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Books & Articles I wrote.

Monday, August 01, 2005

 

Quote of the century?

"Look, if this Google thing pans out, then great. If not, you can return to
graduate school and finish your thesis." He chuckles, then adds: "I said, 'Yeah,
OK, why not? I'll just give it a try.'"

Sergey Brin [co-founder of Google] talking with his advisor, reluctant to leave Stanford as he wanted to finish his PhD.

This should be printed on every software start-ups front door.

I read as much as a can about these guys and guys like them. It reminds me that luck and timing comes to everyone. They worked hard for it too.

Get ready for this : The Search


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We Are the Web

The case for taghop

"The Netscape IPO wasn't really about dot-commerce. At its heart was a new
cultural force based on mass collaboration. Blogs, Wikipedia, open source,
peer-to-peer - behold the power of the people."

"... impulse for participation has upended the economy and is steadily turning the sphere of social networking - smart mobs, hive minds, and collaborative action - into the main event."

"What happens when the data flow is asymmetrical - but in favor of creators? What happens when everyone is uploading far more than they download? If everyone is busy making, altering, mixing, and mashing, who will have time to sit back and veg out? Who will be a consumer?"

"What matters is the network of social creation, the community of collaborative interaction that futurist Alvin Toffler called prosumption. As with blogging and BitTorrent, prosumers produce and consume at once."

"We think we are merely wasting time when we surf mindlessly or blog an item, but each time we click a link we strengthen a node somewhere in the Web OS, thereby programming the Machine by using it."

Kevin Kelly at Wired.

I believe this will return - in force. We just have to make it easy to be as passively active as possible. What can we learn from what you do, where you do it and so on - without you having to tell us.


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Email to James Surowiecki and Malcolm Gladwell

James, Malcolm - i just read the email to-and-thro between each of you [1].

I had ordered both books as well before i read those emails (doing some background reading!).
I do have a quick question that I am itching to ask before these books arrive based on what you both discussed.

In the most common sense, I do agree that a merging of both ideas (from what I have read from your mails) satifies some of the things that come to mind when i consider each concept. So, my general understanding is that the crowds can be averaged to provide a better (or at least as good) answer than the individual expert. What happens online (or even offline) when the "crowd" doesn't just have its own opinions and ideas, but when part of the crowd is altogether disruptive. Consider spammers on the web, identity theft and such. You see I am working on a concept [2] and the main problem i have relative to crowds - and in relation to your ideas - is that part of that crowd can be deliberately disruptive. I also assume that is they are VERY disruptive then the net effect can be quite large (unless you were to assume you have a VERY proactive person on the other side, which is probably unlikely).
Considering Malcolm's ideas, the result of the expert is Boolean. If he really is the expert then his advice is true (whether it is correct or not is another question - it IS his - or her - advice). If he is not the expert then the advice can be disgarded (would you trust advice from someone you can't trust).

My issue is that there is a real common ground between the two ideas - one that is behind spam, identity theft and one that really will effect the net effect of your ideas. It is identity. There are a load of things i could have off that (relative trust, privacy and so on), but if you can identify someone then they can realistically be built into both ideas. If you cannot then you may have a problem (which exists online and even offline today).

Had you considered these ideas in your thoughts. It may be more appropriate for me to read the books first, but this way I will be able to understand your points of view rather than miss them.

I have also blogged this at [3].

Best Regards,
steven :: Release 2.0 :: http://stevenR2.com

[1] http://slate.msn.com/id/2111894/entry/0/
[2] http://taghop.com/
[3] http://stevenr2.blogspot.com/2005/08/email-to-james-surowiecki-and-malcolm.html

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Leaving Wishes

It's unusual when you leave for anyone other than your friends to send you a mail. I did however get an email from one of the directors of the company i used to consult with. It said:
I will certainly miss your input at meetings which were both informative and
entertaining - fairly rare in my experience of meetings with IT developers - so
I do hope we get the opportunity to work together again in the future. Very best
wishes in your next endeavours and new projects.

The part I am most probably pleased about is that I was entertaining. I am pretty direct. I like to ask questions that others tend to avoid. I tend to say things in the same way. I don't go for drama - I just call things the way I see them. The last 6 months were difficult as I was amongst the last guys at a huge project that had been decided to be outsourced (for reasons that made no real sense). However, what I learned very quickly was that treating the customers as friends, while being direct, blunt and truthful actually got us through quite a few holes - nice/blunt/truthful seem to balance each other out quite well. I made friends rather than pissed off customers (to a level anyway). It worked and the transformation has been fairly successful (the transformation - the outsourcing itself is far from being proven).

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Y Combinator

What a great idea (fixedpointcombinator.com rolls less off the tongue). This is almost exactly why I started Venture Together sometime back (in 1999). Key difference is they already have the cash and connections to get it going. I didn't - i just had the idea and a few connections. I also missed a lot of things back then. Hang on, if they had taken me on then would that have been a Y Combinator?

Basically they take on your idea, give you some cash, give you connections and advice (the most important part!!) and let you run the business. A summer job working for your own start-up.

Seems to be for younger student types - (alas i am 30!) - so no chance of a place. Thing to take :
It's to your advantage to be candid about risks and uncertainties. This is
seed funding; we expect risk. At this stage, if you're not worried, you
lack imagination.


However, even if you don't intend to apply - read and answer the questions they ask. This is will tell you the kinds of things people who are going to invest in your idea will actually ask. After that read all of Paul Grahams articles. He writes to the point - very useful stuff!

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We won't all blog, but maybe we will all linkblog together

I keep running into blogs that haven't been updated for 2 years. I know its not deliberate that people stop updating their blogs, but it IS frustrating. It's like writing a book. You may want to start writing a book. Once you start though you realise it's pretty tough and can be a long process - see Seth's blog on this. You start a blog, but after a while you start to realize that unless you really offer something unique (and that can be as long tailish as you like) or say it in a new way, there is just too much for people to read and so you will be ignored.

However, what you DO see in almost all of these blogs is people's favourite links. In fact many blogs are now becoming some links with a few comments on them. This is cool, but how long will it take anyone to find it and would you really be interested in reading a comment or rating on some isolated web site? I'm looking into collaborative linkblogs in taghop. ITS NOT LIKE DELICIOUS ! If i can ask my friends about somewhere to go i will. If i don't know anyone who knows about that, then i want to find the people everyone else says i should listen to. What do they say? What are they reading/listening to/watching and so on?

I don't just want ratings. I want to know what they are saying. Sure, Seth Godin may be rated 10, but what is your personal experience of him or his books? How are you related to me? Personally and professionally? Sum together experiences of the entrepreneurs like me and then tell me what i should be doing. How do i stay with the buzz? Linkblogging on taghop is going to change a hell of a lot. Should be interesting.

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An end to being closed

I'm a big sports fan and when i read Ross Mayfield's blog on Always On (also here) and in particular that a particular newspaper doesn't recognize open letters i got me thinking about how this relates to what happens here in Scotland and the UK in general (heck include most web sites in that.

Again back to sport. We pay for their newspaper. They write a bunch of made up stories and no-one really get any say in them. Not us who paid good money - why not make up our own stories? Nor those they made the story up about. This is an endless cycle here in Scotland, particularly as the focus is typically on one of two football teams (this year may be a little different).

The point is that no matter how hard I try or how strong my opinion is on yet another piece of bad journalism, it's up to the guy who wrote it or one of his friends to decide whether anyone else gets to hear about it. Sure "I disagree" may get some airtime, but "2 weeks ago you said the EXACT opposite of what you are saying today", typically doesn't. It's as though it never happened - and it wastes my time.

This is what excites me about the potential of collaborative journalism. Not just that you get your say, but you get to be the source as well. Of course what you arguably get is some quality assurance when you buy a newspaper - I'd argue that around 50% of the time you don't even get that. I'd rather hear about what my friend read, or wrote. Sure it may be made up, but at least I have a say about it. Maybe we can have a laugh about it. Maybe it is actually true and YOU can become the source of a new breaking piece of information. Whatever - the difference is that over time a set of reliable sources will be build up - new world journalists like me and you - whose reputation is out there. If you talk rubbish you better be funny or noone will listen. Bring it on!

BTW - interesting that Always On never got my ping as they don't support trackback and want me to write for them. I also wonder whether Ross copies his blog posts or has some way or write-once, run-anywhere so it gets reproduced!?

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It's good to talk

Today i start the transition. August 1 2005. It's me on my own. Or with you. If you help me i'll be sure and return the favour.

However, i'm used to a building with 1000 people. 95% seem to ask me something every day. Well 10. I like to talk. If i don't learn from those i talk to, i learn from what i tell them. How i tell them. Or even how i didn't tell them. Maybe i confused them. Maybe I'm not used to this type of question from that type of person.

So, send me an email. Say "Hi". Can we have an office like that? Can we learn from what each other says in passing. Bounce things off each other? Hell go and SPAM ME - people in the office do that anyway with abstract talk that wanders across the office!

Click the phone to connect.



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SAFE IS RISKY

Today is the first day of my new 2.0. I have left work and I am going it alone - or at least with you folks for company. Now ...

There's something quite worrying when i read a book written by Seth Godin. For one, it looks out of place amonst the 400 page books that typically sit next to it. I bought Idea Virus a couple of year ago. Yesterday I bought Purple Cow. On both occassions i thought "Compared to the other books, so few pages but around the same price". On both occassions i bought them. What's worrying is that I have to read it all as quickly as possible.

I got the book at 4pm yesterday. I finished it 10 minutes ago (6.45 AM). I got up at 4 AM this morning as some idiot was discussing "team players" on his mobile phone with some other idiot at the top of his voice. Yes, i did see the irony in having a mobile when you talk as loud as that. I like his books for two reasons - they tell you what you should know - or at least what you need to learn. Secondly I have contacted him on a number of occassions and every time he gets back to me. Others often don't and by him taking the time not only to reply, but to actually comment on something i point him at, tells me he's in touch with what's going on. He's not passive. He's active. I want to be more like that. More connected with what is actually going on. Now, rather than just saving a link, i go to it. TagHop has helped me do that of course - rather than just throwing a link in my favourites, if i'm prepared to save it to taghop, i may as well thing about it a bit more - and it's paying off! It has also been my desire to follow a bit about what is going on - at least to know about it even if i can't delve into it all.

Back to Purple Cow. It has made me change how taghop will go on from now. I am going for an extreme - yet to be determined. What market really, REALLY, REALLY needs something like taghop? GOT AN IDEA? Tell me.

So, milking the cow. Here are my cribs. They may not be 100% as they are sometimes my interpretation, but they should point you in the right direction.

Customers rely on true and tried suppliers and their network of trusted friends.

There are more choices available, but less time.

All the obvious markets have gone.

Customers ignore you.

Satisfied customers won't usually tell their friends.

Interrupting media is fading (tv, magazines, newspapers).

OLD RULE : "Create safe ordinary products and combine them with great marketing."

NEW RULE : "Create remarkable products that the right people seek out."

Awareness is not the point - just being known doesn't translate into sales.

Try to change how customers use your product rather than trying to adapt the standard product.

If a product has no future, then rather than investing in the dying product, drop it, move on and invest in something new.

Sell ONLY to innovators and early adopters. Ignore the rest. Build a trust circle around your product.

The product must be remarkable enough to get the attention of early adopters, but flexible enough to be speard through the majority.

Find sneezers, who are early adopters who are often experts and can spread the name of your product.

CREATE A PRODUCT THAT FOCUSES ON A NICHE MARKET. Overwhelm a small market section, dominate the niche and then diffuse to the rest of the market.

Develop products/services/techniques that the market will actively seek out.

Figure out who is listening and use the right combination of Ps to overwhelm them with the rightness of the offer.

MAKE IT TRULY REMARKABLE.

Differentiate customers. find the most profitable; the most likely to spread the idea and develop/advertise/reward either group. Ignore the rest. Cater toward the customers you would choose - IF YOU COULD.

Make a list of the competitors who are NOT trying to be everything to everyone.

If you can't catch up by being the same, how can you catch up by being different?

Solving problems and having the allure of cool pays off.

Innovators and early adopters get bored by mass marketed products and ignore them.
The majority are unlikely to listen or say to anyone else even if they do.

Don't make the product BORING.

Make sure you measure so you know what works and doesn't work. Don't ignore.

Once you get the purple cow, (1) milk it for all you can; and (2) reinvest to create the next cow.

How can you make something that is "VERY GOOD", "REMARKABLE"?

Can your product become collectible?

OTAKU is the desrire to learn and stay ahead - not just a requirement. It is a grou who have more than an interest - they have a drive for the product.

Find the market niche and make the product remarkable. Do deal - get in their heads - make partnerships and the rest will follow.

Go to the EDGE. Which edge will deliver the best return? Review the Ps and target this edge.

Can the marketing BE the product rather than ABOUT the product ("leaning tower of Pisa")?

The best products are "too *" for many people but just right for others.

Get permission from the people who you impressed and tell them when the next cow arrives.
Create tools and stories for your sneezers to use.
Once you have gone from remarkable to profitable, get as much as you can.
Reinvest and create new Purple Cows over and over. And Fail over and over.

Find out about the remarkable products in your industry and model them.

The easiest way to know a purple cow is to be an Otaku of the product.

Learn about "projecting" - how can you get inside the heads of the people who may buy your product and what do they need?

Learn the science of projecting. Launching, Watching, Measuring, Learning and Repeating.

Is there a company you can learn from that repeatedly create remarkable products?

AGGRESSIVELY create cheap prototypes (avoid focus groups!).

Every so often, but outrageous - but not always.

If you weren't scared of failing, what's the most audacious thing you would do?

Figure out what people really want and then figure out how to make money from it.

Can and exclusive club and points combination make things seem more unique?

Become irresistable to a small set of people (South Park).

"the people i like and trust"
sneezers are your best form of advertising
keep things simple - simple decisions
Once you've gone through the pain of learning and the associated expense, you're much less
likely to leave it.
Go for individual personalization where possible.
Make dramatic stories that sell.
Very expensive and very customized is remarkable.
You might annoy some, but please others who have that need.
Sometimes the more complex and unique an item, the more relative expense can be added to it.
People may switch for assurance and trust.
Is your product the BEST at anything measurable? Even is that thing being measured will never
be used!
Can you look after your customers in a remarkable way?
People are willing to pay above the odds for better features.
Can you create market beating quality and price? (IKEA)
Look and Sounds unique. How can you differentiate?
GO WHERE THE COMPETITION IS NOT.
Don't put them off before they have started - allow them to control the process.

If there is a limit, test it (cheapest, fastest, slowest, loudest and so on)

Come up with 10 ways to improve a product to target a specific market niche.
Think of a very small niche and overwhlem it.
Copy from remarkable companies in other industries.
Find out who is AT THE EDGE and OUTDO THEM.
Find things that just aren't being done yet and DO THEM.
Ask "why not" for something that isn't being done yet.

So there you have it. My cribs. Read them, get the book, write your own and tell me.


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