February 20, 2006
Larry Lessig at Mashup Camp
This afternoon, Larry Lessig came over to Mashup Camp, after his classes at Stanford Law School. He showed up, looking like a bit like a hacker himself. He fit well with all the other hackers in the room, though most of them weren't nearly so knowledgeable about intellectual property as it relates to digital media.
One note, this is a conference that is mostly bottom up, with a light organizational structure placed over it. So, everyone stood up the first morning, announced a session or hacking group they wanted to organize, and placed them on the wall, which had a grid for times and places. I posted Larry's session because we'd invited him to lead a discussion on Creative Commons and Mashups, but wasn't going to be here til the afternoon.
Camps are in high contrast to top down conferences, where star speakers have their names and pictures splashed around the conference pages for months before the event, followed by music and theater lights to queue the audience to note the star about to speak, letting us know we should be in awe of them, and feeling distance from them. At camps, everyone has an equal chance to speak; there is no advance schedule, and no advance speaker list. The distance is much smaller and people are accessible no matter their status.
The shift in feel is nice. Instead of awe for people like Lessig, there is tremendous respect. The room was quiet because people wanted to listen with care, not because we were forced to... the camp format really supports respect for speakers, experienced or less so.
Most other speakers here are not at his level in terms of career accomplishments. These hackers of mashups, discussion leaders or demo-ers are smart thoughtful accomplished people nonetheless. They need to spend their time well, and the camp conference format means they are able to suggest sessions for discussion and hacking that meet their needs well, but they can also participate in discussion with folks like Larry who are distunguished for the thoughtful consideration of, in his case, IP and digital media.
Larry entered the room, and in a most casual way, nailed an introduction to Creative Commons and mashups, as developers need to consider intellectual property issues and data sharing across sites, databases and ownership.
I took notes on the white board behind, so that people could see what we'd covered. About 50 people came, with others trickling in over the hour and fifteen minutes. Then he asked and answered questions about the kinds of things developers worry about when they create mashups, whether it's for individual pieces of data, or whole databases. These issues are complicated, but by pointing out some important things, and addressing their concerns, people in the room seemed satisfied with the discussion and pleased with the help and attention that Larry was giving.
A couple of important ending points from the end of his talk:
Possible Solutions to our issues with copyright and mashups:
o We might make a catalog of uses and social norms and practices to document and show others real world behavior around mashups so that people can see what is happening who aren't in the community
o Become more active about updating the law to the 21st Century
Mashup makers should engage in these ways in the community:
o Live within the law of fair use and good faith
o Use the Golden rule: if you remix, let others do the same with your work product
Larry's a great speaker and cares deeply about fairness around copyright and communities that create and use creative artifacts, and the passion and care really show. Lots of folks told me they'd never seen him before and really enjoyed the session. We are grateful he came and spent the time with us.
Notes are here on the Mashup wiki.
Earlier Today at Mashup Camp
Someone came up to me this morning, pointed to Doc Searls, and said, ".. is that Doc Searls?"
I said yes.
He said, "Does he have a blog?"
"Kinda.. " I said. "Maybe you should google him."
February 14, 2006
The New Gossip
In IM, gossip would travel.. person to person.. slipping below the surface, and it might take days or weeks for something to be passed around, depending on what it was. We might post a photo or say something about ourselves on our blogs, but it would be rude to post some gossip on our blogs that wasn't about ourselves.
Now, for the tech community, with ValleyWag, gossip is explicitly written down and searchable later. Which makes our community more explicit for us, whether we want it that way or not.
In some ways, information that we all knew true is now out there publicly, and it's easier because things can be acknowledged and we move on. On the other hand, there is information that is probably encouraging more people to be mean and difficult, because it's out there explicitly too.
It's changing things; people are shifting their behavior. The contours for what we share just shifted with it. Circles are getting tighter in some ways and looser in others.. and people are watching out more for things they want to keep close. The community has changed and it will change more.
February 12, 2006
Advisors, Stock Options and FON
So this whole thing about advisors for FON has been kind of strange to watch (of course for the bloggers on both sides of it, who have been rather upset and of course for the FON people who probably didn't anticipate it and presumably were caught off guard, it's been more than strange).
So let me get this straight. FON got some advisors who are bloggers and nice names to associate with for credibility, but also folks who can actually advise the company on what they are actually doing. Those advisors say they are advisors in their blogs or other public spaces. Rebecca Buckman in the Wall Street Journal questioned the ethics of these advisors anyway, saying they can't be impartial if they blog about the company. Okay, that's her opinion. Those advisors haven't been offered anything yet, but the presumption is that they will make lots of money and therefore will only write positive things if they are on the advisory board. Maybe the advisors can't be impartial, but they have a right to blog what they want to, and we'll read them if they are transparent and we want to, the same as with her reporting. That's the deal. People blog. People scrutinize.
Okay, so let's be clear, most advisors do get some stock. But let's say hypothetically that FON has 40 million shares, and gives it's advisors, hypothetically, 10k shares each. And those shares are actually options that the advisors have to buy, and pay taxes on the difference in price between the value and the option price, even if they don't sell the shares they buy that day (where do you sell shares from an early startup.. there is no market for that) and likely, they are buying years before they are actually selling. All this probably means these advisors need some extra accounting, which they also have to pay for regardless of whether they ever see any profit from the stock. And FON got what, $21.7 million in venture funding? So, they have to sell for like, $217 million, minimum, to make those presumably non-preferred, common stock options worth something? And then, if the advisor pays the taxes, and the shares turn out to not be worth anything, that's another thing that the advisory/shareholder has to pay the accountant to get back (the taxes paid years before that are essentially a loan to the government).
So, like, maybe, MAYBE, those shares will be worth something way far down the road, after money is fronted by the advisor for options and the corresponding taxes and accountants. Maybe they would be worth, for common stock, I don't know, $10,000, if things worked out really really well? Or most likely, based on odds (and this is in no way a speculation about the company as it actually stands) worth nothing or a very small amount. It's just extremely unlikely that advisory boards make out on their stock options. And yet, here are all these people so pissed off over these advisorships, and this concept of gatekeepers to information who may (way down the road) make some money for their time as an advisor.
I realize there is a powerlaw and a corresponding curve where broadcast comparisons can be made to blogs at the top of that curve. And life isn't fair. Some people are born in different places, get access to better educations, learn how to write better, and end up with more highly read blogs at the top of the powerlaw curve. Some people are born with perfect noses. You can either accept it or yearn for plastic surgery. If you spend your life comparing yourself to others, you'll be miserable. Or you could just go about doing your thing and try to help people when you can, working toward righting some measure of inequity, making life more fair for everyone. One thing about the internet: the transaction costs for publishing are relatively cheap compared to legacy media, meaning you can whip up a blog and compete on pretty open terms with Google, the NY TImes or star-studded bloggers who get asked to join advisory boards. I will point out that the list of people on FON's advisory board is pretty star-studded. If this issue hadn't come up, I would have looked at it and thought they asked everyone to be there as much for their name status as for their actual advice. But now this issue has prompted bigger questions than just whether FON is using this group for their names or big blogs.
I want things to be as fair as possible too, and I'm all for better tools and information visualization to expose the blogs and people who are in the 'conversational middle' of that powerlaw curve of blogging. But is slamming this particular group the way to go about this? It sounds like a case of self pity (even if that's not what some of the people pointing out the problems intended) instead of addressing the real problems around powerlaw curves that are not a result of direct actions by these particular advisors. Rather, powerlaw issues are a result due in part to our human tendency to want information from perceived 'authorities.' Powerlaw curves happen, and my answer is to look for tools to thwart this very human tendency and that bring in new voices.
Additionally, one of my advisors for Dabble, who has been an advisor for maybe 20 companies over the past ten years told me that he's never seen anything from the stock of advisorships, even though some of the companies did well in one way or another.
The truth is, advisor stock is such a crap shoot. I've never heard of anyone who takes it seriously as actual compensation. It just isn't for real, and it's more of a headache for everyone, than anything else. When you are making a company, you can do as Ross Mayfield suggests and make the advisory board a useful and a strategic thing. But really, for me, my advisory board is a group of people that I talk with regularly, that I'm really so lucky to have helping me out, giving me precious time. While I will give stock to these advisors, they aren't thinking about the stock, but rather they care about helping me out. Some of them are famous for 15 bytes, and some of them are not. I asked them because I wanted to honor the contributions they'd made already and keep it going more formally.
I'd love to have their stock turn into something in a few years, a token for all their time and supportive help. A small gift for their enormous contributions at some critical moments. And that time doesn't including blogging. I don't need them to blog about Dabble and if it's going to cause problems for them, I'd rather they didn't. It's just unnecessary. But I do need their advice. And by calling them advisors, they get some stock. But it's token, a pittance, a gesture that doesn't begin to cover the help they are giving me.
They'd be better off if I took them out to dinner once in a while than for the stock they might someday get something for in the future. That is such a long way off.
I really think people need to chill out and get some perspective here. I mean, blogging is about being transparent, as the advisors of FON were. So as readers, you can decide what you think about their advisorship and disclosure, without the WSJ telling us the FON advisors are unscrupulous when they did in fact disclose. We readers are not robots believing everything we read with no critical thought. We see the disclosure and we take it into account in our mental calculations around the quality of information we get from any sources. So why make the FON advisors miserable for helping out.
If you want to change concentrations of power in the blogosphere, complaining about a few advisors won't do get us there. Point out the larger issues and then do something about them. That's constructive and hopefully very useful for us all. I would love to see A-Listers like Shelly Powers and Seth Finkelstein actually make something that changes the system. You both understand the problems well, but we need something constructive. Show us what you think would be the right way to change this situation, beyond people asking for links, because that isn't the answer. It's not scalable and links are a silly way to handle the demonstration of influence, at least all on their own. Other digital social gestures are needed and I'm looking forward to a greater solution than what folks have discussed in the last few days.
February 02, 2006
Dabble: It's Balpha!
Om Malik mentioned us late last night, and was very complementary. Thanks Om!
Om mentioned that we are video bookmarking site, but we have some other features as well, for people to search, browse and ask for video and make playlists.
We have lots of folks to thank, as we head towards a closed balpha launch next week (we'll invite folks in order from the email submissions.. because the engineers want to see how things go with the service, and test a few things, before we open up to the public). We'll be demoing Dabble on Wednesday night at an IDG thing. The engineers have been working very hard, and deserve kudos for their great work making the site.
Big thanks to investors like Hank Barry, Evan Williams, Steve Schlenker and Mark Pincus. Their support goes way beyond the financial. They have been invaluable to me with their advice, support, introductions and help. The Dabble Team could not have done this without them.
And our advisors too have been really great: Kent Bye, John Borthwick, Peter Hirshberg, Ross Mayfield, Glenn Reid, Sally Rosenthal, Doc Searls, and Jeff Ubois.
Thanks to all, and if you are interested in an invite, add your email to Dabble, and if you have questions, email me at mary at dabble.com.