Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for June, 2007

An interview with me at Supernova

Posted by shannonclark on June 23, 2007

Nick Douglas interviewed me yesterday at Supernova about my thoughts on social networks. Haven’t yet listened to myself but you can by taking a look at the interview at the Conversation Hub from Supernova 2007

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Posted in economics, networks, supernova2007, web2.0 | Leave a Comment »

MeshWalk Palo Alto – pre-announcement

Posted by shannonclark on June 22, 2007

For the past few weeks I have been planning the next MeshWalk, still have a few details to finalize before I can formally announce the date and full details and open up registration but I wanted to post a note here to keep my few blog readers informed of what I am working on in much the same way you would know if you have met me in the past few weeks.

MeshWalk Palo Alto will be the last week in July. The theme will be entrepreneurship. This MeshWalk will be by invite only, limited mostly to entrepreneurs. Like previous MeshWalk most of the day will be walking and outdoors, but captured and documented electronically.

We will start in the morning with conversations with Angel investors as well as some academic thinkers and researchers. For lunch we will be in downtown Palo Alto hosted by a couple of venture backed startups. Then we will head down Sand Hill Road and hold conversations with VC firms and some select related parties about the early stages of venture investing as well as follow on rounds, other forms of financing, and towards the end of the afternoon about late rounds as well as exits – both via IPO and acquisition.

We will then end the day with a party, probably hosted by a major local public tech company.

So, interested? If so, leave me a comment here or drop me a private email. In your note or email, even if I konw you, leave a very quick summary of what you are working on (or what you have founded in the past). I may not be the only person selecting who will get invitations to this MeshWalk. If you are not given an invite for this one, we will very likely be holding additional similar MeshWalks later this year in Palo Alto (and perhaps in San Francisco as well). I will also be holding a MeshWalk in NYC this fall. That MeshWalk will probably be more focused on Media and Advertising but entrepreneurs will of course be welcome to participate (indeed encouraged).

Trust me, when you see the list of who has agreed to sponsor this MeshWalk as well as who has offered to participate during the walk in conversations with entrepreneurs you will want to be there.

A few guidelines/rules however. No pitching. The point of the MeshWalk will be to focus on not selling your specific current project – but rather to learn from your peers, entrepreneurs who have done it before, and investors who work with and look at many entrepreneurs. Everything other than your specific company is open for discussion – who to work with, when to seek funding (and how much, what type etc), how to sell, how to fire, suggestions about adding early employees, other founders, board structures, etc.

Posted in economics, meshwalk, networks, venture capital, web2.0, working | 1 Comment »

Supernova 2007 – Dynamic Networks

Posted by shannonclark on June 21, 2007

For the opening speakers at the main days of Supernova Kevin scheduled among others, Clay Shirky. Clay’s talk, which was great, was about how communities online (and offline) are tied together by love.

The conversation sparked by his talk and by his co-speaker, Denise Caruso was great. I made a small contribution by noting the vital and import role of dynamics to these networks.

My point is that all too often when we talk about “Social Networks” what we end up talking about are static – maps of our “friends” and “their friends” etc. However in reality – and especially in the cases which Clay noted where social, online tools were used to rapidly react to for example disasters these are cases where the tools enabled new relationships to be created, new networks to form and for existing “networks” to change.

Over the past few days at Supernova, at discussions afterwards over dinner and drinks, I have been talking with a lot of people about dynamic networks – and the complexity of dealing with them. Many of the existing tools are designed for static systems – or for iterations of these systems at a few points in time – however in the cases of what interests me (Networked Economics) and in the case of what interests Clay Shirky – the amazing and powerful emerging social and business networks that are far different from slow or non-changing networks which have been studied in the past.

Posted in economics, internet, networks, San Francisco, supernova2007, web2.0 | Leave a Comment »

iPhone is priced well

Posted by shannonclark on June 18, 2007

Across the blogosphere and the major media leading up the launch of the iPhone there has been an ongoing discussion about whether or not Steve Jobs has overreached, about whether the iPhone will be as successful as they have projected. In almost all places I’m reading about people complaining about the price – and assuming that noone will buy a $500-600 phone, at least not in mass numbers – that the only way to get to the 10M phone target Apple has set for themselves will be massive discounting and/or cheaper models.

However I disagree.

I think they will indeed sell 10M and could in fact (if they can make and ship them) sell more.

One reason I believe this may be the case is that what many people are missing from the overall analysis about the iPhone and phone prices is that for many years now we have been significantly decreasing how much many of us (and our businesses) spend on communications.

Not all that long ago I shopped for various long distance calling plans, worried about how many minutes I was using on my cell phone and otherwise had highly variable land line and cell phone bills. However for a few years now, with the exception of a few spikes when I did highly unusual usage (data plans overseas, 1000’s of sms messages) my total monthly communications costs have been very stable for a long time. And if it were not for DSL I probably would not have a land line at all (I so rarely use it I don’t actually know my home number anymore).

I doubt that I am alone.

Businesses likewise have many options today for managing their telecommunications costs – VOIP systems which allow them to route much of their traffic via broadband pipes – which are usually paid for on a fixed monthly basis vs. a usage metered model, Skype and other similar tools which allow VOIP to be extended to non-internal users etc.

Yes, I have to decide if I want to spend the fixed investment on getting an iPhone (I’ll almost certainly get one relatively soon – for me it is a direct business expense since I’m building mobile web applications) but I have to also keep in mind that my total communications spending has been going down.

Plus when you factor in the default preference to wifi vs. EDGE on the iPhone (something many people who are complaining bout EDGE speeds are missing) I have to seriously consider that the iPhone may even more so than my current “smartphone” allow me to go without a laptop ever more often. For me that is by itself worth a great deal (and my back will thank me as well).

The wifi default has some other really interesting possibilities – for one, it raising the prospect of finally being able to use smartphone network features while using the phone to make a phone call – i.e. looking up something in my email while I am on the phone with someone (something today I cannot do, yet as I move most of my data to the web, something I need to do quite frequently).

The only major item missing, as best I can tell, from the iPhone which would make it nearly perfect (for me at least) would be an sd (or mini-sd) card reader built into the phone. That would allow me to utilize the wifi connection to upload photos from my camera – plus allow me options to expand the storage capabilities beyond the built-in capacities. However it would also very likely have a cost in terms of power – and from a design perspective would require additional openings.

I also have not yet read whether or not the batteries will be easy to swap – I have often purchased more than one battery for past phones to allow me to swap in a new battery as needed to keep going when I have not been able to recharge during the day.

But small quibbles about what should be a really great new device for consumers.

Getting back to price. I think that what many people are missing is that it can be a very good thing for an overall market to move a price point UP. This happens when you shift expectations – and when you are selling more than “just” something that people have almost considered a commodity. Cell phones for all of their massive variety today, have by means of the pervasive “free phones” been defined by many as a commodity, as interchangeable. Not all that different from “coffee” in the pre-Starbucks world.

The point, however, that Starbucks realized – and which so many people and detractors did not, is that people will pay more for better overall experiences. Contrast any Starbucks, anywhere in the world, with a Dunkin’ Donuts (which for years claimed to have the most popular coffee in the country so not a random comparison). See the difference? Even at Starbuck’s smallest stores there is a unity of look and message being sent by the design of the spaces – one which in their larger stores extends to a message of “here is a space to spend time in, to sit down, relax, work, converse”. In contrast most fast food/chain stores have an industrial look and feel – very little fabric or organic (woods etc) materials, instead lots of metals and plastics are more typical. Plain glasses, little art on the walls etc.

In a similar vein, think about how phones are sold today and how communications in general is marketed pre-iPhone. A few vendors who focus on the form & extra features, but a lot more who focus on the lowest common denominator – lowest price etc.

In contrast the iPhone is offering (and marketing) a richer and more expensive product. But not a product inherently designed to be super-exclusive or ultra-rare (and thus pricey mostly for the sake of being pricey) but one that is marketed as a mass, popular product – which happens to also be priced at a high (relative to current mass alternatives) price.

Posted in economics, Entrepreneurship, geeks, mac, mobile, networks, working | Leave a Comment »

Celebrating my birthday by cooking for my friends

Posted by shannonclark on June 16, 2007

Monday is my birthday.

To celebrate tomorrow I am having a bunch of friends – old & new – over to my apartment in San Francisco and I will be cooking up a storm for them. My gift to myself being a chance to indulge, to buy some of the plenty of amazing foods of Northern California and prepare them in a light but tasty manner.

My planned menu (still may change and I’ll try to post photos later) is as follows:

Bagels w/tuna lox, cream cheese, capers. Not completely traditional, but a bit of an indulgence. Purchased at the Farmer’s Market this morning, unlike anything I have ever had before. The Bagels will be from House of Bagels which claims to do “authentic” NY style bagels – we’ll put them to the test.

Copper river salmon w/greens and citrus. A very lean piece of fresh salmon which I will sear on the stove, then finish in a very hot oven. Served on a mix of arugula and lettuce with some sweet onions and oranges. The dressing will be a very light mustard vinaigrette.

Farm Fresh organic omelettes with choice of rotisserie chicken or wild mushrooms. A mix of eggs from local organic farms prepared fresh with an organic Sonoma chicken or with a selection of sauteed wild mushrooms.

Niman Ranch bacon. For the carnivores, some of the best bacon in the world.

Frog Hollow Farm peaches and apricots. 10 lbs of some of the best fruits in the world. I doubt we’ll have any left.

2 types of 10yr old cheddar. When cheddar is allowed to age past about 8 years it changes considerably, the flavor is more intense, there are calcium crystals which develop. I was in Madison Wis over Memorial Day and I picked up 1 1/2 lbs of cheddar which we will share tomorrow.

For dessert I have a bunch of amazing blueberries, most likely I’ll pair them with Mitchell’s ice cream (or possibly a Mitchell’s ice cream cake).

To drink I hope to have fresh orange and grapefruit juice to serve with good champagne, as well as a selection of ice teas, hot teas & coffee, and really good, stove top prepared Mexican Hot Chocolate.

And I suspect there will be some additions to that list, surprises I decide to add as I finish up my shopping today.

The rest of my day will be spent finishing the shopping as well as in cleaning (and more cleaning). But this is my present to myself – a chance to have lots of friends over, to cook for them, and to force myself to clean, to reorganize, to make my home suitable for company to visit.

This summer, amongst all my other business projects I plan on repeating brunches and likely dinners such as this. Small gatherings of friends to cook for (and with), chances to entertain, the play games perhaps, to be together and converse – bound as well by the plenty of flavors and foods of our region.

If you are reading this and in San Francisco this weekend, do leave a comment or contact me – I’d be happy to have you join us tomorrow, or if not then at a future gathering.

More on the topic of age later, I have much to say about age and technology (and business) in light of the current discussions sweeping the blogosphere. But for now, my focus is on tomorrow’s feast – and on the preparations I have to make for that feast.

Posted in personal, San Francisco | Leave a Comment »

On community building – what matters is why

Posted by shannonclark on June 6, 2007

Today in Silicon Valley there was an unconference on Online Community. I was traveling to NYC today so was unable to attend but I weighed in on the active discussion on upcoming about the fact that they charged for participation in this unconference (and though not high by the standards of major tech/business event, nearly $20o seemed like a lot to many of the commenters who felt that unconferences should, by their very nature, always be “free”.

Also today my friend Edward Vielmetti blogging from Ann Arbor Michigan wrote about discussions he had recently about starting and keeping a group going.

I think, however, there are some basic issues that hold true for online communities as well as hybrid online/offline groups (and for entirely “offline” groups). Basic issues that are so basic they often go undiscussed or thought about.

First – what is reason for the group?

Second – are the patterns of the group aligned with the purpose of the group. By patterns I mean the online tools being used, the timing of offline events & meetings, even how people are invited to join and participate in the group

Third – if the group is intended to persist (not all groups are, many have designed into them a planned end – think an entering class of students, or a campaign for a specific election) is the group’s patterns aligned with persistence? For example, does the group depend almost solely on one person (so that person ceasing to be active, for whatever reason, could define the end of the group as well)

Groups come in a variety of types. The purpose of these groups – and the meaning/import given to the group by members (and by non-members if they are aware of it) differs widely. Yet all to often people ignore these differences and assume that somehow all “groups” are akin to each other – that they all have the same broad structures & patterns and thus for many might all be manageable via the same set of infrastructure and technology.

A few types of groups

A group to accomplish a specific non-individual task. Team competitions are often a clear example of this – i.e. a group of people have to enter together and compete together and the group is thus often defined via this shared, joint activity. Frequently when an individual is no longer able to contribute towards the group tasks in the same way they first find other means of participating and then later have to stop their group activity (though a small handful might remain involved via coaching.  In these types of groups (and many companies fall into this type as well) what is crucial is an individual’s role in accomplishing the group task – and more fundamentally what that group task is and what has to happen to achieve it.

A group which exists to define trust. This is a bit harder to give examples of if you are not an active member in one or more of these types of groups, but there are many groups which exist not to accomplish a specific task together, but which are created around some common bond (often a shared experience and/or connection to an individual or organization) and which exist in large part to create and validate trust amongst the members. This trust enabling the individual members to engage with each other in an advantageous way – usually, though not exclusively for financial gain. I am personally a member of a number of these types of groups – they have usually been by far and way the most “productive” groups I belong to. Furthermore they are the “groups” which have historically built up lasting and strong friendships – as well as business partnerships.

With this second type of group I am primarily considering trust between group members. These groups serve a vital and powerful role of filters, once you are “in” the other members hold you (and each other) with some regard and are usually willing to extend deeper and more significant trust within the group than they would with a non-group member with whom they had the same degree of contact. A small example, in such groups it is by no means uncommon for group members to offer each other a place to stay – even to members they may have never previously met in person.

Groups which exist to define identity external to the group. There are countless examples of these types of groups – actively created by their members (honors societies, graduates of a given school, alumni of a given corporation) or created by other (races, speakers with a given accent, people meeting some physical criteria such as height or hair color). It may just be personal, but though I qualify for some of these groups – and have observed many others, I tend to find groups which exist primarily for external validation to be of minimal personal interest or utility. Many of these groups do also have significant intra-group activities (IEEE, Mensa, various alumni groups etc) and people do find value from these interactions with other members. But fundementally the purpose of many of these groups is to serve as shorthand, to validate and often rank someone within some external criteria (when they are formally defined – though it is easy to argue also with some such as race as well).

“Groups” such as religious organizations (churches, monasteries,  religious orders) may cross a couple of these definitions. For their members they often exist for a specific purpose – a church for example might exist to fulfill religious requirements. That same church may also serve as high trust group for members (certainy church members often help each other out). And finally a public definition of a religious order or group might serve in part to place someone externally. Religious attire – from a cross around someone neck, to the vestments of an Orthodox Hassidic Jew, to a Hajjib, all serve to define their wearer in at least two important ways. Externally to the group (as a clear “other”) and internally as a “fellow traveler”.

There is much more to explore here in this post I have touched on many topics each worthy of much longer bits of writing. Please leave comments if I have missed critical types of groups, if you disagree with my points (or even if you agree) and I welcome examples, counterexamples, and further discussion. At somepoint this summer I will be organizing one or more one day MeshWalks and I welcome futher discussion on types, roles, and definitions of groups.

Posted in economics, meshforum, networks, politics | 2 Comments »

Travels and June conferences

Posted by shannonclark on June 3, 2007

Later this week I will be attending the Future of Online Advertising conference in NYC. I fly to NYC Tuesday night (taking JetBlue so I anticipate fewer problems than with my recent United travels). I am looking forward to this conference as a chance for me to learn deeply about the current state of the online (and especially mobile) advertising worlds. In the next few months NELA Partners will be turning on and opening up to other publishers our advertising network. This week will be a chance for me to learn as well as to network with others in the industry.

I will be staying in the New York area for a few days after FoOA working as well as connecting with friends and family in the NYC area.

Then I have a few days here in the Bay Area, a weekend birthday brunch to organize and host, and then in the following week I will be actively participating at Supernova 2007 here in San Francisco. My hope is to organize a talk/session for the open space day on June 19th, and to be an active participant throughout the week.

Following Supernova I have a few weeks of work, probably mostly here in San Francisco, though I’ll likely also be spending some time in Palo Alto.

In mid-July I plan on returning to Chicago for a non-work conference, Think Galactic, a science fiction convention put on by a bunch of my friends in a political science fiction reading group I was part of when I lived in Chicago (though not as active as I might have liked as I often had conflicts on the nights they met). A bit left of my political leanings perhaps (though I’m pretty difficult to place on a left/right spectrum and in general think that politics is far more complex than just left vs. right). And yes, I’m a capitalist which is not a label many of the organizers would accept for themselves. But still, it will be a weekend of intelligent conversations with very smart people.

I may also return to Chicago for BlogHer at the end of July. Still trying to decide, I’d like to go, but two trips to Chicago in one month… (though given that I have so many friends and family in Chicago I’ll probably go).

Then in August I will probably be going up to Seattle for Gnomedex. For which I probably should register very soon if I want to go.

Somewhere in July or early August, scheduled around these travels, as well as other related events here in San Francisco and in Silicon Valley, I hope to hold the next MeshWalk. This time in Palo Alto along Sand Hill Road. Still working out the details (and the sponsors) but the basic plan is to work with a number of VC firms and companies to have a conference that is in motion, with lots of places to stop during the day. Stops ranging from small startups, to places of historical note, to VC firms. We may start with a “traditional” breakfast, likely will have lunch somewhere notable, and will end with a party. I hope to have the basic details set within the next week or two.

If you are interested in attending the MeshWalk, hosting it and/or sponsoring it please leave a comment or contact me directly.

And that takes me through August. I do not think I’ll be going to Burning Man this year, too much else going on, though I may go to something over Labor Day weekend (probably not the WorldCon this year either however – Japan is a long way to travel). Already I have plans for a week+ trip back to Oaxaca in the fall, along with likely many trips to NYC.

In and amidst all of this travel and conferences, my primary focus for the Summer will be the continued growth of NELA (and likely the launch of a few related projects).  In a few weeks after we complete some major bug fixes and feature enhancements we should be opening up NELA to many more beta users.

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, meshwalk, NYC, personal, politics, San Francisco, venture capital, working | Leave a Comment »

Back home in the windy city of San Francisco

Posted by shannonclark on June 1, 2007

I left the hot and sticky unseasonably warm city of Chicago yesterday and returned home to San Francisco, where today the winds are blowing and rattling the windows of my apartment as I write this post.  As my flight landed and I made my way home from the airport, I realized that for the first time since I moved out to the Bay Area that San Francisco was now my home, not just where I happened to live at the moment.

Not perhaps where I will live forever, but home for now. Chicago & Oak Park, which had been home for so many years, and which I will always treasure and return to from time to time, is however no longer my home.

It is a complex question – what makes a place home. For me, I have retrained my eyes, finally starting to see and appreciate a non-flat part of the globe, a place where in the distance are hills, parks, forests, and 1000’s of others. Chicago is a bigger city than San Francisco – bigger by near 3x – but in my day to day walking in each city, San Francisco feels bigger – your eye takes in more of the city, more people. In Chicago when you walk down most streets you see only the buildings on either side of you and a few in front, occasionally towards downtown you see a few skyscrapers as well, but your vision is always constrained to the nearby, to the artificial and manmade.

In the Bay Area (and indeed throughout the west coast and northwest) however at most times besides the buildings immediately to each side of you, there are likely many more above or below, at every corner a new vista can unfold – one which often will stretch across water and to hills and mountains in the far distance.

It is still unusual to me, still new, but I feel it is teaching me something. I suspect that our environment shapes how we interact with each other.

Posted in personal, San Francisco | Leave a Comment »