Brad Feld

Month: July 2008

Glue and Comments

Jul 22, 2008
Category Education

Since last summer I’ve been talking about comments as the Dark Matter of the Blogosphere.  I use Intense Debate* for the comment system on my blog and have learned a lot by experimenting with it. 

In the past six months comments have moved to the forefront of the discussion around user generated content.  While the various new commenting systems that have emerged have played a part in this, I think the broad activity around systems that enable small bursts of user generated content (Twitter, BrightKite*) and systems that aggregate a wide variety of user generated content (FriendFeed, SocialThing*) are playing a huge role in this and more "comment-like" data is being generated all over the Web.

One of the investment themes I’m most fascinated with right now is the one we call "Glue".  We’ve made a handful of investments in the Glue theme at Foundry Group including Gnip, AdMeld, and Topspin.  We’ve also been working with our good friend Eric Norlin – the creator of the Defrag Conference – on a Glue Conference.

I’m always looking for great, simple examples of Glue and I found one accidentally the other day.  I put up a blog post titled Brilliant Op-Ed Crushing McCain On The EconomyI posted it on Sunday morning and then went out for a two hour run.  I came back to about 20 comments on it in my inbox.  Even though the post was done on my blog, I noticed the comments were from FriendFeed accounts being emailed to me by Intense Debate.

Here’s what happened.  My blog is one of my FriendFeed services.  A vigorous debate broke out on FriendFeed between a couple of people.  I wouldn’t have noticed it until Monday when I checked my FriendFeed ego feed (I only do this once a day.)  However, Intense Debate is "glued" to my FriendFeed account so any comments that show up on a blog post of mine on FriendFeed automatically show up in Intense Debate on my blog.  It’s a small feature, but a brilliant one, as it brings the overall conversation associated with my blog post back to my blog where I actually want it.

There are now 46 comments on this particular blog post (unexpected – I don’t write that much about politics and it was a Sunday post.)  Most of them are from the FriendFeed discussion, but some are from my blog readers.  They are intermixed where I want them – on my blog.  Even though they are coming from multiple sources, they persist permanently on my blog due to a tiny feature in Intense Debate.

Now – this is all much too complex still, but it’s why the Glue is so interesting to us.  We are continually looking for unnecessary complexity in the metaverse and ways to build really large companies that (a) take advantage of the complexity, (b) simplify the complexity, or (c) both.  If you make glue, email me!

* Yes – I’m aware that each of Intense Debate, BrightKite, and SocialThing are TechStars companies from 2007 – and I’m immensely proud of the progress each has made and the fact they are in the midst of what I consider to be a very interesting and vigorous segment of our little tech universe

Having just finished reading George Soros’s latest book The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crash of 2008 and What It Means my brain is now full of his theories around reflexivity.  I have always instinctively agreed with Soros’s philosophy even though I find it incredibly difficult and chewy to work my way through (but that’s true of all philosophy for me.)

I’m a great fan of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which, according to my friend Wikipedia, "is the statement that locating a particle in a small region of space makes the velocity of the particle uncertain; and conversely, that measuring the velocity of a particle precisely makes the position uncertain."  Wikipedia suggests that this is often conflated with the Observer Effect (when you observe a phenomenon, you change it), but I think the intersection of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Soros’s Theory of Reflexivity reduce nicely in my brain to the Observer Effect. 

That leads me to the real point of this post, which is the great short article in the New Yorker by James Surowiecki titled Oily Speculations (thanks Amy.)  In the last month a new class of villain has emerged in the rapidly escalating price of oil – the "speculator."  Surowiecki calls bullshit on this (not on the involvement of the speculator, but why this is both irrelevant and why the speculator is not the villain.)

The key sentence in the article is "Speculation has been a favorite target of politicians looking to mollify anxious voters since the time of ancient Greece, when the orator Lysias protested that wheat traders had reduced Athens to a state of siege.” 

The conclusion, which Surowiecki bashes us (appropriately) over the head with is "The difficulty for Congress, of course, is that none of the problems that have driven up the price of oil lend themselves to a quick fix, and most, like the boom in global demand and the inaccessibility of certain oil fields, aren’t under our control at all. That’s what makes speculators a perfect target: by going after them, Congress can demonstrate to voters that it understands their pain, and at the same time avoid doing anything that might require real sacrifice from Americans. Our dependence on foreign oil, together with the fiscal fecklessness that has helped reduce the value of the dollar, means that there is no easy way out of where we are. But in an election year that’s hardly a message that anyone in Washington is going to deliver."

If you net it all out, it’s the Observer Effect writ large.

Running and Conferences

Jul 21, 2008
Category Books

I’ve got some fun things for you to do this Monday morning (or at least to put on your schedule to do.)

Want to learn how to run?  How to Go From Sedentary to Running in Five Steps.

If you are already running, join the Gyminee Running Challenge or Gyminee Weight Loss Challenge.  Or – join me on Gyminee in my Lifehacker inspired six week program to do One Hundred Pushups.

Developing software for your iPhone?  Check out iPhoneDevCamp Colorado on 8/1 – 8/3.

Like 37 Signals?  Jason Fried is talking at the Oriental Theater in Denver on July 31st.

Defrag is starting to heat up.  Eric has a post up in response to the "tech has gotten boring" meme that is making the rounds.  That that he says "bah" and talks more about his thoughts in Anything but ho-hum.

My friend Larry Nelson who with his wife Pat runs interviews me periodically.  I’m always happy to talk to Larry – he’s a tireless reporter on the Colorado entrepreneurial scene.  His most recent interview with me happens while I am reclining on my red coach downstairs in my house in Homer, Alaska.

Note the blue sky in the background.  It’s gone now, but it was here for a few days.

My Sunday morning online scan of the New York Times turned up an awesome Op-Ed by Frank Rich titled It’s the Economic Stupidity, Stupid.  It’s a scathing (er – "fucking brutal") criticism of McCain and his total lack of understanding of "the economy", how it actually works, and what he would do about it were he to be president.

While Rich takes a few cheap shots (hey – it wouldn’t be a political Op-Ed without some gratuitous things) I think it’s right on the money.

At the end, Rich makes a good argument for Michael Bloomberg as the VP Candidate.  He also dismantles Carly Fiorina as a potential VP and suggests Romney would be a slightly less bad idea.  I can’t imagine either Fiorina or Romney as VP’s – my mind just boggles.  Bloomberg – now that’s someone I could get excited about – for EITHER party.  I hope the dude is at least answering his phone when it rings.

But the real message of the Op-Ed is how out to lunch McCain is on the economy.  Taken at face value, it’s terrifying.  Of course, it’s an Op-Ed so you can’t take it at face value, but it’s politics so that’s what you get.

Time to go for a run and think about birds, the ocean, and happy thoughts.  I’ll drink some Pixie Maté first to fuel me while giving thanks to my latest 50 by 50 Marathon sponsor.

It’s unusual for a founder to write a long thoughtful post on the failure of his company.  Roger Ehrenberg – the co-founder of Monitor110 – which shut down earlier this week, did just that on his outstanding post titled Monitor110: A Post Mortem.  The post is oriented around Roger’s "seven deadly sins":

  1. The lack of a single, "the buck stops here" leader until too late in the game
  2. No separation between the technology organization and the product organization
  3. Too much PR, too early
  4. Too much money
  5. Not close enough to the customer
  6. Slow to adapt to market reality
  7. Disagreement on strategy both within the Company and with the Board

Every person in every company that I’m involved with should read this post carefully.  Every entrepreneur should also.  Failure is part of the entrepreneur experience – Roger has done us all a great service by being willing to be deeply introspective and share his thoughts on what went wrong at Monitor110 in such a direct way.

Who said the magic of Facebook is wearing thin?  Nah.  Cynics.

One of our investments – Zynga – helped a nice young couple (Tyler Richardson and his (now) fiancee Christine) get engaged via Scramble, one of my favorite Zynga games.  Thanks to Inside Social Games for showing us the way with their post Suitor Pops the Question in Game of Facebook Scramble.

One of the questions I’ve been asked numerous times since Gnip launched a few weeks ago is "when is Gnip going to start working with Twitter?"  The answer is: today.  Gnip’s current partners now include Twitter.

Thanks Twitter guys!  This happens to coincide with the end of my experiment of "a week without Twitter" (yes – I missed it) so to commemorate this I turned my Twitter client (Twhirl) back on and started tweeting again.

The Gnip data producer and data consumer universe is getting larger quickly; drop me an email if you want to come play and I’ll get you gnipped-up.

The New Wallstrip

Jul 18, 2008
Category Investments

Wallstrip 2.0 is out.  Fortunately, channeling the voice of the founder Howard Lindzon, they announce it very sarcastically on the homepage. 

Welcome to Wallstrip 2.0, where everything is happy and bubbly so you don’t have to think about how much money you’re losing on the market. Sure, the site is blue, but don’t let that fool you: we laugh in the face of market woes.

Today’s episode is on a public online dating company – Spark Networks – owner of JDate, CatholicMingle, LDSMingle, and a whole bunch of other niche dating sites. I just got my final Wallstrip escrow payment from CBS from the acquisition.  CBS (and – more importantly – Wallstrip and Howard) – I LOV you.