WhatsApp Is A Black Swan

lightning-strike-bolt-blackA long time ago, back before a time which we aren’t supposed to talk about (pre 2007), I used to have a podcast which talked about many different things, among them the future, innovation and politics, which I recorded on the road in the car on my way to work. I would rant and rave about all sorts of stuff, pointing out things that were happening, calling out stupid drivers on the road, and just talking generally about things that annoyed me.

At the time, there was this guy in the news who called himself a “reallionnaire” (found out recently that the guys name is Farrah Gray) – basically someone who, at a very young age, 14 I think, was able to go from rags to riches, and was now telling his story so that “you too can do the same!”. I made that the subject of one of my shows. Now I haven’t read his book, but I think I don’t really need to – its likely a pretty inspirational story, like all of these motivational books, now stop me if you’ve heard this one before – someone fights off many barriers to success, using a set of actions, which propels them into riches and success, And all you need to do is to the same thing – and you will pretty much achieve the same result. Kudos to him for being able to break out of what sounds like a terrible situation. And while his story sound pretty inspirational, what I’m trying to say is: Your Results May Vary. Greatly.

This kind of story is also pretty rampant here (without the extremely dirt-poor beginnings) in Silicon Valley – lower middle to upper middle class software engineer pulls a couple of his friends together, they work on a startup in their spare time, their startup launches, they get discovered, boom, the engineers are suddenly billionaires. Of course, the real story is that this happens so rarely that its news when it does happen. Like with WhatsApp.

Since the story broke that those not-quite-broke engineers who started WhatsApp years ago just sold it for $19b to Facebook, the tech media has been full of stories on – just like in the “reallionnaire” case, you too can be successful if you just, as they did, so the exact same thing.

Of course, when you look at the WhatsApp story, its completely different from the others where lightning struck. The WhatsApp folks build their user base over time, providing a quality product at a very reasonable price – they didn’t run ads, they charged for their product, they let people use it free for a year before charging a minuscule $1 a year to use.

Additionally, if you look at WhatsApp, IMHO, there is nothing really special about it – other than its huge user base. What really differentiates it from Kik, or Google Hangouts, or WeChat, or any number of instant messaging platforms out there – even going all the way back to ICQ (yes, I know I’m dating myself now) other than maybe the pricing model?

Also, there’s been another meme floating around about how your business should address a specific pain point – a need as opposed to a want. I blogged about this same thing myself when I talked about Haircuts, Pie and Cupcakes. Now I understand that people may have a need to communicate, but do they really have a need to communicate via WhatsApp? There is nothing really specifically interesting about it. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really address a specific need or want. I’ve eaten cupcakes, and WhatsApp is no cupcake.

So what my point? Simple. There is NO proven formula. There is NO single set of steps that you can take in order to go from point A to point B in order to be successful. You can become a billionaire by building a quality app and building a big user base over a long time, or you can become a billionaire by developing an app in a few months, attracting the right kind of attention and traction, then get snapped up in less than a year by some big tech firm.

There may be no specific set of steps – there is no specific criteria – on what is successful and what isn’t. It may not be pure luck, but its pretty damn close. There are, however, as few things that do make the difference – and its not about the app at all. Its about the people. Its about the connections. Its about being in the right place at the right time, talking to the right people at the right moment. That’s when the magic happens. It’s very, very close to pure, dumb, luck – you can’t engineer this stuff.

Ever read Black Swan? People read this stuff and and think – oh that’s interesting – then over time forget about it – but if you ask me its totally pertinent to many. many things in life, one of which is your startup being successful or failing miserably. Events like the WhatsApp deal may not be Black Swan like disasters, man made or natural, but they do come out of the blue. Just like lightning strikes, you can make yourself more susceptible to them by standing outside in a field in a thunderstorm, but that is still no guarantee that you will be hit. In fact, I’d argue that its much easier to be struck by lightning than to be struck as a billionaire by writing an app.

So how do you increase your chances of getting hit by lightning? You stand out in the rain. You stick out. It doesn’t matter if you’re startup cures cancer or provides and pleasant diversion. You just have to be standing in the right field in the middle of a thunderstorm with your metal helmet on – otherwise known as – building a network of people who can socialize your ideas as far and wide as possible. It’s all about who knows you – and who knows your product. You can’t make Black Swan’s happen, but you can increase the odds of getting struck by lightning.

 

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Anonymity IS Free Speech

Faceless2If you think about it, apps like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat and even Twitter (assuming that you didn’t share your personal details in your profile or with Twitter – or even create a fake persona), are not only perfect for our new age of outrage, they are the true embodiment of real free speech. Free speech has basically disappeared from the net, as fear of retribution has pushed people away from using their real and true persona to speak freely.

Isn’t it great when you can anonymously slam a public figure for being a jerk (or not a jerk, depending on how you feel about the following), whether it be Justin Beiber (jerky Canadian brat who thinks his fame lets him get away with anything), Anatoly Pakhomov (jerky Sochi Mayor who, I’m sure erroneously believes that there are no gay people in his city), or Jared Padalecki (who had the temerity to voice an opinion – God forbid we let people do that – on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman) with no fear of retribution. Isn’t it great when you can vent your anger and frustration and outrage at someone anonymously, and no one can get back at you for it.

Back when we first started talking to each other – we pretty much we had to speak directly to each other. Sure, we had ways of hiding speakers identities, like anonymous letters, through messengers and other ways. When you were outraged back then, you could write a strongly worded letter, or show up at the council meeting, or wherever you wanted to air your grievances and be heard. Of course, back then there was also a pretty strong filtering system which decided whether or not to actually broadcast your message. You had no choice in the matter – either the editors saw merit in your letter and printed it, or they didn’t and didn’t. I’ll bet that most of the anonymous letters received by newspapers back then never made it to press, unless it supported the same opinions as the editorial staff.

Human beings want to speak out. They want to be heard. But for the longest time, they haven’t had that option. But now we do.However, we are still used to an ephemeral world – where things live and die. We write something down on a sheet of paper, when we want to destroy it, we shred it or set fire to it. We are used to being able to destroy things when we don’t need them anymore – or they will affect us negatively later on.

We also love to vent when we feel strong emotions – its very therapeutic – and I’m sure that there are plenty of schools of psychology that support the outpouring of emotion onto paper. Unfortunately, we no longer live in an ephemeral world.

That world is over – and only now are we catching up to that fact. Most likely every single thing that you do online is being tracked and recorded somewhere. Even if you delete these tracks, my guess is that they are probably cached somewhere at whatever place you did whatever you did at – be it Facebook, Google, or any of the big 5 sites. Being able to just destroy what you did is almost impossible now – and we are only just coming to grips with that.

And not only is the online world no longer ephemeral, so is the offline world. Just using your smartphone to buy your coffee, or a credit card – creates an indelible, permanent stamp that you were in that place at that time. Just try to delete that record – you don’t even have the rights to it – its owned by the credit card company. As the internet of things grows, less and less of our lives will be ephemeral – everything that we say and do will be permanently recorded somewhere.

Look at wearables like Google Glass. If not Glass, probably in the next, oh say two years, the wearables form factor will take off – I’ve said so myself. These devices will be so useful in our lives that we will allow them to record all of our lives. And these previously ephemeral bits of our lives will be logged and stored forever.

Now on the one hand, this is not a bad thing – as we age and get more and more dependent on our machine sides (BTW, I did say that we are already cyborgs, didn’t I?) all of that memory in the backup brain will be very useful.

But on the other hand, do you really want that alcohol laced rage-fest about your last boss blogged to the world the afternoon after you were fired out there – I mean – at all?

We now get it – everything we do or say is out there – forever. And this is one of the reasons why apps like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat are so hot – people need to speak – but at the same time – they want the ephemeral nature of the old world to keep those thoughts from hurting them in future.

Based on my Whisper research, I can tell you that the anonymity – even if its not real – does allow one to speak freely – and that free speech, for some – is truly therapeutic in a world where many people have lost their way – on the one hand giving up any guidance from something like a religion, but on the other hand not feeling strong enough to be the master of their own destiny (I guess they never read Ayn Rand in high school)

So now that we know that – and we know that people want to be able to choose to make things go away – it should be very simple to add those attributes to your product – blog posts that disappear after a certain period – images that go away – as well the the ability to be timeless  but anonymous.

My sense is that going forward, apps who force an identity requirement will become less and less prevalent, and those who allow a sense of anonymity will prevail.

So get anonymous people – your users want it.

 

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Secret, Whisper, Snapchat : Anonymity IS Free Speech

Faceless2If you think about it, apps like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat and even Twitter (assuming that you didn’t share your personal details in your profile or with Twitter – or even create a fake persona), are not only perfect for our new age of outrage, they are the true embodiment of real free speech. Free speech has basically disappeared from the net, as fear of retribution has pushed people away from using their real and true persona to speak freely.

Isn’t it great when you can anonymously slam a public figure for being a jerk (or not a jerk, depending on how you feel about the following), whether it be Justin Beiber (jerky Canadian brat who thinks his fame lets him get away with anything), Anatoly Pakhomov (jerky Sochi Mayor who, I’m sure erroneously believes that there are no gay people in his city), or Jared Padalecki (who had the temerity to voice an opinion – God forbid we let people do that – on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman) with no fear of retribution. Isn’t it great when you can vent your anger and frustration and outrage at someone anonymously, and no one can get back at you for it.

Back when we first started talking to each other – we pretty much we had to speak directly to each other. Sure, we had ways of hiding speakers identities, like anonymous letters, through messengers and other ways. When you were outraged back then, you could write a strongly worded letter, or show up at the council meeting, or wherever you wanted to air your grievances and be heard. Of course, back then there was also a pretty strong filtering system which decided whether or not to actually broadcast your message. You had no choice in the matter – either the editors saw merit in your letter and printed it, or they didn’t and didn’t. I’ll bet that most of the anonymous letters received by newspapers back then never made it to press, unless it supported the same opinions as the editorial staff.

Human beings want to speak out. They want to be heard. But for the longest time, they haven’t had that option. But now we do.However, we are still used to an ephemeral world – where things live and die. We write something down on a sheet of paper, when we want to destroy it, we shred it or set fire to it. We are used to being able to destroy things when we don’t need them anymore – or they will affect us negatively later on.

We also love to vent when we feel strong emotions – its very therapeutic – and I’m sure that there are plenty of schools of psychology that support the outpouring of emotion onto paper. Unfortunately, we no longer live in an ephemeral world.

That world is over – and only now are we catching up to that fact. Most likely every single thing that you do online is being tracked and recorded somewhere. Even if you delete these tracks, my guess is that they are probably cached somewhere at whatever place you did whatever you did at – be it Facebook, Google, or any of the big 5 sites. Being able to just destroy what you did is almost impossible now – and we are only just coming to grips with that.

And not only is the online world no longer ephemeral, so is the offline world. Just using your smartphone to buy your coffee, or a credit card – creates an indelible, permanent stamp that you were in that place at that time. Just try to delete that record – you don’t even have the rights to it – its owned by the credit card company. As the internet of things grows, less and less of our lives will be ephemeral – everything that we say and do will be permanently recorded somewhere.

Look at wearables like Google Glass. If not Glass, probably in the next, oh say two years, the wearables form factor will take off – I’ve said so myself. These devices will be so useful in our lives that we will allow them to record all of our lives. And these previously ephemeral bits of our lives will be logged and stored forever.

Now on the one hand, this is not a bad thing – as we age and get more and more dependent on our machine sides (BTW, I did say that we are already cyborgs, didn’t I?) all of that memory in the backup brain will be very useful.

But on the other hand, do you really want that alcohol laced rage-fest about your last boss blogged to the world the afternoon after you were fired out there – I mean – at all?

We now get it – everything we do or say is out there – forever. And this is one of the reasons why apps like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat are so hot – people need to speak – but at the same time – they want the ephemeral nature of the old world to keep those thoughts from hurting them in future.

Based on my Whisper research, I can tell you that the anonymity – even if its not real – does allow one to speak freely – and that free speech, for some – is truly therapeutic in a world where many people have lost their way – on the one hand giving up any guidance from something like a religion, but on the other hand not feeling strong enough to be the master of their own destiny (I guess they never read Ayn Rand in high school)

So now that we know that – and we know that people want to be able to choose to make things go away – it should be very simple to add those attributes to your product – blog posts that disappear after a certain period – images that go away – as well the the ability to be timeless  but anonymous.

My sense is that going forward, apps who force an identity requirement will become less and less prevalent, and those who allow a sense of anonymity will prevail.

So get anonymous people – your users want it.

 

The post Secret, Whisper, Snapchat : Anonymity IS Free Speech appeared first on thinkfuture etc..

Artists Should Not Work For Free

i_am_an_artist

Just Cause Its Free To Deliver Doesn’t Mean It Should Be Free, Period.

Spotify’s latest move to make all of its services free (since they raised a quarter billion dollars) is just the latest strike against paying for content.

For a while now the perceived price of content has been under fire.

The source of this probably came about during the late 60′s with Stewart Brand‘s infamous comment:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

Note the part that stuck: “information wants to be free“. Ugh. But also notice that in the next sentence, he talks specifically about distribution.

While Brand was referring to the cost of distributing the information – the meaning of this has been stretched and pulled like taffy over time to extend over to the cost of the entire creation of “information”. And since this quote – all kinds of content have morphed from physical media – LPs, CDs – VHS tapes, DVDs, printed books, magazines – to information. So, its true – while the cost of distributing the information has approached zero, only in some of these areas has the cost of creation actually dropped.

For example, it used to require musicians for an artist to record, mix and release tracks of music. Recording studio space had to be secured, costs were high, as was the barrier to entry. But nowadays, free and low cost software can turn anyone into the next Skrillex (well not anyone, you need to still have the talent). In that industry the costs of creating the media have dropped, as in film. The technology required to make an independent film has dropped precipitously, so as above, anyone with a little talent and a smartphone can create a compelling vision. Not so much for writing though. The craft of writing really hasn’t changed all that much – sure the tools have gotten more sophisticated, but unless someone has created some kind of automatic writing engine which just takes concepts and spits out stories (I’d pay real money for that one), that mostly requires butt-in-seat time.

In all of this content creation – we may have shaved down the cost of the recording and distribution – but the time – and time IS a cost – and skill of the artist required to produce quality work – have remained the same. The skill to write a good story, to take a great picture, to produce an awesome track, to move people emotionally with film – those things have great value. It is my assertion that that value is being whittled away, bit by bit, by the audience – who just look at the recording and distribution costs nearing zero, as a reason that the entire cost of the object, including the time and skill the artist put into creating the work also should be zero.

When these things were physical objects, people gladly paid for them. For some reason, now that they are information – people want them to be free. We can lay the blame for this cheapening at the feet of many places – the distaste of people for what they perceive are the excesses of capitalism, the wrecking of the concept of a free market by places and services like Fiverr and iTunes, the open source and shareware/freeware software movements (on the one hand, the unfettered exchange of software is a great thing – but on the other hand, there are thousands of programmers out there, who, slave like, code for no compensation. And when people get used to you producing something for nothing, then why pay something when you get something for nothing?)

How do Fiverr and iTunes wreck a market? In a true free market, (like eBay, which is not perfect but closer to a free market) prices are set by an agreement between buyer and seller – they agree to a price where both the buyer and the seller walk away pleased with the deal – the buyer getting fair value for their money and the seller getting fair value for the time that they put into creating the product. Even fixed price markets, like Etsy, allow a seller to set a price – and there is even room for some negotiation. Places like Fiverr, where every service is one price, perverts this beautiful process, by forcing every product, content and service from shooting a video, or recording an audio track, to writing a blog post or a short story, to a single price. This sets the value ahead of time – no matter how much effort the seller does or does not put into the creation of the content, the price is the same. And in order to provide good value to the buyers, the sellers typically over deliver. Expectations are incredibly high, and the review and rating mechanisms are overly harsh to the sellers.

Since often these marketplaces often feature one of a kind created physical items, even those items are tarred by the same brush – even physical item prices – original works created by artists – suffer the same fate.

The artists are constantly getting screwed down. Probably partially based on the mistaken belief of the buyers that the full “costs” (as opposed to just the recording and distribution costs) to create a musical track, a video, or a book, or a photo, get lower and lower, the “price” a buyer should pay should also get lower and lower. Eventually, buyers will expect all content to be near zero – or even free.

There’s been a recent meme floating around the internet from a photographer, tired of his customers expecting him to work for very little or free, wrote and posted an ad on Craigslist asking for people to work for him for free, since everyone expects him to work for free – or very little:

Titled “Pro Photographer Looking for People to Do Their Job Without Pay,” the photographer decides it’s turnabout time. “I am a photographer,” the shooter writes, “and since people are always looking for free shoots I assume that they must also do their job, or provide their services, for free.”

“I am looking to hire all types of people to do all sorts of jobs for me, as long as I do not have to pay anything,” he continues. “Just think, you will gain more experience, and I will put the word out for you and let everyone know what wonderful work you do.”

I know a number of photographers, writers, videographers and musicians who are seeing it too – although the time and skill to create quality content has not changed, the price expectations has truly plummeted, to the point where one can no longer support oneself creating content, unless it’s a physical object. Only physical objects seem to hold more value, and the market which prefers physical objects is getting smaller and smaller.

What is the future path for content creators? Do they go down the path of open source developers and give their content (source code) away for free, only to make up the money in other ways (training and documentation)? I’ve read plenty of articles about how bands can’t make a penny on selling music, but make up their money in concerts and sales of physical goods. But what about writers and others? Even now, a book making its way up the charts Write, Publish, Repeat, is advocating giving away your first books for free, in order to satiate an audience that wants everything for nothing. I’m not sure that simply bowing to that pressure is the right way to go – which is why when I published my first fiction book, I priced it at what I thought was a reasonable amount, which would pay for my time and skill in creating the book.

In 2007, I filed for a patent on an idea to create a true media marketplace, where content creators and content purchasers could reach a fair price on the cost of the content – pleasing both the buyer and the seller. Since then, we’ve culturally forced down the cost of content to the point where a system like that might never allow the content creators to receive full and proper value for their time and skill.

There may be some solution for content creators in a crowdsourced environment, where some kind of bidding system would allow both the creators and the buyers the ability to reach a reasonable price for content – allowing the content creators to continue to do what they do best – create quality content – and give the buyers better content at a reasonable price.

We simply need to bring a true market back to content, and stop pushing the price near zero. We have to reassert the value in the time and skill required to take that beautiful picture, write that moving story or lay down that groove. Like never before, we have the technology and the networks in place to create a true free market for artists. Who will take the first step?

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