Saturday, December 18, 2010

RIP, TV

This morning, I heard the death knell for traditional broadcast television.

My 6-year-old, Marissa, woke up called me to the living room. "Daddy, can I watch TV?"

"Sure," I said, reaching for the remote control.

"No, not that TV," she said, "This TV." She held up the iPad, which the kids have been using to watch Charlie the Unicorn.

To Marissa, all screens are the same. Traditional broadcasters should be quaking in their boots.

"I'm Proud of You"


Is there anything more emotionally potent than someone you really care about and admire telling you, "I'm proud of you?"

It feels like I can name many movies where this serves as the emotional climax. Just think of "The Sixth Sense," where the son tells his mother that his dead grandmother wanted her daughter to know that the answer to the question she asked at her mother's grave was "Every day."

His mother begins to cry, and he asks her, "What did you ask grandma," and she replies through her tears, "Do I make you proud?"

The same trope appears in many children's movies (Babe, Mulan)--is there anything more important to a child than their parent's love and approval?

That's why we value this sentiment so much when it comes from a beloved a mentor. In this sense, a mentor is a parent that you choose, and the desire for his or her love and approval is as natural as the desire for that of a parent's pride.

At the same time, that's why we get so upset if someone who isn't a mentor--a peer, or a wannabe--tries to claim that status by telling you, "I'm proud of you."

If one doesn't respect one's parent, what is the reaction to such a statement? It's probably contempt and anger.

Similarly, if someone tries to imply a mentor relationship by telling you, "I'm proud of you," it's like a bad parent trying to claim the rights and status of a good one. You'll feel mad and resentful.

"I'm proud of you" is a phenomenally powerful phrase. Use it wisely.

(written in response to this post from Ben)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

WikiLeaks' Fundamental Hypocrisy

Few subjects have been more in the news than WikiLeaks; few have been less understood (for example, WikiLeaks is not a wiki!).

For a great profile of both WikiLeaks and its controversial leader, Julian Assange, I direct you to the New Yorker, which posted a 12-page masterpiece. Here is the most important paragraph:

Experimenting with the site’s presentation and its technical operations will not answer a deeper question that WikiLeaks must address: What is it about?

The Web site’s strengths—its near-total imperviousness to lawsuits and government harassment—make it an instrument for good in societies where the laws are unjust. But, unlike authoritarian regimes, democratic governments hold secrets largely because citizens agree that they should, in order to protect legitimate policy.

In liberal societies, the site’s strengths are its weaknesses. Lawsuits, if they are fair, are a form of deterrence against abuse.

Soon enough, Assange must confront the paradox of his creation: the thing that he seems to detest most—power without accountability—is encoded in the site’s DNA, and will only become more pronounced as WikiLeaks evolves into a real institution.

That is the main problem I have with WikiLeaks; if you read the New Yorker piece, you'll discover that far from being an open information source, WikiLeaks produces painstakingly edited editorial content.

When Assange decides what to include or exclude from raw footage of the US military mistakenly killing a reporter and other civilians, his decisions (including the choice of title--"Collateral Murder") make it impossible for me to view WikiLeaks as an unbiased source of information.

To be fair to Assange, the piece implies that he selects inflammatory material because that's the only material news outlets will run. But that implies that his goal is coverage and attention, not simple transparency.

To me, the tragedy is that we need ways for information to be safely and anonymously leaked. Just read this article on U.S. citizens who are being prosecuted for releasing videos of bad behavior on the part of police officers.

By focusing on coverage rather than credibility, Assange is tainting WikiLeaks' ability to serve as on objective source of transparency.

Instead of providing a revolutionary service to overturn the traditional order, WikiLeaks is in danger of becoming just another media outlet.

The situation calls to mind the famous quote about the Vietnamese town of Ben Tre: "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it." Ironically, the very accuracy of that quote is in dispute, exemplifying the challenge of finding the objective "truth."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Impatience Kills Startups


We live today in am impatient world. In many ways, that's good. We're unwilling to wait for the world to change; instead we go out and change it. But this impatience has a cost.

People tend to view startups these days as overnight successes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most successful startups had a long gestation period during which an impatient person would have concluded that they were going nowhere.

Seth Godin calls it "the dip"--the valley of death every new idea has to survive.

Take PBworks, which has taken five years to grow from a hackathon project into a substantial business. David Weekly spent 18 months working on the project, by himself, without pay. If he had given up after 6 months, PBworks wouldn't exist today.

Twitter was born from the failure of Odeo. Ev had been incredibly patient with Blogger, roughing it out brought some very lean times. When Odeo failed to catch fire, Ev and he team persisted, convinced that they were on to something with Twitter. Twitter itself was a curiosity for many years before breaking into the mainstream.

But perhaps a homier story will be even more illustrative. A few years back, a friend of mine decided to create a blog network. He bought some domain names, set up WordPress, and started paying a couple of freelance writers.

When he started, no one read his blogs. And I have to say, I was pretty skeptical of his business prospects, especially since his blogs covered well worn topics like food, sports, and gadgets.

Fast-forward two years and his little blog empire generates $10,000 per month in revenues, growing fast. It's already profitable, and in a few more months, he might even be making enough to quit his day job (though I doubt he will).

And thanks to his patience, my friend is in a great position to start future companies. He has a source of income, and can use he remnant advertising inventory from his network as a low-cost marketing tool. I'm sure he wishes it had taken less time, but I guarantee that he's glad he was patient.

P.S. In the couple of months it's taken for me to transfer this post from my iPod to this blog, my friend has grown his blog network to a $50,000 per month run rate. I think that just reinforces my original point--growth can be explosive once you reach the tipping point. But it might take years of toil to get to that point.