Tag Archive for 'personal'

Measuring success

In March this year, I posted my still evolving thought process on what success is. In the post, I said how success, like religion, is a personal thing and so there is no right answer. But I proposed a framework to think about the question: whereby I defined success as having three dimensions, which have no minimum or maximum value but simply are a constant pursuit of development. Those dimensions are existence, freedom, and impact and which I suggest you read before continuing with this post.

The problem with that framework, is it actually is still too broad. And where it lacks in detail, it also lacks in something fundamental: metrics to measure success. Six months later, this is how my thought process has evolved — still evolving, but I hope can stimulate your own thinking about your life.

On the pursuit of existence
You can define existence as a variety of ways, but I think a fundamental concept is your life expectancy as well as the quality of it. How long can you live, in years, to your full ability — being the ultimate (never ending) goal.

Number of years you are alive I think is a pretty self-explanatory thing to say as a goal: 75 years is better than 50 years. Less obvious, is how able you are: a 65 year old on life support due to lungs, kidneys and liver issues from poor dietary habits, is by no means the same as a healthy 65 year old. If life span is the number to measure this dimension of success, then your health is the factor to create an expected value: 65 years at 25% capacity versus 65 at 95% is 16 years versus 62 years. Literally, a life time apart.

Which is why your nutrition matters: look after yourself in your 20s and you’ll be doing better in your 40s, not just in life span but life quality. Drinking soft drinks at 30 once  a day hurts your  long term health quality and will reduce your life span expected value. We forget that, and it’s only when people get older do they regret not thinking about this (so I’m told).

But then there is a flip side to being a health freak:  being 30 worrying about what you eat hurts you in different ways, like your freedom and experiences. More on that below.

On the pursuit of freedom
Whether you claim to chase money or not, the point is moot: money is what makes the world go around because it’s what we’ve agreed to be a mutually exchagable form of value. Money simply represents value, and its accumulation has value not from the paper bills/plastic notes/lumps of metal itself that money is printed as but what it represents: purchasing power to save your time (not a representation of your capital base, which is materialism).

In society, we are so focussed on the material and the bigger numbers but we forget the character of what matters. But its key to understand income  — recurring monetary inflow — is such a key concept to success, because it enables freedom: without the ability to pay for food and shelter, you’re going to spend the rest of your waking time trying to find solutions to these issues, an opportunity cost.

When I spent nine months backpacking around Europe in 2005, I observed how people travelling, like how I had become, are very primitive in their activities: look for a new hostel to sleep in, find a new place to eat food.  I was quite literally, a cave man. Even with cash to pay for these, the search took time. Now imagine you need a summer job as a working holiday to experience the travel, and you’ve just knocked out more time outs during the day to experience your “travel”. Travel might be temporary, but rephrase what I said now for regular life and the point remains. “Living” means surviving as its most basic, but we can do better than that as humans.

When it comes to measuring success on freedom, understandably income should be considered a core benchmark. Not how much you spend, but how much you can make — that spending power gives you not material wealth, but something much more valuable: your time. Income can buy you food, shelter, and the ability to outsource or delegate functions in your life that time would otherwise need to be expended.

However, how much you make is not the ultimate because its not secured. Which is why the ultimate measure of income in capital: after all, capital is simply the accumulation of income. Capital is the result of income, without the need to personally exert yourself from getting the benefit of it; more specifically, capital can been monetised, generating a passive income which is the ultimate in enabling freedom.

Therefore when it comes to success in terms of capital, $100,000 is much more valuable than $10,000, obviously. But a subtle point to remember, is that to get the value of capital it either is locked up making a passive income (say, in real estate with a rental) or it’s liquid so that it enables the ability for you to use that purchasing power for your life.

One million dollars in the bank that can be withdrawn tomorrow? Very successful. One million dollars invested in a property making a 10% return? Also, very successful though not very liquid:but that’s ok becayse it’s generating $100,000 a year in passive income, on top of the capital base that grows through capital gain. One million dollars locked up in an stock market investment that can’t be liquidated for a month? Not good — but very good if it generates a 10% return on say, the stock market in that month.

But simply attaining capital is not life accomplished because if inflation rates are 9%, then that 10% return on real estate and stock is actually only a 1% return. That passive income (or rather, purchasing power) now is only 1% of the capital base. And that’s fine because capital has value in immediate liquidity (also purchasing power), but sometimes it’s worth trading short term liquidity to grow that capital base otherwise inflation will catch up and any income dependent on that capital will actually erode in value. Capital generates passive income, but that capital needs to be secured through investment to not have it be eroded.

Therefore the ultimate measure of capital is lifetime cashflow in real purchasing power. You can try to accumulate it, and you want to grow it above inflation. But once you’ve done that, you’re now getting greedy: the time cost in your life now actually impacts on your freedom, the whole point of capital accumulation, passive income and purchasing power. But as you dance with growing your capital base , income stream, and ultimately freedom, let’s not forget being busy we dream of more time, but when you have too much time on your hands it can be downright depressing. Enter impact.

On the pursuit of impact
Impact, like existence and freedom, is a core tenent to life about what I think matters if you want to define success. Impact not only gives you purpose but it gives you direction in life. Impact boost your self esteem. Better still, impact benefits your surroundings better than how you found it.

However impact is a hard thing to quantify. Is it number of people you “impacted” and what does that mean? As a raw score, sure helping one person once a day is better than helping one person once a month. But nothing in life is free: “helping” often comes with a benefit for the other party, such as profit for the business merchant, conversion for the religious zealot, or an orgasm for the sexual expectant.

If you go though life travelling the world, you leave an impact through the people you meet; if you toil yourself to build a business, you leave an impact through the products you create. But when impact is simply measured by “number of people”, it’s actually not all that solid: their needs to be not a mutual exchange, but a net positive where an interaction outputted more than what was entered with.

So what makes it a net positive? When you’ve really touched someone. But you can never know if you did that, so failing that we need to make sure one person was touched by the impact: you. You might have spent three months suffering, but that story will inspire, educate, and benefit 1000 other people in a profound way — and we may never know until your funeral, though you remember those three months. You might travel speaking to one hundred thousand people, of which only 1% where meaningful conversations: but no one remembers your name to prove it, but you remember the experience.

So when it comes to measuring impact, it’s not just number of people but number of people’s who’s lives you have touched. And by touch, it’s not a number but a meaningful impact that comes from your own life experience. One hour a day in a homeless soup kitchen is a different kind of impact from one hour a day building a game that someone plays on their smart phone. And neither is better than the other, so long as someone’s soul was touched; the most important one, being your own.

Meaning, whatever it is you’re doing, you’re leaving an impact by touching the lives of other people, but one person who we can measure is your own in the form of experience which is the only number that we can reliably count.

Success: measured
For those that think in numbers, success as a number  = (Number of years you are alive times by how able you are due to health) multiplied by (capital base times by return) multiplied by (number of people impacted times percentage that were truly touched). That gives the theoretical optimum to the ultimate thing.

Otherwise said, if you have a long healthy long life and you have a lot of purchasing power to buy freedom, then you have more time to impact which ultimately leads to the only thing that matters: number of life experiences (which along they way, benefited others as well that increased their own existence, freedom, and impact).

And that, I believe, is a what a rich life is.

Defining success and its pursuit

People often think I’m joking when I say I’m not successful. They perceive the jobs I’ve had, the education I’ve gone through, the media exposure I’ve generated, and other fake indicators of success as somehow meaning I’ve made it. Not quite, status symbols are not what I consider success.

If you’re not quite sure what I mean, let’s say you measure success on money — then how much is enough? Or for those that consider fame to be success — how many media mentions is enough?

A few months ago, I did my first ever meditation and came up with an amazing insight on some thoughts that had been stewing in my head. It was what I realised was *my* meaning to life — what I needed to be happy in life. Today, I Tweeted a summary version of that insight and have had several people retweet and favourite it, flagging to me that maybe my meaning to life is actually something that a lot of other people can relate to.

So here it is my thought process; who knows maybe it can help you define your own success.

Existence 
What’s the point of life if you can’t be alive to enjoy it? That one question should pretty much explain what I mean by this — and you can broaden this to mean more than that. For example, our mental health is just as important as our physical health — family is something we consider a chore, but I personally consider an emotional need. Good nutrition, regular excercise, a close connection with your family, good friends around you, being in control of the demons in your head: each of us can interpret our existence in different ways, but they all fundamentally point to the same fact that without your full and able self, there is no life.

Freedom
When I went backpacking in 2005 for nine months, I would often start the day not knowing what country I would end up in. I was in between finishing my university degree and a guaranteed job at PricewaterhouseCoopers; I was living off my savings and had no need to work that year; and had complete freedom to do whatever I wanted whenever. I had never been happier.

Freedom to me is a relative term: personally, if I lost the functional use of all of my limbs or was convicted for a life in prison, I would die on the inside because my personality perceives those aspects for my life as essential to my freedom. That’s not to say I correctly perceive it,  but that’s my own personal interpretation to freedom. And without drilling down into this any more with the many anecdotes to guide this insight for me, having creative control can be one of the most liberating experiences you will ever experience and can bestow on someone. I call that freedom.

Impact
If you drill into the psychology of great entrepreneurs, it’s not money or fame that drives them even though they may say it is. It’s the fact they are building something of value. We’re all like that — our self esteem benefits from knowing we’ve done something that improves our surrounding. That’s why charity is deep down such a selfish act: it makes us feel good.

Again, impact is different for different people that no one person has the right answer. For me, I’ve come to realise the impact I want to have on the world is something that improves the quality of life for us all in society. What that means, is something I’d rather save for when I do it and can look back  but in essence I get extreme satisfaction that I’ve played a role that improves life on this planet by enabling the entrepreneurs and scientists who have the potential to do that.

 

What’s success?

The American forefathers may have not only already come up with this before me but put it much more eloquently. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  Whatever you want to call it, it begs the big question: what does existence (life), freedom (liberty), and impact (pursuit of happiness) have to do with success? Money is not success. But income is: because that enables freedom. Fame is not success. But influence is: it enables you do perform the actions you believe ought to occur.

Success, like religion, should be a personal thing. There isn’t a right answer — but above, I believe is the framework that we can all apply to our own lives to think about what we want to do with our lives. Instead of thinking of what should you do, instead ask yourself — how can I exist more fully, have more freedom, and have a bigger impact with my being? This framework might not be the right one, but it’s a start to asking ourselves all the right questions that lead to the answer.

The new magazine

The Facebook homescreen is a remarkable thing. I just saw a video of a friend throwing food at birds; relatives taking pictures of themselves in a hot tub; a link to a mind-expanding article; and a status message that made me laugh. It made me think: the homescreen is the new magazine.

Sure, we can be simplistic with this and say lots of pictures and content makes thee a magazine. But what strikes me as fascinating is how much personal content is shared. People’s thoughts, insight into their lives, and the real-time autobiographical dictation by our “friends”. It makes me think of the fascination people have with celebrities, and how gossip magazines are some of the highest grossing of their kind. The same phenomenon is being exploited here — which is people want to know more about people they know. While with celebrities you could potentially say people do it due to a fixation on celebrity status and looks, I would argue the reason gossip magazines are so popular is due to the curiousity into the lives of people who are familiar. People would be equally fascinated with a magazine about celebrities as a magazine of their neighbours, if it was practical.

It’s almost like Facebook’s homescreen is the new media version of a publication. But of your friends. And like a glossy magazine. Of original content from otherwise hard-to-obtain situations.

Or more practically speaking, like a gossip magazine of your neighbours.

The secret to effective people management

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, talking and reflecting these last few months on a broad cross section of things. One of them is people management, which actually has been a competency I’ve spent years trying to understand: whether it was managing volunteers at non-profits, coaching junior staff in a work environment, or observing how other people interact with others and the impact it had. Today I came across something on Quora that Ben Pieratt wrote and which I think is very wise. He reflects on the work ethic:

I think it comes down to the fact that, for some people, work is personal. Personal in the same way that singing or playing the piano or painting is personal.

As a creative person, you’ve been given the ability to build things from nothing by way of hard work over long periods of time. Creation is a deeply personal and rewarding activity, which means that your Work should also be deeply personal and rewarding. If it’s not, then something is amiss.

Creation is entirely dependent on ownership.

Ownership not as a percentage of equity, but as a measure of your ability to change things for the better. To build and grow and fail and learn. This is no small thing. Creativity is the manifestation of lateral thinking, and without tangible results, it becomes stunted. We have to see the fruits of our labors, good or bad, or there’s no motivation to proceed, nothing to learn from to inform the next decision. States of approval and decisions-by-committee and constant compromises are third-party interruptions of an internal dialog that needs to come to its own conclusions.

Worth reading is also this interview with the CEO of Zynga (one of the fastest growing companies in Silicon Valley). He says what he does to motivate staff, which put words to what I’ve seen in my own observations of effective (and ineffective management).

You can manage 50 people through the strength of your personality and lack of sleep. You can touch them all in a week and make sure they’re all pointed in the right direction. By 150, it’s clear that that’s not going to scale, and you’ve got to find some way to keep everybody going in productive directions when you’re not in the room…

…I’d turn people into C.E.O.’s. One thing I did at my second company was to put white sticky sheets on the wall, and I put everyone’s name on one of the sheets, and I said, “By the end of the week, everybody needs to write what you’re C.E.O. of, and it needs to be something really meaningful.” And that way, everyone knows who’s C.E.O. of what and they know whom to ask instead of me. And it was really effective. People liked it. And there was nowhere to hide.

In case you miss the point, this is it: giving ownership is a powerful emotional state that can literally transform the perception someone has of their work.

Update 11 October 2010: My good friend Alisdair Faulkner — an experienced technology entrepreneur and executive — explains the spirit of the term “ownership” better with a clarification. Alisdair says it’s less so about  ‘ownership’ than it is ‘creative control’, which he says means “Authority and Accountability vested in the same individual”.

An invention that could transform online privacy and media

The University of Washington announced today of an invention that allows digital information to expire and “self-destruct”. After a set time period, electronic communications such as e-mail, Facebook posts, word documents, and chat messages would automatically be deleted and becoming irretrievable. Not even the sender will be able the retrieve them, and any copy of the message (like backup tapes) will also have the information unavilable.

GmailEncapsulated

Vanish is designed to give people control over the lifetime of personal data stored on the web or in the cloud. All copies of Vanish encrypted data — even archived or cached copies — will become permanently unreadable at a specific time, without any action on the part of a person, third party or centralised service.

As the New York Times notes, the technology of being able to destruct digital data is nothing new. However this particular implementation uses a novel way that combines a time limit and more uniquely, peer-to-peer file sharing that degrades a “key” over time. Its been made available as open source on the Mozilla Firefox browser. Details of the technical implementation can be found on the team’s press release, which includes a demo video.

FacebookEncapsulated

Implications
Advances like this could have a huge impact on the world, from controlling unauthorised assess to information to reinforcing content-creators copyright. Scenario’s where this technology could benefit

  • Content. As I’ve argued in the past, news derives its value from how quickly it can be accessed. However, legacy news items can also have value as an archive. By controlling the distribution of unique content like news, publishers have a way of controlling usage of their product – so that they can subsequently monetise the news if used for a different purpose (ie, companies researching the past for information as opposed to being informed by the latest news for day to day decision making)
  • Identity. Over at the DataPortability Project, we are in the finishing touches of creating our conceptial overview for a standard set of EULA and ToS that companies can adopt. This means, having companies respect your rights to your personal information in a standardised way – think how the Creative Commons has done for your content creations. An important conceptual decision we made, is that a person should have the right to delete their personal information and content – as true portability of your data is more than just reusing it in a different content. Technologies like this allow consumers to control their personal information, despite the fact they may not have possession, as their data resides in the cloud.
  • Security. Communications between people is so that we can inform each other in the ‘now’. This new world with the Internet capturing all of our conversations (such as chat logs and emails threads) is having us lose control of our privacy. The ability to have chat transcripts and email discussions automatically expire is a big step forward. Better still, if a company’s internal documents are leaked (as was the case with Twitter recently), it can rely on more avenues to limit damage beyond using the court system that would issue injunctions.

GoogleDocsEncapsulated

There’s a lot more work to be performed on technologies like this. Implementation issues aside, the inline encryption of the information doesn’t make this look sexy. But with a few user interface tweaks, it gives us a strong insight into real solutions for present day problems with the digital age. Even if we simply get companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft ad Yahoo to agree on a common standard, it will transform the online world dramatically.

The makings of a media mogul: Michael Arrington of TechCrunch

After recognising in my previous post that Michael Arrington has successfully captured the dynamic of the mass media to pioneer new media, my mind asked how did this guy do it. With some time on my hands, I looked into what I think is one of the most remarkable stories to occur in the recent tech boom that was Web 2.0 (yep, that’s past tense – it’s an innovation era that now has closed). How "a nobody ‚Äî a former attorney and entrepreneur who, at 35, looked as if he might never hit it big " became one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world. I’ve never interacted with Arrington, although I know plenty of people that know him well (through the Aussie mafia that grace the Valley). So this is coming from a completely objective but aware view. An outside view with purely the public record to track his success. Let’s see what the evidence tells us.

The accidental start-up
Reading through the archives of his main blog TechCrunch.com and his companion blog CrunchNotes.com, I came to realise his success could be identified as early as his first five months from the first post written. He launched TechCrunch.com on the 11th June 2005 with posts released daily if not multiple times per day. The blog averaged 5 posts every two days in its first year, with 879 posts (it was actually more, but a half dozen or so have since been removed).

TechCrunch posts per day (year one)

His first post, which has since been removed (God bless the Internet archive), gives an insight into motivations for starting the blog.

TechCrunch is edited by Michael Arrington and Keith Teare, with frequent input from guest editors. It is part of the Archimedes Ventures network of companies.

Archimedes Ventures was at the time a two partner firm that specialised in the "development of companies focused on Web 2.0 technologies and solutions." The fact the page listed Teare and is marked as part of Archimedes Ventures network of companies suggests this was a conscious business development effort on the part of Arrington. As he would later reveal, he was inspired by Dave Winer who said: ‚Äúif you are going to build a new company, go to the trouble of actually researching what other companies have already done." Several months later in October, he posted an announcement that his startup Edgeio would be live soon, validating that TechCrunch wasn’t so much a "hobby" but a need to understand your market. Indeed, it seems TechCrunch just became a more formalised affair as he had been posting research into potential competitors on his personal blog publicly from March 2005 – and by the time he launched TechCrunch there were already four employees at Edgeio. No doubt, exposure and networking like any smart businessman was part of his agenda as well, which perhaps is why we saw a transition from a personal site to a TechCrunch brand (more on community building later).

On October 2005, TechCrunch was ranked the 566th blog by Technorati based on the amount of links it received from other websites. In December of that year, its ranking had climbed to 96th. One year on, in June 2006, it became the 4th most linked-to blog and has subsequently maintained its status as number 2 (not being able to beat another new media mogul Arianna Huffington who dominates the table, but that’s a story for another time).

TechCrunch subscribers

The above graph shows an explosion, but it’s the first year that tells the story which forms the basis of this post:

Over that first year, 23,713 comments had been left, with around 1-2 million page views per month. However as the figures show, it was the first six months where this research turned into a prospective business ("help "), with subsequent months and years simply consolidating his growth: by year two, there were 2,000 more posts (double the output of the previous year); 115,608 comments and trackbacks in total (an average of 40 per post); and 435,000 RSS subscribers. Pages views in the month leading up to the 24th month in operation were 4.5 million, twice what it was the previous year. In September 2008, over a million people subscribed to the blog.

So how did he do it?
Compared to his peers/competitors, he joined the game quite late, and yet he is absolutely smashing them. Same software in some cases and same focus. The question is, what did Arrington do that others didn’t?

Whilst the metrics might track his growth, they don’t track how he did it, which has less to do with Search Engine Optimisation and more to do with hyping up a boom. Below I describe what I think are the Critical Success Factors that made TechCrunch what it is today.

1) Events.
TechCrunch wasn’t just a blog; it was a host. Early on, there were events hosted at Arrington’s house where people could network and mingle. It would be a mistake to think that TechCrunch later on got into the conference business as an alternative revenue stream, but the reality is, social networking was being organised in the real world in parallel to the online blog from as early as August 2005. To create a new blog and have 63 people subscribed to it within a week indicates a lot of offline activity to get those subscribers. The social meet ups reinforced his readership base.

2) Web2.0.
Arrington saw a tide building for a second tech boom and formed a loose group of allies promoting this tide. Add to the mix some existing high profile personal brands like Dave Winer and Robert Scoble – and in the process, you build your own personal brand. To use his words, he saw a parade and got in front of it.

When Tim O’Reily coined “Web 2.0”, it was a buzz-speak marketing word. What Arrington did was successfully exploit this dynamic by recognising the rising investment trend occurring. He built a community around Web 2.0 by being its tireless champion and channeling existing energies. And as the community grew, so did he. He realised that what goes down, goes back up again – and by tapping into this growth, he could grow with it. If this second boom was anything like the first, being at the front of it would be such a good career move that it probably didn’t even need to be said.

3) Excellent content.
Don’t underestimate the difference quality content has. Arrington has an analytical mind and is a clear communicator – he is a lawyer after all. Intelligence and an ability to communicate will beat even the most experienced journalist. I‚Äôve been told that Arrington doesn‚Äôt understand tech, or at least makes a convincing image of not getting it, which probably explains the why he writes in plain English – even in the conversational style of writing that blogging is associated with, good clear English is rare to find. More importantly, he understood what all publishers have long known: good content is not just about the words. As Scoble highlighted long ago, one of the reasons that made Arrington such a popular writer is the simple use of images to break up the text.

No doubt, Arrington’s previous staff writers, ones I am familiar with like Nik Cubrilovic, Duncan Riley and Marshall Kirkpatrick, made a big difference in TechCrunch’s growth: Kirkpatrick’s ground-breaking RSS and research skills to find news, Cubrilovic’s Arrington-style writing ability, and Riley’s industry relationships to often break news – is how they made compelling content. However, Arrington quite uniquely stands out and it‚Äôs why when he tried to take a break and to focus on the business side, he was pulled back in to raise the quality. TechCrunch is Mike Arrington: it’s been proven you can’t separate the two (at least, yet).

4) The media dynamic.
As I recently argued, the mass media at its core is about playing a game, but in the context of web 2.0 it is about understanding the dynamics of a market place. He had access to Venture Capitalists (VCs) as he was a corporate lawyer as well as an entrepreneur with experience to boot Рaccess that other entrepreneurs quite simply didn’t have.

He was able to successfully take advantage of the VC paranoia that they might miss the next Google or Facebook. They literally were desperate to hear about the next big thing. For them, Arrington was a deal-type lawyer who would review things in plain English and present it with pretty pictures. On the flip side, you had entrepreneurs dying to get in front of these VCs as well as general exposure for their start-up. When Arrington decided to put advertising on the blog, it was a natural progression: entrepreneurs wanted to get exposure to VCs, future employees, and buzz amongst their peers. People on the other hand, are willing to consume this content because it’s free market research for them – catering in the audience for both investor and the entrepreneur. Powerful stuff? God yeah – that’s the kind of captive audience that’s addicted to crack cocaine.

To give you an idea of impact, I was told by an entrepreneur whose company was profiled in that first six months, that they got something like 30 VC calls and e-mails over a holiday period. After less than three weeks, they had Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers email, say "Hi, just another VC here. Can we meet next Thursday?". They had a list of meetings that kept them going for weeks. My own personal experience this year through the DataPortability Project saw first hand what exposure and support from TechCrunch could do, and suffice to say, it’s impressive. We had VCs wanting to talk to us about data portability, even though we‚Äôre non-profit!

This offline social networking is key to what ultimately became an online social media business. What’s very telling is a comment left by Valley legend Dave Winer, a man Arrington repeatedly showed admiration for and I am sure his relationship is what gave him a boost at the start. It reflects several things, but foremost, Arrington had a lot of goodwill in the community as a leader of the industry by existing heavy weights. He connected the various participants in what ultimately is a marketplace. Forget about Edgeio – this was the making of a new media business that would show the dying mass media what the future looks like for their industry. TechCrunch became the channel of choice for so many people to get their voice heard for competitive, strategic and ego reasons.

Concluding thoughts
TechCrunch started as a hobby and research project to test a bunch of the stuff he’d been reading about in the Web2.0 space. After the crash, he pretty much dropped out and watched a lot of college football – he needed a way to get back into it. Arrington probably knew he could write well, but I don’t think he realised how much of an impact his ability could have. The use of images in content, and the frequency of his posts made TechCrunch in the first six months, combined with offline social networking, the positioning as a champion of the Web 2.0 community, and exploiting the dynamic of a marketplace is what made him what he is. By the end of 2006, I don’t think Edgeio got much of Arrington’s attention at all – he’d been hooked by the excitement of writing, leading opinion and eventually, the power that attracts people to positions of note and influence, whether it be media, celebrity, business or politics.

This post only touches on the surface, as the Critical Success Factors in that first year do not give a full picture. Arrington‚Äôs involvement with the presidential primaries process, his disruptive influence with DEMO through the TC40/50, the Crunchies and even the people who keep trying to take him down add a further dimension to the TechCrunch story. He’s a man with more haters than Murdoch, but that’s doesn’t make him any less brilliant.

Arrington can get right up the nose of people with massive vested interests, and he loves to stir the pot – like the traditional press practice, controversy sells. Living in a massive rented house with all but a big dog, he can pretty much operate without fear. If it all exploded tomorrow, he’d probably have a beer, and enjoy a good long holiday and another season of college football. That’s what makes a journalist fearless, and that, combined with his obvious passion for the sector and the power he wields makes for a pretty dynamic combo.

He’s made no secret of his desire to be bigger than C|Net (without having to cop the overheads of their business model). Take out download.com, and I think it safe to say he’s reached that: maybe it’s time he puts his eyes on something a bit bigger. Although I doubt he needs to be told that – he’s already making history along with another select few, who through raw talent are pioneering “new media”, ready to replace the financially bankrupt mass media as the influencers in our society.

I’m back!

This is just a short note to say I am still alive, after I had a few of you ask why I haven’t blogged in a while! As I said in my previous entry, I had to prepare for an exam in mid December, and then I spent a month in South America – my first holiday in two years. Since I’ve come back however, I am been spending nearly all my free time helping manage the DataPortability Project which I helped create in November and has just exploded in press – to the point of being called one of the key trends in 2008!

I’ve updated my blog behind the scenes to the latest, and considering a few cosmetic changes. However for those of you that have subscribed, I just want to warn that I will be cleaning up my historical blog posts for weird characters, so be aware if my feed starts pinging a bit crazy.

In addition to this blog, I’ve also got a new feed where I share links I come across the web. I am a still trying to get back into routine, but you can subscribe to it with this address: http://feeds.feedburner.com/LiakoBiz/shareditems

And finally, I just wish to say I am going to post less but with a focus on quality – the frequent posting thing has me realise it puts a strain on you, and for your readers, they have enough trouble keeping up with their information overload. Once a week is my goal…except for the next month which will be murder at work 🙂

I have a lot of interesting things happening to me and in the pipeline, some small and some dramatic. This is going to be an interesting year…

Pageview’s are a misleading metric

Recently MySpace, the social networking site that once dominated but is now being overtaken by Facebook, sent me an e-mail informing me that a friend of mine had a birthday. What is unusual, is that although I have received notifications of this type when I had logged into the site, I had never been e-mailed.

Below is a copy of the e-mail, and lets see if you notice what I did:
birthdayreminder

It doesn’t tell me whose birthday it is. In fact, it is even ambiguous as to whether it was just the one person or not. Big deal? Not really. But it very clearly tells me something: MySpace is trying to increase its pageviews.

Social networking sites are very useful services to an individual; they enable a person to manage and monitor their personal networks. Not only am I in touch with so many people I lost contact with, but I am in the loop with their lives. I may not message them, but by passive observation, I know what everyone is up to. Things like what they’re studying, where they work, what countries they will be holidaying in, and useful things like when they have their birthday.

Social networking sites are not just a website, but an information service, to help you manage your life. However as useful as I find these services, the revenue model is largely dependent on advertising, with premium features a rare thing now. So when you rely on advertising, you are going to be looking at ways of boosting the key figures that determine that revenue stream.

Friendster’s surprising growth in May was due to some clever techniques of using e-mail, to drive pageviews. And it worked. E-mail notifications, when done tactfully, can drive a huge amount of activity. Of the what seems like hundreds of web services I have joined, e-mail at times is the only way for me to remember I even subscribed to it once upon a time. Combine e-mail with information I want to be updated with, and you’ve got a great recipe for using e-mail as a tool to drive page views.

…And that is the problem. MySpace has very cleverly sent this e-mail to get me to log into my account. A marketing campagn like that will at the very least, see a good day in pageview growth. But the reason I am logging in, is just so I can see whose birthday it is. Myspace now to me is irrelevant: those pageviews attributed to me are actually, not one of an engaged user.

Pageviews as a metric for measuring audience engagement is prone to manipulation. Increases in pageviews on the face of it, make a website appear more popular. But in reality, dig a little deeper and the correlation for what really matters (audience engagement) is not quite on par.

So everyone, repeat after me: Pageviews – we need to drop them as a concept if we are ever going to make progress.

How Google reader can finally start making money

Today, you would have heard that Newsgator, Bloglines, Me.dium, Peepel, Talis and Ma.gnolia have joined the APML workgroup and are in discussions with workgroup members on how they can implement APML into their product lines. Bloglines created some news the other week on their intention to adopt it, and the announcement today about Newsgator means APML is now fast becoming an industry standard.

Google however, is still sitting on the side lines. I really like using Google reader, but if they don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t announce support for APML soon, I will have to switch back to my old favourite Bloglines which is doing some serious innovating. Seeing as Google reader came out of beta recently, I thought I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d help them out to finally add a new feature (APML) that will see it generate some real revenue.

What a Google reader APML file would look like
Read my previous post on what exactly APML is. If the Google reader team was to support APML, what they could add to my APML file is a ranking of blogs, authors, and key-words. First an explanation, and then I will explain the consequences.

In terms of blogs I read, the percentage frequency of posting I read from a particular blog will determine the relevancy score in my APML file. So if I was to read 89% of Techcrunch posts ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú which is information already provided to users ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú it would convert this into a relevancy score for Techcrunch of 89% or 0.89.

ranking

APML: pulling rank

In terms of authors I read, it can extract who posted the entry from the individual blog postings I read, and like the blog ranking above, perform a similar procedure. I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t imagine it would too hard to do this, however given it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a small team running the product, I would put this on a lower priority to support.

In terms of key-words, Google could employ its contextual analysis technology from each of the postings I read and extract key words. By performing this on each post I read, the frequency of extracted key words determines the relevance score for those concepts.

So that would be the how. The APML file generated from Google Reader would simply rank these blogs, authors, and key-words – and the relevance scores would update over time. Over time, the data is indexed and re-calculated from scratch so as concepts stop being viewed, they start to diminish in value until they drop off.

What Google reader can do with that APML file
1. Ranking of content
One of the biggest issues facing consumers of RSS is the amount of information overload. I am quite confident to think that people would pay a premium, for any attempt to help rank the what can be the hundreds of items per day, that need to be read by a user. By having an APML file, over time Google Reader can match postings to what a users ranked interests are. So rather than presenting the content by reverse chronology (most recent to oldest); it can instead organise content by relevancy (items of most interest to least).

This won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t reduce the amount of RSS consumption by a user, but it will enable them to know how to allocate their attention to content. There are a lot of innovative ways you can rank the content, down to the way you extract key works and rank concepts, so there is scope for competing vendors to have their own methods. However the point is, a feature to ?¢‚ǨÀúSort by Personal Relevance?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ would be highly sort after, and I am sure quite a few people will be willing to pay the price for this God send.

I know Google seems to think contextual ads are everything, but maybe the Google Reader team can break from the mould and generate a different revenue stream through a value add feature like that. Google should apply its contextual advertising technology to determine key words for filtering, not advertising. It can use this pre-existing technology to generate a different revenue stream.

2. Enhancing its AdSense programme

blatant ads

Targeted advertising is still bloody annoying

One of the great benefits of APML is that it creates an open database about a user. Contextual advertising, in my opinion is actually a pretty sucky technology and its success to date is only because all the other types of targeted advertising models are flawed. As I explain above, the technology instead should be done to better analyse what content a user consumes, through keyword analysis. Over time, a ranking of these concepts can occur ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú as well as being shared from other web services that are doing the same thing.

An APML file that ranks concepts is exactly what Google needs to enhance its adwords technology. Don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t use it to analyse a post to show ads; use it to analyse a post to rank concepts. Then, in aggregate, the contextual advertising will work because it can be based off this APML file with great precision. And even better, a user can tweak it ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú which will be the equivalent to tweaking what advertising a user wants to get. The transparency of a user being able to see what ‘concept ranking’ you generate for them, is powerful, because a user is likely to monitor it to be accurate.

APML is contextual advertising biggest friend, because it profiles a user in a sensible way, that can be shared across applications and monitored by the user. Allowing a user to tweak their APML file for the motivation of more targeted content, aligns their self-interest to ensure the targeted ads thrown at them based on those ranked concepts, are in fact, relevant.

3. Privacy credibility
Privacy is the inflation of the attention economy. You can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t proceed to innovate with targeted advertising technology, whilst ignoring privacy. Google has clearly realised this the hard way by being labeled one of the worst privacy offenders in the world. By adopting APML, Google will go a long way to gain credibility in privacy rights. It will be creating open transparency with the information it collects to profile users, and it will allow a user to control that profiling of themselves.

APML is a very clever approach to dealing with privacy. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not the only approach, but it a one of the most promising. Even if Google never uses an APML file as I describe above, the pure brand-enhancing value of giving some control to its users over their rightful attention data, is something alone that would benefit the Google Reader product (and Google?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s reputation itself) if they were to adopt it.

privacy

Privacy. Stop looking.

Conclusion
Hey Google – can you hear me? Let’s hope so, because you might be the market leader now, but so was Bloglines once upon a time.

Explaining APML: what it is & why you want it

Lately there has been a lot of chatter about APML. As a member of the workgroup advocating this standard, I thought I might help answer some of the questions on people’s minds. Primarily – “what is an APML file”, and “why do I want one”. I suggest you read the excellent article by Marjolein Hoekstra on attention profiling that she recently wrote, if you haven’t already done so, as an introduction to attention profiling. This article will focus on explaining what the technical side of an APML file is and what can be done with it. Hopefully by understanding what APML actually is, you’ll understand how it can benefit you as a user.

APML – the specification
APML stands for Attention Profile Markup Language. It’s an attention economy concept, based on the XML technical standard. I am going to assume you don’t know what attention means, nor what XML is, so here is a quick explanation to get you on board.

Attention
There is this concept floating around on the web about the attention economy. It means as a consumer, you consume web services – e-mail, rss readers, social networking sites – and you generate value through your attention. For example, if I am on a Myspace band page for Sneaky Sound System, I am giving attention to that band. Newscorp (the company that owns MySpace) is capturing that implicit data about me (ie, it knows I like Electro/Pop/House music). By giving my attention, Newscorp has collected information about me. Implicit data are things you give away about yourself without saying it, like how people can determine what type of person you are purely off the clothes you wear. It’s like explicit data – information you give up about yourself (like your gender when you signed up to MySpace).

Attention camera

I know what you did last Summer

XML
XML is one of the core standards on the web. The web pages you access, are probably using a form of XML to provide the content to you (xHTML). If you use an RSS reader, it pulls a version of XML to deliver that content to you. I am not going to get into a discussion about XML because there are plenty of other places that can do that. However I just want to make sure you understand, that XML is a very flexible way of structuring data. Think of it like a street directory. It’s useless if you have a map with no street names if you are trying to find a house. But by having a map with the street names, it suddenly becomes a lot more useful because you can make sense of the houses (the content). It’s a way of describing a piece of content.

APML – the specification
So all APML is, is a way of converting your attention into a structured format. The way APML does this, is that it stores your implicit and explicit data – and scores it. Lost? Keep reading.

Continuing with my example about Sneaky Sound System. If MySpace supported APML, they would identify that I like pop music. But just because someone gives attention to something, that doesn’t mean they really like it; the thing about implicit data is that companies are guessing because you haven’t actually said it. So MySpace might say I like pop music but with a score of 0.2 or 20% positive – meaning they’re not too confident. Now lets say directly after that, I go onto the Britney Spears music space. Okay, there’s no doubting now: I definitely do like pop music. So my score against “pop” is now 0.5 (50%). And if I visited the Christina Aguilera page: forget about it – my APML rank just blew to 1.0! (Note that the scoring system is a percentage, with a range from -1.0 to +1.0 or -100% to +100%).

APML ranks things, but the concepts are not just things: it will also rank authors. In the case of Marjolein Hoekstra, who wrote that post I mention in my intro, because I read other things from her it means I have a high regard for her writing. Therefore, my APML file gives her a high score. On the other hand, I have an allergic reaction whenever I read something from Valleywag because they have cooties. So Marjolein’s rank would be 1.0 but Valleywag’s -1.0.

Aside from the ranking of concepts (which is the core of what APML is), there are other things in an APML file that might confuse you when reviewing the spec. “From” means ‘from the place you gave your attention’. So with the Sneaky Sound System concept, it would be ‘from: MySpace’. It’s simply describing the name of the application that added the implicit node. Another thing you may notice in an APML file is that you can create “profiles”. For example, the concepts about me in my “work” profile is not something I want to mix with my “personal” profile. This allows you to segment the ranked concepts in your APML into different groups, allowing applications access to only a particilar profile.

Another thing to take note of is ‘implicit’ and ‘explicit’ which I touched on above – implicit being things you give attention to (ie, the clothes you wear – people guess because of what you wear, you are a certain personality type); explicit being things you gave away (the words you said – when you say “I’m a moron” it’s quite obvious, you are). APML categorises concepts based on whether you explicitly said it, or it was implicitly determined by an application.

Okay, big whoop – why can an APML do for me?
In my eyes, there are five main benefits of APML: filtering, accountability, privacy, shared data, and you being boss.

1) Filtering
If a company supports APML, they are using a smart standard that other companies use to profile you. By ranking concepts and authors for example, they can use your APML file in the future to filter things that might interest you. As I have such a high ranking for Marjolein, when Bloglines implements APML, they will be able to use this information to start prioritising content in my RSS reader. Meaning, of the 1000 items in my bloglines reader, all the blog postings from her will have more emphasis for me to read whilst all the ones about Valleywag will sit at the bottom (with last nights trash).

2) Accountability
If a company is collecting implicit data about me and trying to profile me, I would like to see that infomation thank you very much. It’s a bit like me wearing a pink shirt at a party. You meet me at a party, and think “Pink – the dude must be gay”. Now I am actually as straight as a doornail, and wearing that pink shirt is me trying to be trendy. However what you have done is that by observation, you have profiled me. Now imagine if that was a web application, where this happens all the time. By letting them access your data – your APML file – you can change that. I’ve actually done this with Particls before, which supports APML. It had ranked a concept as high based on things I had read, which was wrong. So what I did, was changed the score to -1.0 for one of them, because that way, Particls would never show me content on things it thought I would like.

3) Privacy
I joined the APML workgroup for this reason: it was to me a smart away to deal with the growing privacy issue on the web. It fits my requirements about being privacy compliant:

  • who can see information about you
  • when can people see information about you:
  • what information they can see about you

The way APML does that is by allowing me to create ‘profiles’ within my APML file; allowing me to export my APML file from a company; and by allowing me to access my APML file so I can see what profile I have.

drivers

Here is my APML, now let me in. Biatch.

4) Shared data
An APML file can, with your permission, share information between your web-services. My concepts ranking books on Amazon.com, can sit alongside my RSS feed rankings. What’s powerful about that, is the unintended consequences of sharing that data. For example, if Amazon ranked what my favourite genres were about books – this could be useful information to help me filter my RSS feeds about blog topics. The data generated in Amazon’s ecosystem, can benefit me and enjoy a product in another ecosystem, in a mutually beneficial way.

5) You’re the boss!
By being able to generate APML for the things you give attention to, you are recognising the value your attention has – something companies already place a lot of value on. Your browsing habits can reveal useful information about your personality, and the ability to control your profile is a very powerful concept. It’s like controlling the image people have of you: you don’t want the wrong things being said about you. 🙂

Want to know more?
Check the APML FAQ. Othersise, post a comment if you still have no idea what APML is. Myself or one of the other APML workgroup members would be more than happy to answer your queries.