Archive for the 'Technology' Category

A media-related question for the New Year

January 3, 2014

If the public airwaves’ spectrum here in the U.S. is limited, and if TV viewership is sagging while mobile usage is soaring, with no foreseeable end in sight, perhaps we should reallocate more of our airwaves toward mobile rather than TV?

Just a thought, for what it’s worth. Really, it’s been a pet peeve of mine for awhile, something that’s become more evident to me while working on Roscoe.TV the last couple of years. I figure the start of a New Year, when people are naturally looking ahead and thinking big thoughts, is as good a time as any to just throw it out there.

OK. OK. All is forgiven, Guy

November 26, 2013

I’ll admit, I unfollowed Guy Kawasaki on Twitter awhile back because he was a little too prolific for my tastes, sometimes to the point of inanity.

Then I stumbled across the YouTube video below of him speaking to UC-Berkeley students about major mistakes he sees entrepreneurs make. A few of these I’ve made myself, I must admit.

This thing is just so spot-on — and pretty entertaining to boot. Reminded me that, yeah, this guy is indeed pretty smart, has a lot of good experience from the early days of Apple and so on. I even re-followed on Twitter after this.

Quartz’s Seward says a mouthful about tech IPOs

November 5, 2013

With Twitter’s initial public offering coming up soon, Quartz’s Zach Seward* has taken a step back to consider some of the memes surrounding tech IPOs in general.

Needless to say, he’s skeptical. Among the several stop-you-in-your-tracks gems in this piece is a quote from Eric Ries, who’s working on a new stock exchange that better incents founders for long-term growth.

“We start companies to do more than help the balance sheets of big conglomerates nobody likes,” [Ries] said, referring to financial institutions that profit from IPOs and public companies. “Why is the whole system organized around that purpose, when our rhetoric is all about disruption and making the world a better place?”

Further on, Seward himself offers this blunt assessment of Facebook as a product post-IPO:

Since going public in May 2012, Facebook has seemed only to focus on becoming more profitable. Users would be hard-pressed to say the service has gotten any better, though the stock price has certainly improved.

Ouch.

At any rate, if you’re involved in the tech startup ecosystem in any way — as an entrepreneur, a VC, an angel, whatever — I’d definitely recommend reading the full piece. It’s the sort of thing that you at least need to hear to counterbalance other views you hear everyday and/or reconsider your own in a different light.

*DISCLOSURE: Zach is an ex-colleague of mine from the Wall Street Journal and an all-around good guy. With an appropriate sense of irony given the topic here, I recommend you follow him on Twitter.

A brief Roscoe update

October 1, 2013

From time to time on the blog I’ve mentioned Roscoe Labs, the news startup I’m working on with a few longtime friends. I try not to plug it too constantly (and thus annoyingly) on this site, especially since we do have a separate official blog. On the other hand, it is a big personal priority for me, something I’m spending a lot of time on. So why not an occasional update when there’s something particularly interesting going on?

In that vein, I think it’s worth mentioning that our site has a U.S. news page that’s being dominated today by stories on the shutdown of the federal government. It will continue to update throughout the crisis — however long that’s going to be — with aggregated coverage from a lineup of national news orgs curated by Roscoe team.

We’ve said many times before that Roscoe’s focus is local, which remains true. But as a complement, we also maintain subject-oriented pages like the U.S. page, a sports page, a world news page, and so on, for readers who want such content. With a big story like the shutdown breaking, sometimes it makes sense for that non-local coverage to take center stage.

In general, I’d also point out that the aggregated headline feeds are one of the features I often gravitate to as a Roscoe user myself. The technical backbone of the system is YouTube, so you could really find everything that’s on Roscoe directly on YouTube instead, if you wanted. But I think we cut out a lot of work for the user by just curating the newsiest video, thus saving you a lot of time in sorting through all the cat videos and such on the full YouTube site (C:

In essence, I’ve been using Roscoe myself as a personal on-demand version of CNN. I peruse the headlines and watch just the stories that interest me on various topics.

Why not a Florida hyperloop?

August 17, 2013

A quick afterthought here regarding entrepreneur Elon Musk’s recent release of a design for an ultra-fast train he dubbed the hyperloop.

The (very, very) theoretical use case that Musk mentioned in his announcement was a route from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which would take about 30 minutes one way in the hyperloop.

Thinking over it some more today, it struck me that there’s another place that might make a good hyperloop candidate: Florida. A route shaped sort of like a sideways v would connect my former home state’s four biggest cities — Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, and Miami, going from north to south. Such a route would run about 450 miles, give or take.

That’s a little longer than the California route Musk described, so we can assume it would achieve a similar savings in time. Factoring in stops along the way, you could probably hit any of Florida’s four biggest cities in, what, 90 minutes at most? It would probably be the biggest thing to hit the Florida economy since Henry Flagler.

Thank God I don’t have to cover this shit.

July 12, 2013

It’s days like this, with the Trayvon Martin verdict pending, that I can honestly say I do **NOT** miss being a reporter in an MSM newsroom. Some longtime friends may be surprised to hear me say that, but it’s true.

credentials

The reality is that events will follow a rather predictable, miserable pattern from here out regardless of how the verdict comes in, and the MSM coverage of same will matter little in making things better or worse by one whit. Regardless, the coverage will inevitably be scapegoated by whoever doesn’t like the outcome.

Please note, if you find yourself kvetching about the supposedly monolithic “media’s” agenda, it probably says as much about **your** agenda as theirs. As the old saying goes, the eye sees not itself.

All that said, I still believe journalism is in my blood. It’s just that I’d rather direct that energy toward reinventing and reframing how we get news than contributing to the current, outmoded mechanism.

If you’re curious to see where that journey leads, best thing to do is to sign up for the roscoe.tv mailing list. I’ll be in touch.

Product managers as editors

May 24, 2013

This quote buried in a recent Businessweek story about Google Glass really struck me. It’s from Silicon Valley management guru Bill “The Coach” Campbell:

On the whole, Campbell advised that product managers should not just be barking down commands about what features a new product should and shouldn’t have. They should work in close concert with the engineers and act more or less as editors, guiding features along the way. He pointed to [Steve] Jobs and Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter and CEO of Square, as two of the top such editors of their day.

For me, an ex-journalist who’s now the product guy on a startup team, this really resonated. Friends and former colleagues often ask me how my new life is different, but if anything, I always say it’s amazing how many similarities there are, mostly because of this editing metaphor.

To add to Campbell’s description a bit, I’d point out that sometimes the best way to improve a product isn’t by adding something in but by taking something out. Maybe a feature that’s been in developoment is just not ready for prime time, or maybe it’s just cluttering up the interface, or maybe the trade-off in time to build it isn’t worth the benefit of putting the product as-is in actual users’ hands to start a constructive feedback loop.

The value of cutting things is counterintuitive to a lot of people in general, but it’s obvious within five minutes to anyone who’s edited newspaper copy pre-publication. Unfortunately, a lot of journalists lack the technical familiarity to even communicate effectively with coders in a product-development environment. But the more I look at it, I think that skill may actually be easier to learn than convincing experienced developers (or product managers) that less is sometimes more.

To put it a different way, the world has a lot more clunky tech products than it has long newspaper stories these days. The financial hardship facing newspapers is one obvious contributor to that circumstance, but believe me, it’s not the only one.

Snooping sans Silicon Valley

May 14, 2013

Well, we’ve had quite a run of high-profile breaches in information security over the last week or so. While each case carries its own tawdry details, I think it’s worth pausing to consider them as a group for just a moment, lumped into the general category of “snooping.”

To recap for the benefit of anyone not keeping score at home, the Justice Department has been snooping on the Associated Press, Bloomberg News has been snooping on Goldman Sachs, and the IRS has been snooping on the Tea Party.

There’s something missing in that mix, though. Did you notice?

There is nary a public consumer-oriented tech company in sight in any of these stories. No Facebook. No Google. No Amazon. No Apple. Not even a Yahoo.

I don’t point this out to claim that Silicon Valley’s practices regarding snooping in its various forms are or have been perfect. But I do think this recent flurry of blowups is an opportunity to reconsider the frequent coverage of “privacy” that we see see directed at consumer Internet companies. Perhaps the way that issue has been framed in the popular imagination the last few years is doing the public a bit of a disservice, discounting other online risks that should also be considered serious.

The more I look at it, I think “privacy” is actually too narrow of a frame to encompass all the potential downsides from the rise of ever more powerful computers and ever more pervasive connection to the Internet. What we really need is a series of conversations about several issues that are loosely related but also somewhat distinct from one another. Just for starters, there’s free speech, data security, business ethics in general, and checks and balances on governmental power, which is much more vast than anything a business can exercise.

It’s also worth remembering that non-tech companies collect a lot of data on people as well, sometimes with more haphazard data practices precisely because they don’t have the expertise that tech companies do. Banks. Insurers. Airlines. For-profit education providers. Brick-and-mortar retailers with ancient computers they maintain like old manual cash registers. How does the information you share with these entities compare to what you give to Facebook?

Finally, as important as it is to point out risk factors, we should also focus more keenly on actual harm when we talk about any form of online snooping. Otherwise it’s too easy to veer into paranoia and miss out on the good aspects of all the amazing technology now at our fingertips.

There is actual harm in every one of those recent stories I mentioned up top in this post. By contrast, you know where there isn’t any? How about in all the preemptive hand-wringing over Google Glass. The new wearable, camera-equipped device is a prototype in the hands of only a few thousand people so far.

Maybe we should all just wait a little while and see how the Glass launch goes before freaking out about it. In the meantime, there are forms of snooping that we can be certain are much more worthy of the time and attention.

Happy 20th birthday, Web!

April 30, 2013

The first Web server began operation 20 years ago today. One of the better commemorations I’ve seen today is on the TED Blog, which summarized some general lessons on innovation from the “eureka” moment inventor Tim Berners-Lee had working on the first Web server.

Berners-Lee gave a Ted Talk of his own in 2009. First third or so in particular covers his early work on the Web, with fascinating stuff further in about the future of “linked data.”

Developers to Facebook: “You’re doing it wrong.”

January 30, 2013

I’m belatedly catching up today on a hilariously cheeky stunt by a couple of engineers from the startup Sencha attempting to debunk a claim by the mighty Mark Zuckerberg.

After Zuck criticized the technical capabilities of HTML5, the basic building block of the open Web, the Sencha guys thought: “No, Facebook, you’re just doing it wrong. A good mechanic never blames his tools.” So they built a demo version of Facebook that runs better in browsers than the real thing. Then they blogged about it.

My geekier friends will appreciate the nitty-gritty of this. For the non-geeks, hey, maybe you want to try out the demo, humbly dubbed Fastbook, out of curiosity. It’s mobile-oriented, since that was a crucial context to Zuckerberg’s earlier remarks. Fastbook will also display all your actual posts and news items from your friends, so you won’t miss any FB action.

Curious to hear people’s impressions in the comments.

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