Where They Go and Why They Leave

Image representing Google Analytics as depicte...Image via CrunchBase
When I first constructed OtherNum we had a list of priorities about 1000 items deep (I'm sure you can relate...) and way down near the bottom was something like "Write some content for the About page".  I had a short blurb up there about Walter and I and Twilio but it was extremely terse.  I didn't think it mattered.

But after we launched our public beta I was looking at our Google Analytics reports and I realized something...

People were looking at that page!  Not only that, but they were going there almost immediately after hitting the homepage.

And then they were leaving.

I was floored, but then I thought about it.  These people don't know anything about OtherNum or Walter or me.  They aren't going to just sign up for an account (even if it's free) on a website unless they know something about the company.

So I wrote a lot of content for the About page, I put it up on the site and now I'm looking at the results...

And it looks good!  The number of pageviews on this page soared (most likely because I tweeted about it specifically) but the Exit % for that page dropped like a rock.  The Bounce Rate actually went up, but that's actually not unexpected. 

The Bounce rate is actually only a measure of how many people enter on that page AND exit on the same page.  Before I tweeted about this page specifically, nobody was landing on it directly so the Bounce Rate was basically 0%.

So how did I know that the About page was a problem?

One of the things I saw was that 15% of the people who went to the homepage, went next to the About page by drilling down into the Content -> Top Content report in Google Analytics.

That surprised me because I hadn't written much on that page, thinking nobody would go there!  You can also see in that first graph that the Exit Rate on that page was 50%! 

So What?  You're still in beta...

What I was concerned about was the perception of the company.  You only get once chance to make a good first impression.  I'm spending time tweeting, blogging and emailing people to try and get them to come and sign up for an account.  If a chunk of the people I manage to get to the site is going to go straight to the about page and then leave then I'm wasting my own time and money. 

By looking at where people go when they get to the site and seeing what they do once they get there I've hopefully made the site more effective.  Now all my attempts at generating more traffic will be that much more valuable.

Share Your Experience

I'd love to hear about your experiences with similar changes.  I'm also working on using KISSMetrics to measure our user behavior.  Post your stories in the comments below!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

What Matters in a Startup

@RedMaven just asked me a question related to my latest post on the OtherNumber Blog.

@andrewwatson which would you say is more important in a busines: the team, product/service, business model, or the market?
I answered him this:
@RedMaven 1. team 2. model 3. market 4. product
 But it's a great question so I wanted to write a more in depth answer to it.

I've seen it written many times that investors don't invest in companies, they invest in teams.  A lot of VC / Angel types will talk openly about how they prefer to invest in entrepreneurs that are on their second or third startup - even if or especially if those startups failed.  ( see Fred Wilson here and here and Cindy Cheatham here or Mark Suster here) You could have a great product in a huge market but if you have the wrong team, you're going nowhere. 

You have to know your model inside and out.  You also have to know your competition's models and the history of those models.. Don't try to pull off a model that only works with high margins if you are going into a space with historically very low margins, for example.  There's been a lot of discussion lately of the "Freemium" model as of late.  The "Advertising Supported" model has, thankfully, largely been killed off.  

Also, make sure that the model fits the growth plan for your business.  If you're going to bootstrap, choose a model that will throw off revenue ASAP  This works best with service oriented companies.  However, if you are building a product company then you won't be seeing revenue right away and you may need early stage investment to get going.

Research your model, make sure it makes sense for the space your in and the way you want to run your business and go for it.

I could write a book about picking the right market.  Mark Suster has a great series of posts about startups and he wrote about being a deer hunter vs. an elephant or rabbit hunter.  The customers you decide to sell to will determine the length of your sales cycles and how you will have to support those customers once you sell them. 

Also, watch out for 800lb Gorillas in the market you're entering.  It's never a good feeling to realize that a Google or Oracle could divert a few billion in cash from a cash account to create a competitor for you overnight.  That being said... the presence of GrassHopper and Google Voice isn't stopping me from building OtherNumber.

I put this last.  Most people put this first.  I still see / hear people express the fear that someone will steal their ideas.  I saw someone almost ridiculing the ATDC for its reformation and it's inclusiveness because they couldn't imagine people would get together and talk about their startups.  In my humble opinion, that guy is an idiot.

Dont' get me wrong.  Ideas are great.  I love ideas.  But ideas aren't worth shit.  Execution is what really matters and that's why the founding team is at the top of my list.

Anyway, I hope this longer answer sheds more light on the thought process behind my abbreviated tweet-answer.  I'm hoping to have a lively discussion in the comments!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

More Google Voice Stupidity

This message will get indexed, show up in search results in Yahoo, Bing etc... and be out there forever until I delete it. There isn't anything else I can do about it.

Too Lazy To Ping

Too Many Social Networks

I have to confess something.  I have too many accounts on too many social networks.  They all pretty much do the same thing.  I post a link, a picture of something insane I saw or some text that describes what I'm doing at the moment.  I post it on Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Ping.fm, Tumblr... I don't even remember half of them.  Oh, and FriendFeed.  See!

It's insane.

Consolidation / Automation

I tried things like TarPipes to automate some processes.  Post a pic via email and it goes to Evernote (forgot that one too!) and the text parsed out of it goes in the description on Flickr.  Then you send all that to Twitter via TwitPic and maybe you GeoTag it along the way.  I setup Ping.fm to send some things to FaceBook and Twitter.  Other things go just to FaceBook.  Others just to Twitter.  Oh and some things get sent straight to my blog.  Those end up getting fed into FriendFeed... and then Twitter  Oh and those blog entries get picked up by TwitterFeed and sent to Twitter again.  12 hours later..  I can never remember what goes where.


Coping Strategy

So what do I do now?  I just updated Twitter.  I'm too lazy to update 27 things.  Is that cool?  What do you do?

I'm going to submit this now to blogger.com and see what happens...

What Twitter Means To Me

I get asked sometimes what Twitter is.  I know, it's a little hard to imagine, but it happens.  Sometomes people know what it DOES but the big question is WHY do I use it?

So what is Twitter to me?

1. Twitter is a marketplace of ideas

On Twitter, ideas that resonate with people get passed around.  Ideas that don't, die a short painless death in the abyss of the 5,000 tweets / second public timeline.  You can see this by looking at any number of sites that will help you see which tweets get re-tweeted.  You can also see this be looking at trending results (but that's a whole different story...)

2. Twitter is an incubator

Incubators are normally thought of as predefined structures like academic institutions, research laboratories or specialized groups dedicate to the task of evaluating ideas, applying a selection process to them, nurturing them through growth phases and seeing what flourishes.  I think the Twitter Incubator breaks that mold.

For example, two of the things I'm working on right now are direct results of tweets I've seen from the people I follow.  I saw a need and thought of a way to fill it.  Direct market research with help from people who didn't even know they were taking part.  The early discussions about these ideas took place in public, on Twitter, and chime in with their own ideas.  In both cases, my eventual co-founder was part of that discussion.

Even tonight, a discussion of backnoise.com resulting from the recent New Media Atlanta conference led to a discussion of what could be done to improve the system.  People suggested what they saw as its weakest points and ways to address them.  I suggested that people be required to sign in to backnoise.com via OAuth with their twitter / facebook or openid account.  Their comments could still be anonymous but they can be banned effectively or suspended.  That idea made it out into the marketplace of ideas where it could be evaluated on its own merits.

So what does Twitter mean to you?

OtherNum Applies to ATDC

75 5th Street, Midtown Atlanta
Today I filled out a simple form and applied for membership in the ATDC for OtherNum.  The new ATDC has about 100 member companies now, which is staggering considering over the course of its history it graduated 120 companies total.  The new model for the ATDC is really amazing.  There are several great articles about it from Stephen Fleming, Lance Weatherby on their own blogs, Peachbuzz and the ATDC website itself.

The other Startup I'm working on, ShockJam, probably won't apply to be an ATDC company for several reasons.
  1. It's not really based in Atlanta.  My co-founder is in Orlando and most of our first productions will be based there.
  2. It's not a 'Technology" Startup by the ATDC because it's not something that can scale easily.

I also setup an appointment with David Sung of the ATDC during his office hours at Roam Atlanta.  I plan to seek some advice from him on our product offerings, rollout plans, pricing structure etc...  I think these office hours are an amazing resource that more Atlanta Startups should take advantage of.  You can find more information on them here

Enhanced by Zemanta

Approaching a Minimum Viable Product - The OtherNum Prototype

I was just reading the 37signals "Signal vs. Noise" blog and they had a link to a great post by Kent Beck about the concept of the Minimum Viable Product.

The idea is really interesting because it addresses the one limited resource that you can't really do anything about: time.

I was thinking about that a lot when I first created the prototype of OtherNum. I was working on it all by myself and I have a day job and 3 kids so I didn't want to develop any features just based on my "nerd lust". I knew that the core of the service was: A phone number with a simple menu system and voicemail dropboxes. I had 10,000 ideas for features to bolt on to it. It was crazy.

So I took a step back. I built a simple prototype.

Now I've brought on a co-founder, Walter Duncan, to help with the work. We let a local Atlanta startup have a free account they could play with. We're hoping to do that with a couple more startups and then start getting to what Kent calls "Potential Fatal Answers". It goes along with the "Fail Fast, Fail Often" mantra.

So we're asking hard questions. We're seeking answers, even PFAs. If you'd like to try our service out and send us feedback we would really appreciate it!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Funny Transcription Failure

I think he lost me at "Stay with me for a second here..."

God i got. I'm sorry you missed my call this is Harold Erin, Because the dad free army I stay with me for a second. You're receiving this call, because at some point you about a red NIST attended one of our seminar as requested, the free book miracle. Monique from Brother John. I haven't seen your myself or maybe even see me on the rich Falls television network. I've gotta I'm gonna share something with you the link. Urgent. I've got a special offer for. I'm not trying to sell you anything. I'm will bless you. Have you reset. I just don't know what to do next. Well, you're not alone and there is an answer. Got promises to give us inside and direction and show us all. Thanks, Jeremiah, Chapter 30 3 verse to read my message about Lisa's quote. I'll tell you. Marvelous wonders things that you could never figure out on your own and quote their way too many believe it's your brother dual google search look for some booking a library instead of trusting Joel. It's jack, They're provider project. It's reverse 5 and 6 in the message Bible says quote trust got from the bottom of your heart Don't. Trying to figure out everything on your own listen for God's box and everything you do. Hey babe, or you guys. He's the one will keep you on track and quote John, I got we need just don't know what to do next. Rejoice because God always does 5 9 as I was making this call on my cell stored to digest Associates. I realize that children and grandchildren to heading back to school so I'm also a $100 until after the 7th 787 and 177% just that way. I just sent me an email to Harold H A R O L D, here on the deck for a dot org or call me toll free at. 1(800) 583-2963 extension 304 leave your name in the email address. If you have one. Thank you thinking. Which sucks.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Zemanta + Disqus

Image representing Zemanta as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

It's so much more fun blogging from my Powerbook. Why? Because I have Zemanta installed on it.

Zemanta is a great plugin that helps you include links to relevant images, tags and online articles about the subjects you're blogging about. I always find creative images to add to posts when I use this machine!

Also, the best thing I've ever added to my blog was the Disqus system for collecting comments. It has a lot of nify features you should check out.

For example, I get an email if someone replies to one of my posts. I can reply to that email to post a response to the comment! Also, it can tweet your reply and you can authenticate to Disqus using either a Disqus, Twitter or FaceBook account!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Updated My Resume

I find it useful to keep my resume up-to-date after a milestone or achievement. If I don't update it immediately, I forget some of the salient details. In the past I left my resume alone for months, years and then when I needed it I had to go back in and fill in details but my memory was fuzzy.

So, having just spoken at the CableLabs conference in Keystone this week, I just updated my resume again. You can find it here. I don't have any particular need for an updated resume at the moment, but it's easier to update it with some CableLabs details than in a few months or years.

I encourage you all to update yours too. Update it now and everytime you accomplish something worth noting on it. Keep it fresh, change it up and re-visit it frequently.

Enhanced by Zemanta

GoGo = NoGo

Wi-Fi logoImage via Wikipedia

After reading Paul Stamatiou's review I already knew what to expect of GoGo Inflight WiFi on Delta with regards to security. I wasn't prepared to do anything that required me to authenticate without SSL due to the complete lack of wireless security. I had thought I would at least check on the news, check my email (SSL of course) and a few other things.

What stopped me? $12.99 for a 3 hour flight. Subtract 45 minutes for the time when GoGo wasn't active and it's even more ridiculous. My friend Tom got a code from an attendant but he was in first class and i was in... (you know) so he tried it out and liked it ok. He's a sharp fellow though and spotted the disclaimers about security and the lack of WEP and was careful as well.

Had I had a discount code, the temptation to run wireshark might have overcome me. I think they should consider using WPA2 and providing the password to passengers interested. They could also have an open AP that allowed users only to a web page that showed the current (frequently rotated?) WPA2 password for the other SSID. Just an idea. Until they implement something like that... I'll be NoGo on the GoGo.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Cable Labs Wrapup

Cogeco Inc.Image via Wikipedia

I'm finally home from CableLabs. It's really good to be home with the wife and kids. The conference was absolutely fantastic but it's always good to be home.

The highlight of Day 2 for me was the panel discussion on OSS/BSS problems face by MSOs. I can't discuss it too much publicly (it was a closed forum) but I can say that it was great to hear my own sentiments on many topics echoed back from a panel of VPs and SVPs from major MSOs. The discussions there dove-tailed nicely into a session on open systems and APIs and then again into our presentation at the end of the day.

I presented at the last session of the day as part of a panel that was discussing the evolution of software in the industry. Tom Guthrie had a great talk about his efforts to map processes from the eTOM model to a model of applications and affinity groups. Based on the importance of the application and its lifecycle status the applications and affinity groups are assigned a "heat" value to indicate a level of "friction" that causes the business to run inefficiently.

It was a very interesting talk and the ideas are very powerful. It will be very interesting to see that mapping process evolve over time and see what impact it has on capital investment decisions.

Our co-presenters were from Time Warner and Cogeco and they also had very good presentations on EBIF projects and their own tools consolidations.

CableLabs Summer Conference was a great experience and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to attend and present at it. I'm really looking forward to doing it again.

If you attended it and have any thoughts to share you can leave them as a comment here or find me on twitter.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Cable Labs Day 1 Wrap Up

A little diagram of an IP address (IPv4)Image via Wikipedia

So today was my first day ever attending the CableLabs Summer Conference. There were over 1000 attendees there from the US, France, Holland, Japan and many other places. There were people from all kinds of MSOs, hardware and software vendors and even engineers from Apple and Google.

Today I attended a session on IP TV where a panel of executives from Cox, Rogers, Comcast, Time Warner and Charter talked at length about the evolution of the IP TV universe and the MSOs secret plans to survive.

The executive from Rogers used the phrase "Ultimate Disruptor" to describe the Internet. They all agreed that the disruptive power of the internet was going to completely alter the landscape of the MSO forever. It's already started! They talked about Hulu and other "over the top" providers at some length but didn't really address Boxee.

I asked about the world of the future where independent content producers no longer need a traditional network like NBC Universal or ESPN to get their content out to end users, then the value proposition of the MSO becomes only in the delivery of a fat data pipe. At that point we cease to be a "Cable Company". Right?

So then I sat in a session that was a discussion of the implementation of IPv6 by the MSO. It was a FASCINATING discussion. Seriously. I'm such a damn nerd for saying it but it's incredible the word people have put into engineering this technology.

James Woodyatt from Apple delivered a phenomenal presentation which highlighted the complexity of the transition to IPv6 and spelled out the many many reasons why it just HAS TO HAPPEN. His use of the metaphor of the revolution was great. It was a very compelling argument. I especially liked learning about the many ways that Apple has already adopted IPv6 into its products. Apple Engineering is phenomenal, creative and unceasingly brilliant. I would love to work there, with truly inspired people.

Also, Broadcom and Cisco presented as well on the various strategies for migrating to IPv6 in an environment where you have thousands of devices (millions?) that do not have a dual v4/v6 stack and can only do IPv4.

It turns out there is an ISP in France called "Free" that has a complete IPv6 backbone and they actually developed a system called 6RD

Anyway, that's it for now. I'm completely exhaused and I'm presenting tomorrow at 4:15 Mountain Time.

I'll write more about my experience tomorrow night!
Enhanced by Zemanta

The Day I Met Duncan

Concourse - King & QueenImage by Toni Travels via Flickr

Andy Sweet and I headed over to the King building in Dunwoody because his brother Rob works there. We were walking in through the wrong door when we crossed the path of Duncan.

Duncan is an 81 year old, former US Marine. He saw Andy's Georgia Tech polo shirt and his face lit up! He pulled us aside and told us that the thing that came to mind when he thought about Georgia Tech was... wait for it...

Close Air Support

My mind was racing. What the hell was he talking about? He repeated it over and over again and was talking about "if you want bombs to come in and blow the hell out of that guy over there you damn sure don't want them landing in your hip pocket" and other interesting phrases.

His whole point, I think, was that way way back in the days of WWII or so that the first commander of the Air Force was a GT graduate. Furthermore, he asserted that this GT graduate (he didn't name him...) had pushed for advanced air weapons like helicopters, vertical take-off airplanes, precision munitions etc...

When he shook my hand he pulled me in towards him with surprising force. I thought we would never escape. We weren't really sure what we had gotten ourselves into.

Oh, and he thought very poorly of Harvard for some reason. Something to do with Ted Kennedy. He said Standford was the best college in the US (and admitted Harvard was the oldest - it's not) but GT was the one he liked the best. Because of Close Air Support.

On our way out he found us again and told us that the best place to get a degree in hospitality management was Penn State.

We've all met a Duncan at some point. Tell me about yours!
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Uses for PubSub Hubbub?

I should be a asleep but allow me to brain dump here:

I'm excited about Pub Sub Hubbub. I wish it was just PubSubHub but it doesn't matter. It's a cool technology!

So here's what I'm thinking for possible uses so far:

  1. decouple systems that are using synchronous messages like web services and don't need to
  2. app to app push notifications without sockets left open constantly
  3. it's RSS without the POLLING! how cool is that?
Think of the entrepreneurial possibilities! a FeedScrub / TwitterFeed / FeedBurner replacement / augmentation that scales faster because of reduced polling? You could do for event notifications what CloudFront does for CSS files! You could do for RSS updates what Akamai does for ads...

Think of the enterprise uses! decoupled systems pushing notifications to each other without thousands of web services calls and the necessary authentication / decoding / envelope generating etc...

Google Apps Newbie Problem

So I'm working on a simple app to get my feet wet with Google App Engine and it seems fairly powerful and straightforward... but I keep running into odd problems.

Part of the problem is I have very little Python experience. It could be that the errors I'm seeing would make sense to me if I had more Python Chops.

Anyway, here's a synopsis of the issue:

So I have this webapp Handler defined:

class CarHandler(Handler):
def get(self):
car_state = CarStatus(owner = 'andrewwatson.mp',license_plate = '12345')

and I have this Model object:

class CarStatus(db.Model):
license_plate = db.StringProperty()
timestamp = db.DateTimeProperty(auto_now_add=True)
owner = db.StringProperty()

But all references to 'self' result in errors. Any reference to car_state after the CarStatus() constructor also fail. Other handlers in the app (like the ones that handle OpenID login for example) are written the exact same way and work fine. All the examples on the Google App Engine site work that way too.

Any Ideas? Please Help Me! I want to make this work!

*** UPDATE ***
Adam Dill was quick to point out that I needed to be using Soft Tabs in TextMate and once I did that the other problems magically fixed themselves!

It still makes me wonder about the platform that something like that could break an application in such non-obvious ways but I'm glad to get past that point so I can work on breaking it in another, more interesting way :)

Thanks Adam!

Mafia Wars is a Social Game?

I've been playing a little Mafia Wars lately on Facebook and on the iPod. Zynga classifies both versions as "Social Games" but I don't think the iPod version is social at all.

First of all, it's not integrated with the Facebook version at all. You can't easily recruit new members to your mob except to send emails to people in the address book on your iPod. It's not integrated with Twitter either so neither social graph is used in the game.

Secondly, you don't interact with the members of your mob at all. There's no shared stakes, no strategic coordination, no shared resources. The only way that the iPod version of the game is "social" is that you're encouraged to spam your friends in order to get them to to download it and play and thus maybe buy Reward Points and make some money for Zynga.

The Facebook version actually does take advantage of the Facebook platform and lets you send items to your mob members and you can ask for help with objectives. I just never log into Facebook anymore so I don't think to play it.

What do you think? Should the iPod version of Mafia Wars count as a "Social Game"?

Flickr Creator calls user "A Dick"... PR Problem? Not for Flickr...

Saw this link via @courtenaybird and had too much to say about it to fit in a tweet...


Butterfield doesn't work for Yahoo of Flickr anymore. This isn't a "PR" or "messaging" problem for those companies. It's a "PR" problem for him personally if at all...

Also, I don't really think he's too far off base with his assessment. This user was trying to get his message out, which he has the right to do. The problem is that he went about it in the wrong way. Assaulting the system with volumes of messages is only going to lead to trouble.

Furthermore, why is the burden on Flickr/Yahoo to restore the images? Shouldn't the user have his own backup? If those images are so important, make extra copies, use JungleDisk, Cloudsurance, Blank DVDs... something!

Launching OtherNum - a phone number for startups with no phones!

Image representing Twilio as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBase

I launched the very first version of a new project today! I'm very excited about it even though it's in the very early stages!

The project is called OtherNum and the idea came from a tweet by @amdev about having to provide a phone number as part of an email campaign. His problem: his startup didn't have a "phone" and he didn't want to provide his cell.

So I created OtherNum using the Twilio platform as a way for startups to have a phone number, a simple IVR, even a voicemail platform all without setting up a physical office or paying outrageous prices for phone services they don't really need.

The process is simple, you register for an account on othernum.com and you setup your menu options. Right now the trial accounts are good for 14 days but I think I might extend that. I still have to construct the payment system and the provisioning system so that you can upgrade your account and setup a dedicated phone number just for yourself.

I hope people like the idea and find it useful. I have a huge list of features I would like to add but I think my prioritization of them will depend on feedback I get from the community.

Oh, and I should add: I entered this application in the weekly contests that Twilio is running. If I win I get a netbook!

Wish me luck!

Please check out othernum.com, sign up for a trial account and let me know what you think of it! send feedback to @othernum on twitter.
Enhanced by Zemanta

The Future of Cable Television

The 50 years of Television commemorative coinImage via Wikipedia

Much has been made of the changing entertainment habits of people in the age of the internet, but most of it focused on the effect of internet distribution on the people who create the content and the people who program it. I've been thinking a lot lately of the effect it's going to have on the companies that provide the last leg of the journey to the consumer: The Cable Company.

I work for a cable company (or MSO (Multi Service Operator) as they refer to themselves) in the Engineering department and I focus on software engineering for tools that measure the health of our HFC (Hybrid Fiber Cable) network. Every new service we deploy and every product we launch for our customers affects our tools development. Every tool that's used by customer care, field ops, engineering, planning, strategy, marketing etc... has to get data from my tools.

I read the CTAM (Cable Television Association of America) news digests every day. I see the headlines about Time Warner reporting this trend in customer behavior or Comcast reporting this change in their product lineup to battle AT+T or Verizon in certain markets. In short, I believe I have a good feel for what's going on, but I'm not in the board meetings so I don't have any privileged information that I shouldn't be sharing...

I was thinking the other day about how different the TV experience is for my kids then it was for me growing up. They are growing up on Tivo. They are used to selecting a program from a list and pressing play. It drives them crazy to watch TV at their grandparents because you can't pause or rewind it. When I was a kid, we didn't even have cable. We had the rabbit-ear antenna and we got about 4 stations on a good day. Which programs were on and when they aired was the people at the TV network decided they would be on and they couldn't care less what I had to say about it.

That got me thinking about what "TV" is going to be like for kids born 10 years from now, or even 20. The world of content production and delivery is changing so quickly and so completely that I don't doubt it will be almost un-recognizable. To them, the concept of waiting until 8PM to watch a show will be as ridiculous a concept as houses with no indoor plumbing seem to us now. Indeed, only being able to watch the content that some faceless group of marketing / programming droids has deemed worthy of your attention will also be a ridiculous, outdated notion. (And come to think of it, even having a large box that dominates a whole room in your house is kinda silly too, eh?)

So where does that leave the MSO? People won't need hardware on top of their TV that can tune into to predetermined frequencies to decode digital signals for 357 channels anymore... because there will be 357,783 channels (approximately) to choose from. People won't need the Discovery Channel to produce and distribute content anymore because all those people that Discovery is hiring to produce shows will be producing shows for themselves and delivering them straight to the consumer - without Discovery Channel or the MSO. In fact, add the concept of the Cable Channel to the pile of concepts that will be completely discarded in the next 20 years.

So how will you find content? If it's not laid out in a nice grid in the Sunday paper (remember those days?) or on the Tivo on screen display then how will you find new shows that pique your interest? How will the tens of thousands of independant producers find an audience for their work?

The answer, it seems, is working itself out already. Just as the major record labels are slowly wilting under the heatlamps of social media and the internet age and have ceded your ears, so too will the major TV networks cede control over your eyeballs. You'll find content by seeing what your friends and other people like you are watching. You'll engage the producers of the content directly and have a collaborative role in its direction.

Another dimension of this is explored here by Bijan Sabet in a post about how much the MSO should be paying to the content provider. I think he's spot on. There's no reason my MSO should pay higher and higher fees to ESPN or NBC for content that people increasingly access in other means and is also increasingly sublimated* by other means of production.

But again, what of the MSO? Is it a relic of a soon to be bygone era in communication? With the move of telephony and now video services to an IP backbone (i.e. The Internet) what services will MSOs offer consumers?

1. I believe the majority of the effort the MSOs are going to need to put forth is towards delivering high speed data to the residential premises. All the future "converged" services they are planning depend on the ability to move bits in and out of the home in a dependable way.

2. At some point, one of the larger MSOs is finally going to have the numbers and the will to stand up to the major content providers and demand much lower wholesale prices.

3. Corollary to #1: I think that the MSOs will be in a position to co-host a lot of streaming content from major providers in order to limit their off-network bandwidth costs. Think of it like a CDN internal to the MSOs backbone. I know that ESPN360.com works in much the same way already (which is why not everyone can get to it).

Anyway, I have lots of thoughts on this issue and I'm really looking forward to trying to start a conversation about this both within my MSO and in the community at large. Feel free to comment below (using Disqus) or contact me through my Google Profile or on Twitter.

* I'm not sure that's a valid use of the word "sublimated" but it sounds cool and reminds me of chemistry class... Maybe Zemanta should have a thesaurus built into it :)

Enhanced by Zemanta

I'm Proud of PixelJam

Image of Miles Tilmann from FacebookImage of Miles Tilmann

I went to college with some great people and I enjoyed the experience immensely. I'm proud of the groups I belonged to and the friends I made - especially two friends who are really doing well while doing what they love to do!

Miles Tilmann and Rich
Grillotti have been working together on PixelJam Games now for a number of years and their games just keep getting better and better! They worked and lived together in Chicago for a while and now they live out on the West Coast (Miles in Seattle and Rich in Portland) but they still work well together and are about to launch their newest masterpiece (a pizza delivery game) on adultswim.com.

Their games are based on pixel art so they have a low-tech vibe to them but they are anything but low-tech. The art is based on something Rich started doing a long time ago where he basically created impressionistic images of things in a sparse number of large pixels. He created little characters, backdrops, animations etc... and they were all great fun to look at.

To get a taste of just how funny these guys are (and what it sounded like around our apartments in Tallahassee back in the day) check out this interview they just did with ripten.com whilte at a gaming conference. They discuss their creative process and how they function as a team after all these years.

I'm super proud of these guys for taking their passion and creativity and making a business out of it. Every aspiring web entrepreneur should have the same passion about their work and enjoy what they do as much as these guys do.

Good work PixelJam! We'll be watching you to see what you come up with next!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Everybody Writes / Nobody Reads

In fall 2004, Ellen Simonetti was fired for wh...Image via Wikipedia

I have had this idea on my basecamp todo list that I called "Everybody Writes / Nobody Reads" for a while now. The idea is that there are 100,000+ new blogs started every day (I don't know the exact number) with people writing about anything and everything. The internet makes it possible for anyone to publish their opinions / research with little or no cost to themselves. What it doesn't provide is an audience.

There have been many many tools / systems / methods developed to try and help people find content that matches their tastes but the sheer volume of writing being produced makes it almost impossible for anyone to break through.

Ironically, I'm one of those many millions of people with a blog and things to say and, sadly, no measurable audience. A plethora of "Social Media" experts are popping up claiming to know the secret sauce to getting a group of people to pay attention to you. I tend to be skeptical of their claims. The strategies and techniques they espouse make sense. The problem of scale still persists.

So if anyone happens to read this post that has had some success growing their online presence either for themselves or their business then drop a comment in the box down below and share some secret sauce with me!
Enhanced by Zemanta

Vacation Over - Life Goes Normal

Wow. What a long week that was! I took my wife, my three kids and my Mom to Orlando for a week to go to Walt Disney World.

We stayed at the Nickelodeon Hotel which is just down the street. It's very family / kid oriented and it was a lot of fun. They have 2 GIANT pools and huge slides. The kids had a blast.

Ironically, the TV in our room didn't work very well. I say Ironically because it's the Nickelodeon Hotel and I work for a cable company. There were also no kid-safe plugs in the outlets which was a problem because Andrew Jr. loves to unplug things. He disabled most of the phones and lamps in short order.
We went to the Magic Kingdom on Tuesday even though it was cold and windy. I heard later they closed the gates at noon because it was so crowded. It was VERY crowded. Fortunately for us, we managed to get in a few rides in the morning before it got insane. I forgot to put on sunblock and my forehead got burned. It sucks but I should know better by now...

We went to Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday and it was torture. It was fascinating for me - I get goosebumps when I see that giant Saturn V rocket. It's a testament to the power of the human mind and the courage of the human spirit. The toddlers didn't get much out of it. Sitting through an IMAX movie with them turned out to be too much to ask. The Shuttle Launch Experience thing was kinda neat. Caroline (9yrs old) loved it.

We found a little Seafood place in Port Canaveral called Rusty's and had good food. I forgot to gas up the Van before we headed back to Orlando. It was a bad move on my part. The fuel light came on once it was too late to turn around on the BeeLine Expressway. I knew there was a little town called Christmas, FL but I had never been there. I was desperately hoping we would a) make it there and b) there would be an open gas station. Fortunately for me, we got there and they was a station open. I was really really worried though...

Late Thursday night my 3yr old (Maggie) started complaining about a stomach ache so we took here to a Doc-in-a-Box type place and saw a doctor. We got back to the hotel about 1 am.

Friday we got packed up and headed out. We took a detour through Celebration, FL and then got on the highway. We stopped at a service plaza a few miles later for a bathroom break and heard a horrible grinding noise coming from the front left wheel. I was not a happy camper.

I got the Safety Patrol guys to jack up the van and take the wheel off. They said the problem was not the wheel bearings or the CV axle so I found a repair shop nearby and we piled back in the van and drove a few miles. They got the van up on the lift, popped off the tire and took the cover off the brake assembly and... PING! A piece of metal falls out. They pick it up and show it to me and it's a wheel weight! I had new tires put on the Van a couple of weeks ago and when they balanced the wheels they didn't put the weight on properly and it FELL OFF into the brake assembly. They were nice enough to put everything back together and not charge me anything!

Fortunately, the rest of the trip was fairly uneventful (except for the huge storm we drove through) and we got back in good order.

I'm sorta looking forward to going back to work on Monday... :)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The OPEN World

Copyright symbolImage via Wikipedia


We are moving from a world with large, centralized, tyrannical power brokers that decide who can access what content, what they can do with it and even what you can say about it. They erect barriers to prevent competition and assert control over the world. They use things like digital rights management and lobbying congress to extend copyrights another 50 years.

Sometimes, they erect elaborate facades or hide behind innocuous concepts like "protecting innovation" or "preserving the rights of artists" but often these are transparent attempts at preserving their status quo grip on their power.

They control the means of production, the means of distribution and the means of consumption. Or, they did.

We stand at the threshold of a new era, however and as new means of communication open up, their power ebbs.

It used to be that producing an LP (that's a big round thing you spin and hold a needle against to make sound in case you've never seen one ) was a costly process. The recording, mixing and production equipment was expensive. The knowledge to run it was relatively scarce. Only people with large amounts of capital could buy the machines and run them so they control what content gets produced. Of course, since they provided for the means of production they want to control the assets they produced so they can get paid back for their investment.

As the cost of the equipment used to produce content has plummeted, ownership has spread. As the number of tools has grown, they've become better and easier to use. Suddenly, the big players don't control the means of production and can't control the rest of the life-cycle. Though that doesn't stop them from trying. Which leads to distribution...

In the old days, content was physically distributed. Atoms were transmuted. Molecules transported. The same powers that controlled production controlled distribution. They controlled where you could get the content and how much you had to pay for it. And yes, you had to pay for it.

Now the starting points and the end points have changed. They can't control either one. They don't control the highway and they can't charge tolls. You can teleport your content's bits straight to your consumers and charge whatever price you negotiate with them.

As the super powerful watched technology evolve, they faced a dilemma. The end of their grip on power was clearly evident. Their days were numbered and they had to do something to stop the bleeding. They decided to try and convince you that it was important that you only consume content in approved ways. Ways approved by them. They invented DRM to restrict you from making copies of assets you purchased, to prevent you from playing back those assets on devices they hadn't extracted their pound of flesh from. They pulled the wool over your eyes as long as they could.

Fortunately, people are more aware than ever of the restrictions placed on them. Increasingly they are rejecting those restrictions and rejecting companies that try to enforce them. Tools like Boxee are providing new endpoints free of central control. codecs like Ogg/Vorbis free us up from paying royalties to transport content. Open source hardware creates devices that end users have complete control over.

Welcome to the new world. It's yours to take back.

Enhanced by Zemanta


WOW! This is a really neat tool. I even went back and edited some old posts so I could spice them up with it. Good work Zemanta!

Journalism and the Interwebs

This is a followup to a previous post I did in haste after a local "incident" where there was some confusion between a local entrepreneur and a reporter. You can also read Lance Weatherby's take on this at Force of Good.

I think one shift in journalism that's been going on for a while ( and may have accelerated due to tools like Twitter ) is that people's working relationships exist simultaneously in multiple modes.

Whereas in the past you would have to pick up the phone to make contact with someone and get information from them for a story, you can now have a series of short conversations with them with almost no effort. The process of gathering material for your writing work is now mixed in with the many bite-sized conversations you've had with your subjects and the tone gets muddied.

Journalists and writers have always had friendly, informal relationships and met at social functions, eaten meals / had drinks together. There isn't anything wrong with that in and of itself. It's just that when it came time to produce written content there was a barrier that made sure the tone was appropriate and that care had been taken to preserve the usual jounralistic standards.

Another shift is a reduction in the effort and time required to publish your work. It used to take editing, typesetting, proofing, printing and distribution to get your words in front of your readers. Now you can unleash your latest creation with no help from anyone and almost no effort on your part.

In Summary

For journalists, something to ponder: Weigh the need to get something published quickly with the need to be true to yourself, your sources and your community.

For entrepreneurs, keep in mind when talking to journalists, writers, bloggers and others that you need to be aware of what information you are sharing and your expectations as to the privacy of the conversation. If you want to be "off the record", then say so. Don't disclose anything you don't want to see on the front page of the paper, even if you are promised to stay "on background" or "off the record". If you never send it, you don't have to worry about who sees it.

P.S. This Zemanta thing is pretty cool!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Cable Is Dead?

Image representing hulu as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

First, a disclosure: I work for a cable company. I write this from the perspective of someone inside the industry, concerned about its future.

As a consumer, I look at the bills I have to pay and I naturally start asking myself what I really need and what I can live without. Some things are essential services - Electricity, Water, Natural Gas... those things are candidates for increased efficiency / reduced consumption.

Other things I can live without. And lately more and more consumers are making the same discovery.

Home phone? Cable Television? Meh and Meh.

A lot of cable companies, mine included, have invested in wireless phones as a way to add a 4th leg to their three-legged stools of Data, Telephony and Video. MSOs collectively have poured 100s of millions into building these services.

What are we losing? Well, the entrenched phone operators haven't ignored us. They've gone about building video services in an attempt to steal customers away from the MSOs as we steal phone customers from them. So far, we've been winning that battle.

Now, take a look at this post by Fred Wilson. Once again, he's hit the nail on the head. It's not about what a few small focus groups have told a few executives what should be on TV. You are the new focus group.

It's ironic, actually, that DOCSIS signals are based on MPEG-2 timing signals. It's video over data... over video. In a way.

What we're on the verge of seeing is that the only thing people need MSOs or RBOCs to provide is a data pipe and then we'll take care of the rest ourselves.

I don't need a set of copper wires run to my house just to carry analog voice. It's just going to get packetized at the CO anyway. I'll packetize it myself, thanks. I don't need a box on my TV that allows me to tune into programs someone else has selected the availability / timing of (DVR notwithstanding).

I would much rather have a flexible, configurable voice system like Grand Central or some kind of SIP trunk to my Asterisk system than a featureless, expensive, inflexible service like I have now. Why can't I get all my voicemail in one place? Have it emailed to me? Switched between wireless phones? Carried via cellular / WiFi at my choosing? I CAN! Just not with the current offerings from the RBOCs and MSOs.

My wife is very insightful and when we talk about technology, entrepreneurship, global finance she asks me fantastic questions. It's really quite amazing. The first thing she asked me when I was talking to her about the work I'm going at my startup and what's going on in the world with hulu.com and boxee was, "So how are people going to find shows to watch?" or something to that effect.

If everyone with a DV camera just started making their own shows and uploaded them all to their own personal websites it would be impossible to find good content. No ONE person would know much about any content except what they had created. My answer to her was "You'll find out about content you're likely to enjoy from your social network."

You're much more likely to enjoy content reccomended by friends and colleagues. You understand them intuitively. You know their biases. You know their experiences. You know what you have in common with them and what you don't.

This is the EXACT opposite of the way you get content via Cable / Satellite / RBOC. I only hope the MSOs are preparing to operate in that environment. I don't work in Marketing or New Product Development so I don't know what we're doing. If anyone who does work in those departments wants to talk about it, I'm all ears!
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The New Journalism?

Recent events in a small corner of the Atlanta technology community have recently shone a light, for me anyway, on the evolution of the relationships between journalists and their subjects.

Whereas a reporter in the past might only have occasion to talk to the CEO of a local company or a GP at a VC firm when they had a story to write, they now can converse frequently (and quite publicly) via tools like Twitter, Facebook and others. This shift presents opportunities and challenges for both sides of the equation.

In the old world there were well understood rules for both sides. Rules that had evolved over time but with a pretty low churn rate. The tone of the communication would probably be fairly rigid, formal and concise. Each party's expectations were probably understood equally well by both parties. Both sides recognized the needs of the other that they fulfilled. These are all generalizations, of course. There always will be some exceptions.

All of those things, however, have changed now with the advent of Social Media, the Twitterverse and any number of new communication channels. I'll post more about that later...

Latitude Schmatitude! No Gratitude for the Attitude!

Image representing Fred Wilson as depicted in ...Image via CrunchBase

I've read some people's ideas about latitude. Fred Wilson had a good post on the subject but I think I have a different take on it.

I installed it on my blackberry immediately because I was curious. It seemed ok. Then I started thinking about it. I'm not sure I necessarily want everyone to know where I am. I tend to get paranoid. Yes, you can specify different levels of access to different friends (City only vs. precise coordinates etc...) but I still don't like it. Maybe I am just used to living WAY outside the perimeter and only bumping into my friends when I'm working across the hallway from them. I would love to work downtown and run into people at Starbucks instead of the elevator.

But besides the creep factor I think I have technical issues with it. I added my friend Andy Sweet to it and he accepted the invite. He's got an iPhone, I'm stuck with a crackberry. When he first popped up it showed him being over on the East side of Atlanta which seemed plausible. The next day, however, it showed him as being in Washington D.C. and then Dallas, TX and now Pittsburg, PA.

The problem?

He NEVER LEFT Atlanta! When I asked about his fantastic voyages he swore he never went those places, nor did he know that you can set an arbitrary location in Lattitude if you want to pull off such hijinx on purpose.

Clearly, a few kinks to be worked out. My location is currently set to Maui where apparently I'm surfing waves instead of interwebs. I hope I'm having fun!
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


I've integrated Disqus into my blog now because it seems like an interesting platform. I'm hoping it's really useful.

Rock Venture

I've started a separate blog for the new venture I'm starting up with my friend Richard Achor.

Check it out!

The Energy is Moving Again

When I was at GT in the EMSMOT program we formed teams and worked on building a venture around emerging technology and then going through the whole process of writing the business plan, the elevator pitch, doing the market research and financial projections... the works! It was a phenomenal experience! (My team won the business plan competition too...)

Since then I've been back in the land of Corporate Giants spending a lot of time thinking about replicating that experience on a larger scale and applying what I learned at GT to my current full time gig. I hadn't actually been able to do much on either front though... until now.

The Idea
I've been talking a lot lately with an old friend from Orlando who works in Sound Effects Editing and has been in the Music/TV/Film business a long time and knows a lot of people. He and I are now in the early stages of creating a new venture! If I had the elevator pitch I would share it now but I haven't gotten that far yet. For now just know that it's related to the Music/Video production / distribution sector. We had a long talk last night (which I tried to record with Grand Central but must have done something wrong) and hashed out a lot of ideas. It was a very productive discussion!

In short... I'm REALLY excited about getting this up and running. I feel the old energy coming back and I like it! I know how much work we put into our project at GT and I know I'll be doing way more work on this because we had 5 people on our team then but I relish the chance to kick this thing into high gear.

Also, I have an idea for ANOTHER company that I just got today after reading an article on Original Signal. More on that later...


I moved this blog to http://blog.gleep.org/ so up my street cred and make it more portable once thousands of people have bookmarked me... come on! start bookmarking! :P

Some things are not like wine at all...

Watching my Aluminum G4 PowerBook age has not been easy. It's about 4.5 years old now and it looks pretty rough. My 15 month old yanked on the power cord and ruined two AC adapters. My 2.5yr old pulled a number of keys off the keyboard. The battery failed completely about a year ago and I haven't felt like replacing it. Again.

Still, it's a workhorse of a machine. I've got it on a desk now where it's hard to bump the AC adapter and cause an immediate shutdown. It's connected to an external monitor and keyboard to get around the missing keys. It's running Leopard and it's serving up web pages now so I can learn about developing FaceBook applications. It's pulling files off my Tivo and serving up home movies I edited with Final Cut back to the same Tivo downstairs.

Meanwhile the Dell they gave me at work is only 2 years old and has already had the main board replaed twice and still can't handle having 2 monitors hooked up without severe flakiness. That and I just hate using XP. Maybe the IT guys would let me install Ubuntu on it... not likely.

If times were better and I was raking in bonuses / raises and wasn't so concerned for my financial future I'd probably just replace it. Given all that's going on, though, it seems prudent not to. Now take that scenario and apply it to home stereos, HDTVs, cars, boats, luxury goods etc... and you can see why recessions feed on themselves and how depressions spiral in like hurricanes.

I'll take mine extra bold!


You can get through your daily routine by focusing on just what has to be done to get through the day or the week. It's a survival tactic. It's also a long term disaster.

I think I've been doing this for some time now. It's been a very busy couple of years for us. We've had 2 new babies born and we've moved further into the suburbs. Those are all very stressful things so that was my rational for just surviving. Until now.

My upcoming birthday (2/14) will be my 33rd. I'm rapidly entering that dreaded phase in a lot of people's biographies... The Mid Thirties.

When I think back to 10 years ago this time I had just finished College and started my first Job. I had just gotten married for the first time. I won't go into any detail on that...

I went back to School in 2004 to work on get my MBA because I was determined not to still be a software engineer at the bottom of the food chain. Well, that was five (5) years ago and... I'm still a software engineer.

So where did I go wrong? Well, I stayed to focused on the short term. It was too easy to not think about long term plans. I tried a few times to come up with plans and they worked for a little while but nothing came of them. I graduated with my MBA. I completed the mentoring program at Work. I applied for jobs in management. I spoke at a conference.

But I'm still a software engineer.


So how do you break the cycle? You have to be BOLD. Opportunity is out there but you have to go get it. It's not going to land in your lap. Look at all the really phenomenal technology companies that we worship today. Apple, Google, Amazon... they were all bold plays that started out small. Here's my plan:

  1. Set a goal of April 1, 2009 to get the kernel of an entrepreneurial established. This will include a first draft of a business plan and the first set of presentation slides (in 10/20/30 format, of course).
  2. Set a stretch goal for myself of achieving a major milestone with that project by August 1. It's too soon to know which milestone that will be.
Now, those are fine goals but it's not enough. You have to break them down into smaller goals that are realistic, measurable and achievable. Plus, you have to take into account that I'm not doing this full time because I already have a job that requires 50+ hours a week. So with that in mind here's my timeline for Goal 1:
  1. Hash out with my team, in prose form, the nature of the business we're looking at creating. - February 1
  2. Market Research, Financial Projections, Strategy Assessment - March 1
  3. Finished Plan and Presentation (and elevator pitch)
Even if this all ends up producing nothing but a plan and some slides and nothing ever comes of the business it will have been an opportunity for me to stretch myself. It will allow me to re-engage the technology / business community and sharpen my mind and my skills. I very may well end up still working for my current company for 45 more years. It's a really good company to work for. This way I can make a long-term play for myself, though. It may be my only chance to avoid being a software engineer (and a damn good one at that!) for the next five years.

We shall see! I'll post my progress on my goals here so you can keep me honest.