Saturday, March 29, 2008

Take "Free Public Wifi" to the next level

Here is an interesting post about a viral SSID

The idea is that a windows box that can't find a wireless connection will become the first node in an ad hoc network with SSID "Free Public Wifi". Others join, setting the SSID in their preferred list. So it spreads virally despite no connection to the net.

This is very interesting.

I'd like this to be taken to the next level, and I'm sure many of those searching for some entertainment on the internet while stranded in the airport would agree.

Why not actually use the ad hoc network for connecting socially or playing games? Wouldn't it be a lovely parting gift from a failed attempt to connect the the internet to be able to play a WLAN game or chat with someone?

This is something mobile game consoles understand, often with the build in ability to battle people nearby.

Location based wired interactions like this are very young. We'll undoubtedly see more of it.

So a few trends put together probably make a winner: casual gaming + the social net + ad hoc location based networks.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How to hack together a Y Combinator application

Tipjoy was funded by Y Combinator. The program is excellent, mainly because of the quality of the people accepted. The alumni network will prove to be the most valuable part of the program.

The YC applications are due and you should apply. The application will help crystallize your ideas because it is actually an excellent product design tool. I liked it so much I did it twice.

The deadline is fast approaching. I've been told that the best a surprising number of good people apply late - that's you. Here is how to hack together an application very quickly.


Write the answers to all the questions quickly. It should take 20 minutes or less. Get anything and everything on the page. Then the important part happens: EDIT.

Editing is a very under-appreciated writing skill. I think this stems from the way we think about writing in school - a '5 page essay' is due, and so quantity is mistaken for quality.

Once you've written down everything you could possibly want to say, whittle it down by removing all extraneous phrases. Often you can remove the first few words of paragraphs, which are usually statements like 'in my opinion' or something equivalently useless. Don't use obscure words. Don't use marketing language - just plainly describe things like you would to a friend.


Build a demo.

They're looking for real hackers: people that have built things. In the application, write about the cool things you've built.

Haven't built anything yet? Build a demo. Now.


Talking through an idea is a fundamental product design tool. Make a pitch, one that involves walking through a demo, and give it to your friends. This is primarily for the interview, but it will help you application in the same way writing helps.

Expressing ideas in different modalities makes them better. This is like trying to learn something. If you have a set of vocabulary words or chemical formulas, it helps to first read them, then read them aloud, write them on note cards to practice, etc. That's sight, sound, and touch. I've been told adding an association to some smell, for example an orange, also helps.

So write about your idea, talk about your idea. Smell your ideas. If they stink, throw them out.

We made this pitch into a fun night. We invited a few friends over, bought them some pizza and beer, and pitched to them. This practice was absolutely invaluable. Our pitch changed 180 degrees from the first time we practiced in front of friends to our interview.

Friday, March 21, 2008

YC applications are due - 3 questions to ask yourself

YC applications are due soon! In case you're on the fence, here are some reasons you should join us:

1. Do you love being interviewed? If you're the type of person who's favorite part of a job was the interview process, you should start your own company, because having a startup is like constantly being interviewed, which is fun. Also, many people may know that feeling of excitement and hope when they start a new job - the hope that 'this one will be different'. Well, unfortunately, it probably won't, not unless it's your own company or I guess a very small new startup. (I have no experience with this but I hope it is different since we're going to be hiring soon!) From talking to my friends who have been and are at other big name tech companies, it doesn't sound like my experiences have been unique.

2. Have you ever wanted to do other people's jobs at your company - to get a chance to improve your skills and do stuff you're not already an expert at? At my previous jobs, I was hired to do the thing I was best at. All the stuff I was second best at was done by other people who's jobs it were to just do those things. At a startup, you need to do it all. So you are able to hone ALL your skills, not just those which are already the sharpest.

3. Do you want to really experience a 'fast-paced environment'? When I worked for other people, we always had a ton of work and everyone was always running around like chickens without heads. Still, products took ages to get to market, were always delayed, and always had about 1/10 of the features they were supposed to. So, although I was busy, it felt like progress was slow. When you work for yourself, every single thing your company makes will be made exactly how you want it to be, and the only limit on your pace is yourself.

I forgot to add my #4 reason - excuse to eat a yummy ramen lunch: Use only about 2 cm of water in a pan, and put in 2 ramen noodles with 1 flavor packet. Put in a bag of baby spinach, or a bushel of kale, and cover to steam the veggies. Finally, mix in an egg. YUM.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

newspapers: not necessarily doomed

Response from August 10 to Henry Blodget post about doomed newspapers:

There are two aspects to what we think of as a "newspaper": the physical medium and the content aggregation of mainstream print journalism.

The physical medium of paper is in many ways superior to our current generation of displays. It won't go away until we have daylight readable 20000:1 contrast-ratio flexible displays. That doesn't mean the print-newspaper business isn't doomed. Subscription numbers are in a nose dive, and still have a long way to fall.

Yet the aggregation of mainstream print journalism via a different medium still has a chance for success. The killer app for mainstream media is producing quality content. Bloggers can't support foreign offices, for example. Micheal Yon, Micheal Totten and other "embedded bloggers" are the exceptions that prove the rule. Distributed locality where you don't need a correspondent in, say, Beijing because Chinese Bloggers cover it, only partially solves this. There is something to be said for an expert outsider reporting news & trends.

So newspapers aren't necessarily screwed. If there were a way to directly support good content proportional to its value, good written journalism provided by online newspapers could survive and even thrive. The high hurdles of subscription and premium content and the indirect path of ad revenue aren't good enough. The article is right about the numbers.

I'm working on a startup that would allow a distributed set of people to directly support online content. In this way, newspapers could evolve to become aggregations of professional bloggers and journalists, providing high quality content for a profit.

Friday, March 7, 2008

In your experience... all good companies have a second tier follower shouting 'me too' constantly?

We'll just take it as a compliment.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tipping Experiment

Aaron at 26 Econ is running an interesting experiment, asking people to rate how much they would tip each post, and has a few amounts available. There is no money transfered, it is just a test.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A succinct definition of web2.0

"Web 2.0, a phrase popularized by conference organizer Tim O'Reilly, refers to the current generation of Web sites that seek to turn viewers into contributors by giving them tools to write, post, comment and upload their own creative work."

This nice definition comes from a Reuters article which reports that participation in online communities is lower than expected. It does not speculate why this may be.

Low participation could be due to the fact that there is a high barrier to community contribution - making a video, writing a blog post, even taking and uploading a picture takes creativity and, above all, time. Tipping provides a simple and easy alternative way to contribute to your community.

(originally posted August 28, 2007)

Monday, March 3, 2008

The micropayments challenge

(Originally posted August 28, 2007)

The New York Times recently published this article about micropayments: In Online World, Pocket Change Is Not Easily Spent.

I'm surprised that no one is talking about how all current schemes of micropayments have made it so that payment is mandatory. Requiring people to pay before reading an article or listening to a song is one thing, while letting people choose whether or not something was worth their money, after they're free to use it, is another.
From the NYT article: "...a large newspaper could sell subscriptions that would allow its readers to download music from iTunes or Rhapsody, read articles from regional papers, and watch movies and TV shows from YouTube or Comedy Central."

This sounds like bribery to me - read our paper and you can have some free music. Instead of treating their readership like children, we should instead treat them with respect. Allow customers to choose what content is worth paying for.

Again, from the NYT article: " "Open loop" systems, where the consumer pays many merchants through a single payments processor — the way micropayments were originally envisioned — are much less successful. "To date, the market has said there is insufficient demand for these services," concluded a research report Mercator published in April."

We take this as a challenge.

We believe that turning micorpayments on their head - making paying voluntary rather than compulsory - will be the key differentiator between ourselves and those who have come before us.

Just because something hasn't been successful before does not mean it is not possible. There is a time and a place for everything. Combine that with a thoughtful execution and you will succeed.

The fact that up until now micropayment systems haven't worked is due to many cultural factors. Right now there are more people online than ever before, and they are online in an interactive and shared environment. They are not just trolls, they are contributors to communities. They don't want to pay in order to receive content, but they want to give back, develop and support their communities. The time is right for micropayment tipping.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

on free content

In the last half of 2007 Ivan and I had a movable type blog. When we switched Tipjoy servers, it came down and hasn't yet made it back up. There was some interesting content on that blog, and I'd like to repost it here. I'm going to start reposting a few of the old blog posts if I feel they're still relevant and interesting. Here's the first. Originally posted on October 10, 2007:

Content thrives when free. When people push their work out into the world, the long tail finds them. Fans come out of the woodwork.

Free content enables creators to be successful without making it to the 'top 10' universe. For example, the online publishing revolution has given everyone the tools to write, and with these there has been an explosion of freely available personal journals, professional bloggers, non-fiction authors, and digital fiction literature.

The result is two-fold: not only can a few previously obscure writers can rise to fame based soley on the quality of their work, but more importantly, readers can now browse a previously unheard of array of content options in order to find their niche interest.

Let's take music as another example. A small minority of musicians get a small minority of the money made on the sale of a CD on Amazon or mp3 through iTunes. A great deal of the money goes to third parties (neither makers nor fans) that are litigating their way to securing their share, earned for an outdated task. Meanwhile, the vast majority of musicians are not concerned over piracy, but instead are putting their music out there any way they can in the hopes of connecting with the people who love their sound. Giving it away free helps them find their fan base.

Making content free has given the consumer unprecedented variety of choice. However, there's not a lot of money to be made in advertising or big record deals when you're a single dot on the long tail.

Since producing content comes at a cost, how can producers continue to afford to make their content free? They can tap into their fans' enthusiasm through tipjoy.

Tipjoy enables readers to keep the authors they've discovered writing, listeners to keep the musicians they've discovered making more music. Support from their fans through tipjoy enables the free content producer to continue to produce - to continue to serve their creative work from their little dot shop way out on the long tail.

Tipjoy keeps the long tail in business.

Posted on October 10, 2007 10:00 PM