Monthly Archives: June 2013

Build A Company That Attracts The Next Steve Jobs

Editor’s note: Derek Andersen is the founder of Startup Grind, a 45-city community in 20-countries, uniting the global startup world together through educating, inspiring, and connecting entrepreneurs.

On Steve Jobs’ first day at Atari in 1973, he walked into the founder/CEO Nolan Bushnell’s office unannounced. “I think you have a really awesome company. I think that everything is pretty good, but I’ve seen your soldering connections and they’re really crappy.” Nolan Bushnell replied, “Well, let’s fix them.” Jobs replied, “I will.” So what did Atari do as a company and culture to become so attractive that Steve Jobs’ literally walked in off the street and demanded a job? Recently Bushnell wrote a book called, Finding the Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Hire, Keep and Nurture Creative Talent. In it he outlines how the culture that he helped create at Atari was critical to hiring and keeping creative talent like Steve Jobs.

After moving to the Valley for his first job following college, Bushnell quickly realized that working for someone else wasn’t in his DNA. “One of the reasons that Silicon Valley exists is that we have all worked next to somebody who has gone off and been successful,” Bushnell recently told me at Startup Grind. “We know firsthand that the guy next to us, that went off and was very successful, was an idiot.” Bushnell went on to pioneer the video game industry with Atari, and after leaving Atari he founded a dozen companies, among other things the popular family restaurant chain Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Atari was critical in changing Valley company culture and startups themselves. “Every engineer in the valley in 1970 wore a white shirt and tie to work – that was professional. But we decided we wanted to create a new kind of company that was a total meritocracy. Don’t care about process. Treat everybody like an adult. Let them wear what they want, come to work when they want, work hard or work easy. Where you minimize process, you maximize outcomes.”

In this book he outlines dozens of ways that startups can create the type of culture to attract the next great creators. I had a chance to ask him about a couple of these and an except of that conversation is included below.

Why are secrets important?

Bushnell: It’s a marketing ploy. Secrets amplify the press at the time you want it. That is, advertising a product before you can buy it is a waste of money. People are very in the present. So what you really want to do is really push on things when there’s stuff on the shelf, when people can actually act and buy and what have you. So secrets amplify that a great deal.

Why hire the obnoxious and the crazies?

Bushnell: You don’t seek crazies and you don’t seek obnoxious, but you put up with it if they’ve got certain aspects. There are certain people in the world that are the smartest people in the room. It’s obnoxious for them to keep telling you that. Yet, when the chips are down, you kind of want them on your team. So when you have an obnoxious, capable person, figure out how to deal with it. Every company should have an ecosystem that can keep really talented people around. Even if they’re obnoxious, even if they smell bad.

Beware of posers.

Bushnell: When you’re hiring people, there are a lot of people who are able to fake being capable. Certain businesses are more prone to that than others. For example, in the early days of chip design, it took almost a year to get the first prototype of a custom chip. There were some engineer around who posed as one of the great chip designers. Never ever got a chip going. They would be employed until the company had given up on getting a custom chip, then go somewhere else and say, “I was working on custom chips for this company.” Ultimate posers. So you really want to make sure the person has the capability stated and the ability to execute.

Skunk it up.

Bushnell: I love skunkworks. The nice thing about skunkworks is you can try things cheaply. Bureaucracies creep into companies because you have different rules if you have a thousand employees than if you have three. And you can – when you have 1000 employees, the paperwork to buy a pencil will often exceed the pencil, and going down to Radio Shack to buy a part rather than going through purchasing can be the difference between a week’s delay and no delay at all. Those are the sort of things you can open up in a skunkworks that really accelerate projects, get rid of the impediments and go straight through. There are also certain people that just work really well in skunkworks environment that, when in the main body, don’t do as well. Some people like to hide in plain sight, you can’t hide in a skunkworks.

Why make something for the rich?

Bushnell: Every innovation that has ever happened started out with the rich, because the rich, in some ways pay for the tooling to get it down to consumer prices. Airplanes, automobiles, these were all toys for the rich – telephone. So it clears your mind. If you say, “I want to build this for everyone,” you’re talking about a price that’s probably unrealistic at that point in time. But with experience and with mass production techniques and that, you’ll get there. But maybe not for a couple years. 

You tell people to change every day, every hour.

Bushnell: It turns out that our brains are either stuck and ossified, or they’re flexible. And change is what really drives that. What I’m focusing on a lot right now – I’ve got anti-aging games in Brain Rush – is how do we keep our brains flexible? Change is really a key. Creativity is going to be the next big wave. My son right now has a Kickstarter. It’s called the Steam Carnival, and it’s about, how do you turn on people – or kids, primarily, that technology is a big giggle? You don’t have to build pacemakers and the next tank. You can build games and carnival rides, all kinds of things. What that does is it opens up new kinds of horizons. I’ve found the more I change, the more happy I am.

How do you reward turkeys?

Bushnell: I went to a flea market, and there was a tin turkey that was about this tall, and it was ungodly ugly. I mean, it was just really bad. And I thought, “Hm.” What I wanted to do was to let people know it was okay to try something and fail at it. So we had a management dinner every quarter, where we would talk about what was happening at the company. One of the core values was, if you try something for all the right reasons, but it still fails, that’s okay. I didn’t want my employees to start feeling guilty about something. We all wanted to be on the same time, and all wanted a good confession. You want to get it cathartically removed.

Will Apple Sideline Siri Before She Kills Google?

Editor’s note: Dan Kaplan is a freelance Content Strategist and armchair futurist. He has worked in marketing for Asana, Twilio and Salesforce. Follow him on Twitter @dankaplan.

In the wake of Apple’s big iOS 7 reveal, there has been much hoopla and quibbling. The bulk about it has centered around the design choices made by Jony Ive, his team and (apparently) some icon designers in marketing.

Left out of the commentary has been what can only reasonably be described as a lackluster update to Siri.

In Siri’s incarnation in iOS 7, I can ask her to pull up a quick list of someone’s latest tweets or find me an entry on Wikipedia. I can change the sex of her voice. And if she comes up blank on something, I can now have her Google it on Bing, instead of Googling it on Google. At some point in the near future, I will also be able to do all of this in a car.

But what I still can’t do is anything new that actually harnesses Siri’s real potential as a task-completion engine. This is too bad, because that potential is dazzling.

A Short Refresher On Siri’s Dazzling Potential

Fully realized, Siri would change the way humans interact with the Internet. Instead of typing in a bunch of keywords and getting back links, 156-character snippets and ads, you would speak your request and Siri would connect directly to the Internet service best equipped to deliver on it.

The video embedded below demonstrates a piece of this: In it, the protagonist tells Siri to order a pizza: “Siri, tell Pizza Hut to deliver a small cheese pizza, two large pizzas with pepperoni, sausage, ham, bacon, and mushrooms, and a medium pizza with only mushrooms.”

While the guy who made this video staged the scenario with a Twilio hack, the central point is that Siri is a search engine that doesn’t just go out onto the Internet and fetch a bunch of links and ads, but actually takes your “query” and executes your intended task.

If you don’t see how that paradigm would be disruptive to Google Search, you might be a redneck.

The Story Of The Siri Assistant

When Siri was just a wee standalone app in the App Store (in that small window between when she launched when Apple snapped her up), she was already more powerful than Apple’s version is today.

Back in those days, she was known as the Siri Assistant, and she could not only buy you movie tickets and make reservations to restaurants, she could order you a cab. You could ask her about local concerts happening in the next two weeks and she’d go out and find out what bands were playing at any given venue nearby.

These things were going to be just the beginning. Siri’s founders planned to add more services over time, blend them with the predictive awareness that you get a taste of in Google Now, and combine both with Siri’s task-completion capabilities:

  • “Hey Dan, your flight to NYC has just been canceled! Would you like me to book the next one?”
  • “Hey Dan, you weren’t at home when your package got delivered. Would you like me to redirect it to your office?”
  • “Hey Dan, you’ve got a coffee meeting downtown in 25 minutes. How about I summon a Lyft?”

Unfortunately for Siri in her days as standalone iPhone app, the Siri Assistant presented too much friction to be useful. The process of going to your home screen, tapping on the app, waiting for it to open, giving it a voice command and getting something back presented too many steps. Siri may have been stacked with some of the best artificial intelligence around, but she was just too damn slow.

Her acquisition by Apple promised to change all that.

Siri + iOS: The Google Slayer?

Indeed, when I last wrote about Siri — around the time of her rebirth as a feature of the iPhone 4S — I wrote that the integration of Siri’s technology and iOS meant that Google’s glory days were numbered. I wrote this for two reasons.

First, it was clear to me (and still is) that, should Apple develop Siri’s task-completion engine, she represented a deadly threat to the heart of Google’s search-revenue machine. And second, given the combination of Apple’s decade-long penchant for innovation and Steve Jobs’ burning desire to injure Google, I believed that Apple would do whatever it took to follow through on Siri’s promise and on Jobs’ desire for revenge.

But now that Siri’s latest update is a snooze and Jobs’ hatred for Google seems to have been laid to rest with Jobs himself, my initial expectations look to me like a burst of premature excitement.

The signs haven’t been good.

  • Apple took more than two years to integrate Siri. Maybe this had to do with hardware limitations, the technical and business challenges of deploying Nuance’s voice recognition, or whatever. But more than two years is a long time in technology.
  • Two-thirds of Siri’s founders left the company shortly after the iOS integration was announced. When founders leave an acquiring company quickly, it tends not to bode well for the execution of their vision.
  • Improvements have been coming in at a trickle, and have been timid, at best. Compared to the disruptive goals of Siri’s founders, her core features (getting sports scores, asking for directions, checking the weather, and setting reminders and alarms) are relative weak sauce.
  • The Apple Maps fiasco. Apple has cash reserves on par with some national governments and at least as much technical competence, but the launch of Apple Maps was a dud. To be fair, doing maps right is very hard and very expensive in people and treasure. But it is nothing compared to nurturing an artificially intelligent personal assistant.
  • For all of Apple’s prowess at building operating systems and shipping the devices that run them, the company has not proven nearly as adept at navigating the landscape of the Internet.

That last point may be the most important one: Woven into the fabric of the Internet, Siri becomes a juggernaut. But outside of it — without seamless connections to the Internet’s wide-ranging ecosystem of apps, databases and services — she remains a fancy toy.

An Uncertain Road Ahead

For Apple, the road to making Siri as remarkable in practice as she is in concept is fraught with technical obstacles, business challenges, and legal risks of every size and kind. But the rewards of surmounting them would be extraordinary — disruptive in the fullest sense of the word: a revolutionary technology that changes the way we interact with machines, shakes up industries, and brings Google to its knees.

Siri’s potential may be game-changing, but more than four years after Apple spent hundreds of millions of dollars on her acquisition, we’re still just trying to get her to understand our words.

Looking For A Show? Builds A Music Video Playlist Of Bands Playing Nearby

Oh, my. I think someone has actually done it.

Someone has built a system that promises to help me find fun things to do near me that… actually makes me want to do fun things near me.

Like many a concept before it, is so simple, yet so clever, that it drives me crazy that I didn’t think of it first. finds a bunch of artists playing shows in venues near you, then builds an old-school MTV-esque video playlist with one video for each band in hopes that you’ll like one enough to go see the show.

Simple, right? But it works so well.

Maybe I’m lame. Maybe I’m just not very good at this whole concert-going thing. Whatever the case, I tend to not go see shows unless I hear that a band I already love is coming to town. Of the half dozen-or-so concerts I go to each year, almost all of them are bands I’ve already been listening to for the better part of a decade. Most of them are bands I’ve seen a bunch of times already. If variety is the spice of life, my concert hopping life is… pretty friggin’ bland.

In the first thirty minutes or so of playing with, I’ve already found 3 new bands I want to go see.

Here’s how works: You pick your city, and it starts playing videos from bands playing soon. That’s it. You can skip to the next band, bring up a big list of all the shows they’ve found happening over the next two weeks, or just sit back and let’em roll. In the bottom left of each video is a “Get Tickets” button that pushes you to the venue’s purchasing system.

And therein lies their business model: they’ll collect a commission on tickets, whenever a venue allows it. If they can get you to buy a ticket, they might make a few bucks off the sale. Meanwhile, all of the videos — the heaviest part of the site, traffic wise — are being piped in from Youtube, so’s hosting costs are presumably pretty dang low. The users finds new bands, the bands get more fans and exposure, the venues make more sales, and Preamp makes money for bringing them all together. Everyone wins! Hurray!

Alas, isn’t a nationwide thing yet. In fact, it only works in four major cities right now: Los Angeles, New York City, Washington D.C., and San Francisco. Every city has different venues, and every venue shares their upcoming shows differently, so building its coverage out quickly might prove to be something of a challenge. is hoping to find a “global crew of local music experts” to help them curate things.

Is it perfect? Nah — of course not — but remember, it just launched, built by a small, bootstrapped team. It’s not going to have every venue right off the bat, even in the cities that it supports. It also doesn’t seem to tell you when a show is already sold out — something which might get a bit annoying, if you’re consistently finding bands you like only to be unable to get tickets. But this concept is excellent, and the execution so far is quite solid; if they can figure out how to scale it up, I see myself using it regularly. was built by Charles Worthington, a freelance developer/product designer out of Washington, DC. You can check out here.

Paul Graham's Prescription For VCs: Move Fast, Take Less Equity

At the 500 Startups’ PreMoney Conference last week, Y Combinator’s Paul Graham gave a presentation in which he suggested a new way for Series A investments to get done. Graham provided a few suggestions for innovative early stage investors to differentiate themselves. It basically comes down to: move fast, and don’t over-invest in startups just to get a certain percentage of equity.

“One of the biggest things investors do not get about the fund raising process is what an immense cost talking to them imposes on the startups that are raising money, especially when a startup consists just of the founders. Everything completely grinds to a halt during fundraising,” Graham said at the conference.

Graham suggested that as a result, there’s room for an investor to undercut the competition by moving more quickly with early stage investments. If there existed a reputable investor who would invest $100,000 on market terms within 24 hours, they would be able to corner the market on the best startups, he said. That firm would be approached by all the worst startups as well, Graham said, but at least they’d see everything. In contrast, firms which have a reputation for taking a long time to make their investments would be approached last.

Another way that venture firms could differentiate themselves is by breaking from the typical 20 percent in equity that they ask for during Series A investments. VCs are investing too much and startups are raising too much during that fund raising period, but that could change if someone were willing to break ranks and actually invest less, but for less equity.

“I think the biggest danger for VCs, and also the biggest opportunity is in the Series A stage,” Graham said. “Right now, VCs knowingly invest too much in the Series A stage.”

When there’s a lot of competition for deals, the number that moves isn’t the amount of equity that VCs take, but the amount that they invest and thus the valuation of the company, Graham said. In the case of the most promising startups, Series A investors force companies to take more money than they want to raise.

“Some VCs lie and say that the company needs that much,” he said. “Others are more candid and admit that their business models require them to own a certain percentage of the company, but we all know that the amounts being invested are not determined by the amount that the companies need.”

It used to be that startups needed to give up that much of their company to raise money, but those days are over. With that in mind, Graham thinks that the first VC who breaks ranks and starts doing Series A investments for the amount of equity that the founder is willing to sell stands to reap huge benefits.

“If there were a reputable top tier firm that was willing to do a Series A round for as much stock as the founders wanted to sell, they would instantly get almost all the best startups,” Graham said. “And the best startups are where the money is.”

I talked to him about that theory and about how Y Combinator has scaled in the video above. (Skip ahead to about 5:30 to hear his thoughts on changing equity structures.)

The Plasticky BlackBerry Q5 Is Not The Mid-Tier Hero Handset BB10 Needs To Save It

In some ways the Qwerty-packing Q5, with its throwback BlackBerry looks, is a far more important device for BlackBerry than its current flagship, the all-touch Z10. Or the premium-priced Qwerty-clad Q10. The mid-tier Q5 should be priced to shift — because that’s what BlackBerry needs to happen to start regaining the ground it lost when it was forced to pause and reboot its OS to play catch-up with rivals. That’s what the Q5 should do, but will it?

The problem for BlackBerry is it may already be too late to turn things around. BlackBerry’s latest results, out late last week, made grim reading as the company missed analyst expectations, and its share price took a battering. It shipped just 2.7 million BlackBerry 10 handsets in its Q1. But it has only had two BB10 devices to sell, one of which (the Q10) only made it to market in the U.S. earlier this month. Which makes the Q5 even more important: BlackBerry needs more handsets in its portfolio attacking different price points to have a chance of ramping up sales.

The problem is the Q5 doesn’t feel like a saviour. It feels closer to a kludge. Likely it isn’t going to be cheap enough to really hit Android where it hurts (it’s mid-tier, not budget after all). Nor does it feel like enough of a leap forward to convert a new generation of users to BlackBerry. BB10 is still Blackberry playing catch-up with competitors, rather than streaking ahead in the innovation stakes.

Of course many Blackberry loyalists and long-time users aren’t going to be unhappy with the Q5′s old school Qwerty form factor. But that staid staple means it necessarily offers a crimped OS experience versus the full-touch Z10. On the Q5 — as with the Q10 — the touchscreen has had to be squashed into a square to accommodate yesteryear’s physical Qwerty keys. Which is a problem because BlackBerry’s new platform needs room for the user to manoeuvre.

BB10 is built around gestures and layering content — and that whole “peek and flow” dynamic comes into its own on a full touchscreen. But on the Q5′s small square it’s inevitably constrained. Yet, despite this squeezed screen, the Q5 is surprisingly big for a Qwerty BlackBerry. Certainly compared to past generations of RIM hardware — those ever-so-popular Curves and Bolds it apparently succeeds.

As well as being constrained by having to make room for the keyboard, space has to be found to accommodate the bevels where BB10′s gestures have to start. This makes the overall front footprint a bit, well, hefty. It looks like an oversized, top-heavy BlackBerry, which will feel like a step backwards to those accustomed to BlackBerry’s traditionally highly pocketable handsets. And who else is this Qwerty-packer really trying to woo?

Android users have so much choice when it comes to keyboard software that even if they don’t get on with the stock Android virtual keyboard they can switch to Swype, or Swiftkey or any one of the growing number of Qwerty alternatives cooking up interesting new ways to type. The Q5′s immutable plastic keys feel terribly dumb phone in comparison.

Even the BlackBerry exec demoing the Q5 at the press event I attended to pick up a review device described the physical keyboard as “infamous”  (Freudian slip?). And said he found typing on it “a bit strange” because “I’m used to typing on the [full touchscreen] Z10.” That says it all really.

The Q5 is a deeply conservative device. It continues to look backwards to BlackBerry’s legacy keyboard-chained past — a compromise between old technology and new software. And like most compromises, it’s unlikely to entirely please anybody. It’s not that it’s terrible, it just doesn’t feel good enough to make an impact — and that means it’s not good enough because BlackBerry needs something remarkable to stand out in this crowded mid-tier segment.

Yet you can see exactly how and why BlackBerry has arrived here. In its current shrunken state, as its user base and revenues have diminished, the company has had to retrench. It can’t afford to lose any more users, yet it can’t afford to ramp up the number of devices in its portfolio quickly enough — making it super important that it retains its one remaining heartland: corporate users. Those are the last really sticky BlackBerry users, even as fickle consumers have wandered off elsewhere.

So BlackBerry can’t cut its ties with the past as it’s now even more dependent on its most conservative demographic. Its focus has to be on servicing that existing corporate user-base — because their loyalty is locked up far more than the average consumer. Some 90 percent of the Fortune 500 are BlackBerry customers, according to the company. And some 60 percent are apparently trialling BB10. BlackBerry needs those bulk-buyers to migrate to BB10 and continue pumping money into its coffers. If they abandon ship BlackBerry really will be an adrift ghost ship.

Selling mobile email to corporates is how BlackBerry built its original mobile empire. And selling to corporates is where BlackBerry has had to retrench to now. An army of cheap Androids is sweeping away its other former stronghold: teens. While free, over-the-top messaging apps like WhatsApp have eroded the appeal of BBM (BlackBerry’s licensing of BBM to Android and iOS this summer also feels like too little, too late). Now, with the mid-tier-priced Q5, BlackBerry is apparently hoping to woo those kids back. But the Q5 compromises on target demographic, too.

On the one hand BlackBerry says it’s aiming the Q5 at younger users. But it also cites SMEs and corporates as targets — flagging up the Balance feature that allows segmentation of work and personal content on the device. Little wonder then that, design-wise, the Q5 looks like it’s trying not to be too much of anything, so no one feels like disowning it. If I had to use one word to describe it, it would be generic. Or plasticky. It’s as if it’s been deliberately left as blank as possible to be as inoffensive as possible — to try to appeal to as wide a group as possible. In other words: another compromise.

The other problem BlackBerry has is that corporates are famously conservative about technology upgrades, which explains why it has no plans to sunset BB 7 any time soon. Corporate investments in BES 7 “have to be protected,” as one BlackBerry spokesman put it. Which means the company has to keep supporting BB 7 and producing devices running that last-gen OS for the foreseeable future. Which stymies change, and hampers BB10′s progress as a portion of resources have to go on the old platform.

Plus, if BB 7 devices are still on offer, why should corporates risk the upheaval of upgrading to a device like the Q5? They’ll stick with what they know, and leave this compromise on the shelf. So while BlackBerry youth users are going — or have already gone — elsewhere to check out shinier hardware, its business users are foot-dragging and in no hurry to move on. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. No wonder turning this tanker is so hard.

Pricing will of course play a key role in whether the Q5 sits on shelves or not. The mid-tier is where the largest Android army roams. But carrier tariffs for the Q5 are going to need to be a lot lower than the early EE pricing of £26 a month to be competitive enough to win over consumers. That price is pitting the Q5 against iPhone 4S or Galaxy S3 tariff prices. Which makes BlackBerry’s mid-tier offering a tough sell, whichever tech camp you prefer to sit in.

Regardless of whether this middling handset ends up selling well or not, it may make little material difference to BlackBerry’s prospects. The perception that the mobile maker is now locked in a death spiral will only increase shareholder pressure on the management team, and make acquisition a more likely end. BlackBerry would need to sell an awful lot of Q5s to calm that spin.

Developers Are Lifting The Cloud, Not The Other Way Around

For all the attention this week about the cloud, it’s evident that it is pretty much a distraction when considering what is really happening. Developers are lifting the cloud, not the other way around.

The big guns of tech are aligning because they have to. It’s a defensive move to serve their existing customer base. It’s not lke the old kings are showing  substantial revenue increases for new software licenses. But  consolidating power to offer legacy technology does show that the cloud is anything you want to call it.

In their new definition of the cloud, the IT-heavy enterprise gets a new version of that old-school database to run the software installed ten or 15 years ago.  An operaitng systgem built for the desktop and client/server age can be recast as a cloud service. Older SaaS companies can work with former on-premise foes and happily proclaim that what worked for the past 14 years will be just fine for another two generations or more. Just like cowbell, there is never enough.

But these moves to align CRM and operating systems with legacy databases are not about innovation. They are simply meant to keep the status quo and offer the bread and butter business that have earned them billions in revenue.

The real innovation is in the new genre of databases, developer frameworks,  social coding services and the APIs enriched with context through data analysis.

It’s not to say the cloud lacks value. It has plenty of that. The cloud is really all about value. Prices continue to drop for compute and storage. On Joyent, a developer can now pay by the second.

But look deep into the infrastructure and there are signs even there of the developer’s work. Hearing more about this idea of the software defined data center? It’s this concept that software, not metal switches, do the work with APIs connecting it all together. The APIs connect networks, data stores, all forms of clients and databases, etc. It’s the act of the network going to the app instead of the other way around.

So all the machines and the pipes are getting abstracted and the developer, arguably, is driving that change. The smartphone is a server. As again illustrated by Joyent with Project Manta, the big storage and network machines are now becoming part of the operating system. Compute and storage are coming together and in-memory databases make for split-second analytics. Founder Keith Teare (who is also one of the original TechCrunch founders), said On The Gillmor Gang this week that the cloud is a constant but it does nor constantly do the same things. The place for change is looking at how it is used. The real shift is how the cloud is consumed. Some of it is apps, some of it is devices  while some data is pushed and some of it is pulled. The cloud is a data integrator (Message Bus) and a data store but not necessarily meant to be consumed just through a browser.

Andreessen Horowitz Partner Peter Levine said in an interview this past week that 15 to 20 years ago it was all Microsoft with the WinAPI. Every program and every API call was done to Windows. Now we see the entire disaggregation of the API. Companies now expect APIs.  All of that has helped accelerate development.

It is the year of the developer and that is evident with GitHub, which now has about 10,0000 subscribers signing up every day, Levine said.

For the past few years, the developer crescendo has lifted the cloud. The cloud players are interested in what the developers are doing. As Levine said, developers make it possible for us to have functioning super computers in our hands.

And so take another look when the news hits about more big legacy players happily talking about the greatness of the cloud. Sure it’s awesome but it would be meaningless if it were not for all those developers using it to make all the cool things we use eveyday on those supercomputers we have ready in our pockets to connect us to the world.

What Games Are: The Ludophile Mindset

Editor’s note: Tadhg Kelly is a veteran game designer, creator of leading game design blog What Games Are and creative director of Jawfish Games. You can follow him on Twitter here.

There are regular people who like music on their phones and maybe listen to the radio or Spotify. For them, music is just a back track of daily life. Then there are interested people, who like good headphones, pay for a Spotify subscription or attend the occasional concert. Beyond these two groups lie the passionate 5%, the audiophiles. They follow bands, hunt down vinyl records, read blogs or magazines about music and spend serious coin on their habit.

In the games market the picture is surprisingly similar. You have the mildly interested who play free games on their phones and social networks and the moderately interested who buy one gaming machine and a couple of games over a few years. Then you have the self-described gamers, the ludophiles (ludo- as a general term means play). They follow franchises, hunt down retro cartridges, read blogs or magazines about games and spend serious coin on their habit.

What sets them apart is just as interesting. Music fans have no issue with the status of their medium. Music is art, music is cool, music is culture. Gaming fans, on the other hand, have lots of inferiority issues. A key dynamic that recycles is the idea of the game that proves that games are as good as movies. Last year that was The Walking Dead, so far this year it’s The Last of Us.

Another difference is the relationship with technology itself. Audiophiles are very much into both the sound and experience with their music. Formats like vinyl endure because audiophiles believe they sound better (whether they actually do is a question for the ages, but the point is that they believe it). Album art, memorabilia and visibility of collection are also important. History matters. So does the ability to pull out a greatest hit from 40 years and play it. Interoperability is key.

Gaming fans, on the other hand, tend to spend their money on the latest technology and forget interoperability. Backwards compatibility is generally not a strong motivator, with the most-dedicated preferring instead to own dozens of gaming machines and play the games of a certain year on the machines for which they were intended. A bit like if Universal Music Group didn’t just develop talent and publish music, but also made devices that could only play UMG music. Ludophiles are relatively comfortable doing this.

The really interesting thing about the ludophile mindset is the ways in which it doesn’t want games to change. Ludophiles do not like mobile games. They feel pretty ambivalent about tablet games. They regard that kind of future somewhat askance and prefer to cheer for stasis than progress. This is because they buy into the story of the medium itself. Games as a hobby are as much about participating in the story of the medium itself as having fun and playing games. To the true believer games are on an evolutionary path toward somewhere, a final destination of infinite perfection, and this is to be promoted and defended at all costs.

One of my favorite teaser trailers is the one for Halo 3 from 2006. It shows the Master Chief emerging onto a desert scene. He looks to his left and the shot pans out to reveal huge starships moving over to a basin. There is an ominous rumble, cracks appear in the landscape and megalithic doors rise up to reveal a bright light. The light reaches upwards in an awe-inspiring sight before the scene blanks out and we hear the line “This is the way the world ends.”

If you wanted to find a metaphor for how the ludophile views the threat against games, it’s a bit like this. It’s high dudgeon and drama and shouts of glee when changes are averted. The ludophile wants the amazing, the epic and the awesome. The Citizen Kane of gaming. But he also wants a console to be a console, a device with a type of controller that feels like it’s heading toward perfection. He’s not enamored of divergences from the path.

While the world loved the Nintendo Wii, plenty of console gamers always got hung up on its lack of HD. The news that OUYA sold out, that Towerfall is actually rather good, that Google may be working on a microconsole and that GamePop has released a free machine tend to fall on deaf ears. Where many observers like myself think that this interoperable Android-driven approach will yield big returns for the game console in the long run, today’s console gamer is a bit nonplussed. He gets hung up on the fact that Android is for phones, and phone games are “weak” for some reason. The microconsole doesn’t fit the ideal of aiming for perfection. Like the netbook or the tablet, it seems like a big step backward.

And that would all be fine if it seemed that the console sector was a viable market. But I don’t believe it is in the long term. I think it’s merely in a new-hardware exuberant phase, but its overall prognosis is starting to look awfully like the market for record players. There will always be loyalists, but the question becomes whether there are enough of them to really shift the needle.

Ludophiles are a fixed audience with fixed ideas of what the future should be. The perfection they aspire toward feels just out of reach, but it always seems to get closer. The Last of Us, for example, really is breathtaking. But that kind of game is also enormously expensive to develop, and is now at the point where it needs to sell 4 or 5 million copies to prove its viability. The technology required to power these advances is also incredibly expensive, so much so that neither Microsoft or Sony make any money from being in the games business. Nintendo does (well, bar lately) but Nintendo makes all its own content too, so there’s greater scope for margin there.

With the next generation bringing yet more increases on the development spending side (historically, this is what tends to happen), the risks inevitably go up. So do closures, high profile failures and a reduction in diversity. There are not enough ludophiles out there to satisfy that kind of price tag indefinitely, and so decline is inevitable. However decline will not happen dramatically, all at once.

“This is the way the world ends” is taken from TS Eliot’s The Hollow Men. The line that follows it is “Not with a bang, but with a whimper.” Not with the big supernova-esque explosion of ultimate victory and defeat, but with a slow decay. The death by a thousand cuts from phones, tablets, microconsoles, PCs, social networks and wearables. And what’s fuelling that is an end to the power advantage and a large leap forward in convenience.

The other 95%, the regular and the interested, always tend to gravitate toward good-enough rather than perfection, convenience over fidelity. They bought into DVD because it seemed much better than video, but not Blu-ray. They plumbed for digital streaming instead. They bought into HDTV, but not 3DTV, and likely have very little interest in 4KTV. They bought into iPads because they’re much simpler to use than PCs, and don’t care about some of the lost potential that they’ve given up. They prefer to subscribe to Spotify because who has the room to devote acres of wall space to albums. Or books.

And the same is true for games. Tablet gaming may not adhere to the lofty goals of the quest for perfection, but it’s cheap and super convenient. Microconsoles may be powered by relatively underpowered processors but this is only really their first year. 2-3 years down the road they’ll pack enough punch and get their messaging right that they’ll start to sound irresistible to everyone bar ludophiles. What happens when the world realizes that it can play good quality games, complete with game controllers, on its tablets? What happens when we can play games, either casual, deep or anything in between, from our phones and simply stream them to our TVs?

Not with a bang…

Why Facebook Needs Trending Links

Facebook is not working on an
RSS product
, we hear, but it still has a huge and truly social opportunity in news discovery. Facebook could turn what links we share with friends into an automatic Digg for the world.

Over a billion people are on Facebook, and many share links to news stories and offsite content along with their commentary. Yet rather than post publicly like on Twitter, most posts are shared semi-privately with friends and acquaintances.

Right now there’s no way for people to gleam the collective opinion of Facebook users on what’s important. Only Facebook’s algorithms sees what the most popular links and words are across the entire social network. If
Facebook took data on what people shared and used it in a privacy-safe, anonymous, aggregate form, it could create a list of the world’s most popular web pages at any given moment.
Conveniently linked to from the Facebook home page and mobile app,
the list could become an an informative and addictive window it our collective consciousness.

Coding On The Shoulders Of


There are places to get a peek into what the world is sharing or interested in today, but none with Facebook’s data set or mainstream user base. Reddit is amazing. It’s a wildly diverse community of people picking the
day’s most important content across a near-limitless array of categories. Their votes surface what’s most interesting, and their voices are arranged into intelligible threads and conversations.
It’s threaded design is so good, in fact, that I think we’ll see other less-formatted comment systems move towards Reddit’s style
with time.
at 3.52.38 PM” src=”″ width=”640″ height=”376″ />

You could argue whether it’s an
advantage or disadvantage, but Reddit is based on active
submissions. For something to appear on Reddit, someone must have
the initiative and take the time to purposefully post it. Once there, it’s only the Redditors who vote and comment that determine
a post’s rank. That makes what tops Reddit’s homepage more of a
reflection of the Reddit community than the web as a whole. Sure,
there are R/’s for everyone, but as a whole, Reddit carries a bit
of a proudly nerdy attitude mixed with doses of skepticism and
humor. Facebook’s opportunity comes from the potential to scan
everything shared on it and use a wider, more mainstream definition
of popularity to rank a list of what’s interesting. No one would
have to actively vet the list. It would simply evolve organically
based on how frequently things were shared on Facebook, and maybe
how many clicks, likes, and comments they received. Offering lists
by country or international region could make sure the content is
somewhat localized

Twitter Trending Topics

Facebook news discovery experience I’m imagining shares some
similarities with Twitter’s Trending Topics. It too doesn’t have to
be actively vetted by users. People just go about their days
tweeting, and popular words and hashtags bubble to the top of the
list. But do you find yourself addicted to checking Twitter’s
trending topics? No. At least I sure don’t. They can be briefly
shocking or amusing but they rarely teach me much or spur me to
3.49.40 PM” src=”″ width=”239″ height=”198″ />Twitter Trends don’t even have their
own web page. They’re just stuck on the left rail of Twitter’s home
page. On mobile they’re lumped into the Discover tab. In what I see
as their critical shortcoming, they have no context. No way to
understand why they’re being shared. Clicking them simply opens a
search for that word or hashtag, which can produce results that are
a mess, tough to decipher, and don’t provide any definitive answer
to what the trend is about. For obvious things like sporting events
and huge international news, these streams can offer a fascinating
insight into what the world is thinking. But even a Google search
couldn’t quickly tell me that #FOTunis referred to the Freedom
Online conference in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. Organizing news
discovery around individual words or short phrases doesn’t seem
very efficient or easy…at least not with this design or without
context. If Facebook centered a news discovery product around
links, it could make it much clearer what people are discussing.
Links typically come with some combination of a headline, a photo,
and some text that can be used as a blurb. All Facebook would need
to do is show a list of links with this info, just like it does
when you websites to the news feed, and people could get the pulse
of the planet in a quick skim. While we’re on the topic of Facebook
hashtags, signs indicate the company will eventually create a list
of trending hashtags. Facebook
launched hashtags
, similar to Twitter’s, earlier this
month, and on Thursday launched Related
, which displays other tags frequently added to
the same post as a hashtag you’ve searched for or clicked on. I
believe Facebook is rolling the hashtags product out slowly so it
can learn to slice and dice the data in order to create a trending
hashtags product.


Let’s be clear. A Facebook news reading product wouldn’t replace Reddit or Twitter,
or necessarily even compete with them directly. But it could take
the theme of surfacing what people care about, make it less
subjective, and house it in an easy to use and accessible design. I
personally think I would visit this “Facebook Trends” page
frequently. Whenever I read through my news feed and started
getting bored, I could click to it for inspiration. I’d skim
through it, clicking through to different links and then going back
to Trends page for more. If it had lists based on geography, or a
personalized list that tuned itself to my behavior, interests, and
what people similar to me enjoy, I might visit even more. From Digg to Reddit to 9Gag to
Techmeme, great lists of trending content have proven addictive.
Yet there hasn’t been one with a truly mainstream focus. If
Facebook nailed this, it could generate a ton of traffic. I think
some people would click to refresh it and see what’s happening in
the world often — almost as often as they read the news feed for
content from their friends. The two could be seen as parallel
pillars of information — that which is interesting specifically to
you, and that which is interesting to everyone. Private and public.
Subjective and objective. A Facebook trending links section could
also spark high quality conversations within Facebook. If it shows
me something that resonates with me, I might not just click, but
share and talk about it with my friends. Ideally, if friends had
already shared it, I’d see that and the conversations that followed
in-line on the trends list. Facebook already has a nifty way of
doing this in the most recent design of the news feed. It shows a
stack of profile pictures next to a shared link and you can hover
over each to see how that friend described the content and what
their friends replied. Using that design for Trending Links my
friends had already shared could be a great alternative to one
long, messy comment thread of strangers. If you’re thinking “I
don’t need this. My friends already share great links and clue me
in to what’s happening in the world”, you’re lucky, and you’re
probably in the minority. Remember that the average user had around
180 to 250 friends last I heard. I worry that great swaths of
Facebook’s user base, especially in emerging markets and countries
where the service bloomed later, are missing out on one of the
great joys of the social web — the instant, collective
conversation surrounding the day’s news, tragedies, and triumphs.
It would just take one person perusing Facebook Trends to enlighten
an entire social cluster. Since there aren’t real character limits
on posts, and comment threads are clearly displayed, people would
have plenty of room to voice dissenting opinions about the world’s
most popular links. In that way, Facebook’s format and the way it
diverges from Twitter could keep it from becoming an echo chamber.
In fact, the aggregated “5 friends shared this link” design makes
it quick to view a variety of perspectives on a piece of content.
With any discovery medium comes opportunities to monetize through
sponsored placement. Brands could pay to have their links inserted
within the list of trending links. This could become a premier
channel for content marketing. Traditional ads might not work
there, but links to branded content or apps, fun marketing stunts,
or contests could do well when not jammed into the news feed where
they don’t quite fit with organic content from friends. Top-tier
advertisers have been pushing Facebook for ways to reach large
audiences all at once, and this could be the ticket. If Facebook
wants to house our digital lives, it can’t just be about who we are
and what we’ve done. It must also encompass what we think, and to
get us to volunteer our thoughts, it should strive to inform us,
inspire us, and seed our discussions with friend by surfacing
what’s popular around the globe. [Image
Credit: Brian

Why Obama Was Never Going To Be A Civil Liberties Champion

Barack Obama was never going to be a champion of civil liberties; he leads a growing sect of the Democratic party that prioritizes the collective good and mass innovation over individualism. This coercively inclusive political philosophy feels that every citizen, business, country, and institution has an obligation to contribute to the common good.

Obama will mandate universal health coverage but let private insurers run the programs, he’ll maintain middle-eastern wars but work with Russia on global nuclear disarmament, expand the education budget but give more resources to union-less charter schools, and build online tools to monitor stimulus spending while collecting phone records of every American.

The philosophy is a mix of fierce anti-individualism and anti-authoritarianism–what political scientists call “communitarianism”. “In the my wildest dreams, during eighteen years of championing communitarianism, I did not expect a presidential candidate to be as strongly identified with this political philosophy as Obama is,” gushed George Washington Professor of philosophy, Amatai Etzioni.

Established liberal institutions have always worried that communitarian optimism was blind to the damage government agencies and big business could exact on society’s most vulnerable. Since 9/11, the most prominent communitarians have generally defended mass NSA and FBI spying against the fears of their liberal cousins.

“The key issue is not if certain powers-for example, the ability to decrypt e-mail-should or should not be available to public authorities, but whether or not these powers are used legitimately and whether mechanisms are in place to ensure such usage,” said Etzioni, in regard to a series of high-profile debates with former ACLU president, Nadeen Strossen, during the post-9/11 ramp-up to the Patriot Act.

Communitarians are generally ok with privacy invasion, so long as there is sufficient public oversight to make sure the government is doing its job.

“For communitarians, public safety generally comes first,” University of Southern California, Professor, Brian Rathbun, writes to me in an email. ”A key element of Obama’s personal philosophy is on the merits of cooperation, that collective enterprises yield greater gains that individual action.”

The obsession with mass collaboration largely explains much of Obama’s failing civil liberties record, across the board, as he’s also been an unqualified proponent of experimental charters, which reject the job stability of traditional schools.

Obama is not the only rabid communitarian. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has distinguished himself as a collaboration and drone-happy public servant: he’s ok blanketing the city with law-enforcement drones and reportedly threatened to “F***cking destroy” the taxi industry over issues with Uber.

Bloomberg, first and foremost, wants innovation over protectionist policies. During a press conference, Bloomberg told me that taxi unions were part of “the old entrenched industries that try to use the shield of regulation…to protect them from the kind of competition that benefits society”.

Closing the door on civil liberties, however, has opened up some exciting opportunities for innovative policy making. For instance, in ObamaCare included a ”waiver for state innovation” that exempts any state from the new healthcare law, so long as states can can cover everyone without increasing costs. In essence, it’s like Google’s 20% time. Everyone has to innovate and hopes that someone will come up with the best solution to healthcare. It’s radically optimistic about the power of individual creativity, but refuses to allow citizens or states to be spectators (hence, the core of the name, “community”).

Notably, it’s quite easy to spot communitarians based on who Silicon Valley’s deep-pocked donors are supporting. While the Bay Area gave more to Obama to than either Wall Street (New York) or Hollywood (Los Angeles), they only give to a few candidates.

Newark Mayor and Senate candidate, CoryBooker, is a Silicon Valley favorite and has focused the $100 Million education donation he got from Mark Zuckerberg on controversial charter schools. It should no surprise that the union-less, privacy-skittish social network is itself a communitarian totem.

Facebook has aggressively fought FTC regulations to deny it’s ability to automatically enroll users in new products (“opt-in”). Facebook has argued that if users had been required to opt-in to the newsfeed the initial privacy hysteria would have blunted adoption of tool that is now a stable of social networking. Just like in a community, participation and sharing are the default assumptions; privacy and isolation is left as an inconvenient anti-social option.

Together with their friends in Silicon Valley, communitarians are becoming a dominate force in society. To the extent that readers optimistically believe that cooperation between foreign governments, big business, and everyday citizens can yield collective prosperity, the growing power of the communitarian Democratic is a welcome change. For those who fear that we live in a zero-sum world between the powerful and weak, communitarians are blindly leading us into an unequal, rights-free society.

If you’d like to learn more, read my full OpEd on The Daily Beast.

The Ephemeralnet

In the aftermath of the dot-com crash, a new era for the web began to take hold – a turning point whose seismic shift was hyped under the moniker “Web 2.0.” The concept referred to the web becoming a platform, a home for services whose popularity grew through network effects, user-generated content and collaboration. Blogging, social media sites, wikis, mashups, and more reflected a changing consciousness among the Internet’s denizens – one which Tim O’Reilly, whose Web 2.0 conferences helped solidify the term as a part of our everyday lexicon, once described as a “collective intelligence, turning the web into a kind of global brain.”

Since that time, because of humans’ intrinsic need to apply a structure to amorphous things to give them a semblance of order – things like the web, for example – there have been many attempts to define what “Web 3.0″ might be. At one point, the assumption was that Web 3.0 woud be the “semantic web.” A place where machine-readable metadata is applied, allowing the web and the services that live upon it to understand the content and the links between the people, places, and things that fill its servers.

To some extent, the semantic web did arrive in things like Google’s Knowledge Graph, an upgrade to Google Search whose underpinnings include a database filled with millions of objects and billions of connections between them. But semantic technology never became so widespread so as to define a new era of the web itself.

Meanwhile, others claimed Web 3.0 would be the shift to mobile devices, the rise of the “Internet of Things,” or would emerge from web services growing more personalized to their users – Google’s predictive search service “Google Now” could be seen as one example of this, perhaps.

But none of these got to win the Web 3.0 branding, either.

So what will come next?

Will another notable turning point for the web as we know it ever evolve?

Yes, of course, and it’s happening now.

It’s harder to spot because this time around because it’s not growing out of the ashes of a largely desiccated web as with Web 2.0, which blossomed following the dot-com era’s end. Instead, the new web is growing up alongside the web of today. It could, one day, take over, but that remains to be seen.

And we don’t have to call it Web 3.0. That’s a bit simplistic. But it does deserve recognition.

A Rebellion

In retrospect, what Web 2.0 meant to the vast lot of the web’s users was a large number of lightweight services – software perpetually in beta that ran online not out of a box. It harnessed the wisdom of the crowds and the willing contributions of user data, which, in the end, became the services’ value.

Facebook’s social graph and profile data, for instance, is now the product it sells to advertisers who target anonymized demographic groups based on things like age, education, location, and more. Wikipedia grew from the efforts of thousands who aggregated their time and knowledge to building an online encyclopedia. Even the “blogosphere” is a Web 2.0 product, one where a network of writers and publishers linked and commented, reblogged and shared.

But the web is not a static thing. It grows and shifts to reflect the society it serves.

For those who saw the web emerge in their lifetimes, the ability to publish and connect with a vast audience around the world is a marvel. To rediscover long-lost friends on social networks, or chat with someone on the other side of the globe, or share photos with your friends and family so easily, still amazes.

But today, a new group of web users is coming of age. They aren’t in awe of the connectivity and openness the web provides, that’s just the way it’s always been. And sometimes, they even kind of resent it. Barely able to remember a time when the web didn’t exist, this group has been forced to grow up online, living in public like the artists in the human terrarium under New York City once did in an art project-slash-eerie premonition of a future yet to come.

“In the not-so-distant future of life online, we will willingly trade our privacy for the connection and recognition we all deeply desire,” said Ondi Timoner, who documented this and other controversial human experiments in his 2009 film “We Live in Public.”

He also warned us of the dangers of living our lives exposed, with what now sounds like common sense:  ”the Internet, as wonderful as it is, is not an intimate medium. It’s just not,” he said. “If you want to keep something intimate and if you want to keep something sacred, you probably shouldn’t post it.”

But we did it anyway. We posted it. We liked it. We shared it. We hashtagged it.

And when we ran out of things to document about ourselves, we turned towards our children.

Now of age, those young digital natives whose lives we cataloged without their consent are rebelling. They’re discarding the values of the previous generation – those of their parents, the authoritarians – and defining new ones.

They don’t want open social networks, they want intimacy. They don’t believe every action has to be meaningful and permanent. The imagine the web as deletable.

The Rise Of The Ephemeralnet

The incredible growth of Snapchat, the “ephemeral” messaging service where pictures and videos are taken, shared, then discarded – allowed to become memories – is often pointed to as the key trend defining this new era, but that’s just wrong. It’s only one example.

Among its active users, Snapchat is engaging and addictive, and representative of an increased desire for privacy. However, it’s not the only service out there defining a different kind of experience. The global messaging market as a whole has given way to a fragmented collection containing dozens of similar services each with millions of users of their own. While these may not have the parlor trick of “disappearing” messages, they also represent a rebellion against the “one network to rule them all” concept.

These messaging apps are often used with a close set of friends or family members, where data shared remains fairly isolated and private, as opposed to publicized and findable on the larger web. It’s not about anonymity. It’s about a different type of community. One not cluttered by bosses or parents. One less searchable.

Even Twitter is returning to its SMS roots among these younger users, who revel in its semi-private nature. Twitter users can adopt pseudonyms, and you can’t surface tweets older than a week through Twitter search, which makes it feel like less of a permanent record, and a freedom to be “real” without consequence.

Meanwhile, on the youth-dominated social service Tumblr, users also don’t have to sign up with their “real” identities. This allows them to explore and experiment with new identities and sub-cultures, the way young adults naturally do in the offline world.

And on a growing mobile social network for sharing secrets, Whisper, which this month saw over 2.1 billion pageviews, users can express their innermost feelings – even those they’re ashamed or scared of – and become connected with a community for support, or, in the case of darker impulses, with actual help. And all this before they identify themselves by name.

While some confuse the “Ephemeralnet” with the so-called “SnapchatNet,” in reality, it’s not only a new way to socialize online, it’s a new way to think about everything. You can see the trend also in the rise of the (somewhat) anonymous and untraceable digital currency Bitcoin. Unlike traditional transactions, Bitcoin is decentralized and doesn’t require banks or governmental oversight or involvement. And though it’s not entirely anonymous, there are already efforts, like Zerocoin, working to change that.

There are also efforts at making other forms of communication more ephemeral, too. Phone calls become more private through apps like Burner, SMS secure through apps like Gryphn or Seecrypt, and internal business communications unarchivable through apps like O.T.R.

As we head into the post-PRISM era, there’s even a chance that this trend towards privacy will become further entrenched. Take for instance, a little-known service like anonymous search engine DuckDuckGo saw traffic spike by 50 percent in just over a week after the PRISM reveal. If it can now find traction for its online service and accompanying mobile apps based not just on PRISM fears, but on connecting with this larger trend of impermanence, then it could even have a shot at siphoning away a big enough handful of users to sustain its business.

But at the end of the day, the Ephemeralnet may never get to become as defining a trend as Web 2.0 once was. Though it may find adoption beyond the demographics of its youngest participants, it will continue to share the web with the services that preceded it – services too big, too habitual, and too lucrative, to die off entirely.

But in the meantime, a new social norm could still be established. One where those who play for the cameras are outed and ostracized; where we value human connections enabled by technology over meaningless “social” scores; and where we care more about our relationships, and less about the number of likes and shares we have.

Image credits: giphy; lead – unknown via Weheartit

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