern rock/alternative, hip-hop/rap, and a few other random but current music genres. There was one major difference: the oldies. At that time, the oldies were considered to include popular music from the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. Today the oldies on FM radio primarily include classic rock from the late 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s.

This transition probably occurred somewhere in the mid-1990s due to the major generational shifts at the time - i.e. the Baby Boomers beginning to dominate the nostalgia/oldies market following the near-complete retirement (and decreased oldies consumption) of the Greatest and the Silent generations. There wasn't enough FM radio spectrum to cover all music from the 1930s through the early 1980s under the oldies umbrella, so station owners focused on the consumers that mattered most at the time.

When a similar consumer-driven generational power shift occurred with the most prominent modern form of content delivery, the Internet, old content didn't disappear but only took a back seat. When Generation Y came to dominate Generation X in Internet content-consumption, the Internet just became bigger, richer, and better.

This relatively innocuous comparison reinforces an important lesson about today's main platform for communication, the Internet. Terrestrial FM radio is limited by the radio spectrum used to broadcast its tunes. The Internet is reaching a point where such delivery-limitations are quickly becoming nonexistent. This is why most new Internet content is stacked on top of old content - i.e. why Yahoo and AOL still exist alongside Google and Facebook.

This means that the Internet can't be really compared to any previous form of content-delivery platforms such as letters, pamphlets, newspapers, books, radio, television, or even cable television. The Internet faces nearly no scarcity problems for either supply or demand. The greatest limitation becomes time - time for creation and time for consumption.

This creates a whole new context for evaluating and discussing the economics of Internet content and content-delivery - a massive topic that I will analyze more in the near-future.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Home of the Brave Entrepreneurs

With July 4th approaching, I've been motivated to think about a few quintessential traits of the American business and innovation culture. The latest issue of one of my favorite e-zines further inspired me to think about this from an entrepreneurial perspective. Here are three fundamentally American quirks:

  • Failure is a badge of honor. This of course doesn't apply to all forms of failure, but it does apply to the entrepreneurial type of demise. The United States fosters an incredibly supportive environment for new ventures, and a key component of this support comes from the general acceptance of new-business busts. Entrepreneurs are heralded for offering new products and services and are respected for imagining new business models. Failure is just the occasional side-effect of innovation. This is further excused by the fact that second chances are an ingrained component of our culture.
  • Risky behavior is surprisingly supported. Even though the U.S. comes from conservatively puritanical roots, risk within the business context is generally encouraged. Although it is often publicly decried, high-levels of risk are actively pursued. Although new forms of minimizing risk are constantly invented, it is risk that brings great success stories such as Microsoft and Apple, but also great catastrophes such as the recent credit crisis.
  • Technology is both a friend and an enemy. Silicon Valley is still seen as the global hotbed of innovation. But Americans are often initially skeptical of new technology - which is usually masked through the concerns of "security" or "privacy." Adoption of new products usually differs from adoption in Japan or other Asian countries. Familiarity and acceptance of new technology takes longer to permeate our culture - this is why fast-followers are often more successful in reaching a massive audience - e.g. IBM with the personal computer, Microsoft with Windows, Apple with the iPod, Facebook with social networking, etc.

Although these quirks can make entrepreneurship in the United States tricky, they also create a unique environment that has nurtured and continues to nurture many of the most innovative companies in the world.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Facebook's Privacy Obstacle

As Facebook and Twitter both continue to evolve into similar offerings with similar services, one major philosophical difference between the two social networking behemoths seems to have no chance of disappearing any time soon: a focus or lack thereof on privacy.

Facebook seems to be obsessed with perfecting its privacy policies. Numerous iterations of their privacy functions have been rolled out since Facebook launched. The most fundamental and controversial change involved opening the website to non-college/high school students - to everyone. Today Facebook has again announced new modifications - slowly starting to open up its website. This issue isn't going away for Facebook; it's only becoming more muddied.

On the other hand, Twitter has reached massive scale with very little regard for privacy. Any user can follow any other user. Although the "block" function exists, I suspect that it's mainly used to block spammers and other evil-doers. Very low expectations have been set.

What does this philosophical difference mean? I think it's clear that Facebook has to play catch-up with Twitter on this issue. As more and more people become comfortable with the Internet and the free communication that it allows, privacy is quickly losing its value. Facebook should stop wasting time and other resources on this matter. Facebook needs to realize that privacy is not a requirement but instead an obstacle.