The Vortex: Oversharing

I’ve spent the last seven days trapped in the house with two sick children, which means I have more links piled up than I know what to do with, and my fuse is shorter than Balloon Boy’s 15 minutes (too soon?). So if I offend anyone, deal with it. This Vortex will also have to tide you over for a bit, as I am moving to Austin next week (whoop!) and will be offline. Now that you know far too much about my personal life, on to technology.

News from the Social Media Vortex

–This is biased but I don’t care. If you haven’t read Chris Shipley’s response to the latest Calacanis rant on angel investors, please do so posthaste. Surprise – she actually agrees with him! But she has some fun with it too.

–If a Nordic country falls from the Internet and no one notices, does it make a sound? Due to a typo in a script, Sweden dropped completely off the Interwebs for an hour and a half Monday night.

–Comic book fans now have reason to join Twitter. Neil Gaiman is conducting a storytelling experiment on the service, enlisting followers to help him create an audiobook. Madlibs for nerds, if you will.

–In news that surely made old-media stalwarts curl into the fetal position, the Huffington Post passed the LA Times and Washington Post in site traffic this week.

–It’s pretty hard to win the Worst. Post. Ever. award. When you consider the millions of blog posts that appear each week – many of which feature piano-playing cats – one would have to write something really painfully awful to win this award. So let’s all send hearty congratulations to John Biggs at MobileCrunch.

Apps on the Radar

Jason Meserve pointed me to the super-cool AutoStitch app, which lets you create panoramic pictures on your iPhone.

–During a search for a friend, I was referred to Get Apps Done, something of a clearing house for iPhone app developers and the people who need them.  Love stuff like this – a simple, logical concept that is needed by a large group of people.

–Were it 1989, I’d be excited about this.

–And finally, thanks to Apple’s new policy allowing developers to build paid upgrades into free applications, the follow-up (or part of it at least) to hugely popular game Rolando is now available for free.

Tweet of the Week

–It’s rare that the winner triumphs so easily but you’d be hard-pressed to trump Billy Ray Cyrus this week. After his daughter Miley threatened to leave Twitter, he responded with this:

Miley. You are a light in a world of darkness. You were born “Destiny Hope Cyrus” for a reason. You can’t leave everyone now. We r countin on u.

If I’d known the messiah was going to come in the form of an autotuned child star, I’d have watched more Disney Channel.

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Rage Against Angels Or Reach Out a Hand?

Jason Calacanis is at it again, and this time – dare I say it – the man has a point.  In a post last Friday, Jason rails (does he do anything other?) against angel investor groups that charge startups a fee to present at their forums.

He writes:

Recently, I was made aware of a group of angel investors that were charging startups to pitch them.

Yes, you heard that correctly: the rich people (angels) are charging the poor people (startup entrepreneurs desperate for cash to fuel their dreams) to hear their pitch. No, I’m not kidding. This is actually happening — and it’s widespread.

While I’ve long found insulting Jason’s “payola” rants and the accompanying characterizations of first-time founders as poor, lost and naïve inventors unable to make reasoned and reasonable decisions about how best to apply their scant resources, this time he’s got a point: savvy investors should bear the cost of meeting entrepreneurs and reviewing deal flow as the price of entry to the venture asset class.   But rather than decry the practice and advise young entrepreneurs, Jason does what he always does:

When I heard this, my blood started to boil immediately. So, I did what any maniacal, self-absorbed CEO from Brooklyn would do: I started a jihad against this dispicable [sic] form of payola and the people doing it. It’s on people … it’s on like a Donkey Kong.

. . . [If investor groups do not disclose their practices or stop charging fees],  my group of startup CEOs and angel investors will begin targeting specific groups for elimination. We will launch competing, fee-free events directly opposite your events. We will encourage angels [sic] investors, service providers and startups to boycott your events. You may even find our street teams outside your events handing out flyers.

So, while Jason arms his (cough) “Nation” with fliers and vindictive, how about some clear advice for entrepreneurs?

You see, unlike Jason, I don’t believe that entrepreneurs who pay to participate in investor pitch events are “ugly, unpopular and lack talent.”  Come on. Even Hugh Grant paid for sex.

Let’s face it: For the vast majority of startups, fund raising is a full-time occupation. Silicon Valley is a tight-knit and sometimes insular environment. It’s an environment of networks where who you know and how you know them is the difference between a call back and deafening silence.  And, frankly, an environment in which one should never confuse luck for talent.  Great entrepreneurs learn to navigate into that network, establishing relationships, seeking advice, giving as good as getting in order to be seen and heard above the throngs of entrepreneurs who also have dreams that just need a dose of capital to be realized.  For entrepreneurs relocating their businesses to the Valley from overseas or even across the Continent, the networking is even that much harder.

So, it’s tempting to want to shortcut that process, and nothing says “shortcut” like cash. Why not spend 1,000 bucks if a kiretsu of wealthy angels will listen to your pitch? And make no doubt about it, every entrepreneur who has ever pitched at a PlugAndPlay Expo has been told by at least one “investment consultant” that he’ll have to hire his way to venture capital.   A fifteen grand retainer and five to 10 points are table stakes.

For some entrepreneurs, the gamble pays off.  It’s an expensive way to raise money; before you’re even started as much as 10 percent of the raised capital is gone.  But, again, let’s be real:  the vast majority of startups don’t raise money from name-brand angels or top tier institutional investors.  In fact, the vast majority of startups aren’t successful in raising outside money at all.  These pay-to-pitch venues exist as a resource of last resort for entrepreneurs who haven’t had the good counsel to consider other options.

Railing against investor groups is one way to fight pay-to-pitch sessions, but I doubt it will work.  So long as there are entrepreneurs who relentlessly pursue their dreams, someone will find some way to exploit them.  But again, it needs to be said: no one is forcing those entrepreneurs to pony up for a pitch.  They make that (perhaps bad) choice all on their own.

Picketing investor meetings may make a statement, but if Jason – or any of us – really wants to support entrepreneurs, we’d do well to open our minds and our networks to them, remembering to give as good as we got when we first came to the Valley.

The Vortex: The Agony of Success

I’ve been awash in home-selling negotiations this week so I’m particularly cranky. You’ve been warned.

News from the Social Media Vortex

–As you’re well aware by now, Facebook acquired FriendFeed this week. Allow me to couch that: you’re well aware of this news only if you live in your browser. For those who frequent FriendFeed, though, it was like George Bush had been elected to a third term. Teeth were gnashed, tears were shed and exclamation points were employed with abandon. With characteristic good humor, FriendFeed set up a FestivusFeed on its site to allow for the airing of grievances.

I’ve been a long-time fan of FriendFeed and certainly understand the disappointment of a service’s community insiders. But the bottom line is that FriendFeed is a business that needs money to survive. Anyone who assumed that the site would exist as is in perpetuity needs to sign up for Economics 101 at your local community college. FriendFeed is an ingenious technology with a super-smart team that deserves to be seen and utilized by a much larger audience. Congratulations you guys – very well deserved. I can’t wait to see how far you go in Facebook.

–Marco Arment, Tumblr developer and Instapaper creator, took on Jason Calacanis this week, dissecting Calacanis’ I’ve-Decided-to-Hate-Apple post, picking apart the vast amount of circular, confusing and sometimes preposterous reasoning. There may have been a sound point or two in Calacanis’ post but those were overshadowed by his suggestion that we should activate multiple wireless services for one phone. Rather than defending his assertions, Calacanis instead “zinged” Marco by saying he needed a Wikipedia page and ending with a “for realz.” The really fun part? Jason did this on his personal Tumblr page.

–In related news, a Pear Analytics study found that 40% of Twitter updates are “pointless babble.”

Apps on the Radar

–Customers of USAA Bank will soon be able to deposit checks via iPhone, by taking a photograph of the front and back of the check. The actual check never even needs to be submitted. USAA is a small bank but their customers are primarily military personnel so they’re smartly adapting to fit client needs. Tech companies should take heed.

-AppsFire hasn’t been approved by iTunes yet but I’m hoping they jump on it. The iPhone app allows users to share favorite apps via email, something I’m surprised Apple didn’t come up with to begin with.

Tweet of the Week

–I fully admit to lifting this from the top slot on tweetingtoohard. But can you blame me? “I swear to g-d I can’t relate to most of society. I’m on a whole different level of consciousness.Its all so [censored] obvious. Wake the [censored] up.” – Loren Feldman

Wow. I need a shower after writing this one. Happy weekend, all.

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The Vortex: Less is More

Were I to tag this week, it would look something like this: SXSW, Facebook redesign, Foursquare, Christopher Walken, not Christopher Walken, Rackspace, Rob Cordry. Allow me to explain…

News from the Social Media Vortex

SXSW occurred and a good time was had by all, especially Foursquare which seemed to win the “Twitter of 2009″ buzz award during the week. What’s Foursquare? It’s the new version of Dodgeball. Not familiar with Dodgeball? It’s a handy mobile stalking tool.

–The Facebook redesign occurred and is not receiving the warmest of receptions. In a polling application created on the site, 954,000 users so far give it a thumbs down, with 58,000 approving. Will the masses cry loud enough to be heard? I’m working on a longer blog post about this, so check The Guidewire later.

–Robert Scoble disappointed me by neglecting to mobilize his army, at least for the moment. Instead, he’s launching a new content community with partner Rackspace, called Building 43. I’m a little fuzzy about what the new site is exactly, as his explanation involved Creative Commons, cloud computing, interactive videos, and something about boats in a tide.

–My initial excitement over Christopher Walken on Twitter was quickly dashed. It’s apparently an “experiment” – and an old one at that – by Clusterflock.org. Dear Clusterflock: 1) Don’t toy with my complex Walken-related emotions and 2) Change your name. Immediately.

Apps on the Radar

–My good buddy Josh pointed me to Contxts.com, a why-didn’t-they-think-of-this-sooner technology. SMS business cards. Brilliant. Think of the trees, people, and sign up for this hugely simple service.

Tweet of the Week

–My new favorite Tweeter is Rob Corddry, who curses heavily and never fails to amuse.But his rant to his two-year old couldn’t match the sheer terror inspired by Jason Calacanis: “Just had lunch with the former head of the CIA. fascinating discussion about religion, nukes, the middle east, oil and electric cars.”

Where to start: How did faux-celebrity Calacanis wangle lunch with the former head of the CIA? Did he bring a hit list with him?  Can we get more details on the “nukes” part of this discussion? Will any of us ever sleep peacefully again? I need answers.

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The Vortex: Jailhouse Rock

I stumble into this week’s Vortex still bleary-eyed from DEMO 09, so be gentle dear readers. If my verb tenses don’t match, blame four days of company-launching mixed with profuse cocktail-drinking. Welcome to the DEMO experience, Matt!

News from the Social Media Vortex

-Alert the authorities: Scoble’s leaving Fast Company. He’s hoping to announce his next project at SXSW next week. I’ve previously predicted that he will someday deploy his followers into an actionable army; we should all now await our mandatory draft orders.

-Speaking of alerting the authorities, Jason Calacanis fessed up yesterday to employing a convicted felon. After much effort and thought deciding which statement in his post deserves the most incredulity, I settled on Mahalo’s “rigorous hiring process.” It involves “five to eight interviews,” and three to five reference checks, but not, apparently, a five-second Google search. It’s worth reading what the developer was convicted of. Especially if you’ve given Mahalo any payment information in the past.

Apps on the Radar

-Webware points us to a handy browser tool, Ajax Document Viewer, that allows you to preview pdfs in your browser without downloading them.

-Amazon launched a Kindle app for the iPhone. I’m intrigued enough to check it out but honestly can’t fathom reading a book on that small screen.

-I have a long list of whiz-bang stuff from DEMO to download. XMarks (bookmark-powered Web discovery), Evri’s new toolbar and Collections feature (personalized search), Cc:Betty (email organization), Sobees (social desktop aggregator), and Gwabbit (Outlook contact organization), just to name a few. Check out all the demonstrators for yourself at DEMO 09.

Twitterer of the Week

-If you’re a fan like I am, you’ll be happy to see that David Lynch is now twittering. (And yes, it’s really him.) Daily weather reports mixed with deep thoughts – how very Lynchian.

Ephemera

-Do check out The Daily Show’s hilarious report on Twitter. I expect Grunter and Voweler to be launched within the month.

-This is from several weeks back, but too funny to resist. Mullah Zaif, a former Taliban official, is as in love with his iPhone as us infidels. “I’m addicted,” he said, “the Internet is great on this, very fast.”

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The Vortex: The Volcano Bubbles

Lots o’ links saved up this week. Let’s see if I can adequately sort through them without boring you. No Vortex next week, as Chris and I are headed to London and Dublin for the next round of Innovate!Europe workshops. Pip pip.

News from the Social Media Vortex

-Twitter possibly raised another round of funding, on a rumored $250 million valuation. Here’s the question you should ask yourself: if Twitter started charging $20 a month to use it, would you pay it? If not, would you truly miss it? Be honest. Duncan Riley’s assessment is so apt, I may just make it the motto of this weekly review: “Until the very end, the citizens of Pompeii continued their decadent lives, until being buried for eternity.”

-Here’s a fun one. A conservative take on Wikipedia, called Conservapedia, has been taken down after Wonkette revealed a not-so-veiled hit list of Democratic senators on the site.

-The Boy Genius Report posted a spot-on list of things to hate about the iPhone. I would like to add the awful Google Voice Search to that list, which translated “Who directed A Fish Called Wanda” into “bass fish called wanda.” Not helpful.

-And I suppose we have to mention the kerfuffle of the week. Michael Arrington was spat upon in Munich and Jason Calacanis immediately responded with a call for an industry-wide group hug. I’ll simply posit that civility and manners in the technosphere should be an everyday fact of life, not a one-day occurrence when spittle is hurled.

Apps on the Radar

-Sarah Perez pointed me to RepairPal, an incredibly helpful iPhone app that uses GPS to deliver roadside assistance, auto repair estimates, and a repair shop directory.

-Hangman Cheat – if anyone can beat this thing, you are my linguistic hero.

-Not so much an app as a new feature, you can now submit news items to Techmeme via Twitter. Good idea in theory but I pity the soul who’ll have to wade through all the PR tips and self-promoting bloggers. (God knows I’ll be promoting myself shamelessly.)

DEMO trends – where the innovation lies with DEMO 09 applicants

-rich media publishing integrated with key back-office tools

-more location-aware mobile couponing – really getting a lot of traction this year

-highly personalized semantic networks

Tweet of the Week

-I swear I’m not kissing butt here. Chris Shipley’s tweet from the DLD Munich conference made me guffaw – and wish I was there: “At #DLD: ‘moving to an era of bio spare parts’ – Philippe Poullety. After visit to beer garden last night, I await the spare liver.”

Ephemera

-In the This Should Help You Sleep at Night department, a New Zealand man bought a used MP3 player filled with US military data, including personal details of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. The worst sentence: “He says he will hand it over to the US Defense Department should it ever ask.” Um, let’s go ahead and ask, shall we?

The View from Guidewire: New Year, New Silliness

I let ‘The View’ posts slide during the holiday malaise but the first work week of 2009 brings a bevy of technosphere fun. And apparently it also brings a rise in my snark quotient. I’ll try to be nicer next week.

News from the Social Media Vortex

-Several celebrity Twitter accounts, including Obama and Britney Spears, were hacked, causing much kerfuffle and official statements from Twitter. Users were alerted to “change your password!” because no one wanted to admit they weren’t famous enough to be hacked.

-The big discussion this week on FriendFeed was… FriendFeed. Louis Gray wrote a post on what FriendFeed needs to do to grow (some great ideas in there, by the way) and it gets 140 comments on his site alone. Several others chime in to debate further, including Sarah Lacy, who predicts “a modest acquisition in someone’s future.”  Hmmm, I’ve heard that somewhere before… Paul Buchheit, FriendFeed investor and founder, then has his say, requesting that folks remember there is no such thing as overnight success. I probably skipped a few steps in there but you get the gist: FriendFeed needs to grow and attract more mainstream consumers. See also: Pope’s hat and bear in woods.

-Gawker Media continues to sell off its properties, with Consumerist going to Consumer Reports, and my beloved Defamer looking for a home. Seriously folks, someone snap up Defamer – it has some of the wittiest writing online.

2008 in the rearview mirror

-I’ve had Jason Kottke’s Best Links 2008 in an open tab all week. There’s a lot to wade through but it’s all fascinating. And there are a couple of fun games buried in there too. [Note: why can't I get Passage to run on my computer? I've been dying to play it since I read Jason Rohrer's Esquire profile.]

-Speaking of games, Mochi Media released its list of the top 10 flash games for 2008. Click that link at your own peril. Hours of time suckage lie in wait.

-And don’t miss Pitchfork’s 20 Worst Album Covers of 2008. I think my favorite comment is on Brad Paisley’s cover: “The artist who did this also designed GeoCities pages for people in 1996.”

Apps on the Radar

-WebEx introduced its iPhone app, for those times when you want your browser to crash on a smaller screen.

-ReadWriteWeb tells me there’s a Change.gov iPhone app now available but I’m not sure I believe them. Searches in iTunes and on my phone turned up nothing. **Update: Christopher Corfi was kind enough to include links to the Change.gov app. See comment #2 below.

-I finally downloaded Enigmo and am officially hooked. It was voted best iPhone game at last year’s developer conference and completely merits the title.

DEMO trends – where the innovation is with DEMO 09 applicants

-Consumer-controlled marketing – allowing users to control the conversation on business sites

-Social Web – a remote control for your online experience

-Immersive learning – transitioning education to 21st century tools

Ephemera

-Apple is possibly developing iPhone gloves. You heard me correctly – gloves for using your iPhone in the cold. For those times when you just can’t abide the extra five minutes it takes to, you know, go inside.

Tweet of the Week

It’s a three-way tie this week, since we haven’t named anyone in several weeks. Drumroll please…

-Funniest: (And cheating a bit because this was a FriendFeed entry) Alex Scoble, brother of Robert, – “I’ve created a pastime out of coming up with new ways to humorously say that my brother’s head is gargantuan.”

-Pithiest: @marshallk, who got married New Year’s Eve (congrats!) and said, “thx everyone. gotta say though, wedding license applications, next to “domestic partnership” apps, felt like a whites’ only water fountain.”

-And this one came in just as I was wrapping up the post.  Most Out of Touch of With Reality goes to @JasonCalacanis: “Must. Not. Order. Corvette. ZR1. STOP. DON’T DO IT. Recession. Not appropriate. DRIVE TESLA. Save. Planet. STOP. DON’T ORDER.”

We should all have such problems.

Profits Not So Evil After All

It’s no secret that DEMO, the launch event owned and operated by IDG and programmed by Guidewire Group, has faced stiff criticism for its practice of charging selected companies an $18,500 fee to participate in its program, which is as much about go-to-market and after-launch support as it is about making a six-minute demonstration on a public stage. A new competitor, TechCrunch, does not charge a fee to the companies it recruits to its TC50 conference, coincidentally scheduled to overlap with DEMOfall in early September. As the “free” launch platform, TC50 has positioned itself as the friend of entrepreneurs and its co-producer has taken umbrage at DEMO’s “payola” (his words, not ours) business model.

In fact, Jason Calacanis commented on a post on this blog earlier this week:

At the end of the day I don’t have a problem with you Chris. I actually think you’re very smart and cool. What I do have a problem with is the $18,500 fee. Intelligent folks can disagree about these fees, and the different models of our shows. I believe we have a better model and that the marketplace will vote with our model and “conference payola” (I know you don’t like the term) will stop. As an entrepreneur myself I want to kill the “pay for play” model.

So it was with keen interest that I saw an email yesterday from Heather Harde, TechCrunch CEO, regarding TechCrunch’s MeetUp at August Capital in July. Continue reading