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Posted on Friday, 12 April
Sometimes things come up online that make me realise just how much I love the Internet.
Earlier in the week it was this:
Today it was the turn of the Ed Balls bookmarklet. About two years ago, Ed Balls tweeted his own name from his Twitter account. It’s subsequently been retweeted over 10,000 times. Now you can Ed Ballsify any website you want with this tool.
Posted on Saturday, 19 January
Amazing book. Well worth a look. – View on Path.
Posted on Thursday, 27 December
I was lucky enough to read a shitload of books this year – these are some of the highlights.
Amazing book about marketing, blogging, journalism and how to play the PR game – lots of it makes me equal parts sad and mad at how malleable/dumb/stupid people can be. It’s also hilarious and a real eye opener for people who don’t work in the marketing/tech/PR industry. It’s also really well written and pretty funny in places.
Do yourself and favour and just buy this now. There are very few books that I’ve read where I’ve deliberately rationed myself to a few pages a day so that I don’t finish it too quickly. This was one of them. A remarkable book, a brilliant story and some truly beautiful prose to boot.
Amazing book about Kevin Mitnick’s adventures. At one point he was the ‘world’s most wanted hacker’. This goes through his various escapades and is a really good introduction to the whole world of hacking right from its earliest days. The fact that it reads like a thriller makes it even better.
I defy you to read this book and not come up with at least three business ideas that might just work…
Beautifully constructed telling of the story of Achilles as told by his friend and lover Patroclus. This won the Orange Prize for Fiction earlier this year – it’s easy to see why.
If you played games, listened to music or had anything to do with pop culture in the 70s and 80s, you will love this. If you missed out on those glory days, read it anyway and use it as a guide to classic games, albums and more from that era. It’s a tie between this and 1Q84 for my favourite fiction book of the year.
People talk a lot about the great American novel. This has to be considered one of the great modern London novels. You can perhaps telegraph the ending a little, but that doesn’t take away from the overall quality of the writing.
An appropriate addition given that this is the time of year when people think most about those habits they may or may not need/want to change. This is filled with brilliant anecdotes and stories about habits – what they are, how they develop and how people and organisations can change them. You will not be able to read this without coming up with ways to get rid of bad habits, foster new habits, create a better working environment and potentially create a new business.
A brilliant spy novel by one of the best of that genre’s current batch. The joy of Cumming’s novels is that there are rarely Bourne-style set pieces of Bond-esque bursts of action. Rather they deal in nuance and shades of grey - giving you a sense of how incredibly taut a spy’s existence must really be. Not far off Le Carré imho…
Slightly late to the party with this one, but it’s an amazing book that deserves a look if you haven’t had the pleasure already. Brilliantly written - almost like Mark Bowden or Sebastian Junger was writing a series of big pieces for Vanity Fair in a post-Zombie era.
There’s a few others on my Referly page – which I’ll be adding to over the next few days. I’ll also add in a few posts on my favourite games, music and movies of the year over the next day or two, but hopefully you’ll find some happy reading in the above list to keep you going in the interim…
Posted on Friday, 31 August
I like Airtime. Any new company that has the two guys behind Napster behind it was always going to face a tough time when it launched. There was no small amount of Color-esque moaning about the amount of money they raised. People sniggered at the opening day glitches. Others still feel that Sean Parker’s portrayal in ‘The Social Network’ is effectively a live documentary feed of everything that happened in 2005 and 2006. Others again like it. I’m in that camp.
I have a confession. I was always predisposed to like anything that Parker and Fanning did post-Napster. That app was a reasonably big part of my school/college years. Obviously - like Bill Clinton, I never inhaled. Like Playboy magazine – I used it ‘for the articles’.
However, in my zeal to prove my innocence, I digress. The fact that it was started by two people who met on IRC only added to its mystique. I am a child of the IRC generation. Large swathes of the late 90s centred largely around hastagged chatrooms where I honed my skills in typing, one liners and troll-baiting (or debating).
This was back when people thought I was suffering from some sort of mental issue when I met online friends offline. I was pretty chuffed to be going on dates wtih smart people I’d met online. Some of my friends and family thought I needed to be sectioned. They took the view that the Internet was filled with proto-Dahmers, rapey overweight lunatics and a cast of millions that wouldn’t look out of place as extras in a Tim Burton movie.
They were wrong. The people on the Internet were like me, except smarter, funnier, more skilled and more open. Surely, like me, some of them were never going to trouble David Bailey’s lens on a fashion shoot, but isn’t that most of the population? Maybe some of us were a little socially awkward – that’s why IRC was amazing – you could talk about anything to anyone and you didn’t need to worry about whether you’d missed that awkward spot on your upper lip when shaving or whether or not you had food in your teeth.
I miss IRC. I miss the mayhem. I miss arguing with strangers, occasionally being a dick and usually having a brilliant time talking about life, the universe, everything and the number 42. I learned more about life, love, hacking, music, movies, comedy and myself in black and white chat clients than I ever did in school or college. I met people who critiqued my early journalism work – who criticised some of my (frankly bizarre) early startup ideas. I met people who were total randomers – total strangers who came into and left chatrooms (and by extension my life) on an ad hoc basis.
So when Sean Parker and Shaun Fanning talked about how that element of the Internet had died out a little – I agreed with them. When I first started going online in the 90s – everyone was a stranger. A handful of my friends were online, but most of the communities, bulletin boards and chatrooms that I used were populated almost entirely by people I’d never met and was never likely to meet. That was the original disruption the Internet brought into my life. That was what made it great. It was open. It was all a bit odd and it was all amazing.
The last ten years have changed things a lot. Instead of using the Internet to connect with and chat to total strangers, we’ve slowly started building little walled gardens around ourselves – connecting with people we know in the real world and engaging with them online. Admittedly, services like Twitter and Instagram do encourage some level of connection with strangers. They’re still a lot more selective in terms of the viewpoints you’re exposed to than any sort of chatroom or bulletin board service.
When the Airtime guys talked about rediscovering that whole area of chatting with strangers, my interest was immediately piqued. IRC, message boards and other communities and chatrooms still exist obviously – they just seem like anachronisms in the modern world. Maybe what Evan and Biz are trying to do with Branch will address the bulletin board side of things a little – but that’s still a work in progress. It’s no chatroom. The closest thing that we’ve had to a real shakeup in random encounters online in the last while was Chatroulette.
I don’t think anyone would disagree with the fact that the insane success of Chatroulette was at least validation of an idea that may have already existed or been discussed between the folks behind Airtime. Once you got over the bacchanal of penises on display, Chatroulette was a pretty funny experience. I always thought that a slightly more segmented and moderated version (along with some additional features) would work wonders – and that’s what I figured the guys from Airtime would do.
To an extent, that’s what exists now. I won’t go into an exhaustive description of what the platform does – check it out for yourself and you’ll see lots of pros and reasons to engage. You’ll also see cons and things that will put people off.
Chatroulette worked really well cause you didn’t have to talk. You typed. Airtime feels a lot more like a real social interaction, which can be a bit offputting if you decide you want to use it to talk to someone when 4am insomnia strikes. You can only talk to one person at a time so far. Chatrooms allowed you to carry on tons of conversations at once – one with the main room and multiple private/group chats. While that had a tendency towards information overload, it still worked really well.
With that said, I think there are massive opportunities for Airtime. I think there are some very cool partnerships that would be pretty easy to set up which would allow sports fans to talk/argue/bait one another during major events. There are media partnerships that could take advantage of this to create real time fan debates which could easily be adapted for TV.
It has almost limitless potential in education circles. Again – simple partnerships could create a platform that students could use to connect with and learn from one another. Students learning language from native speakers would be amazing. Getting some local help for history assignments would be easy. You could even allow experts to bill for their time (with a cosy 30% share of revenues generated going to Airtime). Build in some game elements, points and rewards and the potential gets even bigger.
Sean Parker talked about eliminating loneliness when he initially discussed Airtime. To me, this is the most personally interesting idea. My granddad told me that he was lonely a while back – after my granny passed away, he was at home on his own a lot. It struck me that an Airtime type app in a Smart TV would allow him to chat to like minded folks about football, fishing and everything else he’s interested in. There isn’t a child, grandchild or great grandchild alive who wouldn’t chip in some money to pay for some moderation and verification on a service like that. Guilt can be a powerful motivator…
To people who are busily knocking Airtime’s user numbers or scoffing at the ambitions of Parker and Fanning, I say give it time. They’ve got a brilliant idea waiting to happen. To fellow fans of IRC – if you’ve found a replacement for it on your smartphone, tablet or computer – let me know. If not, maybe I need to start thinking harder…
Posted on Sunday, 12 June
I’m a big movie fan. I watch lots of them. I’m a bit of a sucker for the experience of watching a big summer blockbuster in a cinema.
Since all the hype started, I’ve been excited about going to see Super 8 in the cinema. And why wouldn’t I be? JJ Abrams is a brilliant writer and director. Stephen Spielberg, who directed several of the seminal movies of my childhood is the producer. Seeing the Amblin and Bad Robot logos appear one after another at the start of a movie will be something special to a mild movie nerd like myself.
However, I can’t go and see Super 8. Despite the fact that I’m reading reviews, Tweets and seeing Getglue updates about dozens of my friends in the US going to the movie, I can’t get a ticket? Why? I’m in the UK. For some reason, the movie isn’t being released here for almost two months.
Take a look at the release schedule. It’s ridiculous. It reminds me of the days when I watched those seminal movies - always two or three months after their release in the US. Growing up in Ireland meant getting movies, albums and just about everything else several weeks or months after their release. It made sense back then, cause the films were physical objects that needed to be moved around. It makes no sense now.
In an era of digital distribution, there is no reason why movies shouldn’t be released worldwide on the same day. In an era where movie studios are being increasingly hammered by online piracy, it’s absurd to make people wait two months to see one of the most hyped movies of the summer.
I’ll give you a hint of what’s going to happen. Thousands of movie-going fans who would have happily paid the ever-increasing price of entry to the cinema, will download the movie or stream it rather than wait for it to arrive in their local multiplex. I’d be willing to bet that a lot of them will do this for the first time with this movie. When they do, I’d also be happy to wager that a lot of them will start downloading and streaming movies a lot more regularly. Watching something for free in your own house is a lot easier than paying the ever-increasing charge to watch it in the cinema - complete with talking twats and cellphone-wielding halfwits. In a sense, by not releasing the movie at the same time around the world, the studio are effectively encouraging piracy.
This is such a stupid move. When studios and cinemas should be doing all they can to get paying customers in the door, pulling a stunt like this makes you realise how clueless some of these folks can be. I’m not suggesting this is the fault of either JJ Abrams or Stephen Spielberg - but someone’s head, somewhere, should roll for this.
Posted on Tuesday, 31 May
There has been a lot of debate recently about this whole idea of whether or not there’s a peak age for entrepreneurs. What this whole kerfuffle needs is a Ben Goldacre to call bullshit science on the vast majority of the nonsense being cited by certain parties in the argument.
Let me start by saying that, as far as I’m concerned, the idea that there’s a peak age for entrepreneurship is nonsense. That’s as true when it comes to consumer internet startups as it is when it comes to any other type of online or offline business. I know plenty of people who have started companies later in life - whether as full blown creators of apps or platforms or those who simply make a good living selling goods on eBay or etsy.
The argument that’s being used at the moment seems to be based largely around the fact that the under-25s start bigger consumer platforms. However, if you’ve heard of this company, this company or this company - then you’ll probably know that information isn’t the whole truth. Reid Hoffman was 35 when he started LinkedIn in 2002. Marc Pincus was in his early 40s when he started Zynga. Evan Williams was 35 when he started Twitter. Granted - all of those guys were repeat entrepreneurs, but they were still coming up with ideas for platforms which have achieved mass adoption worldwide. LinkedIn has already had its IPO. Zynga is on the road towards its. Twitter will doubtless follow suit at some point over the coming two or three years.
Now, it’s also true that there are some massively successful existing and up and coming companies that were started by people in their teens and early 20s. Facebook is the obvious one. More recently, Seth Priebatsch and Brian Wong founded SCVNGR and Kiip respectively - both were 19 when they started those companies. Both have raised serious funding and are developing platforms that are already generating good revenues and have the potential to generate serious money and potentially hit serious exits in a few years.
So the reason this annoys me so much is what it’s based on. Here are the slides that the guys from SV Angel presented at TechCrunch Disrupt.
If you read the comments below the article, you’ll see them say a few times that this is a first look at the data and that there are gaps. That’s an understatement. The fact that this data is being cited by a lot of people as evidence that there’s a peak age for entrepreneurship is nonsense. The data is flawed. The presentation is flawed. It was obviously hastily cobbled together rather than pored over and refined (as studies should be). There’s little here to suggest the data is meaningful. Perhaps if the full study were released, we would see more to indicate the fact that there is (or isn’t) a peak age. However, the reality is that this is still a study based on a tiny sample - a sample of companies funded by SV Angel. Much more interesting would be to see the same study conducted across angel or early stage funds across the US, Europe and elsewhere in the world. Perhaps that would produce something worthwhile.
Honestly, if I’d produced and presented a study and slideshow like this in my statistics class back in college in Dublin in 2001, I would have failed the class.
The other thing that bugs me about this argument is the point made by Michael Arrington in the first article I linked to above. In it, he says the peak age argument is born out by the fact that “Y Combinator said the average age of their founders is 26”. This is an argument? There’s a point here? Again, the idea that this is a statistic that proves a wider trend is fundamentally flawed. This is based only on people who apply for and get into Y Combinator (which is an incubator program for companies - a very successful one). Also - the fact that the average age is 26 means that half of the people who get into Y Combinator are over 26. By citing that statistic, he’s basically saying that his headline argument (that 25 is the peak age) is bullshit.
The other thing to bear in mind about using the Y Combinator argument is that a lot of people don’t apply to Y Combinator. A lot of people just start companies, generate revenues and do well. Some of them sell their companies. Some of them raise funding. Most older entrepreneurs wouldn’t be too enthused about applying for Y Combinator. They might not live in the US. They might have wives, girlfriends or families. They might be running their companies in their spare time - trying to get revenues to a point where they can legitimately quit their jobs and start making a living from their own business. Or they might not want to try and live in California on a relatively small sum of money for 3 months - regardless of the many benefits that Y Combinator offers. The same is true of any incubator. They’re fine for a subset of entrepreneurs, but you cannot seriously tell me that they’re the only metric against which you can measure the peak age for entrepreneurs. That’s like saying you can measure the relative entrepreneurial strength of different countries around the world by merely looking at which countries apply for these incubators. No sane person would say that.
In closing, these arguments are usually ridiculous and not worth engaging in. However, this one cuts a little close to the bone. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m ‘past it’ in terms of my age (according to some folks), but it’s also the fact that some investors will read this and believe it. The herd mentality is strong among some folks, and if the idea of a peak age is allowed to gain prominence, it could make life harder for 30somethings with legitimate ideas to get funding. That would be a real shame.
For some sanity in this whole, nonsensical discussion - take a look at the research the guys from the Founder Institute have carried out. Come back soon so that I can rant about the bullshit sacred myth of the co-founder….
Posted on Sunday, 29 May
This is a brilliant idea.
The publishing industry is in as much trouble as the music industry was a few years ago. The model is changing. People’s expectations are changing. What’s not changing is the attitudes adopted by many long-serving folks in that industry. A former colleague of mine described some pretty breath-takingly backwards views held by certain book industry insiders at a recent event. The attitude of screw the reader (for as much money as possible) and screw the author (give them as little revenue from book sales as possible) is as prevalent as ever.
For publishing companies - they now face the same battle as many of the bigger record labels faced a few years ago. Amazon are putting together their own digital imprints and stealing authors away from old-school publishers. They’re not going to be the only ones.
Unbound is a brilliant idea because it takes elements of the new model - authors get a better deal (a 50/50 split of the revenues), readers get a much better deal - and marries that with the option of getting a weighty tome with which to decorate your bookshelves. The kickstarter type model works so well for this industry. What avid reader wouldn’t want access to their favourite author’s workspace? Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to read blog posts, watch videos and potentially engage with authors in a way that was previously unimaginable. Most importantly, if you want access to the occasionally boozy lunches that accompany the launch of certain titles, then you’re in luck. You’ll even get to meet the person whose book you funded.
Bands who’ve managed this transition cleverly have really profited from it. The number of albums that have been funded through Pledge and others services is growing every day. The model is the same - give fans more access for slightly more money. Engage with them more. Develop that relationship and you’ll start seeing higher attendances at gigs, more merchandise sold and most importantly - a larger amount of money in their bank.
I’m really excited by Unbound. I’m really looking forward to seeing some the progress of the platform over the next while. I’ve already picked out one project to fund, and I’m tempted to put money into several others. This is the future of the publishing industry. I’d say you’ll be able to tell this by the sheer volume of interested authors who will be making their way to the Unbound shed at the Hay Festival this week.
Posted on Thursday, 26 May
I get a lot of emails. Now, maybe I’m just getting more curmudgeonly in my old age, but I like my emails to tell a little bit about themselves before I open or (more often) delete them.
I was prompted to write this post by a mail I received yesterday. It was from someone promoting a new show. I don’t know this person. They don’t know me. I hadn’t signed up for their mailing list. Therefore, anything they sent me was going to be unsolicited. Unsolicited mails aren’t bad things. However, unsolicited mails which have everyone included in the ‘to’ field (over 70 people) get my goat.
With that said, I know how tough it can be to promote shows and productions. So I decided to put together some simple tips for connecting with people in a way that won’t piss them off. This isn’t just for people who want to talk to me. It applies to anyone who’s trying to pitch a product or idea to anyone - whether it’s Joe Punter, a celebrity blogger, a journalist or anyone else. I worked as a journalist for years, so I know how quickly your inbox can get clogged with various releases. I know how hard it is to get people interested in your story/production etc. I’ve produced a bunch of my own content and promoted the hell out of it.
These are hints and tips that I can dispense because I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’ve been the person pitching ideas and stories, and I’ve been the person who receives and vets pitches. Here goes:
Really - a lot of this comes down to simple research. If you’re promoting something, you should take the time to think about who you’re promoting it to. Find the bloggers and folks on Twitter who are talking about your particular topic. Talk to those guys about potentially blogging about your project. Try to build momentum that way, and maybe then look at approaching the bigger newspapers or radio/tv stations if you want to. A little bit of research goes a long way. It saves you annoying people by sending them unsolicited bulk mails that will invariably be deleted (or lead to you making their shitlist). Granted, it’s time consuming, but doing things properly frequently takes a bit more time and effort.
Here endeth the lesson. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any thoughts or questions.