Your thoughts, your pictures, your daily life ... maybe it's your journal, or your diary. Do you own it? Should you? Facebook backed down last month when people said its user agreement gave it ownership of users' pictures.
Anita Campbell started me thinking about this yesterday, with her post on digital sharecroppers.
Is your life on Facebook? Twitter? Your blog? Or, perhaps, this question instead: who's making the money?
Facebook makes money off the ads it puts on your page. Twitter intends to make money some day; in the meantime, it builds users.
When I post on this blog, at least, my writing is mine; and the ads you see here are for my own work. When I post on other blogs, like Up and Running, or Huffington Post, I get satisfaction, somebody else gets ad revenue. What about your blogging?
Me? I'm okay with it. Facebook and especially Twitter feel to me like I'm connecting with friends, I like it, I do it on purpose, and I'm not concerned with protecting rights or intellectual property. Actually I'm grateful for the platform. My blogging on the big sites gives me a voice, and that's worth it to me.
How about you? Is it working for you? It's a question worth asking.
Now here's a good rule to live by:
1) Do unto others as you would have them announce to 100,000 people you have done.
I had seen this one a couple of days ago on the Huffington Post, part of Richard Smith's 10 new Golden Rules for Living in a Web 2.0 World, a thoroughly enjoyable list. Good advice for a not-so-big world.
But wait. What if there's a corollary? You do unto others nicely, as implicitly suggested above, and nobody will announce anything to anybody, because that's boring. Do something dumb, mean, or otherwise embarrassing, and that will spur an announcement. We should call that the page-view paradox of Richard's rules.
Remember the old saying, "Nice guys finish last?" Bad news travels fast, and good news doesn't. Bad reviews are more fun to read than good reviews.
I still remember the line in a movie review, from 30 years ago, where the reviewer said the director had "delusions of adequacy." Panning is more fun than praising. I don't remember lines from good reviews.
I looked back at this and Richard's rules today after I read Michael Arrington's startling spit-in-the-face story on TechCrunch. Which, I should add, I had found because somebody I follow in Twitter commented on it with the phrase "you reap what you sew (sic)." Gulp.
Arrington, clearly still reeling from the unnerving experience of having such a vivid expression from someone he didn't know at all, says he's going to take some time off, and think about it. He tells of death threats a few months ago, and expensive security.
TechCrunch, the blog, and Michael Arrington, its founder, play a king-maker role in high tech. A good review on TechCrunch can make a company suddenly real. A bad review can hurt, but even that's better than no review at all. Arrington's in a tough position, in my mind. He can't do what he does well without disappointing a lot of people. I don't know him, but I've seen him perform, I've read his work, and I feel for his dilemma. You can't do a job like his well without making enemies.
And in his case, it's not even a matter of bad reviews: the worst thing TechCrunch can do to an aspiring new company is nothing at all; there is no news worse than no news. In other words: silence. That's a tough world to live in.
Which brings me to two more of Richard's suggested golden rules:
9) The day your name hits the top of the Google search rankings will NOT be a good day.
10) It is more compelling than ever to simply do the right thing for yourself and for the world. Positive actions have now been gifted with incredibly long tails.
These two go together because rule 9 is a restatement of the page-view paradox. Bad news is far more interesting than the opposite; and the opposite of bad news isn't good news, but rather, no news. So that contradicts rule 10. Damn! I want to believe that positive actions are now being gifted; but I don't see it happening. At least, not often.
It was about a generation ago that Thomas Harris' book I'm OK-You're OK was a best seller. It pointed out (among other things) that two random people sitting together on an airplane seat were far more likely to start talking by sharing the negative (these planes are always late ... these seats are too small ...) than anything positive. This seems to be a general rule. And it relates to the power of the negative in blogs, reviews, and general human behavior. We are all pretty annoying, you have to admit.
So I wonder. I get it that the new world can turn out and expose phonies and cheats faster than ever. But don't they -- the cheats and phonies and all -- get more page views too?
Last week John Jantsch posted My Social Media System, detailing his twice-daily, daily, weekly, and monthly routines in blogging, twitter, and so on. In email he asked me (and several others) to join in:
I would love it if you would consider writing a similar post on your blog and then let's hook them all together and create an "at this moment" guide. I think this would be a very instructional free guide in PDF form and I would be happy to collect, document and share for everyone's use - this could change over time obviously.
That's an attractive invitation. For me, though, it's not so systematic. In fact, my 18-month journey into the soft white underbelly of social media is more like delightful, alluring, distracting, disorderly chaos. I'm 61. If this post had a sound track, it would be White Rabbit, by Jefferson Airplane. In fact, I just put that onto my iTunes, while I write this.
"But I'm all about business planning," I said. "It's not a blogging thing. It's static." OMG, how wrong I was with that one! Falling headlong down the hole. That was April of 2007. I'd just decided to step down from managing Palo Alto Software. The new team wanted me blogging.
"Don't worry," Sabrina said. "You'll get it."
"Install Google Reader," Noah added, "and start reading the blogs. You'll see."
And I saw. Since then I've done more than 1,000 posts on Planning Startups Stories, and Up and Running alone, not to mention Planning Demystified, and dozens each on Small Business Trends, Huffington Post, and Business in General.
Blogging Tips and Tools
I'm new at Twitter; still getting used to it. I'm following a few hundred people, and a few hundred -- almost exactly the same number, but not all the same people -- follow me. You're welcome to follow me as timberry. And here's what I've figured out so far:
Which brings me back to the idea of chaos, and getting lost in wonderland. I can't write about this stuff without admitting that I don't understand it all that well. I've only got a dozen or so Facebook friends, exclusively family, and I'm turning down friend requests because I can't deal with them. I do have a few hundred LinkedIn connections (I'm Timberry there too) and I've answered a bunch of questions on my favorite topics (business plans, startups). So with that in mind, my next section is...
Where Social Media Things Baffle Me
I think valuation is fascinating. What is a company worth? With the larger publicly traded companies you can easily calculate a valuation using the wisdom of the crowd, the market itself, by multiplying shares outstanding times price per share. But in the real world of small business, gulp, this is much harder.
Concretely: how much is your business worth? How much could you sell it for? How would you decide? What formulas would you use? More importantly, what formulas would your hypothetical or theoretical buyers use?
Ultimately, like it or not, just about anything is worth what somebody else will pay for it. Your business is worth what you could sell it for.
And what would that be? Well, that's really hard to know, until you go to the market. Some people talk about 5 or 10 or more times profits, but then face it, in small business, in the real world, profits is a very vague number, an accounting conceit. Some people talk about 1 or 2 or more times sales, which eliminates a lot of the accounting fiction. Others talk about valuations based on book value, or assets.
I'm amused at how much of this stuff is loosey-goosey, even though it's in the realm of finance, which is supposed to be mathematical and exact. And isn't.
I posted here last Fall about BizEquity.com, Tom Taulli's really intriguing site that's attempting to create a database of first-cut estimated valuations of businesses all over the United States. I talked to Tom last month after the big meltdown, and found, happily, he's still optimistic about the long-term value of the BizEquity site. They're working on it. I suggested he take his September data and multiply it by about 0.5 or so; and I was only partially joking. Tom knows this area very well, but of course the whole volatility burst has been a challenge. Last summer might not have been the most opportune time for Tom and his backers to start.
So I was interested yesterday Monday morning as I soaked in coffee and I noted -- thanks to Ann Handley in Twitter -- Advertising Age's Simon Dumenco's angry analysis of the Huffington Post's recent venture capital infusion at a valuation of $100 million.
His title, unfortunately, is What's $200 Million Divided by 2009 Reality. That's too bad, because the $100 million (or less) estimated valuation was widely publicized when Oak Investment Partners announced the investment last November. Simon doesn't enhance his argument by referring to the twice-as-large-as-fact figure, $200 million, that actually appeared much earlier, last Spring. The phrase "straw man" comes to mind.
That glaring error aside, he seems offended by the VC's reported valuation. He has references to the big Internet bubble of the late 1990s. It should be only $2 million, according to him.
I think he exaggerates his point, not just by doubling the figure, but also by lowballing his real estimate. The Huffington Post has made huge (and well reported) gains in traffic. Furthermore, unlike a lot of the Web 2.0 sites he wants to knock, this one has an actual revenue model. For better or worse, the Huffington Post is almost like old-fashioned media. It generates readers with news and opinion, and it sells advertising. So somewhere in the numbers -- which are not public -- is a number for revenues, and a valuation based on (among other things) revenues as well as traffic.
And it all goes to illustrate my point, today: valuation is hard to figure. It's also important. And, in the end, a company is worth what buyers will pay for it. In the case of Huffington Post, it's not a vague theoretical guess. The VCs who invested in Huffington set a price, and, with that, a valuation.
It struck me as a pretty good idea: Ads Are the New Tip Jar by Seth Godin.
If you like what you're reading, click an ad to say thanks.
It made sense at first read. But maybe I was multitasking a bit, doing three things at once. I often do that ... see, I'm off the subject already ...
But then I saw an interestingly negative reaction titled How Do You Help a Blogger at Zen Habits, which linked to Ads Are NOT the New Tip Jar on Get Rich Slowly. Two very thoughtful posts on high-quality blogs. Both of them objected to Seth's idea and offered some suggestions of their own, things they'd like to have you do instead of just clicking on ads. Which included:
- Add a comment. Any normal blogger wants as much input and feedback as possible. Make a comment.
- Tell people about it. If you really like a blog, tell people about it. Word of mouth is the best advertising, especially from those who really like a blog.
- Link to it. If you’re a blogger, and you like one of my posts, link to it! That’s always appreciated greatly.
- Subscribe. I've posted on this blog about metrics. Every blogger wants more subscribers.
- Amazon purchases. Most bloggers are Amazon.com affiliates, so that when they recommend a book and you click the link on their blog, they get a small commission. I receive a small commission on this blog, when, for example, I recommend a book, link to it at Amazon.com, and I include my affiliate code in the link.
And so on. I've left some out. I like controversy.
By the next day, in Beating the Status Quo, Seth acknowledged the criticism. Here's what he wrote:
It's pretty clear that this post and the one before were seen by practitioners of click advertising as just plain stupid. If you read them the way they read them, that interpretation is entirely possible, and I apologize. My intent was to point out that we're creating a culture of surfers who just don't click on ads, which has far-reaching effects for our medium. For those that saw some other intent, I'm sorry. I'll try to do better next time.
To be fair, Seth's suggestion was not self-serving. He doesn't have the kind of pay-per-click ads he writes about. His model is different. He links to his books, and he makes money if you buy them, not just because you clicked the link.
Which is a good reminder that business models vary. Not all blogs are created equal.
And that some very good writers and thinkers -- all three that I've linked to here -- can differ.
For the record, I don't have pay-per-click on this blog either; my model is a lot like Seth's. I'd love it if you do any of those four things on the list above, or buy my book, or my company's software. Or, if you like the book or the software, review them on Amazon.com. Or anywhere else .
They talk about blogging, Twitter, social media; why it's good for business, why not, how to do it, and why. Humbug. The topic is off base. It's not whether its good or bad, but does it fit with everything else you're doing. Does it fit with your strategy? Does it match?
A couple of generations ago business discovered toll-free telephone numbers, the once-famous 800 numbers that most of us take for granted. There was a rush on toll-free numbers in the beginning. Then businesses started to discover that a toll-free telephone number did them no good without marketing to make the damn number ring. The number itself was neutral; a pipe with no flow.
That's the deal with blogging, Twitter, etc.; none of these is either good or bad for business, in and of themselves. It has to be related to the rest of the business. What does blogging do for your strategy? Where does Twitter fit into the marketing mix? What are the metrics? How will you know whether it's working or not?
Here's a thought for you: if you are into this new world (which, I suppose, is likely, since you're reading this) then start figuring out how you're going to measure the impact on your business. Try this exercise: look at your bank balance as it is with the new media efforts. Consider what it would have been if you hadn't been working the new media. Which would be higher?
It started earlier this week with a piece in the New York Times titled In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop. Highlights:
Two weeks ago in North Lauderdale, Fla., funeral services were held for Russell Shaw, a prolific blogger on technology subjects who died at 60 of a heart attack. In December, another tech blogger, Marc Orchant, died at 50 of a massive coronary. A third, Om Malik, 41, survived a heart attack in December.
Gulp. I turned 60 in January. And I've done more than 450 posts in the last year, on this blog and several others. Am I brave, foolish, or both? Maybe I should do something safer, like fire fighting or sky jumping.
I think I'm (sort of) copying that response from John Jantsch, who posted I'm just dying to blog about this on Duct Tape Marketing:
I started the story and I found myself looking around for the punch line, but I’m afraid they - the New York Times and Matt Richtel - were serious. Each paragraph was more bizarre than the next. I felt as though I had to have stumbled onto an edition of the Onion.
One of the comments on John's piece is "Sounds like a late April's Fool (sic). Good thing normal managers never are overworked or have heart attacks." To which John adds, "should have been." I'm with John on this. It should have been a joke. And I'm with him as well as he adds, on a more serious note:
Look, I’m not usually so negative on this blog, but I’ve grown very tired of the media’s characterization of blogging. There is no question that you can find people who have become so obsessed with something they get paid for that they do it death (see gamers, lawyers, miners, athletes, prostitutes.)
In this case they found a handful of people with no life who are now being paid to have no life. So where’s the story in that?
Confession: I worked way too much during the formative years of Palo Alto Software. Try going into a third mortgage and $65,000 of credit card debt while not missing payroll. Blogging, in comparison, is a piece of cake.
One of the more meaningful responses to the piece (in my opinion) is Business or Pleasure, posted by Alan Johnston in Copyblogger. He was writing about writing, but I changed "writing" to "work" because it applies just as well:
A lot of people make the mistake of starting out by picking a niche they are not exactly passionate about simply because it pays well.
In other words, they are just in it for the money and somehow consider this a sound business model. It’s easy to show up day after day if the pay is good, right?
Sorry to burst your bubble there, but you couldn’t be more wrong. If you don’t like what you’re doing, your
writingwork will reflect that, no matter how hard you try.
Well said. Somewhere down in the heart of business, or maybe that's entrepreneurship, is figuring out how to do what you like to do; because you're going to do a lot of it.
(note: this was posted first on Small Business Trends, yesterday afternoon. I'm reposting here for readers' convenience.)
Time travel? Or is it just Mac or Mars Edit or TypePad? As I write this, at just about 8 a.m. PDT on April 9, my previous post (does investment make the venture) was (I repeat, was) posted tomorrow morning.
TypePad doesn't normally do that to me. I've taken to frequently posting things in advance so I get a post a day regardless of travel schedule or meetings. For example, I have some posts already waiting for a visit to Mexico later this month. TypePad normally handles that fine.
I was up pretty early this morning, looking at things, including tomorrow's post. I used Mars Edit on my Mac at home to pull tomorrow's piece down, edit slightly, and post it back up. TypePad was fine with it waiting until tomorrow, but I did some other things, and then as I get into the office about three hours later, there is tomorrow's post today. With tomorrow's date on it. Visible.
Isn't technology grand?
So I think somebody struck a nerve. So what do you think of this tip to save money:
Fire people who are not workaholics. Come on folks, this is startup life, it's not a game. Don't work at a startup if you're not into it. Go work at the post office or Starbucks if you want balance in your life.
That's from Mahalo founder Jason Calcanis, late last week, on his blog. He titled his post How to save money running a startup (17 really good tips). So he's the one calling his tips "really good," not me. Some of them are pretty good tips, but I think they got lost in the storm.
Responses came fast and furious. 111 comments by Sunday morning. Other blogs reacted too: one of the best of them was from 37 Signals, titled Fire the Workaholics, which concluded:
If your start-up can only succeed by being a sweatshop, your idea is simply not good enough. Go back to the drawing board and come up with something better that can be implemented by whole people, not cogs.
Jason, meanwhile, got hit hard, with some strong words. He quickly toned down the original, striking out a couple of the more quotable phrases. And, to his credit, he shows the edits too, in the post you'll find when you go there.
Fire people who
are not workaholics.don't love their work... come on folks, this is startup life, it's not a game. don't work at a startup if you're not into it--go work at the post office or Starbucks if you're not into it you want balance in your life. For realz
What's going on here? I think it's culture shock; war between worlds. These are not simple disagreements. There is a whole lot of aggression and anger in the comments.
There was a joke I heard first in Mexico City. Maybe you've heard an English version, but this is a translation. It's related to all of this.
A man walks into a crowded cantina and starts shooting two six guns in the air, getting everybody's attention. He draws a line across the middle of the bar and issues an order: "I want all the fools on one side of the line and the jerks on the other."
"Wait just a minute," says one man in the crowd. "I'm no fool."
"Then move to the other side of the line."
That's what this controversy is trying to do to startups and people running startups. It's pretty much either or, if you believe the flow and direction of the comment storm: fool or a jerk.
And I don't think it's that simple. I see at least two other issues rolling around vaguely in the middle of this. And perhaps a way to bring them together.
First, how do you define success? Every so often somebody reminds us that it's an important question. But we get lost in the startup tension, or maybe that's the startup culture. I think all we have to do is ask the question, as a reminder. There are so many shades of gray between the back of plain old failure and the white of fabulous billionaire success. Some people want to have a life, and they want the people around them to have lives. And it's not like there aren't examples of startups that respected people and balance. On the other hand, there are lots of stories around. One person's obsession is another's passion. You can paint that picture how you want. Do you want to be coach the kids' soccer team or (have a very small chance to) be on the cover of magazines?
The second issue is founders with blinders. They want the whole team to share the obsession but they forget that only a few of the top founders actually stand to share the pot of gold at the end of that very-hard-to-catch rainbow. Sometimes its leadership, sometimes its selfishness. It's insisting that everybody buy into their private dream, which sometimes is shared, and sometimes not. I've seen that kind of driven-and-driving-founder at work. The younger Steve Jobs was like that at Apple during the Macintosh gestation in 1983. Philippe Kahn had a lot of that when he build Borland International in the middle 1980s. I saw it again from a comfortable distance in the late 1990s, with dot-coms and their hard-driving work-is-everything atmosphere. That reminds me of the late 1990s in Silicon Valley. Back then it happened all over. I knew a company that raised $45 million venture capital in its first year, hired more than 100 employees, nobody over 30, and brought in dinner almost every night and offered video games and ping pong in the office. The 12-hour days were the norm. The long hours, the lack of balance, the obsession is supposed to be shared by the whole team, but, in many of these cases, the supposed rewards at the end of that long trek won't be shared by the whole team.
It can be a bit like the one-size-life-fits-all syndrome, except in this case it's the one-size-no-life fits all. Does that work? It didn't for that company I knew, which (because a legal settlement so required it) shall remain nameless. It did for Apple and Borland. I don't think that works very well for very long for anybody, at least not for any extended period of time. But then again, some of the people who say that it works have a whole lot of money.
And how do we bring it together? I think it might be value. Believing in what you're doing. I've known companies, and teams within companies, that believed that what they were doing in the business mattered, to them and to the world. There's a very special feeling that you get when you walk out the door at the end of the day with the feeling that you've spent your time making the world better, not worse. Some companies are built on making things better, while others are built on getting money out of people's pockets. Some companies respect their customers, some companies bilk there companies. You know who you are. Does that make it better?
(note: I posted this originally on Small Business Trends. I'm crossposting here for readers' convenience)
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