Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Everything was going so well - what happened?

Do you ever wonder what changed? Sure people where borrowing too much. Spending beyond their means by buying homes they could not afford and taking out loans on assets that where valued higher than they probably should have been. And sure rich bankers where getting richer by trading in something called derivatives that Warren Buffet calls economic weapons of mass destruction. But...

It does not make any sense. It's not like production facilities suddenly evaporated or consumers are less interested in consuming. Nor is the service industry saying, we don't want to perform services any more. Ok, so values got a bit out of hand and some of that leverage stuff was a Ponzi scheme, but how about we just fire those guys and wipe the slate clean. It's only paper money anyways. And since governments are in a mood to print money, they can hand it back to the underlying owners of the leveraged assets.

A bunch of value was created on paper that turned out to be worthless. Now its really hard to figure out who should be held accountable. Kind of like the dot-com boom and bust. Just on a much bigger scale. So now a bunch of people wake up and don't have the money they thought they had. It sucks. I know, it happened to me in the dot-com bust. But I got over it. Lets tell the bankers to get over it. Look at the upside: finally it may become possibly to buy a two bedroom apartment in New York and London for someone who has a normal job.

Beyond all the paper value that got created and then vanished, nothing really changed. We're all the same. Surely the American consumer will continue to consume if given more cash. Just hand it out and watch - it'll happen all over again. The Chinese can continue to produce and grow. The Europeans can continue to host tourists. In short, this doesn't have to stop. Why don't we just all start it over again. I suggest we all volunteer to take a 30% write-down in our net asset values (based on where we were 2 months ago) and then start the whole thing over again. How's that for a plan?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Share Space Personal announced today

Big changes over at www.plum.com. We just announced Share Space Personal today - a free way to create personal micro-sharing networks.

Kind of like social networking meets groups. We're really stoked about this. Try it out.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

No new MacBooks for the digerati in Monaco

The people I see on the conference circuit tend to like gadgets - a lot. Most have or have had an iPhone by now. Some are on their second one as 3G became a "must". Others decided they didn't like it so they're sporting Nokia N95s or the latest Blackberries. Cameras - still and motion - with the highest megapixel and HD resolution is a part of the repertoire. Small is good, but big can be impressive too as witnessed by recent lusty comments over the announced new over the top Cannon EOS 5D Mark II. Its not uncommon for folks to show up with a dedicated (big) bag for the gizmos and cameras - yes David Sifry, that's you I'm talking about.

What was surprising at the Monaco Media Forum last week was the lack of new Macbooks. These hot, new, shiny, eco devices - where notable in their absence. This is the crowd that would normally have them first.

Might even the digerati be walking the talk? Cutting costs to the point that they're not picking up the latest, fastest and hippest of tech gadgets?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

This, the America I love

In 1982 I boarded a plane in Oslo Norway bound for America. I was moving to a country of freedom, of great promise and unbounded opportunity. A country of optimism and diversity. I was full of hope and I was full of gratitude. I was among the fortunate few that had been awarded the privilege to study at one of the world's finest educational institutions. I had been given an opportunity that I to this day am humbled by, the opportunity to receive a fantastic education, to meet people from every corner of the world and an opportunity to expose myself to ideas and thoughts that pushed my buttons and challenged my views in ways I had never before imagined.

The America I so strongly believe in has been ill. She has been infected with a disease called "fear". It is an insidious disease. It breeds anger and resentment. It kills hope and it stifles openness. It causes us to loose sight of our greater purpose. It replaces connections with consumption. It substitutes dialogue with dogma. It favors aggression over diplomacy. It leads us astray.

The America I knew in 1982 is the America I believe in. It is the America that billions of people around the world believe in. It is the America of light and promise, of a higher purpose and of hope. That America is alive again. Tonight is the proof. The America I know and love was reborn tonight.

America has been very good to me. I have formed deep friendships. I have found love. I have learned and I have achieved. But, most of all I have made the American spirit my own. The American spirit of acceptance, of ideas and of wonder and openness. A spirit of endurance and of optimism. Generosity. Creativity and ingenuity. That American spirit was reborn tonight.

Tonight is the beginning of something different and something new that is old. I have a strong intuition. I feel it in my bones and I know it in my heart. Today is a new beginning. Thank you Barack Hussein Obama. Thank you for holding up the promise of change. Thank you for leading. Thank you for having the audacity of hope and for reintroducing me to the America I love.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Berlin now, not then

In 1981 I spent a year in the Norwegian army some 500 miles north of the polar circle. It was in the middle of the cold war. Ronald Regan had just become president in the US. The Russians and Eastern Europeans were the bad guys. Alarms would sound in the middle of the night and we'd have to wade out into the snow and the dark to fight some (hopefully) imaginary enemy kids our own age from a "land called communism".

I've seen that enemy this week, 27 years later. They looked and acted pretty friendly. I found them quite welcoming.

Yesterday I went for a bike ride with my friends Martin Varsavsky and Barak Kassar. We cycled around Berlin, under the Brandenburg gate and past the Reichstag. I spoke with a woman at dinner last night, in a hip cool restaurant that is in the former East Berlin. She was born in East Berlin. The wall came down when she was three. She didn't remember the wall.

The web2.o euro-hipsters where there this week. It was full of energy. Martin described Berlin as feeling like the East Village in NYC 20 years ago. Parts feel like Williamsburg today. Trendy stores. Buildings old and new. Young.

We the people have an amazing ability to change. Change our perspectives. Adapt. Adopt. Allow change to be a constant force. There is an energy of optimism here. I like this place. Sure glad I never had to fire a gun as a kid, towards a kid from around here back in 1981.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

OMG, my mother is becoming a blogger

I just spent a short week-end in Oslo visiting my family between meetings and speaking engagements in Amsterdam and Berlin. After i arrive Friday afternoon and after giving my mom a hello hug, one of the first things she tells me is that she is writing a blog. "'Really?' I say. 'I didn't know you where a blogger.'" She admits that she does not really know what a blog is, but that she has something she has been working on.

A couple of weeks ago mom was in Madrid with a group of her friends. (She's the youngest in the bunch). They had a wonderful time and stayed in a wonderful little hotel. Upon returning home she realized that she had left something precious behind in her hotel room. Not of any monetary value, but of great emotional import. She tries to call but nobody picks up. Then tries to send them email but gets no response. Finally, after a second email they respond that, yes indeed they have her left article and will drop it in the mail (at no cost) the next day. She is so relieved and thrilled that she decides to "write a blog". 

Saturday afternoon I see my brother and sister and the oldest of my nieces and nephews, my brother's thirteen year old daughter asks me how she can set up a "net page" to write about fashion. 

My mom has had a computer for a while. She buys book on amazon, pays her bills online and googles now and then. She's also become pretty hooked on email, checking it a couple of times a day. My niece has her own laptop too. She mostly uses it to write stories and visit some internet sites now and then.

Why would they both independently want to become "bloggers"? What would compel them to share their opinions for the world to see? I something happening in my family? Is it a "tipping point" of sorts? And if so, what does it mean?

Not very much data to predict a big trend, but anecdotally pretty interesting that my seventy year old mom and thirteen year old Norwegian niece want to write blog posts. Seem like a pretty good indication that "citizen journalism" is a lot more real than not.

I was in Amsterdam and spoke at the World Association of Newspapers Digital Content conference on Wednesday. A pervasive theme was how people creating content, telling their stories, sharing their perspectives is something every newspaper and media outlet needs to integrate and leverage as a part of their strategy. Pretty real.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

So NOW we suddenly want the government to help

The crisis in the financial markets are revealing the fallacy of a "no government intervention, never" approach. That "philosophy" is just plain old ignorant. The world, the financial markets and the needs of citizens are too complex to be left to capitalism run amok. 

Governments play an important role in regulating and managing the societies they have been empowered to govern. Not perfect by any means. Nor particularly efficient either. No issues with those arguments. But, what do you think would have led to a greater waste of resources and loss of value over the past ten years. 1) Government playing a more active, regulatory role in areas like derivatives trading, leveraged debt offerings, hedge funds, mortgage backed securities. Or 2) The trillions of dollars of losses that have occurred in the last few months due to complete lack of oversight and regulation.

That was a trick question by the way. And while I'm on the subject of government playing a more active role. Social security. Education reform. Healthcare reform. Prison reform. These are NOT areas where free market forces alone will result in good solutions. Does a market based incentive model create a fair, just and efficient incarceration incentives and policies? Hardly! If somebody profits, and stands to profit big, from putting more people in jail, what will markets based incentives do? They will align and influence (with money) politics and public opinion to support putting more people in jail. The US has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's inmates. Isn't something wrong with that picture. 

If one "good thing" comes out of the current financial crisis it's a willingness to question assumed truths and challenge the belief that market based approaches to public-good issues is a panacea. If nothing else, that is a BIG step in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Micropayments are here

I just got an email receipt from iTunes. My total was $4.97 for five iPhone applications and one movie rental during the last few days. Three of the apps were free. The movie rental was $2.99

For a long time the idea of micro payments online have been a great idea without a reality to match. Is iTunes making it real? Hey Apple, why not let me use my iTunes account like a PayPal account where I can read, rent, download, buy anything from anywhere with one click?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Better groups anyone?

Why aren't the social networking and groups applications merging? The functionality, not the companies. What does Y! Groups or Google Groups do that's not possible in Facebook? Ok, so they're good ways to blast a bunch of emails around between people of like interest, but they could be so much more... and they're not. Why?

It seems that if Y! just joined Flickr, 360 and del.icio.us with their Groups product and stirred it up a bit they'd have such a nice offering. Probably too much dysfunction these days to pull that one off.

I predict that what we think of as "social networking" apps and what we should expect from "groups" apps will soon start to blend to a point where end-users will not (and should not) see a difference.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Keith Benjamin

It is with great sorrow I write this post to honor the passing of Keith Benjamin. Keith was the lead investor in Plum for Levensohn Venture Partners and a board member. Over the past year, he became a friend.

Keith was a smart, insightful, dedicated, funny, quirky and upbeat man. He was a very active board member, eager to support me and the business in any way possible and always quick to offer help. Yet he did so with no ego or agenda other than to further the growth and prospects of the business. I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten to know and work with him over the past twelve months.

Keith had a sporting accident and now he is gone. It is not easy to accept nor understand when someone passes so suddenly. It seems so unfair, so unjust, so untimely. It is all those things. I want to make it different. I want to pretend it hasn't happened, that its all just a bad dream. While my mind understands that Keith has moved on, no words can capture that which my emotions and spirit cannot yet fathom.

Keith leaves a wife and two beautiful children behind. My thoughts and sorrow go out to them. I cannot begin to understand their grief in this moment. It must feel bottomless. May time be their friend. May time heal the wound and sooth their tragic loss.

Keith loved the outdoors and the Marin Headlands. Next time you have the privilege to visit the Headlands or some equally beautiful spot in nature, keep a small commemoration of Keith's living spirit and this Hopi Payer in mind.

I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there
I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on the snow
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain
I am the gentle Autumn's rain
When you awaken in the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds circled in flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do no stand at my grave and cry
I am not there
I did not die

The world at large, your business associates, your friends and most of all your family will miss you terribly Keith. Sending you light and fond memories wherever you are.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A new purple Plum... now live, open and oh so exciting

Today is a big Plum day. We are opening up the beta with a brand new site, new UI, lots of improved functionality, iPhone application and so much more.

Plum is your spot on the web to save and share anything. We've been working real hard on getting to this point so I hope you'll check it out. This is still a beta and a pretty new approach, so please bear with us as we work on refining it. And please let me know what you think.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

MacBook Air - thin is big, real big

I got one. A - world's thinnest laptop - MacBook Air. With SSD (solid state drive) and all. I love it!

It was a royal pain to get it set up. My (two and a half year) old MacBook Pro had a 100Gb hard drive and the Air is 64Gb. Try downsizing when doing a migration from one computer to another. Then try doing it over a wireless network. In the end I had to resort to copying over individual files (including system and library files). Total pain in the neck.

As has been pointed out by others, the battery life is not as good as advertised. It's a (bad) joke to claim that you can get 5 hours of use on a charge. If I turn off both wireless functions (WiFi and Bluetooth), run only a couple of applications, put it in power saving mode and turn down screen brightness to its lowest settings I'm guessing I get 3.5, maybe 4 hours of life. And that presupposes that the cooling fan doesn't kick in during use, which it does too oftern. Given the sound of that thing its got to be pretty energy inefficient. And the fact that I cannot swap my battery is a real drawback when I play road warrior. The performance is fine, but doesn't make me jump out of my seat. I've seen some stuttering a few times with the mouse temporarily freezing every few seconds which worries me.

Yet, I love it. What all the reviews seem to miss is the subtle, yet incredibly importance of the size - thinness really. Carrying this thing around with me is like carrying a notepad. Closing the screen is like closing a book. Opening it up is silent. No whirring hard drive. It's just there. Keyboard is great. LED back-lit screen is fantastic. Eco friendly construction is another reason to buy Apple. The way all the parts come together and the beautiful design just work.

I find myself just carrying the thing with me everywhere. The other day I even went for a run in the Marin Headlands, slipping my Air in my running pack as I left. I stopped at the top of a trail overlooking the Pacific and sat down for 30 minutes taking notes, and working through some problems I had not been able to get to in the office. It's not just a smaller laptop. It's a different laptop.

I don't have a Time Capsule yet but I plan to get one. The thought of being automatically backed up every time I get on my home network and having a big drive that can store all my media.... well that just changes the rules.

Apple has earned their reputation for innovation by pushing boundaries and by breaking rules. This machine breaks a bunch of the rules. Some of the innovations (like the small number of ports and the battery design) will perhaps be seen as mistakes, but I think we will look back at the Air in a couple of years and realize that Apple raised the bar once more and changed what we expect from a laptop.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Why I have questions about Obama

I support Hillary Clinton. It's not that I don't like Obama, nor the energy and excitement he has been able to instill in people around him. I do. Obama is a strong speaker. He is inspirational. He seems able to unify. I like him for all those reasons.

Yet when I watch him speak in town hall style meetings. Watch the debates. Look at his record. I end up with a big unanswered question: What makes us believe this man can get stuff done on the national and international stage AFTER he's become president? Does he have what it takes to sit down with the real wolves in Washington, China, Russia, Iran... not the ones we see on TV, but the ones that eat their own young for breakfast if they become a tad too hungry? Does he have the gravitas and the real behind-closed-doors leadership to bully the bullies? Overpower the powerbrokers? Outmaneuver the politicos? Can he surround himself with an A-team and then lead that team to through the biggest obstacle course imaginable to achieve successes? Does he know when to make the tough calls, understanding that many won't like it and that people will be hurt regardless of his decision?

Will the "change" he is promising backfire? What if things are more complicated than they sound on the stump? What if change happens slowly? If powerful people have it as their agenda to stop "change", and they surely do, is he setting himself up for failure? If so will people become disillusioned leaving him "stranded" without the popular support that is the very centerpiece of his strategy for change.

Analogies have been made to John F. Kennedy by many, including some prominent Kennedys. So what would Obama do in today's version of the Bay of Pigs? Kennedy was no superhero. He screwed that one up pretty bad. The consequences today could be much worse. We recall Kennedy's presidency based on being too young to remember it (I'm one of those) or with a lens that has been colored by historical rose-colored-glasses. Kennedy was an inspirational man, but he it is not clear to me that he was a great president.

This country needs a great president.

Monday, January 7, 2008

No predictions

I make no predictions for 2008. None whatsoever. But were I to have predicted, what a juicy time it would be to have been making them. I may have made predictions about the new president of the USA, Sarkozy's arrogance, Putin, melting ice caps, the web 2.0 bubble, snowfall and ski conditions, the US dollar, Kenya, Pakistan, China, $100 / barrels of oil, green tech, Chilean seabass and other overfished fish, trade deficits, olpc, Iran, South Africa, morality, fashion, tech accessories, location based services, refugee crisis, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, craftsmanship, hybrid plugins, Plum, the Brazilian rain forests, cultures where I want to live, something beyond capitalism, war, peace, design, spirituality, atheism, net neutrality, LED lighting, European tech entrepreneurship, food...