Fun Friday: Twitter and the Age of Anti-Innovation

“One lesson that has to be remembered in my line of business is that when an operation is over it is OVER.The temptation to stay just one more day or to cash just one more cheque can be almost overwhelming, ah, how well I know. I also know that it is also the best way to get better acquainted with the police. Turn your back and walk away – And live to graft another day.” The Stainless Steel Rat, Harry Harrison

Well, I wasn’t going to talk about Musk, but I’m a bit jealous. First he subpoenaed Stanford University about twitter’s 1995 origins  — a university he claims he spent all of two days at in the materials science engineering PhD program at that time. Then he up and forgot he was going for an interesting Silicon Valley history lesson and decided to buy the company anyway. Sigh.

Perhaps he gave up because he skipped out on paying Stanford their exorbitant tuition and fees by not enrolling, and he’s worried they still have the bill. Actually, this is very possible — my own father attended Stanford and left with a $100 owed them. A generation later, when his son got admitted, Stanford still remembered. Academic debt is eternal. But the boring story is Musk got a better deal and frankly, I don’t remember twitter as an “item” at all. Go figure.

This was a heady five years for me and William: after writing the two year 386BSD series “Porting Unix to the 386″ in Dr. Dobbs Journal and the source code of 386BSD 0.0, 0.1, and 1.0/2.0 , and the DDJ 386BSD Release 1.0 CDROM with all the writings and annotations in 1994, by 1995 we were putting the finishing touches on the first volume of Source Code Secrets while inventing role-based security, polymorphic protocols and new approaches in high speed networking (these articles actually led to a rethink in high speed networking that birthed InterProphet in 1997), and tinkering with CDROM filesystems on a lark. So forgive me for missing the import of this crucial event.

Musk has an axe to grind. Actually, he has several axes to grind. Anyone who knows the history of SpaceX has seen his axe. I assume he was going to bury it right in Stanford’s backside by grabbing any info they have about Twitter and its hapless former CEO Parag Agrawal, but I suppose he’s now quite happy being Chief Twit (not my first choice for a moniker — I think Big Tweeter would be better) and chopping up anything that moves. My guess is he’s now looking for some confirmation of those darn bots popping up everywhere, like heffalumps and woozles. Are they real? Or just a fever dream? Who knows?

But 1995 does stand out in retrospect. It can be considered officially the year anti-innovation became the watchword in investment even as amazing technologies like open source came to the fore. The opportunities for grift on the Internet (don’t forget that “no one knows you’re a whatever” meme) was so compelling and sexy that *any* attempt to disrupt this was taken as a threat. 

Limit the words. Limit the thought. The nastier, the better. No discourse. No remorse. Virality uber alles. (Haven’t we learned by now that virality leads to pandemics?) 

Like crack, the unfiltered quips of just about anybody and their bot was addictive — especially to journalists. Gotta admit, it’s a lot harder to track down and interview people in depth, or attend press conferences, or sort through press releases, or travel to obscure places, or actually cross-check your sources first — especially if you’re not getting paid well for it. Twitter made all that stuff superfluous. What mattered was being the first. “Covfefe”, yeah baby! Deep stuff. Quit twitter? Forget it. They’re permanently addicted, and Musk knows it.

While twitter has an outsized influence on journalists who write about twitter, who else uses twitter, really? Politicians? Extremists? The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City? The most lucrative demographic from a marketing ad sales standpoint is young people, not these people. But most of the kids have migrated to other more trendy sites, like tiktok or instagram. Twitter usage declined 10% among teens over the last seven years according to Pew Research. Heck, even Facebook is doing better than them, and from my perspective it’s been getting grayer along with my cohort.

The problem with a cynical viral play is that things like “making money” or “building a product” are unimportant. We’ve seen that time and again, but twitter was the worst of the worst for lacking even a modicum of humor and humility. Even when they had a chance to build something sustainable for a younger target audience, their tendency to kill anything that smacked of building a real business was stomped on. Virality and viciousness don’t require innovative talent and product. 

One example of their anti-innovation attitude was their acquisition of Vine, a trivial and frankly unthreatening six second video loop site. It was clear by the early 2000s that video was an interesting opportunity. Heck, I was pitching ExecProducer’s Massive Video Production strategy and online automated video production mid-2000s on Sand Hill Road. ExecProducer and CoolClip had much more sophisticated video server production than Vine, with a very different focus. So Vine should have been a no brainer to move twitter into a younger demographic, right? Uh, nope. After four miserable years, it was shut down. In the end, twitter acquired a potential rival — and killed it.

I wish the anti-innovation euphoria popular in the Silicon Valley investment scene would become tiresome. But it’s just too easy to make and lose money. Currently, venture capital investment is sitting on $500B of dry powder according to Pitchbook. Think of those numbers, folks. $500 BILLION DOLLARS, just sitting in accounts, waiting for the next six months flip unicorn. It boggles the mind.

Real innovation is risky. It takes time. We can’t flip a startup in six months doing real code, real hardware, real systems. It takes time to convince customers to try our stuff. It takes time to shake out the bugs. But it’s also a heck of a lot of fun and necessary.

Because sometimes the grift really does end. And you don’t want to be there when it does.

Streaming Video is Hot – Why is it so “Clunky”?

Cory Treffiletti (Carat Interactive) wrote in Online Spin today “Streaming video is hot right now, and it’s only getting hotter as broadband becomes more pervasive… The way video is currently viewed online still seems somewhat clunky. It feels as though we’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If you see the current executions, we’re placing video into existing ad spaces. We’re pushing video into banners and buttons rather than coming up with new presentation architecture. We need to re-evaluate how we see the Web and how we place video inside of it.

At last – a realization that there is an “architecture”! My take on this tech:
“Exactly! I was in a meeting with a major publisher a few months back and all he thought he could do was an ad. Why? Because it was too expensive to create and produce new content dynamically in the short time frame he required, even though they have the writers and editors already. When they tried in-house video shoots and hired a video guy to handle production, it took weeks to months to see the rushes! They get out news daily, and it took weeks for the guy to tinker something lousy together. He hated that video guy, because he needed to create new content now and knew that the traditional video production way was a dead-end for his deadlines.

All he wanted was a writer chatting up the latest gadget in a minute, with a 5 sec promo, and maybe clips of conferences and stuff. Oh, and he wanted it to be top-quality, sound great, have his company branding look pro, and be available immediately so he could see how it was received with instant email reports (so he could show his sponsors). And it had to be economic, because he wanted to do it ALL THE TIME, not once a quarter.

He didn’t want software tools mucking things up. He didn’t want to wait weeks to see the results because he had to get out the review ASAP! He didn’t want to book time and spend $$$ for a pro film crew for a 2 minute discussion of the Apple IPod when he’s already got a cool digital camera and knows how to use it and knows what he wants to hear. He wanted it on the web on his site instantly, and he wanted the results (metrics) in his email as soon as something happened.

ExecProducer said “sure, we already do all this”, and he got it. He shoots his review, emails the clips off to a special email address, and instantly a produced movie to his specifications with titling, music, technical correction (audio/video), desired formats for anything ranging from a video cellphone to a DVD, and reports – kind of like a video ATM. From the time he hits “send” to the first “view” on the web is about 2 minutes. His hair is growing back.

And with a few minutes effort he’s done for the week. Actually, since it was so easy, he’s talking a daily newscast. More content means more sponsors and ad messages. And they watch it, because they trust their favorite journalists to tell them what they want to know. And so it goes.

It just took a bit of ingenuity. But that’s what Silicon Valley is famous for, isn’t it?”

Cory went on to say “What about a site that is purely a video interface? What about typing in a URL and coming to a TV station? Does the future hold the possibility of a pure video interface with flash layered on top? Companies like Maven and Desksite offer experiences that are similar to this but are housed on your desktop rather than online. Why can’t we foresee this experience online as well?”

My take on this tech:
“What about a site that is purely a video interface?” ExecProducer has been doing that for years with privately generated and produced content. Our partners include business consulting firms like Valux with their MinutePitch offering (see Rob Enderle’s mention in his article “The Death and Rebirth of the Movie Industry” and the CoolClip Network, among others. MinutePitch, for example, provides private channels used by sales to communicate with key customers, entrepreneurs doing custom pitches for investors and partners, and execs and managers reporting to corporate, but Hollywood style with music, titling, and all the bells and whistles that we always get from TV but don’t get from boring raw clips.

There’s a lot happening right now with innovation in video media production, deployment, and analysis. You’ve just gotta look.

Hotels, VC’s and Vanity Video

As I was watching a venture capitalist earlier this week push a MinutePitch (by Valux) of a security startup (he said “Very cool video”), I was thinking how nice it would be if someone would use my video production engine ExecProducer for family stuff. After all, we started on this route because it was just absolutely horrible pulling together our family videos of Hawaii using conventional video edit software (unfamiliar features, inconsistent/nonexistent format selection, synch and other technical errors creeping in, tool malfunctions – you name it).

Even though we offloaded the digital cameras every night, we had to wait until we got home for resources to complete the movie, and by then it was very arduous. This was one of the spurs to create automated production mechanisms, and then the paper and Berkeley trials and company and, well, you know how it is…. But we’ve been doing business video – not personal video – because that’s what the investors like.

So now I read that “Several hotels are offering guests the opportunity to capture their vacations on camera” by either renting cameras and printers or even creating a movie experience: “Guests who sign up for the Tribeca Grand Hotel’s “Director’s Cut” package can borrow a video camera and make their own movie about Manhattan. Computers at the hotel allow you to add special effects, cut unwanted scenes and lay a soundtrack. The package starts at $369″.

The only problem is it is really a bear to do all the movie editing and production. So wouldn’t you like to just shoot your movie, email your clips, and get back a produced and finished and polished video with titling and music and the beautiful intro scenes of the hotel and sights and end credits with the information about the hotel and when you did it? Wouldn’t that be just grand?

Of course, you can always go custom: “Visitors to King Pacific Lodge in northern British Columbia, Canada, can sign up for the ‘Last Action Hero’ package and have their adventures documented by a personal cameraman. Guests will receive a video to prove to the folks at home that they really did catch that big salmon or take a helicopter to a remote spot. Starring in your own movie isn’t cheap, however; the price is $5,150 a person”. Ouch!

I like my idea better – don’t you? 🙂

Fun Friday: How Many Robots Can You Name?

Have you ever wondered how all those great filmmakers like George Lucas became “great”? By taking a camera and making a movie, like George did with THX-1138 (which was a USC student film project later expanded into a full film BTW).

So, what do you do with the kids around the house. How about giving them a digital camera (640×480 30fps preferred if you want DVDs) for a film festival. That’s just what Ben Jolitz and Rebecca Jolitz did this spring, and their result is Bots: An exhausted teenager on the high school robotics team dreams of robots, But he’s late for school! Will his sister get him up on time? A comedic homage to robots past and present. Near DVD format.

Done entirely using a Canon SD200 camera, their own scripting, acting, prop and effects skills, and using a beta of the ExecProducer FilmPro production storyboard, they assembled a complete movie in DVD high quality, Internet mp4, and flash over their Spring Break, ready for a film festival.

So I invite everyone to view Bots. And see if you can name all the robots we grew up with and loved.

Video Ads and Mobile Video – Expectations versus Reality

According to Frost and Sullivan, the mobile video market will grow from 28.8 million in 2004 to $1.5B five years later (2009). In addition, mobile providers are intending to capture that market through service offerings (video, ringtones, games). Doesn’t sound like a lot of room for ad revenue.

Penn Media has announced that they intend to place a “proprietary video player” called Vidsense on its network of Web sites to serve video ads and content. “Most sites can’t afford to license content, encode, stream, and sell advertising for their site. Most sites do not have the reach. The Vidsense program takes care of all of this.” ( Jaffer Ali, CEO

So let’s get this straight. They’ve got a hold of some old video content, put ads in them, transcoded them (probably in flash – that’s the easiest although not the best looking), and they’ll put them on your site. You use a little video player (lots of Java players out there) to record the views. They make money from the advertiser on the views and pass a few pennies your way. If the player has a problem, though, it’s probably your problem.

Also, there are the bandwidth issues – to wit, who pays? A reasonably sized video (like a 2 minute flash) is about 4 MBytes, and most hosts will notice if you’re streaming more than two at a time, and charge you accordingly. So those few pennies you make may not offset the bandwidth costs you incur.

I’m all for video – that’s what we do at ExecProducer. We work with publishers and bloggers to create, deploy, and monetize their own current and timely content. Since we’re on the content creation side, we want you to make money on the best quality video we produce and deploy. Google ads may be a better bargain right now if you can’t afford to create and control your own content and revenue stream.

Fun Friday – Watch the Movie, Get the DVD, Plug in for the Download – Not

Director Steven Soderbergh is a brave man. A really brave man. At least, given that movie studios and theater owners want to go after him with billy clubs, he’s pretty brave. He’s agreed to work with 2929 Entertainment to produce six movies in HDTV which also will be released on DVD and cable.

According to Reuters, “The same-day distribution challenges long-held practices for Hollywood studios that first place films in theaters, hoping for solid box office revenues, then sell them months later on DVD or videocassette and offer them to TV broadcasters. Studios and theater owners are concerned that altering the practice would cannibalize box office sales.”

Wow, it’s not often you see the sharks worry about the fish. Now, if he also did downloads, what do you think they’d say then.

When Kids Do Video Better than the Pros

Last Saturday, while my husband William Jolitz was attending a really dull all-day seminar on Law and Technology at Stanford, I had a much more enjoyable privilege – escorting my movie-making daughter to her first film debut at the Windy Hill Kids Film Festival at the Menlo School in Atherton.

The screening auditorium was filled with kids (and some proud parents). Rebecca’s film Mystery Festival (see “Rebecca Jolitz Debuts Movie in Kids Film Fest”) was screened in the 5th grade drama catagory, although it’s more a kids mystery than drama. What fun it was!

Lots of really great work in the high school range – some very pro and creative. The MTV-U speaker was fun too. Kids, movies, and the future. Shelby, the young organizer of this fest, is a really positive and outgoing teen (she’s 13). Ben and Rebecca shot interviews with filmmakers, audience, and organizers, MTV style during the fest, and are putting together a quick flick on “being there” for fun (it’s spring break – they need to do something)…

I hope this happens every year. Because I saw a lot of really great work. Hollywood doesn’t have a monopoly on talent anymore.

First They Watch the Movie, and Then They Read the Book

When Margaret Heffernan was on her book tour for The Naked Truth, an insider look at women in business, I grabbed her after the talk and had her do a brief pitch to her readers. Took me about five minutes to produce with MinutePitch. It was very satisfying to see the author of the book tell me why I should buy it. And as an open source pioneer in operating systems () and author of books and articles myself, I sure understand the need to speak to your reader directly. The Internet is the key for distribution – if you can get it off your camera first.

That’s what VidLit is about too, according to Daniel Terdiman at Wired. “To date, VidLit founder Liz Dubelman has created VidLit videos for seven books and has five more in the works. They range from one to three minutes and cost approximately $3,500 a minute to produce.”

Why that kind of cash, when advances for the lesser lights are usually in the $5,000 – $10,000 range, and when selling a printing run of 2,000 – 5,000 is doing great? M.J Rose, a novelist (formerly a contributor to Wired) thinks that “initiatives like VidLit and a few others are crucial in an era in which authors are having a harder time than ever getting publicity. ‘We’re in a crisis situation in publishing where there are 150,000-plus books published a year and review space has been cut by about 50 percent across the board. Either magazines have completely cut their review space, or newspapers have cut it back, or they’re using syndicated reviews’.”

The loss of review space is why they also like to plug a short vid into a blog. “Amazon spokeswoman Kristin Schaefer Mariani said that the company has begun incorporating VidLit videos as part of its “larger, ongoing effort to provide customers with a range of content to help them find and discover products that best meet their needs.”

I know Margaret was really surprised when my interview was just a digital camera and a few minutes work – she’s a former BBC producer and expected a TV crew. But she’s a smart cookie, and knows there’s nothing better than a pitch from the heart.

First You Shoot the Movie, then You Sell the Movie, and then You Eat!

Well, there must be something in consumer-generated content after all. Brightcove, founded by former Macromedia CTO Jeremy Allaire, says they want to sell your movies (cartoons, shorts, jibjab imitations) on the Internet. “We don’t expect to see any significant Hollywood content” in the relatively near future. Our expectation is to not allow pornography”. “Expectations”? Don’t know what that quite means. But if you provide the movie, they’ll provide the site.

As Michael Kanellos of Cnet notes, “Is there a market for obscure content? While people differ in their opinions on that subject, Allaire asserts that at least there is a huge quantity of it…Brightcove’s presentation was one of the more crowded ones at the conference and drew, among others, Mitchell Kertzman of Hummer Winblad Ventures and Vinod Khosla of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.” Do you smell money yet?

It’s a Camera! It’s a Phone! So Get Your Mouth Out of My Eye!

Cellphones with embedded cameras sound really neat to most people, just like combo fax/printer/copier/PCs. Since we already are tethered to the electronic beasties, why not carry one with a camera – then you can take pics while you chat?

The problem, like super-combo devices, is that you get something at the cost of another item – in this case picture quality, much less video quality. So while people are buying them in droves, Kodak CEO Dan Carp (yes, that’s his name) worries that people will find them too unusable – “Today, camera phones are imaging-capable but photographically disabled”, according to Ben Charny of Cnet.