53 posts from May 2008
I went to Google Health last night and completed my profile and then I looked for the link to make it public. It wasn't there. So I twittered that I didn't understand why I couldn't make my personal health record public. People thought I was joking, so I twittered back that I was serious. Then I shut down, put Josh to bed, and called the day quits.
When I woke up this morning I saw quite a few replies on twitter with reasons I wouldn't want to make my personal health record public. Here are some of them.
James_Eiden @fredwilson Isn't that against HIPAA? I agree w/open source & transparency but I think health care draws the line re: privacy
rizzn @fredwilson As a rich guy who can afford whatever insurance you like, nothing at all. Folks middle class down to lower class can get royally screwed.
proales @fredwilson posts such huge returns that LP's would forgive him even if he had a fatal disease that would prevent living out a funds 10yr
andrewparker @fredwilson see Gattica (circa 1997) for what you could potentially lose by making your medical record public.
rghanbari @fredwilson absolutely Fred...98% of the people have no reason to be up tight about this stuff
MikeReynolds @fredwilson Want to stream your DNA sequencing, eh?
michaelpinto @fredwilson But what if your public medical record indicated a condition which would make insurance companies not want to touch you?
OK. There are some damn good reasons why you wouldn't want to share your personal medical record and many of them have to do with insurance and "hiding" conditions from the insurance companies that would make you uninsurable. Well I personally find the whole idea of hiding medical conditions from anyone (investors, loved ones, insurance companies) problematic.
Wouldn't we all be better off with an insurance system that wasn't able to discriminate between people based on pre-existing conditions? Wouldn't we be better off if we came together to insure everyone? Wouldn't we be better off if we knew everyone's medical conditions and what treatments worked and what did not? Wouldn't we be better off if we could search for others with the same conditions to share our experiences?
James argues that the lessons of open source and transparency just don't extend to health care. I am not so sure. And I would like a share link on my google health record. I am not saying it should be required. I get that not everyone wants to share stuff like this. But I do.
My partner Albert has a great short post up on Radio Silence.
I have found that an important ingredient is to set realistic expectations about how long it will take you to respond to a new draft or a set of questions. Don’t say “we will get back to you tomorrow” if you already know that your lawyer is traveling and it will take you three days to get back.... Often the net result of that are several days of “radio silence.” During this time the other side will start to ponder and more likely than not draw all the worst possible conclusions (“they are stalling”, “they are shopping the deal”, “they want to recut the deal”).
I've often said that a venture investment is like a marriage and the negotiation is like the engagement. So this is important stuff to get right.
My partner Brad and I were having lunch with Umair a couple months ago and we were talking about how we look for a unique data asset in all of our investments. And Umair scratched his head and said something like, "I don't think it's the data that's so valuable, it's the flow of the data through the service."
Longtime readers know that I think Umair is one of the great strategic thinkers on the impact of the Internet on technology, the economy, and society and so I've been stewing on that comment for months.
That comment came back to me this morning as I was reading all the discussion about "data portability".
Now, why is this little tree so important? Why shouldn't I be able to copy this little tree over to, say, FriendFeed or Twitter or Upcoming.org or Yelp or Flickr or Google's Friend Connect?
Easy. There's a TON of money in that little tree and the hundreds of millions of little trees that YOU have added into Facebook and MySpace and other places.
Of course we all know there's something about Google's implementation that is screwing with Facebook's business model. Facebook is telling us this in case we hadn't figured out that enabling users to do what they want with their data was only allowable with Facebook Connect and not Google or Microsoft or God help us, Twitter Connect. Imagine what happens if our Twitter Follow cloud and its Track filtering enable us to nail up and down connections in real time over XMPP. Oh wait, I can do that right now.
As some people are astutely pointing out, humans have been moving their data around for years. And whether Facebook likes it or not, its gonna happen.
But here's a little secret. All of this data is already leaking out in ways that Facebook and other social networks can hardly control. Startups are finding ways around their official APIs to get the data consumers want into their own systems.
You can digest the entire "data portability" discussion here:
My take on all of this is that the data already is portable if you want it to be. If you are an ad network that can extract value out of my social graph, you are scraping Facebook for that data already. If you are a new web service that wants to make it easy to get my social graph ported over, you are going to come up with some kind of hack to make that happen. With Google and others in the mix, it's just going to get easier and easier to get social graph data out of social web services. The social graph itself is being commoditized as all things get commoditized by the subversive technology we have created on the Internet.
What you cannot commoditize is the desire to create a social graph on a web service and the desire to maintain a social graph on a web service and the flow of data into and around that social graph.
Facebook provides an incredibly valuable service to my three children. The other day I saw my oldest daughter get an invite to a party on Facebook, she accepted it, and then went to look at her accepted invite page. It was her social calendar, every party she plans to attend in the next two months is there. She noticed she had another event that night and then switched her acceptance to tentative. She uses Facebook the way I use Outlook. Who cares if she can port her social graph out of Facebook? It's not going to happen anytime soon because the social context and data FLOW through Facebook is providing enormous value to her and her friends.
Twitter does the same thing for me. Sure I can do the same thing on Pownce or even FriendFeed. But I have no desire to use anything else. I am getting a tremendous amount of social and business value out of Twitter. If they stop providing that value to me, then it will be easy to move on.
So the point is this. Social web services need not fear data portability. They need to fear others providing a better experience. Because when others do that, the flow of data moves and they aren't in the middle anymore. They might still have your data but they won't have you. And that's where the value is.
One of the many great things about using a third party comment system is you can hang a single comment thread off of as many posts as you want. That's what's going on right now on this blog and Alley Insider.
I have an understanding with a number of blogs that they can pick up anything I write on this blog and republish it on their blog, but it must be in its entirety and attributed to me and link back to here. Alley Insider is one of them and they picked up my post this morning about a better slate of directors for the Yahoo board. But they went one step further and replaced their usual comment system with disqus for that one post. Go check it out.
So now, if you comment on that post on either this blog or Alley Insider, you get into one single discussion. Which is as it should be.
I can think of a bunch of reasons to do this. A repost/reblog like Alley Insider is doing. Or when I point to a post on the Union Square Ventures weblog, which I do often. It would be best if the comments to both are in the same thread. Or I could imagine that a group of bloggers agree to all blog about the same issue at the same time and agree to share one single comment thread. And there are probably a bunch of other reasons you might want to do this.
I've always thought that there is no reason that comments need to be tightly linked to the blogging service and this is yet another example of why that is so.
Carl Icahn has suggested a new slate of directors for Yahoo! as part of his proxy fight with the company. The International Herald Tribune has a list of the current ten directors and Icahn's proposed slate. The morning Icahn's slate was announced I was a bit irritated by the whole thing and expressed my irritation on twitter. David Dalka replied with the obvious question - If Icahn's slate is no good, who would you propose?
So I've been thinking about this for the past several days. First I think the current board must take some responsibility for where Yahoo! finds itself now. It probably is time for a little housecleaning. But Icahn's slate doesn't include many people with real internet business experience and only one or two with any idea of where the internet is headed. But the biggest problem with Icahn and his slate is that it's all a game to get control of the company and sell it to Microsoft, a transaction that neither company apparently wants to do anymore. An even more cynical view is that Icahn and his slate just want to be bought off with greenmail of some sort.
I have been saying since the start of this whole Yahoo/Microsoft thing that what Yahoo! needs is to get smaller, leaner, and more focused. And I think they should partner in some way with Google to increase the monetization of their search without giving up on their own search platform entirely. I like some of the moves they are making to open up the entire Yahoo platform and let others build applications, services, and companies on top of it.
So with that proviso, here's my suggested slate of directors. None of these people have any idea I am going to mention them in this post and I suspect few, if any, would agree to serve if asked.
Roy Bostock, Chairman - Because I think he's doing a good job right now and he seems to be a strong leader of the board.
Jerry Yang, CEO - I am not sure Jerry should be CEO long term, but I think he's got the company moving in the right direction. And as a founder, he should be on the board regardless if he remains CEO.
Bill Gross - Instead of putting someone like Mark Cuban who sold his company for billions to Yahoo! and then turns around and participates in a hostile action against them, I would put Gross on because he also sold a company, Overture, to Yahoo! and because he invented paid search and he always has great ideas for new business models.
Marc Andreessen - Apparently Marc is joining the Facebook board. It's too bad Yahoo! didn't ask him to join their board. When you talk about opening up a platform and allowing people to build social apps on it, Marc is doing just that. If Marc won't do it, then someone like Dave Winer would be a good choice for similar reasons.
Mike Moritz - Because he's the best Internet investor ever and because the stock is about the same price it was when he left the board in the middle of 2003.
Tim O'Reilly - Because Tim is one of best thinkers about where the web and technology is headed and because if Yahoo! truly wants to be open, Tim can help them think about how to do it right.
Nancy Peretsman - Because Nancy is one of the sharpest media bankers and she knows the Internet and the players like the back of her hand. And because Yahoo! is going to be in play for a while even if this Icahn thing goes away and they need someone like Nancy on the board.
Yochai Benkler - Because Yahoo! is a network at its core and nobody has thought more deeply about the role of networks in society and the economy than Yochai.
Mike Walrath - Because Right Media's is one of the most interesting acquisitions that Yahoo! has made in recent years and because Yahoo! can use Right Media to build the dominant exchange for display advertising, a market position in display that could rival what Google has created in keyword.
Another entrepreneur who has recently sold their company to Yahoo! - Someone like Joshua Schachter or Stewart Butterfield or Caterina Fake or Eric Marcoullier or Al Warms or Satish Dharmaraj. Because entrepreneurs are often closest to the pulse of where things are heading. And because Yahoo! needs to do a better job leveraging the acquisitions they make and these people know what Yahoo! is doing right and what it is doing wrong with its acquisitions.
So that's my slate. The fact is that other than Ray and Jerry, it would be hard, if not impossible, to get most of these people interested in doing this. Public boards are hard work and fraught with liability. Imagine if you were on Yahoo!'s board right now. Ugh. But regardless of what happens, if Yahoo! stays independent, they should start churning their board and this list would be a good place to start the search.
Feel free to leave suggestions or entire slates in the comments or post your own slate and leave a link in the comments. I will add all links to other slates to the end of this post.
Adam Lashinsky wrote a post this past week titled "Where Does Google Go Next" in which he outlined the exodus of many well known Google engineers and business execs. Here is the line that kind of sums it up for me.
But the Ooyala founders say what they lack in institutional backing they make up for in speed and the ability to communicate with one another by turning around in their chairs and talking. Google was like that too, about eight years and 18,000 employees ago.
I can't think of a company that I am more impressed with than Google, but they are coming to grips with the fact that "startup energy" can't be faked. There's nothing quite like going from five people to fifty or a hundred.
We have a couple dozen companies going from five to fifty and we are looking for great software engineers, killer bus dev talent, and experienced internet sales people. So if you are at Google (either here in NYC or in the Bay area) or any other large internet company and are looking for something more entrepreneurial send me an email or an @message on twitter and I'll tell you what we've got. My email address is linked to on the lower left sidebar of this blog and here's my twitter account.
It looks like appeasement is going to be a big discussion this fall in the presidential elections. We saw President Bush start off the conversation yesterday in Israel. It's clear that the republicans have a strategy with regard to Obama and it is to make the case that he's a classic liberal, weak on foreign policy, and a friend of our enemies.
The word appeasement is loaded with meaning and it harkens back to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's strategy of trying to make peace with Hitler which culminated in the Munich Agreement of 1938 where part of Czechoslovakia was handed over to Nazi Germany in a failed attempt to buy peace with Germany. Of course that strategy failed and it took an all out assault on Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (and Imperial Japan) to rid the world of that evil last century.
I hope we can have a real debate about appeasement that is not colored by the wounds of the last century. It is certainly true that those who don't pay attention to history are doomed to repeat it. But it is also true that there is more than one way to fight a war against those who would like to see our country and our way of life destroyed.
We can, as our current administration has done, take the fight right to the terrorist threat, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly Iran. We can try to use our military might to, as GWB says, "fight them on their soil so we don't have to fight them on our soil." I think our success with this strategy is questionable. It seems to me that we have probably energized our enemies more than anything else with our war in Iraq and our words and body language.
In the meantime, there is something really important going on all over the world. I've touched upon it recently in my post about Geographic Balancing, where I wrote:
The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and the middle east, are quickly attaining economic purchasing power parity with the United States and Western Europe.
The twin forces of technology and freedom are making this world a more balanced place. There is so much we can do to fuel these positive changes. A hungry mob is an angry mob. But a rising standard of living is the greatest peace pipe of them all.
Of course we need to have a strong military and I believe that the USA has that today and will continue to have that for some time to come. We must be able to defend our borders and are interests around the world. The first Iraq war was a sensible war. The second was not.
But the single most important thing we can do in the war against terrorism is to show the young, alienated youth of the muslim world that there is a better way. That they can make their homes, communities, and countries better by engaging in the modern world and taking advantage of the great equalizer that technology and freedom represents.
And that is what Obama is saying when he talks about engaging the world and our enemies in a dialog. Think back to the school yard in middle school. There was the tough talking kid who would throw a punch at you if you looked at him the wrong way. And there was the cool kid who had his head on straight and got everyone going in the right direction. I want our country to be the latter and we've been the former for the past eight years.
As Teddy Roosevelt said, "speak softly and carry a big stick". That's my kind of appeasement.
In the fall of 2006, Business 2.0 asked me to write a short post about how blogging can build your business. It ran in the December 2006 issue in a story called "How To Succeed In 2007".
Alex Hammer sent me a copy of that article this week and it was on my desk this morning. I re-read it and thought I should share it with all of you. So here it is:
Blogging has become a critical piece of my business. I am an early-stage investor in Internet-delivered services and the co-founder of a venture firm. At first I really didn't know what to write about. So I wrote about things I was passionate about: work, family, music, politics, New York City. I still post about all of those things, but today my blog, called A VC, is mostly about my work and music. I started writing at least one post every day and have done that ever since. When I go on vacation, I write a bunch of posts in advance and then autopost them on a regular schedule. I've found that having something new on the blog every day is the single most important thing to building an audience.
I also like to use a sensational headline. Many people read blogs in aggregators, which generally show only the headline. So you have to give people a reason to click through. Blogs need to be real and personal. Reading it should be like hanging out with you. I play music for my readers. I show them videos I like. I tell them what I did over the weekend. And I tell them what is happening in the technology, Internet, and VC markets.
And it works. About 50,000 people come to my blog every month. The site brings in about $30,000 a year now in ad revenue, and I donate it all to charity. Most important, I'm getting to know entrepreneurs of all kinds - in India, Australia, England, China, and Silicon Valley. They read my blog, correct me when I'm wrong, pound the table when they agree with me. I get to know them, and they get to know me. When it comes time for them to raise money, they know who to ask. And for me, the blog acts as an amplifier and a filter. I see many more opportunities, but they are also way more relevant. It makes me a better investor.
I love posting photos to my twitterstream. I do it all the time. The first service I used to do this is called twittergram and it was a proof of concept built by Dave Winer. I posted about it last fall and explained how I had set it up. Twittergram uses Flickr as it's photo upload/hosting service and then pulls the photos (filtered by tag if you'd like) into your twitter stream as a link. It works well.
More recently, I started using twitpic which I like a tad better because it has full comment integration with twitter. If you comment on my twitpic, it's posted as an @reply in twitter. That is a nice touch.
I've also been playing with a service called SwitchABit which does a lot more than route photos into twitter. It's a broad platform for routing all kinds of things around the net (including photos from flickr to twitter). SwitchABit is being built by some friends and they've let me play around with it. It's not yet available to the public.
I think I'll be using these two services (twittergram and twitpic) interchangeably. I'll use twittergram/switchabit when I want the photo in Flickr which I consider my primary online photo gallery. I'll use twitpic when I just want to send a fun photo into my twitterstream but don't really want it in Flickr.
Which points out the issues and the opportunity with something like SwitchABit. A "bit router" is a very cool concept but to make it really useful, the team will need to understand a lot about why people put their digital content in various places. For example, I don't really want all of my twitter posts going to Facebook, my blog's twitter badge, and Tumblr. But I'd like some of them to go there. I don't want all my photos I send to twitter to go to Flickr, but I want some of them to go there. I don't want all my tumblr posts to go to this blog, but I'd love some of them to go there.
Dealing with that complexity in a simple way is not going to be easy. As Joshua Schachter taught me a few years back, the hardest technology problems involve reducing complexity, not increasing it.