RE: Some Questions & Thoughts re Internet Video vs the Incumbents

Since the Internet is dead and boring it won’t hurt to reply to Mark Cuban’s questions. I once wrote an idea noting that a company may resolve the problem of bandwidth by using satellite, p2p, and broadband together as one hybrid medium. Content would be dynamically requested, routed, multicast, and/or broadcast across any path based on simple supply and demand. Of course, that’s not going to happen because efficiency has never made money and Mark hasn’t made a 3-pointer while doing a back flip.

The Internet is no more dead than Mark Cuban’s stewardship of a sports team; I won’t draw the correlation but I think you’ll get it. The Internet has changed business forever by practically eliminating the cost of asynchronous communication. It’s a simple mechanism upon which countless inventions will take root in, envelope, and culminate our society. What is the Internet if it isn’t the best invention short of Electricity? Since when has Electricity been a technology we aren’t trying to do something new with? I’m not saying the Internet isn’t boring but it’s not dead.

What new doldrums-defying, life-changing “thing” isn’t going to be implicitly catalyzed by the Internet?

Speaking of dead Interwebs; if someone is good at doing something we need to encourage them, keep them around, and not throw them away because they’re not creating new super-profitable ideas. We put a man on the moon, and space got dead and boring; then we forgot how we did it because nobody cared. Not so bad, we’ve got time to figure that crap out again and it’s not important anyways… right?

Don’t kill the Internet. Please.

= How many people have really given up cable or satellite for internet only delivery of content ? 100k at the most  ? Based on company reports, it seems like people are giving up their wired telephone lines at home long before they give up their cable/sat/telco TV

+ The real numbers to look at are what mediums are gaining numbers and where new content is coming from. Why isn’t Rev3 on Satellite? — I bet there’s a really good reason which contradicts the sustenance of mainstream distribution.

= Why are DVR sales continuing to climb ? if the internet is a better solution, why buy, lease or even use a DVR ? Shouldn’t DVRs be immediately obsolete ?

+ Because consumers have too much money to spend. It’s almost like asking why we pay $100/month for TV service to begin with. Side note, my room mate’s service included the DVR for free.

= Technology doesn’t always move in the direction you expect it to.  Anyone for faster airplanes ? The return of the Concorde ? More efficient electricity grids ? More fuel efficient cars ? You can blame the lack of progress on the incumbents or their industry, but doesn’t that make my point ?

+ Yep. Just like the banks behind our economy new society, incumbents win.

= Read this great post from the NetFlix Blog Why do people ignore in last mile and  home bandwidth constraints ? More devices at home, more utilization,  more hard drive storage, require more backups, which consume bandwidth, whether local or online.

+ People don’t ignore bandwidth constraints; it’s only now, after video and p2p have become mainstream, that people are even noticing congestion. People don’t know any better and when they do, they don’t have a choice otherwise. Again, see incumbents.

= Why do people think that bandwidth to and in the home will grow faster than applications can consume it  ?  If you believe in the inevitable progress of technology and innovation then shouldn’t you believe that this collective genius will come up with better uses of increasing bandwidth than replacing TV ? I certainly do. Health Care, Security, Who knows what, have to be a better and more rewarding use of bandwidth than just TV.

+ This is really an issue independent of video because it goes back to incumbents. It CAN happen but it won’t because it would be Seppuku. Supplying more bandwidth than demand will make it worthless and that just isn’t going to happen in the US anytime soon. Our population density is too low for cheap bandwidth to be profitable and content corporations have too much private control over distribution via contracts and licensing to allow a network which would enable free streaming video content. Personally, I think Internet in the home will remain a luxury for the next few generations because as of right now people generally care more about their entertainment and comfort more than the health and security.

= Always remember that the long tail of content, whether audio or video, never gets paid. Thats why its on the long tail.  One hit wonders do not disprove the rule. Creating hits is hard and very much a numbers game. Any content game that is a numbers game is expensive to play. Which explains exactly why there are so few internet video only companies (our friends at Rev3 being hopefully a shining exception) making money.

+ Rev3 is around because those guys know how to kick back and say “fuck it” and so does their audience :) Well, that, and because I bought a TShirt from Jim Louderback.

= P2P has been around for how many years ? It has yet to find commercial success anywhere. Its not a solution to any problem and in fact is a huge risk. Anyone with any sense of fairplay knows “free bandwidth” for commercial distribution of content is inherently wrong.

+ Wrong, sort of. p2p has found commercial success, just in a quiet, not-so-profitable fashion. Finding (new) commercial success in p2p now would be silly, akin to commercial success in a new paging company. p2p protocols were developed and published in an open fashion so they were quickly and easily integrated into and adopted by systems which could take advantage of them. Three abundant uses of p2p are software distribution, backups, and patches (ie, Blizzard’s updaters and Valve’s STEAM network). My guess is that any major software corporation who isn’t using p2p for software distribution is doing so because their cost for bandwidth is so low that it would cost more for them to staff and support a p2p system. That said, I would agree that “p2p networks” have not found commercial success.

= For all those that think there will be an explosion in bandwidth, remember we are in at least a recession, if not worse. Don’t expect any capital to be invested to take the last mile to multiples of current experiences. In fact, you might see the opposite as capital constraints encourage networks to try to manage as best they can with what they have. It could be far worse on the wireless front as lack of capital could shut down installs.

Short term: Internet is not dead.
Long term: Internet is not dead.

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RE: Some Questions & Thoughts re Internet Video vs the Incumbents

Ruby on Rails, Developers, and More: In Demand NOW!

I attended this months SpringStage Startup Happy Hour and came to a conclusion after I spoke with a handful of startup employees and owners: Businesses and startups are hiring.

Update: I failed to post justifying information when I wrote this post. I have had individuals contact me regarding 7 positions since the economy started to take a crap in September. Three for rails development, one for PHP, two for product manager, and one for iPhone development. All of these positions came to me through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and SpringStage.

A few reasons why…

  1. Bootstrapped technology startups have low costs thanks to Amazon Web Services and co-working environments
  2. Marketing expenses create more value because word of mouth is faster and presence in large social networks is free
  3. if a > 12mo old startup hasn’t fallen through the cracks by now, they’re doing pretty damn good
  4. Mobile application platforms are now mainstream
  5. Investors are still investing

If the number of startups looking for good talent in the Dallas area is anything like the rest of the US then it seems to me it won’t take long for our newly unemployed to get back on the saddle.

Ruby on Rails, Developers, and More: In Demand NOW!

Ma.gnolia: “Don’t do your own IT at all” *sigh*

Having managed systems for large (>1m users) web applications I had to watch the podcast of Chris Messina and Larry Halff discuss lessons learned from the recent catastrophe which took down Ma.gnolia. In a nutshell, Ma.gnolia didn’t have good backups and the worst case scenario took place which led to massive data loss. I would like to give Larry kudos for upfront transparency and facing his users; I’m sure dealing with the problem was stress enough. I feel Larry’s earned a red badge of courage regardless of outcome.

“If you’re a startup, don’t do your own IT at all.”
-Larry Halff

This quote is Larry’s “overall lesson learned” and for the sake of other web applications I’m going to take this out of context and completely disagree. As cool as Ma.gnolia was and regardless of where it may go, this is the wrong lesson and in fact, it’s bad advice and presents problems which got Ma.gnolia into this situation in the first place.

The real lesson here is that IT should not be underestimated. Business depends on IT and it’s necessities are as dire as employees’. Unfortunately it’s easy to overlook IT and when you do there’s rarely evidence until it’s too late. Not paying attention to IT is like running red lights and stop signs — one day you’re going to get hit and it’s going to hurt. Outsourcing just makes you a passenger without a seat belt. If you’re a startup, especially a technology startup, you need to be in the driver’s seat.

At one point in time this mostly applied to technology-based companies but that time has passed for a few reasons. First, IT is flooded with service providers who suck and service providers rarely admit liability. Second, companies with cores businesses outside of technology are no longer able to remain competitive without including technology in their core business processes. Five years ago you could outsource your IT if your business revolved around paperwork or physical labor but if you’re doing so now you’re facing significant costs and risk versus training or recruiting in-house personnel. I would post numbers to back myself up for these costs but anyone can find numbers for their cause.

I’m not saying that outsourcing isn’t the right thing to do, in fact, it can be a competitive advantage; but you can’t outsource the responsibility bound to your IT systems. Fortunately Ma.gnolia can rebuild a better service with no capital, limited effort, and no defense lawyers. In doing so, their IT systems should be treated with as much priority as core operations and as much scrutiny as financials. Your CPA isn’t responsible for your tax errors and your service provider won’t be responsible if their backup system fails (it happens more than you think!). If you’re going to outsource IT then know what you’re getting into, maintain your options on a monthly or quarterly basis, have a backup plan, and don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This time Ma.gnolia has the responsibility of not fucking up their reputation a second time. If I were Ma.gnolia I wouldn’t want to outsource the rest of my dignity. If I did, I would be very scrupulous.

In the area of web applications there a few prominent service providers I know of which could be considered if you’re going to have someone else do your IT. Those are Engine Yard, Rails Machine, and RightScale. YMMV and you must keep doing your homework on service providers because while they maybe good today they could be gone tomorrow. Another option, which Larry is taking and should be applauded, is to open source the effort and involve your community in the process. Twitter has gone through a similar affair and I’m sure the service is better for it and am confident Ma.gnolia will also see positive results.

I don’t feel as though Larry is headed in the wrong direction or that I can speak for Ma.gnolia but if you’re a startup you should do your own IT – just don’t do it alone.

As an aside I’d also like to point out a subject that’s important and should be considered no matter what IT solutions are chosen. Monitoring, gives you a better chance at resolving issues before they become critical as well as a constant perspective of operations. Without monitoring you might not know if backups succeed, if your hard disks are healthy, or if you’re running out of disk space. Moreover, monitoring tells everyone involved what systems are crucial as well as providing history for analysis. When considering IT systems don’t forget the proactive value of monitoring.

Ma.gnolia: “Don’t do your own IT at all” *sigh*

OSX Spotlight – Filter “Safari history item” and mailboxes

Most folks browse the web and some do so often. This creates a history which Safari conveniently stores for future reference. The feature is especially useful when you go to “History -> Show All History”.

What isn’t so useful is searching for a file and receiving thousands of results for “Safari history item”. This shouldn’t be an issue because there is an option to remove “Safari” from Search Results, however, this option fails to remove Safari history items from Spotlight search results.

To disable Spotlight from searching “Safari history item”:

  • Open System Preferences, go to Spotlight and click on Privacy pane
  • open a new Finder window
  • browse to <home> /Library/Caches/Metadata/Safari
  • Drag and drop “History” folder from Finder to Privacy pane
  • Filtering Specific Mailboxes: browse to Library/Mail/
  • Find offending .imapbox, .mbox, or any other; drag and drop onto Privacy pane

As far as I can tell you can filter many of the Spotlight searches by adding any of the folders in Library/Caches/Metadata. Here is what my Privacy settings look like:

 

Spotlight Privacy Filter
Spotlight Privacy Filter

Hopefully you made it here and didn’t see this:

failed search

OSX Spotlight – Filter “Safari history item” and mailboxes

Apple only poised for Enterprise

As I began working this evening I realized I haven’t backed up my laptop in a few months. In fact, three months ago I backed up to a system which recently crashed. I lost data and freaked out a little and losing my laptop hard disk right now would be bad. After hearing about someone’s laptop being stolen I can’t procrastinate any longer. So what am I going to do about it?

Well, after purchasing two 500GB USB drives and a Time Capsule, I’m going to connect some cables and CLICK FOUR TIMES. Then every month I’ll CLICK FOUR TIMES, swap out one of the 500GB “archive” drives, then take the other off site. For less than $500 and 52 clicks a year I will have “secure” historical backups of my laptop.

This does NOT happen in IT.

With a business of 5-50 employees and non-Apple systems, secure offsite backups will cost anywhere from $3-30k worth of software, hardware, media, and/or bandwidth. There are valid reasons for the costs, however, once a solution is in place you maybe looking at paying for a full time employee which will cost much more than four mouse clicks.

While seemingly far-fetched, there are few differences between backing up my laptop and backing up a business; let’s keep in mind that no matter how much data is involved, the process of securely backing up, storing, and restoring data is the same. The backup life-cycle consists of transferring data to offline media, archiving, restoring, and retention. Upfront costs are typically associated with how much data you have and the recurring cost correlates with your retention and archiving policies. What a business adds in complexity is gathering data for backup, as the data may reside on multiple servers and/or desktops. The second complexity a business adds maybe proprietary software which requires additional licensing to efficiently backup data without downtime.

Unfortunately at this time there isn’t a four click backup solution for IT in small or enterprise businesses. Backups are costly and complicated. Moreover, while you can deploy Time Machine for all Macs, not every machine is a Mac and servers typically run Windows or Linux. So, while Apple has done a great job of solving the task of backups by integrating the service into their OS for free, they have not solved what is still a significantly difficult task in IT. Apple is poised for the enterprise yet continues focusing on consumers. Considering all the new avenues Apple has ventured in the last five years — Aperture, AppleTV, iPhone w/Exchange support, iLife/FinalCut/Logic, iTunes, iWork, MobileMe, Shake, and Time Machine — I have to ask myself why Apple remains out of the enterprise?

Apple only poised for Enterprise

Surveys, DNS, and Your Brand

In the last 6 months I have received and/or completed surveys for the following:

  • Purchasing a new car (2 total; Dealer – Auto Nation and BMW Assist)
  • Sun Microsystems CommunityOne event
  • Nine Inch Nails (yes, the band — I purchased the new album by naming my price)
  • PayPal ‘Phone Handling Opinion’
  • Microsoft Feedback Program
The surveys came as links in emails and were provided by 3rd party companies such as Auto USA (not a dealer), comScore, Customer Sat, Benchmark Portal, Zoomerang, and Question Pro.
This reflects poorly on these brands and immediately causes me to associate them with ‘spam’. Fortunately I know better – dynamic DNS isn’t easy, outsourcing surveys to another company is cheap, and I was cognizant of events which triggered a survey. Only when buying a car and participating in Microsoft’s feedback program did I “opt in” to receiving these surveys. Microsoft and the car dealership (BMW of Dallas) both notified me of the surveys before I received them.
None of the surveys were sent from an email address I recognized and none of the email messages had links to a domain I recognized. Sure, the emails had links to the respective company, however, any teenager with a godaddy account could produce the same result.
All of the surveys were ugly or lacked respective branding. How am I suppose to know any of these surveys are genuine?
The irony here is that companies spend a significant portion of their revenue on their brand and customer service only to outsource their only feedback request to survey systems which are ugly and don’t appear genuine. This easily lays to waste all of the value created by building the brand in the first place.
To me, a brand exists for two kinds of persons – your customers and everyone else. Which one is most important? If you only care about revolving business and not keeping recurring revenue from long-term customers then it is obvious you don’t need to care about your customers and can focus only on everyone else. This can work great for three years but sooner or later people are going to figure out you suck — and say so on the Internet for millions to read. If you’re looking for long-term recurring revenue from customers who come back on a consistent basis then you will be more interested in their feedback so you can improve you products, business model, and continue satisfying your customer.
Surveys seem now, to be one of the first chances a customer gets to give feedback. Shouldn’t you make the customer feel safe, secure, empowered, proud, and vocal to be submitting feedback about your brand, company, and products?
The answer is obvious, yet, none of the surveys I mentioned so far gave me such an impression. One company has this year, and I was surprised. The company was Blizzard for their game, World of Warcraft. There was a discrepancy in the game and I opened a ‘ticket’ which was resolved and I was informed I would receive a feedback request. Blizzard did everything I would expect:
  • Notified me ahead of time I would receive an opportunity to give feedback
  • Sent notification from an email address with a domain I recognized
  • Feedback questionnaire resided at a domain I recognized
  • Questionnaire site promoted company’s brand and assured me I was at the right place
  • Questionnaire gave me the opportunity to leave free-form comments
After looking around I found a few survey sites who easily enable you to integrate your site with their survey system — all you have to do is point DNS at their service. Of course it’s not free, but if you really care about what your customer thinks then it’s worth the price. Surveygizmo seems to offer the service for $159/mo — I can’t vouch for them, but it’s the first one I found who listed DNS as a feature. Coupled with some CSS and any standards-supporting web designer it’s not difficult to help your customer feel comfortable about answering your questions.
With all of that said, my best experience giving feedback as a new customer is when I opt-in and receive a courteous phone call where I’m also able to give commentary. Talking to a human being gives me more confidence and being able to tell them how I really feel gives me the impression somebody is listening.
If you’re genuinely interested in what your customers have to say then be sure and make it appear that way. When it comes down to email-initiated surveys, the delete key is all it takes for anyone to forget you care.
Surveys, DNS, and Your Brand

iPhone purchase “Experience”

I picked up an iPhone yesterday and was rather lucky in doing so.  I learned a bit about the lines as well, which I’m sure has been blogged about enough already but I didn’t find anything with a quick google search. Moreover, my experience at the Apple store at Knox Henderson could be different than those of others or those who have opted to work with ATT.

I called the Apple store yesterday around 1815 and actually assumed they were out of stock. My question was along the lines of “Hi, do you know when you will get more phones and when I should be there to have the best chances of getting a new phone?”. To my surprise her answer was that they had phones in stock and I should arrive ASAP if I wanted one. I then kindly asked my friend, who was driving, to haul ass to the Apple store.

When I arrived there was a small line outside the Apple store. I entered the store and asked someone about the line and what I should do because I could see people holding white vouchers and I didn’t want to get in line for nothing. The associate stated they’d given out the last voucher and would be giving out no more; at this point I stated I was very disappointed would not have wasted my time if a representative on the phone had not told me there were phones in stock.

As it turns out, the vouchers were being given out because the purchase and activation process takes so long. Apple is personally selling, activating, configuring, and answering questions for EVERY SINGLE iPhone customer. As it turns out, they limited the number of vouchers because there wasn’t enough time in the day, not because they were out of stock.

I do have one suggestion. Find an Apple store in a Mall so the line outside the store is indoors and air conditioned. It got up to a lovely 103F yesterday and sweating outside isn’t much fun. We tried to buy margaritas to drink while in line but forgot it’s illegal to leave a restaurant with a drink.

Last but not least – it seems all of the ATT stores in Dallas are only fulfilling pre-orders and they are not expecting store shipments for 10-21 days (…which grew from 3-5 days)

So in conclusion, your chances of a getting a phone at this time is random, the lines are BYOB, and the wait is because of the stupid in-store-only activation process.

iPhone purchase “Experience”