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.

Married Founders: The Times they are a-Changin’

I was reading this article on how married co-founders are getting acceptance — and investment — and it’s not a bad thing. And it provoked a memory.

UC Berkeley Physics Department image used in video production.

When I worked with the University of California at Berkeley Physics Department, my alma mater, to enhance their fundraising efforts, I developed and field tested with them an instant video production system for alumni. The idea was to not just ask for money, but to ask for experiences, like what was their favorite experiment in 111 Laboratory. These experiences in video were then emailed to a server array which instantly provided correction (sound, video, format, etc) and encased the video into a custom designed template with music and background reflecting the Cal Physics environment. The completed video was then emailed to the Director for approval. All she had to do was say yes, no, or maybe something else. If she liked it, it was automatically posted to a website dedicated to Berkeley Physics. It was cool. I even wrote a paper on the results for the ACM.

At the same time, the Haas Business School launched a business plan competition for Berkeley students, faculty and alumni. So I decided to enter it. This wasn’t my first BBQ, so to speak — I had gotten funding for InterProphet some years earlier, and that was a harder sell given how VCs gave up on hardware investments in the early 2000s and moved to Internet companies. But this *was* an Internet company — a fully developed video production system and mechanism where no one had to learn editing software to make a production-quality video.

Yes, folks said I was ahead of my time. Yes, investors quibbled over why was I doing this with software and not, say, with Chinese or Indian workers manually handling production — they had a massive obsession with using folks instead of using automation then. They questioned whether video would ever become popular on the Internet given latency issues (I was an expert on this BTW, since InterProphet was all about low-latency). This was before YouTube, so it was hard for old-style VCs to get their heads around video on the web.

But the most insulting response I received was not from VCs or angels, but from the Haas Business School at Berkeley. For a university known for progressive insight, the worst response to my business plan was not about TAM or competitive advantage or technology or experience — it was about how the anonymous reviewer would “NEVER” invest in a husband-wife company, as they had been burned once before. It was bigoted. It was unfair. It was vile. And he killed any prospects of working with Berkeley.

Relevant part of the review by the Haas Business School business plan competition of ExecProducer and my work with the UC Berkeley physics Department. Apparently, having “Relevant domain experience, industry experience, business track record, education, network, etc” was tainted by the stain of married co-founders. Yes folks, that killed it. (Photo: R Jolitz)

Needless to say, this was also offensive to the Berkeley physics Department as well. I was one of their alumni and they worked with me. It was a validated concept. But that Haas Business School reviewer poisoned the waters in the larger investment community, and the company I had labored to move from Zero to One was dead in the water. Silicon Valley is a small community — or at least was small back in 2004.

I’m pleased to see the times they are a-changin’. I hope my struggles paved the way for a new generation of young people to be considered for investment based on their ideas, creativity, perseverance, and character — instead of their gender or race or friendships or “comfort level” (a catch-all for “I don’t like you because your different”). Meritocracy is a lie when it demands you look exactly like the person who backs you. And the last thing we need right now is more lies.

Video@Scale: The New Demands are the Old Challenges – Power and Packet Drops

The challenge of creating seamless video experiences on demand has been a long-sought and long-fought dream. FaceBook video@scale brings specialists together to wrestle with the complexity of end-to-end technical tricks and user level satisfaction often at odds.

Lynne Jolitz at FaceBook Video at Scale. (L Jolitz).

The morning was a blitz of corner cases and tightly wound insights.  Minutia of transmission of video and complexity, issues of detection of dropped frames in various browser decode, up/down scaling of video quality on-the-fly, issues in CODEC switching, video stream sizing, I-frame synchronization between different video codecs, which codec to use, network versus browser issues (often appear the same), and getting around browser video correction.

But the two items I am going to focus on are the old hard chestnuts: power and packet drops.

Continue reading Video@Scale: The New Demands are the Old Challenges – Power and Packet Drops

Buzzmachine and NYC Video

Chatting with Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine on viral video after seeing him in the NYTimes. Viral is right. But old-line media types don’t want to get viral. They think it means “steal”. Or loss of message control. They don’t master it. They really should read Sun Tzu. They also don’t get that they’re increasingly dependent on the whirlwind of the Internet, networks, computers, and other technology. That it’s rapid response and message control by using the medium itself. Jeff’s right when he says “welcome to the future of TV”.

What else does he say. “There will need to be a Google of video — a means of helping people find what they want. And, no, that’s not just about creating a search engine. It’s about capturing the metadata we create when we watch and share things and making sense of it. It’s not trivial but it’s vital for without a great guide, we’ll never find the programming we want and this new medium won’t work. This video Google thing will be the next Google and TV Guide and it will be big. And I doubt that either Google or TV Guide will be the one to create it.”

Jeff’s right on the money. And metadata has been quite an ExecProducer obsession for several years. We don’t just do search for video – that’s too narrow and doesn’t leverage the medium well. We care about the metadata and the meaning. It’s the end-to-end production to deployment that’s key. Very difficult. Years of technical work. Operational system. Deep business model.

Satire by Email

Last spring, I spoke with Larry Lessig about some of my work in scalable video production for community groups (see Massive Video Production Debut) with . His interest was in using the technique, not just for Berkeley alumni (Massive Video Production (MVP), Berkeley physics, and all that ) or business and marketing video (like MinutePitch), but for mass political communications movements. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I knew it could be done.

Turns out he was quite forward thinking about this. According to the San Francisco Chronicle today, “Interest groups, outspent nearly 16-1 and aiming to defeat the corporate-backed measure, e-mailed a cartoon mocking Proposition 64 to more than 200,000 Californians on Wednesday, hoping they’ll forward it to others and create an online stir”.

Problem is – if you don’t have the infrastructure end-to-end for production / email / deployment, the support on this will kill you. And people focussed on message don’t have time to learn everything about production and Internet streaming media. No cost to email doesn’t mean no cost to make sure people get your message. It’s more than just trying to email someone an ad and hope for the best. So how do you do on budget and make sure it’s good end-to-end?

Fun Friday – Just Stand Right Here and Pitch

Well, just for the end of the week giggles, this press release came in for an “interactive CEO Pitch ‘video blog’… For CEOs that want to create brand leadership in their market space and attract new customers, strategic partners and investors, the CEO Pitch videoblog is a very powerful tool. In essence, CEOs can leverage their time by making their pitch available at any time of the day from anywhere on the planet”. Sounds supersonic.

So, what do you get, really? Well, one Internet elevator pitch video plus a page to view it plus a “rate this CEO Pitch” button and a wiki for comments (uh, oh – don’t know if I’d like my pitch page scribbled on by self-appointed critics – let them get their own page). Still, sounds pretty good, but how much? $2,995US. Ouch.

Check out MinutePitch – Your Video Screen on the Web! from , one of our partners. They offer five video pitches per month (because maybe your business isn’t stagnant but actually growing) done by you at any time via email (no appointments to keep or scenes to reshoot) with your own private page and program guide and email announcement list. It’s under your control – not someone else’s. Plus they offer professional guidance on how to improve your pitch. And it is a better value for your money.

But if you want to pay a lot more, I’m sure there are plenty of other people who’ll help you with that.

Automation Makes or Breaks Internet Startups

I’ve been hearing a lot about costs of running a datacenter these days, and how important it is to outsource even though administration and overhead of international contracts is not cheap either. I’ve been hearing about projects that were transferred out of the US only to die in a foreign land. Seems it would be cheaper to just abandon those projects, rather than slowly kill them.

But there are other ways to reduce the costs – especially for startups – you automate and use the Internet. As Tony Perkins says, “the costs of launching an Internet company have never been lower”. You’ve got customer acceptance, branding is cost-effective, and now over 50% of the domestic US Internet customer base is on broadband. It’s all about the service, and ease of use.

ExecProducer CTO Problem and Solution Video Pitch

So the CEO is involved in SDForum, and they like to put together “speeddate” pitches, where everyone pitches to everyone else and then critiques them. But then you go home and forget what you said and what they said and don’t get anything out of that speeddate but a hangover…
So I did my speeddate pitch for them, but since I’m not an SDForum member, I did a video pitch instead. Like it? I did it today. And I don’t have to worry about forgetting my pitch – because it’s right here. Oh, and it’s also an anniversary gift for my husband – 19 years yesterday, 3 kids, and lots of companies. He just loves pitches. 🙂

Portable Video – It’s the Conduct, not the Content!

Sony’s new Vaio Pocket doesn’t do video even though it’s got a 2.2 inch color screen. Instead, Sony fell back to images of album covers and photos. Why? According to CNnet, “I tend to think it’s premature to get into this market in the United States right now, because of a lack of video services,” said Mike Abary, Sony Electronics’ general manager of Vaio marketing.

But in Japan, it’s different. A version that allows video downloads is going to be introduced there shortly. But not in the good old USA. The reason is that the usual downloaded video – movies and TV shows – are just too long according to Ross Rubin, an analyst with NPD Techworld. “But I don’t see consumers having long sessions with these devices.”

So it’s not long movies or TV – it’s short clips and highlights, produced economically for the even smaller screen that is the key to acceptance. As CNet concludes “So service providers will have to be creative to offer video content in a way that is appetizing to potential users.” And this means massive video production to scale to meet this need.

Lessons Learned in Massive Video Production for University Alumni Outreach

Today I am scheduled to present my paper at 4pm on massive video production from work done with Berkeley at the ACM SIGCHI Advances in Computer Entertainment 2004 (ACE2004) Conference held this week at the National University of Singapore. The paper is entitled Lessons Learned in Massive Video Production (MVP) for University Alumni Outreach.

Abstract: In this paper, we describe lessons learned in creating a Massive Video Production (MVP) mechanism and filmography environment for the University of California at Berkeley. The goal was to provide a university department mandated to expand alumni outreach with personalized university-branded alumni VideoGreetings using a convenient and dynamic alumni outreach tool with modern multimedia production standards coupled with commonplace digital camera raw clips with no intervention on the part of the alumni coordinator and department other than editorial approval of the finished production. The actual mechanism consists of a hosted production engine, filmography and search environment, review and editorial functions, and subscription and protection.

Unfortunately, I had to inform the committee chair that I would not be able to present due to a death in the family today after several months of decline. So I am posting the paper in the hopes that others can enjoy it and send me comments at my website. I look forward to hearing from all those great people who I will miss today, and I hope they will understand.