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Jul. 30 2010 — 8:19 am | 871 views | 1 recommendations | 9 comments

Good (not bye)

True/Slant began on July 1, 2008.  Lewis, Coates and I sat in a room with nothing but an idea.

We got to work (collecting Steve and Michael on the way) and on April 8, 2009 we launched our alpha site.

Twelve hours later we were called boring by Business Insider’s Dan Frommer.

Former longtime AOL (TWX) news exec Lewis Dvorkin has been working on a secret new project for about a year. It launched today — True/Slant, yet another news aggregator/blog farm — and it looks like a flop.

via Ex-AOL News Exec Launches A Boring HuffPo

A year passed and then Forbes announced it would be acquiring True/Slant.

Twenty days after that announcement Paul Carr took to TechCrunch declaring “RIP Forbes.”

I like the odds.

I feel incredibly proud and grateful to have shared the past 761 days with all of you, our T/S contributors and my True/Slant comrades.   In his post today Michael used the word joy, and he’s right.  Thank you all for that.

There’s a quote we often used from Jock Whitney, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune, and another I recently stumbled upon from Malcolm Forbes.

“News is more than what happens.”

“Presence is more than just being there.”

What is news presence in a multidimensional digital age?  That’s one of the things I’m thinking about.

The True/Slant story isn’t one with a discrete ending.  It is a step, with many more on the way.

On to the next one – at Forbes.   Hoping to see you there, present and accounted for…

yrs -
andrea



Jul. 20 2010 — 8:15 am | 200 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

Taiwanese video reenactment of Steve Jobs’ iPhone 4 debacle with Star Wars theme

File this under Phenomenal.

It’s a Taiwanese News CG Reenactment that tells the story of Steve Jobs and the iPhone 4, from the Gizmodo incident all the way through the All-Antennas-are-a-Problem-Here’s-an-Antenna-Cover press conference.

Don’t miss these priceless moments:

- Steve Jobs and Bill Gates face off  in a Star Wars light saber battle spurred on by the the subtitle  “Apple makes even more money than Microsoft.”

- Appearance by Special Gizmodo Guest Star Jason Chen, who kicked off the now legendary iPhone 4 fiaso by paying $5,000 in cash to buy an early iPhone 4 inadvertently left at a bar by an Apple employee.

- Darth Jobs laughing with evil gusto under the subtitle  “Consumers hate being locked into AT&T’s crappy network.”

- A recap of the Apple press conference “somewhere over Cupertino, California.”

This one’s even better than their Taiwanese News CG Reenactment of the  Tiger Woods saga.

H/T @cdixon and @borthwick



Jun. 9 2010 — 2:50 pm | 144 views | 0 recommendations | 6 comments

Should I date Steve Jobs or Eric Schmidt?

Steve Jobs VS Eric Schmidt

Image by Dakiny via Flickr

This is what it’s come down to:

1. The open web is only as open as its benevolent dictators allow it to be.

2.  We are all Sophie and we must make a choice.

3. Poor AOL (er, I mean Aol.) can’t catch a break.  Had a wall when walls were decidedly un-cool.  Tore it down and a few years later walls are all the rage again courtesy of digital overlords  Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg.

As Michael Hirschorn confirms in his latest piece in The Atlantic, the open web is, in fact, an illusion; closed is the harsh reality.

The shift of the digital frontier from the Web, where the browser ruled supreme, to the smart phone, where the app and the pricing plan now hold sway, signals a radical shift from openness to a degree of closed-ness that would have been remarkable even before 1995. In the U.S., there are only three major cell-phone networks, a handful of smart-phone makers, and just one Apple, a company that has spent the entire Internet era fighting the idea of open (as anyone who has tried to move legally purchased digital downloads among devices can attest). As far back as the ’80s, when Apple launched the desktop-publishing revolution, the company has always made the case that the bourgeois comforts of an artfully constructed end-to-end solution, despite its limits, were superior to the freedom and danger of the digital badlands.

via Closing the Digital Frontier – The Atlantic

Look, I don’t think the browser is going away any time soon, but someone always has the power in a relationship.  When it comes to technology, media and communication,  it’s not us.  I repeat: We are not running this show.

Which CEO got people to camp out overnight to buy a product sight unseen?  Apple CEO  Steve Jobs.

Which CEO runs a company that was “inadvertently collecting data about people’s online activities from unsecured Wi-Fi networks” over the past four (FOUR!) years?  Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

It’s all coming down to a choice between Apple and Google.  They are already far along the path to dominate our every interaction with media and information.   Sure, Mark Zuckerberg has the big murky moat around Facebook Island, but it’s contained.  We can choose to live with or without Facebook.  With Apple and Google, that choice is not as clear-cut.

Apple and Google both have mobile operating systems — Apple’s iPhone OS 4 vs Google’s Android.  They both develop, build and distribute devices for their own platforms.   They’re both in the advertising business — Apple’s iAd vs Google’s AdMob, to start.    They’re both also in the app-etizing business:

Like Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes App Store and Google’s (GOOG) own Android Market, the Chrome Web Store will showcase free and paid videogames, magazines, productivity apps and the like. As Web applications, they’ll run on most modern browsers. But if you happen to be running Chrome, you can “install” the apps directly in the browser so that they can be accessed via a sort of “super-bookmark.”

via Google’s App Store for the Web – All Things Digital

All this before we even get to TV.   If video killed the radio star, then Apple and Google are going to kill video.  Pay attention, because television as we know it is dead.  The concept of a television set is history;  it’s now just another (bigger) screen in your house.  Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt understand that one of our most important relationships is with the screen — small, medium or large, mobile or docked.  This is the relationship they want to control.  They want to be by our side every time we touch a screen:  anytime, anywhere, any way.

This is why I say it’s pretty clear Apple and Google are courting me.  Obviously they each want to build a future with me.  They’ve both managed to create an experience that strategically leaves me unfulfilled with a simple  flirtation.   Oh, I can have a casual encounter with Apple or Google products and see all the possibilities and potential but I have to actually commit to really get what I need.  They want me to commit, to share my personal information so they can lock me in, take me off the market.   It’s not even dating, really, more like a common-law marriage because once I choose between Apple and Google, that’s it.  I’m in it for the long haul.  Who wants to go through that break-up drama, trying to save and export data,  having to go back into that confusing scene to try to find a better match and then having to start all over again with the settings and preferences and the getting-to-know-you routine.

Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt are the controlling forces here, they are establishing how these relationships work and how they and their respective companies will benefit from consumer acquiescence.   Factor in their personal rivalry, and the stakes are high.  Think about how often you interact with a screen each day.  Google and Apple are truly our significant others.

I know I can juggle them for only so long, but I am not yet sure who will win my affections.  Apple focuses on fewer things but pays attention to every detail.  Google is more experimental but typically skips the finishing touches, the last 20% that puts some polish on rough edges.  With Apple, you’re in for elegance, style and whimsy.   With Google, you’ll have wide-ranging experiences but have to carry your own bags and at some point end up sleeping in one of those Google Street View cars.

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

And where does Mark Zuckerberg fit into all this?

Seriously, we’re just gonna be friends.

Facebook is the BFF for more than 400 million people around the world.   Zuck’s got his hooks in us and he’s got our data, but he’s platform agnostic so he can play the field with both Google and Apple.

In the end, that may make him the best catch of all.



May. 20 2010 — 9:43 am | 2,652 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

Forget Facebook privacy, now charges of Facebook securities fraud

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg turned 26 last week.  I wonder if anyone got him a bullseye with his picture in the center — because that’s where Zuck lives these days.  People want the underdog to succeed, but once he does he becomes target practice.

The latest unwelcome gift: accusations of securities fraud from former Harvard schoolmates who say he and other Facebook executives tricked them into a supposed $65 million settlement that was actually worth far less.

Judge James Ware of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear those arguments, filed in an appellate brief late last month, in an upcoming court case.

Divya Narendra and brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss  contend that they hired Zuckerberg to work on their social network, ConnectU, when they were all students at Harvard, only to have him delay the project and use ConnectU’s code to launch his own project, then called TheFacebook. Their side of the story gained credence after instant messages sent by Zuckerberg bragging about his success in duping them emerged in the press.

via Facebook CEO’s latest woe: accusations of securities fraud | VentureBeat

The battle between ConnectU and Facebook has been raging since they were all in college together at Harvard.  A $65 million settlement was reached in 2008, but Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra filed an appeal.  They claim “the settlement was never finalized and that a judge acted improperly in allowing the settlement to proceed and awarding ownership of ConnectU to Facebook.”

In the midst of the Facebook privacy fiasco, though, the smoking gun — or, in this case, the smoking instant messages — are an ironic twist.   Business Insider walked through the overall timeline and revealed what they believe are the IMs  ConnectU’s creators say support their case.

In January 2004, Mark met with the Winklevoss brothers and Divya Narendra for what would be the last time. The meeting was on January 14, 2004, and it was held at the same place Mark met with the HarvardConnection team for the first time — in the dining hall of Mark’s residence, Kirkland House.

By this point, Mark’s site, thefacebook.com, wasn’t complete, but he was working hard on it. He’d arranged for Eduardo Saverin to pay for his servers. He had already told Adam that “the right thing to do” was to not complete Harvard Connection and build TheFacebook.com instead.  He had registered the domain name.

He therefore had a choice to make: Tell Cameron, Tyler and Divya that he wanted out of their project, or string them along until he was ready to launch thefacebook.com.

Mark sought advice on this decision from his confidants. One friend told him, in so many words, you know me. I don’t ever think anyone should do anything bad to anybody.

Mark and this friend also had the following IM exchange about how Mark planned to resolve the competing projects:

Friend: So have you decided what you’re going to do about the websites?

Zuck: Yeah, I’m going to fuck them

Zuck: Probably in the year

Zuck: *ear

via At Last — The Full Story Of How Facebook Was Founded – Business Insider

Interesting when juxtaposed against another instant message exchange a 19-year-old Zuckerberg had while in college.

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don’t know why.

Zuck: They “trust me”

Zuck: Dumb fucks.

via Well, These New Zuckerberg IMs Won’t Help Facebook’s Privacy Problems – Business Insider

Notice a pattern?

But the big question:  Is this fancy legal eagle’ing because so much money is on the table, or is there a real case of securities fraud here?   The best answer I found is in an excellent comment on Hacker News by Silicon Valley business lawyer George Grellas.  He says, in part:

This appeal is a testament to what high-priced (and quite excellent) lawyers can do to stir things up when large amounts of money are at stake. I have been involved in countless mediations over the course of a 30-year-plus career and can strongly attest that no one in his right mind (or otherwise) even begins to think that federal securities laws should be taken into account when settling a case by which stock is transferred from one party to another as part of the settlement.

[...]

The alleged “fraud” is likely bogus here as well. The theory is that FB did a press release shortly before the settlement touting Microsoft’s $240 million investment and suggesting that, based on that investment, FB had a market cap of $15 billion. The claim is that the ConnectU founders relied on that valuation in determining what the value of the common stock was that they received. Later, supposedly, they discovered that FB had in fact done a 409A valuation of the common stock and that such valuation had placed an approximately $8/sh price on the common stock (in contrast to the $35/sh price placed on the preferred at the time of the Microsoft investment). Thus, the ConnectU founders were supposedly defrauded by having been misled about the value of the FB stock they were receiving to settle their claims (that is, as alleged, they thought they were getting stock worth $35/sh when it was in fact worth no more than $8/sh and, presumably, they would not have settled their claims for this supposedly lower amount had they known the true facts about the 409A appraisal, which facts were not disclosed to them at the time of the mediation). That might sound plausible to someone who knows nothing about startups but it is in fact an absurd argument to anyone who knows even the basics of startup financing. Every startup deal-maker knows that startups value preferred stock at 4 to 5 times higher (it used to be more like 10 times higher) than the common stock. This is vital for keeping employee incentives reasonably priced. Anyone who has been through even a single financing with a startup will know this. Therefore, what are the odds that the ConnectU founders, knowing that the $35/sh price was based on a press release discussing Microsoft’s preferred stock investment, did not immediately know and understand that a startup of this type would be putting a significantly lower price on the common stock at the same time. Thus, the argument strikes me as entirely artificial. It is a lawyer argument, very likely concocted after the fact. Because of this, too, in my judgment, I believe the argument will be rejected on appeal, just as it was by the lower court. If courts were to hold that no stock could be transferred in a settlement effected through mediation unless the parties stopped to comply with federal securities laws, the result would be utter chaos whenever a party sought to transfer equity as part of resolving a dispute.

If you want the nitty gritty, read Grellas’ full comment on Hacker News (yes, there’s more!).

As for Zuckerberg, I’d suggest someone get him a suit of armor as a belated birthday gift.  He’s gonna need it.



May. 14 2010 — 10:15 am | 415 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Huge social shift: Cellphones now used more for data than calls

Phone Prop

Image by jennlynndesign via Flickr

We knew it was coming but now the numbers are in and  it’s official.

We’re well on our way to becoming an incredibly disconnected connected society.

Key stats from a New York Times story:

- Almost 90% of US households have a mobile phone

- Number of households eliminating landlines continues to increase

- Number of voice minutes used by consumers is flat

- Number of text messages sent per  user is up by almost 50%

- Thumb voted ‘favorite digit’ as thumb strength in overall US population is increasing (okay, that wasn’t in the NYT but it’s totally true, right?)

Instead of talking on their cellphones, people are making use of all the extras that iPhones, BlackBerrys and other smartphones were also designed to do — browse the Web, listen to music, watch television, play games and send e-mail and text messages.

[...]

And for the first time in the United States, the amount of data in text, e-mail messages, streaming video, music and other services on mobile devices in 2009 surpassed the amount of voice data in cellphone calls, industry executives and analysts say.

Of course, talking on the cellphone isn’t disappearing entirely. “Anytime something is sensitive or is something I don’t want to be forwarded, I pick up the phone rather than put it into a tweet or a text,” said Kristen Kulinowski, a 41-year-old chemistry teacher in Houston. And calling is cheaper than ever because of fierce competition among rival wireless networks.

via Cellphones Now Used More for Data Than for Calls – NYTimes.com

That chemistry teacher is onto something.  Don’t you agree, Mark Zuckerberg?

Meanwhile, I’m wondering what we lose by replacing talking with texting.    Is a typed exchange a less connected experience?   Does a verbal discussion translate to a deeper relationship?

We have shorter attention spans.  We consume more, more quickly.   We walk looking at our mobile devices rather than our surroundings.    We don’t make eye contact.   We don’t talk as much.  We hear less.

We are separated by a screen.

Status updates and text messages are the new soundbite.  Will that fill us up, or leave us empty?


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    About Me

    Spent the first half of my career in television, the second half in digital media. Worked mostly at companies with triangle logos: Fox Television and AOL. Covered the serious and the sensational at A Current Affair. Created online and mobile content, products and communities at AOL. A few startups and now, happily, Chief Product Officer for True/Slant. And let's not forget that "AOL after Dark" project...

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