Searching for the Moon

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

Archive for November, 2008

Please copy this new business idea (but give credit)

Posted by shannonclark on November 23, 2008

Open Office

Consider this post as cc-atribution licensed – feel free to exploit this idea commercially (heck that’s the point) but please do give me at least some credit if you do

A timely, new (if also old) business idea

I describe myself as a locavore – whereever possible I try to purchase the food I eat – whether in restaurants or that I cook at home – from local sources – ideally as close to the source of production as possible. I shop at the butcher’s shop down the street, the corner (and great) produce market, the local farmer’s markets and try as much as possible to avoid shopping at big box national chains and when I do I try to purchase mostly locally sourced, seasonal products as well as fair-trade and environmentally friendly products when I have to (i.e. toilet paper etc).

But being a locavore is not just about food – I also try to do most of my other shopping – whether clothes, books, or gifts for family and friends from local stores. I often buy used books as gifts – both because I often find highly personally relevant works that way – and because philosophically I like supporting good reuse. However I also recognize that this does not support the authors directly – so in the case of books by friends of mine (which is literally nearly 100+ books a year, not all of which I buy) I generally buy those new, usually from a local independant bookstore (or occasionally the first week they come out from a big chain store such as Borders to help out my friend’s first week sales numbers). 

So what does my personal shopping preferences have to do with my business idea?

I moved to San Francisco only a few years ago, in that time I have spent a lot of time and wore out a few pairs of shoes, walking the streets of San Francisco learning the neighborhoods, finding shops and areas of interest. However I find that there is no good source for me to refer to, especially as we enter into the holiday shopping season, to know what stores are selling what, sales or special offers they are making, and especially about newer shops which might be offering just the right thing I want to buy.

I’ve looked at many of the various free publications here in SF (SF Weekly, The Bay Guardian) as well as a few of the monthly magazines – and while they offer a limited amount of coverage of the local scene (and even more limited amounts of local ads) none of them do a very good job – and the extremely local options (my neighborhood Noe Valley has a very small local newspaper) while interesting are quite limited in their coverage and fairly low quality.

Sites such as Yelp offer some coverage – though I do not like Yelp in the least – I find it next to useless – the food coverage is horrible and the shopping coverage to random and fundementally people have way too different a range of perspectives as to what is a “good value” to cite just one example or of what tastes good – I’m biased but I think I am a far more discriminating restaruant critic than the vast majority of the reviewers on Yelp.

My idea is a high quality, probably seasonal, web AND print publication (or publications)

The publication would be relatively high quality in the print edition – though it would start with the digital edition and extend rapidly to a print edition (once ad commitments were high enough to pay the cost of printing probably in color and a distribution/subscription plan was set). 

In terms of format the coverage of stores (which would be a major focus of the publication) would be highly visual – lots of photos to illustrate every article – at a minimum of the storefront, of the owner and/or staff, of a few representative products. The articles would ideally be part of a piece covering a broad theme – either a collection of related types of businesses and/or a given neighborhood of the city. 

Publishing an article would be seperate and NOT related to that business running an advertisement in the publication. But in the course of talking with each business ads would be pitched – the articles would run online, would include a link to the store’s website (if it has one) but would be writen to be relatively timeless – i.e. wouldn’t be focused on current sales (or perhaps only a current show in the case of a gallery). If a store pays for an ad – that ad would be a platform for them to maintain up-to-date information about offers (discounts for readers, current specials, new shows, upcoming events). The ad text would be clearly identified as being an ad. 

Pricing would be flexible – this is a bit of an experiement – my rough thinking is that broadly speaking pricing would be tiered – with one level for businesses under some arbitrary size (or in certain categories) and a tiering up level up – the result in part being that national chains would be charged almost certainly a higher rate than most local businesses – though a local business selling very high end products (and thus if their volume is also high having a fairly high revenue base) would also be charged at the higher rates. Ideally the rates would be for the whole season – so for a few months at a minimum. 

I don’t know the right rates – but my gut says something <$200 or so for a small business (<$250k/yr gross revenues) and going up from there to a few $K for a business such as Macy’s.

Technically each advertiser would be given a way to update their ad text – which would appear online around the article covering their store/business as well as in relevant sections (so in the larger article covering their neighborhood or business type). Before the print edition(s) each advertiser would submit the content they want to have – small businesses would likely have TEXT only advertisements and those paying a slightly higher rate would have small sized graphic ads (i.e. 1/4 page or likely smaller) with the largest companies who pay the higher rates being offered either a set of small graphic ads or a full page ad. The premium placements (back cover, front pages, middle pages) would go to the highest rates though likely at least one or two of those pages would be reserved for a collection of small, text ads from smaller local buisnesses. 

So this is a very commercial idea – it is not about long form investigative reporting, nor is it about highly political ranting (as is so much of the free weekly press). But neither is it only focused on businesses of a given type – i.e. not just “green” businesses or in the other extreme not just high fashion/design businesses. 

Executing on this idea would take a lot of people – and a lot of work – and the result would need to be carefully edited and produced to avoid (in the physical print form) being unwieldy – my instinct is to print many different editions – perhaps as frequently as once a week – with each one focusing on different neighborhoods and different themes – i.e. perhaps local butchers and bakers in the week before Thanksgving but also cover three distinct neighborhoods of the city – so both theme and geography – with the final result being nearly complete coverage of the city in some fixed period of time (perhaps the whole year or perhaps on a rotating basis over 3-4 months).

Each print edition might include a few long form articles – but initially I think it should not – the focus shoudl be on some visual (as well as textual) coverage of lots of businesses and lots of themes. As an article is written and edited the whole piece would be published online – probably with an editorial standard of a minimum number of photos (2-4 at least I think), an accurate address (or addresses), hours of operation, website link.

Of course technically much of this data could be marked up as one or more microformats – but that’s not the point here – the point is to build up a rich set of interesting content – content that gives you a solid sense of what the buisness is about (via visuals and writing with a human voice) combined with relevant – if also commercial – messages (i.e. ads from the business or related businesses – always clearly marked). 

The idea here is also to be a curator of the city (or more accurately to enable multiple people to curate different aspects of the city) so not every business will be covered – only the ones that a given curator thinks are notable – are worthy of being writen up and discussed. 

So that is my idea in the broad outlines – yes, it is in many ways very traditional – it builds on past ideas (Yellow Pages, those free publications you find in most cities in your hotel rooms) but I think there are a few twists here as well – lots more visual content (enabled in part by digital cameras) and an experimentation in the form of advertising content – i.e. to have ads which are updated by the businesses automatically for the duration of their contract (technically this could be via a custom RSS feed from a feed under the business’s control – with some HTML/URL filtering/preprocessing) Heck, the ads could technically be updated via Twitter!

In thinking about the businesss requirements of this idea I think it could be bootstrapped by a small core cadre of passionate people – it would require a few sales people and a lot of writers – initially everyone would be working essentially on commission/spec – but eventually a rate per business would be set, as well as rates for the curators who would choose which businesses meet the criteria and editors who would ensure that all copy is of a high quality (gramatically, factually accurate, all photos licensed accurately etc). 

The reason to combine a print publication and the web are many – for one the print publication would then, in part, be distributed at the many local stores featured in the publicaiton (probably sold there not given away for free – placing a small price on it gives a revenue incentive to the stores – probably the face value would be set at say $3.00 or so – and the stores would keep it all for the say 20 copies they get for free – if they want more they pay for them at some preset rate)

Anyway lots of details to work out – but if you are interested in exploring this idea here in San Francisco leave a comment or contact me directly. If you want to explore this idea in your own city – as I said at the beginning consider this cc-atribution – please go and try this – build up a great buisness and make lots of money – just also please give me some small bit of credit.

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Posted in advertising, Entrepreneurship, internet, reading, reviews, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Future of Media is Curation

Posted by shannonclark on November 18, 2008

I can has Cheezeburger at Zoo I kan have a mashabul? Robert Scoble

Much has been written in the past few years about the Future of Media, dozens (perhaps hundreds) of conferences and discussions have occurred and there has been a lot of mashing of teeth, a lot of posturing, volleys of lawsuits on the behalf of some parts of the media landscape (RIAA I’m looking at you!), at least one major strike (Writer’s Union), numerous failing and flailing businesses and much confusion about what the future holds.

Starting with a shifting and varied definition of just what “media” is anyway. 

Without picking a particular definition, though I’ll try, here are a few of the many sources of what I include as “media” – books, magazines, journals, weekly newspapers, daily newspapers, radio, TV, blogs, online video, podcasts, Internet radio and other streaming audio, electronic books, online magazines, games (console, computer, online/web, even mobile), art (a broad category indeed).

And almost certainly there is someone, somewhere, creating a new form of content and experience which should be included in my list above.

So with so many variations what isn’t media?

Short answer – increasingly many things not previously part of the “media” have some aspects of the media – Gap’s recent Vote for t-shirt campaign for example, the ads are fairly traditional “media” – albeit delivered online, but the shirts themselves were also a form of media and self expression.

Building on this expansive and highly inclusive definition of media – which includes media whose purpose is to entertain, media whose purpose is to inform, media which is intended to persuade, and media which is entirely personal and esoteric, what does the future hold for media?

I claim that the way forward for Media, at least the media which will have a sustainable and lasting future, media which will remain important as well as viable, is curation

What is Curation? 

In a way I am using an old word in a new way. I’m not, however, the first or the only person to use this broader usage. Originally curation referred entirely to what a curator did which, in turn, was to maintain a collection of art or artifacts, usually for a museum or art gallery. A curator would manage a museum’s collection, would put together a particular show or exhibition. That process might, occasionally, be referred to as curation. Virginia Postel made a similar point, though she used the term Age of the Editor back in 1994 in Reason Magazine

My meaning of curation is broader:

Curation – To select and highlight specific media usually ground in a particular point of view

Simple perhaps, but I think also something new – something different than Editing, though not unrelated to what a good editor does at a magazine. Indeed I would say that some editors are also acting in a curator role, though many are not. The key point, I think, is that curation is a process that filters, that selects a set of things to be highlighted, that is about less not more.

So why do i claim this is the Future of Media?

Because as we entered a world where everyone can (and most people will to at least some degree) create media the volume of media available to all of us is increasing at a rapid rate. The technology which only years ago was only available at great expense to a small set of highly trained people is now available for free or for very low cost – digital cameras often with video capabilities are most new cellphones to note just one key example. 

Thus “professional” and “amateur” content will continue to proliferate and expand – likely with the “amateur” content vastly exceeding in quantity the “professional”. But value will be created by curators, such as the founders of I Can Has Cheezburger, Pete Cashmore of Mashable and Robert Scoble of FastCompany who each filter through a huge amount of media and select a small set of content to present to their respective audiences. In some cases they create the content themselves, hire others to create content, or select and promote works created by a large pool of people. 

Some curators will be highly selective, highlighting only one work a day if that, others will create a large pool of content every day. Many will work in many different mediums each an avenue for different forms of interactions and media. 

A few other great examples of modern curation at work

  • Monocle magazine – a traditional print publication with a solid web presence, they look very much like a traditional if highly polished magazine, but they are also functioning as curators in many ways. They select a small set of physical goods which they sell customized versions of to their readers. In the content of the magazine itself they adopt a rich multimedia sensability – lots of photos and video on the web. See http://monocle.com
  • Jason Kottke –  For many years Jason has blogged as a curator of as he calls it “fine hypertext products” in short he links to the best stuff he finds across the web, often design related, but wide ranging, across many topics, and for his passionate audiance almost always of great interest. His audiance is passionate enough that he supports himself from his blog and he selects his advertisers with much the same care as the sites to which he links. See http://kottke.org/
  • WallBlank – A site that sells one print a day, five days a week, either a photograph or a print, always a limited edition and selected with care. One of a number of similar businesses which sell a small set of limited editions, usually only one or two works a day (or a week). See http://wallblank.com/ other similar businesses with some differences are Threadless, PleaseDress.me and 20×200.com 

Posted in economics, Entrepreneurship, internet, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

For Obama, No on Prop 8 and more on how I’m voting tomorrow

Posted by shannonclark on November 3, 2008

I have been a supporter of Barack Obama since he won the Democratic Primary for Senate in Illinois (I supported a friend and neighbor who was running against him but was thrilled to support Obama, not the least as a past resident of Hyde Park and student at the University of Chicago).

I will be voting for Barack Obama tomorrow here in CA. This election is the first time I have ever been voting FOR a candidate – my first two presidential elections I supported (a bit reluctantly the second time) Ross Perot, then Al Gore and John Kerry. I was relatively happy to support Al Gore, if disappointed overall with his campaign. John Kerry too I was disappointed in as a campaign though I likely would have voted for anyone who was not George Bush (though I actually didn’t hate George Bush senior).

Here in CA there are a lot of propositions this time around. More than I will get into detail here (I’m still reviewing some of the crazy ones specific to San Francisco and making up my mind on them) but there are THREE which I feel strongly about – and a few others which I have some opinions on.

Prop 8 – VOTE NO on PROP 8!!!!

If Prop 8 wins we as a state and as a nation will have let the bigots and the religious fanatics (specifically of the Mormon Church) win and the rest of us will have lost. I will be embarrassed and disgusted with my fellow citizens. In the past year I have had close friends get married who never seriously thought they would be able to legally marry the partner they loved – and even with a legal marriage in CA (or the other states where it is legal) they still face discrimination at a Federal level – where marriage perhaps has the most impact (on matters of citizenship and the right to work and live here in the US, on matters of Social Security, IRS etc).

The list of the impacts of marriage is lengthy. BUT two people’s marriage does not change the marriage of others, or the lives of those of us who are not yet married. If, as a society, we choose to give benefits and recognition to marriage – we should not discriminate in the least around who can marry whom (with the only exception perhaps being age/ability to consent).

I believe very strongly in the separation of Church and State. I am an atheist – which, i fear, may be the ultimate minority in the US today – and apparently would and could prevent me from winning election here in the US (indeed the allegation that a candidate was “an atheist” was apparently a devastating – and in that specific case quite inaccurate – negative attack. One which required the other candidate for Senate to publicly defend her active membership in her church.

The actions of the Mormon church which have spent a rumored $20M+ on the Yes on Prop 8 campaign (which is currently cluttering up adsense ads across the web among other nastiness) are, I think, reprehensible. Perhaps even grounds for revisiting their tax-exempt status (I can only dream).

I am also ethnically Jewish on my mom’s side so could even emigrate to Israel if I ever so chose. I also grew up with family stories from my father’s Irish side of the active and passionate discrimination which Irish-Americans encountered as he was growing up. From both sides of my family I feel a connection to minorities – and my generation of my family that connection is quite direct – many of my 1st cousin’s have partners who are not white and their children are bi-racial. In my close extended family in a few short generations we have become quite the melting pot – Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, Atheists and Muslims – black, white, bi-racial and via virtual adoption Asian (my Aunt’s on my dad’s side of the family were big sister’s to a Vietnamese immigrant who has truly become a member of the family – was there with us at my grandmother’s funeral).

Barack Obama’s candidacy – and I hope his election tomorrow as the next President of the United States will mean a great deal for my extended family – for the opportunities ahead for all of my cousin’s and their families. The next generation should, I hope, have the opportunity to strive for anything they put their minds to achieving – unfettered by past discrimination.

And I have to note it was not all that many years ago when my cousin’s partnerships would have been illegal in some states (until 1967 though two state’s didn’t amend their state constitutions until 1998 and 2000!) and even today though now quite common mixed-race couples still face discrimination. (I say partnerships because though there are many children, not all of my cousins have chosen to get married).

I am a straight, white male. Currently single. I hope someday to have the privilege of marrying the woman of my dreams. When, as I also hope, we have children I want to raise them in a world where whatever their sexual preferences they have the opportunity to marry the partner of their choosing.

Other Propositions

Vote no on Prop 4

“Parental notification” sounds relatively innocent – but it is not. It is an attack on a woman’s right to choose and it is yet another attempt to restrict abortions, make them harder to get for the very women whose lives would be most deeply impacted by pregnancy.

I recently learned just how active my family has been in the past in the struggle for woman’s rights – my aunt has been a long time pro-choice activist (even in the past driving women to get abortions).

I am an Existentialist – choice for me is absolutely core to my underlying philosophy and outlook on life – and I find measures which seek to restrict other’s choices, which seek to presume how other’s should act, and which seek to force one group’s religious views on the entirety of the population to be extremely troubling.

Vote NO on Proposition 2

I am a serious foodie. I buy locally, often direct from farmer’s, and in fact most of the meat I purchase for myself is “free range”. But Proposition 2 is a case of a proposition which sounds nice but which has a lot of, almost entirely negative, consequences. It forces particular conditions on the raising in particular of chickens for eggs – which would have the impact of raising the cost of CA eggs. Leading almost certainly to greater sales of eggs from out of state.

Which, in turn, impose a higher energy cost for those eggs (transit from out of state into the state), direct food purchase dollars to out of state and mostly very large producers, and in the final irony to mostly producers who would be raising chickens in very large, caged environments. In short the impact of Prop 2 would be higher costs for CA farmers, less shelf space for those farmers in CA groceries, even more CA spending flowing to producers from out of the state, and in the long run even more animals raised in the very conditions the proposition seeks to prevent.

I much prefer NOT imposing by state proposition new regulations of how all farmers should act. Instead I encourage individuals to vote with their own spending – if they choose to spend a bit more for “cage-free” eggs, do so. More customers will encourage more production – and more spending directed to local farmer’s will, in turn, result in local farmer’s reinvesting locally. But many farmers will choose to use a variety of ways to run their farms – some will have both caged and cage-free chickens.

Where the government SHOULD play a role is in ensuring accurate labeling – so that when you buy you can be reasonably certain that you are buying what the label claims. And government should regulate safe food production – ensuring that our food supply is safe and uncontaminated.

So I am voting NO on Prop 2.

A few of the other propositions.

  • YES on Proposition 1a. Though not without flaws (the money doesn’t entirely add up) encouraging high speed rail transit and more broadly I hope greater investments in non-road transit across the state is a great and quite important thing.
  • NO on Proposition 10. It sounds good on surface but the devil is in the details. And it appears this is a case of one party (T. Boone Pickens) trying to benefit from a proposition campaign, sweetened with a few perks for some (i.e. Prius buyers). I think the case for hybrids is pretty solid without government inducements.
  • Yes on Proposition 12 and mostly NO on the rest. I’m still evaluating all the other propsitions, but my default is to say NO to most statewide propositions. I am not in the least a fan of the statewide proposition as having the force of law – it leads to the absolute worst rule of the majority (well even worse the majority of the minorty who choose to exercise their rights to vote) and all to often are poorly worded and have a multitude of horrible and often mostly unforseen consequences. Not the least of which are tying the hands of our elected officials leading to disasters such as the educational system of CA for the past 30+ years (since Proposition 13).
  • I’m leaning towards Yes on Props 5 & 11. Still reading through the pro’s and con’s on each. Redistricting is a really complex issue (Prop 11) and frought with opportunities for political action – the Gerrymandering of Texas in the past decades being perhaps just the tip of the iceberg. Prop 5 seems, to me, to make a lot of sense – treatment vs. imprisonment is a very sensible approach to drugs. However though it likely also saves a great deal of money (treatment costs less than overcrowded prisons) there is a serious risk of ineffective treatment – and of underfunded treatment – not to mention quack/ineffectual treatment.

    Addiction is a very real issue (not just of illegal drugs). Personally I think a lot of the issues around the current “drug war” could be best addressed by legalization (and thus also taxation & regulation). I personally make the choice to not use any drugs legal or illegal (even have a argument with myself over my consumption of coffee and i’ve never once been drunk) so the personal impact of this law is relatively minor for me. But as a society I think we have far more serious places to invest our societal resources in than what substances people want smoke (though as a non-smoker I definitely do appreciate the CA laws restricting all smoking in restaurants etc).

And don’t get me started on the many complex propositions specific to San Francisco. I’m going to be studying them and making up my mind probably right up to the moment I step into the voting booth. Though I do know I’ll be voting to name our local sewage treatment plant for the current president…

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