The blog editing system in action

At last week’s Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference I was on a blogger panel where some members of the audience brought up ye olde “bloggers aren’t as good as ‘real journalists’ because bloggers don’t get it right” argument. The audience cheered when the host made the point that magazine journalists go slower to “get it right.” I played the part of the blogger and took the point on the chin, despite also now writing for a magazine and having to work with the old-school editing system of fact-checkers and pre-publication editing.

I tried to make the point that blogs self correct very quickly (usually within hours) because if I get it wrong the people who actually know the truth will jump on me fast and furiously and that blogs arrive at the truth faster BECAUSE of the participation of everyone involved.

This is something that RARELY happens in the paper press. Or, if it does, thanks to letters to the editors, it happens very slowly, so readers never really see that feedback until weeks or months later. And even when it does happen you only see a sample of the feedback, never the whole feedback. In every case gatekeepers are in charge of what the reader sees (try to get something published in a newspaper sometime, even if you have a legitimate case it’s pretty difficult).

Dave Winer told me often that he loves blogging because it lets him tell his story. His complete, unedited, unchanged, unfiltered story. He’d tell me example after example of getting interviewed by journalists who didn’t understand the technology he was building, so they’d misrepresent it due to either misunderstanding what he was saying, or, even worse, some sort of bias toward him or his technology. Many other people have told me the same thing.

Anyway, at the Fortune thing I tried to get across that I liked having my readers as fact checkers a lot more than the magazine style of working to get it right before publishing. Every column I publish in Fast Company magazine gets edited and fact checked by someone else. That’s cool and usually keeps me from looking like an idiot in print. But I much prefer the blog because I think the comments are actually part of the article.

No better way to demonstrate that as with yesterday’s post about Silicon Valley’s VC Disease.

David Hornik, the VC I was talking about, gave a very long reply to my post yesterday. He refuted some things, clarified other things, and had fun with other things. Among the points that Hornik made is that August Capital was one of the few original investors in Seagate. I should have looked that up before publishing. A fact-checker at the magazine probably would have caught it and kept me from looking stupid. But, this let David get a great point across: that he was positioned unfairly by me and let him clarify his remarks on Friday. In the old world a journalist would have been able to throw David under the bus and David wouldn’t have been able to do much about it except write a letter to the editor.

In the old world of publishing you never would have seen his reply and if, for some reason, it would have run, it would have been a month later separate from the article, not combined with the article within a few hours of its publishing, like Hornik’s comment was here.

Journalists who fight this system (and readers who don’t check out the comments) are missing the point. This is a participatory media, not a one-way one, and, while it has a different editing system (the editing is done post publishing, not pre publishing) it’s pretty clear to me that this system arrives at the truth a lot faster than anything on paper does.

But, you gotta read and participate in those comments! Lots of old-schoolers don’t like that dirty work.

Oh, and David also joined in over on the FriendFeed thread.

Thank you David for providing evidence that blogs can make everyone, including the author, smarter.

The Silicon Valley VC Disease

Yesterday at the Mobile Web Wars event (here’s video of that), held right before the TechCrunch party, David Hornik, partner at August Capital (he’s the host of the TechCrunch party) told the audience that he would not invest in pure iPhone apps because the iPhone had too small a market share and that anyone who wanted to get big in the mobile space should go after all phones, not just the iPhone, which, while it’s hot with early-adopter types and is seeing people waiting in lines to buy around the world, hasn’t yet made a dent in, say, Nokia’s market share of cell phones overall.

Let’s call this the Silicon Valley VC Disease. This disease has been going on for a long time. Seagate’s CEO Bill Watkins told me a few months ago that Seagate almost didn’t get started because they couldn’t get funding from VCs who didn’t see a potential market for hard drives. UPDATE: See the comments below where I learned that August Capital is one of those who funded Seagate.

It’s a corrosive disease, too, and is why we get tons of stupid Facebook apps and tons of easy-to-make and likely-to-go-viral iPhone apps. Quick: explain why we don’t yet have a really brilliant travel app or even a single political app for the iPhone, despite lots of interest in those topics (especially in this political year). Not to mention many brilliant apps like Evernote (my favorite app so far)?

What is the disease? That you must make bucketloads of money (or at least have a shot at doing that) in the first two years of business.

If you have a plan to make just a reasonable amount of money, or if it will take decades to make a big amount of money, don’t come to Silicon Valley.

Walmart would NEVER have gotten funded by Sand Hill Road. It took decades to make bucketloads of money. That kind of business plan would never fit in here.

Why? We have the Silicon Valley VC disease.

I imagine that if we went back in time to 1977. Imagine a small group of geeks wanted to get funding to build apps for the Apple II. It didn’t have much market share yet. But imagine those developers wanted to build just Apple II apps. Would they have gotten funded? Probably not. And types like David Hornick would have told them “you gotta build apps for mainframes and DEC’s, because that’s where the market is, not in that Apple II toy.”

So, is Hornik wrong? No, he’s exactly right. The much bigger market is with regular-old-single-chip-cell phones. You know the type. They are the kinds of phones that make phone calls and maybe do SMS texting. If they have a Web browser it’s a small tiny black and white one that can only look at WAP-style text-centric sites, not the full-blown Web that the iPhone has.

But while Hornik is right, he also has the Silicon Valley Disease. He forgets that the small, seemingly unimportant platform today that gets early adopters excited will become the large, dominant platform of tomorrow. It might take 10 years, though, which is too long for VCs to care about. How long did it take Visicalc to happen on the Apple II? Or Aldus Pagemaker to happen on the Mac? A few years at minimum. iPhone is only one year old.

But already we’re seeing the writing on the wall. If you can get past your Silicon Valley VC Disease.

First, our society’s most valuable audiences are getting iPhones. Last week when I was in Los Angeles, both of the famous architects I interviewed already had 3G iPhones.

Those two guys are HUGELY valuable for advertisers. They are representative. They aren’t the only ones.

But even better than the demographics that the iPhone is getting is the usage patterns.

See, I have two Nokia phones and a Microsoft Windows Mobile phone too. They all suck for using the Web. Fine for email and for texting, but really suck for using the Web.

Go see Google’s Vic Gundotra (he’s Vice President and runs a bunch of the teams that build things for mobile phones). He told me that usage on the iPhone is “off the scale” when compared to other phones.

Simply translated: people who have non-iPhone phones simply aren’t using them for anything other than email. This is easily verified. Sit next to a Blackberry user and watch what they do. I do that all the time. All you see them doing is email and light Web use. Now sit next to an iPhone user and watch what they do. Much more heavily used on photos, maps, Web, and video.

An iPhone user is easier to reach and is easier to get to try new things. Plus, the iPhone app store makes it very easy for an app to be tried out and loaded.

But back to the Silicon Valley VC disease. It’s the same disease that Microsoft execs have. Or, really, most big company execs, or worse yet, our government workers, have truth be told.

They won’t adopt anything until “it’s safe” and until there’s a HUGE business reason to do it. It’s why huge parts of our government are still run on paper. Why there isn’t a database anywhere of all of our elected officials in the United States. Why Microsoft didn’t compete with Google until too late. Why General Motors won’t build great all-electric cars until after Tesla or Toyota beats them to the punch. Etc. Etc.

Luckily the Silicon Valley VC Disease is having less and less effect lately.

You can startup a company with very little cash, because you can build it on cloud-based services like Amazon’s S3, which let you get started and show the world you’re getting adoption even before you go for VC money.

And, luckily, not every VC has the Silicon Valley VC Disease. Lots invest in stupid, small, weird, ideas for platforms that only have a percent or two of market share. Go see Jeff Clavier, for instance. He’s been doing that a lot lately. I met him in the office of Tapulous last week, which makes iPhone apps.

Why shouldn’t you listen to Hornik and others who have Silicon Valley VC disease?

  1. It’s easier to start a company on new platforms. Why? Because the big money probably hasn’t moved in yet, or at least they haven’t become established.
  2. People who buy new things are FAR EASIER to convince to buy other new things than people who have had the same stuff for years.
  3. It’s easier to build a brand on a new technology than it is to do that on an older, more established one (hey, everyone has a radio in their cars, but you don’t see VC’s funding new radio stations, do you? Why is that?)
  4. The best, most transactional and monetizeable audiences are those that pick up new things. Think about it, would you rather have a customer like Dan Meis, one of the world’s best architects or someone like my dad who still uses the same TV that he bought from me in the mid-1980s?  My dad is a nice guy and very smart, but he’s a horrible customer to have and is going to be very expensive to get to adopt something new.
  5. It’s a lot cheaper to get adoption when influencers (read bloggers and journalists and Twitterers and FriendFeeders) are talking about you. What are they talking about right now? iPhone apps. Look at Summize, the search engine Twitter just bought. What’s one of the trending topics on the home page? iPhone. Get over it. They ain’t talking about Nokia or Microsoft.

Anyway, I just find it interesting when VCs start telling people not to support a platform when there’s lines around the world waiting to buy that platform. If everyone listened to that sentiment we’d never see any innovation in the world.

So, who is working to prove Hornik wrong? Drop me a line.

Oh, and David’s a nice guy and throws great parties. Thanks David for letting me in last night and for giving me something interesting to blog about today. :-)

UPDATE: As usual lately a much more interesting conversation about this post is happening over on FriendFeed.

The best computer bag I've owned: STM Journey

My STM Computer Bag

It has rolled over the sands of Israel. Kept my computer dry in the middle of a New York downpour. Been dragged through more than three miles of the snows and mud of Davos, Switzerland. Held my laptop and a loaf of bread in Paris, France. Kept my computers safe in the Red-Light District of Amsterdam, has visited many other cities and countries around the world. Been to dozens of airports and overhead bins. Its wheels have seen so many miles that they have been noticeably worn down.

It’s been dropped out of the back of a van, been kicked many times loading into planes and other places, squished by all our other camera gear at times, and suffered a lot more in cities around the world.

But there’s not a stitch missing. It is simply the best computer bag I’ve ever owned.

What is it? A STM Journey bag. Why don’t I carry a backpack or a single-strap shoulder bag?

Because I have a bad back and want to keep extra weight off of my back, especially in long walks like the one I took with Mark Zuckerberg back in January through the town of Davos.

Yes, I always look like a tourist. People ask me all the time if I’m going somewhere. I explain why I use a bag that looks like carry-on luggage. It saves my back.

Wheels are one of man’s greatest inventions and because I rarely lift my bag off of the ground I am just fine with packing it full of digital camera gear, extra batteries, and sometimes two laptops, along with tons of cell phone gear.

I love my bag and won’t easily give it up. I wish all my gear took so much abuse in stride.

What is your favorite computer bag?

The best Fortune Brainstorm Tech Talk: Neil Young challenges tech industry

“It has got dummied down,” musician Neil Young just told the audience. He is trying to get us all to pressure Apple and the PC industry to give us much better quality.

He chastised us all for not talking about the quality of music and not asking the industry for better quality. He says that if the industry included better digital to analog converters in their boxes he could deliver to all of us a much better experience.

What do you think? Would you like better quality music or do you think MP3 is good enough?

Why is this my favorite talk? Because it is one that put forth a very simple proposal to make all of our lives better.

He says that Apple is holding back the ability to give us all the ability to listen to “high-res” music that has four times the data of MP3′s.

Oh, and now he is talking about his ideas of how to get us better car technology. He is a geek. Love it.

I'm not going to write about Facebook today

You might know that Facebook, this afternoon, will have its second press conference surrounding its platform. Go to TechMeme if you want to know the news. I’m sure there will be dozens of articles. I decided I would go, though, mostly to find smaller stories about what developers are doing on that platform. Talk to you later.

Thanks for all the continuing feedback about the rant I wrote the other night. It’s really hard to get off of the “write about the latest shiny object” game. I think I need to go to a detox program for tech bloggers. :-)

Hello world from my iPhone

I am sitting at lunch sitting next to Adobe’s CTO typing to you from my iPhone with the just-released WordPress iPhone application. Very nice but I don’t see a way to read, review, moderate comments. That is the functionality I really need when I am mobile. I would also love to be able to post a picture and comment on it. Anyway, enjoying getting more of my life onto my mobile even if it shows how far we have to go. Kick me if I get too exuberant about iPhone apps, they are the fun “shiny object” of the moment.

Hitting a nerve…

I didn’t realize when I started ranting last night just what kind of nerve I’d hit. Look at the FriendFeed comments around my blog post and then check out the comments that were left last night.

I’m off to attend the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference today, will try to bring you some new tech out of that.

Oh, and if you’re near Half Moon Bay today, drop on by the Ritz at 5:45 p.m. — we’re having an open-to-the-public “Tweetup” at the Fire Ring in back by the ocean. Remember to bring $10 for parking.

Thanks for the comments, will try to keep it real.