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15Dec/092

Entrepreneurship Social-Media and Skeptics Oh My! (Prt. 3)

This is the final part of a three part series I wrote in 2008. It was my take on the developing web 2.0 landscape. Now that the fall semester has come to a close, I'll be able to dedicate a little more mindshare to this website. I want to put a capstone on this, revisited, 3 part series and this year by offering my thoughts on a book I read about a month ago - Guy Kawasaki's Rules For Revolutionaries. I offered some brief thoughts over on my "short-form" tumblr blog, but I really want to expand on those thoughts here. Check back within the next week or two for that.

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In my last post on this subject, I spoke to the benefits I've experienced thus far with social-media, where I think social-media is heading, and how social-media is all in all a good thing. I'm going to try to address some of the concerns present with current day social-media as I see them and also try to cover some of the criticisms skeptics have raised pertaining to social-media and maybe a rebuttal to them.

Time to wrap this thing up.

The Skeptics

The internet, since its inception, has been criticized for its lack of credibility and rightly so; the internet and its predecessor has been a hotbed of piracy, copy write infringement, porn, and all things sinister and evil. Services such as Apple TV, Netflix, and iTunes have only been around for a few years and those services have only recently become widely accepted mediums for utilizing the internet as a legal source of media. The long and skinny of it is that the internet is still a very unrefined place - the wild wild west of our generation.

There is no clear model of how to generate revenue from the internet; although many have profited greatly from the internet thus far, those successes are few and far between and there are no clear answers why some have succeeded and others have failed miserably. Furthermore, there is no sign of what will and won't work in the future of the internet. We're all pulling at straws, hoping that something sticks and this is the very reason there are so many skeptics of web 2.0.

In the past, the most effective way to make money on the web was through banner ads. But banner ads have been just a piss poor attempt at digitizing traditional advertising formats, producing abysmal performance per dollar spend in comparison to their traditional counterparts. Furthermore, it's been argued that people don't want to be marketed to while online - that they want to get in and get out and move on while surfing the web. Others claim social-networking is superficial, too time consuming, dilutes your personal brand, and is no replacement for face to face contact

I can't help but think of Guy Kawasaki when discussing this topic because he seems to have been on the forefront of some of the trends brought on by the internet, if not create some trends, but I asked my business formation professor about what he thought of him (since he referenced him in one of his lecture notes) and my professor had one simple question: What successful ventures has he created or financed?

The question floored me to an extent, mostly because of the sheer simplicity of it. He had a way of cutting straight to the chase in his lecture style and he definitely delivered in this razor sharp questioning. He continued (and I'm paraphrasing here):

He [Guy Kawasaki] seems to have written some books on the subject of business formation and have had some success there, but be careful about what you read and really vet your sources because anyone can write anything they want, especially on the internet. Look into what they have actually accomplished and always take everything with a grain of salt.

Fairly basic advice, but for some reason it really resonated for me: So I asked myself "I like Guy Kawasaki, what ventures of his do I know of that have been wildly successful?" Well, I can't really say for sure. I can only assume his "Alignment of Interests" section on his blog indicates some of the ventures he's involved in and that his venture capital firm Garage Tech has a pretty impressive portfolio of companies listed (at least I'm impressed by the fact that one of my favorite finance sites, Motley Fool, is listed).

Like I said before, I came across an article in the WSJ about Penelope Trunk and through her blog found out about Guy Kawasaki, then alltop, then all kinds of super relevant and informative blogs and people like Zen Habits, Unclutterer, Life Hacker, Chris Brogan, Problogger and on and on. I kind of got so enthralled in all this new and intriguing information, I think I kind of lost a little bit of my analytical and usually skeptical approach to new or untested information. Once you start clicking through a lot of these links, you'll notice that a lot of information will end up getting reused and recycled in a flurry of almost circle jerk proportions - not necessarily a bad thing in its own right when the information is relevant, useful, and legitimate. But very dangerous when one blogger makes baseless claims that get substantiated by multiple bloggers who may find that stance convenient to what ever world view they promote. Copyblogger speaks to the "circle-jerk" nature of bloggrolling I'm referring to here as a barrier to success for social-media as a means of revenue generation.

One of my close friends is very much anti social-networking. The irony here is that he's a programmer who spent a significant amount of time in the bay area during the mid to late nineties who worked with a lot of start ups (even to the level of being the CTO for one). His gripe? He wants to spend less time on the internet not more. He shares the sentiments of social-networking being too much of a time commitment for little personal gain. He also argues that every time he logs onto what little sites he's a member of (a fairly infrequent occurrence), one site falls out of light in favor of another. There's really no keeping up with who uses what site and to what end, leaving you with a disconnected network of friends in different circles spread throughout the internet.

Look, I get it... I get that the "true" utility of social-media has yet to be defined, I get that no one wants to be pitched wares by their "friends" every time they log-in and check their messages, I get that legitimacy is in question every time you open google reader to check out what's happening in the your world, I really do. But look, there is a new landscape out there, and I'm not talking about technology, I'm talking about new attitudes to and expectations of the internet.

Web 1.0 didn't look any different from web 2.0 (well, maybe there were less annoyingly flashy websites in web 1.0), no one really knew what to do with it or what to think of it. We were still used to very limited sources of news and opinion at that time, and for that reason, those sources had to be highly scrutinized, editorialized, and legitimized through a systematic source of checks and balances. That process lead to a centralized monopoly of information providers simply out of the necessity to develop and maintain the resources needed to maintain the infrastructure of information. Web 2.0 isn't about new internet technologies, it's about new ways of generating and processing information, it's about new attitudes towards an open channel of information that democratizes our most precious asset - knowledge.

13Nov/092

Entrepreneurship Social-Media and Skeptics Oh My! (Prt. 2)

This is part 2 of a 3 part series that I originally posted in 2008. I'm revisiting this series because I feel like I've come a long way since originally drafting these ideas and so has the web 2.0 landscape. I'm using this to reaccess whether my ideas may have been right or wrong and to further refine my hypotheses about this dynamic market.

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I think I ended cutting the last bit a little short because my brain tends to start running in circles the more I think about something. I'll try to tighten up any loose ends as I continue on to part 2 of this 3 part series.

Social-Media (Web 2.0?)

The first thing that I should say on this topic is that none of what is considered Web 2.0 is really very new. Blogging (writing crap and digitally publishing it) has been around for ages, same with web forums, and a slew of other internet technologies that have been widely accessible and used for nearly a decade. Hell, if we want to step out of the context of the internet, move over youtube, public access tv has been around since at least the 80's. But I'll get into this in more detail in part 3 of this series. Just know that I've considered these concepts as we continue along. Shall we?

There are two main points I want to address (not that I won't tangent off into more, but these are the main 2). First, and in my opinion, anyone who takes the time to create a blog should, at the bear minimum, put some thought into their role as a content creator on the internets, if not speak directly to it on their blog. There's a lot of clutter on the internet and people should put a little consideration as to whether or not their contributions add more clutter, or actually add useful information (a point I really want to drive home, another time). Otherwise one can get stuck at point 2 of the "blog life cycle," where you end up just regurgitating tired revelations over and over again.

Second, as an early "millennial," I grew up with an Apple IIe in my classroom in elementary school (number crunchers and oregon trail FTW), remember getting our first PC at home which was a big deal, remember getting our first CD-ROM drive and installing it ourselves (again, this was a big deal in the early 90's), and I remember using BBS's before the internet. Long story short, I've spent most of my life around computers and depending on them, but I also remember a time when I didn't have that sort of relationship... a simpler time, if you will.

I'm by no means an early adopter (this blog is proof of that), but I tend to stay ahead of trends and I think I have an eye for visionary ideas when I see them. But I remember reluctantly signing up for hot-or-not when my friend hassled me until I did, I always hated that site and its entire concept but it was a primer for sites like friendster which I also reluctantly signed up for back in 2003 when that same friend kept on pestering me to sign up. That was back when I was in L.A. for an internship and didn't really know that many people, that was also when I saw the value in social-media for the first time. If you've ever lived in a city like L.A., you know that you meet people left and right like crazy because everyone is so friendly (or fake for those that don't like L.A., I don't believe it though) and because everyone is so social (ie parties, a lot). You would meet all these people at a party for a fleeting moment and then you'd log into friendster (and later myspace when friendsters servers couldn't take the traffic and all around sucked at that time) find those people through your one or two friends who introduced you and bam! - you had this huge network of people who you found a real connection with and created real relationships with when, in the past, you would have one evening of drunken fun and never even remember their names ever again. I've still got really good friends that I keep up with to this day through that medium.

Fast forward to 2008 and now we all have a profile on over a dozen websites: friendster, myspace, facebook, delicious, flickr, linkedin, digg, twitter, and on and on and on. Privacy and secrecy is basically a thing of the past, we're all connected, and connected in very intimate ways. But what does this all mean, and what does it/can it do for you? Well, it doesn't mean a whole lot... yet.

The way to make money on the internet is not an exact science today; this is still the wild frontier. But as we become more connected, we're going to see more relevant content on the web. For instance, I've been reading a lot of blogs on alltop (an aggregation of blogs across an array of topics that I came across from reading one of the creator's blogs). I was specifically reading a lot of blogs under the topic of design when I kept on finding a bunch of clothing brands and other nick-knacks that I really liked. I think I ended up spending a couple hundred bucks on stuff that month. The point is that the more you know about your market (segment, niche, etc.), the better you can service that market through your offerings whether product or service. Furthermore, the socially connected web is a lot more informal and personal, so you don't feel like a lemming targeted by corporate America to exploit because the product or service being marketed towards you is something that might be passed on by a friend who thought it would be a good fit for you based on a conversation you were just having vs. the "spray and pray" method of putting a bunch of corny ads all over the place a hoping someone actually buys.

Another trend I've been noticing is that people are beginning to shy away from the mega sites like ebay and taking their business to more community based sites like etsy for buying and selling stuff like trinkets and crafts because they are better served by that medium because they are more closely connected (and because people are sick of getting scammed). I think you're going to continue to see smaller web-based communities pop up to fill the gaps where the original mega sites like ebay and amazon left off, but you're going to see this trend across the board whether you're buying products and services or just looking for relevant information.

But as many of you know, not everyone sees things things this way. Stay tuned for part 3 as I cover the skeptics and their criticisms of this web 2.0 craze.

25Aug/091

A Primer On Regretting Your Online Prescense

This topic has been coming up a lot lately as the use of twitter and, especially, facebook is becoming more and more ubiquitous. A lot of people are becoming concerned about how their constant updating will be perceived and whether or not they will look back and regret some of their past contributions to the public sphere.

I recently watched Primer, a movie about a group of young entrepreneurs who mistakenly invent a machine that allows you to travel back in time. Once they realized what they invented, they tried to determine how to monitize or sell this important technology. They soon realize that it would be too difficult to sell and potentially dangerous for other people to know about. So they decide to use the technology to game the stock market & become rich (in a nutshell, of course there's more to the story).

What does this have to do with your internet persona & over sharing? Well, a lot of the decisions we make & ideas we harbor are a product of our life experience and our assumptions of our realities based on our understanding of the world. This is inherently a dynamic process and we gain new perspectives of how the world works everyday. So it goes without saying that many of our approaches to life can fundamentally change as new information and understanding come to light, changing our assumptions and ultimately our ideas and philosophies. In the case of Primer, their understand of the world changed in such a drastic way that they were forced to re-evaluate their ethics & morals. Do you tell your angel investor? Do you pitch the technology to VC's or DARPA? Or do you "cheat" the market, become rich and buy a private island in the Caribbean (the whole reason you got into entrepreneurship in the first place)? Does the end justify the means?

This an exciting process that is really interesting to watch unfold. Why should we feel regret? What new experience has reshaped your reality today?

22Jan/092

2008 in Review & Welcome to elliottpayne.com!

2008 was a big year for me, as you might be able to tell by the severe lack of updates to my blog. There's a lot I want to say here but I may have summarize for now.

  • Welcome to elliottpayne.com - First and foremost, I'm switching the blog over to elliottpayne.com. I'm making the move to coincide with some of my earlier thoughts on Web 2.0 and about generating an online presence. In summary, our online persona's and offline persona's need to coalesce as one and we need to move toward a more accurate representation of ourselves regardless of the venue. This move is the beginning of such a transition. I'm not sure how I want to format it, but I want to (either through tags/categories or pages) write posts that represent my various interests, mainly separated by the following categories: personal, professional, and creative.
  • Holy career change batman! – 2008 was punctuated by a massive career move for me. I went from being a manufacturing engineer in a dysfunctional working environment (let alone all the damn metal shavings that would always get stuck in my shoes) to a business consultant for a software company. I posted briefly about this right when it happened, but this is such a huge deal for me. This was always one of my dream jobs, and something that I was hoping to be able to someday do after I finished my MBA and here I am, still a year away from graduating, already at the “promise land.”
  • What economic downturn? – Consultants get paid significantly more than engineers. Just an FYI. So when the news broke that we were basically going back to the stone-age, I was getting on a plane to fly to a client and getting paid much more than I used to in the process. Of course the fantasy of a dream job and the reality of that same job are never in alignment. I’ve been traveling 100% (gone Monday through Friday, home on weekends) since the end of September. The pay bump for consulting isn’t because it’s difficult (it’s challenging no doubt, but in a fun way), it’s because I’ve spent more time with the bartender at a stupid micro-brewery in a dingy suburb of Philadelphia than my charming, lovely, wildly creative, stunningly sexy, scientifically genius, philosophically wonderful, and intellectually stimulating girlfriend in the last few months. There’s no free lunch here. Sacrifices are being made, but I have hopes and dreams beyond making money, so I’m hoping everything pays off in the end. Besides, student loans are no joke, gotta make it up somehow!
  • We got a puppy – Miyagi is the most awesomest laid back Chinese Crested you’ll ever meet. And I’m glad he keeps my lady company while I’m away. He’s also damn adorable (and I’m comfortable admitting it).
Miyagi!

Miyagi!

  • I sold my CRX – Seems like a piece of minutia at first glance, but this car has meant a lot to me. One of the things that motivated me to go to engineering school in the first place was my first passion of car racing. I used to literally close my eyes and imagine myself taking laps around Nürburgring when I would get stuck on a thermodynamics or deformable body mechanics problem and not have an answer after 4+ hours of really intensive work on just one problem (man those classes sucked). I’d close my eyes and remind myself of why I was putting myself through the pain and the hell of it all. A very momentous chapter of my life closes with the sale of this fine automobile. Gladly, it goes to the home of another car enthusiast and hopefully I’ll be able to grace the wheel some day at a future autocross.

I used the proceeds to fund my latest passion of photography and bought myself a new D-SLR, then banked the rest. This was also the first major step of uncluttering my life and putting more focus on what matters to me. I will return another day to racing (the WRX is pretty damn fun to drive too), but I need to focus on priorities right now.

So you can see 2008 was pretty big year for me. And I think it’s also pretty apparent why I haven’t been updating at all. I’m starting to adjust to the travel, so I’m hoping to work the blog into my routine.

I’m a fairly active blog reader, so I’ve installed a widget to the right that shows my shared google reader articles. If I haven’t been updating in while, at least check out some of the things I’ve been following out in the ether. At times, that says more about me than anything I write.

28Oct/082

Web 2.0 & The Google Cop-out

I'm going to attempt to kill two birds with one stone here and give an update while finishing some homework.  The following post is going to look really academic, that's because it is :p

This is a brief homework assignment that I had for a strategy class that kind of intersects some of the topics I cover in this blog.  It's not my best work, but that's kind of you're signing up for when you're trying to get an MBA & working at the same time.  At least that's my qualifying disclaimer.

This is a case study published by Harvard Business School on Google which was released in 2006, so some of the details covered are ancient history relative to the pace the search marketplace has been evolving.

Sorry for the sensationalist title, enjoy my personal cop-out to blogging:

  • What are the key factors behind Google’s success?

Google has been so successful because of the focus and importance they placed on technology; this strategy contrasts that of its closest competitors, Yahoo and MSN, who focused on pushing content to users through internet channels called portals.  Yahoo was one of the earliest search services, but relied on human editors to organize websites into categories via a directory service; technology was only an afterthought for Yahoo once it realized the Web had grown much larger than human editors could manage.  They soon turned to indexing services such as AltaVista, Inktomi, and even Google to utilize the algorithmic search engine method that has made Google so famous today.  By focusing on technology out of the gate, Google was able the gain the first movers advantage of getting ahead of the learning curve of search algorithm technology.  Through the learning curve, Google has managed to identify and resources and capabilities necessary to deliver its superior algorithm based search technology (server farms, engineers, etc.).

  • Will the search business become more concentrated? Is search a winner-take-all market?

In the months following the authorship of this case study (2006 and beyond), it was considered that the search game was over and that Google had won.  Still, to date of this writing, Google is considered the dominant and most effective search engine on the market; however, the internet is an ever evolving marketplace.  In 2008, the dominant theme within the world of web technology is Web 2.0.  Web 2.0 has an ever-changing definition, but it generally refers wide use of web technologies in the enterprise and the development of social networks.  Web 2.0 literally encapsulates the network effect; that is, the more users of a web service, the greater the benefit to the installed base of those users.

Through its first mover position, Google has been able to capitalize on its installed-base in generating a strong network effect.  However, new entrants have begun to eek out a slice of Google’s market share for search.  Users are increasingly relying on their social networks, such as Facebook.com and LinkedIn.com, to find relevant information on the web.

Ironically, there is a movement in web technology towards human influenced search, or Semantic search technology.  Semantic search technology relies on the aggregation of human arbiters to rank web pages by relevance, which effectively personalizes a web search; seemingly contrary to the purely computational approach that Google has pursued to date.  Interestingly, Microsoft is experimenting with Semantic search with its U Rank prototype search engine.  This service rewards users for ranking web pages by relevance by providing credits to active users who share their ranked search results with their social network of friends.
One fact is clear moving forward in the market of search; that is, different users search for different reasons.  Some search for commercial reasons, other search for academic reasons; Google effectively captured a broad market of search users utilizing its algorithmic approach. However, there are many new entrants entering the web technology arena, all with the Amazon approach of “get big fast.” Social networking sites Myspace.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com, and Friendfeed.com are all generating substantial network effects by developing a large installed base and many users are relying more and more on these types of sites for their information, particularly the social website aggregators such as Digg.com and Stumbleupon.com.  Google clearly has the first movers’ advantage with its huge installed base; however, this is not enough to sustain its competitive advantage.  Finally, Google has the opportunity to leverage its installed-base and its track record for innovation to compete in the ever changing technology sphere; nonetheless, there is still room for search, or more generally, information aggregation beyond Google as it stands today.

  • How important is Google’s deal with AOL? How did Microsoft’s bid for AOL’s search traffic compare to Google’s?

Microsoft’s bid was a direct response to Google’s growing dominance in web search and the ad revenue it created.  Microsoft failed in its bid where Google succeeded due to competitive nature of the bid; that is, Google was able to identify the Value Net advantage of partnering with AOL.  Google understood that AOL offered a complimentary service to Google search and that the Value Net of the deal allowed them to offer a premium the generally accepted market-valued of AOL.  The network effect of Google search coupled with their cost-per-impression basis of paid listing demonstrated their ability to generate greater returns because it ensured users would see the most relevant adds first.  Microsoft’s competitive bid for AOL was much less nuanced in its approach to Value Net benefits.  Microsoft was much less interested in creating a win-win relationship with AOL by offering complementary services as it was in creating a joint venture to compete directly with Google, which would inevitably lead to a competitive price war for paid ad listings.

17Jun/084

Work In The Industry You Want to Start a Business In

A quick update:

I've been really busy trying to seal up a job offer. I was in the middle of a post about results oriented work environment (ROWE) when I came across an excellent opportunity to be a software consultant for an ERP company.

I want to make this a quick one so I don't get lost in the vortex life's to busy to blog. But I have a second interview for a software consulting gig that I'm 95% sure I'll stick. And this just gives me an opportunity to remind you that knowing an industry can give a big head-start when it comes to starting a venture. Even if you aren't a key player in your role, there are still many things you can learn just through observation.

I'm so excited for this since it kills three birds with one stone.

1) It gets me out of the dungeon that is manufacturing and broadens my horizons so that I don't get pigeonholed down the path of becoming a boring Six Sigma "Master Black Belt." (Shiver)

2) It gets me into a consulting career path, which is something I've always imagined myself doing whether corporate or on my own - I really like helping people and why shouldn't I get paid to come up with innovative solutions to other peoples problems?

3) It gets me into the world of IT and software, which gives me risk-free (I'm getting paid) insight into whether or not people will rely on technology more heavily into the future or less - and basically every other aspect of diving into the web 2.0 sphere. Even though this isn't a "web 2.0 company," I'm going to be working on the leading edge of where old world business intersects new world technology; and that's a great place to be when the evolution of technology is happening right underneath your feet.

Even though I'm getting treated for lunch for this second interview, it's not 100% until I have a written offer in my hands. But the point remains: if you want to start your own business, try to work in that industry so that you can get a real-world taste of the of the challenges you will face and so you can gain deeper insight into how you might be able to exploit some of the finer nuances of the industry.

Well,

Wish me luck!

15May/081

bummpy 2.0

Well, this is my second go at enacting a blog. The first time was a bit of a bore and snore, I think it ended up being a whiney bitch fest of me moping about being a recent college graduate and without a job. Coincidentally, I find myself back in school and back on the job search horse. But I think I've got a few more interesting things to say this time around.

I'm not sure what kind of outlet this will evolve into, but I do know that I'm currently in a transformative phase of my life and that this venue might help sharpen my efforts. I'll keep it brief for now, but I'll wrap things up and keep in theme by noting my recent epiphany about "web 2.0": that is, I've found that the new socially connected web has presented me with the most relevant information I think I may have witnessed thus far on the internet. It seems like almost every page I read lately has exactly the information I was looking for, or exactly the kind of information I didn't know I was looking for until I came across it. So with that, you probably found yourself reading this very post because of the aforementioned phenomenon.

Kind of neat huh?