The Truth Emerges: Valleywag at the TechCrunch/PopSugar Party

Jackson West and Mike ArringtonWhat you are looking at is an ambushing of Mike Arrnington at his own party with the intention of pissing him off and creating news for Valleywag, and the real reason behind all of the drama. (Update: In the comments for this photo, Bonny says it was innocent enough, but the depiction here is probably how Arrington saw it). And here, Owen Thomas does a piece to suggest humorously Arrington’s over reaction. Whether this tactic was suggested from above by Denton or Thomas, or if Bonny and Jackson cooked it up themselves, I do not know. But now I feel we were all (or at least I was) an unintended, unwitting pawn in creating news for Valleywag.

Jackson West approached Arrnington, saying “Hi, I am with Valleywag” as Bonny shot the reaction: Arrnington storming off to find bouncers, kicking them both out moments later. In case you are not aware, Valleywag does about one disparaging pieces a week on Arrnington, and I can understand why he would not want them at his private party. But Jackson and Bonny are new to the team. They could have remained at the party without stirring anything up, but that would not be in true Valleywag form. Stirring the pot and making the news happen, it seems, was there intention, and they accomplished their mission.

Do I mind the exposure for the part I took? Not really, but now it appears it was at the expense of Arrington’s nerves, and I am not completely comfortable with that. But perhaps it is just the tax Arrington has to pay for fame and success. It would have helped if Arrnington had explained all of this to me at the time, but emotions were running high with everyone, the club was loud and dark, and it was not possible. As for Bonny, she is a sweet girl, and I guess if she wants to work for Valleywag, that is her choice. I suppose neither Bonny nor Jackson were surprised that they were personally escorted out by Arrnington and the bouncers after what they did. By the time I became involved, Valleywag already made the news, I just helped to unknowingly sweeten it a bit. I don’t wish to downplay my “heroics,” but just to say that they were uninformed. So, I really was Vallywaged, not in a good way.

Photo by Bonny Pierzina.

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Drama 2.0

My girlfriend and I attended the TechCrunch/PopSugar meetup last night. Well, Mike Arrington had to give Valleywag something to talk about. He, along with 6 bouncers escorted Bonny Pierzina, (a vlogger who was hired to photographer the event by Valleywag) out of the venue. This took place soon after after Jackson West, a new Valleywag writer, introduced himself to Arrington. Right when Bonny happened to be talking with Hayden Black and I, we were approached. As we stood there with Arrington for a moment, who was looking smugly at us as the bouncers surrounded her, I asked them not to spare sweet little Bonny, but they would not have it.

I later learned that the ever-charming Pete Cashmore of Mashable was kicked out as well, presumably becuase his blog competes with TechCrunch? I just don’t get it. I guess the idea of friendly competition/”co-opitition” are dead. More details here along with the photos Arrington does not want you to see! Even more pwnage ensued after the event. Well, hopefully everyone can be friends afterwords. Loren Feldman, who made a name for himself by calling out Arrington, is now friends with him.

LA Times reporter David Sarno reports Pete may have fabricated the story of his ouster at the party just for fun (via Valleywag).

Update 2: The Truth Emerges: Valleywag at the TechCrunch/PopSugar Party

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Do you want to be like Billy or like Trent?

We now have two great examples to point at in the music industry on adapting to change.

On one end, we have Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who ditches his label, does his own production, marketing and sales, and takes a complete hands-on approach into creating his own artistic and financial destiny.

On the other end we have Billy Bragg who simply expects to make music without him or his company taking any initiative to do anything innovative, and then sit back and wait for others to pay him, and to blame others (companies who provide an opt-in service to help artists deliver content to fans and potential fans) for taking advantage of him. Music is not worth as much as it used to be. The days of being paid a premium for your music when it is not remarkable are long gone, as is automatic payment for any use of your music.

Bragg, here is a list of other distribution service companies (some of which have had less business year over year since 2000) that have “taken advantage” of you that should be giving you money even though you have done nothing to deserve it:

Trucking Companies
Every Monday, thousands of trucks across the country would deliver new CDs, records, and tapes to independent records stores, Tower Records, SamGoody, The Wherehouse, and Virgin Mega Stores (these are all old US record store chains). These trucking companies had a business model because at the other end of supply chain was you, the artist. The funny thing is that labels (or maybe the stores themselves) where the ones paying the trucking companies for the service, not the other way around. No profit sharing with artist here.

Pressing Plants
CD and vinyl pressing plants perform a service of putting artist music on a physical media so these trucks could deliver it to the stores. A labels artists would submit the artwork, a mastering studio would deliver the glass masters, acetate, or master tapes to these facilities. Of course, these are still around. They are serving artists and labels that have figures out how to make fans buy things they can’t get for free. No, pressing plants are not responsible for paying out royalties either.

Music Stores
Label’s marketing organizations sometimes had a hand in promoting music at the stores themselves, by sending posters and promo CDs to play, and then having a rep come and visit the store to make sure the store was using the material. Also, they may have allocated shelf space to specific releases. But is this something they can rely on today to help your sales? Of course not. Amazon and iTunes might have similar equivalent, paid sponsorship of artists. But it is in their bests interest to promote artists that sell, not the ones paying the most for “virtual shelf space” (as some physical music stores were relying on for most of their income at one point).

But are any of these companies in the distribution chain charged with promotion and payment of artists? No. This was the label’s responsibility. And today, it is increasingly the artist’s responsibility to either take charge by creating his or her own destiny, or make sure they keep a management team that is not pretending that things are the same as they were 10 years ago. Back then, certain services were bundled together. Today, they are all separated. The distribution channel is not responsible for paying you unless you make this explicit, which fewer are not in the business of doing (remember Caroline? I think they are/were in this business).

Check out Bragg’s site, he links to his iLike profile. Watch out, iLike, you will be the next free service to owe him money for promoting him, and then not taking proper responsibility for making him rich.

Social networking sites with music were originally for unsigned, independents artists. Since these became some of the only places to legally listen to music online (since the major labels were to timid to participate), these sites became destination sites for music. Then came the established artists with their old-school expectations and mentalities who subtly wanted to hijack the attention established by the independents. Then the established artists cries foul for expecting the world to put the genie back in the bottle. I don’t think so.

Update 3/25/08:
Joe Weisenthal’s blog had a great thread going on that Billy Bragg himself was participating in. Well, it was great in that Joe, Techdirt’s Mike Masnick, Blaise Alleyne, Thomas Hawk, Matt Mason, and some others had the opportunity to debate the issue of the moral obligation Bebo did or did not have to pay artists. Comment were turned off. Temporary problem with the blog I guess, thanks for letting me know, Blaise.

Some argue that artists should be paid for their work, but offer no solution. Others say that the royalty organizations and/or the US Congress or the labels should have created compulsory licenses for such sites so they can pay artists. Speaking of pay for plays, I participated in the old 10 years ago and it was a joke. I say take the bull by the horns like Trent, and just make it happen for yourself.

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Mahalo and 37 Signals: Apples and Oranges

I am taking issue with the way Stilgherrian has characterized the working style of Jason Calacanis by comparing Mahalo to 37 Signals. Yes, they are both startups, and they are both in the “web 2.0” space, but are very different companies with very different goals.

Mahalo is venture funded. His VCs are expecting multiple returns their investment. Jason probably has a limited time and space to show investors that this project has legs. Mahalo is about cranking content on recent events, and making them rank high in search engines to generate ad revenue. Working in this type of environment is not for everyone. But for a lot of people, working at Mahalo is a great opportunity. Just think of the people who worked for him in the past who have all gone on to do great things like Om Malik, Rafat Ali, and Peter Rojas. I know Sean personally and he is happy there. There are a lot of options in the future for some of the people working there, and their time with Mahalo is worth the investment to them. It probably is not to most of the people criticizing Jason’s advice in his post, but they don’t matter, they just want page views themselves.

37 Signals on the other hand is not as young, and there is no pressure on them to grow exponentially as there is with Mahalo (Jeff Bezos has invested in 37 Signals, but if he started making any demands, Fried and Hansson would definitely hand him his money back). They have designed the company around their own happiness, and not much else. They designed Ruby on Rails to make developers happy to code. They have designed Basecamp, Backpack, and Highrise to satisfy the right customers, the ones whos’ needs are being met with good enough features. They are able to say “f*** you” to their critics’ faces (you know you have “made it” when you can do this, seriously, am I right?).  37 Signals puts all design, features, and business strategy decisions through this filter: will it make me less happy or less free? If the answer is no, they don’t do it. This means saying no to new features, no to customizations, no to monster growth. They piss off investors by saying no to their money. They can afford to loose customers with demands that are too high. They are, in Tim Ferriss‘s words “the new rich.” They have options and freedom. And not just anyone can work for them. They can afford luxuries. Great programmers are not commodities.

Could Calacanis design a company this way? I don’t know about that. That is not what got him where he is today. He is a content guy by choice, becuase that is what he loves. Content always needs to be written and updated, and this is a commodity today, especially with so many newspapers laying people off today. Adhering to a business design philosophy around happiness, and not chasing after competitors or stories is the choice 37 Signals has made becuase they love great apps and great code.

The point: when you have to please investors in the short term, you probably cannot design your business life around total happiness, but happiness (and experience) can still happen despite the imperfect lifestyle design.

Update: Sean Percival, the happy employee at Mahalo weighs in.

Jason, please hire me.

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3 Moblogging Tools Reviewd: Twitxr, ShoZu, JuiceCaster

For moblogging, you need to camera phone with e-mail capability. So, I just upgraded to a Motorola W490 specifically for the photo and video features. I was eager to connect it to my Flickr account. Flickr itself does not have this capability built-in, but since it has an open API, they did not have to build it themselves. Here are a couple sites that connect to Flickr and another that could/should.

The brand new player in this space is What interested me is the ability to send my mobile phone pics to both my Twitter and Flickr accounts (it will send them to Facebook as well, but I was not as excited about that). I singed up, and found it pretty easy to connect it each of these other profiles. Due to the nature of each of these connecting sites, the registration process was slightly different for each one. I took some pics, and sent it to a special e-mail address generated by Twitxr, and had it appear on my Flickr, with a geo tag (you set your location on Twitxr ahead of time), as well as my Twitxr profile which appears to have its own obligatory social network along with a user landing page and commenting, and RSS feed with a simple URL. Twitxr’s social network seems kind of pointless at first, since I am using it as a utility to send pics to my other social networks. However, the value is that you don’t need to have a profile on these other sites to make use of Twitxr. I don’t feel much like looking for friends on it, especially since FriendFeed has raised the standard for ease of friend-finding. According to TechCrunch, Twitxr is a product of Fon Labs, part of Fon Wireless, a WiFi provider with offices worldwide.

Next, I checked out ShoZu. I found ShoZu on Flickr’s mobile tools page. BarCampLA5 is this weekend, and I wanted to make use of my camera phone there. While twitxr does geotags tags (set it on the site ahead of time) but not regular meta tags, ShoZu does meta tags (set it on the site ahead of time) but not geotags. So, I set the tags ShoZu to BarCampLA5 and some variations on that. ShoZu, being the oldest out of the three sites, supports connections to the widest variety of social networking and blogging platforms that have open APIs: 28 sites including YouTube and Facebook, plus e-mail and ftp. It does not have a social networking feature, or a landing page for your profile like twitxr, but it does provide an RSS feed for my photos like twitxr. ShoZu has a blog and a support forum, and their team looks pretty solid. They are venture funded and their target user demographic is worldwide, and are based in London. I am not sure what their business model is, but they appear to have some corporate partnerships with big media companies.

The first site I checked out was actually JuiceCaster since a friend of mine was just hired there. By far, this was the most difficult site to use, and I could not even get it to work. I had to send it from my phone with the text “Profile” to [my phone number] It cleverly sends the pic right back to my phone (I don’t think it is supposed to do this, and I do not see any value in it), but nothing changes on the site. I could not even get a picture to appear. I don’t care if there is some step I skipped or something, it should just work and be idiot-proof.

JuiceCaster lets you host both pictures and videos, lets you embed a Flash widgets on your blog or MySpace, or Facebook, but it does not seem very useful I can get the pictures to appear. The widget takes the TV metaphor a little too far by showing snow, color bars (when there is no content yet), and letting you change the channel to another users. The widget is the only way to view the content, which creates a bit of a usability problem. This means that you don’t have access to the raw jpg files. As a destination for photos and videos, there are no open APIs to allow the connection of something Flickr or YouTube, which in some ways are compititors. There are no RSS feeds so there is no real platform for others to build on. As a user, if you want your videos to get seen by a lot of people, you are far better off using the ShoZu to YouTube application than embedding the JuiceCaster widget. But, it is pretty clear that the main purpose of this platform is for mobile phones themselves (not the web), sharing with specific friends, and immediacy. However, a little web usability can go a long way in helping to build this brand via some mild SEO. They do have a Facebook application, with instructions on installing it here, but strangely, no link to the actual Facebook application on that page, which is here, listing 19 active daily users. There are four different fan groups on Facebook, the most having 26 members. All of this calls their current strategy into question.

One feature that JuiceCaster has that other services do not have is the ability to send photos and videos to your friends’ phones. However, it seems most phones today have this feature built in, and you do not need a 3rd party application. I am not sure what the core competency or business model is for JuiceCaster. In some ways they compete with and’s MySpace widgets and Facebook applications. The target user seems to be the MySpace demographic. I suggest they focus more on allowing the content to be spread around the net with more than just Flash widgets, but also with RSS and an open API, and perhaps a blog. According to their about page, they were able to make their mark years ago as a white label solution, back when there was less competition and innovation in the space.

It seems they definitely want to be a platform, but the other two competitors mentioned in this post, which are simply tools to enable the use of larger platforms, seem to be ahead of them in functionality, flexibility, and momentum. I would love to see them get it together. JuiceCaster is based out of Los Angeles, Ca. They appear to have investors but do not list any of them, but they are listed here at the TechCrunch CrunchBase

I tried to embed the Flash widget, but it messed up the layout of this page to much, so here is a screen shot instead.

Mashable took a less in-depth look at around 30 of the competitors in this space last year.

If my friend is able to help me fix the problems with JuiceCaster, I’ll update it here.

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Free e-books

Mike at Techdirt points to some half-hearted efforts at free e-books. The books will only be available for a limited time, and they cannot be printed. It is all posturing by the book publishers who still believe that completely free pdfs will cannibalize physical book sales when authors like Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig have proved otherwise.

The new definition of “free” is DRM-free as well as free-as-in-beer. The restrictions on printing and the books’ availability for a limited time are just other forms of DRM.

It is true that it is cheaper to buy books than it is to print them. Against Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine is a free to download/print/read book I was looking into printing at Kinkos, but it is going to cost $43 when the book will probably cost $25 in stores and $20 from Amazon when it comes out (thanks to someone who linked to it in the comments on from a post a couple of months ago).

Also newly available to to freely download/print/read is The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson.

And finally, Neil Gaiman is deciding which of his books he should release as a free download.

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You can buy technology, but not culture

Arik Hesseldahl at Business Week has some great points for Steve Ballmer: don’t try to be all things to all people. Then you spread yourself too thin, you know, like peanut butter.

If and when this Yahoo-Microsoft deal happens, who, out of all of the talented engineers and managers in both companies are going to stick around for the pain and FUD of the merger? Not Many. “Screw this, I do not have to deal with this. I am going to Google/Facebook/start my own company/cash in my stock.”

Yahoo is made of people. Yahoo’s advantage over Microsoft is that Yahoo has a more open-minded culture. Not the “not invented here” mentality (even though it thinks it wants what Yahoo has), which has helped it to snatch up some of the best web companies in the last couple of years. The Microsoft culture would kill this. Yahoo without its best people is a liability to Microsoft. It would be a big, empty machine that would need to be run the Microsoft way. Is it worth the risk for the most talented employees and most passionate users to defect? Without these, Yahoo is nothing.

Ballmer’s ego and the unnecessary need for fast growth are in the way of Microsoft’s success in new markets. If Microsoft would just change its corporate culture from the inside, it would not feel the need to acquire Yahoo. Ballmer’s management style is, design-by-committee, old-hat, industrial age, last century. And this is perfectly clear when you compare Steve Ballmer with the Steve Jobs (ok he has an ego as well but somehow it does not get in his way), Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Mark Zuckerberg, Jason Fried, or Jerry Yang.

One is a big, sweaty monster, making the others appear as Zen masters.

And so the exodus begins.
Josh Schachter.
6/19/08 Qi Lu, Brad Garlinghouse, Vish Makhijani.
6/17/08 Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield.
6/12/08 Usama Fayyad and Jeremy Zawodny.
6/12/08 Jeff Weiner.

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An analysis of Google’s Social Graph API

Despite the valid concerns that some have with Google‘s Social Graph API, I thought I would talk about the technical possibilities. My social graph may be of particular interest becuase I had used my WordPress blog’s XFN feature to mark up the blogs I read as “muse” and my profile on at least 10 social networks as “me.” Using the Google’s Social Graph API demo you can see my extensive list of FOAF and XFN URLs. There is also a machine readable format that could be fed into a new social network to find friends on that network. (click for a larger version)
I have illustrated what the data means, and how it was derived from these other sites.

I accidentally listed as another site of mine (I have it in my blogroll, I intended to mark it as “muse”, not “me”, I am not affiliated with them),  so it then goes on to show links to colleagues and acquaintances of that it attributes back to me. I have fixed this in my blog roll, but the Google cache has not updated yet.

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The Networks Effects of Creating Value Networks with Derivative Creative Works

There is some talk of Fair Use reform to define it as: “work that adds to the value of the original, as opposed to substituting for the original, is fair use.”

So, what are some examples of adding value? Let’s just throw some assumptions out there.
• Free redistribution against the author’s will, aka “piracy“: this is not even covered by Fair Use. It it can ad value, to the original work, but this thinking is at odd with most works’ authors in todays’ IP-sacred climate. It serves the undershot
of works.
• Derivative Works: depending on the nature of the use, it could add value.
• Parody: Parody is the use of a work to comment on something else. This is usually protected under fair use, but does not necessary add value to the work.

Value flows in two directions between these 4 entities:
• Original Works’ Authors
• Original Works
• Derivative Works’ (licensed or unauthorized) Authors
• Derivative Works (licensed or unauthorized)

Derivative Works Value Network

The problem arises when one profits form another and that is viewed as unfair. And fairness as seen in a reproducible psychological experiment called the ultimatum game, the need for fairness and entitlement makes for illogical business decisions.

Original Authors Add Value to their Original Works and vice versa
This example is pretty simple. The author creates the work, the work has value. If the work becomes popular, it is attributed back to the author. If the work is bad, the author’s value may decrease. If the author is obscure, it may not matter. Steven King’s great books helped to make him valuable in the book publishing market. And when he releases a new book, people take notice.

Original Authors and their Original Works Add Value to Derivative Authors and their Derivative Works’ and vice versa
The originator’s work can create a value network for his or her works, and the works of others. Suzann Vega’s song “Tom’s Diner” was originally an acapella. It was then remixed without permission by DNA Disciples, adding cache to Susan Vega as an artist. Conversely, when someone crates a new art form (such as the remix), others benefit by being successful in that art form. In other words, the network effects of the many can raise the status of a few.

Mashup artist Girl Talk samples as many as 20 songs into a single 3-minute song. These mashups may remind people of the original authors who are valued because of the original works, and they may wish to listen to or even purchase the originals. Girl Talk’s innovative approached helped to spotlight himself and his “illegal art” (since no licensing was obtained and is therefore only available for free via p2p networks).

Derivative Authors Add Value to their Derivative Works, and vice versa
This is the situation that Original authors view as unfair, and causes all kinds of conflicts. In order to exercises this option, it must be:
• created illegally, by using works that are copy written and without getting permission
• created by obtaining permission and licensing in an “any use is commercial use” assumption
• created by using works that are in the public domain
• created using works in a way in which its Creative Commons license permits.
There is a great experiment going on by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. He as started the Nine Inch Nails Remix community where fans can download multi track versions of songs, create a remix, and then upload the remixes for fans to listen to and download. Most of the tracks from the last album are available as multiple tracks from the site, but some are available on the recently released remix album. So, eager remixers must buy this album to get access to remixing some of these other tracks. The community can rate and aggregate mixes, spotlighting the best remixes, each who has their own profile, similar to a social networking site.

Derivative Authors and their Derivative Works Add Value to Original Works
No matter which one of the scenarios listed above is in play, this type of value creation may occur. Famous original paintings are worth as much as they are partly because of reprints and photographs that pay homage to them. Even within the range of a single artist, some paintings are worth more than others not only because they are higher quality or more esthetically pleasing, but because these traits are a reason for their reproductions, and because people see the reproductions, the value of the original increases. This was especially the case prior to copyright regimes. This lead to the spread of the bible and helped to spur the print industry at the time of the invention of the printing press.

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To Big Media All Media is Commercial, to Normal People Media is Part of a Conversation

All forms of media and broadcasted conversations were at one time only producible by Big Media companies. And most of it was for commercial use. This is the broadcasting, music selling, book selling; the licensing and permission paradigm.

When you are having a conversation with a friend at your home, you might talk about a piece of corporately owned media, and you might use that corporately owned media in the conversation. The conversation is private and non-commercial.

Now, when you try to take your conversation about media online (in a blog, video, or mp3 for example) and use the media in this conversation, Big Media sees this conversations as their exclusive right to have. And if you did not get the proper licenses, copyrights, and permissions to have an online conversations about the media while using (in it’s original form, in its partial form, or in a re-purposed form except in the case of parody), you are a pirate or a thief. And since it is online, it is assumed to be commercial or have commercial value.

This is the fundamental problem with IP and Fair Use today. To Big Media, all media is big media, and to regular people having a conversation, media is a conversation piece that will be used. Big Media is at odds with normal people’s use of corporately owned Media as part of commentary or conversation if it is online or in the public and for non-commercial purposes.

What Big Media fails to realizes is that conversations about corporately owned Media is not a substitute for media, is not a law enforceable business opportunity, and does not decrease or destroy the ability for corporately owned Media to produce more corporately owned Media. What normal people fail to realize is that Big Media assume they own all the rights to all forms of conversation about their media. But that is where Fair Use should and will be allowed present its case.

The way it looks today is that whoever has the money for a lawyer is allowed to exercise Fair Use. This means that most regular people, despite the ability to broadcast messages on the internet for free, are not allowed to comment by using corporately owned Media.

My favorite books on this topic are Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig (who is featured in the video above). You can buy it on Amazon, read it on Google Books, download the free audio book version, or check out all of the other free formats.

Update: 5/27/08
Techdirt shows how Viacom suing YouTube shows this difference perfectly. YouTube is about communication. But Viacom sees it as a broadcast, and so the laws governing broadcast should apply. YouTube sees it as freedom of speech and fair use.

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