Brad Feld

Category: Writing

I got an email from a close friend last night in response to my recent post of Stratify’s press release.. His comment – which follows – struck a chord.

You’ve begun to illustrate one of the problems with blogs… now I go to your blog and half of it is stuff you’re trying to promote (e.g., your companies, WIT). So it’s already only 50% as interesting as it was when you started. Think about it — you actually are a smart guy with stuff to say, and half of what you’re doing is spam. What about people who have nothing to say but lots to sell!

While part of my goal with my blog is to keep “you” (where you = “you, the reader”) informed on stuff that I’m interested in and working on, I realize that simply reposting press releases without any insightful commentary is not necessarily useful or interesting (ok – it’s probably bordering on spam). So – I will solve this two ways. First, whenever I post something about one of my companies, I’ll make sure that I’m commenting on what I’m posting – so it’s actually “my view” of what’s going on and is relevant, rather than simply a canned press release. Second, I’ll set up a separate press release page on my web site (which is now framed within a Movable Type blog) and create an RSS feed for this page separately for anyone that wants to get these press releases.

In addition, I’m very interested in feedback like this as I continue to evolve this blog and tune it to what’s interesting to “you, the reader” (as well as what’s interesting to “me, the writer”. One of the problems with blogs is that there are no particularly good user profiling or feedback information build into the blog infrastructure yet (other than comments, which we all know are pretty lame). For now, my only real feedback mechanism is email, so please use it if you have anything to say (good, bad, or what you are interested in).

Fred Wilson and I have been ranting about the need for better feed stats (in the category of “user analytics”) for a few weeks. We’ve both been using Feedburner and really like it, but it’s still in kindergarden. Dick Costolo at Feedburner just posted a message about Improved Statistics on the Way.


Amy and I had dinner at Thalassa in Tribeca with Fred Wilson, Joanne Wilson, Matt Blumberg and his wife Mariquita.

No – we didn’t spend the whole night talking about blogs, but we did connect the dots on a bunch of people from Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions (Fred, Mariquita, and I went to MIT, Fred and Joanne met there when they were sophomores, and Amy dated a guy in the poker ring,and Matt’s dad was an MIT grad).

I spent a couple of hours hanging out with Jeff Jarvis today. I was originally introduced to Jeff by Fred Wilson a few weeks ago and have been enjoying his blog ever since.

My goal for my meeting with Jeff was pretty simple – I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the Blogsphere (although this phrase appears to have been hijacked, so I guess I’ll have to call it something else). Jeff’s been a media guy for a long time and has a widely read blog. As a software / tools / data guy rather than a media / advertising guy, the more smart folks I talk to, the more of a clue I get.

I’m not entirely sure what Jeff’s goal with me was, but we had fun. He said a bunch of stuff that stuck with me, including the notion of blogging as a “Citizen’s Media” – a phrase he’s coined. We talked about the incredible proliferation of blogging in places like Iran, town blogging (news for the people, by the people), the blog content business (“it’s like owning a burger king franchise – a nice small business – but that’s not such a bad thing”, and blog advertising.

As each day passes, I see the power of two things converging – one is the massively distributed nature of content creation via blogging – which can be both good (everyone is a publisher) and bad (anyone is a publisher) – coupled with the rapidly decreasing friction associated with creating and disseminating information. People playing around with the Internet for a while have been predicting changes in the publishing, newspaper, TV, and advertising industries since 1994 (or whenever Al Gore invented the damn thing). They continue to be right – incrementally – especially as the broadband everywhere-anytime connected world becomes more of a reality. The friction of information creation and dissemination is one of the major inhibitors to this transformation. We might see real upheaval this time around.

Jeff – thanks for the stimulating conversation.

The New York Times article on blogging (5/27) titled “For Some, the Blogging Never Stops” is predictably shallow. Remember 1994 – 1995 and the NYT publishes an article a day on Al Gore’s Information Superhighway until it reaches the point even my mother asks me about it (“Brad, when did they stop publishing news in the newspaper?”). My philosopher wife’s comment on the article was, with disgust, “I’m tired of the word addiction being diluted to mean something that you really like to do – addiction has an element of compulsion, not simply a strong preference for the activity.”

Fred Wilson noticed this also and decided, after his one post for the day, to take the day off. Interestingly, I’ve noticed surprisingly few posts since 5/27 (I wasn’t on my computer for 36 hours as I flew from Denver to a meeting in San Diego to New York for the weekend so Newsgator accumulated my feeds in Outlook, which were few.) I guess all the addicts decided to take Memorial Day weekend off and enjoy the weather.

Time to go for a run (no, that’s not an addiction either).

One of the segments of the blogsphere that is starting to appear is analytics. I was the initial investor in NetGenesis (now owned by SPSS) and Mobius Venture Capital was an investor in I/Pro and Andromedia (now part of Macromedia) back when we were SOFTBANK Venture Capital.

So – it should be no surprise that I’m fascinated with tools to help with analytics on my site. Simple hit counters – like Site Meter – are pretty useless because of the difference between hits and feeds. I stumbled upon Feedburner a few weeks ago
(May 8th to be exact) and have been watching as my stats build daily. I’ve learned a few interesting things, such as the most popular User Agent (Newsgator – followed closed by SharpReader) and my most popular click-through (On Being the CEO – Henry V and The Cover-up.) However, I couldn’t really figure out what the actual statistics were telling me.

So – I fired off the following message to the Feedburner guys:

I’m trying to understand the actual statistics.
As of today, I have 981 new visitors
Today – May 25 – I have 69 new visitors so far.
Are the 69 new visitors my TOTAL vistors today, or do I have 69 new vistors reading my site (in addition to the other (981 – 69) that were “total new visitors as of yesterday)?

Dick Costolo from Feedburner responded immediately.

Hi Brad,

I’ll forward you an email below that I sent to another publisher with a similar question. It is long and detailed, but should shed some light on what we’re really reporting to you. We are going to be updating the statistics page in the near future to provide significantly more transparency to what you are really seeing, now that we ourselves have a more robust handle on how the feeds are accessed by the multitude of clients.

I hope this helps and doesn’t just make things more confusing…again, we will be updating the stats page to provide much more transparency to these things in the very near future. Please feel free to follow-up with any other questions,

Dick Costolo

I’ll fill you in on the story here, you’re going to get a longer answer than you might have expected. I’m taking the time to write this all out to you myself because I also want to write something up for the FeedBurner blog, so apologies for the length! There are two things going on: a) the rss space is emergent and if you read my recent posts at, you’ll see that there are a huge number of feed readers and aggregators (over 300 different pieces of software that poll us for feeds with some frequency). An issue related to this fact is that some of these readers do not send the appropriate HTTP headers in their requests. Specifically, even if they have already requested the feed once, their future requests do not implement the “If-modified-since” http request. So, our new visitors measures the number of first-time http requests we’ve received for your feed, but depending on how many of your readers are using clients or aggregators that don’t correctly implement “if-modified-since” you may see inflated numbers to some unknown degree. b) You may also see “under reported” numbers of visitors for the following reason: it is considered a sort of courtesy a la the robots.txt file for feed aggregators like Bloglines and to include the number of subscribers that they are polling on behalf of. However, som of the aggregators don’t send us this number.

FINALLY, the short answer to your question is that your total number of visitors is probably something like 2/3 of your hits number. We are going to be doing a big overhaul of the stats pages in the next month or so, and that will give you a much better picture of your visitors numbers, as we will be looking to report directly to publishers the number of “likely” total visitors they have based on a formula of “requests from different ip addresses from well-behaved clients”+”any new request from a well behaved client”+rollup of total subscribers across all aggregators that are polling on behalf of multiple subscribers and not factoring in any new requests from our known list of misbehaving clients.

Clearly we’ve got a long way to go on the analytics front, but it’s encouraging that folks with Dick and his team are already thinking about the issues. This is very similar to the early NetGenesis days – we had lots of data, but didn’t really know how to make sense of it and – as the traffic increased – the quality of our tools and analysis followed.

There have been a raft of Blam (blog spam) posts recently. To date, all the Blam I have seen has been in comment posts. There are lots of different approaches to this, none of them perfect, but they include efforts at IP blacklists, a MovableType blacklist plugin, and a feature in MovableType 3.0 that allows the blog manager to “accept or deny” comments. Simply turning comments off is another solution, but this seems to defeat the purpose of blogs.

I’ve had several people tell me that RSS couldn’t be used to send spam due to the unique reader / RSS feed relationship. I’ve consistently stated that this is wrong – the spammers (blammers) will find a way.

Today they did. I want to commemorate the first instance of true BLAM (not comment BLAM) that I’ve received. Apparently‘s email posting feature was hijacked this morning. I received a dozen typical spams in my RSS feed from The River (via Feedburner, into my Outlook inbox via Newsgator). So – three potential points of failure where the BLAM could have been trapped.

The BLAM was what you’d expect – see the example below.

Did you know That the normal cost for Super Vkiagra is $20, per dose? We are running a hot special!! T0DAY Its only an amazing $3.00 Shipped world wide! DISC0UNT 0RDER:

The apology from The River was nice, but only foreshadowing of worse to come.

Somehow Blogger’s e-mail posting feature on my blog was commandeered by spammers this morning, resulting in a frightening amount of pollution. I feel so… violated.

I’ve deleted the “chopper slut” deluge, but let me apologize profusely to anyone who had to deal with the excessive postings in RSS feeds. Aargh.

Remember Geocities? It was one of our very successful investments (thanks Jerry Colonna and Fred Wilson). Geocities is alive (and well?) at Yahoo!. Generally speaking, pretty scary looking stuff. But – the idea is the same as personal blogging – just v1.x (where blogging is probably up to 3.x).

Interestingly, Yahoo! doesn’t appear to have anything set up on the blog front yet. There have been multiple rumors floating around since last fall including a Yahoo! Korea Blog section (since I don’t know Korean, this isn’t much help to me but the dog pictures that show up when I hit the site sure are weird). Yahoo! does have an Beta RSS feed up – you can subscribe to my feed through My Yahoo
and I’ll be up top next to your Reuters and AP news (lucky you). It’s definitely beta still (it doesn’t refresh all that well) – but it shows an example of how everyone gets their own printing press.

I’ve been searching for good client side offline editing software for my posts. I’m trying w.bloggar today – it’s a nice improvement over the lousy Moveable Type online post window. So far, I like it. We’ll (you’ll) see what happens when I hit post in a minute.

I had an epiphany today while I was running about blog content. It’s taken me a few weeks of blogging, thinking about why I care, what right I have to consume incremental bits on the Internet, and why anyone else cares (or might / should care). One of the guys that works with me has a great quote – “blogging is like giving everyone a printing press – and NOT everyone deserves a printing press.” I’ve consistently countered that by saying “everyone should have a printing press – you just need tools to decide whether or not to read what they write.”

Over the weekend, I got an outbreak of self-referential blogs. Robert Scoble (the self proclaimed “Microsoft Geek Blogger”) wrote that Mike Padula is doing a study as a student at Cornell about why people blog. Marc Nozell referenced Fresh Air’s interview with Bill Moyers about blogging (among other things). My mother – after commenting in one of my blogs remember to write about your mother – then tried to convince me over the phone that blogging was a bunch of useless chatter – the world didn’t need anymore of it.

As I get deeper into the blog thing, I get more intrigued. It feels to me a lot like email did in 1993 and the web did in 1995 – there are endless directions to go in, lots of businesses to create, huge potential impacts on society, thought, communication, and technology. But – thankfully – it’s early, chaotic, and like most things that evolve – Darwinian.

So – while I don’t necessarily have an answer yet, I’m going to focus my blogging more on things that are relevant to me and assume that those that are interested in what I’m interested in will read this blog. Those topics – today – including (self referentially) the blogging ecosystem, venture capital, technology, creating companies, and running marathons.

I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow.