Monthly Archives: December 2006

The New Holiday Card…through SMS!

This year I got my share of snail mail holiday cards and a smattering of e-mail e-cards. But this was the first year I got 2 SMS holiday cards!
They said:
Merry christmas! 🙂
– from J.
All the best wishes for a happy and healthy 2007! :-*
– from V., A., and J.
Maybe you don’t think it’s a big deal, but for me, it’s just another milestone in SMS coming into its own in the U.S.
These SMS greetings are:
Easy to create – just type it out on your phone and no messing around with graphics.
Immediate – they aren’t sent to your e-mail, but you get it on your phone which you probably have on or near you right now.
Easy to send – my phone has almost all my friends on it, which is the list of people I really wanted to send some sort of greeting to anyways. And, it has a nice interface to send mass SMSes to everyone in my phone book.
Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before someone thinks of creating an MMS based greeting card service?

Teaching and Learning Responsibility and Consequences in the Age of the Internet

Today, the headlines wrote that Miss Nevada in the Miss America competition would be replaced by another, on the revealing of exposed breast pictures and other ‘deemed inappropriate’ acts several years ago as a teenager. Apparently, a friend had taken those shots and then posted them on the Internet. Consequently, they were discovered and Miss Nevada was disqualified and the honor given to the next in line. She is realizing firsthand the dangers of actions which happened years ago coupled with the openness of the Web.
The Internet has become a place for free expression but fraught with unexpected consequences for those we express without restraint or forethought. We are in a transitional generation learning with trial by fire (or error) and missteps on what the Internet can do and what dangers it can represent.
Prior to the Internet, our society’s private information was very much protected by the lack of technology and by physical barriers. We never had to worry about people seeing our pictures because they just sat in old shoe boxes or albums and nobody could see them except those whom you wanted to. Our personal information was our own; what we did in our bedrooms, closets, and homes never had webcams focused on them or digital phone cams to send to others.
With the emergence of sharing tools in technology and on the Internet, it was now possible to take all that information and put it out there, often times simply because someone asked for it, or because we thought it would be funny….for the moment. Somehow in our naviete we thought that we could put it out there, it would do its thing, making someone laugh, or be just a passing comment on a post or instant message, and then we forgot about it, thinking it be lost in the masses of information on the Web.
The Web sometimes loses things, but most of the time it does not disappear. Search engines make finding things easier. We all get googled now before we meet people just to see what we can learn about them before we meet them. Information is archived on sites because every page a site has means more page loads for ads to be shown on. It doesn’t make sense for Web companies to blow old information away. Text gets saved and copied, and re-pasted or quoted somewhere else. Pictures and videos are saved and re-posted. Even if you think your picture is deleted in one place, someone else may have saved it for their own use and it may re-emerge.
So now it’s not our own naviete but the responsibility of others both close to you and not. Even if you don’t post something, someone else could. Embarassing pictures taken at an office party get posted to your favorite blog; your drunken actions at a frat party re-emerge to make you lose a job offer years later. The news is filled with instances where everyone is getting googled and embarassing information surfaces about that person that pre-Internet would never have been found, like to the detriment of Miss Nevada.
Openness is good and to the extent we can find out more about the people around us is probably positive in the long run. But for us, in the transitional generation, we have not done well enough in teaching our youth or ourselves about the dangers of posting text, pictures, and video on to the Net and the future ramifications of doing so. We need to do better in knowing that we need to think more carefully before we act impetuously in hitting the enter key. And that sometimes, our actions not only affect ourselves but others as well.
My hope is that our educational resources will add materials about the positive and negative aspects of posting to the Internet as soon as possible to their curricula. And for us, who are out there with our school days behind us, I hope that we can just pause a moment before we hit that enter key and think on whether sending that file or post is really the right thing to do, even if it is funny in the moment.

Fame and Competition on the Net

It started way back in the middle of the Internet boom years. I got onto eBay and started bidding on toasters (I collect antique toasters…!) As I bought and sold stuff, I collected positive ratings for my transaction behavior. As my positive ratings grew, I became more obsessed with responding quickly and often about my transactions. If I was buying, I would send payment as soon as possible or notify the seller that I had a delay. Likewise for selling, I would make sure I respond quickly and let the buyer know exactly when to expect the item. My rating was my reputation on eBay and it became one of the most important things I would build on the Internet, which was a trust rating that I cherished and allowed me to do things on eBay with other members that untrusted, poorly rated members would not.
Around the same time, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? became one of the hottest TV shows. But something that ABC did that not many knew about was the fact that you could play real time along with the show and compete against others also playing via the Internet. I also started playing along with the show and the designers of the Web game did some really great things like allow you to accumulate points upon answering questions successfully and in a timely fashion (more points for faster answering). Players with the most points were put up on a leaderboard which you strived for. It was amazing how many points some people had accumulated. It made you really try to get to the top of the leaderboard and feel….famous for being the best. And the world knew you were the best because the leaderboard was visible to all.
Fast forward to 2004 where I discovered that had put up the ability to send virtual flowers to people you liked and wanted to meet via its meeting service. But they did something clever. If you received virtual flowers, they would appear next to your picture. It gave you a sense of superiority; I’ve got 10 roses! How many do you have? It made you feel great about yourself and showed the world that others thought you were hot enough to send flowers to.
And now, as a frequent contributor to Yelp, I find myself racing to be the first reviewer of a restaurant. When you are, you get a little icon that states you are a first reviewer and then on your profile, it shows how many first reviews you’ve made. Then, I started writing witty reviews instead of boring ones. Because readers can rate reviews on the basis of Useful (big deal) or Cool (yeah!) or Funny (even better!). For some reason, I sought to write better reviews in an attempt to get more Cool and Funny ratings! It’s easy to write a Useful review, but not many can entertain or be noted for being “cool”.
Fame and competition go hand in hand on the Internet. It’s one of the best techniques for getting users continually engaged on your website. You hook them in by making them feel like they are the best at something, and let others know about it. If others can say your cool or the best, that’s even better because now you have validation from the crowd. How much validation do we get in real life, even from the people we know and love? Often times – ZIP. But on the Internet, the millions of surfers can come by and tag you as cool, or see that you’re the best at something.
Then since you know the crowd is watching, it makes you want to participate more, and it pushes you more to do better at whatever you’re participating in. It draws you in and the reward is fame and notoriety whereas in the real world you may not have that chance.
It’s easy to reward people with money. But it’s costly and you need money first before you can give it away. When the reward is not money, sometimes it’s more powerful at encouraging and reinforcing user engagement. I would argue that it is even more long lasting because if it’s some contest you’re in and you win, that’s where it usually ends. There is no more beyond that. With a well crafted fame and competition scheme, you can engage users for a much longer time and at much lower cost.
Working with my startups on developing fame and competition systems tailored for their services is something I think about all the time.

Starting Over Job Fatigue

In the past few weeks, there have been a number of highly publicized and not-so-publicized upheavals at major companies. Some of my friends work at these places and I ask them how they are doing and whether they will leave.
One pattern that is starting to emerge for me, especially amongst the “job jumping” generation I’ve grown up in, is that people are getting tired. Tired of jumping to a new job and starting over. They’ve done it so many times that it is wearing them down and they don’t want to do it anymore.
As loyalty to a corporation has waned over these last few decades – and I support the selfish behavior of the “job jumping” generation because companies have reduced or removed the reasons why people should be loyal to a company – people have been switching jobs at a huge rate. At one time, it was not looked favorably upon that a resume had a number of companies on it; now it is the norm.
As people have jumped jobs often, they are realizing that starting over in a new job and new company is not easy. The cost of integrating yourself into a new organization and culture is high. You need to rebuild your reputation. You need to rebuild your internal networks and maintain them. You need to learn new ways of doing things. You need to adjust to new styles of working. And the list goes on.
It wears you down to start over again and again. The first few times it is exciting and new; after a while, you get tired of going through the same motions to reestablish yourself in a new place.
It is wearing enough that people are willing to stay in a dysfunctional, negative, or the wrong company when they really should move on.
This bears watching as time goes on.

Social Networks: Recruiting and Reconnecting

Recently there has been a bit of press regarding LinkedIn. Also, I’ve noticed that there has been an uptick in LinkedIn invites lately. A lot of that has happened when former colleagues at Yahoo! are thinking about leaving and they realize that they don’t want to lose their connection with previous colleagues, or they want to renew their connection with those who have left.
I too find LinkedIn to be quite useful in finding old colleagues. For David Shen Ventures, LLC, I am often recruiting for positions in my companies. And I have found that my social networking site memberships have been extremely useful in finding and contacting people. To date, I have used Friendster, Yahoo! 360, and LinkedIn the most in locating folks. Surprisingly, our Yahoo! alumni network Yahoo! Group doesn’t work so well. I think that Yahoo! Groups is probably the old generation social network and needs to be updated with today’s functionality. It is too limiting in its ability to let members communicate with one another. The membership is private and it only allows broadcast of messages out, which so far has proven to be not very helpful at all.
On LinkedIn and Yahoo! 360, I can contact people directly and a personal message has been much more effective at reestablishing someone whom I have not talked to in a long time.
Through my connections, I am tied to literally every Yahoo! that ever worked there. It is quite amazing. Of course, LinkedIn is much more informative from a recruiting standpoint since people post their company info there.
If you think about the way Web companies go through cycles of waxing/waning success and employees go through their own mini-cycles of entering/exiting companies, it seems that LinkedIn usage is tied to these cycles. It would be interesting to do some research into correlating industry and personal events to traffic and usage of LinkedIn and other social networks.

To WIFI or Not to WIFI: the Future of Hanging Out

I was in NYC this week for a series of meetings. One of my meetings took place at this really nice cafe called Cafe Dante in Greenwich Village. Upon arriving at the front door, I was confronted by this sign:

How unusual to see this in today’s world of coffee houses and letting people hang out all day surfing the Web! I surmised that this cafe had ulterior motives:
An attempt to preserve the traditional reason for going to a coffee house which is to talk to someone?
Annoyed at those who stay all day surfing and eating/ordering practically nothing?
Abused as a child by their parents hitting them over the head with a laptop?
I contrast this to what I encountered later that day. I met up with some entrepreneurs who were hanging out at a bar/restaurant called Ditch Plains in the West Village. While the bar was getting crowded and drinks were flowing, you’d expect that we’d be just talking and laughing away; instead, I walked up to two people chatting occasionally but mostly looking down at their laptops and surfing away. I joined in the intermittent chatter and whipped out my Treo and surfed and sent email as much as they did. In the middle the surfing, we’d order more bottles of wine, more food, dessert, and surf some more. It was probably my first experience with the combo drinking/surfing/talking thing.
A world torn between the old and new? To surf or not to surf? That is the question.