Searching for the Moon

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

Archive for July, 2007

Advertising – a Facebook experiment to try yourself

Posted by shannonclark on July 31, 2007

As I have noted in other places, the major project I am working on this year is launching a new advertising network. This is a large project and over the next weeks and months I will be writing much more about it, but this post is about a simple experiment you can do yourself today. I have been paying a lot of attention to ads across the web (and elsewhere, we’re not just focusing on today’s websites in our plans).

Today I noticed one type of advertising in work. The “global cookie” model of advertising, made famous (and indeed in this specific case implemented) by Doubleclick.

On hearing, via twitter, about the news of the approval of the purchase of the WSJ I went to their website to read their take on the acquisition.

After I read the article, I went next, in a separate tab in Firefox, to Facebook where I updated my status in my Facebook profile.

As I did so, I looked at the ad on that page. It was an ad for the WSJ, the site I had just visited. When I went back to the home page of Facebook, the skyscraper ad on the left (that’s the tall ad banner) was now showing an ad for a stock trading company. In short, I had been globally profiled by the doubleclick cookie used to serve ads on both the WSJ and Facebook websites.

One of the first times I have seen this directly work in action – and one which I think everyone can probably test out for themselves.

In this, limited case, it does both make some sense and results in better ads than usually shown to me (at least) on Facebook.

I think, however, there are many much better ways to achieve higher value commercial messages. Higher value not just to the publishers who show them – but higher value to the commercial entities which pay for them. And most importantly, higher value to the individuals – such as myself – who see and have to interact with them (or as in many cases avoid them via tools such as pop-up blockers).

That’s part of why we’re building a new ad network.

But try the experiment for yourself – go to a site, such as the WSJ, then go to another site using Doubleclick (such as Facebook) and see what happens.

Posted in advertising, economics, Entrepreneurship, internet, web2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Networking Advice – non-valley style

Posted by shannonclark on July 31, 2007

I am a geek. Let me get that right out there, in high school and even in college I was not by any stretch the most popular kid around, heck in high school as a freshman and sophomore I wasn’t all that comfortable calling girls on the phone (this was in the late-80’s, long before cell phones).

Why do I mention this?

Well since college I have become a fairly serious networker. I run conferences, organize events, attend many others and close to 100% of my business development happens as a result of the contacts and connections I make at events (and at follow ups to events such as dinners after).

At the closing party for the Mobile MeshWalk I held last March here in San Francisco one of the MeshWalkers told me a story of advice and training he had received from his boss when he first arrived in Silicon Valley. The advice – “don’t spend more than 2 minutes talking to someone at a networking event, look at their nametag and decide quickly if they are worth your time, if not move on”.

He noted that this was horrible advice – and thanked me for organizing an event which broke with that model and tradition – an event which encouraged longer conversations.

In the past week here in Silicon Valley you could have attended a major networking event/party nearly every single night. Last night it was a blogger dinner (at $40 a pop), Saturday it was my friend Scott Beale’s LaughingSquid Paradise Lost fundraiser, Friday night it was the infamous TechCrunch party at August Capital, Thursday night my friend’s at Satisfaction held an office warming, cupcake party. Wednesday I held my MeshWalk Palo Alto.

Leaving aside my own event, which both was different from the others by virtue of being a full day event and which my results from differ because I am the organizer of the event, the other events show both what is great about the valley and what is so very wrong. My friend’s boss’s advice being the starting point.

In the Valleywag coverage of the TechCrunch party one paragraph by my former college editor Owen Thomas stood out to me.

It was the same small talk, the same pitches, and the same scanning of nametags before faces as any other Valley networking event. With one small hitch — partygoers were asked to fill out their own nametags, and most neglected to include their company information. That omission perplexed at least one venture capitalist in attendance. “I feel like I’m walking socially blind,” he confessed. “I don’t know how important these people are to me.” You mean Arrington’s velvet rope-holders let in some hoi polloi who aren’t worth your time, let alone your capital? Quelle horreur!

A few things to note here. One, Owen observes the same behavior I have, the scanning of nametags to judge whether someone is worthy of time spent talking with them. Two, the sense that lacking this context you are “socially blind”. Three, the implication that you should only talk with “important” people.

Let me now give you, the reader, some different advice.

And so you can judge me, some context. I run a conference on the study of networks, most weeks I meet my personal goal of meeting 5-10 new people (and have for nearly over a decade – do the math), my last event, the MeshWalk Palo Alto drew nearly 100 entrepreneurs and investors for a day of walking, was sponsored by Mohr Davidow Ventures, and well over a dozen angels and vc’s participated.

So, my advice.

1. Networking is about giving and listening.

Spend your time when you meet people thinking about how you can help them. Often this can be both very simple and immediate – introduce people who you meet at a party to each other. As you do, mention why you are introducing them i.e. “John, meet Jenny, she mentioned that she’s looking at deals in the healthcare space and you were telling me about your friend’s new medical startup…”

To do this well you have to be listening. Listen not for a pause when you can enter and pitch yourself/company/product/investment opportunity, listen for how you and the person you are talking with can form a connection.

2. Have a very concise, two or three at the most sentence explanation for yourself.

This is something I have to work on, in part because I am working on too many projects at once (three startups, one ongoing non-profit, writing a book on economics). But for all of the projects I am involved in, I can explain them very simply and quickly – in a few simple, easy to understand sentences – which generally get a reaction of head nodding and interest in the project.

Getting to this point is not easy. In many ways it is harder than writing a long business plan. You have to strip away everything that is unnecessary and communicate quickly what you are working on. Without, ideally, doing so in a jargon or buzzword filled manner (I never use terms such as “web 2.0” when describing my projects, even those that are, in fact, “web 2.0” in spirit).

The point of this is to get the introductions behind you and to give someone stuff to continue to talk with you about – give them hooks to a conversation.

3. Parties and events are the starting point, not the end point.

Photos with celebs can be fun. Being on the guest list is always nice. But from a business perspective the conversations and discussions at a party are just the starting point. Make a point of following up with people – in ways that emphasize giving not taking. If while you are talking with someone you mention a book they should read, a person they should talk to, when you get back from the party fire off a quick email introduction or a reminder about the book/website/tool you mentioned. This does not take long but has a very real impact.

4. It is not quid-pro-quo.

Frequently people’s reaction when you do something for them is to try to “pay you back”. There is a strong sense that networking is some form of accounts – that you do favors and then collect on them, that people “owe you”.

Please, break yourself of this instinct. Not the part of it which inspires you to help others, but the part which tries to keep accounts, which tries to weigh whether someone can help you before you help them.

If I were to trace back the links and connections which have, in the past, resulted in business deals and opportunities for me, rarely is the line simple or direct. Usually it is something more like:

I was at an event, got into a conversation with another attendee, we went out for dinner as a group, later followed up via emails, over time those emails led to me participating in an online discussion group, later that led to other introductions, those introductions led to meetings while I was visiting CA, when I moved out to CA those occasional meetings grew more frequent, leading to participation at an event, which led to going to another event, which led to a conversation, that led to a lunch meeting in NYC, which led to a partnership to start three companies this year.

And that’s the relatively simple, straightforward version.

The full, detailed account would take a lot longer to explain – and takes many more twists and turns and mutual introductions and reconnections.

But, by giving back, by helping others via my comments, introductions and referrals, I have gotten far more. Not via direct paybacks, but indirectly.

5. Know what to ask for, and very important, ask for it.

People often ask me, “How do you get…” (sponsors, attendees, speakers, funding, clients, partners etc).

My usual and true answer is “I ask.”

It is amazing how few people do and how often asking the right people for the right thing gets amazing results.

Critically I do not usually ask in ways that only lead to yes or no. Rather I ask for something very specific (will you speak? Can you sponsor this?) but also for something openended “Who else should be speaking? Who should I be talking with about this? What should I read or take a look at?”.

This combination of specific and openended has worked very well for me. The specific leads to a yes or a no (and seriously, getting a quick no is really valuable – the worst result is the indeterminate answer that delays you from asking others). By asking for something open ended you give people a chance to help even if they can’t immediately do your specific request – i.e. if they can’t fund you, they may still help via some introductions, if they can’t make it to your event they may help via inviting someone to go in their place.

Getting to the point where you know what to ask for, however, is hard work. You have to really deeply understand your project and what next steps you need to take.

A few specific examples to help illustrate this.

I have many projects going at the moment. However what we need, for now, is not overly complicated.

– we need specific types of partners for trials we plan for our ad network this fall (publishers, advertisers)

– this is leading to needing serious investment (but for now we’re starting to talk with investors but mostly need to know who might be good fits when we are ready)

– for my next few MeshWalk’s I need participants (in Seattle Aug 12) and sponsors (for NYC in Sept)

– for another project which we are about to launch, we will need the right type of (probably) angel investor interested in content investments (online and to a degree offline)

– for that same project we need to talk with large (ideally trade show sized) event organizers in Chicago or San Francisco

We have other needs – for beta testers, for future hires, for certain types of partners. But, those are my current priorities and thus what I mostly ask for when it is appropriate to ask. And I have what we are looking for down pretty specifically (I can get into details about the trials this fall for example).

Specifics, even if open ended i.e. “who should speak”, lead generally to better results than very vague and uncertain questions.

i.e. don’t ask “can you help me with my startup”

Ask for something more specific. I have a call scheduled later this week with a former CEO who built, took public, and sold a company in a space we’re entering. My call is to get his perspective on our plans and to ask him if he would join our board (at least our advisory board, but very likely after we raise funds our formal board). This is very specific and importantly, he knows why I am talking with him (his perspective and advice would be very helpful plus his association would help as we raise money). I am also going to be asking him specifically about hiring sales and business development people in this space.

I hope this is helpful. Please leave comments with other advice (and feel free to point out alternatives or clarifications to this document).

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, meshforum, meshwalk, networks, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , | 13 Comments »

Shifting from event planning to company launches

Posted by shannonclark on July 27, 2007

This past Wednesday the MeshWalk Palo Alto which I have been planning for a bit over a month took place. Nearly 100 people participated over the course of the day, well over a dozen investors and 75+ entrepreneurs. I was thrilled, as some of the MeshWalkers have noted, at how diverse the participation in the MeshWalk was. I have long argued both in this blog and in comments and discussions elsewhere the value of diversity – that though I am indeed a white, male American, I want to hear and meet people of many different backgrounds, with a variety of perspectives.

One other note about the MeshWalk, one of the participants noted that it was only the second event he has seen which included public transit directions in the conference materials – and the other event was a conference on green and sustainable development so it was somewhat expected there. As a rare CA resident (and rare American) who does not own a car, I too have noted this lack in the directions and descriptions most events provide.

So, though I will be planning many future MeshWalks, now my attention and focus shifts from the active planning of a large event to the launch of multiple projects (companies) this summer. It is a balancing act – I have a great deal of important work to do as my contribution to these projects – writing projects to complete, data entry, UI testing, sales and business development calls to make, important business milestones to define and track, to a degree business plans to write (more specifically not formal plans but simple yet informative spreadsheets to track the key metrics for each business – and thus our plans and timing to test, measure and prove the business models). In short plenty of work (and these being bootstrapped startups, probably really plenty of work for multiple people but work which I will have to complete for the most part myself).

But I have to balance this with the important role of getting out of the house, of talking with people of doing business development not just via email or phone calls but also be in person meetings – both one-on-one but perhaps more importantly in many cases via attending and participating in the wide range of events throughout the Bay Area (and at times conferences and events outside of the bay area). Just this evening, while getting dinner with a group of people after one such event I had a brief conversation and exchange of cards with someone working at a company that is precisely who I need to talk with to line up as a participant in the beta trials for the ad network we are building. And at  the party before the dinner I spent a lot of time reconnecting with people – learning for example that one friend may soon be taking a C-level position at a large firm which may be a potential client for one of the projects I’m working, I also chatted with another friend who thought I should talk with the organizer of a conference at which I might be an appropriate speaker, etc. In short the social glue which binds business – for even at the largest of scales business is personal.

Yes, the numbers have to work and you have to deliver, but opportunities arise from this social fabric. In comparing the tech landscape of Chicago to the Bay Area, as I was doing multiple times in the past few days, I have been noting the fluidity of the business world here (in the bay area). People who work at your competitors today may be your boss tomorrow (probably at an entirely new company). It is not just that every investor knows each other (or at a minimum talks with each other) the same holds true with most positions here in the area.

It is one of the reasons I do not hold to the position of being “in stealth”. I do see the role that mode can play in group unity and in an ability to take on large targets/competitors and perhaps launch and surprise them – but one major tole it takes is to disconnect your team (and partners & investors) from the casual conversations which permeate San Francisco. Just tonight, for example, at the same table were Twitter employees and Pownce employees. Yes, they compete, but they also attend the same parties, know many of the same circle of friends, and it is not unlikely that at some future company current competitors will be working together (perhaps as investors if both firms are successful).

Tonight (Friday) is the TechCrunch Party where some 500+ people will attend, network with each other, and chat. At the last party I actually had some really interesting conversations – I hope I have many tomorrow as well. However I am also in a new mode for tonight’s event than I was previously.

For this event I have a number of specific goals – a bit of a rarity for me – so let me share them publically here (as I mentioned, I am very much about being open).

1. In the late summer/early fall we plan on conducting a trial of a new ad network. This requires building relationships with both publishers (broadly defined – in our case specifically application publishers mostly, though possibly also some “content” sites) and equally with the right matching mix of advertisers.  So I am actively networking to talk with application publishers, direct advertisers, and media buying/campaign management firms.

2. The purpose of the trial – in addition to making money and providing a valuable service to all parties (including the users of the applications) – is to prove out portions of our business and help us raise the right amount of capital. So I need to be proactive in starting conversations with the right mix of investors (and also need to define the scope of funding we’ll need – as well as what in the current market we should expect & try for).

3. In addition to the ad network, we have two other projects which are getting ready to launch (or in one case open up the launch much more widely). So I need to think about how to spread the word about these projects and how to seed the initial launches – i.e. who I know who would be interested and passionate users (and thus testers – by beta we really do mean beta).

4. And again in one of these cases (possibly in both) we are investigating raising funds (probably angel scale of investment) and we will be seeking ways to prove those business models as well. For the content play – think a Zagat’s like guide by business people for business people I need to talk with the organizers of conferences and trade shows. Especially ones to be held in the Bay Area (SF or the East Bay in particular) or in Chicago.

So I have some agendas in my conversations at events these days. But as well I want to spread the word about my own events to people who might enjoy participating in them (next MeshWalk is Aug 12th in Seattle after the Gnomedex conference for example).

If you are reading this, wondering how/if you “meet” what I have outlined above, please feel free to ignore what I have written and when we meet, perhaps tonight at the party, just tell me about yourself and what you are doing – I am always happy to help if I can, if an introduction makes sense making it (whenever possible at that event). My philosophy is always to try to be helpful, to assume the best of people until proven wrong, to give. I try to be open about what I am doing – but also attentive to others and what they are doing, listening for when I get a sense of “hmm you have to…” as I talk with someone.

So a bit of a mental shift for me this weekend, but a good one.

Posted in customer service, Entrepreneurship, meshwalk, networks, San Francisco, venture capital, web2.0, working | Leave a Comment »

Yellow and Green – color blindness and UI design

Posted by shannonclark on July 19, 2007

I am partially colorblind. In college I briefly worked for an eye researcher and took what was then the most accurate colorblindness test in the world. My color blindness is about as minor as possible to still deem me as having colorblindness, but it is very real.

In my case, there is a band of “orange” which appears undifferentiated to my eyes, but which a person with normal color sight would perceive as having variation.

The impact, however, of this very seemingly trivial difference in my eyesight, is that in general there are many yellows and light, yellowy greens which I do not perceive as different.

Take any Mac window. You know those three buttons on the top left side of the screen? I see a red button and then two yellowish buttons. Looking quickly, I can’t tell which is yellow and which is green (I only think that one is green because people have told me).

Or look at the LED’s on an iPod Shuffle (at least on the first generation) there too apparently, I’ve been told, the LED will show yellow for one signal and green for another – but I do not perceive this difference at all.

On the web almost all flash (or javascript) games which involve matching colors end up using yellow and green in a way that make it impossible, literally impossible, for me to play these games with any degree of success.

Windows is by no means exempt here either, in the midst of my troubleshooting my tablet issues today (tablet stopped working as a tablet, system is running insanely slow – 5-6 minutes to boot up, 3-4 minutes to wake from sleep, 10+ minutes sometimes to shut down, 3-5 minutes to sleep) I am running Diskkeeper to defragment my hard drive. Nice, except it too uses yellow and green to show certain different types of files on the system – I literally cannot see which is which.

It is important to realize that this is not a case of I see something as “yellow” which you would call “green”, rather it is that I see both of these shades as the same – I can’t see that there is any difference between them at all – especially when quickly glancing at them (as in playing a game). Intellectually I know there is a difference (say between the buttons on a Mac Window), but my eyes do not show me that difference.

Years ago this is why I never played many computer games and almost never played team online games such as Doom, Battletech, etc. I usually could not perceive the signals they used to show friend or foe. Or in the case of many of the games with puzzles, often they included an aspect which relied on color differences which I could not see. In the case of the first person shooter this lack of differentiation meant that my reactions were much slower, I would have to look for other signals as to “friend or foe” or for targeting etc.

So though I love games, love design, and spent the majority of my time in front of computer screens my colorblindness means that I have not been able to enjoy many of the even very simple pleasures, let along complex ones such as World of Warcraft, which many others enjoy.

I am also not alone with this, figures differ a bit and do have some racial/geographic differences, but something like 10% of the population (more men than women since it is at least in part tied to the same chromosomes as gender) are color blind. Some yellow/green like myself and others red/blue. A few do not see color at all, but I most, like myself, see color, just not all the same variations as someone with normal sight.

I will try to find illustrations and examples, but if you read this post and are involved in UI design – on the web, on desktops, or for that matter in any game console or other consumer product, TEST YOUR UI with people who have color blindness. There are many colors you can choose from – select ones which very rarely have perception problems. Also, whenever possible use MULTIPLE signals to show difference, rather than only using color (as in the case of the mac buttons without a mouseover action), do something like those buttons do on mouse over – show symbols on them as well. But realize that even then people such as myself literally cannot act on an instruction such as “click on the yellow button”. Make sure you say something like “click on the middle, yellow button with the minus sign”

And if you work for Apple or Microsoft – can you please change your defaults.

Posted in mac, microsoft, personal, tablet pc | 4 Comments »

Liveblogging the Future of Media Summit 2007

Posted by shannonclark on July 17, 2007

I am sitting in a conference room in San Francisco, watching a discussion happening live in front of me and via videoconference in Australia. This is all part of the Future of Media Summit organized by my friend Ross Dawson.

The summit started in a very future forward manner, a Skype conference call while viewing on a projected screen a conference space in Second Life, with the main speakers calling in from Toronto. Nothing earth shattering but a good update on the presence of over 100 large corporations as well as the very global characteristics of the Second Life community (estimated at about 400-800k active users, but 63% or more non-US).

Now the panel is talking about future business models. I think people are missing key points, though they do get some. For one, people have written off the value and revenues of music too rapidly I suspect. One of the current speakers from Australia gave his list of business models as

1. Audience pays for content

2. Third-party pays for access to your audience

3. Third-party pays for your content for their audience

One buisiness model he is missing is selling something else – for example data generated by watching the interactions of your audience. Ross just asked about micropayments.

Keith Tarre (of Edgeio – who are hosting my MeshWalk next week) is making some points about selling micro-chunks of content sold without a storefront (a listing becomes transactional) – i.e. you can sell from inside of your blog for example. “Selling content through peer relationships”

Ross just asked about the Zune to the woman from Microsoft who is on the panel here in San Francisco. She pointed out, however, that the peer-to-peer sharing is actually not selling.

She is talking about peer to peer networks who are also advertising platforms (I think she is thinking about sites such as Joost).

First Neil Stephenson citation of the conference. Snowcrash mentioned specifically – a little woot for that, though I think there is more and richer complexity than the panelists are citing at the moment.

Discussion of “proxy currencies” (Linden Dollars) however I think you should consider many of these as real currencies.

Point was made that direct email marketing is personalized advertising today and works. Keith mentioned JCrew who know his shirt size and sends him very targeted emails a few times a month.

Keith just noted that targeted advertising in the case of the TechCrunch job board generates about $30k per month and has about 30k page views per month, for an effective CPM of $1000. Because it has an very targeted audience and message and is effective.

I asked about the concept of selling data gathered in course of a media business, mentioned specifically Technorati, but I was hoping to get into other areas as well. The panelists seemed to agree with my point but think that the best opportunities would be for the company themselves to leverage that data, which is not exactly my point. My point is that there can often be adjacent businesses which want something different – for example tracking trends.

Next panel includes Mitch Ratcliffe and Gage Rivera here in San Francisco is on influence networks. Now someone from Australia talking about social network analysis. Something I know a bit about from running MeshForum.

Mitch is talking about influence – pointing out that redefining the conversation is a different type of influence than the mass numbers of links and popularity. It is about relationships – all about it. Points out the walled garden problem of most social networks today.

Now first citation of Ron Burt and the concept of Structural Holes and “brokers and bridges”. If I get a chance, I’ll ask about how the speed of creating new networks and the very dynamic nature of them changes things today. Too often social network analysis is focused on static networks. Mitch talks about synthesis and cites the Jeff Jarvis “Dell Hell” story. Mitch cites the term “Synthesis” as something to create.

Discussion now about paying for influence/posts/blogs/comments.

Gabe was just asked about what has changed in the tech and blogging world in the past 12 months. “A lot of people want to be TechCrunch and that has distorted things a bit”

Follow up question was are there more or less authoritative sites and Gabe answered that there are now more, and more companies who are and have active blogs. Now most startups have a blog.

I asked about dynamics and pointed out that MySpace is still growing. The panelists in Australia thought something different about my question and said he thinks there will be a single winner. I think he is wrong and that Marc Canter’s vision of 1000’s of social networks is a more likely one.

Posted in economics, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, internet, meshforum, microsoft, networks, web2.0 | 1 Comment »

Advertising – do’s, don’t’s and other thoughts

Posted by shannonclark on July 13, 2007

As some of you may know I am in the process of forming an Ad Network (working name is Nearness Function) with my business partner, David Spector.

This afternoon I had a wide ranging conversation with a fellow entrepreneur who is moving to the Bay Area (side note – one very positive sign, smart, talented, experienced people from all over the country are continueing to move to the bay area – and even buying homes here). In the course of the conversation we covered a number of my thoughts on advertising – and where/what we are planning with Nearness Function.

And then early this morning, while I was reading my gmail I encountered an example of what I am hoping to avoid – while also illustrating to a degree exactly what we are planning on doing as well.

So, first the example.

In gmail (which I use as my primary email – helps simplify a multiple platform/machine work style) there is a small line above your message window which displays “clips” (rss feeds) and occasional ads. While reading my mail this morning, it displayed a “sponsored link” which was – apparently – a link to a real estate listing for a home for sale in Noe Valley – the neighborhood in San Francisco where I live and which I love.

So, out of curiosity about the price of homes in this area, I clicked on the link.

First, the good stuff – the stuff which is related to what we are planning.

1. Google clearly discloses sponsored listings. In this case with the words “Sponsored Link” on the same line and in the same graphical element as the link. I strongly feel that ALL commercial messages on a page (other than a page which is, itself clearly the company’s own site), should be noted as such. i.e. much as in magazines or newspapers advertisements sometimes have the words “advertisement” superimposed over them. Though better still is a design where the words are unnecessary as it is always clear what is an ad and what is not.

2. The ad is, at least minimally, contextual. I am not certain what in my email triggered this ad, but I do indeed live in Noe Valley (I may have noted that in the body or subject of an email). It is not unreasonable to guess that as a resident of that neighborhood whether or not I was actively looking for a new home I might be interested in a listing for a home for sale in my neighborhood.

3. A small thing, but the ad link opens up in a new window, I know this behavior is the standard in these types of ads so I am less reluctant to click on them than I might be if I had to back out to get back to my email (I have Firefox configured so these new windows open as new tabs in the window I’m working in).

But now for the bad stuff.

The ad, though it claimed to be an ad for a new listing in Noe Valley (and even noted some of the specifics about the property and listed a specific URL), did not, in fact, end me up at the URL as listed. Instead it was redirected/remapped to another URL which presented me with a form to sign up to be a “VIP Buyer” on some Real Estate listing site.

Why is this bad?

1. My trust has been abused. I clicked on what looked like an ad link to get more information – in this case a full listing – and instead was sent someplace else.

2. Before I have seen anything useful, before I have been given any reason to trust the company advertising (and indeed I have only been given strong reasons not to trust them) I am asked to give a bunch of personal details – including my level of interest in making one of the bigger investments most people make in their lifetimes (buying a home). Yes, I’m an entrepreneur so though CA real estate is costly (and I’m renting for now) it is not likely to be my biggest investment – but for the vast majority of people a home is their largest investment.

3. The page I was redirected to appears to only have, itself, links back to the same form – i.e. all of the links on that page that seem to promise more information – samples of what the service is the company performs – lean only to the form.

So the net result is that my trust in the filters that Google employs on its advertisers is diminished – and with it to a slight degree my trust in Google.

I was so annoyed by this ad that I found the form on Google.com to report on advertisers and reported my very poor experience with this advertiser (whom I am not linking to as I have no interest in helping them via free links).

And neither would I be interested in helping with with paid links. Either here on my personal blog, or as an advertiser on my new ad network.

Which brings me to my points. Leaving aside, for the moment at least, the specifics of the ad network technology we’re developing and building, there are some very important aspects of the ad network which I have settled on, and which I can talk about.

1. Our focus is on messages which are useful and valued by the people who receive them. This means no spam ads. No “get rich quick” messages. No “free iPhone” gimmicks. No online versions of cheesy infomercials.

2. Sometimes the best message is no message at all. We will require all of our publishers to accept that at times showing no message is the right action. That is, if there is not a relevant message to show, rather than running a junk ad, showing nothing is the right action. Google does this already, they do not always show ads. Other forms of media have realized this as well – not all commercial messages at all times or in all placements add value – and the wrong messages are not just poorly performing, but will reduce value (people stop using the service, switch to alternatives, are that much less likely to take action even when a relevant message is presented (i.e. if all the ads I have followed in the past from a site ended up with me being sent to a scam site, even when a valid, non-scam advertiser is presented, I will be more distrustful – and may even assume that they too are a scammer.

3. Openness and transparency, not stealth or secrecy is core. People have many views on the “stealth/no stealth” debate about how to launch and sustain a startup. Do you talk openly about what you doing or do you stay in “stealth” until what you are building is ready? Do you require NDA’s from people to talk with you – or do you write blog posts like this one?

You are reading this post (I hope). So guess where I stand on this last point….

My view is that, especially for an ad network, we can’t be in stealth mode. We need too many partners – publishers (in our case a far more complex set than just online content – we’re focusing on dynamic applications), advertisers, media buyers, even other ad networks.

I will go into more details about what we are building. But if you are an advertiser, a media buyer, or a publisher feel free to contact me. Especially if you are building dynamic, AJAX applications on the web, widgets (including Facebook widgets – though no widgets to places that do not allow advertising), mobile application (whether iPhone style web apps or downloads), or even if your firm builds desktop applications. Over the summer we are building partnerships and will be looking to have our first alpha in the late-summer/early Fall.

Posted in customer service, economics, Entrepreneurship, internet, venture capital, web2.0 | 4 Comments »

Syncing iPod on Two Computers

Posted by shannonclark on July 9, 2007

[this is a shortened version of my original post, that post was lost while trying to post it]

I can sync my iPod to BOTH my Vista laptop and my old XP laptop (which is now a Parallel’s virtual machine on my mac desktop).

How did I do this?

Bonus Tip: If you have playlists which depend on DATE ADDED, do a select all on the tracks in that playlist, then right click, select “get info” and add label to the Grouping ID3 tag. Then rewrite those smartplaylists to work on the Grouping ID3 tag instead of date added (assuming that you are say tracking all the music you added in 2005, not something like “music I added this past week)

Step 1. Copy files from the old computer to the new system. In my case 3/4 of my 120+ GB library was already on an external drive (so it was just a matter of getting the drive letter the same on my Vista system), but the other files I had to move over. Note: Vista does not allow you to create C:Documents and Settings which was the root of the path to user folders on XP, instead you have to use C:/Users/username/Music.

Then select Export Library inside of iTunes. Save this XML file and copy it to the new computer as well (I put it on my external drive).

Step 2.  On the new computer navigate to the iTunes folder.

Rename the file “iTunes Music Library.xml” (I add the date to the file name).

Copy the .itl file (if you want to recover). [if extensions are not showing, change that view option for this folder, will make life easier for you]

Open the .itl file with wordpad (NOT Word). It is a binary file. Select all the contents (control^a) and then delete them. Save the file (you should now have a 0 byte .itl file).

Copy the exported XML file from your old computer to the iTunes directory, rename it to “iTunes Music Library.xml”.

Open it in WordPad (again NOT Word).

Now come the tricky, detail orientated bit. Look for the file paths which point to your old file locations. Search and replace them with the new path. Make sure you get this exactly right – no extra spaces, no missing /, nothing mispelled.

Note, all the above assumes your new computer’s iTunes is a fresh, unused installation – i.e. you don’t already have any content on the new machine. If you do, you will have to first export that data and instead of copying one file with the other, you will have to combine them – which is a much trickier task – not impossible, just tricky as the file has two main sections – individual track details and playlist details and you have to merge them. I have not tested this and I suspect in some cases you might also have to watch for overlapping “unique” ID’s for tracks.

Step 3.  With all external drives attached and with the correct drive letters, open up iTunes. It will complain that the .itl file is corrupt and will rebuild it. When this completes (may take some time on a large collection), you will have iTunes with all of your old playlists, play counts, and ratings in place.

Note: this does overwrite the “Date Added” field with the time you do this import. This means that as I noted above, any playlists which depended on the date added field may now be broken.  Your tracks, however, will be in the same order as before (I kept my in date added descending order usually). If you do the trick I noted, you should have the same functionality as before.

The result is you can plug in your iPod and it will sync with your new computer without a whisper of a complaint. You will, however, have to activate your new computer with the iTunes music store before syncing any protected conten (or playing it).

I have not tested this extensively. I assume that over time if the two installations of iTunes change, each time you plug in your iPod it will “sync” with the current machine’s iTunes, but will not add files it holds not present on that machine (i.e. a podcast I download on one machine) and I’m not sure how changes to play/skip counts will be tracked.

I am also working with two Windows machines – not sure if the same solution would work across Mac & PC (since the underlying file system of the iPod might be different).

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, iPhoneDevCamp, iTunes, mac, microsoft, podcasts | 1 Comment »

Tools that make simple tasks too complicated

Posted by shannonclark on July 7, 2007

I am planning on buying an iPhone later today from a friend who has an extra one she purchased for someone like me, who waited a bit too long.

However, to make the iPhone useful, I need to have my sync issues solved. Specifically I need my contacts, calendar, and current media & podcasts to be available to me on the same system (doesn’t appear that you could say sync just contacts & calendar data from one system, music & video from another).

So to accomplish this in my case means finally breaking down and moving the entirety of my media collection to the iTunes instance on my Windows Vista system (my new ThinkPad Tablet). I have been avoiding this as Vista is the worst OS I have ever used and I didn’t want to tie more of my real data to a system running a crap OS.

And this process only reinforces that sentiment.

After investigating for a while, I learned that it is possible to move iTunes library data – but that the process is FAR more complicated than it should be.

First you have to export the iTunes library which generates an XML file. So far, so good. This makes sense, is a nice format (sorta) for interchange and okay, I can probably live with this.

But this is where the combination of Apple and MSFT start to make what should be a common and easy process an utter nightmare.

First, let’s bash Apple a bit here. Apple seems to have a fundamental dislike of letting the user have access to or control over where iTunes points to for its files. So there is NO way to automatically import the exported library file and at the time of import, tell iTunes where to find all the files (i.e. how to remap the file pointers from the old computer to say a new computer).

Instead you have to edit the XML file by hand and do some form of global search and replace.

Now this is where MSFT steps in to make what should be in 2007 a trivial task into a complete nightmare. I opened up the XML file – first place MSFT crashed and burned. The process of opening up a 22MB XML file takes 10-20 minutes on my brand new, dual core ThinkPad.

I am not exaggerating here over 10 minutes to open up an XML file.

Seriously, isn’t opening up a file something we solved back in the 1990’s?

Then Word insists on opening it into a mode that is specific for XML files. And if you make the slightest change, it insists on autosaving (which takes another 10 minutes or so).

Plus it breaks the usual conventions of how a word processor UI works – it shows a hand cursor which does not appear able to actually get you to a text insert/edit point, but if you use the keyboard you can – very non-obvious.

Then my global search and replace took 20-30 minutes to complete. Along with an error message along the way that Word had encountered an error and could not undo, did I want to continue.

After more pain and waiting, it finally did complete.

So I tried to close Word.

When MSFT insisted on applying their namespace to the file because they had not detected a namespace on it.

ARGHHHHH. 

I tried to just save it as a text file.

Crashed Word completely and utterly.

Still haven’t been able to reopen the file to see what state it is in – after another 20+ minutes of a spinning cursor while trying to open the XML file.

Unfrigging believable. In 2007. On a DUAL CORE system. This is a system with more processing power than probably all my previous laptops COMBINED. (and via my companies I have owned a fairly large number of laptops). But in daily use you would never guess that I have so much CPU power on this laptop – it is by far the slowest and most irritating laptop I have used in well over a decade.

Waking up from sleep takes 4-5 minutes. Not much of an exaggeration. Vista insists on waking up, locking my system (takes 30-45 seconds) then when I finally am able to unlock it, Vista boots into my main screen, then blacks the screen entirely, resizes everything (drops down to a much much lower screen resolution), then spins the cursor and eventually wakes up and resizes the system BACK to my full screen resolution – but as a result has usually resized all my windows as well as my desktop image to be the wrong sizes.

And all that takes 4-5 minutes most of the time.

And that’s from SLEEP – not hibernate. Sleep being the mode that is supposed to be nearly instant to wake up from.

And don’t get me started on how quite frequently when it does wake up from sleep mode, Vista manages to break something with the wifi and I’m unable to get ANY wifi connections without a reboot.

And MSFT wonders why people aren’t running out rapidly to buy and upgrade to Vista.

Now nearly three hours after starting to work on prepping my laptop for the iPhone, I’m still not ready – the laptop is spinning and not working (well) and my desktop systems are too slowly moving all my media to an external HD (which is taking far too long itself), just so I can later move them from that disk to my laptop (yup, another long delay in the process).

Annoying. Very very annoying.

(and though I did burn an Ubuntu CD this morning as well, that doesn’t solve my issues as currently there is not a way to sync Ubuntu with an iPhone, though I suspect Ubuntu, unlike Vista, would scream on my ThinkPad)

Posted in customer service, geeks, microsoft, reviews, tablet pc | 3 Comments »

Simple features missing from iTunes

Posted by shannonclark on July 6, 2007

I use itunes – abuse it is perhaps the more accurate description.

But there are some really simple features MISSING from iTunes. Features which have been missing in every version of iTunes and which I have utterly no clue as to why they have not been added and why these bugs (for I think these really are bugs) have not been corrects.

Feature One: Those helpful “!” symbols showing tracks which have problems, usually meaning iTunes can’t find the file, but iTunes DOES NOT LET YOU SORT BY THAT COLUMN. Absolutely unforgivably obnoxious and beyond annoying. Every other column allows for some type of sorting (though in many cases very poorly) but this first and vital column does not.

Feature Two: There is no way to display in the main screen WHERE YOUR FILES ARE. This means, no way to SORT BY WHERE THE FILES ACTUALLY ARE. i.e. “sort and then find all the tracks which are on your external drive”. Perhaps this is a mac vs. pc thing, but I REALLY want a way to find all the tracks which are on my f: drive (and not my main internal c: drive).

Feature Three: if iTunes loses track of your files (say that f: drive is not connected), iTunes then cannot recover if you plug in the missing drive, you have to correct the files, by hand, selecting “get info” on each track with a missing file (which is then usually found without a problem).

Note: sometimes closing iTunes and restarting it will fix this problem, but that is beyond clunky

Feature Four: There is no, at least that I have found, way to export all of your play history, playlists, and ratings so you can, for example, import that data into another installation of iTunes on, for example, your new laptop. You can, of course, move those files (see above use of external hard drive), but will have to recreate your playlists – and more vitally – your play histories, skip history, ratings, history of which podcasts you have already downloaded etc.

I really need a solution to this last missing feature. Currently I have THREE installations of iTunes. One on my mac (mostly totally unused, though I do subscribe to a few video podcasts there which I don’t much care about). One on my new, Windows Vista laptop (truly unused at the moment for the most part). And my “real” installation on a Parallels  installation of my old Windows XP laptop (the hardware for which is now dead). This real installation links to an external 120GB HD which holds most of my actual media collection, this is also where my real podcast subscriptions live (both iTunes and via an external podcatcher), and this is what I use currently to sync my iPods.

I use a variety of really complex smartplaylists to accomplish my syncing with iPods. Since my collection of media is some 15500+ tracks and nearly 130GBs in size (and actually more like 200+ GB’s, I have a lot of media that instance of iTunes doesn’t yet know about), I could never sync it fully to one iPod. Instead I have various smart playlists which I sync – almost all of which are done in a two step process. First I have a playlist which takes some cut of the whole collection (a large collection I added all on one day for example). Then I have a second playlist which selects from that first playlist all the unplayed tracks, up to some fixed size (say 3 GB’s).

My actual system is more complex – I have playlists for everything which is unplayed, for new & unplayed (limited to a manageable size), playlists for songs which have been played but not yet rated, playlists for songs over a certainly file size (for management purposes), playlists of all the tracks with a given rating, a playlist which combines all the various types of media iTunes manages (so I can, in fact, see at a glance my true “full library”).

Actually that is a my Feature Five: Why oh why did the more recent versions of iTunes remove a working view that shows you ALL of your content in one view. By working view I mean a non-playlist view, where if you delete a track it is removed from your library, not just that playlist. For that matter, I do not understand why when you delete a podcast you are prompted if you want to also delete that file, but you do not (at least I don’t) get this prompt on deleting other tracks from iTunes.

I really want to be able to have a single view where I can find all of my tracks which I have rated 1 star, select them all, and delete them – and have it REALLY HAPPEN. Not just have them deleted from some playlist.

Feature Six: while I like seeing the long descriptions of podcasts on my iPod, WHY CAN’T I RATE PODCASTS ON MY iPOD!!! It seems the assumption is that you would have no reason to want to rate podcasts. But that is emphatically not the case. I have many podcast subscriptions which I routinely want to save select tracks from, the best solution for this is to make it possible for me to rank them when I am listening, so when I resync I can easily find the tracks I really liked.

Feature Seven: Why can’t I get a full list of all of the episodes of a podcast (even I have previously downloaded them and deleted them so I can re-request them if I decide at a later date that I want them. And related to this, I have often had iTunes fail to fully download a podcast – when this happens there is NO simple solution. I have to go by hand to that website (side note – impossible to cut & paste from iTunes to make this task feasible) and find the track which failed and download it by hand – and then if I’m really lucky figure out a way to get iTunes to put it where it should be.

Feature Eight: Perhaps other people use their iPods and iTunes differently than I, but the fact that ALL PODCAST SUBSCRIPTIONS have the “DO NOT SHUFFLE” option selected for them – and that there is NO way to change this default setting is really, really really annoying. I WANT TO SHUFFLE my podcasts. But more to the point, I have in the past wanted to put podcasts on my iPod shuffle something which has not been possible with tracks with this “feature” selected.

And I could go on. I use iTunes and do like my iPod (though I really wish the battery life was better – mine sucks the battery dry far far too quickly). But I am also constantly annoyed by iTunes.

Posted in geeks, mac, mobile, podcasts | 5 Comments »