Monday, September 26, 2005

Food, Water, Internet

Once in a while, I stumble across something that "just speaks to me." The chart on page 21 of Morgan Stanley's latest Internet Trends research report is a great example.

Source: Morgan Stanley

Monday, September 12, 2005

Network overload

I'm addicted to Web 2.0. My two favorite elements of most Web 2.0 businesses are 1) their syndication platforms and 2) their social networking connections.

The latter attribute, however, is becoming a problem.

Friendster was among the first social networks, and it was a social network for social networking's sake. It didn't have any real functionality. I think that's part of the reason it atrophied (poor performance is another). By the time it tried to become an online dating site, it was too late; users had already started to abandon it in droves.

Eventually, almost every consumer web service will incorporate social networking as a feature. Companies such as Yelp, Trip Connect and Flock serve a valuable function and overlay social networking on top. Yelp is a slick yellow pages. Trip Connect helps with travel planning. And Flock is a new browser. With my social network embedded, I can find out which restaurants or plumbers my friends (and their friends) like on Yelp, which hotels they recommend on Trip Connect, and what web sites and blogs they frequent with Flock (when it launches in the next few months).

The smart incorporation of social networking makes Yelp, Trip Connect and Flock much more powerful than their Web 1.0 counterparts (Superpages, Trip Advisor and FireFox).

The problem, though, is that I will have too many social networks to build and maintain. In addition to Yelp, Trip Connect and Flock, there's LinkedIn for developing new business contacts and GoodContacts or Plaxo for keeping the information in my digital rolodex up to date. I'm building yet another social network of blogs, and the respective bloggers, that I read regularly. Popular blog sites like MySpace and Xanga basically incorporate social networking functionality to facilitate cross-blog interaction.

So, I'm already up to 6 social networks, and I'm sure others will soon emerge.

What I think Web 2.0 needs is an independent social network that individual sites can integrate. Today, I have to invite my friends and colleagues to join each new system that emerges so we can re-establish our personal connections. With an independent overlay, my entire social network would exist in one place and be instantly transportable to new venues.

Since no idea is original, I suspect someone has already started working on a solution to this problem. Now I just need to find it.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A new toy

I used to be one of those people with file cabinets full of “documents” and “records” at home. But I have always harbored a few ounces of doubt as to whether I should actually be keeping all these files. Would I ever need to consult an old brokerage statement or credit card bill?

More concerning was that I definitely wanted to keep some of the files, like old tax returns, but if anything ever happened to them (fire, flood, or most likely – a misplaced box), I wouldn't have them when I needed them. The last thing I wanted to do was make extra copies.

After a little shopping research, I found the answer. And it lives up to every rave review on Amazon. It is Fujitsu’s Scansnap FI-5110EOX2 scanner.

I can put stacks of 50 pages in the feeder at once, and in a couple of minutes, I have a digital document.

Hats off to the product team at Fujitsu. They got every single feature right:

  • it scans double- or single-sided pages in one pass (and accurately auto-detects)
  • it never jams
  • it can do color or black and white images
  • it comes with Adobe Acrobat and outputs PDF files
  • it allows you to trade off quality/resolution vs. file size using 4 distinct settings. The lowest is fine for most business documents and requires about 50kb per page side scanned; the highest produces near-photo quality JPEGs
  • it comes with a USB 2.0 (or 1.x) connector
  • it takes up hardly any space (it’s about 10” tall with a 6” x 13” footprint)
  • it retails for less than $450.

I have since emptied and scanned several drawers of files. These documents, and the file cabinets that used to store them, are now teed up for a trip to the garbage.

Can anyone recommend a good shredder?

Stay hungry. Stay Foolish.

It's already a couple of months old, but a friend of mine recently pointed me to Steve Jobs' commencement speech at Stanford's 2005 graduation ceremony. I have read many stories about the early days of Apple Computer in Steve's garage, but I didn't know much about his pre-Apple days. There are a couple of interesting anecdotes in his speech about his brief (and aborted) college life.

The closing theme of Jobs' speech was borrowed from the tag line of The Whole Earth Catalog: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish."

As I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that almost every entrepreneur I know adheres to that tag line much more so than most people do. I suppose it's quite fitting that those words help to inspire Steve Jobs, one of Silicon Valley's pioneers.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Definitely a dot-oh release

Web 2.0 is a really good name for the proliferating set of open consumer web services taking the internet by storm. One of the better descriptions of the phenomenon can be found here.

The "2.0" part of the name is quite fitting. Like most ".0" releases, it only sort of works.

I added Bloglet to my blog last week to allow readers to subscribe via email. I have posted a few entries since, but not a single email has been delivered.

No doubt this is partially just an illustration of the adage "you get what you pay for" (Bloglet is free). Still, for those of us who don't want to wait for Web 2.1, tolerance is a prerequisite.

Meanwhile, I've converted my budding email subscriber base from Bloglet to Feedblitz. Please adjust spam blockers accordingly.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Too many buttons

When it comes to consumer products, the adage "keep it simple, stupid" cannot be over-emphasized.

Take the television remote control, for example. Today's models have dozens of buttons, but the vast majority of people use no more than the same five buttons which debuted on the original models 20 years ago: power, volume up/down, and channel up/down. There is a 2% portion of the population that appreciates all those other buttons, but the other 98% simply get confused, and if they accidentally press one of those "extra" buttons, they can spend hours struggling to get their tv working again.

As our office PCs invade our living rooms, the complexity is confounding most consumers, and it seems to be getting worse by the day.

Several months ago, I met an experienced technology lawyer in New York who was excited to tell me about his recent discovery of Gracenote, which happens to be one of my portfolio companies. His circuitous path to Gracenote astounded me.

First, he spent a couple hundred dollars buying 99 cent songs on iTunes. Eventually, he started complaining to a friend that he felt suckered by Apple because the cost of his new iPod paled in comparison to the cost of all the songs he bought to fill just 5% of it. He had no idea it was possible to rip CDs!

But the story gets even better. He didn't have a broadband connection at home, and he didn't think to dial up to his ISP before ripping (who would?). At first I didn't understand why he would weave that fact into his story, but then it dawned on me. Without internet access, there was no way for iTunes to connect to Gracenote's servers and download all the metadata (song names, artist names, genres, etc) for each CD. The poor sap was so relieved to be avoiding iTunes fees that he didn't mind manually entering the metadata for the first 85 CDs he ripped. He just didn't know any better.

Then one day he happened to be online while ripping his 86th CD, and he was quite pleasantly surprised to find the metadata appeared automatically when iTunes connected to Gracenote. After $200 of wasted iTunes purchases and several hours of unnecessary typing, he finally figured out the right way to load music onto his digital music player.

And he's no dummy. He's a college graduate with a degree from a top-10 law school. The technology is just too complicated.

BVP partner Ron Elwell recently met with executives at one of the top consumer electronic superstore chains. He learned that these are among the most common questions posed to the chain's in-store employees:
"I'm trying to decide whether to buy an MP3 player or an iPod."
"Will I break my CD when I rip it?"
"Isn't it illegal to download music?"

It also turns out that the chain was struggling to keep memory cards in stock. After some research, the store executives realized most consumers don't know how to get pictures off their digital cameras. Many just fill up their memory cards, put them in a shoe box, and then buy another card!

I suspect most of my blog readers will laugh at these anecdotes (I sure did). But most consumers can actually relate. Consumer technology products are just way too complicated for the average Joe. This stuff needs to get a lot simpler before consumer products can really "go digital."