On March 8, 2010 Amazon fired me as an Amazon Affiliate because of Colorado HB 10-1193. I proceeded to have a dozen different conversations (email and live) with several of my state representatives, including one of the co-sponsors of the bill, and each conversation made me more incensed at the abject stupidity and lack of understanding of the dynamics surrounding the situation. Ultimately, the argument came down to one of protectionism – e.g. “we have to protect our local merchants so Amazon shouldn’t get an unfair advantage by not having to charge state tax.” I could rant about this for a while, but I’ve got better things to spend my time on at this point.
I’ve been an early Viglink user for a while. Niel Robertson, the CEO of Trada, introduced me to Viglink’s founder Oliver Roup and I agreed to be an alpha tester. While we aren’t an investor, I’m intrigued with what Viglink is doing and I’m already a big fan.
Last week I realized that all of my going forward Amazon links (and other links to merchants with an affiliate program) were getting rewritten by Viglink. As a result, on a going forward basis, I was getting Amazon affiliate revenue (via Viglink) for anyone that clicked through one of my links and bought something on Amazon.
That was cool, but I have a gillion of old links using my Amazon affiliate code that no longer works. I asked Oliver if he could rewrite all of the old links also. Here’s his response:
“We have coded this and deployed it. As a result, all your dead Amazon affiliate links will be overwritten with our affiliate code and the revenue will be credited to you. What’s more, we just created an affiliate program against ourselves – any links you have to us on your blog will automatically be affiliated and you will receive 10% of the revenue from any customers we get as a result of those links.”
Awesome! If you are a fired Amazon Affiliate in Colorado, take a look at Viglink.
I talk about human computer interaction (HCI) a lot on this blog. We’ve invested in a number of companies in our HCI theme, including Oblong, Organic Motion, and EmSense and have a few more that we are working on that hopefully will be announced shortly. When I think about the areas I’ve been paying the most attention to and am the most intrigued with as an investor, HCI rises to the top of the list.
This morning I read an article on SeattlePI titled UW researchers look to reinvent the graphical user interface. While the headline is a bit sensational, the project (Prefab) is very cool. At first glance I thought it was simply rewriting HTML pages (clever, but not that big a deal) but then I realized it was doing something more profound. The five minute video is worth a look if you are into these types of things.
The bubble cursor and sticky icon examples are great ones. Starting at 1:45 you see the bubble cursor and sticky icons in action on Firefox in Vista. At 2:05 you see it on OSX. At 2:45 you see it in action on a Youtube player. The magic seems to be around pixel level mapping, which anyone working in adtech knows that’s where the real action is. It’s pretty cool to see it being used to map UI functionality.
Tonight, during Lost, I tried to decide just how “willful” Locke-the-smoke-monster was being. I didn’t reach a conclusion – and doubt I will until the end of the season. In the mean time, my anonymous lawyer friend known as Sawyer sent me a nice essay on the notion of “willful infringement in the context of patents.” He also sent me some interesting comments about how pissed off a bunch of biotech patent lawyers were today are at U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet for invalidating seven patents related to the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, but that’s not what this essay is about. Remember, no matter how sensible Sawyer’s advice is, none of this is legal advice and, if you have a specific issue, make sure you spend lots of money on your lawyers since they also have to eat. Sawyer’s comments follow.
One of the issues that seems to most concern developers in software companies is whether they should ever look at a patent, and if they do, whether they are "tainted" by the exposure (a patent virus, perhaps?). The basic wisdom is that developers should avoid looking at or reading any patents, and I think that’s generally right, but the law isn’t as bad as it sounds.
There are two issues springing from exposure to a patent – the ticking off of the damages period for infringement of the patent, and willful infringement. The first issue is relatively easy: in order for a patentee to begin accruing damages, he must put a potential infringer on notice of his alleged infringement with some level of specificity. The requisite specificity is a thorny legal issue, but it’s not just enough to send someone a patent, a patentee must also make an allegation of infringement by something (so, the theory goes, the alleged infringer can stop infringing). Patentees can also sell products embodying the invention and mark them with the patent number, which counts as constructive notice, usually.
The second issue is the one I want to focus on. The definition of willful infringement and its legal requirements have changed a lot over time. It used to be something akin to "continuing to infringe when you knew someone was accusing you of infringement." Under the current legal regime, the alleged infringer must continue to infringe in a manner that is both objectively and subjectively reckless (the law is still muddy and some will quibble with my framing of the test, but this is roughly it). Objectivity in law means from the perspective of a hypothetical "reasonable man" (a legal fiction if there ever was one); subjectivity means from the perspective of the accused himself, i.e., that he believed or should have known that what he was doing was reckless and did it anyway. The idea is that if there are strong reasons for people to think that an accused infringer does really infringe, e.g., because there are weak litigation defenses, then his continued infringement is willful; but it isn’t enough to infringe just with mere knowledge of the patent, or even because of negligence in figuring out whether one infringes.
The upshot is that just being exposed to a patent, and then later accused of infringement, isn’t anywhere near enough to be "willful," and so developers shouldn’t be too worried if they run into something accidentally. That said, exposure to a patent is evidence that can come in at trial, and plaintiffs will use even tenuous exposure to paint a picture that could cause a jury to find willfulness even in the absence of solid, legally cognizable, evidence. So, people involved in a software business should probably still avoid patents (not the least of which because they’re often incomprehensible anyway), just to be safe.
Also, one more note: People think that a finding of willfulness means automatic treble damages, but the decision to enhance damages at all is discretionary with the trial judge, and he can choose to make no enhancement at all, or enhance to a level significantly less than treble. The real problem with willfulness is that it gets "black hat" stories about defendants in front of juries, which taint them against a defendant regardless of the merits – it’s easier to think that someone infringes if he’s just a bad guy anyway, especially if the technology is boring and the patent is hard to understand.
After downloading Skype 4.2, I realized that I could now invite all of my Facebook friends who had Skype accounts to my Skype contact list. So I did. Unfortunately the Skype UI for this sucks so I had to go through about 1,000 entries a screen of five at a time unchecking the Facebook friends I didn’t want on Skype. I ended up inviting about 280 – fortunately I was on a conference call for the thirty minutes it took me to grind through this.
The data field used for the match was email address. Shocking, I know. It’s the same data field used to log in to Facebook and Twitter. Google sort of uses email (at least the gmail) account for their authentication, although now that I have both my gmail account (firstname.lastname@example.org) and my email account (email@example.com) in Google’s system, I am constantly having to fight with the “reauthorize me to access that thing via firstname.lastname@example.org) game” since Google hasn’t solved for multiple email addresses yet.
More and more sites are integrating Facebook Connect, Twitter “Connect”, or both. Yahoo has such a golden opportunity to do this and own it but they blew it. Google seems to have also missed this and ceded it to Facebook and Twitter for some reason. Microsoft has been trying for a decade first with Passport and now Live ID. And then there is Skype with their 20m simultaneous users. Or Amazon with their gazillion users authenticating via email. And then there’s Barnes & Noble – if I want to create an account I get to use my email address. And the list goes on and on.
Facebook and Twitter are in a perfect position to own single sign on. I just don’t understand why Yahoo and Google blew this although I don’t really care. What I do care about is that there seems to be a natural convergence on email as the user id and authentication via widely pervasive services like Facebook and Twitter rather than entertainingly complex approaches like Oath.
I predict email is going to become even more important in the next few years. There’s no reason for me to have a phone number any more – you should just be able to contact me via email@example.com. And that should authenticate me anywhere. And – as a messaging protocol – I should be able to use my “inbox” (wherever or whatever it is) as my central notification point.
It’s remarkable that 15 years after commercial Internet email started to proliferate, it is still at the root of all the commercial Internet activity. Very very cool.
I was thinking about how to drive CTR’s up via different mechanisms this morning when this email arrived in my inbox.
I remembered talking about high CTR email response rates with Dave McClure and Shervin Pishevar when we were in DC on our Startup Visa trip at the beginning of March. I’d forgotten about this conversation until this email showed up while I was thinking about this. Of course, I clicked to see where Dave had tagged me (it was on a Huffington Post article about innovation.)
I thought about it for a few more seconds and realized that to date I have a 100% CTR on an email from Facebook that says “<X> tagged you on Facebook.” I can’t come up with anything else that I have a 100% CTR on, but I’m now looking out for it.
Do you have any examples of transaction emails like this you receive that have 100% (or even 50%+) CTRs?
I’ll be in Seattle on Tuesday 4/6 for a bunch of meetings and am attending the Seattle Open Coffee Club meeting at 8:30am at Louisa’s on 2379 Eastlake Avenue E in Seattle. Andy Sack who runs the TechStars Seattle program is hosting and providing the coffee. We will both be answering any and all questions about TechStars Seattle, plus eating plenty of baked goods.
I had an amazing day on Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina. I attended the Bank of America Technology Stars of the Future awards ceremony for the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. If you’ve been following along on this blog, you know that I’m chairman of NCWIT (the National Center for Women & Information Technology). I’m proud of a lot of things that NCWIT does, but after attending the Aspirations in Computing awards I think it has moved to the top of my list.
We gave awards to 2^5 (32) young women (all in high school) for their computing-related achievements. At the awards ceremony Lucy Sanders (NCWIT’s CEO) and I read out descriptions of the accomplishments of each winner. They are remarkable young women doing awesome things with computers, especially around robotics and research. Bank of America – who sponsors the awards – was a gracious host, put on a delightful event, and awarded each winner $500 and a laptop (most of which were opened and up and running before the evening was over.)
I got to Charlotte midday on Friday. After hiding in my hotel room for a few hours grinding through email and phone calls, I went out to dinner at Mac’s Speed Shop with Lucy and Ruthe Farmer (the excellent NCWIT staffer who runs the entire awards program) – we had beers and BBQ (veggie BBQ for me) and managed to avoid the bikers. I crashed hard and slept 12 hours, waking up in time for the intro lunch with the award winners and their parents. At lunch, I sat at a few different tables, met the young women, and heard a few stories.
After lunch, Bank of America did a full afternoon of show and tell for the attendees at their innovation labs. I went for a three hour run in Charlotte – basically heading south for 90 minutes and then turning around. It was a perfect day (60 degrees and sunny) and I got a good feel for a bunch of Charlotte’s neighborhoods. During the run, I pondered how incredible the young women were that I’d met. The cliché “these kids are our future” definitely applies and whenever I encounter young people like this it gives me a renewed sense of hope and optimism.
When I got back to the hotel, I called Amy and asked if she’d be game for us to add on to the award and give each winner a $1,000 scholarship for college from our foundation. Not surprisingly Amy agreed and, as part of the award ceremony, each winner got this as a special bonus award.
Among the seniors that I met, one was going to Wellesley (where Amy went to school) and five have been accepted to MIT (two have committed; the other three cornered me to talk about my views on MIT). Stanford, Caltech, Columbia, and a bunch of other schools were well represented. I’m pretty sure that every one of the winners is planning to go to college, although a few have several years to go before they have to decide as there was one freshman winner, a few sophomores, and a number of juniors.
I invoked my superpower Sunday morning and slept the entire flight home, partly as a result of recovering from my Saturday run. A day later I’m still thinking about the great things all these young women did and the incredible futures they have in front of them.
Finally, a huge thanks to Bank of America for their ongoing support of NCWIT and these awards.
Amy and I love Santa Fe. We need a long weekend after the past few weeks so we’ve decided to hop in the batmobile and drive as fast as we can down I-25 to Santa Fe. While I’m there I’m going to do a handful of entrepreneurial events that have been arranged by a variety of folks but really spearheaded by Doruk Aytulu as described in his post Brad Feld is Coming to Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Los Alamos.
Following is the schedule:
– Wednesday March 31st @ 5:30pm: Beers with Brad in Albuquerque at Blackbird Buvette
– Thursday April 1st @ 10am: Open Coffee Club in Los Alamos at Los Alamos Research Park, 4200 W. Jemez Road
– Thursday April 1st @ 5:30pm: Beers with Brad in Santa Fe at the Santa Fe Complex
As with previous Beers with Brad events that I’ve done, there will be plenty of beer, talk about entrepreneurship, and Q&A about whatever is on your mind. I’m looking forward to meeting some entrepreneurial folks from New Mexico in advance of a food and art orgy in Santa Fe over the weekend.
Last night we had the TechStars Boulder selection meeting where we chose the TechStars Boulder finalists. We’ll be notifying folks shortly. In the mean time, we’ve opened applications for TechStars Seattle.
Andy Sack, who runs the TechStars Seattle program, has several great blog posts up including How TechStars came to Seattle? and Help me spread the word on TechStars Seattle applications. The schedule for TechStars Seattle has also been posted.
I’m really excited about the Seattle program. The response from the Seattle entrepreneur, angel, and VC community has been incredible and reinforces that Seattle was absolutely the right choice for the third TechStars location.