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June 2007 Archives

June 1, 2007

The End of the Road?

Two search engines launched in the last couple of days - mahalo and sproose - have started a new trend. The theory is that algorithmic results aren't good enough any more. There needs to be a human layer as well. In Mahalo's case, that human editing is complete - at least for a small sub-set of the search queries that are made. For Sproose, it is partial, an add on to every algorithmic result.

So this got me wondering, does this mean we've taken technology as far as it can go? Are we really at a place where Page Rank is such a good and complete solution that the only way to actually improve upon it is to provide human supervision - regardless, or should i say in spite of, the standard issues that come with human intervention (spamming, lack of scale, etc.).

Hmmmm.

June 2, 2007

Arcade Fire at the Greek

Last night Kelly and I headed to Berkeley to check out one of her favorite bands, Arcade Fire, at the Greek Theater. While I'm not too familiar with their music, she's seen them a bunch of times at the various music festivals that go on across the country and loves them. And the Greek is such a great place to see a show, you're pretty much going to have a good time seeing anyone perform there.

In any event, the show was a lot of fun. The band is huge (at least 9 or 10 people by my count) and they have so much energy on stage that it's not hard to get caught up in it. Not knowing the music too well makes appreciating it kind of hard, so I couldn't tell you if they were "on" that night or not, but it seemed like they were.

One moment was particularly interesting for me though. After playing some of their new songs, the lead singer said to the crowd something to the effect of "time to play the hits." The crowd went crazy for the next few songs. Unfortunately, I never heard any of them. These are the hits? Why don't i know them?

I've written a bit on the music industry in the past. More knowledgeable commentators are folks like Bob Lefsetz, who has the great quote "the mainstream is a sideshow." Last night really showed me that it is. The music business is now about building an audience/ fan base through marketing mechanism other than the radio. Arcade Fire certainly has done that. Old folks like me who aren't tapped into that system get left behind.

It kind of reminds me of the old days of the Grateful Dead. Jerry and the boys never got much radio play and certainly weren't going platinum on their albums. Rather, through constant touring, word of mouth marketing from a passionate fan base (further enabled by authorized show taping, fan-made merchandising, etc.) they became the biggest touring act in the world. Perhaps, once again, they were really ahead of their time.

Crappy camera phone pic of Arcade Fire in action below:

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June 5, 2007

Showdown At Kruger

Back in 2003, I took a trip to South Africa which included a few day safari in Kruger National Park. The trip was an unbelievably good time with the safari easily being one of the highlights. We saw a ton of cool animals (yes, the big five included) and had a great time.

I was reminded of this when my friend Dave just sent me this amazing clip from Kruger. Do yourself a favor - watch the entire 8 minutes, otherwise you'll miss the Hollywood ending. Now this is compelling reality TV....

June 9, 2007

Andreesen on VC's

Marc Andreesen has posted on a his new blog the first 2 parts of a multi-post series on VC's. Pretty interesting stuff - covers most of the basics and if you have not worked with VC's in the past, it is a pretty helpful overview. Anyway, with that, my favorite line:

For example, VCs with operating experience are great when it comes to sitting down and talking about how to run a business, but sometimes they have less perspective (because their career was probably focused on one or two companies, whereas a professional VC has probably invested in 30+ companies), and they may have trouble keeping their hands off the steering wheel.

A VC with an executive recruiting background can be incredibly helpful at recruiting -- one of the main areas in which a VC can add value (see below).

And a VC who used to be an attorney can be very helpful when you need to get a parking ticket fixed.

Ouch. As a former/ recovering lawyer, even I had to laugh at that one.

June 11, 2007

Sleeping with the Fishes

Like everyone else, Kelly and I watched the final Soprano's episode last night. The thing I always like about the Soprano's is that it is "layered" television. Sometimes, actually most times, absent a second or third viewing plus some thought/ reflection, you don't "get" everything that happened. But then once you do, it's great.

Last night's episode was like that for me. At first, the whole, cut to black thing left me confused, shocked, disappointed, etc. But, after some thought, I think I get it. And now I think it was a brilliant way to end the show.

Tony and company have let us follow them in their world for the past 8 years. During that time, just like in our own lives, people and situations come and go. And just like in real life, regardless of what happens, life goes on. And that's the dilemma they faced here. Just because the show was ending, doesn't mean all of the world's of Tony and company could be neatly resolved through a single event. Say for instance, that instead of last night's show, Tony got hit or arrested? Would that have "properly" ended the Soprano's? No. You would still have no idea what happened to Carmela or Benny or Paulie, etc. Their world's would have continued and gone unresolved.

The fact that this was the last episode of the series meant that there was really only one presence that had to be removed from this world. Ours. And given this was a mob drama, how do you get rid of someone you don't want around any more? Of course, you whack them. So true to form, they created a scene where tension ran high, lots of shady characters around and then bam...cut to black. We, the viewer, got whacked. If you could've filmed the scene in the gas station from Phil Leatardo's perspective, it probably would've looked exactly that way to him.

So rather than trying to tie up a million loose ends in 60 minutes, the Soprano's did what they always do - they let us know the world goes on. We just won't be around to see it anymore. Like Richie Aprile, Ralphie, Big Pussy, Jackie Jr, Bobby, Livia, etc., etc., tonight we, the viewer, sleep with the fishes.

June 13, 2007

An Efficient Bubble?

Bubbles are funny things - no one seems to notice them until they pop. Which begs the question, what happens if a bubble popped and no one noticed? Lots of people, including myself , are commenting that we are in the midst of what looks like a bubble. Lots of money chasing lots of companies (many of whom seem to have no business model other than get bought) - valuations through the roof - yep, all the signs of a bubble. So when is it going to burst?

The bubble of the 90's had a built in detonator in that the discipline of the public markets require a company to stand up on its own two feet. So all those companies whose liquidity event was a public offering found themselves pretty much high and dry when the balance sheet didn't meet the prospectus hype. Of course by that time, the investment bankers had long ago got paid, the early non-lock-up investors had gotten out and the mom and pop investors (and perhaps a few greedy day-traders) were left holding the worthless paper - or so the PR spin went. In other words, with all apologies to Ross Perot, that giant popping sound you heard was the bubble bursting.

Anyway, fast forward to today and there is no public market discipline against whom a start-up is measured. Add to that a bunch of VC firms flush with a renewable stream of cash, new liquidators (i.e. large public companies active in m&a) with coffers filled with cash and supported by very profitable businesses and you begin to wonder - if this is a bubble, so what? What would make it burst?

Of course there are obvious answers: terrorism, natural disaster, overall economic downturn (although the recent housing market woes have had little effect), etc. But anything less than that? How about a bad quarter for Google? Something that perhaps shows a chink in the armor of the ad supported online model? The shuttering of a high profile Web 2.0 start-up? I'm not sure. May this is a bubble, but it seems like it might be a bubble built to last.

June 18, 2007

Post Semel Top 10 Problems Facing Yahoo

Wow, big news over at Yahoo - Terry Semel steps down as CEO and Jerry Yang takes over the helm (with Sue Decker sitting pretty closely next to him as the new company President). Big corporate shake-ups like this are always big news, no matter the circumstances, but in this case, this outcome is hardly surprising. Google's success cast a very long shadow over Yahoo and his failure to react made a changing of the guard the only sensible option. Now, whether the back to the future approach of appointing Jerry Yang is the right move, only time will tell.

In any event, the Yang/ Decker team has a lot to do. Here, in no particular order, are the top ten problems facing Yahoo right now:

1. They've lost the search wars. For a bunch of reasons (history, exec team, product decisions, etc.) years ago they let Google become the brand for search. To fix this will take more than a few algorithmic tweaks. A holistic product approach is needed.

2. Search is where the money is. Losing the search war wouldn't be so bad if search wasn't THE most lucrative business on the net. But it is. And everyday Google grows stronger and richer because of it.

3. The Yahoo brand doesn't stand for anything. Certainly not for search - not for news/ email/ finance/ local/ etc. either. Pick a category and own it.

4. Because the brand doesn't stand for anything, they have no power users. Look at great web companies like eBay, Google, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc. - not only do they have tons of users, but they have tons of users who evangelize the company. The closest thing Yahoo has to a power user is their email customers, and that's only because there is actual switching costs in changing email providers. This not what you call a power user/ company evangelists.

5. Speaking of email, well if search is the Fort Knox of the internet, then email is the tree fort in your back yard. Email monetization sucks. i.e. again, not your ideal power user.

6. News monetization sucks too. Well, in most categories anyway. Unfortunately for Yahoo news is probably their second strongest category, after email.

7. Directionally, the company is lacking. This is probably a result of their lack of brand, but needs some internal discipline to fix. Get your troops marching in the same directions.

8. Unfortunately though, motivating the troops at this time will be difficult. Recent staff losses have hurt, but the folks who are still there seem a bit disgruntled. Case in point, the infamous the Peanut Butter manifesto. Can you picture a shiny, happy Googler writing that?

9. Speaking of peanut butter, services like music, personals, etc. aren't going to save your bacon either. There's too much competition which leads to too little market share, which leads to a further diluted brand. Cut the fat.

10. The corp. development wars aren't going well either. In addition to losing a few high profile acquisitions (see Facebook, YouTube, etc.), the perception is that the acquisitions they have made have been after the fact, consolation prizes.

Ok enough bad news. Time for some good news. Despite all of this, Yahoo is uniquely positioned to fix these problems. They are cash rich, have a ton of traffic and have a lot of very smart people there who are extremely capable of fixing all of this. The question is whether or not they will. Good luck Mr. Yang.

June 26, 2007

Topix: A Fond Farewell

Today is a bittersweet day for me as I announce that I have decided to leave Topix. While my departure is done in conjunction with Rich's departure, I firmly believe that I could not be leaving the company in any more capable hands than that of Chris Tolles, the company's newly appointed CEO, and the remaining employees.

Chris is lucky enough to take over a company stocked with some of the smartest, hardest working folks I've ever had the pleasure of working with. So, first off, a big congrats goes out to him and a warm goodbye to the rest of the folks. Now, I'll indulge myself with a bit of history...

Topix was born sometime in 2002 by Rich, Bob, Bryn and my brother Tom. At that time, I was in the process of selling my last company (Terraspring) to Sun, and these guys were setting up in the worst office space in Palo Alto, working through ideas. Over the course of the next year, I spent most of my time traveling the world and golfing, and occasionally stopping into the aforementioned crap office space to check in on progress.

Sometime around mid 2003, it became clear that the ideas that were being chewed through were actually crystallizing. My visits become more frequent, and next thing I knew I was down there pretty much full time doing everything from product management to bus. dev. to pr/ marketing. After our launch in early 2004, we brought in other folks and I settled into my role as VP Bus. Dev.

In any event, what a ride it has been. I think in my 4 years at Topix I have done a deal with pretty much every major newspaper, every major ISP, all the search engines, TV networks, the major wire services, and pretty much any other type of media company (large or small) you can think of. All the while, the company got purchased, raised money, re-branded, grew in traffic to record heights, created a classified network and became the place on the net for local news and community. Now a top 20 news site, I couldn't be more proud.

With that, after 4 years (the longest period of time I've ever stayed with the same job!) I've grown tired and decided it's time to let someone else take over the bus. dev. role. Chris has the perfect sales/ marketing background to lead the company to new heights in its next/ newest phase of growth. Whoever is lucky enough to take over my spot will certainly be in a great position to meaningfully participate in this growth. As an continuing equity holder, I look forward to Topix continued success.

But for now, my immediate plans are to take some time off this summer, other than some continued blogging. Accordingly, I bid Topix adieu. Before I go though, I wanted to give Rich, Chris, Jack, Tim, Tom M, Bob, Bryn, Tom F, Dan, Brigid, Allen, Hilary, Ross, Jeff, the entire Topix team and everyone else I met and worked with along the way a big thanks for letting me take a seat on what's been the ride of a lifetime.

Oh yeah, one more note: once Topix was purchased in 2005, I became a member of the partner advisory board of ShopLocal, a sister company to Topix. At our first partner meeting in Chicago in 2005, I met a ShopLocal employee named Kelly who I hit it off pretty well with. Anyway, fast forward a couple of years and Kelly and I are now married living in SF. Like I said, quite a ride....Thanks Topix!!

June 30, 2007

Hot Tuna at the Fillmore

Last night Kelly and I went to the historic Fillmore Theater in San Francisco to check out the classic band Hot Tuna. While I have been a long time fan of Hot Tuna, this was the first time I actually got to see them play live - and an acoustic show, no less!

For the uninitiated, Hot Tuna is a band comprised Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, two former members of the original Jefferson Airplane. The legend goes (at least the one that I heard) that after the old Airplane shows, Jorma and Jack would spend hours in their hotel room jamming out to their true passion, traditional blues. These jams sessions eventually became part of the Airplane's shows, with Hot Tuna often opening up for Airplane. Eventually, the Airplane morphed into Jefferson Starship and then just Starship (yes, the Starship of "We Built this City" infamy, which, to my knowledge, Jorma and Jack had absolutely zero to do with), and then disappeared. However, lucky for us, Hot Tuna continues on to this day.

In any event, the show was great. Jorma is really one of the best guitar players you will ever see - and Jack Casady certainly holds his own on the bass. Add in the mandolin/ guitar/ banjo/ ukulele playing Barry Mitterhoff, and it really is a great sound they produce. Only one complaint: first, the web-site said they were starting at 10 - so we show up around 9:40, only to learn they started at 9:15. Pretty annoying.

Anyway, crappy camera phone picture below and a you tube clip of the boys doing their thing. Enjoy!

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About June 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Marksonland in June 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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