Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Playing go-between: Mankiw vs. Stiglitz

Economist Joseph Stiglitz uses a green arrow to take aim at the folly of using GDP as the target number for assessing an economy (and yes, I am having fun with this mental image.)

It looks like he’s thinking about some sort of “total cost accounting” that takes in environmental degradation (which he likens to depreciation).

Sounds good to me. In assessing the health of a country’s economy its income shouldn’t be the only thing that is counted, but how it is depreciating its assets.

Fun part about taking an MBA is that I can read statements like this and actually know what the @$@*%#@ he is talking about:

A startup can have no cash flow and yet be creating a software program of immense value. A company with positive cash flow can be running itself into the ground as its capital depreciates.

But speaking of MBA, Greg Mankiw, the author of one of my Econ textbooks, thinks Stiglitz is being “pedantic” and you can color him unimpressed.

Friday, September 15, 2006

On lonely girls and murderers...

For much of the past few days I’ve been sucked in by the invented on-line personalities of two different people. Last week, I knew nothing about either of them, but this week it feels like I’ve spent hours clicking through the various details of their on-line lives. One has amused me, the other has horrified me.

One of them seemed real, but we found to be a fake. The other seemed fake, only to find he was so terrifyingly real.

The real/fake one was Lonelygirl15, the young YouTube diarist who was recently uncovered (by the son of Silicon Watcher Tom Foremski, incidentally) to be an actress playing out a well-rehearsed script. Upon reading all of the brouhaha about “LG15”, I checked her out on YouTube and I have to admit that I found myself drawn into her little misfit world. Her diary on Pluto’s demotion I thought was particularly funny and summed up the whole high-school misfit experience.

I find the whole “LG15” episode fascinating as it blurred the boundaries of on-line and real world existences. It is no wonder some fans were upset when they found her to be fake. But did that make her stories and insights any less relevant?

The fake/real person was Kimveer Gill, who created a sinister on-line persona of an “angle of death”, and then brought this persona to life in the most horrific way. He was a real person who created his character of “Trench” on-line, and then defined that character with photos, internal monologues and ruminations for all to witness. But the existence of "Trench" seemed so contrived, so cliched in its comic-book fantasy.

He stands in the photos stiffly, dressed in black, with a gun in what appears to be a very suburban basement. I mean, what suburban boy has not posed in front of a mirror in some get-up with some sort of weapon acting out some sort of adolescent hero (or anti-hero) fantasy? (Granted Gill was not an adolescent). The horror of course is that Gill did not put away his banal fantasy like 99.9999% of us do, but chose to act on it.

In his mind, the barrier between fantasy and reality broke down, as did the barrier separating on-line from real life.

Daily Show off YouTube!?!?!?

While I'm pretty laissez-faire about the idea of certain copywrited materials appearing on sites like YouTube (c'mon, that’s tones for free publicity... I bet Daily Show owes at least some of its enormous popularity to YouTube), Mark Evans makes an interesting point that some hardship may be needed for these video sharing sites to eventually develop some sort of business model.

Basically, he highlights that video sharing sites attract a lot of viewers using clips that are, let's say, ambiguous at best in terms of their legal right to be on these sites. Because they have easy access to content and users, video sharing sites have been able to attract attention, investors and advertisers without too much effort. But if the clip-spigot is turned off and viewers float away, will the business models of these sites still wash?

(Regardless of the outcome… please don’t take Daily Show off of YouTube)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Content Isn't Worth a Damn

I totally agree with VCMike's statement about content not being worth a damn.

With SO MUCH CONTENT being produced everywhere (blogs, games, YouTube and we still have the MSM) it seems to me that content is turning into a commodity product. Anyone can produce it, anyone can consume it, barriers to entry are low and the price people are willing to pay for it is dropping like a rock.

I get all the content I want and all I pay is a monthly broadband connection (actually I expense it), a dirt cheap BusinessWeek subscription, my Economist was free with my NPR donation (you guys need to bring the Economist back, BTW), my Netflix subscription and MAYBE the occasional movie ticket.

All in all, I'm probably not shelling out $30-$40 months for content and I promise, I am getting it all legally.

Online ad spend is going up on average across the industry, but with so many online content sources out there I gotta think that competition for those dollars is fierce. From the advertiser POV, do I go with the popular site with broad appeal, or the small site with a niche audience?

Content is a way to try to lure an audience, but it isn't enough to keep it and it will be difficult to maintain a critical mass of audience that is of high enough value to advertisers.

That is why VCMike is right on the money, you need something else to form a solid relationship with an audience. I dunno, subscription content? Aggregation tools? Conference and special events?

Hey, if I knew I'd have a nicer car by now. But really, if engaging, witty, insightful, high-quality content was all that was needed to attract and maintain an audience, my sitemeter would go through the roof.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Digital TV Nation

Am I excited about the fusion of the Internet and entertainment? Sure, who wouldn’t be? First off, the more the Internet gets used (for entertainment or anything else), the more money Cisco makes and the more job security I have. I like job security, so I like Internet and entertainment.

The Internet is a great delivery vehicle that can allow you to access any movie at anytime. I’d love to do a search on my TV and just chose what I want to watch as easily as I choose what website to check out.

I may have mentioned this somewhere before but I think I am the only PR person in the history of the universe without access to TV at home (I hope my boss isn’t reading this… who am I kidding, no one is reading this….) So not only do I have no clue what is happening right now on CNBC, nor do I have a first hand opinion on Katie Couric’s debut on CBS News (nor do I care to have a first hand opinion), but I also (happily) have zero access to a lot of the rubbish that currently passes for prime-time television.

For my TV fixes, I turn to Netflix to get my Sopranos, Simpsons, and The Office (UK version) updates. I reckon that is all I need at the moment. If I hear something is good (Rome) I’ll add it to my Netflix queue and check it out later.

It’s TV procrastination… why weed through a ton of crappy TV today, when you can check out only the decent stuff tomorrow?

So I guess this is where the Internet comes in. So-long Netflix and with a click of my TV mouse I can watch the show of my choice in an instant. Nice thing is when the Internet becomes directly plugged into my TV and I can access all my content straight from the boobtube instead of always via YouTube. I mean, I spend enough time in front of my computer for work, so I totally do not want to use it to watch TV as well. Besides, the resolution isn’t that great and there are fingerprints all over the screen because I keep trying to choke the damn thing every time it crashes (which is often… don’t get me started.)

Anyway, some Cisco folks went to talk digital film at the Telluride Film Festival the other week. Really interesting stuff. What is reassuring is that you’ll see here that ARTISTS are still in-charge of the creative process (hopefully!) so the advent of new technology will hopefully enhance the creative spirit among filmmakers, rather than replace it.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Media and B-Schools

I’m currently doing Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA Program and am loving every minute of it. My profs are great, the classmates are the best and I’m finding the whole process both challenging and rewarding (although I now have no time to do things like blogging, exercising, sleeping reading for recreation, interacting with other human beings).

We’re only in our second semester so there are still a lot of classes to come, but best I can tell there won’t be a whole lot of discussion on the impact of the media and on-line media on business.

In my mind, on-line sources like blogs, bulletin boards, vlogs, and user-generated content sites constitute part of the on-line media. So when I refer to on-line media as a shorthand, I’m referring to these outlets as well as the more traditional media outlets such as NYTimes.com, for example.

OK, with that out of the way…

We used to say that we live in a media-dominated society, but I do not think that is still true. We live in an entirely media saturated society where opinions (and occasionally facts) invade every aspect of our waking lives. This to me is a PR challenge for companies but I still think, despite all the information and PR consultants out there, companies are ill-prepared to deal with this challenge and, more to the point of this posting, B-schools are ill-prepared to explain the impact of these new forms of media to students.

The impact of the media does not fall neatly into a B-school program. It is not economics, accounting or finance (obviously) but (more importantly) nor is it marketing. There are elements of media studies that are relevant to marketing (i.e., getting a news story about a new product) but there does not seem to be a broader look at how the evolving media culture impacts the way a firm is viewed by both internal and external constituents.

A decision a manager makes, be that decision one of finance, HR or marketing, now has the very real potential to be discussed and commented upon openly on-line. Are there schools that study the impact of the media on a business? This to me seems like a critical issue and one managers need to have some knowledge of.

Doerr on VentureBeat

Matt Marshall of SiliconBeat fame has re-invented himself as VentureBeat and what a fine job he has done. To be honest, I haven’t had the time to fully explore the site but at first blush looks like a sophisticated and informative blog, definitely raising the bar of similar out there.

One feature I really like is this one, where you can look for companies that interest you. Very clever and a great way to add value for readers.

Matt also hits a home run with his contributors like Silicon Valley uber-VC John Doerr . Matt has been giving a lot of coverage to the emergence of greentech funding in the Valley, a topic he is obviously very passionate about. Well it seemed he got Doerr to share a few thoughts about this as well.

As usual, whenever someone tries to present a progressive view and illustrate how markets can help bring about positive change, there are cynical ignoramuses who end up taking up a lot of room in the comments section but really say nothing of value.

Anyway, the Doerr essay is an interesting, if high-level thought on the power of markets to bring about desirable change in behavior.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Noah takes a photo of himself everyday for 6 years.

Just wanted to share an amazing video. Yes, it is a little derivative, but a stunning work none-the-less, if more on a technical level than an artistic one.

A Chuck Close of the YouTube set…

YouTube - Noah takes a photo of himself everyday for 6 years.: ""

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Om Says "Web Workers of the World...Unite"

I like it… I’m not sure I get it… but I really really like it. As Om Malik branches out to make his mark in the world of independent journalism, he has launched a new site called WebWorkerDaily.

It has a great design and a great feel and I’m kinda excited just by looking at it. Now, I gotta be honest (which is tough for a PR person) I’m not 100% sure what the site is supposed to be about. I don’t think it is just another blog for Om. I reckon this is supposed to be more community oriented where people log on to share thoughts and ideas about being connected, but working independently.

If I’m right, and if this catches on, then it could be really cool. I’ve been a huge fan of “wired working.” I live in San Francisco and work in San Jose so any day that I can save the commute, stay up in SF but still get out of my shoe-box-sized apartment, and spend an afternoon doing emails from a cafĂ© is probably a day that I’m far more productive that battling traffic for 1.5 hours and spending a day in a soul-destroying office cube.

While there are a lot of great blogs out there, GigaOm is hands down the one I pay most attention to. Om covers virtually every space that impacts Cisco and, more importantly, the interplay and cross-overs between those spaces. Om knows telecom like few others so his insights I know come from years of talking to people about the state of the industry; so you know you’re always dealing with quality when he writes.

Now, of course, he’s got a whole new host of writers on the newly independent GigaOm. They all seem to be top notch and I’m find this site as informative as ever. If I have one complaint about the new GigaOm, is that there is TOO much stuff on this site and rarely is a post up long enough on the front page to get a good dialog going between readers.

But with the WebWorkerDaily, it looks like Om is trying to expand his on-line real estate which is way smart. One blog site does not a business make, IMHO. I don’t have any insight into anyone’s finances but it just seems to me that it would be too difficult to make any serious cash just by selling a couple of banner ads on a single blog.

A blog I don’t think can exist in a vacuum and needs to be part of some sort of larger strategy. When I think of bloggers, for some reason I think of Bloomberg News. Bloomberg (if I understand them correctly) essentially uses the news to sell terminals. Their real business is terminals, their brand making exercise is news. That to me is the model for bloggers. The blog builds the brand and creates noterity, but the real business itself has to come from other sources. Those other sources could be other aligned blogs or on-line services, or they could come from off-line sources like organizing events and conferences. (Looks like Paid Content is getting the groove on that as well… will need to follow that trend to see where it goes.)

Anyway, I don’t know what Om’s strategy is, but I wish I did. I don’t think anything I’ve written here is news to him so I’m sure he’s got few tricks up his sleeve. I wasn’t terribly impressed by the whole job board thing , but I don’t think that is the be-all and end-all of his GigaOm strategy. I’m sure there are more things to some and WebWorkersDaily is a peak perhaps to what’s in store.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Mark Evans :: My [NYT] Times My Way

Another blogger-journalist (but one who has kept theday job), Mark Evans hints at what's to come with the the new My Times, from the NY Times.

Battle for the eyeballs continues. Who will win, personalized media outlets or personal media outlets?

Another day, another journo-gone-blogger

So Matt Marshall got off to a rough start today . Despite what I’m sure were careful preparations for launch, the lights never turned on at his new blog VentureBeat (or if they did, I blinked and missed them.)

Some 16 hours or so after launch the site still remains dead. Anyway, I’m sure this is but a minor blip in what will otherwise be I’m sure a glorious blogging endeavor. Who knows, it could even go down as some Silicon Valley lore someday as the auspicious beginning to a media empire that will someday will rule the world….or something.

So not that I’m keeping count, but that is now Dan Gillmor , Tom Foremski, and Om Malik who have left comfy jobs with publications to start their own blogs. I’m sure there are a bunch more that I’m missing.

Dan’s the director at the Center for Citizen Media and will soon be hawking the paperback of his book; Tom’s got a couple of other blogging gigs with ZDNet and “Friday’s with Foremski” with the Chron; and Om still has his column with Biz2.0 and he’s venture backed.

So they all have side jobs, as well as job boards.

So other than his blog, I’m wondering what else Matt has up his sleeve. I guess his servers are going to keep me wondering.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got an enormous amount of respect for all of these guys. They’ve rightly earned the title “entrepreneur” and they are trying to remake one dog-of-a-business, the media business. From a media and cultural studies point-of-view, they are the way of the future.

My question remains, however, are they the way for the future from a business point-of-view.

Yes, I know TechCrunch is making gobs of money. I saw the article in Biz2.0 as well. But I’m still wondering if there is a sustainable, repeatable business model around these blogs.

(Arrington, however, seems to have no interest in sustainable business models and is waiting for all the other schmoes to go down.)

Also, what’s the market size? Can the market support a bunch of stand-alone blogs that are all (broadly speaking) in the same space?

Reading what these guys write is always interesting. Seeing how this stand-alone tech blog market plays out will be even more so.