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Blogging

Pleasing to see blogs are still growing in importance

By | Blogging | No Comments

I have been writing this blog since we founded DFJ Esprit five and a half years ago. When I started blogging was hot, and still growing fast. VCs like Fred Wilson and Brad Feld had already been blogging for a couple of years and (like me) many others were jumping on the band wagon.

Now blogging is not so hot, and many have stopped blogging, or blog less frequently. I regularly used to get asked for advice about starting a blog. These days not so much. When I started writing new blogging tools were being released all the time, now I can’t find a decent blog editor in the Android market.

There is, of course, a new hotness every six months or so, but Twitter and Quora stand out for me as the two platforms that professionals in the VC/startup industry have become most excited about over that period. I have flirted with Quora and use Twitter regularly, but have stuck primarily with blogging because my thoughts are of the long-form variety and I value the discipline of committing my thoughts fully to paper.

However, I wonder from time to time whether blogging as a medium is on the wane and I ought to look elsewhere. I write to build awareness for DFJ Esprit and our portfolio companies and to engage in debate around the topics that interest me (many of which relate to investment themes) and whilst I could write my thoughts down fully in private, these other reasons for writing require an audience, with the implication that I should go (or at least consider going) where the audience is.

To change would be a wrench though, so I was pleased to see the chart below this morning, which shows that active blogging is still on the increase. Not crazy growth anymore, but steady growth appropriate for a medium that is hopefully becoming a permanent part of the news, analysis and media landscape.

Number of blogs tracked by NM Incite, from October 2006 to October 2011

Seeing this chart prompted me to do a bit more research, to see if it was really true. The Technorati (disclosure: DFJ portfolio company) State of the Blogosphere Survey 2011 largely confirmed that blogs are still growing and important, although they found (predictably) that many marketeers have shifted time away from blogging to other forms of social media (mostly Twitter, Facebook), and perhaps most worryingly they published the chart below which shows there isn’t much new blood in the blogosphere.

Finally, it is also good to see that WordPress.com is holding it’s position as a top 20 site globally.

The Equity Kicker makes it onto Facebook – please like me…

By | Blogging, Facebook | No Comments

image This morning Thomas Power tweeted out a link to an Inside Facebook post which compares Facebook and Twitter as distribution channels for journalists which prompted me to finally push Facebook integration for this blog to the top of my to-do list.  If you are reading this on the site itself you will be able to see like buttons at the end of each post and a Facebook fan box in the right side bar where the MyBlogLog widget used to be.

To make all this work I’ve set up a Facebook Page for The Equity Kicker and if you hit the ‘Like’ button in the sidebar widget then you will become a fan of The Equity Kicker’s page on Facebook, and your face will picture will show up in my sidebar.  Pretty obviously, this adds a social element to The Equity Kicker and hopefully helps people to more quickly figure out whether my words are worth reading.  The bad news is that my Fan count starts at zero, so if you like what I write please hit the ‘Like’ button in my Sidebar so that the widget fills up with faces.

The Facebook Fan box replaces the MyBlogLog widget which I’ve had up there for years.  I’ve always liked being able to quickly see the pictures who have been on the site, but unfortunately Yahoo! are discontinuing the service in the next couple of weeks.  Another example of corporate road kill.

Facebook is weaving its way through the web via its like button and Facebook Connect and it is past time I hooked up with that goodness.  The benefits for me are the same as for all writers, and indeed owners of other sites.  Seeing that other people, particularly your friends, have Liked something brings credibility and the added reach which comes from turning up in the news feeds of people who hit the Like button is very welcome.  Facebook has 600m users.

Twitter offers easier and more instant distribution via a simple tweet out to my followers, but the endorsement from Retweets isn’t as powerful as Facebook Likes, not least because it doesn’t come with a picture.  Additionally, at 140m users Twitter’s reach is much less than Facebook’s.  That said, I imagine that just about everyone who might be interested in this blog is on Twitter and I might not get that much extra juice out of Facebook.  It will be interesting to see.

For true journalists, or writers targeting an audience outside of the technorati then Facebook is becoming a much more important channel.  As they release more tools to help publishers and enhance their Fan Pages I am wondering if they will start to pull writers away from Twitter.

Musings on Quora

By | Blogging | 7 Comments

imageAs you have probably heard Quora has seen a big increase in signups and activity since Christmas.  The chart to the left shows the massive growth in Quora signups.  It was posted yesterday by a Quora employee.

I first signed up a few months ago and whilst I asked a couple of questions and participated a little I didn’t get too much out of the service and went off to focus on other things.  Following the Christmas spike and some encouragement from Scott I’ve been on the site again much moren and now I’m starting to get it.  This time round I’m finding more useful content (this week was the first time I wrote a blog post that was inspired by content on Quora) but more importantly I have enjoyed the addictiveness of the near real time responses.  When you are active on the site writing answers, leaving comments and following new people the responses you receive keep showing up in your inbox in the top right hand corner, which keeps you on the site doing more stuff and stimulating more reactions, and so the circle goes on.

Real time is hard to engineer but the power of instant gratification and impact on dwell time that should be useful is not lost on entrepreneurs everywhere, I’m sure.

There are a lot of other smart things about the site as well – e.g. a beautiful UI, the DIGG like voting mechanism and the ability to follow topics and questions as well as people.  Mark Suster explained these smarts and others in a good post back in August 2010.

The one nagging doubt I have relates to the productivity of time spent on the site.  Right now I think it is still more efficient for me to pick up interesting news and analysis from Techmeme, a few key blogs and Twitter.

The two bigger questions on my mind are ‘what does Quora mean for me as a blogger?’ and ‘will it scale/last?’.

Taking the second question first – the challenges for any question and answer site as it scales are maintaining the quality and maintaining the self moderating power of the community.  In a post yesterday Mashable wrote:

Before the influx of new users, each time I logged on I was presented with useful content that was relevant to me. It became an addicting experience browsing through the top questions and chiming in when appropriate. …. As more users recently signed up and began contributing to Quora, there has been more noise and less value.

To solve this problem Quora will need to change the rules governing which content goes into feeds to keep the relevance high, but they will have to do that in a way which lets new users have a voice.  Quora will also have to deal with the inevitable backlash from existing users against the newbies who are crashing their party, and I was interested to see that a Quora employee yesterday put up a post titled Please be kind to new users.  If they don’t get this stuff right new people won’t join and the old guard will go off to the new new thing.

One of the great strengths of Quora is the quality of the old guard.  The post I wrote on Wednesday was a response to answers left by the founders of Foursquare and Twitter and there are many people of that stature who are active on the site.  Finding a way to keep them engaged and benefiting from the site without getting swamped as the number of users grows is also an area where Quora will have to come up with a bit of magic.

On the assumption that Quora continues to grow I think it will have a big impact on the blogosphere, mostly because it is an alternative destination for people who are looking for the sort of insight that writers like me put out on blogs.  Moreover, in many ways it is a superior alternative partly because it offers a better experience as detailed above, and also because it allows everyone to participate on a more equal basis.  Whereas on blogs there is one or a small number of authors and everyone else is a commenter or reader, on Quora it is easier to move between the different categories – in particular you can leave the occasional answer or ask questions without the overhead of writing regular content on a blog and building a base of readers. As Fred Wilson has noted on multiple occasions (e.g. here) services which make it easier for people to have a voice are powerful.

On a personal level I still prefer writing here than on Quora, mostly because I am better able to choose my own topics.  One of the reasons I blog is to get my own thoughts straight on a topic (e.g. what I think about Quora), and then get smarter as people comment either on the blog or on Twitter/Facebook.  The other reason I blog is to build awareness of what we are doing here at DFJ and with our portfolio companies, and my strong suspicion is I still have more reach here than I could get on Quora.

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New host for TheEquityKicker – pages should load faster now

By | Blogging | 2 Comments

Some of you will have caught the Tweet I sent on Friday asking for suggestions of new hosting companies for TheEquityKicker.  Regular readers will know I think speed is important for websites and primarily for this reason I have been meaning to move away from Bluehost (my old hosting company) for a little while and was kicked into action last week after a couple of emails and comments talking about the slow load times everyone has been experiencing and then on Friday I experienced a 12s load time on a decent connection.  Bluehost were pretty fast when I started with them a couple of years ago but they have got much worse recently, a development that I suspect might be the result of their shift to an unlimited storage offer and the difficulties with planning server capacity that resulted.

A number of you were kind enough to offer suggestions on Twitter and I ended up going with TSOHost – a smallish UK host recommended to me by Paul Miller.  I chose them because:
  • The largest part of this community is based in the UK and a UK based host should give them slightly faster page load times
  • I liked the idea of local customer service
  • Their package seemed about right for a blog of this size (150-200k page views per month)
  • When I called them up to ask whether they would help me move to them from Bluehost they set out a very simple and easy process – download a full back up from Bluehost, upload it to the TSOHost servers, let them know and they would rebuild the blog out of the backup
I kicked off that process on Friday night but had a few problems uploading the 433MB file to their servers.  I finally got it uploaded on Saturday morning and sent a message to TSOHost support.  They were incredibly responsive and helpful, giving me some options for dealing with a couple of changes I wanted to make, fetching a new copy of the backup from Bluehost directly when it emerged the copy I uploaded was corrupted, and helping me view the site on a temporary URL before switching the nameserver over.
In summary, so far my experience with TSOHost has been second to none.  Hopefully their server performance going forward will hit the same high standards.
Next on my agenda is a new theme.  I am thinking that a three column layout with the posts on the left and two narrow columns of widgets on the right, and with an image across the top which suggests London (as the current picture of the London Eye is intended to do).  Let me know if you have any thoughts/suggestions/ideas.

Tweeting those personal moments

By | Blogging, Twitter | 7 Comments

I have just returned from a long weekend in Iceland with my wife Fiona.  It was a great trip, and we saw some awe inspiring sights, most notably ice breaking off from a glacier and floating down the river (picture below) and the Strokkur geyser, but at no time did I feel like broadcasting my experiences on Twitter (or any other socnet for that matter).  In fact it didn’t even cross my mind until the evenings, typically when we were sharing a glass of wine and reflecting on the day, and by then the moment had passed and it was too late.  You can’t Tweet the echo of an emotion.

I was quite surprised by all of the above, and have been wondering what it means.  Two inter-related thoughts emerge:

  • My use of Twitter is mostly professional and primarily as a content network, both for broadcasting links to interesting articles and to see what is interesting all you smart folk out there – a different use case to sharing intimate moments
  • Thinking back on when I have shouted about  cool of fun stuff I’m doing it is usually when I’m alone.  In Iceland Fiona was always with me, and the fact that I didn’t think about Tweeting has me thinking that (for me at least) it is secondary outlet for sharing which I fall back on when there is nobody else around.

My Twitter and Facebook are currently totally integrated.  When I Tweet it automatically updates my FB status.  That has been a cause for complaint for some of my personal friends who find most of my web news related updates a little boring (to say the least) -if you check out my Facebook closely you will see the odd ironic comment popping up that makes this point.  On the other hand a number of you access my feed via Facebook and leave comments there rather than on the blog itself or in Twitter, which is why I made the integration in the first place.

In conclusion, I’m starting to think that I should at least partially separate my Facebook and Twitter, concentrating the former more on my personal life and the latter more on my work life.  That would make my Facebook more relevant for my non-techie pals and might also get me thinking more about sharing some of those personal moments as they happen, which is something I would like to do.  I might set it up so that my Tweets only go to Twitter and keep that focused on content sharing, and then when I’m updating Facebook have it automatically update Twitter as well.

Let me know if that would change the way you read this blog and access my Tweets, particularly if it would mean you read me less, or not at all.

And finally – if you get the chance – go to Iceland.  I highly recommend it – you will see things that you can’t find anywhere else on the planet, there aren’t too many tourists, and the people are very friendly.  And we didn’t get caught in any volcanoes 🙂 (that said, when it rains it leaves little black ash marks, which has me wondering about their flight safety thresholds…).

image

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Why I blog – investment theses and dealflow

By | Blogging | 4 Comments

Refining my investment theses and generating dealflow aretwo of the most important reasons that I blog, and we had a good day on bothcounts yesterday. 

In the morning I read an FT article about mobile couponswhich prompted me to write a post on the topic.  As usual the process of writingthat post clarified my thinking with regard to potential startup opportunitiesin this area (if you are curious check out the post) which was helpful in andof itself.  Most of you have probably experienced something similar, forexample if you have written a business plan for a startup – putting thoughtsinto words is a process which forces clarity and often refinement of your ideasand hypotheses. 

Up to this point instead of blogging I could have written apaper for my colleagues at DFJ Esprit and got the benefits above, although thediscipline of writing a post every work day helps make sure I spend a goodamount of time reading, researching, and working on investment ideas. 

But the real benefit of writing the post came after I hitthe publish button.  I think most of my posts are read by a few hundred toa thousand people (a number I piece together from the c3,000 subscribers to myfeed, around 1,000 unique visitors to the site each day and small number ofhundreds that visit each of the individual post pages) and a small number ofthose typically write a comment which moves the debate on to the next level,helping refine my theses further.  Yesterday that refinement came in the formof a blog post from @567Tech who quoted my piece and added his own thinking to it.

And then occasionally people bring companies to my attentionthat match the theses I have been describing, providing dealflow.  As a VCdealflow is my lifeblood, and I got stronger yesterday when Mark Hindmarsh and mindsmack leftcomments identifying two startups that I should look at in the mobile couponspace.

 

Saying ‘thank you’ to everyone who reads and comments onthis blog is something I don’t do enough.  I hope this post goes some wayto redressing that gap.  I owe a debt of gratitude to you all.

Quick review of Scribefire for Chrome – a blog editor

By | Blogging | 2 Comments

I used to be a big user of the Scribefire Firefox plugin and so I was keen to try out their new extension for Chrome when I heard it was released a week or two back.  I just used it to write a post about mobile vouchers and I’m using it again to write this quick review.

The pluses:
  • Very quick to install
  • Runs within a tab in Chrome, so no extra application on my desktop
  • It’s fast
  • Log in to my blog was quick and easy
The minuses:
  • No option to upload images – you can only link to an image URL, so the image will disappear from the post if the person who is hosting it takes it down
  • The pop up boxes to add links come up too small and you have to scroll down to click the ‘submit’ or ‘cancel’ buttons
  • You can only specify one category per post
Overall I can see myself using it occasionally to make a quick post, but most of the time I will keep using Microsoft Livewriter which, whilst not being a great piece of software, does handle images very well.

Bloggers shouldn’t have a right to anonymity

By | Blogging, Privacy | 8 Comments

image

A UK court ruled yesterday that The Times newspaper has the right to name Richard Horton as the (until now anonymous) author of the Night Jack blog about policing in the UK (the blog was here, but the content has been deleted).

The ruling has been covered in the FT and on Gawker (where they also comment on a similar recent case in the US).

I know a lot of people will be upset by this development, but I welcome it.  Blogs are a public medium and if someone wants to say something in public they should be prepared to stand up and be counted.

This is, of course, a complex issue and we will doubtless lose some valuable social and political commentary as a result of this ruling (not least the Night Jack blog), but for me that sacrifice is worth making to protect society from people hiding behind anonymity for more nefarious purposes.  In particular I’m thinking of slander, libel and unsubstantiated claims against public figures and companies.

They put it this way on Gawker:

nobody ought to have a right or privilege to publish whatever they please without the consequences of their ideas redounding to them

Google takes another step away from siding with the little guy

By | Blogging, Google | 2 Comments

From ars technica:

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is supposed to balance the rights of copyright holders and online authors, while protecting Internet service providers from getting caught in the crossfire. But Google’s policy for handling DMCA notices seems to leave bloggers with scant hope of getting improperly removed content restored. …..

….. What is new, as the LA Weekly reported last month, is that Blogger now appears to be pulling posts without advance notice. But even when a poster is finally notified, Ars has learned, Blogger appears to be skirting its own stated policy for dealing with takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, providing such scant information that writers may have little realistic hope of availing themselves of the remedies provided by statute.

Google is a big company now and it has to act like one.  It’s fantastic success allowed it to avoid adopting unpleasant policies for much longer than most startups but it is clear from this and multiple other changes in recent months that they no longer feel like they have that luxury. 

Sweet to tweet

By | Blogging, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter | 8 Comments

In another sign that Twitter is crossing the chasm, or at least getting close to it, the FT today had a full page analysis on the company and its prospects under the heading Sweet to tweet, which made me think again about how the business will scale.

That thought process took me back to the thinking of Stephen Johnson as expressed in his fine book Emergence.  I’ve written before about his theories applied to social communities.  The following is an excerpt from that post:

per Emergence the success of communities is determined by:

  • The number of members in the community
  • The rules that govern the behaviour of members
  • The feedback loops which re-enforce certain behaviours and filter out others

Johnson does a case study on Slashdot which illustrates this well:

  • Size – when the community was small everyone could read all the posts, but when it became larger the number of posts became too large and sophisticated rules and rating systems were required to keep the site usable – the optimum rule set changed as the community grew
  • Rules – the introduction of a 1-5 rating system, vertical subdomains, the formation of a cadre of people with sufficient status to review and critically the emergence of an unwritten rule or community norm that “slashdot status” is desirable – the evolution of this sophisticated rule set was critical to the success of Slashdot
  • Feedback – the rating system they devised has a complex feedback process which encourages quality submissions and fosters the emergence of an elite group of moderators and to maintain a position in that elite your contributions to Slashdot have to be highly rated by the community generally – the ruleset incorporated sophisticated feedback mechanisms

As another example of this remember how Facebook has continually changed the rules for applications in order to maintain the right balance between spam and viral growth.

All this is interesting for Twitter because unlike Slashdot and Facebook it doesn’t control the user interface and therefore can’t change the rules which govern the service in the way that they can.  Instead it is up to the Twitter clients (Tweetdeck, Twhirl etc.) to develop tools that get users over the problems that will inevitably emerge with scale.  (The first of these problems was keeping track of DMs and @replies as the volume of general tweets grew which Tweetdeck solves by capturing them in separate columns.  I suspect the next problem will be keeping track of conversations.)

This trick of outsourcing the evolution of the rules for Twitter to third party developers is at once clever and risky.  Clever because it absolves Twitter from the need to impose changes on the community which might backfire and instead allows them to benefit from the successful experiments of others without suffering if they fail.  Risky because in some sense the rules are the community and outsourcing them to third parties means you are depending on them getting it right (or at least one of them) and also because you risk the community becoming more resident in the third party client than in Twitter itself (remember Photobucket and Myspace).

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