New Media

No dead trees

By | New Media | 5 Comments

Since the beginning of the year I have been running an experiment to see if I can consume all my print media digitally. That means only buying Kindle books and getting my morning news fix exclusively on one of my tablets or my phone.

So far, with two caveats that I will return to, it has been going well.

Since around October I have been buying all new books in Kindle format and I love that I can read on my Kindle device at home and then open up the Kindle app on my phone and have it automatically take me to the last page I read. Before buying everything on Kindle I would generally have two books on the go at once, one at home and one in the office. Now I can read one book at a time without having to bring it around with me. I also like that when I have ten minutes to kill and don’t feel like doing email my book is always there to dive into. I’m playing less Angry Birds now 🙂

So no dead tree books is ok.

Turning to news, for some time now I’ve got all my tech and Chelsea football news via Taptu’s Android and iPad apps. Our Associate Scott Sage has curated a tech news feed and a VC blogs feed on Taptu and I check those first thing every morning, along with Taptu’s own Chelsea feed. If you see me tweeting out news early in the morning it is usually from the Taptu app. (Disclosure: Taptu is one of our portfolio companies.)

So the only major change I needed at the start of the year was to find an alternative to buying a physical copy of the Financial Times in the mornings. I looked at various online financial publications hoping to find an RSS feed or two that would give me the same blend of macro-economic news and analysis, reporting on quoted tech companies, and UK politics, but couldn’t find anything. I ended up installing the FT app on my phone and subscribing to their mobile service. At £39 per month it is quite expensive, and a little more than I think I was spending on the physical newspaper, but I’ve been using it for a month now and I think I’m getting reasonable value from it. A key requirement for me was that I could read the paper whilst I was on the Underground with no network connection and the FT app works brilliantly for that. If you leave the app running on your phone you can set it to automatically download all new content every morning whilst you are at home and the phone is on wifi. Access to all articles is then very fast, even when you are offline. My only gripe is that the scrolling on my Samsung Galaxy Nexus is a jerky (anyone from the FT reading this??)

So the no dead tree news is working ok too.

I said there are a couple of caveats/exceptions. The first is that I bought a physical book about stretching this week. I want to be able to refer to it whilst I exercise and I think the physical format is still much better for this. I don’t expect more than one or two of the thirty odd books I read each year will need to be physical though. The second caveat is that I was given a physical copy of The man who mistook his wife for a hat for Xmas, which I’ve read. And, finally, there are two books I haven’t bought solely because they aren’t available on Kindle. One is Abundance, which I hope will come out on Kindle soon, and the other was a productivity book my brother recommended which I probably won’t ever read now. I have plenty of books stacked up to read though, and neither of these are ‘can’t miss’ titles.

I list out these caveats and exceptions in full to illustrate that there has been very little downside to living without physical print media. Moreover, I expect the downsides there have been to get less over time. Stretching text books will move to tablet format, include videos, and be better for it, and increasingly all titles will be available on Kindle.

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Social media, a powerful force for good

By | New Media, Social networks | 2 Comments

Every so often I feel the need to write a post about the democratising effect that social media is having on the world, and on the back of what has happened in Egypt over the last week or two I want to write one today.  For the first time since the industrial revolution just about everyone who wants one has a public voice, and it has become impossible for governments and corporations to control the media (with the possible exception of China and a couple of other countries in Asia).  As a result it is increasingly difficult for anyone to pretend things are other than they really are.  Any and all problems (and good things too) get quickly into the public domain and widely communicated, which is placing an increasing premium on honesty, integrity and simply doing the right thing.

The tools for this public voice are the web services we all know and love, like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and so on.

As I’m sure you are aware Twitter played a key role in recent events in Egypt and last year in Iran, but it goes much further than that, as the American Ambassador to the UN put it in a speech at the Twitter HQ yesterday:

“You are doing amazing work. I hope you have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s having real time real impact in parts of the world as far flung as Zimbabwe, where I just learned you have 66,000 users, to of course the Middle East and so many other parts of the world.

You should be very proud. An American and as a policymaker, I am very proud of you and proud to be here.”

The influence of social media must be pervasive if Ambassadors to the UN are talking about it!

This is just the beginning.  At the moment information is spread peer to peer through the networks but over the last twelve months more and more social media properties are making their data available for third parties to interrogate and analyse, often via licenses to ‘firehoses’ of updates.  Companies, many of them startups, are now building the tools which will allow insight to be regularly and easily drawn from what is today largely an unstructured and impenetrable mass of data.  At the moment it the customers for these tools are largely companies looking to understand and react to what people are saying about their product, and to an extent governments, but it won’t be long before the media start getting hold of it, and then we really will be in a world where it becomes vanishingly hard to maintain a perception that is different to reality over any length of time.

There will, of course, be problems on the way and social media can also be manipulated, at least for a while, but overall I see this as a hugely positive development.

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Some emails are more equal than others

By | Content, New Media, Social networks | No Comments

You might have seen the news today that Google launched a priority email feature within Gmail.  I am still using Microsoft Exchange for the vast bulk of my emails so I haven’t been able to experience the power of Google’s offering myself, but Jason Kincaid on Techcrunch thinks ‘it’s fantastic’.

This is a feature I would love to have in my email client, and I hope that it comes to Outlook soon, maybe via a plugin.  I have to process a couple of hundred emails per day (excluding spam) and whilst most days I’m successful in getting to Inbox zero every week there is a day or two when I fail in that ambition.  When that happens I spend increasing amounts of time searching through my Inbox for important mails – which is a real drag, particularly given that the reason I haven’t got to Inbox zero is that I’m going through a busy patch.  So a priority email feature in Outlook would really help me.

The thing that interests me more about this development is the way it will change email usage.  If our email clients start telling us that certain emails are important, and therefore others are not, then we are going to spend less time reading the unimportant ones.  For many ‘Inbox zero’ will become ‘Inbox zero for the important emails and check the others once per week’.  Then ‘check the rest once per week’ will become ‘once per month’, then ‘once every three months’ and so on.  Ask yourself when you last checked your spam folder.

Some people have already declared ’email bankruptcy’ and given up on getting back to everyone who has emailed them.  As we all get more and more email more it is inevitable that more and more people will take this step.  Google Priority Mail will accelerate that trend.

People already treat their Facebook and Twitter feeds like this, so it is a small step to get happy with emails flowing through our systems without getting seen.

I don’t think this is a bad development.  I buy into the ‘river of news’ concept first explained to me by Stowe Boyd.  The ‘river of news’ idea is that in the age of information overflow we can’t hope to stay on top of everything that happens but we shouldn’t worry about that, because if something is important multiple sources will bring it to our attention. Therefore, if it is important we will see it at some point, so long as we keep a reasonably close eye on our news and message feeds.

As an example – I try to keep an eye on Techcrunch and Techmeme and catch most deals when they are announced via those websites.  If I miss something there, I often learn about it via email from a friend or someone related to the deal.  If I don’t hear about it via email, sooner or later someone will tell me face to face, or I will read an article about something else which mentions it.  I can’t think of an occasion recently when a deal of even minor importance has happened and I haven’t heard about it somewhere within a day or two.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I am still using Exchange.  In fact our whole partnership is using Exchange and it wouldn’t be straightforward for me to switch to Gmail if I want to, and much as this might not be the fashionable thing to say, I’m not sure I want to switch.  I have a Gmail account I use for some personal mail, and in my experience, for the volumes of emails I read and write Outlook is still quicker – I have also read blog posts from Fred Wilson and others complaining about slow response times from Gmail. 

I take a lot of care to keep my laptop running fast, including regular rebuilds of the entire machine, and I do that because performance is incredibly important to me.  I do lot of stuff (mostly blogs, web apps and email) and it drives me nuts when my machine and/or services run slowly, because it means I don’t get through my work.  Worse still, poor response times can sap my motivation to get stuck into tasks like clearing email backlog.

The last flourishes of physical media

By | Content, New Media | No Comments


Earlier this week the Beatles back catalogue was released to huge success and the Beatles Rock Band game became the talk of the town.  Then today I read about Microsoft and Tesco teaming up to offer free online only content to people who buy physical DVDs.

To me these are little more than a late flourish from the physical media world as it plays the last cards in a losing hand.  A brilliantly executed flourish maybe, particularly with the Beatles box set, but nothing more.

The Beatles deal is a one off – hugely popular band not available legally online with a fan base that is largely too old to be interested in illegal downloads (forgive me).  I can’t think of many (any?) other bands for whom this would work.

The Microsoft deal is of even less significance – it is a nice idea to package up free online content with a DVD and might be enough to get people buying from Tesco rather than Asda, but I very much doubt it will be enough to persuade someone to get in their car and go to Tesco if/when they have the option of downloading from the web and watching on their TV.

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Big companies get blind spots – which make space for startups

By | Content, Mobile, New Media | 13 Comments

It is often the case that large companies and even whole industries lose touch with what it is that their customers like about them.  When this happens they often develop their own incorrect hypotheses about what it is that their public like (or should like), and then when they see startups beginning to take market share with an offering that misses what they see as a key attribute their reaction is to think that this new competition won’t be successful over the long term, and then they go on to make an inadequate response.

When I see this happening I get excited about the potential for making investments.

I’m writing this today after watching the video below which shows three newspaper guys arguing that blogs can’t be trusted and are therefore somehow different to them.  A) it isn’t as if news papers have an impeccable record for integrity (and I don’t buy that being able to complain to the regulator and have a retraction published at the bottom of a middle page two weeks later makes a difference), and B) good blogs build their brands and take time explaining their standards – Techcrunch does a good job of this.

The result of this misunderstanding about the importance of their own brands and reputation for integrity is that they have been somewhat blindsided by blogs.

Other industries in which this has happened over time include:

  • Open source software – it will never be secure enough/work well enough
  • VOIP – the quality will never be good enough
  • Music – there is something special about owning records/CDs
  • Books – nothing will replace the experience of browsing for books in a bookstore
  • Software – companies will never get comfortable with hosted apps that store key data outside the enterprise

Others which might come in the future (arguably, some might have come already):

  • Music – people will want to own a copy of their music stored on their hard drives
  • Books – people will always want to own (dead tree) books
  • Mobile operators – have sufficient control of their customers to take a cut of their media purchases

You can’t take this stuff too far of course – some of these things will never happen – but this sort of analysis is a good starting point for identifying interesting sectors.

If any of you can think of any more I’m all ears.

Newspaper transition to digital

By | Business models, Content, free, New Media | 11 Comments

There are a couple of interesting posts on this topic this morning.

First paidcontent reports the following:

  • John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times and, says his business makes 20 percent of revenue from online
  • Tim Brooks, MD of Guardian News and Media, paidContent:UK’s parent company, said it was 15 percent for Guardian New Media
  • Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger has already said he expects the company’s Berliner presses bought in 2005 will be its last—the presses have a shelf life of 25 years so theoretically 2030 is the switch-off date for The Guardian and The Observer in print.
  • gets less free: the FT‘s Ridding predicts a “happy digital ending” for newspapers, but said the answer will be found through subscriptions, not advertising – and they have reduced the number of free stories readers can access from 30 to 10 a month (you can get round this by deleting your cookies though ;))

To me this makes it abundantly clear that if there was any remaining doubt about where the world is going that is now over.  Between this and the Kindle and books on the iPhone I am 100% sure that printed newspapers are going the way of horse drawn carriages.

Which means that for existing newspapers the choice is adapt or die.

Which brings me to the second interesting post. A list of 10 US papers that look like they are going to take the ‘die’ option.

What is less clear to me is how the balance between ad supported and subscription models will pan out.  David of 37Signals has a post up today asking ‘how did the web lose faith in charging for stuff’, and it is interesting to note that the FT is backing subscriptions.  Yet on the other hand Chris Andersen’s arguments about free are pretty persuasive.

A reminder: We are part way through a social revolution

By | New Media, Social networks, Video | 11 Comments

I just watched all 55 minutes of this video from digital anthropologist Michael Wesch and it is awesome (you may have seen his earlier Information R/evolution). I don’t think I have ever sat through 55 mins of a YouTube video before. I love this one for the way it captures the hope, passion, excitement and shear force for change that the internet and social media represent.

I have often made the dry statement that web communities have the potential to replace the village communities of old that have been lost in the industrial era as we all move to cities and lose tough with our neighbours. This video will make you feel that in your heart.

All of which is a reminder that the social media revolution is a BIG DEAL for society. Some of the implications are scary, for example the constant exposure to being videoed and posted to the web and hate comments, whilst others are amazing, like deep connections formed over vast distances, new ways to explore identity and heightened levels of self-awareness.

All told we are looking at huge changes in the way society is structured, which will in turn mean big changes for the way entertainment is delivered and business is conducted.

Which brings me back to communities, networks and markets as investment themes.

If you have an hour and want to feel good about the web and the world, watch this video. If you only have ten minutes, watch the start.

Thanks to Lloyd for the pointer, picked up via FriendFeed.

The history of media tells us the web will change the world profoundly

By | New Media | 15 Comments

I am reading Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody and the following passages are stand out reminders of the scale of the revolution we are living through.

We are living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race. More people can communicate more things to more people than has ever been possible in the past, and the size and speed of this increase, from under one million participants to over one billion in under a generation, makes the change unprecedented, even considered against the background of previous revolutions in communications tools. The truly dramatic changes in such tools can be counted on the fingers of one hand: the printing press and moveable type (considered as one long period of innovation): the telegraph and telephone; recorded content (music, then movies); and finally the harnessing of radio signals (for broadcasting radio and TV). None of these examples was a simple improvement, which is to say a better way of doing what a society already did. Instead, each was a real break with the continuity of the past, because any radical change in our ability to communicate with one another changes society. A culture with printing presses is a different kind of culture from one that doesn’t have them.


Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society; they are a challenge to it. New technology makes new things possible: put another way, when new technology appears, previously impossible things start occurring. If enough of those impossible things are important and happen in a bundle, quickly, the change becomes a revolution.

The hallmark of revolution is that the goals of the revolutionaries cannot be constrained by the institutional structure of the existing society. As a result, either the revolutionaries are put down [sic], or some of those institutions are altered, replaced or destroyed.

Clay goes on to talk at length about Wikipedia, and how web enabled collaboration has changed the world of encyclopedias. Indeed how it has changed the very nature of an encyclopedia – articles have gone from being artifacts to being processes, and wikipedia has added a partial commentary on current affairs to the traditional facts and history of the the hard bound encyclopedias of our youths.

For me, formerly venerable and seemingly invulnerable institutions at
risk include record companies, TV broadcasters and newspapers.

More important (and inspiring) is the reminder that the web will change the world beyond recognition – as the printing press, telephone and TV have all done before. We are still at the start of that revolution.

Here Comes Everybody was kindly given to me by new UK online bookstore BookRabbit (cheaper than Amazon on 100,000 books…) at London’s Social Media Cafe the Friday before last.

Content wants to be free

By | Music, New Media, News | 4 Comments

In the internet world content needs to be free. This is a theme I have addressed tangentially from a couple of different angles (e.g. Content atomisation and in-feed monetisation or Free ad-supported music coming closer to reality) but this Guardian piece from Vic Keegan takes it head on from a historical perspective (thanks to Communities Dominate Brands for the pointer):

When the 1850 public libraries bill was going through parliament, opposition came mainly from MPs representing the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. They were appalled at the idea of unmediated information getting to people who probably shouldn’t have it and in whose hands it could even be dangerous. In 1950, the film industry defence organisation was established to buy up movies so they couldn’t be shown on the new rival medium of television. These classic examples of organisations trying to thwart new competition (cited at a recent Westminster Media Forum on the creative industries by Lord Puttnam) have their equivalent in today’s efforts by the music industry to throttle the growth of downloads instead of trying to harness them for its own survival.

The message couldn’t be clearer. Institutions from universities to record companies and before long broadcasters respond to new media by attempting to use legislation to quash the perceived threat – and they always fail.

They don’t always fail quickly, but the result is always the same in the end.

For this reason I am drawn to startups that are trying to impose the new world on the old guard, rather than ones that seek to update the old structures for a new era.

If you get off on the historical approach you might also enjoy Andreessen’s current series of posts on the Birth of Newspapers – part 1 here.

Twitter is paying my rent…

By | Blogging, New Media | 6 Comments

There is a lot of negative chat about Twitter – broken business model, river of crap etc. etc. so I thought it was interesting to post this excerpt from Twitter is paying my rent over on Marshall Kirkpatrick’s blog:

People laugh at Twitter, and they can go ahead and laugh for all I care, but I’m here to tell you that it can be invaluable. Aside from the personal connectedness and relationship maintenance it’s good for, let’s be honest – it’s paying my rent. (Thanks Twitter!) I don’t mean they’ve hired me as a consultant, though I would love that, I mean Twitter is great for news discovery. Read on for my thoughts on how you can use Twitter more effectively, but keep in mind that communication has its own inherent value – I swear that’s what I like best about Twitter!

Personally, I’m with Marshall.  I wish I was managing to put more in to Twitter, but from my limited engagement I get the twin benefits of timely newsflow (I learnt about Edmund Hillary’s death first on Twitter) and connectedness with my friends.