Searching for the Moon

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

Archive for the ‘meshforum’ Category

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 »

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 »

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 »

The value of used – a networked economics perspective

Posted by shannonclark on May 8, 2007

Tonight I will be presenting at bayCHI a presentation titled “A MeshWalk down the street – communications, connections and networked economics”.  Please join me there to hear my first presentation of my theory of networked economics, as well as a discussion about the MeshWalk format of events I run.

This post is an example of what networked economics offers as an analytical approach. I welcome comments & discussions, either here via comments, via personal emails, or via discussions in your own blogs (please link back here so I can find them).

The value of used

ArsTechnica recently published a discussion about “pawn shop” laws springing up across the country focusing on regulating the sale of used CDs. These laws have the effect of making selling used CDs to store a very intrusive process, requiring that the seller present multiple forms of id, that the store have expensive bonds, even regulating what forms of payment can be used (only store credit in some states) and how long a store has to wait before selling the CD’s (30 days in some states). Apparently these laws are frequently at the bequest of the Record Industry which believes that because they do not get a cut of used cd sales, they should try to lobby to regulate out of existence such sales.

I would like to offer a counter argument, that a robust used market is a sign of a healthy industry, one which is renewing itself and can prosper. That used markets serve a vital role in the underly ecosystem of the economy.

A related point is that as a society we benefit from vibrant used markets as they keep items which would otherwise become part of our ever growing landfills in useful circulation. Stores selling “used” items provide multiple additional transactions around a given object, enabling items unwanted by the original owners to find new homes and uses.

Let’s look at a variety of “used” markets to start to see what I am arguing.

  • Books
  • Furniture
  • Watches
  • Art
  • Steel & Gold
  • Homes
  • Employment (I’ll explain)

And there are hundreds of others. Most of the economy, in fact, is built on complex webs of interactions, many of which involve the reuse of items and their resale, repackaging or repurposing. Very few parts of the economy are simple paths where all transactions are buyers buying new objects from sellers selling only brand new items. A few parts of the economy – foods (though many food purchases become the ingredients for later transactions – i.e. a restaurant), a few commodities such as gasoline (though some motor oils for example can be partially reused).

Taking my list in order.

Books – when I first learned to read I got most of my books from the library, but as I exhausted the types of books I enjoyed at my local library my next “step” in my love of books was local used bookstores. Like many avid readers a large portion of my book collection (over 1500 books and growing every week) has been purchased at used bookstores over the years. Hundreds of thousands of different new books are printed each year around the globe (in all languages the numbers may be in the millions). Most of these books do not remain in print for more than a few years. Used bookstores provide access to these countless books.

But they serve more roles. Around college campuses used textbooks offer a hedge on the growing cost of textbooks, students who need to save money can purchase used books instead of new (and though primary textbooks in fields do change every few years – both as the field advances and as a response to used textbook sales, many of the related books used in college classes – such as various novels do not change from year to year, the works of Shakespeare for example.). Students who buy new books and decide after the class they have no further need of the books can resell them and recover a portion of their costs.

Vibrant used book sales do more than just offer access to books which are out of print. They also allow for items which were originally priced at a relatively fixed price (the “suggested retail price”) to be sold at the prices individuals are willing to pay. In many cases these are much lower than the original price – but not always. “Rare” books sell for vast multiples of the original price of books (and as a collector, I have many books I’ve gladly paid a premium to own – even one book published in the 1680’s for which I paid 4 figures).

But beyond a discussion about price – used bookstores cultivate readers. They help individuals find more books to read, buy more of them (than if just buying new), and by visceral experience see that many others read and love books (as a kid I recall hours spent poring over the aisles of great local used bookstores, exploring what was available to me, I then spent many summers sorting books for huge used book sales to support the local library). A used book can also be a talisman, a connection across the years from reader to reader. One of my most treasured books is an old and battered copy of Emanuel Lasker’s Manual of Chess which I purchased from a used bookstore in my hometown at about the age of 13. The copy I bought had been stuffed with newspaper clippings of chess games and puzzles by a previous owner – as I read the truly great book, I also caught glimpses of a lifetime’s love of chess by the previous owner.

Someday, I hope to pass down that book to another child (hopefully my own) and inspire another generation’s love of chess.

And I have since bought many copies of the Manual of Chess, both used and occasionally new (though it was first published in the 1920’s, it has occasionally be republished) to give as gifts and to use as a reading copy for myself.

Furniture – while IKEA and similar “flat pack” furniture may be mostly almost disposable furniture, rarely lasting more than a few moves before being broken, most furniture has historically been designed to be long lasting. Collectors still treasure furniture from many centuries ago. More commonly most people’s first (and even second and third) apartments will be furnished with a variety of used furniture – gifts from friends, purchases from Salvation Army stores, and a handful of new items (generally mattresses). This market for used furniture – both the high end collectibles and the low end resale shops – does not mean that furniture makers have gone out of business (indeed there are 1000’s of them still working across the globe). Homes have a relatively fixed set of furniture needs (though tv/entertainment stands and desks have had to evolve as our devices have changed size and screens have grown larger) by being able to meet these with a variety of used and new options, individuals can pick and choose where to invest their money (and time in finding that “perfect” couch).

Watches – modern, inexpensive watches can and do tell nearly perfect time for often <$10. ( just yesterday sold two watches for $20 which synch themselves to atomic clocks in the US to tell perfect time, losing only 1 second in a million years). However watches new and old are sold for vastly more than $10. Sold not as functional items purely but as decorative status symbols. Watch collecting has been a passionate hobby for many for centuries. Though fewer people today are trained watchmakers, a friend of mine just a few years ago bought and sold sufficient used watches and watch parts to raise the downpayment on his condo.

Art – The art “market” is dominated almost entirely by the used art market. A few “major” artists command significant prices for their new pieces in their own lifetimes. But often these prices and their ability to command them is set by the prices others have been willing to pay for their older pieces on the “used” market. Art is also a very complex market. Artists find creative ways to share their art with people – selling limited edition prints, licensing art images in a variety of ways, selling works to museums who them exhibit them (and charge for access). But without the used marketplace for art as a culture we would be limited only that which a handful of living artists are creating. We would all be the poorer for it (poorer culturally but also economically).

Steel & Gold –  Most steel used today is not newly created from raw materials. Rather, most steel is now recycled from previous uses of steel. Melted down and remilled. Without a used market in steel we would be exhausting our world – and as buildings and cars are no longer usable we would have to leave them cluttering our cities and planet. My sister is a jeweler. She buys gold to use to make her jewelery, for the most part, however she is not buying newly mined gold (though certainly there is a lot of that) rather she is more likely to buy recycled gold, melted down from old jewelery or from gold dust and leavings from jewelers making other items.

And now for two of the big ones, then my networked economics discussion 

Homes – Yes, many people across the country buy new homes, or tear down old ones and build new ones. But most homes bought and sold in the US (and indeed in most of the world) are used. The business of selling used homes drives a huge portion of the economy of the US. The purchase of these homes are typically financed by mortgages (and 1000’s of companies help sell those mortgages), the mortgages in turn are packaged and sold to investors across the globe. Each month millions of home owners make payments on those mortgages, sending a portion of their earnings off to the financial institutions who put up funds for a used home in exchange for a promise of monthly payments for years to come (usually 30 years). This vast web of financial commitments and relationships ties millions of people and businesses together for decades. Defining the future and thus setting the value of core elements of our economy to a great extent (i.e to a large degree what a dollar is “worth”).

But without a market for used homes we would be in an illogical position. Homes almost always outlast any individual who owns them through changes in that individual’s needs (children, marriage, new job, death) individuals will move. In the US we move relatively a lot. But worldwide as one generation grows older they very often set up their own households, or leave one household to join another (via marriage often). Thus homes will need to be passed on to a new individual (or group) at some point – in most cases many different times. This does not mean that new homes will not be built, or that older homes may be changed even destroyed to make room for new ones, but the world finds a balance – and that balance requires a market in old homes, in “used” homes.

Employment – As a global community we do not buy and sell people, slavery – after much struggles – is mostly ended. However my point here is that we do make major markets in “used” people – we just called “used” in this case “experience”. Few people today start one job and never change what they do in their lifetime. Even historically for those people who did stay with one firm or organization for an entire career would change roles over time at that firm – usually gaining responsibility. These “used” markets do not mean that people are not entering the marketplace “fresh” from college or other training, however without the majority of opportunities being for “used” people we would not have an economy.

Okay so this last point is a bit of a stretch – but what then is the “networked economics” perspective on all of this – on the value of “used” to the economy and to specific markets, such as CDs?

Vibrant used markets create the overall market for the class of goods or services. Without used markets then the market is defined as a single path – from raw goods to finished product to purchasers to some final end (i.e. trash heap). The network of this market is thus very limited – only so many suppliers of raw goods supplying a small (typically) set of finished product creators who in turn offer a limited choice to buyers. The buyers then having only one option when their use of the product comes to an end – trashing it. So their participation in the market is limited by how much of their resources they are willing to send off for something which at some point they then plan on destroying without any further gain. They may be able to use the product while they own it in some product manner, but have to factor in the final destruction of the good into their decisions about purchasing it.

In contrast in most markets where there is a vibrant used marketplace the network is much more complex. Raw goods still enter and are transformed by one set of parties. But individual buyers have many more options, they can by “new” or they can buy “used”, likewise when they have an item they can change roles from a buyer to a seller which allows them to enter the network in many more ways than just as conduit to a trash heap. This back and forth, shifting of roles and relationships makes for vastly more interactions across the network. It also makes it easier for the buyers to devote more of their current resources to this market as they are not allocating resources once but can both allocate a portion of new resources (i.e. wages/income from businesses) as well as a portion of the resources from their last times into the market – as sellers not as buyers.

This vibrancy and fluidity of the market also lowers the risks of entry – makes it easier to gain the habit of participation, to go from an occasional participant in the marketplace to an active, frequent one. Buying used books often exposes a reader to a new author, when that author publishes a new book many of those readers buy that book new instead of waiting for it to be available used.

In the case of music specifically used CD sales (and record sales) offer one though no longer the only, way for people to enter the market in easier ways. They also offer opportunities to obtain otherwise unavailable items (since most new stores only stock a very very small portion of the full set of CDs in print, let alone the majority of music which is no longer available new). And for many they offer a hedge, as your tastes change you have an alternative to the trash bin – one which as the ArsTechnica article notes might also generate some cash for students.

But more than the money changing hands the existence of used markets, the capability to interact, the time spent looking at (and learning about collecting) the past means that the market is not limited to just the current output of the industry – but can and will encompass a wider history.

And this participation will make it easier for people to allocate more of their resources to music – and for current artists (and their labels) this could mean (if people like it) buying new albums. It also is a portion off the bigger entertainment industry – gaining interest in a type of music – in no small part by buying the history of that genre will lead to interest in the current path of that genre – including attending concerts.

But killing off the ability to sell what we buy (either physical CD’s or perhaps more complexly digital purchases) means that whatever investments we as buyers make into the marketplace are one-time transfers – removing resources from us and sending them off to a handful of parties. We do not then have the (perhaps) opportunity to enter the market as sellers (unless we create our own original works).

One of my first “careers” was as a dealer in collectible trading cards. I bought, sold, and traded these cards for over a year. Investing about $5000 of my own cash over that year, plus 100’s of hours, and taking out of that year over $40,000, plus 1000’s more in potential value in inventory. While I played a small role in this industry, the company which made the cards I was buying and selling would eventually grow to be sold for nearly $1B and still to this day (over a decade later) sells billions of new cards each year. They prospered even as 1000’s of individuals such as myself invested money and time in their products to create small businesses in the “used” market for those goods. We served to get individual items into the hands of people who valued them, valued our service in doing that greater than what we charged for it. This vibrant marketplace where buyers could also be sellers meant that I was by no means alone in investing my time & resources in participating in the marketplace. Reinvesting some of my proceeds, as well as investing resources garnered elsewhere.

Music is a complex industry – and just as in the book world my personal feelings about buying used items do change when the creators are still alive (assuming I like them and want to support them). However it is exactly because I was able to enter the market – such as books – in a variety of ways, building up my habits over time – and from time to time selling off a portion of my books to reinvest into different ones – that I am now in a position to decide when to buy new books and when to buy used (and I still have the interest in participating in the market at all).

For music, most of what I buy these days are CDs I buy directly from artists – often at a show when I see and enjoy them, occasionally online direct from them. I do also buy some used CDs – usually from artists I have not encountered before and/or who I know off historically. Online I buy some music, again often from sources where I’m comfortable in what will be going to the artists directly (I have bought a few tracks from iTunes but not many).

But part of my lack of participation is the dearth of used sources such as a great store I grew up with, Val’s Halla where I spent many hours as a kid exploring their used CD bins (less time in their vast record collections). Passionate stores such as Val’s are few and far between today -stores that create the market for the industry.

Posted in economics, meshforum, networks | 1 Comment »

My advice to Rolling Stone on their new Social Network

Posted by shannonclark on April 13, 2007

According to Techcrunch today (and Mike credits a journalism student for breaking the story), Rolling Stone magazine will be launching their own online social network.

In a very long comment on TechCrunch I offered the following advice to Rolling Stone on their new social network. I republish my comment here for posterity

If Rolling Stone does this well they could have a chance to revitalize the value of subscribing – and of their brand more broadly.

Social Networks are evolving to be more open and interactive places (see Marc Canter’s recent discussions about Digital Lifestyle Aggregators).

A few years ago I proposed, but did not end up working on it, that a company with a lot of very niche magazines create dedicated social networks for those publications. Linking deeply to their customer database, to their advertisers, and to their rich archives of content (as well as to the ongoing process of writing new stories and covering the industry). These were very niche publications (think Optometrists) and I still think there is a very good business there for both the publishers and a software provider to provide technology and services to them.

For Rolling Stone my advice would be:

– leverage your subscribers – make it very very easy for them to start using the social network (i.e. use something on their label as their access for example, pre-populate their profile based on info you have, give them visable rewards for things such as Years they have Subscribed).

– deeply integrate the rich archive of content you have – especially content that may not just have been in the magazine (recordings of interviews, photographs that didn’t make it into print, searchable archives of reviews, tour dates etc)

– do not ignore the value your advertisers create in the magazine – and integrate them directly into the network. Not as an afterthought but as another stream of content and resources. Make it really, really easy to access all the ads & offers (i.e. offers of free music from a service like emusic – make sure the offer from the magazine is available easily online as wel) Get metadata for things such as when records are being released, for links to label’s websites, band’s myspace pages etc (this also points out – don’t be afraid of the rest of the web or the other social networks – link back and forth between them)

– respect your audiance and KNOW IT. You should (you being Rolling Stone) know the actual demographics of your readers. Design accordingly. Respect them and do not either talk down to them, or design only for a subset of them (i.e. don’t design the network for teenagers – unlikely to be your current readership)

– make the network open to non-subscribers, but give special notice/prominence/benefits for subscribers (and afterall since you now sell a subscription for very little – I think $10 or so don’t make it too high of a burden)

– LISTEN to your audiance. Make the social network more than just readers talk to each other (though that’s really valuable) – make it readers talking to you, to your advertisers, to the music industry at large. Give people lots of ways to interact, to see their voice being acknowledged

– take this conversation back into your print publication – and outward to the rest of the web.

– Music is a multiple senses businesses – so integrate music, audio, video as well as print and photos into the network. Strike deals with lots of sources for embedable videos, for downloadable music, for music co-discovery (pandora, lastFM, etc)

– consider also focusing on the other strengths of Rolling Stone – your history of covering American culture, not just music (and your long tradition of high quality, long form journalism). Remind people of this, reemphasize it, break out your archives (and btw pay the authors or their estates when you do so).

Now, will they listen?

Who knows?


– founder/organizer MeshForum – an annual conference on the study of Networks, including social networks

Posted in Entrepreneurship, meshforum, networks | Leave a Comment »

Post Mobile MeshWalk – first thoughts and thanks

Posted by shannonclark on March 21, 2007

So I am home from the Mobile MeshWalk. A few quick thoughts and thanks – I will be blogging a great deal more as the media from the MeshWalk is uploaded and more participants have had a chance to write their own blogs and thoughts on the day.

First a huge thanks to everyone at France Telcom/Orange who helped with the coordination of the Mobile MeshWalk and the financial sponsorship of the costs of today.

Thanks to everyone to came and participated – whether at the end of the day for the closing party, in the morning for the design crawl, or for all who participated in the whole event!

Thanks to Twitter, who in the midst of their massive hype and growth, rolled out a cool new group feature for us today.  [a meshwalk group – anyone who followed meshwalk could then send a message with meshwalk at the start and have it sent to everyone else following meshwalk]

And finally thanks to everyone at RubyRed Labs (now Satisfaction), Frog Design SF, and fuse project! Your generosity with your time this morning in hosting the 40+ participants and in presenting some of what you have learned, worked on, and thought about the mobile space is fantastic.

Though I was suffering from a serious cold today, I had the real pleasure of meeting an incredibly diverse and smart group of people who participated in the Mobile MeshWalk. With participants from France, Japan and China (the first who flew here for the Mobile MeshWalk, the other two who live in the bay area at the moment) as well as from all across the bay area and a few from New York and other states – we had a great mix. Participants included many designers, a number of entrepreneurs, but also representatives of multiple cell phone manufacturers, many different international carriers, researchers and media.

More than any specific topic, a MeshWalk is about connections – about shared experiences and of seeing the world via showing it to others. The act of talking to people while walking with them, as more than one participant mentioned to me tonight, is very different than how we engage in more traditional business or networking environments. For one thing, as people are walking you can easily and comfortably walk alongside them, listen in, and naturally join a conversation – and as importantly, leave that conversation comfortably when you wish.

The morning started off with sprinkles and a bit of rain – but for those who stuck with it after our delicious lunchboxes from Mistral – the sun came out and over the course of the MeshWalk, we shed our coats and sweaters as the walk progressed towards the Palace of Fine Arts.

In the next few days I will be focused on the upcoming launch of my new firm NELA. As the media from the Mobile MeshWalk is posted online we will be asking everyone (myself included) to use that media corpus as a starting point for telling stories – illustrating the conversations sparked by the day, or telling new ones inspired by the images as well as the experience. I will try to link to all of these stories here – as well as on the MeshWalk wiki

Thanks again to everyone for a great day – and to new (and old) friends!

Posted in meshforum, meshwalk, mobile, networks, San Francisco | 2 Comments »

What is a MeshWalk?

Posted by shannonclark on March 6, 2007

On March 20th I am organizing a Mobile MeshWalk in San Francisco.

An obvious question is “What is a MeshWalk?”

The short answer – a conference which is held in motion, outside, documented and captured digitally.

To answer that in more detail, some background. For over a decade I have been participating in and helping organize events in Open Space. First as a member of the Chicago Company of Friends, and later for a wide range of groups and businesses. While I have not been as deeply involved as many friends of mine (my good friend Michael Herman for example runs one of the leading websites on Open Space and teaches & consults in Open Space around the globe).

Each year, at least a day of MeshForum, the conference on the study of Networks which I run each year, is held in Open Space.

At MeshForum 2006 the last day was in Open Space. After a productive morning of discussions and sessions, we broke as a group for lunch and walked together from the space we were in (thanks to Ruby Red Labs and Adaptive Path) to South Park where we purchased sandwiches and continued our discussions while eating seated outdoors. Photos from this lunch are among the many shots from MeshForum available on Flickr.

The tone of the day was changed by these conversations held outdoors. Something simple about being outside, in the fresh air, in public, yet still talking about important professional matters.

I took note and began to design a full event format based on this simple insight. After Gnomedex in Seattle last year I held the first formal MeshWalk. We met for coffee at the first Starbucks in Pike’s Place Market and then as a group walked through Seattle to the top of Queen Anne where we stopped for a great brunch, then walked back down the hill. The conversations from that walk were wide ranging but by far the best which we had held at a fantastic conference. Our focus there was on our takeaways from Gnomedex, what we each were going to do next, and how we could help each other. You can listen to a part of the conversations from that first MeshWalk on the Queso Compuesto podcast which was posted by Giovanni Gallucci, one of the participants.

So, with that as the background, what makes an event a MeshWalk?

1. The event starts with everyone together – preferably sharing a light snack/breakfast/coffee. Brief introductions are made as a large group – and the outline of the MeshWalk is presented. Everyone receives a “hipster PDA” (i.e. notecards & binder clip) along with a pen. Participants have been encouraged to bring digital cameras and lightweight digital recording gear – but discouraged from bringing laptops, heavy bags etc.

2. For the walk the format is “Appreciative Inquiry” – which means that as one person talks the others in that group listen and only ask questions – in an appreciative manner. The role of speaker then rotates through the small group. As people walk, groups of 3-5 people naturally form.

3. Every 30 minutes or so, the MeshWalk naturally reaches a pause point. Often some large, usually public space, where the group reforms, some larger conversations may occur and then when everyone regroups, new small groups may form as the MeshWalk continues. The idea is that over the course of the MeshWalk you will change who you are talking with from time to time – and that these frequent pauses give everyone a chance to regroup and decide on the next leg of the walk.

4. The exact path of the MeshWalk is fluid – and not set in advance – but some major waypoints and destinations may be set in advance – to give the walk some destinations to reach and a broad outline of where the walk will reach.

5. The MeshWalk includes a group meal. Either at the end, or in the middle (or both) – the act of breaking bread together as well as walking together is a core part of the MeshWalk experience.

6. Everything said on the MeshWalk is done so in public – so a MeshWalk is a time to talk in a public way. The expectation is that conversations will be recorded, that the participants and the area around the MeshWalk will be captured in photos, in audio recordings, and in video.

There is no “walk leader” in a MeshWalk – though there is often a primary organizer. The role of the organizer is the handle the logistics, to set the tone, to help facilitate the experience – but the MeshWalk is “led” by each of the participants. While you can enjoy a MeshWalk in silence, you are enouraged to speak as well as to listen. In a way, a MeshWalk is a fully participatory event – everyone has a chance to talk and be listened to, to engage around a broad topic and to explore it as part of a group over the course of the MeshWalk.

The larger group conversations at a MeshWalk are chances to bring together the multiple smaller group discussions – and to share the world around the MeshWalk with each other.

For as the MeshWalk is about the people – it is also about the world (often a city) around the MeshWalk as well. Participants are encouraged to show that world to each other – to actively view the world and share it with each other.

Posted in geeks, meshforum, meshwalk, mobile, networks | 4 Comments »

Mobile MeshWalk March 20th in San Francisco

Posted by shannonclark on March 6, 2007

On March 20th here in San Francisco a Mobile MeshWalk will be held. The focus of the MeshWalk will be the future of Mobile Marketing and Media. In the morning we will have a Design Crawl of a number of SF Design firms with offices near South Park. After a group lunch (probably at the nearby Ferry Plaza) we will spend the afternoon walking through San Francisco, while having small group discussions about the role of commercial messages in a mobile context. And of course we will end the day with a party, drinks, and time to share our day’s experiences.

France Telcom (owners of Orange in Europe) has signed on as the lead sponsor – thanks to them all participants will receive breakfast, lunch  and drinks.

My interest in holding the Mobile MeshWalk arises out of two things. One, my MeshForum conference at which I first conceived the idea of this format for holding an event. And two, my new mobile application startup. For NELA I have been doing a lot of thinking about how to include commercial speech inside of a mostly mobile context application. It is my strong bet with NELA that done well, such messages can be valuable to both the users of the service AND to the companies presenting their messages, brands and information. (and thus, of course, financially valuable to NELA as well).

In the next few weeks both here and at and at I will be exploring a range of issues related to the Mobile MeshWalk. Many of these issues I will also address on the Wiki for the MeshWalk as well.

If you are in the Bay Area (or can get here) for the MeshWalk on March 20th I encourage you to do so. It will be an amazing day of conversations and discussions.

If your company is interested in participating in the Mobile MeshWalk please contact me asap (shannon.clark AT works well). Either as a host during the Design Crawl, as an additional sponsor, or in some other capacity.

I am also available to organize similar events – either public ones such as the Mobile MeshWalk, or private. Contact me for the details, costs etc.

Posted in digital bedouin, economics, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, meshforum, meshwalk, mobile, networks, photos, podcasts, San Francisco, web2.0 | Leave a Comment »

What I speak about…

Posted by shannonclark on February 22, 2007

Yesterday I recieved a note about the Supernova & TechCrunch collaboration for Supernova 2007. At lunch I was talking with my friend Sanford Dickert and our conversation turned to clustering.

Later as I walked around the streets of NYC, stretching, observing, shooting a few photos, and thinking I realized that there are a number of “talks” which I have been assembling over the past seven+ years. Informally and only occasionally have I presented these thoughts at various events, in long blog posts, as contributions to discussions on numerous email mailing lists (some public, most private) and in countless private conversations and email exchanges.

Here I am going to list the main topics on which I am available to speak, both as an exercise for myself and in the hope that in 2007 I will have more opportunities to speak on these topics. In addition to speaking in a formal manner, I also do (and even to a degree prefer) to facilitate discussions.


1. Economics AS Networks. A topic I have in the past described as Flow Economics, and the subject of the book I would like to write (and am trying to sell now). My theory is that Economics can be represented as the study of the creation and destruction of links over time. From this simple basis all aspects of economic activity can be modeled and analyzed. In application this theory suggests ways for individuals, corporations and even government to better understand the world around them and the opportunities they have.

2. Automated Data extraction and clustering in 2000 I formed JigZaw Inc with the goal of building a Calendar that would update itself. To achieve that goal (which we did though never fully released – contact me if you would like to license the relevant IP) I spent multiple years researching methods of chunking and extracting data. Much of this research included techniques for clustering. My focus was on automated heuristics approaches.

3. Calendaring as we build Balanceware, the first product of JigZaw Inc, I joined the IETF Calendaring and Scheduling Working Group and was even briefly one of the editors of the iCalendar standard document. I have spent many years thinking about Calendaring (and to a lesser degree scheduling). My new venture,, which stands for Never Eat Lunch Alone incorporates elements of my research into scheduling.

4. Networking when I formed MeshForum in 2004 it was with the goal of exploring all aspects of what Networks are. I have always been highly “networked”, having been the event chair for in Chicago for many years and before that I was active in many Chicago area tech groups. But my interest includes much more – Social Networks, Social Network Analysis, the Visualization of Networks, applications of Network Theory & Studies to many diverse disciplines, and my own applicaiton of Networks to Economics (see above).

5. Web 2.0 or Data-centric development. While definitions and debates rage about what is “Web 2.0” my view is that at the root Web 2.0 is the result of a new model and way of thinking about software. In place of earlier models, Web 2.0 applications are data-centric, with chunks of data as the core elements. These “chunks” are syndicated across the net, shared, remixed, reused and modified, visualized and interacted with in a wide array of ways. For users and developers this new model offers many advantages and requires a change in how we think about what is possible. (for example, this blog started on an entirely different domain and I migrated it to wordpress, in various posts I incorporate content from youtube, flickr and occasionally other sites, the tags I apply here create links and search capabilities in numerous other sites)

6. Being a Digital Beduin. A term I heard many years ago and which I think very accurately represents my work and personal lifestyle. I live in cafes, can almost literally work anywhere with a wifi connection and power (and when I finally break down and get my EVDO card even the wifi will be optional). More than the tech I use however, this is a lifestyle of being mobile yet deeply connected, of being flexible and adaptable, of getting out of the office (and the home) and seeing the world – all while remaining focused on clients and your business.

Posted in digital bedouin, economics, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, meshforum, networks, venture capital, web2.0, working | Leave a Comment »

Travel plans and keep March 20th open

Posted by shannonclark on February 17, 2007

I will be in NYC next week – flying out Monday night and returning to SF Tuesday Feb 27th.

On Tuesday, Feb 20th I will attend the Social Media Club NYC event organized by my good friend Howard Greenstein. Wednesday morning I will probably attend the Leadership Forum on Web Video.

While I am in NYC I would like to meet up many people – I may be organizing a small Pho lunch (yes, related to the Pho List though anyone will be welcome). If you are interested, leave a comment here or contact me directly via 1.800.454.4929 or my email shannon.clark AT

No details yet – but keep March 20th open if you are in SF or can get here. I’m organizing a one day event on the 20th and trust me, it will be worth attending – with designers, telecommunications firms, new media, and new tech firms participating. Details will follow very, very soon. (see the tags for this post for a few hints as to the topics…)

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, meshforum, mobile, networks, podcasts, web2.0 | Leave a Comment »