Archive for the “business” Category

New Venture Fund Locks Up Fast-Growth Prison Sector

Sunday, April 1st, 2001

The last few years established Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists as more than mere financiers. No, these were enlightened visionaries leading the new economy way to an unprecedented long boom. Well, the recent economic downturn seems to indicate that VC insight only works in a bull market. But one firm has emerged with a clear new vision. Binge and Purge Venture Partners (BPVP) today announced a new fund dedicated to investment in TechnoPrisons.

Managing Partner Dick Dickens explained the strategy. “BPVP is ready to take charge in today’s economic and political environment. There are an incredible number of benefits and efficiencies that technology can add to one of the most important growth sectors of the American economy: imprisoning our population.”

The TechnoPrison fund is designed to target companies developing core infrastructure technologies and services needed by prisons. The first investments will be in Skinner Plantation Networks and Digital Gulag, which develop security, infoshare management software, Pavlovian monitoring techniques, and a variety of death penalty and execution expediency technologies. “These technologies should be easily adopted by the incarcerated market, which is already experienced with sharing and control,” Dickens explains. “For example, if a prisoner needs to keep track of his punk’s schedule, it can now be shared among everyone he plans to share his punk with, and save him valuable time he could be use to smoke cigarettes or watch TV. Each of these sharing systems are infinitely scalable and can be used in any TechnoPrison or any of our licensed prison platforms.”

In order to encourage cross-company development and cost-savings, the companies will be incubated out of space rented on Alcatraz. Warden-in-Residence Martha Schlesinger explained that the benefits are more than financial: “We believe the environment of the old prison world will inspire programmers and designers to ask themselves ‘how can we do better?’ And at the end of the day, we let them out of the cells.”

All fund-backed ventures will focus on high-security facilities for long-term incarceration of the most dangerous inmates: murderers, thieves and marijuana smokers. Given conflict of interest sensitivities, the Technoprison fund will stay away from the white collar imprisonment sector. Such a focus would greatly limit deal and investment partnership prospects.

Dickens seems to be sticking to familiar Internet-era rhetoric about the focus: “We still don’t care about that bricks and mortar stuff. We’ve got plenty of Old Economy partners who know how to execute that real well. “Think of this as a Prison ASP. You build the outside and we take care of the rest.”

Analysts are optimistic about the Technoprison Fund’s prospects. “We anticipate a continuing increase in prosecutions and incarceration. With more support for privatization of social justice and entrepreneurship under the administration of Bush the Younger, things look good for BPVP” said Ima Pumper at Barney, Stanley, Morgan & Jeremiah in a statement issued earlier today. “Talk about a sticky community! Many of these prisoners will be Technoprison members for life. And each comes with an annual budget attribution and government backing.”

Hecubah Bludgett, of Smithson Robertson Samofson was equally enthusiastic about TechnoPrison Fund prospects. “We have a whole new paradigm of guaranteed growth here: night stick. It just goes up.”

Dickens shrugs off critics’ references to slavery and the 13th amendment, preferring to focus on the BPVP first-mover advantage: “Where other naysayers look at prisons and only see a threat to a true democratic form of governance and pain and human suffering wrought needlessly upon our community, we at BPVP see opportunity.”

And unlike many other infrastructure venture funds, BPVP has other information and content application opportunities that will stem from their control of the control market. Once again, Dickens refers to lessons learned from the early Internet years: “We have plans to bring the efficiencies of the web-based auction marketplace to the prison population. We’ll be able to offer our future portfolio companies the opportunity to bid in real-time over the labor output from prisoners. The sky is the limit. We already have digital cameras in every cell and a licensing deal with Fox for a new reality show.”

We want your hot liquid cash infusion!

Thursday, March 1st, 2001

Young duck, looking to join your neatly assembled row…

Nubile, Digital Media playas seeks older mature company for steamy rendezvous or serious LTR. Enjoy the thrill of a young, agile company who gets it. Plenty of experience with wanna-be CEO Pygmalions, now we need the real thing! Expert shape-shifter: can be whatever you want! Naughty venture tiring of a life of experimentation, needs your firm hand and deep pockets. Looking for someone to masterfully teach us about the world, operations, business models and A/R.

Relationship Desired: Monogamous or Open. Can’t be choosers.

Nicknames: Visionary, paradigm-shifter, computer-whiz, codeboy.

Music / Film likes: All kinds, and can categorize genres expertly with our staff of eager, underemployed, liberal-arts education, music fan editors. Can assess your music preferences 32 different ways and then intimately respond: one-to-one.

Tattoos: John Perry Barlow and Herve Villechaize on each cheek.

Favourite Book: Loved Start-up and Sleeping Beauty, but lately we’ve been reading the Bible.

Turn ons: launch parties, embroidered denim shirts, dinner with Orrin Hatch, changing the world, cell phones on belts, Blackberries.

Turn Offs: hard work, patience, communicating with regular people, profitability.

Drugs: only socially, (during Comdex and while making Power Point presentations).

Heroes: Ayn Rand, Luke Skywalker.

Education: and Harvard Business School.

Intellectual Property: We oppose its existence, except when it comes to software we write, unless of course someone with money feels differently about it, or we are sued.

Orientation: Can stream, download, cache or go P2P.

Religion: any platform with enough market-share. Conversion a possibility for generous consort.

In our free time: Foosball, burning CDs, cruising the Pho list, bashing Hilary Rosen and protecting our beloved First Amendment through the defense of Eminem’s artistry. We are passionate about what we believe and what we do. It’s all about the music!!

In our own words: Our perfect date is a romantic stroll down the Street, punctuated by little stops at Bear Stearns and Robertson Stephens. We take your Lear Jet, join the mile high acquisition club and land in SF for a party in Audio Alley with our diverse array of content and technology West Coast friends. Our romance makes them green with envy as they shower us with resumes and back rubs. Breakfast at Bucks the next morning for the perfect pancakes. We make headlines and Fwds all week long.

In short, naive, but experienced at riding the wave. A survivor. This ad should prove it. Location, looks unimportant. Public stock a must. No baggage, plenty of our own, thank you!

Rock ’n’ Roll High School

Wednesday, November 1st, 2000

Didn’t the 2000 Presidential election remind you of high school? The debates pretty much clinched the fact that we chose between the know-it-all good boy who spends half an hour after each test showing the teacher how he is owed one more mark, and the clueless fraternity president who brings the beer to the party. Hell, my high school president won by a bigger margin than the next President of the United States of America.

This got me thinking. The mess of the music market today is starting to look more and more like high school. And just like the politicians, it doesn’t seem like anyone is, well, actually doing anything. But that’s what high school is like: a time for relationship building, rule breaking, and peer pressure.

The last couple of years saw the formation of 5 cliques in the music market:

  • renegade punk companies out to change the world, dismantle the traditional music business, and promising a digital chicken in every pot,
  • the digital best friend: venture funded companies hoping to make an clean exit by either being useful to someone someday, or just good-looking enough to get by,
  • the majors; the handful of popular girls who own all the popular music,
  • consumers: the masses. Favourite rhetorical positioning tool of the punk renegades who speak for them, but don’t really wanna hang out with them,
  • artists: everyone else wants to be Homecoming King. The artists just want to get paid.

Slam dancing can be energizing and fun. It stirs up a lot of attention. But it’s hard to keep it up it for very long. The renegade punks are pretty much gone. Scour’s dead and being kicked around. has coughed up its savings account and indie cred, again and again to stay alive and get into the new dance. Napster’s been saved at the last minute by a major partner that says “I love you, you’re perfect. Now change.” These punkers are learning how to slow dance quickly.

As for the digital best friends, there was a time when there were so many of them around, it was hard to tell ’em apart or remember their names correctly: The iCasts, the eMusics, the myplays, the epitonics and so many others. They were excited by the punkers energy and they used a lot of their same revolutionary rhetoric, but they planned to play by the rules of the popular crowd. No overthrowing intellectual property laws for them. The best friend crowd are a smooth lot. They want to work with you. They are going to provide, they are going to enable. But for whom? While the best friend crowd was multiplying exponentially, they thought they could do it the easy way. Be a player in the genre. Do one tiny little thing that no one else did. Build a great directory, or a storage system, or a player. Get your popularity, your value from your dance partner.

Now the funding for this crowd has dried up, and it looks like no one will ever fund a stand-alone digital music company again. There are fewer and fewer partners, and its couples dancing only.

So what are their options?

Well the most obvious is, go out of business, and that’s exactly what some of these companies are doing (eg. iCast, I think this will be the most common option. Soon they’ll be as distant a memory as the names of the people that went to high school with you. A few of the digital best friends have some allowance saved up, then they can make a new friend, enabling labels rather than consumers (eg. Liquid Audio), and try to lengthen their careers that way. The Internet Aggregators may work with this crowd on varied occasions, but rarely accept one of them as their own for purchase, since they realized it was cheaper and easier to make the stuff rather than buy it. Besides, the high school friends are such a fickle lot, aren’t they? The bread is buttered on the label, not the consumer side now, and any digital best friend worth his embroidered denim shirt knows that. Those who could see ahead to this inevitability (Real, ArtistDIRECT, Electric Artists), or who don’t look to music as their sole source of support have much more life in them. is now in the most interesting position of this entire group. Walking the most neutral, colourless line, it was able to get investment from everyone in the popular crowd: the majors. This means that each of the popular crowd knows that they will all equally benefit from whatever Listen is going to do. This neutrality can become extremely powerful in some situations, because it’s something that none of the popular girls (the majors) have, because they’re all so suspicious of one another. And given that Listen had a huge allowance and still has a lot of it left, it can benefit from the same kind of shopping spree that the majors and Internet Aggregators can have now that digital music companies go for the cheap.

It is now conceivable that it can actually piece together an entire package of assets and integrate them to provide that abandoned clique, the consumer, with an experience that comes close to having all the pieces. And that appears to be what Listen is trying to do with its prior acquisition of digital best friend (Wired Planet) and its bid for bankrupt punker Scour, which probably has more tangible value than the rest of Listen. While Listen says that it’s focusing on syndicating music services to other Internet Aggregators, getting paid enough cash money for that is a long shot way to popularity or even self-sufficient. It’s all about staying power for this crowd now. Because if you can last for a time, then you have a chance to see what shakes out with the majors.

After a brief punk trend, the balance of power has shifted firmly back to them. The majors have kept a legal hold on their vault of music, and are the potential source of revenue or exit for almost every digital music company.

The key to understand the majors on the dance floor, is that these companies act like the popular girl clique who go everywhere together and dance in a big clump together. They measure their popularity and success in relation to one another, and they all live in fear that someone else is going to scoop them on a fashion or boyfriend interest. You can be sure that where one goes, the others follow. The biggest punk success, napster, has only proven what everyone already knew: it’s easy access to the music of all of the majors that works for consumers.

But a couple of things have shifted due to the digital slam dancing of the last couple of years. The general consumer crowd has had a taste of a new experience, and the major’s abusive treatment of the artists has been brought out in the open. In order to keep step with the popular trend, the majors have acknowledged, in their own way, their need to be able to deliver music to consumers digitally. The pressure to answer how and when has lightened considerably since the RIAA piled up a stack of legal successes against digital music companies (, scour, napster).

But the biggest motivator for these majors is the clump factor. Once one of them moves, you can pretty much guarantee they all will. Sometimes, they all move together, as in the development of the SDMI standard, which pretty much gave them all the sensation of travelling without moving. The popular girls found a new solidarity during the digital punk years. It was a nice reprieve after all those years of those years they spent back-stabbing one another.

But then one of the majors went over the heads of the other girls and got a college boyfriend: AOL. They’ve promised to have all the others over for parties but none of them are too trusting or happy about it. Since one of them made a move, the others have to positioning as well. Berteslmann has let everyone know that she’s going to date someone even bigger, done its own kind of partnership with napster. And it’s the kind of partnership where she doesn’t have to put out if napster doesn’t change. Napster wasn’t “one of their crowd” and it positioned Bertelsmann so strongly in a new direction, that it caused some of her faithful crowd to quit. This upped the ante both inside Bertelsmann and out.

Meanwhile almost all of the majors had been settling up with the first punker to turn best friend: They were able to pick up lots of extra lunch money for the executives’ year end bonuses. And after all that slam dancing they realized they couldn’t stay in one place forever. If they were going to deal with the digital, they were going to do it on their own terms.

Shortly after Bertelsmann’s shocking partnership, the popular girl, Universal, who had been angriest with and holding out on accepting them the best friend pack, pulled out her own surprise. She was going to have her own little dabble with on a higher status basis. Doesn’t it always seem like the ones who hate each other the most, end up going out?

All her friends turned on her in anger. Universal knew the rules. All for one and one for all. If she was going to get more, then so were they. And the majors are willing to go back to the courts to make sure. But Universal says, “this one is different. It’s different when it’s just the two of us together. Besides we both really care about the artists, and we’re going to do something about them.”

Ah yes the Artists. Everyone had almost forgotten them, off smoking behind the school, going their own way. They get a paltry $25MM to split between them from their special arrangement with It’s not much, given their historic short end of the stick, but it does the possibility that their needs may begin to be openly addressed, even if only because their treatment and the controversy over the work for hire provisions provide a convenient bit of leverage for digital companies to wield over the popular crowd.

There might be a few more opportunities for that, since now that three popular girls have digital suitors, the rest will be wanting one too. Just for a back-up plan, in case their friends don’t share like they say they will. And the biggest x factor in all of this is now the new artist management consolidation play that billionaire Mark Cuban is backing (I love the way that “billionaire” is a career in itself). It’s going to be by far the most fun fight to watch after school, Mark and the popular crowd. Mark’s rich enough to not have to worry about being popular. If he succeeds, the artists—at least the most popular artists—will be able to smoke anywhere they damn well please. But it’s a bold, long-shot manoeuvre.

And the poor, lowly consumer. The masses of students who pay for everything and make the popular kids popular. The truth is that it’s a complete miracle for consumers to get what they want. Not necessarily because any of these other cliques conspire to serve consumers poorly with any malicious intent. They’re merely pre-occupied shoring up their power base. The last few years have seen new companies founded to do nothing but serve the consumer, but they still tend to move things in inches, not miles (this presumes napster loses its case). Every clique has a piece of the game, and they all have to move together for a new, stable system to emerge.

So thanks to renegade bravado, peer pressure and back-stabbing, the whole scene has moved digitally forward. But rest assured that everyone will continue to talk and talk about what is good for consumers and artists, as if that was why much of anything changed. It’s about as certain as the idea that Al Gore and George Bush really believe that everything that’s gone on in the past weeks is really about ascertaining “the will of the people.”

Big business and government. You have to love how mature these mature institutions are.

Have You Heard?

Friday, September 22nd, 2000

Journalists are incredible gossips. Professional gossips. They dig into dirt with a delight that approaches Julia Child in the butter aisle.

Traditionally it’s been their job to take the gossip, and judge it, sift it, research it, integrate it, fact check it and verify otherwise unattributed information with two reliable sources, tell it in a well-written story and then stick it in whatever publication/distribution employs them. Then its not called gossip anymore, it’s called news.

But the digital era has struck at each of these points. The finding out, the composition, the sifting and most especially the distribution. The information economy and networked era, coupled with a population gasping for distraction, urges: FASTER PUSSYCAT, WRITE, READ!!

We are moving to a world in which anyone can make information or news media and distribute it to an audience. Meanwhile, the time between an event occurring, or information surfacing, and it being reported has already shrunk to zero. This means that media often is gossip.

A couple of elements are helping this movement along: the emerging Servant Media model and the Real-Time demand for instant business and the newest news. All of this adds up to a kind of massive questioning of authority. Who do we listen to? While the speed and neutrality of technology might seem to give us the circumstances for media nirvana, it will not replace the authority of more traditional media outlets which are aided by, but do not wholly consist of, technology.

Servant Media

So who makes the new new media in the networked digital era? We all do.

As a convenient way to describe this model of media production, distribution, and consumption, I borrow the phrase Servant from the original Gnutella developers. Gnutella collapsed the ‘server’ and client’ into one unit (thus, servant). This means every consumer is also a producer. All of these units are simultaneously connected, which means that every producer is also a distributor. (This is the model I called distributed serving back in January [please see ‘Infringement, The Web and Media Businesses: Part Two,’ Futuredays, digital mogul Volume 3, Report 1].)

With news and information, it works this way: each of us is capable of taking in and observing new pieces of information. We can easily create gossip, news and opinion and distribute it quickly to many in the networked world, by emailing this information to friends, to our own mailing lists, to a general listserv, to a web site.

In fact the human instincts behind gossip–showing you know something others don’t, sharing information–these are the same instincts behind all of the development in the technology referred to as P2P (which stands for person to person–isn’t it just like technophiles to come up with a way to turn people into an acronym?).

The information and opinion in a personal email or listserv posting hasn’t been verified by an external source. This ‘I’m pretty sure it’s true’ quality of gossip can add to it’s titillating nature and, thus, its distribution. This news doesn’t just go from a box to everyone. It moves from one of us to the next. Like gossip.

Surely you’ve get some email each week that looks like this…

Subject: Have you heard?

Subject: I thought you’d be interested…

Subject: FYI

Subject: Fw:……

Some of the most vibrant examples of Servant models–Slashdot, the pho listserv and (FC)–have popped up in new subject areas that are within the new digital economy (Linux, digital music and entertainment, and bad Internet employment experiences and failing dot coms) which were not being covered well or at all by traditional media. Those who organized these Servant media outlets created skeleton structures that allowed many many contributors to add the results of the most recent press release or opinion about the latest rumour. These skeleton structures (a listserv, editorial sections or a system that makes a game out of reader contribution, by taking bets) does away with the expense of having actual writers or editors.

Remove little things like overhead costs and fact checking, add a subject matter that’s feeding a focussed audience with an insatiable appetite for the latest dirt, and you’ll find that Servant Media has the ability to grow at a pace far outstripping the traditional 5 year growth patterns planned for magazines and newspapers.

As each Servant Media outlet reaches a larger audience, some percentage of that audience become contributing participants in the Servant Media. The growing number of writers also means that Servant Media is better equipped than traditional media to meet the new Real-Time pace.


Real-Time is being ushered in by the digital economy.

Forces are orienting business and media outlets around the same principles of the technology underlying the changes. That technology tends toward allowing events and transactions to occur almost instantaneously. In terms of media, that means that the time between an event occurring and it being reported, collated and distributed (and sometimes analysed through Servant Media outlets) is approaching nil.

The value of news media is that its, well, new. The freshest, most immediate reporting is the ticker that flows from the stock markets. Ask one of the dozens of financial media outlets that have sprung up to service and further our speculative Internet lives: the closer to Real-Time, the more willing people are to pay for information.

The digital tools and networking increase the need for media. Changes happen more quickly than ever. There are more companies, more individual efforts and greater impact on our lives. So the tools that enable more people to make and distribute media more quickly also increase the demand for more media. This expansive kind of onanism synchs with what venture investors like to call the ‘network effect.’ The area of investment creates its own customer base/audience. This is why the people actually making cash money right now off of the digital economy, are those who publish its media, like F@stCompany and The Standard.

What is most important is that Real-Time cannot be commodified, like other forms of information or ‘content.’ In an era in which competitive advantage is getting more and more difficult to create or maintain, it’s hard to argue with something as absolute as Time.

Of course, the closer a media outlet is to Real-Time, the more it approximates a tool (ie. useful implement) and the less it looks like what the digital era has vaguely labelled ‘content,’ ie. some random creamy filling you stuff in and take your time experiencing. And, the information that comes in real-time about events is, almost by definition: gossip or a press release, because neither of these needs any time for editing, checking of contextualizing. The Servant Media outlet, targeted like a Slashdot or, relies upon the think organizational shell of the outlet’s narrow focus, plus the quick responses of many people, to function as context., is a kind of reverse NASDAQ without having to deal with government regulation. The site allows people to vent their frustrations and gossip about the mismanagement of various dot coms, and bet on the speed of their demise. FC is entertaining and has an augmented value (as recent eBay bids on the site show) because it gives gossip to speculators who then use it at their own risk, but who do look at it as an information source. FC is a mix of information and entertainment that reflects a trend we’ve been seeing for some time: that news is being used as entertainment as much as entertainment is being passed off as ‘news.’ Real-Time markets are inherently entertaining because they can be watched as sport and entertainment. They hold an inherent sense of serial drama and narrative.

But does this gossip media system supplant (or supplement) well-reasoned and researched news? It is all a question of authority.


Gossip is like sex or candy. Fun and enticing, but not sustaining on its own.

While the growth and influence of the Servant Media model has real benefits and cannot be stopped, it will not replace established traditional reporting and media. For what builds and conveys authority are a number of factors that the Servant Media model and Real-Time don’t support: consistency; context; ethics; journalistic independence; and most of all accountablity.

These factors depend upon time for reflection. Time also means money. The quality of writing and consistency depends upon the contributors and editors and the only way to maintain that is paid quality staff and freelancers. Without substantive editorial work, the signal to noise ratio becomes onerous for the audience. Even focussed Servant Media outlets can become cluttered with repetition, poor grammar, personal attacks and the same loud voices (not necessarily interesting or informed ones) shouting over and over.

The fact is that most people don’t have the time and certainly don’t have the contacts or the ability to piece all of this information together for themselves.

I imagine that even the most libertarian Servant Model proponent, suspect of any centralization, still read and rely upon the Wall Street Journal and watch CNN when it comes to their investments.

The abdication of judgement, editorial and responsibility may work for a pure communication tools–an instant messaging system for example. But it is judgement that is consistently well exercised that builds up reputation and authority of any kind of media outlet. Technology systems by themselves are not good at this kind of accountability. There’s too much nuance and context involved. God knows Amazon can’t even give you a decent book recommendation, never mind filter for truth or what’s really important to you to know. Trust needs to build in order for readers and audiences to convey authority to an outlet. Anonymity is of limited use in building trust because independence cannot be ascertained.

Anonymity is sometimes useful in questioning authority. And so the highest use of the Servant Outlets will be as watchdogs. It may even be a good idea for traditional outlets, to all have a servant web component running alongside them to keep them honest.

Heard any good stories lately?

Getting there is the story

Saturday, July 1st, 2000

I wrote this piece about digital entertainment and indie creative art or entertainment in 2001. The entertainment/art biz has been parenting like The Great Santini for too long, and too many artists have acted like children when it comes to the money or support side of what we do. I think we’re really entering a new phase where, at least the artists, are learning to understand the business side. It really doesn’t make you less of a creative person. At the heart of any artist, of any human being really, is the desire to communicate. Some of us just want to communicate or share with larger numbers of people. What is called “business” is part of what allows us to do that. If we do it in the same way we make our creative work, and see and allow the others we deal with to be whole people, then it doesn’t have to be a completely inhumane and slimy endeavour. Honest. Remaking the way we do business (i.e. the way we treat each other) is perhaps the thing that our culture needs the most. It requires the most creative minds and hearts we have.

There are two parts to the Digital Entertainment equation. The How and the What. How means the method by which entertainment is created, distributed, shared or played. What refers to the content and form of the Digital Entertainment itself.

Right now, 99% of the collective time and attention of anyone working in the Internet business is directed at the How. Blessed are the Toolmakers, for they have certainly inherited. How is where the big money is. That’s true now and for the foreseeable future. Even those who get into the game for the What generally have their energies re-directed to the How. This is because:

  1. it’s not economically viable, and
  2. because the How is unavoidably intertwined in the very creation of the What.

The How and the What are bound together like grumpy siblings who have to share a bunk bed. Their relationship, colored by mistrust, love, and bickering affects every realm of the new Digital Entertainment world: investment, creation, business culture, audiences, and the experience of the digital entertainment itself.

“Your turn to take the top bunk.”

“No, you.”

  1. Investment

    The people who are leading investment in the New Economy are far more interested in the How than the What. The growth is quicker. How is systems built with an eye toward recurring revenues. Pipes can be used for anything digital, including entertainment. That means an investment can be leveraged across many uses and provide something that (it is presumed) will only become more important over time as it’s used. It also means that the How investment will be valuable without What. It can do well simply connecting people for communication or any other digital activity.

    How includes the access experience, hardware, and connectivity, and services that Digital Entertainment flows through. How is about infrastructure. How is about big multiples. How is an entertainment experience in itself to those who really love technology for its own sake.

    Problem is, that most of the world doesn’t and won’t love it for its own sake. They love it for what it can do. In terms of entertainment, they use it to get them some What. As Hank Barry, Napster’s CEO recently testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the people love their music. Ten million Napster fiends can’t be wrong. So the What availability (eg. good music) can really drive the growth of a How business (e.g. Napster).

    How is the locus of growth, dynamism and energy. It is the system that grows with a “network effect.” That’s the name of the business game now. Momentum. But the traditional entertainment business is a hits driven business. Value comes from volume of sales, rather than the pace of growth or expansion. It’s a mature business, and the only place of it to grow really fast, is in the direction of technology: the How.

    Lots and lots of entertainment is developed or acquired so these more traditional What companies can recoup through an Eminem, or Britney Spears or Sixth Sense. The investments in scripts or signed artists can be of a similar size as the initial Sandhill Investments but they make far less money for their investors in the short run. The nature of a How investment is a belief it can bring in recurring revenues or that it develops some kind of other ongoing relationship with its customer base. How investments seem appealing to the What players as well, though they tend to get uncomfortable if they don’t make dollars they can hold in their hands.

    What is a taste business. That freaks any Sandhill guy out of his Dockers. Taste seems dangerously close to feelings. Aesthetics. Very bad predictability. Doesn’t fit into Powerpoint charts easily. How investments are driven by people who are, at brain, technologists and who are all about valuations. Hollywood investments are driven by people who are, at heart, tastemakers and revenue business people.

    Investments in How that are specifically targeted at Digital Entertainment, need to be sure that some good What can get through it. If you’re going to invest in a What maker, then you need to make sure it can reach an Audience. Or you keep betting that a future form of How will really take off (broadband, wireless, Interactive TV) and then you’ll be set.

    The risk of the How business, is that you can own a perfectly good How system that can be rendered irrelevant or circumvented by a newer How system (just as portals were overtaken by desktop applications, then by distributed aggregators and now peer sharing systems). Conversely, good What has amazing staying power. Neither sets of investors, believe they have any good reason to lay many bets on creators of Digital Entertainment. That’s because other new How systems enable the digitizing and distribution of existing What and new independently created What. The world has a lot of What hanging around.

    So given the reality that there is no good short-term investment incentive to create new digital entertainment.

  2. Creation: Even Companies need a Day Job

    If you want to make a show that you can distribute through the Internet, then you have to figure out how to make that show. What tools to use. What connectivity is. You can’t just make the show and forget about the tools. You have to deal with an audience at different levels of connectivity on different platforms. Yes, you have to learn your platforms. Your meetings can’t just focus on narrative or characters or gags. You have to be worried about the available helper apps.

    There are no new Digital Entertainment studios (in the traditional sense of the studio) and there will be none. Companies will also have to operate like the independent artist who waits tables and gigs at clubs at night.

    Pixar, Smashing Ideas and Mondomedia all did or do fee for service work until they can cobble enough of their own time together to finish their own creative work or build an audience. (which the digital era does make possible..even easy..given that all of these How players are thrilled to jettison free What through their systems).

    Perhaps it’s for the best. As Virginia Woolf said, “it is doubtful whether poetry can come out of an incubator. Poetry ought to have a mother as well as a father.”

    So, not having the creation of one’s initial digital entertainment pieces “developed” with the financing of another can be a very good thing. The tools and materials one needs are getting cheaper and more powerful (eg. Apple’s iMovie). The acquisition direction gives the work a clearer voice, and greater ownership and control for the artists and less creative risk for What companies since they’ll know what they’re getting when they acquire something or support it through their systems. The creators of digital entertainment that have some momentum (remember, the new How system of value) will get considered for acquisition or support.

    Pixar has begun to make this transition, and is the clear leader at this point in this new era of digital entertainment. Hardware, software and more traditional storytelling and aesthetic concerns combine to make their creative work. In all cases the cash comes from traditional distribution through television or film or packaged goods and merchandise.

  3. Business Culture: “It’s Netscape meets Pretty Woman.”

    Some kind of cultural merging between the lands of How and What is critical if the idea of “convergence,” getting entertainment and technology to work together, is ever going to happen properly for people who want to watch and hear it easily. That would mean paying attention to what is easy and pleasing, and communicating your product, service or entertainment for the audience. This is the domain of the What people. Apart from Apple, Silicon Valley has pretty much abdicated the world of marketing, packaging and aesthetics, and feelings: the heart of the entertainment experience. There is nary a decent corned beef sandwich to be found in the lands of technology (Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston). A great loss.

    But the emphasis on partnership in the How world, and the ability to execute whilst planning details are being worked out, these How tenets are critical to the future of Digital Entertainment.

  4. Audiences

    How and What mindsets in terms of audience are essentially different.

    How Ventures setting out to make successful software, web sites, web services, hardware or networked systems all think about creating something that will empower or serve as many individuals as possible. The Entertainment Industry, on the other hand, has evolved by creating entertainment and business models focussed on pleasing large masses of people. Those infamous tushes in the seats. Not any more humane a sort of nomenclature than “eyeballs,” the Internet term, but an absolutely different orientation than thinking about user experience. The What business has also developed a healthy “niche market” approach as well, with more targeted marketing and more specific and (sometimes) original storytelling.

    The Digital Entertainment era is about a unique combination of both mindsets. Access and manipulation of the entertainment will affect the experience of it and who gets to experience it. “Viral marketing” (really just a newfangled term for “word of mouth”) considerations are now often built into the design of mini-shows or greeting cards online, in order to encourage one person to pass a piece of digital entertainment on to another. With the explosion of peer-to-peer (or distributed serving–see part 2 of my Copyright infringement piece for more on this) distribution, Counterkulture, a small Canadian start-up, will be using peer to peer to try a kind of superdistribution. Seeding packets of digital entertainment with full tv-style ads in the middle. File swapping and copying are presumed by their business model.

    The Digital Entertainment audience is everyone and individual at the same time. Technologists, who tend to be the captains of How ventures could profit greatly from working hand in hand with What people who understand and value clear communication, emotionality and aesthetics, which make up ease of use.

  5. Experience

    This is what audiences are now expected to do with Digital Entertainment. Sure, sometimes it’s just about reading, hearing or seeing bits rather than analog versions of the same stuff. The forms we know and love will endure. But “experience” implies all of those, plus action of some kind. It’s an obvious choice of words for a technologist like Paul Allen to name his gift of music celebration “The Experience Music Project” which definitely has a different ring to it than “The Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame.”

    But the unique aspects of Digital Entertainment are those bound up in the tool, the connectivity, the How. The audience experience is now drifting towards action. The tools aspects and audience control make it a non-linear thing. There is, after all, a huge palette of sounds and images and filmed pieces and clips to work with. Is it any wonder that music has moved to hip-hop, sampling and now turntablism, which more than a pastiche focusses the experience of the What of the deftness of tool usage.

    USA Today recently named the most popular mp3 on the Net an independently mixed song Oops, the Real Slim Shady Did It Again (DJ Gauffie Remix) which combines the current Top Ten hits of Eminem and Britney Spears in a kind of musical Smackdown. Eminem who professes in his song to hate Britney Spears has his same rap sugar coated by the music and beat of the unavoidable Britney Spears tune. Made and sent out with How systems, obtained over the Net through more How systems.

    What is stuck in the top bunk. But as they grow up, How and What will realize that they have become more and more dependent on one another. Even if you don’t get along, at the end of the day, you’re still family.

The Titanic: The Music Business

Saturday, July 1st, 2000

Napster. Mergers. Lay-offs. The traditional music business is like the Titanic. There’s a beautiful orchestra playing. There is chablis. But the water is coming in slowly. There is less and less room on the boat.

The start-up lifeboats are small, spare and cold. They are full of strangers, who are not so well dressed. No one is sure who’s steering them or which way they’re going in the new music waters. But hell, everyone’s in it together and there’s no Celine Dion soundtrack to endure.

Executives are beginning to jump ship. A group of them traded anecdotes at the recent mp3 summit in San Diego. Liz Brooks, then a senior record label executive, was staying at the Four Seasons in New York with her boss, a big macher (they still speak Yiddish on the Titanic). They are in rooms 201 and 202. He decided to schedule a lunch meeting with her. So he did the simplest thing he could think of: called his secretary in LA, and had her ring Liz up to make the necessary arrangements. When you’re a macher, you don’t make your lunch dates yourself.

The old music life was full of crazy personalities and charming characters, people whose power and eccentricities were endured, or even celebrated, because of their “golden ears.” Personal contacts are key to a power base in that business. In fact, they are often the sum total of a persons value and job. Lunch can make or break you. It led former VP or A&R at Virgin Records, Danny Goodwin, to conclude that, “Some of the most successful people in the music industry have no [quantifiable] skills that you can really put your finger on.”

The Music Titanic was also full of window offices, assistants, 11:00am start times, expense accounts and limo rides. It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears and a world where the company picks up the tab at the strip bar or for the Sega Genesis if its done in the name of signing a band. “I was living a rock star life, by trying to sign rocks stars” says Ray Santamaria who worked A&R for Interscope for years and is now at

It’s cush and glamorous, but it’s also a world of ass-kissing and cutthroat office politics. It’s a mature business. Innovation comes rarely and slowly. You need to be attached to a hit to be perceived as having value. People say that maybe 5% of A&R guys ever get attached to a hit, so the posturing is intense. Goodwin observes, “you’d have better odds up at Vegas.”

It can be crazy-making. “I was tired of having companies tell me that ‘this demo sucks’ and then six months later watch the President sign [them], and cut me out of it,” admitted Santamaria, who found at 30 that he couldn’t keep up. “I’m too old. I’m tired of going out all the time.”

Angela Garcia, now at, described how she was pushed over the edge: Her mentor who once taught her “everything about artist development” and looking at the long-term later responded to a decision in her marketing plan: ‘This is not about art. This is about making money!’ “You can do it on their own then,” she replied. “Because I don’t want to be here anymore.”

Weary of bureaucracy and disconnecting with powerful label players who said things like “Moby is fucking weird and the album can’t sell it’s way out of a paper bag.” Liz Brooks, a sort of Molly Brown for the music crowd took the splash and made for the head lifeboat in the pack. Before she jumped, she asked herself: “This is going to be what you make of it. But do you want to be in the past or in the future?” She is now VP of Marketing at the infamous Napster.

Despite frustrations and shortcomings on the ship, leaving was difficult for most hitmakers those who love working with artists and who earned their herb-encrusted baguette through their contacts in the system they knew best. Santamaria admits, “it’s a frightening proposition to go to the New Economy.”

Goodbye Lunch, Hello Breakfast

“There wasn’t exactly a big support group there for us on the other side.” said Joe Fleischer, of (née HITS Magazine). “The music industry is genuinely afraid and threatened [by] what the technology industry has done. Liz and I talked about it five times a day for two months, bolstering each others’ confidence.”

Frightening as it was–they jumped. And found the waters can be cold. Liz discovered that “there’s definitely a difference in the cush factor.” At Sony Music she had an office with a view in NY and LA, and jetted between them both in high style. At Napster, she shares a room with 12 other people. But she is excited about the opportunities to deal with something other than the status quo. And most of all the self-jurisdiction that makes decision-making sweet and easy. “We don’t have to look to EMI, who looks to Time Warner, who looks to AOL. We own the company.”

Geoff Siegel, who left Giant, a Warner Brothers label for Emusic was stunned by the request to be on a conference call at 7:30am. An hour that didn’t even register on the radar screen of his previous life. “I’m just going to bed [then]. I’m just crawling in.” He has no assistant or first class travel. But he found, he says with his tongue in cheek, “I can fax now, by myself.”

Instead of Yiddish and deal-talk, they speak geek in the new boats. Danny Goodwin, now at Supertracks, carefully shows off his new vocabulary “I was given a laptop and a docking station, a port replicator.” he tells me. “Now I use this to plug into my Universal Serial Bus and away I go.” Danny spells out these words slowly, like an anglophone careful to heavily enunciate his enchilada order to a Mexican waiter.

Goodwin, whose assistant used to have to open his Word documents for him when he was at Virgin, now finds himself expected to use Powerpoint. Yes my friends, you have to row the lifeboats.

The common focus on work, rather than nothing but personality is liberating to these folks. It’s a world that forgives failure. And there’s plenty of work to be done, which makes it a sea of opportunity and stewardship.

“I’ve been talking to these guys from and everybody’s smart and their nice and they’re motivated, and I thought that’d be a nice change from the music industry.” said Fleischer. “[It’s] absolutely the best thing I ever did.”

Though a recent casualty of the Emusic lay-offs, Geoff Siegel remains a fan of the new music world: “I went from a place where all they said was no, to a place where all they said was yes.”

Santamaria is equally enthusiastic–“I’ll give up my steak-dinners and first-class flights to own a piece of the company any day.” There is universal agreement about equity participation. And Fleischer pointed out that the stock-options are the only part of the jump that the old colleagues on the Titanic understand. The new life-preserver.

Ironic Waters

These new passengers-cum-sailors will find, if they stick around in the Internet waters long enough, that they will have to navigate some icebergs of their own. They have been hired to “interface” as their new culture would put it–with the old music business. Now it is their turn to sit on the other side of the desk and persuade the people on the Titanic that the Net is a place of opportunity. It is their turn to shake their heads in frustration with people who “don’t get it.” They now have someone lower on the technological chain than they are.

In fact, the dangerous new waters may start to feel strangely familiar.

The new Internet music waters has its own versions of irrational power-brokers. Only this time they wear denim shirts and Dockers instead of Prada and ponytails.

And the personal assistant is a piece of technology rather than a young something gunning for your job, but it’s just as difficult to get it to work. Communication gets just as intermediated, but with a new twist. The Internet world is full of companies that make technology that is supposed to make the world better. They all try and use their own tools, but are often hampered by them because they don’t always work. But here in the Net waters, we have the determination to use technologies, even if they’re going to kill us. I’ve seen one-room start-ups with eight people who cannot send e-mail to each other. If the network is down, no one can do anything. You can’t even send a stupid written document from desk to desk. You have to go home and send it through a server on the opposite coast.

And in the new waters, data must be generated in the name of quantifiable skills. If it isn’t in Powerpoint, it just isn’t real. Want to make a point? Generate email. Want to do more than a good job, but be perceived as doing a good job, even when the start-up is veering from one course to the next? Make charts and timelines. Instead of face-time one must generate data.

The new sailors have also traded in one version of a hectic pace and youth culture for another. Danny Goodwin noted “It’s gone from a New York minute to a Silicon Valley second.” And while the A&R people may gotten burned out going out all the time, they may start to miss the old work life. At least they got out. The new hours are longer, and they’re generally put in inside attached to a keyboard.

And while all this data and new skills add sanity, they also belie the fact that it is something as subjective as those “golden ears” that really steers the new boat: market value. The new machers may not have an office on the 30th floor, in fact they may not even be in your building, but a company can turn 180 degrees at the whim of the next investor’s fancy. And the market can be as fickle or lemming-like as the public that eats up manufactured boy groups or decides it wants the Macarena all at once. Nurturing talent and creative Internet businesses takes can take the same tireless advocacy to support a favourite, unique band.

If they’re leaving the traditional music business because decision-makers say things like “this is not about art, this is about making money,” it will be interesting to see how they adapt to a world that, even if it wants to be about the artist, is primarily driven by rapid growth and exit opportunities.

So bon voyage and hold onto your compass. Welcome to the new music waters. It’s only a 3 hour tour.

Pay attention

Thursday, June 1st, 2000

In the advertising spirit, I have written each of these commentaries in advertising length.

  1. Advertising traditionally consists of two things: having something to communicate and the act of communicating that something to an audience.
  2. The more intangible products and services are, the more indistinguishable advertising will be from what they do, and the more likely the product or service itself can be used as its own advertisement.
  3. Before you put out an ad, ask yourself, what is the point? Who cares? A lot of lives could be saved that way.
  4. SEX!
  5. This sentence is less interesting than the last one.
  6. Should the audience choose to respond to the advertising with something other than dollars, the advertiser has the option of listening or ignoring the audience. If the advertiser listens and engages in conversation, are they still advertising?
  7. Would you rather speak to the person at the party who wants to sell you something, or to the person who wants to talk to you?
  8. The inverse of the amount of energy spent shmoozing equals the degree to which one believes in the Genuine.
  9. We all believe we are Genuine.
  10. “A man is not a piece of fruit. Attention must be paid!”
  11. I was extolling the virtues of Karen Carpenter and her SoCal, rec room flavour of music hope at a party the other night, when I was challenged for my apparent lack of taste. So tired. So square. What the hell could I possibly find appealing in her? Karen had a beautiful voice that was so damned earnest. Not packaged ‘N Sync earnestness or self aware, camped-up, ironic earnest (nudge, nudge, wink wink), but the real deal. “Who else is earnest?” I challenged my friends (GenXrs®), “Name me one pop figure.”
  12. When the advertisement moves too far away from the thing it represents the product will be forgotten, but it’s name will live forever.
  13. There were once three free television channels. No one had heard of cable or the idea of paying for television. We all watched the same thing and went to school the next day and talked about it.
  14. One of my clearest memories of playing with my sister when I was about 10, was the time that we spent compsing our own commercials in the bathtub or in front of the bathroom mirror. I now recall these spontaneous pitch sessions with embarassment, but at the time it seemed so cool to show an imaginary audience the incredible way that a potion (ie. water) could clean something.
  15. As I got older, and took an animation class in college, I found out that my beloved Schoolhouse Rock Saturday morning experiences had been created by advertising executives. This was one of the few times when the creativity and form of memorable jingles and snappy sound bites was put to the good civic use of teaching kids about math, science, English and Civics. To this day, I can’t remember a thing I was told in high school, but I do know the functions of a conjunction.
  16. The thrill of artifice

  17. Television commercials are the first spiritual life lesson: ordinary things can be extraordinary.
  18. How can we criticize unreality when we love it so much?
  19. The two most fascinating things I learned working on television commercials were that:
    • a water truck was necessary to hose down the roads before a car was ever filmed driving on them, and
    • a mixture of beer and epsom salts can be painted on glass to give it that wintry, iced-over look
  20. The saddest thing I learned working on television commercials, all came from the directives given by the agency producer. This included the notion that a saxophone playing on a sound track could apparantly make a Cadillac commercial seem “too Black.”
  21. In advertising, a saxophone is never just a saxophone.
  22. The agony of the teat…

  23. Attention is the new currency in our economy.
  24. As more items and companies compete for the attentions and affections of an audience, the more often the advertising prospects of those items and products are valued as the prospects of the items and products themselves.
  25. The more the product is based on its advertising prospects, the shorter the life of the product, though that short life may burn very brightly.
  26. The Kato Kaelin effect: the more crowded the attention marketplace, the less the quality of that attention matters.
  27. Individuals have long established their “value” through the amount of attention paid to entire products and companies do the same.
  28. Just as the institution of individual celebrity has produced Zsa Zsa Gabor, the institution of business has produced the Dot Com.
  29. Advertising reached its modern era, self-consciousness and has begun to move into its post-modern era. The form has become far more visible and memorable than the substance. The Internet shifts advertising meaning by changing its context for each reader each time its seen.
  30. It is a greater validation of one’s ability to be perceived saleably and “endorsed” by product association, than to be evaluated in terms of accomplishment.
  31. Artificiality now works best when dressed as itself.
  32. From hard sell to soft sell to no sell

  33. Chosen sampling promises a form of honest advertising? A mark of product pride will be the small size of an advertising budget. This is nothing new. Kiehl’s has done it for over 100 years, but intangible products make it easier and cheaper.
  34. What’s the difference between advertising and information?
  35. The greatest stupidity of using sexualized women in your business advertising to attract men, is that this expression makes clear to a female audience that they are presumably invisible and therefore have no meaningful buying presence. See Network Associates Billboard Ad on the 101.
  36. Companies that are founded on the presumption that advertisers will love them should remember that they need to make something that is first and foremost for real people, not advertisers. The worst transgressors are all the developers of Interactive TV programming and the Bay Area company that makes a box that will make the Internet smell.
  37. Internet Myths and Lessons

  38. “We’ll charge less than anyone else for products, and make up the difference in advertising.”
  39. “Our marketing plan? We’re counting on a lot of word of mouth.”
  40. Let’s get something straight: the idea of “word of mouth” or “viral marketing” did not begin with Hotmail. It was not invented by a venture capitalist (no matter what they might say). It began long before the Net or even this century. It probably all started when one of our ancestors told another about a particularly nice shady spot to lie in.
  41. The stuff that gets energy online and spreads, that gets “the viral effect” if you will, is stuff that is participatory and works for people. The less advertising-oriented, and the more action-based the venture is, the more Genuine it seems, often becasue these are really the creation of new kinds of venues for people to comuncate with ech other in new ways: Shoutcast, Napster, the San Francisco-based Craig’s List community, Slashdot. All of these entities listen, and all have meaningful followings.
  42. Technologists tend to value form of delivery over content.
  43. Individually, the Dot Com ads were bad enough, but thrust upon the public as a whole, they were almost enough to put people off of the Internet completely. They came off like the adult inhabitants of a Charlie Brown special….”wahh wahh whawa waadotcom.” Who could tell one company or product or idea from the next? Who cared?
  44. VCs and investment banks may believe that poorly spent, huge advertising budgets were the reason for the Internet bubble burting. They’re partly right.
  45. VCs and investment bankers may believe that its impossible to establish a consumer brand with a new company and get a 50x ROI in 2 years, therefore it’s not worth investing in companies concerned with consumer, or rather, customer interests. They’re partly right.
  46. You can think of unmet people as potental friends or enemies. You can think of a faceless audience as Consumers or Customers, or even as people.
  47. VCs and investment bankers may believe that advertising that works is advertising that works with them. They’d be completely wrong.
  48. To technology advertisers: less is more.
  49. Can you remember a single banner ad you saw while surfing the web?
  50. Tomorrow and tomorrow

  51. Brands will become the entertainment labels of the future, Hallmark has had it’s own television production company for ages…
  52. Global brands will begin to take on the costs of the nation-state. Whether or not they will take on the responsibilities remains to be seen.
  53. Advertisements will soon give you something. You’ll be able to suck down little entertainment or informational or service testing packets from bus shelters, posters and billboards. Voluntarily choose your prosepctive advertising menu and sample it at your leisure.
  54. A 24/7 “Best of” commercials channel will appear on cable TV or the web. And it will have “new and different” commercials mixed in.
  55. Engineers think marketing is witchcraft.
  56. Marketers find technology mystical.
  57. It won’t just be the big athletic and entertainment stars that receive “endorsements” average people will be paid to wear branded merchandise too.
  58. All advertising is PR. Executives would rather spend money on it…it takes care of something many of them are uncomfortable with..comunicating feelings and image.
  59. The free market will continue to create anti-advertising products and companies.
  60. At some point, the majority of the U.S. work force will be employed in advertising work of some kind.
  61. Advertising is the only form of permissible emotion in the corporate world.
  62. Advertising to international markets is likely to make Americans more aware of other cultures than anything else.
  63. Without discipline, the amount of free mental space you have expands, depending upon the amount of advertising there is to consume.
  64. There will be a rash of marketing-based incubators that create emotional communities and products. None of them will start with the letter “e.”
  65. Some new media storytelling and “content,” like will write advertising into its story lines in ways that are consistent with the values and stories of the storytellers…an attempt to combine the Sponsored with the Genuine.
  66. Corporate communication is an oxymoron.

bear market

Monday, May 1st, 2000

my darling of indispensability and indivisibility,
the walls crumble before you like jericho
those herald angels in before the war
how easy then
the call is future and
and never call


Saturday, April 1st, 2000

Many people begin careers in many places in the entertainment business out of a passion for storytelling, or music. They want to further a desire to touch others. Connect on a deep level. Create, dare I say it, Art.

There is a moment in any career in the entertainment business when you begin to refer to records or film as “units” or “product.” As in, “the Springsteen product hasn’t done well for us on a cash flow basis, since 1986.”

Your willingness to commodify the subject of the business corresponds to the level of respect you’re afforded by its decision-makers. The novel you’re adapting into a film may have been your passionate dream for years, but if you actually want something to come of it on the screen, you’re going to have to show how it puts “tushes in seats.” And if the player with the greenlight ability says get that shmuck out of here,” everyone knows what he means.

Despite all of the number and bottom line talk, almost anyone in “the business” would acknowledge that one of the reasons executives are hired, and fired, is because of their taste. Beyond an understanding of salable elements and connections to talent (otherwise known as writers, actors and directors) an individual’s likes and dislikes are all part of the package of valued skills an entertainment executive brings her job.

In Silicon Valley, entertainment is touchy, feely risk stuff. Photographs, music, animations, videos, poetry, and stories are otherwise known by that catch-all, meatloaf-like term “content.” Its brevity is convenient, but I suspect that one of the collateral benefits to those who coined its new use, is the way the word could be included as a line item in a Web business plan without raising too many eyebrows.

As the Web developed, traditional entertainment got lumped in with SEC filings, stock quotes, weather feeds and maps-all named content by the new Valley rules. The more the Web content is tied to functionality, the more comfortable Web business people are paying for it. Like the technology they are used to developing, it provides a clear value proposition.

In Silicon Valley, companies will aggregate and search content. These venture-backed start-ups will create players and media applications that allow you to view, parse, send, share, slice, chop and copy content, but do not want to create it themselves. What’s more they don’t really want to pay to own or license it either. Techsters think that entertainment should be freely available to demo their beautiful technology.

It’s not really surprising. If you took a cultural tour through Silicon Valley, you’d be hard pressed to find a thriving artistic life. This is a place where the highlights of movie-going include the opportunity to give a shout out to your technology product placement, or publicly play with your laser pointer during the trailers.

It makes sense that the modern directory, the aggregator or portal (depending upon whichever buzzword you fancy) was once the prize jewel of the Internet industry. It has the gleeful appeal of appearing to give something for nothing. “We don’t have to write anything, produce anything” these portal executives might think, “we just have to point to it.”

Web dollars went into buying and building little bits of functionality that, VCs bet, the average Internet user will employ over and over again. Like free email and instant messaging. These players have been positioning themselves (they believe, and their numerous investors fervently hope) to be the content infrastructure.

In many ways, it’s a wise and obvious play for now. To extend Steve Jobs’ honest observation about Microsoft, the technology industry is taste-challenged. For now, the Web has discovered something that’s working now, in the market of Web potential: “free content.” It has come upon us in the form of chat, personal home pages and now photo albums. All things community. “We just have the toolset,” the techsters say. We have the server farm. We grow the branches and then the masses will come and hang their fruit.

As Cisco is to the physical Internet tree, so shall we, the portals and communities, be to the informative and entertaining end game. Who needs tushes when you’ve got eyeballs and investors. And if Microsoft Word doesn’t know what a shmuck is, why should I?

Infrastructure. it’s all about infrastructure. One of these days, you’re going to have to put a car on that gleaming road, Ladies and Gentlemen of the information superhighway. And it’s going to have a cost.

True Value

Saturday, January 1st, 2000

Thirty, yet so erudite
Moved by love and
Moved by spite
Sworn to be someone’s white knight
Ready at 13.

Faced by such a daunting plight
To judge on sight
Or hold on tight
Learned to always greet a fight
for fun or loyalty.

With science he did learn to kite
To soar upon the wings of might
Commerce flies at lower heights
He glides there in the green.

In lower powers. Still some nights
finds music, art, his heart alights:
a hidden poets soul delights.
And there I find his green.

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