Searching for the Moon

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

Archive for the ‘meshwalk’ Category

first look to the future – my hopes for 2010

Posted by shannonclark on December 30, 2009

Over the next few days I will likely post a flurry of posts here and on Slow Brand (where I just posted 2500+ words on why 2010 is a great year for print). Some will be looking forward, others will be thinking about the past year (and decade) but to start here are my hopes for 2010.

These are not resolutions, nor are they in any particular order. Some are small, some are pretty major.

  • see my niece who was born in Dec. This will probably mean taking a trip to NYC early in 2010 and, I hope, getting in a habit of more frequent visits to one of my favorite cities. Though my niece is just recently born, I want to be an engaged and active uncle. As she grows up I hope I can be a great uncle (and spoil her just a bit)
  • travel outside of the US. In 2009 I didn’t travel all that much, a few trips early in the year, but not many after. In 2010 I hope to spend time outside of the US, see the changing world. Hopefully this will include many countries and many types of travel – professional and personal.
  • the return of Chuck to TV (well the Web in my case). My girlfriend’s “tv boyfriend” is Chuck. I’m okay with this. And yes, our shared love of this show says a great deal about our relationship. I’m a geek but so, in many ways, is she.
  • the end of David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who and the beginning of Matt Smith’s run. I’m a huge Doctor Who fan but never thought it would return to the TV, the past 5 years have been enhanced greatly by the return of Doctor Who to TV as well as the great spin-off series. I’ve loved David Tennant’s Doctor but I really look forward to what Steven Moffat does as the new show runner and I trust that I’ll love the new Doctor. My Decembers for the past few years have been made better by the Christmas Specials and this year my New Year’s Weekend as well.
  • SXSW. Every year since I moved out to the Bay Area I have attended SXSW staying for a few more days each year. In 2010 I hope to stay for even more of SXSW Music (and hope to convince my girlfriend to attend with me hopefully she will be working for a company by then which might send her to SXSW…)
  • A MeshWalk at Social Media Week San Francisco (Feb 1st). I will be organizing a MeshWalk here in San Francisco on Feb 1st as part of the larger Social Media Week activities in San Francisco. The format will be a Social Media Crawl – we will range between a number of businesses with offices in San Francisco in/around SOMA who will have open houses, demonstrations and drinks. Should be an amazing way to start a busy and great Social Media Week here in San Francisco.
  • MeshForum 2010. My hope is to pull together a full, multiple day MeshForum conference in 2010, probably in the late Spring in/around the Bay Area. It has been too many years since I last held a full MeshForum and the focus on the interdisciplinary study of Networks is even more important now than ever before.
  • Raising money for a new, social media related venture. I have been immersed in Social Media for a very long time, running an online game with 1000’s of players from my college dorm room in 1991, being active in USENET in the early 1990’s and on the web in many incarnations and forms ever since. As 2010 starts I am actively engaged in raising an early stage/angel round to fund a social media related venture. Watch my blogs for more details and updates but suffice it say that the focus will be on topics I have been writing about for years – the importance of Curation as the future of Media.

Of course if you are interested in supporting any of my ventures, especially the last three above contact me directly. Especially if your company is interested in sponsoring one or more of these events and online activities.

I also know a number of ventures, of many different scales, who are always looking for additional sponsors and creative advertisers, in 2010 I expect I will be connecting great advertisers and sponsors to amazing, unique and fantastic publishers online and offline.

Politically I have long been a strong supporter of Barack Obama and though some are disappointed in his 2009, I am not. He has achieved a great deal of what I expected and hoped he would, along with the support of his fantastic appointees. In 2010 I am eagerly awaiting still more achievements from the first great administration of my lifetime. Starting early in 2010 with, I hope, the passage of Health Care Reform which will have an immediate and important impact on the quality of my life.

I have a pre-existing condition (Asthma and related allergies and allergy caused conditions) which combined with looking at individual not group coverage would, currently, make getting high quality, affordable health insurance nearly impossible. With the passage of #HCR I should be able to get far more affordable coverage of a far higher quality w/o restrictions for my pre-existing conditions (which I should note are not expensive to treat and keep under control but do require annual expenditures for emergency inhalers and the like).

But more than any of these admittedly wide-ranging looks and hopes for 2010 my biggest one is stay worthy of the love of my girlfriend who has been, by leaps and bounds, the best part of 2009 by far.

I hope you have a great 2010 and look forward to reading about what you are looking forward to – whether big or small.

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Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, meshforum, meshwalk, networks, personal, politics, San Francisco, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Social game ideas – open ended, multi-sponsor ARGs

Posted by shannonclark on June 27, 2009

My background in games and the current state of things

I have been a game player since my grandfather taught me to play chess at the age of 4. In my youth I played AD&D, Shadowrun and many other role playing games – usually at the DM. At my high school there were a bunch of us who played all types of games on a regular basis, we played many boardgames after school, had AD&D campaigns including one we ran at times over lunch in the cafeteria and were regulars at the local games shops.

In fact the father of one of my high school classmates was a professional game designer at the time for Mayfair Games where he lead the development of many classic board games, games such as Cosmic Encounters. A number of us, myself included, occasionally were drafted as gametesters for new board games.

At the local games shop, a massive, custom designed building built by a serious historical minatures gamer, we would spend hours many evenings and weekends playing a wide range of games, including historical minatures, roleplaying games and all types of boardgames.

I always assumed that I would stay playing games on a highly regular basis when I entered college but that didn’t happen, somehow I didn’t stay as active a game player, though I did play the occasional game of chess and lots of card games with friends.

In the 90’s I spent many years as literally a professional Magic the Gathering player and dealer, in one year I earned over $40,000 trading pieces of cardboard and won prizes valued into well over $5,000 in many tournements which I often won or placed very highly. Friends of mine were even better, winning at a global level and traveling around the world to play Magic the Gathering (and winning well over $10k from some tournements in the process). I quite my regular job at the time when I realized I could make far more money in a few hours than I would earn in days.

A bit later I also became active in a range of Live Action Role Playing games, mostly around White Wolf’s World of Darkness game. The game I played started in the mid-90’s in Chicago, grew rapidly to include nearly 100 games in cities all around the world all sharing a common set of rules and world and which allowed players to play their characters from one city at the games held in other cities. As a result players could and did interact across continents (friends of mine went to Brazil to play the game) and there were games happening multiple times every week near to Chicago.

It was  great fun – immersive and engaging. While we did play in spaces we reserved just for ourselves (we would contribute to rent spacees from time to time) we also played in the midst of other events – often in nightclubs, once very memorably at the Chicago Museum of Modern Art when they stayed open for 24hrs to celebrate the Summer Solstice. Playing in the midst of 100’s or even 1000’s of people who were not playing the game added layers to the interactions and was extremely fun.

In the past few years Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) have become increasingly popular and successful, though with some notable caveats. Most, though not all, have been run as commercial promotions for a specific event or product – very often a movie or TV series. Currently the upcoming movie District 9 for example is running an ARG where you can play either a human or an alien in the world of the movie.

The model of ARG’s has become in some ways fairly formalized. They start with a series of clues usually embedded inside of something in mass release – billboards & posters, movie trailers, occasionally other forms of advertising. The clues in these ads, often a phone number or a web URL lead a player to signup to the ARG. From there a series of clues lead to other sites or phone numbers often with embeded small games or challenges.

Over time additional clues are released which further the ARG’s storyline. For most ARG’s the model has become a bit of a funnel, with fewer and fewer players continuing as the puzzles are released, usually these ARG’s lead up to a final end clue and often the players who figure it out in time arrive at an event or get a prize of some form (a sneak preview of a movie for example as well as other gifts & prizes). Then often the ARG comes to an end as the movie or TV show is released (or the season ends in the case of ARG’s such as Lost’s or Fringe’s where there were clues embedded inside of each episode).

These games are effective ways of engaging and building fans for a new media property but they have many unfortunate side effects of this model.

  1. They generally are less and less engaging for new players as they grow in complexity – sure most of the time players set up Wiki’s or other sites to explain what is known so far, but as the game goes on it becomes less compelling for new players – and once the final reward is given out it often is far less interesting to new players (and even existing players may cease engagement)
  2. While some ARGs have included a wide degree of player driven content & storytelling, for most there is a very heavyhand of the ARG designers at work in telling the story and though players can visit many parts & sites in any order they want there tends to be a very linear path of the story being told by the nature of new clues being released on a specific timetable.
  3. A few ARGs have had occasional “real world” events but the global distribution of most media for the most part means that most ARGs now primarily employ mass media & the Internet for the game play (also often voicemail/800 numbers for some parts and frequently SMS messages to players).

A few weeks ago a variation of a type of game which has been popular for a few years inside of social networks such as Facebook was released on top of Twitter – Spymaster – these games build upon usually preexisting social elements and relationships to form part of the game play. In the case of Spymaster your twitter followers become the size of your “spy ring” and you gain game play advantages by having more of your followers also playing Spymaster (they become “spymasters” in your “spy ring” and give you game bonuses).

Add in the fact that social tools such as Twitter (or Facebook) have many ways for you to communicate with people – and the games take advantage of these tools to send out messages about your game play activity to your social network (with your permission) and not surprisingly these games can and do often experience rapid, exponential growth as large networks of friends all start playing.

However while fun games such as SpyMaster or the multiple Mafia based games on Facebook (and in those cases now also with iPhone apps) suffer from (but also benefit from) a fairly simple game play and room for interactions between players. They offer only relatively limited sets of actions, have constraints on what you can do in a given period of time, and allow for only a handful of direct in game ways to interact with other players. Though often players evolve ways alongside of the formal game play elements to interact. In the case of SpyMaster many players have set up Twitter accounts only focused on playing Spymaster and have builtup networks of followers with whom they coordinate in game actions and for strong in game cliques.

I play Spymaster and enjoy it, though it is a relatively lightweight game, so I only play for a few minutes most days, if that. They haven’t yet settled on a business model, but it should be noted that some of the Mafia games on Facebook are already part of game companies rumored to be rapidly approaching over $100M/year in revenues, primarily through the same of virtual currencies to game players to use to enhance their game experiences.

A few players of SpyMaster are starting to expand the game via sites such as SpyMasterFans. There they are forming groups, sharing ideas & insights into the game, challenging each other to new interactions etc.

You may have noted that in my recounting of my own game playing background, I have not mentioned a lot of computer gaming. In the early 1990’s I ran a Muck (think an all text based version of Second Life) but I never got into computer gaming very much. So I haven’t played, though I do follow, the rise of social computer games. At present there are two very important models of social computer games.

  1. Massively Multiplayer Online Games (mmog’s) most famously World of Warcraft (or WOW) but also dozens of other games from companies around the world. There are three primary models of MMOG’s – subscription (usually with regular expansion packs as well) – this is WOW’s model and is the most common, free to play but game and expansions needed (Guild Wars is one of the few that use this model) and the newest model free to play including the software but virtual goods & items available for purchase (Sony’s Free Realms uses this model though subscriptions are available with additional benefits).
  2. Server based games. Increasingly console games as well as many PC games have multiplayer options and game companies are now often offering services that both run server instances and help players find other players to play against. Microsoft’s Xbox live for the XBox 360 and Valve’s Steam service for PC games are two examples of these game services. Often a fee is required for membership (for XBox live) and in most cases the games have to be purchased to play them.

There are many further nuances to computer and console games. For this post the most crucial of which is the number of players they are designed to facilate interactions amongst and the length of that interactions. Console games often are limited to a relatively small number of players competing against each other (4 vs 4) which can be over the Internet or over a local area network. MMOG’s differ in how many players they handle interactions amonst – many have multiple “servers” which are different instances of the world and which may have slightly different game rules, meaning that in most cases players on one server do not interact with players on another so they are limited to the number of players who choose to play on a given server. Some games are designed to encourage cooperative play where players cooperate together to achieve game goals (WOW has quests that can involve 40 or more players from a single Guild working together). Many games also have elements of player vs player interactions where players fight directly against other players – depending on the game this could occur anywhere in the game world (on a given PvP server) or in many games may be limited to a specific area of the game.

Some ideas for the future – open ended, multi-sponsor ARGs of a new form

While I know that computer and console games have many incredible aspects offering amazing graphics and game play capabilities they also have in-built limitations. Even with voicechat which is increasingly an important part of the player to player interactions in many games playing such games is limited to players who have the required equipment and financial resources to buy the necessary games & game subscriptions.

So here are a few ideas I have for where social games could go in addition the ongoing evolution of computer & console games.

Instead of an ARG which is sponsored by a single media property – and which is thus usually tied to the world of that particular movie or tv show (or less often an artist such as NIN) I would suggest a game with the following models & business elements.

  • A combination of lightweight, easy to adopt technologies AND frequent, multi-city live interactions & events. Neither element would be necessary to enjoy the other but if you used both your game play enjoyment would be enhanced.
  • The technologies could leverage and be built upon existing social tools such as Facebook or Twitter but would likely have a website and perhaps mobile applications as well
  • Much of the world and game interactions would be driven by the players with a light touch of the people designing and running the game – they would mostly design the world & backstory and would occasionally facilitate in game activities and elements, but the game would be designed for the players themselves to evolve the plots & ongoing stories.
  • In place of a single sponsor driving the event to a particular end point the game would have sponsors that come and go and which interact with the game in a variety of ways – I could see some sponsors embedding story from the game into their media (tv shows perhaps even movies) while others would provide real items and help support game related events in the “real” world (as well as having in game repurcussions). These interactions could at times be lightweight – having characters from the game (probably mostly actual player’s creations) who appear in the background of a movie – say as items in a newspaper story – this would I think be a lot of fun for players – and great marketing for those movies or tv shows.
  • The game would be designed to allow for new players to join at any time and for players to play at a wide range of play cycles – some playing daily while others playing only a few times a month or taking a summer off and resuming months later. This takes careful game design to balance and to give everyone a lot to do without the game becoming boring for anyone – but it suggests that for the most part these games would only have light elements of “levels” or the like but heavy elements of role playing and interaction. Though there could also be puzzles and cooperative quests so players uncomfortable with heavy roleplaying could ease into participating in the game as well and be rewarded for that interaction.
  • The business model could include clues & game elements embedded in physical items (t-shirts, trading cards, books, comic, digital downloads of many forms etc) which is a model that other similar in some ways games have already used quite successfully. Some of these products could be from sponsors who not only embed game elements in something they sell but also support the game finacially & through promotional efforts.

So that is the basic ideas – I haven’t yet designed an entire game example just started thinking about this, if it sounds like fun (or if you know of examples I should take a look at) please leave comments or contact me privately.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, meshwalk, mobile, networks, personal, web2.0 | 10 Comments »

What is a business designer or how to work with Shannon

Posted by shannonclark on May 22, 2009

Of late I have started to describe myself as a business designer in response to the usual question of “What do you do?”

But what do I mean by the term?

A Business Designer, as I intend the term, is someone who uses the techniques of design firms, such as IDEO, to design new businesses – whether entire new startups or within the context of an existing, larger business.

I have been highly active online since 1991 and working on the web since the mid-90’s so a great deal of my work does involve the application of technology, especially web technology, to business problems. However my process starts before deciding what the solutions will be, it starts with the discussions about the specifics of the business, the resources available, and objectives.

Only then do we address the specific solutions required, in many cases applying technology both purchased, open source and customized to the business objectives.

So what is my process?

Earlier this week I attended the SanFran Music Tech Summit and over the course of the fantastic conference I had many long conversations with entrepreneurs and business people who were attending the conference. In these short conversations and discussions I practiced a shortened version of my business process.

  1. Hear how the current business, or the business idea, is described today.
  2. Explore what is behind the business, what technology if any current exists, what are the current clients, what is the current business process.
  3. Get a quick sense of the business objectives of the team at present – new customers, investment, partners etc.
  4. Brainstorm. In this process I leverage the diversity of industries and companies I follow closely, seeking examples often from unrelated industries which can help us decide on direction and business models for the business.
  5. Make concrete suggestions of next steps for the business from simple text copy changes to complex shifts in business model.

That is the shortened process, at times taking only a few minutes, other times taking an entire lunch.

What I follow

At the moment I pay very close attention to a number of industries and technologies, these include:

  • The music industry, especially the emergance of the online, digital music industry.
  • “New Media” from the business models of old media applied to the new digital world to the emergance of new businesses and media leaders
  • Web 2.0. I define Web 2.0 as the shift to a data centric view of web applications. Practically this means more open web sites, api driven services, dynamic flows of information, and in many cases user generated content
  • Mobile applications. In particular I have been an early adopter of smartphones, currently heavily focused on the iPhone.
  • Gaming. Though I am not an active game player, I have a longstanding and deep interest in games and gaming. I’m very interested in the application of gaming elements to serious purposes.
  • Social Networks. I started Meshforu, a conference on the study of Networks in 2004 and have been an early adopter of online social networks. I also follow closely the academic study of Social Network Analysis as well as related fields of Network Science.
  • Advertising. I believe that advertising, across all forms, is in a major transition. In particular I am a passionate proponent of Brands and believe that brands need to adapt to the new, digital landscape
  • Internet Radio. While I follow the whole music industry closely, many of my current ventures relate to the new forms of Internet Radio.
  • Community. Most successful businesses are driven by a community both online and offline. I’m an advisor to a number of startups focused very much on the support of specific communities enabled by the new digital media world. In many cases these cross over many types of media including online websites.
  • The Food Industry. My father is a leading food technologist who has designed new products and business processes for most of the major food companies around the globe. I am a passionate foodie and follow emerging trends in the food industry, including restaurants very closely.
  • Social Entrepreneurship. I run a small non-profit, MeshForum and am passionate about new models of business which include a strong social mission and purpose.

There are many other industries and specific technologies which I also pay attention to on a regular basis, I have worked for some of the largest banks in the world. I’ve also designed and build AI driven automated data applications and other complex pieces of enterprise software. But at present the above list of industries are the ones I follow most closely and where, primarily, I seek clients.

How I work

My preference is to work with clients over an extended period, typically via a monthly retainer with at least a three month minimum. In three months any business whether large or small can see specific results from the engagement. A retainer, instead of the more common hourly or day rate, allows for the wide range of ways I work for and with each client.

For most clients I will meet with the client, often onsite for a series of meetings and observations each month. I am often a part of internal discussions and meetings with partners and external vendors.

I am based in San Francisco but will work with clients anywhere in the world, combining in person meetings with extensive online collaboration.

Every engagement is different but a few specifics you can expect from working with me.

  • New Ideas – a primary part of my job is offering a new, interdisciplinary perspective on the challenges of your business. A key part of this is carefully suggesting specific, implementable new ideas and approaches.
  • Simplification – much of my practice is around paring ideas and processes back to identify what is most key and value creating. Many startups, as well as large companies, build technologies and processes which are overly complex. By focusing on simplification we end up with greater value.
  • Clear processes and designs – After we have focused and defined clearly the specific business objectives, my role shifts to achieving those objectives. There my job is to define and often help manage the business processes, including working with development teams, to build and design the related parts.

I have over a decade of experience as an Open Space Facilitator and use that as part of my consulting. The result of a facilitated open space event is usually clearer understanding of both the business opportunities and the resources available to address them, as well as focused groups of employees (and often external partners including customers) to address each business need.

If you are interested in working with me, email me at shannon AT nearnessfunction.com or call me at 1.800.454.4929.

Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, meshforum, meshwalk, mobile, music, personal, web2.0, working | 1 Comment »

Tasks for a new startup – Radioki.com and Startup Weekend SF

Posted by shannonclark on April 5, 2009

Saturday was a busy day. Spent at Startup Weekend SF.

Today will be an even crazier day as in less than 24 hours I will be taking 4 pages of notes sketching out a whole application and putting together a mess of parts and web services into what will be a compelling and useful service for many people. After I post this, my evening (well early morning) will be reading API and data format specifications and working out how to build out our first functional pieces.

However just having a great working application is not all of the tasks that a modern, web 2.0, 2009 edition company needs to do to be successful. Here for my own use (and my teams) as well as I hope for many other entrepreneurs is a checklist of tasks we also will have to try to do this weekend. Please add anything I have missed in the comments below!

[and before you mention it – legal structure & incorporation, partnership agreements etc are indeed important and if as we hope it does Radioki takes off we will complete them, we are building this in the context of pre-existing friendships as well as the Startupweekend open & collaborative ethos]

  • Register your new brand domain. We did this Saturday afternoon. Nothing at Radioki.com yet, but that will change rapidly.
  • Sign up for Twitter for your new brand. I’ve set up @radioki follow us to get updates on our progress, access first and we hope a few other surprises.
  • Set up an internal tool for documentation and collaboration. We chose the very simple and easy to sign up for and use PB Wiki as a repository for our team notes, drafts, pseudo code, internally important data etc.
  • Establish a simple version control system. Even if you have just one developer, work with a version control system everywhere you can (which is pretty much most things). A wiki for internal team documentation gives you version controls & who made what change data tracking inherently (assuming you as I would suggest use a private tool for that collaboration)
  • Register for all of the relevant API keys your applications will require. These days this can be a very long list. In our case we have at least three major API’s which we will use, multiple web services, Javascript frameworks, web hosts, domain registrar and much more which we need to sign up for and use.
  • Establish early on (as in before we launch) customer support & feedback channels. Almost certainly in our case this means that we will create and set up a GetSatisfaction for Radioki (using the free version first until we have a business model to support more) – note, when we complete the next task, we have to go back to sites such as Twitter and GetSatisfaction and upload our logo there as well.
  • Design a logo and pick a basic design pattern. Be comfortable with this being basic and expect it to change, but to launch quickly create a simple (even text only) logo to use at your avatar image across the web, to use on your home page, and along with it a basic color palette and design style for your overall web presence. Expect to change this but spending a few minutes early on in the process helps you create a clean, consistent look across web services and sites.
  • Set up corporate email addresses. Even if all you do is have them auto-forward to your regular email, yourname@newcompany is useful and is used as proof of employee status by some sites such as GetSatisfaction.
  • Join the appropriate networks as the new corporation. In the case of Radioki this means Facebook but because we have a strong Music component also means active engagement with Myspace.com (and especially MySpace Music).
  • Update the personal sites and network profiles of all founders. When you launch your personal site and blogs should note this and the profiles of all of the founders (and early employees if you have any) should be updated to reflect involvement with the new company. This is a signal for people who follow you on each network or who read your blogs that you are working on something new.
  • Link back to and thank publically as well as privately all the services your new company uses and works with. Besides being just common politeness everyone who builds any service wants to see it used and welcome thanks and updates about how their solutions are being deployed. Also many API providers offer directories of applications using each API. Building relationships with each company your solution relies upon and works with can also lead to lots of helpful advice, guidance, updates about new features and opportunities for promotion.
  • Remember to add contact information and background to your new company site. Yes, focus on getting the service built and launched, but also remember to include who you are who are building the company as well as how to reach you and who to reach out to for any media who might want to contact you. Photos of the core founding team are great as are short bios. All serve to humanize what can often be a dehumanizing process (web applications for example). And yes, real names and a corporate mailing address do combine to give lawyers someplace to send stuff – but it also gives journalists, bloggers, investors and future business partners someone to talk with as well.
  • Build logging and analytics into your site and application from the beginning. Deploy Google Analytics or another similar product on your new domain from before you share the URL with anyone (hmm we’ve broken this one so have to fix this quickly) For your main application make sure that user actions are logged so you build up a history of interactions. In our case this means ensuring that every search query entered is captured. Ideally you also log what output (or if something failed what error messages) resulted from that interaction.
  • Reach out to your friends. A new project whether big or small is perhaps the best excuse to catch up with your friends old and new. In fact I love it nearly every time a friend sends me an update about new projects or companies. Often these updates are the first time I’ve heard from someone.
  • But don’t forget to also reach out to the media. Start with the media who are also your friends. If you friends also covers your space then reach out to them on a personal level. Don’t send your friends mass, blast emails if you can avoid it – if not, then follow up (or send in advance as well) a personalized note. Do not rely on your friends having your contact details handy – include a direct phone (cell phones are great) as well as your personal email address.

And those are just the relatively simple, basic stuff. When a new company is launched a whole additional set of tasks get added nearly immediately. A few things to think about relatively soon.

  • Corporate banking relationship. This will require legal incorporation in some form (or will require initially to work off a founder’s personal accounts – opening up reams of tax/legal complications. However such a relationship is a key part of being a real business – it gives you a way to sell to people via giving you a means of depositing checks.
  • Corporate legal relationship. Establishing a legal relationship, even if a relatively simple and low cost relationship is another part of being prepared to be a real business. A lawyer may early on be called upon to help with incorporation, reviewing various agreements and you hope reviewing customer contracts or investment documents (or best case both).
  • Building out the non-functional parts of your new site. What I mean here is collecting excerpts of blog posts and news articles & embedding audio or video coverage. This also includes keeping a new corporate blog up-to-date and continued use of the corporate Twitter account etc.
  • An ongoing PR relationship. Of course with a firm who knows your business area, with whom you can work closely and who gets your product as well as process. Great PR firms add incrediable value.
  • Telling a clear, updated and ongoing story. If you (or co-founders or early employees) are not great storytellers or public speakers then likely your PR firm (and perhaps other advisers) will need to help with this but especially early on it is vital to have a clear story about the company and your new, emergent brand. This story should be short and clear (oh and compelling)
  • Have a business model (or two or three or four). You do not have to implement the business model immediately, nor do you need to share it with anyone (though your co-founders should also know). But having a business model in mind can be exceptionally helpful as you evaluate what to use/not use, what to build/not build, what to track/not track

And yes, this list is long and incomplete.

I skipped over raising money, I skipped over legal incorporation (rarely a good reason not to just incorporate as a Delaware C corporation). i skipped entirely over office space. Until an income is generated a large number of boring but important tasks are delayed (salaries and benefits for example).

For now, sleep then back to work.

Posted in economics, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, meshforum, meshwalk, mobile, time, web2.0 | 7 Comments »

My Yahoo HackDay Hack – building a personal identity hub part 1

Posted by shannonclark on September 14, 2008

A few weeks ago I finally, after nearly a decade of trying, purchased my name domain ShannonClark.com. At the Yahoo! Open Hackday this weekend I spent my time figuring out some ways to turn ShannonClark.com into my personal identity hub on the Internet.

My long term goal for the site is that it will contain much of what I do online as well as show who is linking to or using my content elsehwere across the web. Ideally I want to do this without updating or directly maintaining the site, instead i want content to flow into ShannonClark.com from all over the web in an automated (yet when needed moderated) manner.

I have many, probably too many, blogs which I maintain as well as a collection of blogs or bloglike sites which I do not maintain. Some are blogs which I started but have not posted to in a long time, others are my active blogs, and a few are the blogging sections of various social networks to which I belong which I do not utilize with great frequency. I am also active on dozens of online services and tools from Twitter to Facebook to countless other sites and services.

So my task this past weekend was to figure out how to start pulling together all this content I create, while ideally also capturing other people’s use of that content, all while avoiding claiming anything as my content (or my usage) which was not, in fact, me. After all the reason I did not have shannonclark.com for the past decade plus was that another person (a woman specifically) who is also named Shannon Clark had registered the domain first, though luckily for me she had never used the site and earlier this year allowed it to expire without renewing the domain.

I started by installing the latest version of WordPress on my domain which I am hosting on Bluehost.com. This was easily done with the web management panel provided by Bluehost along with the automatic updates plugin I installed which then makes the process of updating wordpress to the latest version quite simple and fast.

With the latest version of wordpress installed I then set about customizing my installation. First I installed a set of core plugins which I run on most of my other wordpress blogs – wordpress stats, askimet to capture spam comments. I then also selected a variety of themes which include support for the latest wordpress features as well as widgets and started to play with a variety of looks for the new blog. The current theme I have selected may change as I continue to update and modify the site.

In looking over the wordpress plugins I looked for a way to consolidate a bunch of my blog posts via displaying or using the full text RSS feeds I generate from all of my blogs. I found a number of possible solutions as wordpress plugins, for the hackday I selected on that looked promising and installed it. I may revisit the one I selected and both look at alternatives or try to correct some small bugs I have found with this particular plugin (bugs which I hope will be fixed in a future update, I think they are some form of AJAX related overlap in functionality or naming as the plugin causes problems with wordpress’ admin features).

But my problem now was how to feed my various RSS feeds into new site in a way that managed to maintain the correct time order of my posts and which would be maintained into the future in an automated fashion.

My solution for this was to take the four key blogs (though I likely will add additional blogs in the future) into a special Yahoo! Pipe I set up. My first pass at this resulted in output that instead of showing all of my posts in full text and formatting only showed a short excerpt of each post. To make this work as I intended my Pipe had to join the blog feeds together, sort them, and then modify the elements to move the full text of my posts into the field which was storing only the excerpts.

Using this pipe’s output as an RSS i then fed it into the plugin I installed to syndicate content. The result of this plugin is that a bit over forty of my past posts across the four blogs were syndicated as full text posts, with titles and other internal links linking back to the original source blogs and comments on the new site turned off. And the plugin will monitor my blogs on an hourly basis and syndicate any new posts (such as this very post) as they are posted. I set this timeframe to an hour to minimize load on my blogs (the default was 10 minutes). Over time I’ll play with this configuration to determine what works best.

In the next posts on this topic I’ll explain what I did to create a page that displays my activities across the web (and some future experiments I’m looking into for alternative approaches to this challenge), my start of tools to track usage of my content across the web, and my plans for the “about Shannon Clark” section(s) of the website as well as additional areas and features I may decide to build out in the future.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, internet, meshforum, meshwalk, networks, personal, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Communities I speak

Posted by shannonclark on August 10, 2008

A few days ago I wrote about the communities all around us as I rode the Muni back from the Farmer’s Market this afternoon I thought a lot about the Communitites I speak – i.e. those groups I can participate in, can speak the lingo, know the references, pay attention to the key events and sources.

I think there are many different ways to define community. In the past I have written about how what we pay attention to helps form and share the communitites we are a part – who we are is what we follow. And indeed this is one key aspect at least of the active, current and potential communitites we could be a part of (we might pay attention to a community without being an active part of it). But there is another key part of the puzzle – what we can “speak”.

Speaking a Community

I am gifted at being a very quick study and learner. In part because I have always been and remain to this day an avid reader of books, magazines and more so in the past then today of newspapers I have at least a passing knowledge of tons of subjects and topics. Especially today with most of the world’s knowledge at your fingertips via well crafted Google searches (plus knowing what resources to use when Google isn’t enough) I can fairly quickly come up to passing speed on nearly any topic.

But this is not fluency in a given Community, rather it is merely an ability to perhaps get a quick glimpse, to exchange a few words, perhaps to ask some smart questions and likely to learn how to learn more, which is itself often pretty vital.

However there are quite a few Communities that I do speak, communitites where even though I may not have been active in them for quite sometime I could jump right in and participate quickly. Here are a few that come to mind, I’m sure there are others and I’ll note a few special cases.

  • Chess. I learned to play chess at the age of 4 from my grandfather. In high school I was the captain of my chess team for 3 1/2 years. Since then I have read probably 100’s of chess books and though I haven’t played a serious game in a few years, a few years ago I played regularly with the serious players at North Ave Beach (and in Old Town) in Chicago, drawing or beating players up to about 2100 or so. So yes, I can “speak” chess at a serious level. In Paris a few years ago I tested this, I went to the Luxumberg Gardens where there have long been public chess boards, there I played an English Barrister who is one of the only Englishmen to practice law in France. I met him over the chess boards where Chess, more so than French was the language of choice.
  • History. Especially of the Medieval Near East. I haven’t studied this in a few years (and though it happens slowly historians do over time make progress in learning more about the past as new works are found and increasingly made more readily available via technology) but I could probably have a good conversation with any historian generally and specifically anyone who is interested in the Ottomans, Byzantines, Armenians, or to a lesser degree some aspects of English or Italian history as well as the history of the Crusades. I studied history in college in the early 90’s, so quite some time ago, but being a historian is a particular approach, a particular view and also a way of thinking – a way of taking information, often limited, and pulling it together into a cohesive narrative and story. The type of history I prefer is an archival history, a history of digging deeply into primary sources and using those sources to reveal more about the past – sometimes telling small, specific stories, sometimes piecing out a bigger picture and a greater narrative. An active historian might be more up on the latest books, the places to be published, job opportunities, but we very likely would quickly find ourselves sharing a common language, a common approach and at least some related interests.
  • Slow Food and related to this Cooking. I am a foodie both in terms of where I like to eat and what I like to cook. Again there are many people who are even more active than I, more deeply focused on food, food culture and the professional aspects of food, people who have attended culinary school, who work some part of the food industry at restaurants, magazines or other parts of the food industry. But I definitely speak the language. Doesn’t hurt that my sister’s boyfriend is a professional food critic (for the NY Times) and cookbook author, so though to my friends I may seem fairly seriously a foodie, I have a sense of what I would consider “real” foodies are like. But probably I too qualify, even if I haven’t fully found my community of fellow foodies here in San Francisco quite yet. A few friends who usually like my cooking, a few people I see at the farmer’s markets but I’m not active in the local Slow Food groups, not active in an online forum such as Chowhounds or Yelp and in short not deeply part of the food community (or more accurately many different communities) here in the Bay Area.
  • Programming. I am not an active programmer today, I haven’t written a line of code in a number of years nor do I have a degree in computer science, but I first learned to program at the age of 7, took serious programming classes in high school and a couple of classes in college and though I have only occasionally been a paid programmer, I “speak” programmer. In the late 90’s I worked for Perot Systems (yes owned by Ross Perot) mostly working for Swissbank and later UBS after they merged doing source code administration, in which role I supported over 1000 programmers around the world working as one of the people running the source code servers for those programmers and teams. I also worked with each group on building and compiling their programs. To do this did not, in fact, require that you be a programmer yourself, indeed most of my coworkers were not programmers, but I was able to speak programmer with the project leads, hold a different conversation with them than my coworkers, a conversation about programming methodologies, about language and tool selection, and about to some degree techniques. I’m a bit rusty today, haven’t been keeping up, but generally speaking I can “speak” programmer even if I’m not up on the latest languages, programming challenges, toolkits, libraries or other development tools.
  • Gaming. Today this term often refers to online, computer or console games. But though I know a lot of people who play those games fairly seriously (and some who cover the gaming industry as journalists or work in the industry) I have never been much of a computer gamer, haven’t been one since the early 90’s and I do not own a TV or any gaming consoles. But I was a serious gamer of other types of games for many, many years. In high school I played various board games and roll playing games nearly every week with a group of friends both at our homes, in the high school as part of a gaming club, and at a local games shop we all frequented. In fact one of my high school friend’s father was a game designer for Mayfair Games and we often playtested games. At that time I went to Gencon many times and I ran a lot of games there and locally. In college however though I did play card games with friends I didn’t play many board games or role playing games (though I had prior to college assumed that I would play a lot of role playing games when in college). But in the mid-90’s I supported myself for a year as a professional Magic the Gathering card dealer and player, at that time I was most definitely part of a serious community. Later in the 90’s and early part of this century I played a LARP in Chicago which was part of a very active community, a worldwide community in fact. I played in fact at one of the first games so I definitely spoke that community, but I was also not entirely of the community. Over the years I didn’t make it to every game, in this century I became very involved in starting a company and drifted away from the game. I briefly tried to reconnect with a branch of the game (which is still ongoing) here in California but didn’t fully “click”. But all that said, I certainly can and do speak Gamer – whatever the game whether paper, board, computer or console.
  • Politics. I am fairly passionate about politics, have voted in every election I was eligible to vote in, follow the campaigns and care passionately about many issues. But at the same time unlike many of my friends who are, in some cases, professionally interested in politics (among others I have friends who have run national campaigns for president, served as candidate’s CTO’s, and in some cases run for office themselves) my interest and passion is not professional. In a small way I have helped with a non-partisan public policy group, Hope Street Group whose goals and mission I fully support. But politically I am centrist of neither party. I can certainly, however, speak Politics. And at times I have even toyed with the idea that someday I might run for an office myself, albiet only when I think someone with my centrist views and aethistic leanings could stand a chance of winning (probably rules out running for any national offices in the foreseeable future).
  • Being Jewish. I am Jewish could emmigrate to Israel and would qualify – much more than the past three generations of my mother’s family have been Jewish. I grew up in a household where Yiddish words were sprinkled into conversation with some frequency (my mom’s influence). Every year as a child in our Christmas stockings my mom gave us Hanaukah Geld. But I didn’t attend Hebrew school, wasn’t Bar Mitvah’ed and if I didn’t tell you noone ever guesses that I’m Jewish – my name tends to lead people to another assumption. In fact one Jewish friend with whom I was staying in New York City once called me on a Friday night while I was in NYC and wasn’t sure if I would be comfortable meeting him at his friends whose Shabbat dinner he was enjoying, he assumed I wasn’t Jewish (if he had realized he probably would have invited me to join him earlier). But in college I taught an Israeli friend of mine how to cook Kosher (first having to help teach her how to cook) for the local Hillel Shabbat dinner. I am not religious but I do consider myself Jewish at least as an ethnic and cultural identity. At the same time to some degree I don’t fully speak “Jewish”, I was raised more as a Roman Catholic, went to a Catholic elementary school and the world around me has generally engaged with me not as someone who is Jewish so I haven’t had the experiences positive or negative that might convey. One of my most vivid memories of my childhood is a day when I realized that attending a Catholic elementary school was limiting my perspective on the world considerably. I remember thinking that everyone is Catholic – certainly that everyone I knew was. Yes, I knew that my mom wasn’t, but it was that moment when I realized the danger of being fully immersed in a community, the danger of too much of the same being all around you. I think it was the next day I started asking my parents to transfer me into the public junior high for my 7th grade a move I’m still grateful for to this day.
  • Being Roman Catholic and Irish. I was raised Roman Catholic, went to mass nearly every Sunday for most of my childhood, recieved my First Communion and went to Confession. My father was and is deeply active in his church, he gives the homilies with some frequency and is a very active member of what is a fairly atypical Roman Catholic community, a community that has mass in a school gym and has music played with guitars and where laypeople take a very active role in the service. My aunt is a Roman Catholic nun. I grew up half a continent removed from most of my aunts and uncles (who were and are mostly still back on the East Coast) but we had large family gatherings around the holidays and heard stories of what it meant to be Irish earlier in this century in the US. Stories which reinforced an identity outside of the mainstream of Protestant America (stories of “No Irish allowed” type signs and workplaces). At the same time, however I was not immersed in an Irish idenity, we didn’t learn Irish folk dancing or cook much corned beef at home (though we did eat a lot of potatoes). I also rejected the Catholic church at a very young age, I refused to be Confirmed being unwilling to publicly vow something I did not believe or would want to honor. To be Confirmed is how you join the Catholic Church as an full adult member, it is your act of publicly affirming that you believe in God (which I do not), agree with the Roman Catholic faith and will both be an active member of the Church and will raise your children as members of the Church. All of which I would not swear that I would do – not the least of which being I feel how children are to be raised should be a mutual decision by both parents – which makes it very hard for me to feel comfortable taking such a vow on my own. So while I can speak Catholic, I am not (in a very formal sense of the word) a Catholic. I’ll always be, I guess, Irish – that’s my other side of my family.
  • Web 2.0. Since moving out to the Bay Area I have become, I guess, immersed in the emerging community around Web 2.0. My friends are the bloggers covering the companies, the CEO’s, founders, programmers, and investors in Web 2.0. When I go to a conference on the topic I usually know both the organizers of the conference and a majority of the speakers. I speak “web 2.0” with a high degree of fluency. I use many of the web 2.0 services though like everyone else I don’t use every service or have the time to try everything. I’ve covered Web 2.0 myself as a blogger for Centernetworks.
  • Business. I do not have an MBA. Though if you were to look at my bookshelves you would be forgiven for assuming that I might have one. As a child I read, at least some sections, of the Wall Street Journal from almost the time I learned to read. I have always followed the workings of business with a great deal of interest, I read a relatively large number of business books each year (increasingly books whose authors I might in fact know) and I try to stay up on the many nuances of business. However not having an MBA, not having spent much of my career working up the ranks of a large corporation (or a large services firm serving corporations) there is also a very real sense in which I do not speak Business, some nuances of relationships and interactions I simply don’t get or am at least very rusty about. I was never very good at internal company politics or at the wink and a nod aspects of how a lot of business actually occurs (over games at a golf course and the like). I’m not a member of right health or private clubs, I don’t rack up the frequent flyer miles, and I don’t go to very many business focused conferences or events. But I probably would fit in even at a very high level with people at most large corporations, I could ask the right questions, hold serious conversations, make useful contributions and introductions.
  • Social Networks. In 2004 I formed MeshForum. In 2005 and 2006 I organized a three day conference on the study of Networks both Social Networks and many other types of networks. Speakers at MeshForum included experts from the Pentagon, professors of many fields and from many different schools, entrepreneurs, investors and artists. In 2007 I held a series of smaller one day MeshWalks and I intend to hold more MeshWalks and another MeshForum in the future. As a result of my involvement in organizing MeshForum and in participating in online discussions such as the SOCNET mailing list I have become very well versed in the theory of Social Network Analysis as well as have been a student of the emerging class of web sites (and other services) around “Social Networks”. But I am not a practicing Social Network analyst, I haven’t published research and increasingly I am unable to keep up with the all too many different social networks around which people I know engage (and even less so able to track and follow the countless other networks where few if anyone I know engages). But I most definitely speak Network in all the many permutations of that word and concept. Heck, I can even hold my own in conversation with my friends who are telecomunitions policy or technology wonks. (and in my case that includes people who literally invented major pieces of our current technology stack and or who founded major companies or worked on major policy)
  • and I’m sure I am missing many other Communities I can speak to as well – science fiction fandom, art, the music industry, gay/lesbian communities (I’m most definitely straight but have many friends who are not, many of whom are very active in a range of communities around sexual orientation and idenity) and even sports fandom (the last of which is perhaps a bit of a secret even to some of my friends – for all of my life I have listened to a lot of sports talk radio at times I have followed different sports with some degree of passion – but somehow this hasn’t overlapped with my social circles much).

So what Communities do you speak?

Posted in geeks, meshforum, meshwalk, networks, personal, politics, restaurants, San Francisco, web2.0, working | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Heading to SXSWi – parties, networking and hallway chats

Posted by shannonclark on March 6, 2008

I fly out very, very early tomorrow morning (flight at 6am, leaving house before 4am). Like many of my travels, I have made the arrangements for this trip at the very last minute – I haven’t yet, in fact, registered, I’ll do that onsite when I get there tomorrow.

But then I’m not going to Austin for the SXSWi sessions – sure, I may stop by a few friend’s panels (or may not) and assuming I do get a pass I’ll spend some time in the exhibit halls and at the official parties.

However the reason I am going back to SXSWi is not for the formal conference. Rather I am returning for the chance to spend an intense 4+ days and nights with my peers across the geek/tech world. Friends have described SXSWi as “geek spring break” and there is certainly an element of that. If you want to spend the next four plus days seriously abusing your liver, that is certainly an easy (and popular) option.

For me, however, I am most looking forward to long conversations in hallways, conversations which start with one or two friends and quickly blossom into small groups. Last year powered in part by effective twittering groups of us roved from party to party or, at times, created our own parties when that evenings more official gatherings had ended, were full, or deemed not worth trying to get into. Most evenings (and many afternoons) this year I have parties to attend which friends of mine are organizing and hosting, but I expect to spend some part of most evenins in small group conversation.

My focus all weekend will be on discussing how new forms of advertising could work on the web – how the advertising that I want to deliver via my new company, Nearness Function, should work to offer the best value for individual users and for the developers at our partner companies. I’ll likely also be talking with a few investors over the course of the weekend, with many potential clients, and hopefully with a few potential advertising partners – there certainly will be some people at SXSWi who are at digital agencies.

SXSWi is an intense, jam packed conference. Covering all things interactive and running alongside a film conference and just before one of the biggest and most important music conferences and festivals in the US. In short for this weekend and next week Austin is where much of the creative “class” in the US (and indeed from outside the US) will be found. Friends are flying in from Scotland, Miami and most part of the US and Canada.

This year the weather reports are not entirely pleasant – quite cool and a chance of rain on a few days. So I’ll be packing accordingly, lots of layers and my first purchase after checking into my hotel is likely going to be an umbrella (all my other umbrellas have been destroyed by San Francisco wind gusts this year).

There are countless communities and guides to SXSW, I won’t try to duplicate their advice here but a few reminders – as much as for myself as for you the reader.

  1. Have fun. Should go without saying but though a big, long conference is work, don’t forget this should also be fun.
  2. Introduce people to each other and don’t be shy about approaching people you don’t know – or people you don’t see often enough. If you get in the habit of introducing people – even people you just recently met, it encourages others to do the same.
  3. Try not to eat any meal alone. If you find yourself in danger of doing so, ask some strangers to join you – one plus of a big conference, very likely there are others who likewise don’t yet have dinner or lunch plans (or for that matter breakfast – though you’ll find at SXSW many people sleep in).
  4. At the same time if you aren’t an extrovert, give yourself some time alone, some time to regroup and mentally review the activities of the past day. If you are a runner go for a run (though you might do this with fellow attendees as well). I hope that my hotel has a pool and my current plan is to try to get in a short swim each morning – exercise plus a chance to mentally regroup. I also found that at times I might be leaving one party and meeting people at another – instead of taking the fastest path there (a cab) at times walking, even if it is a mile+ away would give me a great chance to refresh and relax.
  5. Perhaps it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Get enough to drink (water) and try to eat as healthily as possible. Yes, I plan on eating a lot of BBQ. However I will try to vary my diet, be sure to get some fruits & veggies along with my smoked meats, and I’ll be sure to drink a lot of water. This is especially important if, unlike me, you plan on drinking a great deal of the free/cheap booze that flows freely.
  6. Have something to give people to be remembered by – but in turn when you get something from someone whom you want to stay in touch with try to quickly get back to them digitally. At any convention it is far too easy to end up with a large pile of stuff and have little memory of who you need to send what to. My plan is to carve out a part of each day (probably in the mornings) to process my notes and contacts from the past day and at least send people my contact info. Jotting a quick note on the back of someone’s card (and/or in a small notebook you carry with you – I’ll be using my Creative Commons Moleskin) can also be a good starting point.
  7. Travel as lightly as possible. I am lucky, the hotel room I’ll be sharing is across from the conference center. As such I plan on dropping off my bags there frequently, as much as possible I hope to carry with me as little as possible (sometimes just pocket planner, notebook, iPhone, may even leave the laptop behind)

And above all keep in mind my first point.

Hope to see many of you in Austin tomorrow!

Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, meshwalk, networks, personal, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Remember everyone is human – even the A-listers like Arrington & Scoble…

Posted by shannonclark on December 12, 2007

[full disclosure – Robert Scoble spoke at MeshForum 2006 in San Francisco. Oh and both he and Mike are friends of mine]

UPDATE – Robert has posted his side on his blog “It is your business

Though even if I did not count both Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble as friends, I would still find the commentary on Mike’s recent TechCrunch post about Robert’s plans to leave PodTech disturbing at best and more than slightly depressing at the worst.

Reading the comments I was struck by the vitriol of many of the commentators – the sense from them that both Robert and Mike “had it coming” (one commentator called Robert a “liar”). The comments also have a sense of being written about characters – not fellow humans (one comment talked about how Mike and Robert are “real world” friends – implying that somehow the comments and blog posts exist outside of the “real world”.

For most of my career in technology I was outside of Silicon Valley, I only moved here in January of 2006 full time (and spent some time here in the Fall of 2005 but spent much of that time looking for a place to live). The Chicago tech community was (and still is) much, much smaller than Silicon Valley’s. A recent Chicago email subscription I still have showed that that is still the case – the lead article was about how a bunch of Chicago based VCs all called Facebook’s valuation an “aberration”, clearly in my mind not understanding what Facebook is building.

Since moving out to Silicon Valley I have met many of the people who, back in Chicago, I read about. My opportunities to meet them have been at countless networking events, conferences, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Some public events, many others private gatherings of friends. The “secret” to Silicon Valley, however, is that people are friends with each other – the tech world is in many ways a very small place. At almost any networking event throughout the bay area “competitors” can be seen sharing drinks and talking with each other – more often than not individual employees may have gone to school together, worked together at previous companies and usually fully expect to work together again at some future company.

Founders and investors alike know as well that the links that connect people here in Silicon Valley are many and diverse – it is a rare company here that does not have countless ties to other firms across the valley – shared investors, former colleagues, roommates.

Likewise, while in Chicago (and indeed in much of the rest of the US and world) failure is a taint, something which is assumed (again outside of Silicon Valley) to “ruin” you that is not entirely the case in Silicon Valley. Sure, no one – founders, investors, or employees wants a company to fail – but likewise nearly everyone knows that failure is a very real risk with any startup. And there are many different types of failures.

What matters most, though this is something which few (perhaps none?) of the commenters on TechCrunch grasp, is how you fail – and how as individuals you treat others, your investors, customers and partners.

In my observation how Mike Arrington and Edgeio are handling their failure is an honorable way. Yes, it is a bit abrupt but even that is likely better than lingering – especially for the employees who will almost certainly find other employment.

But to get back to my main point and the topic of this post – Remember everyone is human

Yes, this includes the “A-listers”

And yes, even lawyers and VC’s.

Even at the biggest of companies – whether Microsoft, IBM, or newer giants such as Yahoo! and Google – are, in fact, the result of the collective efforts of 1000’s of individuals, fellow humans all.

It is easy for everyone to be snarky, to gossip, to offer commentary and to put down someone else – we all have more than our share of faults.

But I also believe and my life and career keep reinforcing this point over and over again that your expectations about others are usually right but that the causation here is not simple – if you expect others to be jerks, to be untrustworthy, to be stupid, to “not get it”, it is your very attitude which helps that self-fulfilling point of view. In contrast if you approach the world assuming the best of others, assuming that generally speaking people are good, smart and trying hard, and willing to help more often than not you are proved right. Again, your attitude helps shape the world around you – and equally importantly what you focus on and emphasize for yourself.

This is not I should note looking at the world with rose-colored glasses or being naive about business matters. Rather this is about what you focus on, what you spend your time cultivating starting with your own attitude and approach to others.

Starting with how you interact with people in person and most definitely including how you interact with others online.

One of the commenters on TechCrunch whom I won’t name here except to say he (and yes, I am assuming he is male from his writing style on his personal blog) was very active on this post, is also apparently in the midst of seeking funding and partners for a new venture. While I always wish everyone the best, I also have to note that were I advising someone about his venture (an investor for example or a friend considering working for him) I would caution against it. Because of the attitude about others which comes through in his blog and comments – a strongly bitter sense of betrayal and a core assumption that others are idiots, wasting money, doing things in stupid ways etc.

(all while, I should note he is, I think, missing some technical approaches to a problem he is facing)

But. And this is a big but, I would still be happy to meet him, to discuss what he is doing, and very likely even offer my help. I believe in giving everyone a chance.

My view is that you can and do shape reality around you – how you approach others reflects back upon you, shapes how they will interact with you. If, as I have advised in the past you approach everyone starting from the perspective of “how can I help you” when you need help it will be there, likely from the most surprising of people.

I am by other’s accounts a networker – yet the core “secret” I have found to getting things done in the past has been the simple act of asking for the help I need. And if someone says no not just giving up but learning from that – and asking follow up questions such as “can you suggest who could…” [speak in your place, sponsor the event, etc]

So I encourage all of you to think about this when you next read about celebrities – whether “a-list” bloggers, startup founders, or media stars – and remember that everyone is human.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, meshwalk, networks, personal, San Francisco, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Networking Advice – useful business cards and other tips

Posted by shannonclark on October 8, 2007

I am an expert networker – I’ve organized networking events for most of the decade, I even run one of the first conferences on the study of Networks – MeshForum. My MeshWalk events have drawn over 100 people to spend a day walking and talking with each other. Here in the Bay Area I make a point of attending many events and conferences, helping out when I can.

As a result I end up with lots of business cards and lots and lots of contacts, connection requests on Facebook, LinkedIn, followers on Twitter, and the occasional other social networking tool.

Here are a few tips for everyone, but especially for entrepreneurs. Some are seemingly simple but even the simplest tips are, I hope useful. I do not always adhere to my own advice, this post is as much to remind myself as to, I hope, educate others.

Tip 1 – a useful business card

I just reviewed nearly 1000 business cards which I had collected over the summer. Almost half or more of these broke the advice I’m about to give – and as a result, I am less likely to follow up with those contacts. Here is the advice: a business card should be easy to write ON and contain enough information to identify who you are & why someone will follow up with you

This means no glossy business cards, no cards with all graphics, no small moo cards (can’t write on them) and ideally no cards with just your name and email address (I have a bunch of these, usually can’t remember who that individual is/why I might want to follow up with them) Perhaps an exception can be made if you are easily googleable – but even then a card with your company name, job title/one line description, and preferred contact means can go a very very long way.

And even in today’s hyperconnected online world, at a minimum include your primary city – when I’m in a town I like to catch up with people whom I know who live or work there, if all I have about you is your email address, I’m unlikely to invite you to dinner or lunch.

And yes, one of my businesses is exactly about this process – Never Eat Lunch Alone. But if I don’t have your city at the very least, I am unlikely to use my own software to invite you to lunch.

Why no glossy paper you might ask?

Tip 2 – shortly after you get someone’s card, write a note and reminder to yourself on that card

And I do mean shortly, as in minutes after you get the card. Jot down the date and/or the event where you met, write down anything you just promised to do (send an introduction, pass along an article, take a look at a beta, more on this point in the next tip). Make a note which product or project you are working on they might be interested in, or even if you didn’t promise to do it someone you know whom they absolutely should connect with. In short, remind yourself what to do when you next follow up.

If they mentioned a mutual contact, make a note of that.

If they added information in the conversation to what is on their card, jot that down as well.

Are they an investor? A potential partner? A competitor? A prospective employer or employee?

When I have a note to myself on the back of a card, I am reminding myself in the future why I have that card. Without it, I am relying on memory and proximity in a jumbled pile to realize when and where we met, and I will likely have to research who the person and company is before remembering why I took their card in the first place.

Tip 3 – don’t be shy about discarding cards from people whom you do not want to follow up with

Of course do not be rude, but if you meet someone and your immediate reaction is “I don’t trust this person”, or you look into their company and realize it is not a firm you have any interest at all in, save yourself future headaches and memory exercises and discard the card as you are going through the business cards you picked up – and do this quickly (if discretely).

In a related point, most of the time you should only collect business cards from people whom you have actually met in person and have a reason to follow up with. Cards just left out on a table or at a trade show booth are much less useful to you, you don’t have as much context to follow up with someone (and most likely they don’t have the context to recognize you from a conversation when you do follow up).

Tip 4 – have your cards with you and exchange them, along with context as you do so

Something as simple as introducing yourself to a speaker after a talk, getting their card and giving them yours means when you do follow up (and you will won’t you! Soon after the event is best, btw!) you can add to the subject or right at the beginning of the message “we exchanged cards at [name of event] and as I promised I’m following up with you to…”

So if you promise someone to make an introduction, or you mentioned a book, article, blog post, or website to someone, follow up on that promise and deliver.

Tip 5 – networking is about giving.

I have mentioned this before in a previous post about networking, but it bears repeating. Always approach networking first and foremost with the attitude that you can help others. Listen to their conversation and think about how you can help them – is there someone at the same event, even someone whom you have just met who they should talk to? Have you recently read something – on or offline – which might be relevant to what they are doing? Do you know someone who could help them (and who, in turn, would appreciate talking with them)? In short, focus on how you can be helpful – while remaining aware of in turn what help you yourself at looking for.

Oh, did I mention that last point before? Be clear when you start networking – and yes this starts with when you set up your business card and get them printed – what your goals for networking are. Do you want to reach investors? Customers? Partners? Employees? Find a new job? Learn about a new subject?

In short what are you focused on as your own needs. Then, does your business card help contextualize you in the context of those goals?

i.e. if you are mostly seeking to network in the context of a new business, your cards which mostly promote your personal hobby of building model airplanes (unless that is also your new business) are most likely not helpful and at worst a distraction. This is not to say that you shouldn’t include personal as well as professional details – but that you should think about the overall context and focus.

On my own card I have some fairly personal elements such as my personal blog (this blog), my twitter and my skype accounts. I do so a number of reasons, one of which is to in part communicate my attention and focus on fairly cutting edge technologies online – there are probably not too many people currently who put their skype and twitter accounts on their card – I am thinking about what else to put on my card and/or how to communicate other new wave networking elements such as my LinkedIn and Facebook profiles – or some more unified ID for myself online.

Tip 6 – convert business cards from paper to digital data quickly and sync the data widely

It almost does not matter which address book you use, but you should be using some form of a contact manager and in turn you should sync that contact manager widely across your frequently (and to some extent infrequently) used tools. Plaxo is a great help here, though there are other options. [full disclosure, NELA.mobi is a business partner of Plaxo, we will be integrating NELA to Plaxo address books for our users]

Increasingly I’m finding Facebook a very useful business contact tool, often my contacts on Facebook share the best and most direct ways to reach them in their profiles, and they often include useful information and details not found on their business cards (personal blogs for example).

A related habit which I am in, though it does take a commitment of time to do this, is to add to the data found on someone’s card when I entered them into my digital address book. Here are the data elements which I ideally include in every contact’s listing:

  • Full Name w/gender note
  • Company (or companies)
  • Title
  • phone – noting if mobile (so on sync to my phone I use that for SMS)
  • primary email address
  • work address (at minimum city, but usually company address is findable online)
  • blog or other personal website
  • corporate website
  • photo [can be hard to find – best is one I have taken or corporate headshot]
  • note on when & where we met
  • note on why I kept this card (i.e. transcribe notes I wrote on the card)
  • short bio – from conference directory, linkedin, facebook, corporate website, personal blog etc
  • tags and/or notes about where/how we are connected (i.e. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, ryze.com, same college, etc)

In short I try to write a short but useful to me profile on each contact. The photo and bio, along with notes on when/where we met are to help jog my memory in the future. The keywords and other tags are also to help me slice through and search my contacts. I have literally 1000’s of contacts, the ones which I have built these rich profiles for are the ones which I am most apt to follow up with in the future – they are the ones which are easiest for me to search and easiest to remember why I might contact them.

In the best case over time I’ll add to the notes with some additions and/or add keywords. Many good tools also note some of these connections automatically – noting the emails I have sent to them etc.

I hope these tips help you. Now I have to get back to following up with all the folks I’ve met over the summer, I’m behind in following my own advice.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, meshforum, meshwalk, networks, personal, working | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

10 things to do in the next decade

Posted by shannonclark on September 13, 2007

The usual format might be “things to do before you die” but instead of that, I’m going to list a much more immediate set of life goals.

  1. Improve my health. Lose at least20lbs, 40 is even better, figure out an exercise for my upper body like my walking 3-4 miles a day for my legs – my legs are in great shape, my upper body not so much. Also some long put off time with a dentist. Target – by end of 2008, dentist by end of 2007
  2. Visit Turkey. I spent most of my time in college studying Byzantine, Ottoman and Armenian history. Yet somehow I have never been to the part of the world I spent so much time learning about in depth. Target – by end of 2010 have spent 2-4 weeks exploring Turkey
  3. Have a home that feels fully furnished. For over a decade my living space has been furnished in a mix of free, cheap, and only slightly functional furniture. I haven’t ever had a fully “finished” room in any home I’ve lived in on my own. Takes money, sure, but also just spending the time and getting it done finally. For the moment this means: buying rugs, buying dressers, desks, chairs, lights, curtains, and a few other pieces of furniture. Target – by end of 2008.
  4. Travel in Asia. I have been to India. Once. I need to go back there for many more weeks. Also to Singapore (to eat especially), to Tokyo & Japan, to Hong Kong, to China, to Thailand, and to Vietnam (where I never took up an invitation from the Ambassador to the US to visit him in Vietnam!). Target – at least one trip by end of 2009, many many more each year there after.
  5. Start a family. Tricky without a partner (female in my case) but by the end of the decade with or without a partner I hope to be in a position to have a family. Which does mean adoption possibly if I don’t have a long term relationship (probably a marriage but that choice is a mutual one). Target – by 2015 take steps if not already in progress.
  6. Attend conferences I have long wanted to attend. Best case as a speaker, but in any case stop reading about them and attend them. Specifically at the top of this list is the TED Conference but there are a few other events I have long wanted to attend which are similar (Rennaissance Weekend’s New Years Even event, Davros, The Aspen Institute’s conference, Poptech -which I have attended in the past). On a related note, I want to have the time (and money and partner) to “do” a film festival – pay to go, get a festival pass, see lots of great films all at once. Probably not Cannes but rather a smaller but great festival such as the Santa Barbara Film Festival or the Toronto International Film Festival.  Target – attend at least one of the conferences on my list, even if I have to pay for it, by 2008.
  7. Eat meals at a couple of places I have long wanted to try. I have eaten many, many great meals. Cooked some myself, paid for others. But there are a handful of restaurants I have long wanted to try but have not – French Laundry, El Bulli, Masa (In NYC). Total cost for these three meals (assuming I go with one other person and pay for her) is likely about $2500 or so ($1000+ for just Masa). Of course El Bulli would require flying to Spain and French Laundry renting a car (don’t own one) and probalby staying somewhere overnight in Napa Valley. So the total cost would probably be higher still. But in the scheme of life and my personal passion for great food, worth it.  In addition to these very high end places I want to get into a lifelong habit of cooking more for my friends, as well as trying at least one great (and yes sometimes fancy) restaurant each month. It is all to easy for me to fall into a pattern of eating only at inexpensive, mostly ethnic, restaurants, often by myself. Target – share at least one great meal at one of these three restaurants by the end of 2008
  8. Write my book on Economics. Since about 2003/2004 I have been telling friends that I wanted to write a book, since 2006 I have felt ready to write the book. I have offers of introductions to publishers and book agents, I have to get serious about writing a book proposal, pitching the book, selling it and then writing it. For me writing it means getting it published, so this to a degree requires the help of others to achieve, but I am confident in my abilities to both write a great book and to sell it. I do, however, have to follow up and get it done. Target – 2007/2008 I have a bunch of business activities which will keep me rather busy, so a realistic goal here is to have the book in print by 2009, though I do hope it is sooner than that.
  9. Get my degree. I do not have a college degree. I took time off from college, worked for a while, then went back and nearly finished but got busy with work and starting my own company. I never again in my life plan on working for someone else (the exceptions being if a company I’ve started is bought or I hire someone at one of my companies to be my “boss”. See my related list below, I don’t ever expect to need my resume. So this is entirely for myself. Beyond my BA at some point in my life I fully expect to get a PhD as well. Though that may not be in the next decade as I anticipate business will keep me rather busy. Target – by 2010.
  10. Build a long lasting, great company which changes the world. Yes, this is not atypical for many entrepreneurs, but it is one of my long ranging life goals. I don’t want to build a small, “lifestyle” business. Sure the money could be nice but though I do want to build a great company in part to get the flexibility and freedom that comes with wealth and resources even more I want to build something which is self sustaining and worldchanging. A company which impacts many people – possibly in part by employing them, but even more by helping lots of other companies and people to earn money, make a great living and have an impact. I am a capitalist (see above, the book I am writing is on Networked Economics after all) so I want to do this in part by building a self-sustaining great global company. With the resources this will, I hope, bring me, I also will continue to do projects such as MeshForum and MeshWalks which also help change the world. Target – this will be an ongoing part of the next decade, but we have I hope started along this path this year, so it starts in 2007

These are ambitious goals. And beyond these I have numerous smaller, shorter term goals. Organizing my library, catching up on great books I haven’t yet read (and/or going through my 150+ some books “to read” and selling/donating the ones I will never actually get around to reading).

There are some former life goals which I have met, many in this past year.

  1. Buy a custom suit. When I was in India a few years back for a friend’s wedding, I achieved one of my former goals, I had two suits (and a bunch of shirts) custom made for me. These are amazing, great suits and the shirts and suits give me pleasure everytime I wear them. Well worth the cost (which was less than buying an off the rack designer – not even couture or high end – suit and shirts and the fabrics, construction and quality are all higher)
  2. Be able to visit NYC without needing a hotel room. Eventually I expect, possibly in the next decade, that I have a place of my own in NYC and even live there for some of the year (and hopefully still have a place in San Francisco and likely one or two other homes at least one of which is outside the US). But earlier this year I started having enough friends in NYC and near NYC that I have not needed a hotel room in New York though I have visited there many times in the past months.
  3. Have a home where I can host friends. Growing up and even to this day my parents often opened up our home to guests. We hosted exchange students, visiting musicians, friends and family. For me, the ability to be a host, to share my home with my friends (and help them avoid needing a hotel room) has always been part of what it means to be an adult. But it was not until this year that I have had both a large enough space and the furniture, bedding etc suited for hosting friends. Just a few weeks ago I hosted my business partner, his wife, their 7 year old daughter, and their newborn son. I now have enough beds to accomodate up to 6 guests (a pull out twin sofa bed, two twin studio sofas which can combine to form a king, a fold down full studio sofa, and a queen air mattress with room to use it.  Just this weekend I’m hosting a client of a friend of mine who is a fellow founder of a bootstrapping startup, in town to present at a conference but looking to save money. Being able to do this gives me a great deal of personal pleasure.
  4. Have space for my full library. I own over 1400 books. Most weeks I buy 3-5 new books. Have for most of my adult life. When i lived in Chicago I left many books at my parents, when I moved to the Bay Area in 2006 I fully expected I would have a hard time finding an apartment with lots of wall space (and indeed most places I looked at did not have much). My current apartment has nearly 100 feet of wall space which I can fill with bookcases. I have much of my library out on shelves already, in meeting my goal of furnishing my home a part of that will be expanding my bookcases to accommodate the rest of my collection, something which is, thankfully, among the easier parts of my goals.
  5. Help my friends change the world. A few years ago, back when I lived in Chicago, though my personal network was large and I tried to have an impact (and did manage to hold a great conference in 2005 thanks in no small part to my extended network) I little imagined that I would routinely read about my friends in the Wall Street Journal, in the New Yorker, in the pages of many other business magazines. Or that I would see their books in bookstores everywhere, including airports, and on best seller lists. But in the past few years that has become almost routine. And as a proxy measure for the impact my friends are having it seems a reasonable one. My friends now are routinely speaking at conferences, being interviewed on television, running worldchanging companies (and blogs) and in short helping change the world in countless ways. My small contributions give me great pleasure. And no, thse are not “frienda” in the weak, social network sense of the word, these are folks I’ve invited to my home for brunch, whose children I have met, whose bbqs I have attended. I keep pinching myself but we are changing the world. And that’s really cool.

I have a busy decade ahead of me. I plan on revisiting this post from time to time. It is my public reminder of what I am really trying to do.

Posted in meshforum, meshwalk, networks, personal, time, working | Leave a Comment »