free html hit counter September 2015 - John Battelle's Search Blog

Do It Right. Not Fast. Right.

By - September 30, 2015

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(Cross posted to LI and Medium. Cuz that’s how we roll these days)

If you’ve never blown it big time using email — you will.

I have several times — in fact, I just did it earlier this evening. And gaaaah!, I wish technology had an answer for the clear and present danger that is myself, rushing through an afternoon, trying to GSD and hit inbox zero. Then again, life does have an answer: SLOW. THE F*CK. DOWN.

Allow me to explain. Earlier today I got an email newsletter from an organization that is doing a NewCo session next week. I noticed that while the newsletter was promoting all manner of things, it didn’t mention its own NewCo session — even though the contents of the newsletter were all about upcoming events and other goings on that might be of interest to the intended audience.

A bit miffed, I forwarded said newsletter to my team, asking in rather frank terms why our partner wasn’t promoting its own session in its main communications outlet. A typically frank back and forth ensued, ending with my decision to forward the offending newsletter to folks I knew at the organization, with a polite top note enquiring if they might include mention of their session in a subsequent missive.

If you’ve made the same mistake as me, you know what happened next.

Yep, I forwarded the email with all of the frank back and forth between my team included.

Holy f*ckin’ mother of christ I am such a huge assh*le. That was my first response. Second response? “Wait, isn’t there a way to unsend this?” Third response. “Oh sh*t, I have to change settings and it only works within 30 seconds and sh*t it’s already been longer than that.” Fourth response? A servile, lame-ass apology to the (most likely forever offended) parties involved.

Fifth response? Write this post. Reminding all of us to- slow down. The goal is not to get shit done. The goal is to get it done right.

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It’s Time to Flip the Bit on Publishing and Data

By - September 27, 2015

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My god, do we like to talk about ourselves.

That’s my takeaway from the recent algae-bloom of writing around ad blocking and fraud lately – most of it tinged with apocalyptic implications for the future of independent publishing. I’ve hung back from writing because I’ve been so busy *reading* everything – like this piece by Anil. Or this “expose” by Bloomberg (honestly, this is not a new story!). Or this one by Jason, this by Frederic, this by Doc, or this by Cory.

Cory calls for a new model, and I think he’s right. I’ve been thinking and talking and writing about new models in publishing and media for a good long time. Perhaps now is the time to revive an idea I’ve been on about for years.

Because as Tim points out, quoting Schrage, great new companies aren’t created by assuming that we keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. They instead demand that we alter our behavior entirely, because the benefit is so great. As Ben put it, publishers need to rethink their business models. In a private post on his daily (subscription-based) newsletter, Ben further points out that the iPhone didn’t succeed because it followed the generally acceptable rules of Clayton Christensen’s famous disruption thesis, it worked precisely because it didn’t. It created so much value that people were willing to change their behavior, from using a phone to call and text people, to using it to connect them to the Internet and its extraordinarily broad set of services. Same goes for Facebook, Uber, and many other “unicorns” that have forced new behaviors (sharing all our data into a central platform, shifting from flagging a cab to pushing a button, etc.).

So this begs the question: What is the new set of behaviors consumers might adopt with regard to publishing? And what might be the 10x shift in value creation that augurs such a shift? Might there be an antlered pony buried within all this fraud and ad-blocking horseshit?

First the (somewhat easier) bit – the new set of behaviors. To me this has to do with the relationship of publisher and reader/audience member. The rise of free content on the Web has broken what was previously a clear one-to-one relationship: reader subscribed to a periodical, delivering demographic and geographic data in the process. Now, that relationship has been re-aggregated through a crazy quilt of advertising technologies seeking to identify who you are and what you might want. This “advertising industrial complex” has led to the conditions we all now lament – hundreds of data-sucking ad trackers on most web pages, slow load times, crappy ads, and massive fraud which takes advantage of a disjointed and leaky ecosystem.

But what if user behavior actually reverted to a direct, one to one relationship between publisher and reader? What if that data that advertisers so openly covet – your name, age, zip code, interests, etc. – was held by the *reader*, instead of the publisher or the adtech industry? And what if, upon coming to a new site for the first time, that site simply asked “will you please share your data with us, so we may serve you the best and most appropriate ads?” If you say no, perhaps the content doesn’t load. But why say no – if you’re in control and the data will only make your life better?

I’ve argued for just such a model in We Have Yet to Clothe Ourselves In Data. We Will. The bit that has to flip is summarized in this quote:

We lack an ecosystem that encourages innovation in data use, because the major platforms hoard our data. This is retarded, in the nominal/verb sense of the word. Facebook’s picture of me is quite different from Google’s, Twitter’s, Apple’s, or Acxiom’s*. Imagine what might happen if I, as the co-creator of all that data, could share it all with various third parties that I trusted? Imagine further if I could mash it up with other data entities – be they friends of mine, bands I like, or even brands?

It’s insane that as consumers we outsource our data wardrobe to Facebook, Apple, Google, and the hot mess that is the adtech industry. The consumer behavior I believe will change our world, and by extension the economics of publishing and advertising, is a shift in control of our own data from third party platforms to ourselves as the platform. Put in Internet terms, from the server to the node (we’re the nodes). If this happens, all manner of innovation and efficiency will erupt.

But the rub lies in the second part of this innovation equation: What will be the astonishing, disruptive force that drives such a shift? What is the Uber or Facebook or iPhone that will drive this shift in data use behavior?

God, if I knew that…I’d start that company. But I sense when it does break out (and I am certain it will), it will seem hugely obvious. How frustrating to not know what it is. Like a vivid dream lost seconds after waking, it haunts me every day. Any ideas?!

The Myth of Valley DoucheBaggery

By - September 09, 2015

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(Warning, loads of unabashed cursing ahead).

Everyone’s definition of what makes a person or a company “douchey” varies, but we all know ’em when we see them. Douchebag behavior is kind of like the Supreme Court definition of pornography: You know it when you see it. The very fact that the HBO series Silicon Valley can confidently parody douchey behavior  is proof we’ve at least found common ground when it comes to extreme douchebaggery.

But I think our industry culture is moving far faster than the writers at Silicon Valley might wish to believe. I think we’re seeing the rise of a new culture, one that rejects arrogance and the founder worship which breeds it. Inevitable outliers aside, the Valley and technology culture I experience every day in my work at NewCo is one of passion, sweat, earnestness, and good intentions. Sure, we all fuck up. And sure, the press (especially, not surprisingly, the press in New York) has a field day when someone does. But by and large, the teams making companies like Slack, LiveRamp, Medium, Earnest, MetroMile, Lyft, Okta, Pinterest, and hundreds more are damn fine people, and they are dedicating their lives to making something that creates positive change – a product or service that makes the world a better place (even if it’s in a small way).

You just can’t do that if you are a douchebag, or if your company culture is one of douchebaggery. The world eventually conspires against you if you’re a consistent asshole. Particularly in the times we live, where the majority of humanity believes we’re running on a climate change shot clock. When you’re facing existential threat, our tolerance for douchebaggery in the name of making more money at any cost, or screwing over others so as to secure your own fame and fortune, well, our cultural tolerance for that kind of shit goes way down. Donald Trump is the last failing breath of a dead culture, IMHO.

This shift in business culture isn’t limited to the Valley, not by a long shot. Imagine a company like McDonald’s declaring that it, as a corporate entity, it believes that climate change is created by humans? No way, right? Because at least half of its customers in the US disagree with that statement. And if those customers decide to eat somewhere else, McDondald’s would lose 20% of their worldwide profits. No way will a douchey, profit-maximizing Fortune 500 company ever make such a statement, right?

Wrong.

The people at the top of Mickey D’s aren’t stupid. They’re paid a lot of money to look into the future and figure out which way the wind blows. And they’ve come to realize that denying climate change has recently crossed the line of corporate douchebaggery.

Walmart, as I’ve written before, has also figured this out. So has Unilever, PepsiCo, and a ton of others. The times are changing: The largest force in our economy are now Millennials, and they have very clear ideas about what they want from brands they buy (they should create net positive good in society) and companies where they work (they should be driven by purpose as well as profit). This cohort will be 40% of the entire workforce in a mere four years. And the good news is twofold: They love business, but they love business on a mission even more.

No more douchey companies, please. We don’t have the time, or the patience, for them anymore.

Want proof the Bay area has amazing companies with heart? Go to NewCo SF and Oakland. 225+ extraordinary companies are opening their doors to you. Get inside and meet these teams. They’re totally not douchey. 

Where I’ll Be During NewCo SF & Oakland Next Month

By - September 08, 2015

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(cross posted from the NewCo blog)

NewCo’s San Francisco & Oakland festivals are less than a month away, and they will be our largest, most diverse events ever. More than 225 Bay area companies will be opening their doors to 3,000+ attendees. Choosing which companies to visit is a daunting task.

I’ve made my picks, but it wasn’t easy. One of the things that separates the NewCo model from many others is the time it requires to choose a schedule – our attendees select from 15+ companies for every time slot – and there are often very difficult choices to make. NewCo creates deep engagement and strong business intent by forcing these choices – it insures the group that shows up in a host company’s offices have actively chosen to be there – they come with a purpose, so to speak.

So here are my choices, with a bit on the intent behind them.

Monday, October 5th

6:00 pm  VIP Kickoff & Reception at WeWork presented by Deloitte WeWork

This is our annual kickoff event, this year featuring the CEOs of six participating NewCos. It’s nearly sold out already, so if you want to join the festivities, sign up quickly!

Tuesday, October 6th

9:30 am AltSchool 

I am a nominal advisor to AltSchool, which aims to do nothing less than revolutionize how children learn. They’ve already set up schools in the Bay area and Brooklyn, but I’ve never been to their offices. Time to change that!

Notables during this time slot: The Climate Corporation (data driven ag); SV Angel (legendary SF investor); Meadow  (medical cannabis).

11:00 am The Battery 

I’m an early member of this somewhat controversial social club; and I’ve heard all the pros and cons about exclusivity, tech bros, and the like. But my experience has been positive so far, and I know the club works hard to source diverse membership. I’m eager to see how the NewCo vibe mixes with The Battery’s zeitgeist.

Notables during this time slot: Metamarkets (big data meets insight);  TechShop San Francisco (super cool tools); Lyft (great offices!).

12:00 pm Lunch Break – Provided by Off the Grid, Sponsored by Wolff Olins 

This lunch is almost sold out, but I’ve been dreaming about an Off the Grid event at NewCo since we started three years ago. Thanks, Wolff Olins!

1:30 pm Compass Family Services/Twitter NeighborNest 

I love how Twitter has integrated direct, local community service into its working environment. I’ve never seen it in action, however, and this is my chance. Compass Family Services has been around for a very long time, and is one of NewCo’s featured community philanthropies this year.

Notables during this time slot: DarkRoom (a fun new way to communicate securely); sf.citi (an important membership org. for tech companies); ODC  (part of our arts track).

3:00 pm San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation

For three years the Mayor’s office has been part of NewCo, but I’ve never had a chance to see inside its hallowed halls. Again, time to correct that!

Notables during this time slot: Twitter (maybe they’ll have a new CEO?!); QB3@953 (premier life science incubator); The Hall (thoughtful SF development).

4:30 pm Slack Technologies 

We live on Slack here at NewCo HQ. I want to see the factory where the magic is made! (I also have a few feature ideas…)

Notables during this time slot: Westfield Labs (cool co-working and retail innovation space); Pinterest (meet Tim Kendall, head of product/ads); Alta Motors (super cool motorbikes).

6:00 pm Meetup at Bespoke 

Bespoke is Westfield’s gorgeous co-working space, in the heart of the Westfield Mall in downtown SF. Come on by for drinks, conversation, and serendipity!

Weds. Oct. 7th

9:30 am Hint Water 

Hint founder Kara Goldin lives in my neighborhood in Marin, but I’ve never seen her offices. Her story is unique and inspiring, and I can’t wait to hear her tell it in her own headquarters.

Notables during this time slot: yerdle (a new way to shop and share); One Medical Group (a new way to doc); SoFi (a new way to do finance).

11:00 am NewCo Platform 

Well I better be at this one, as I’ll be presenting, along with the whole NewCo team. This is our first ever NewCo session, as this is the first year we actually have an office. We’re in the Presidio, which is an entire track of its own as well.

Notables during this time slot: Metromile (rethinking loans); The Representation Project (inspiring films about females in society); Medium (see what Ev and Co. are up to!).

12:00 pm NewCo Lunch @ NewCo Headquarters 

We’re buying folks lunch! You’re welcome!

1:30 pm Google

Google’s SF session (they do sessions with NewCo worldwide) is on the mobile web, which is the most important question the company faces, IMHO.

Notables during this time slot: 826 Valencia (innovative writing studio); Rickshaw Bagworks (great bags, awesome founder); Kiva.org (a new way to lend to the world’s disadvantaged).

3:00 pm Airbnb

I just love the Airbnb offices, and didn’t get enough last time, so I want to go again. If you can possibly see inside this company, I highly recommend it. Super inspiring.

Notables during this time slot: Off the Grid (the folks behind the trucks!); WIRED (20+ years and going strong); Tides (seminal Bay area foundation).

4:30 pm LiveRamp

I’m on the Board of the company that bought LiveRamp, yet I’ve never seen their offices. I know their work well, and it’ll be a treat to finally see inside this industry-changing business.

Notables during this time slot: Applauze (founder Kirin is a treat); Strava (I’m an avid user); LinkedIn (the standard for business networking).

6:00 pm We pivot to Oakland for the VIP Kickoff & Reception at Gensler Oakland 

Come hear the founder of Blue Bottle Coffee and five other Oakland CEOs speak about their NewCo Oakland sessions, which run all day Oct. 8th!

Thursday, October 8th – NewCo Oakland!

9:30 am  Ask.fm 

I’ve always been fascinated by lesser-known but popular social networking services, and Ask.fm is pre-eminent among teenagers. I’m not a teenager, but I’ve got three of them in my household!

Notables during this time slot: Kapor Center for Social Impact (Mitch’s new building in downtown Oakland is ready!); Bolt Threads (sustainable duds!); WeWork Berkeley (I bet the vibe there is awesome).

11:00 am Gracenote

Ever since I first ran into this service, I found it magical. But Gracenote does more than recognize music. They’ve got big plans in many associated fields. I look forward to hearing CTO Ty Robert’s vision.

Notables during this time slot: Schoolzilla (big data for schools); Art.com (art of the future); SkyDeck | Berkeley (UC’s own incubator).

12:00 pm Lunch Break

1:30 pm Blue Bottle Coffee

Founder James Freeeman’s obsession with coffee with be on full display during this session. I’m a Blue Bottle convert, now I get to see where it all happens!

Notables during this time slot: SfunCube (accelerator for all things solar); Mosaic (another solar innovator); Semifreddi’s Bakery (yum!!).

3:00 pm 99designs

I’ve long thought this company’s unique approach to crowd sourced design would eventually be part of how I approached design challenges, now I can learn how to really lean into the platform.

Notables during this time slot: Hack the Hood (it is what it sounds like!); Numi Organic Tea (another Oakland F&B success story); Pandora Media (extraordinary offices).

4:30 pm Sungevity

Oakland is the solar capital of the world, and Sungevity is one of its most important players. I’ve got a big solar installation on my roof, but I don’t know much about the state of the industry. At Sungevity I plan on getting smarter.

Notables during this time slot: Youth Radio (excellent program); Mamacitas Cafe (amazing place); Dictionary.com (fun session!).

6:00 Meetup at The New Parish

After four days of exploring innovation in the Bay area, it’s time for some drinks, fun, and great music! The New Parish is a wonderful new music venue in Oakland’s flourishing entertainment district. Stay tuned for the band (to be named!) – but it’ll be a blast.

NewCo’s SF & Oakland Festivals are filling fast – Register now to get inside your own picks!