Monthly Archives: April 2007

Party in a NASA Hangar Gives a Glimpse of Space Culture

MOFFETT FIELD, California — Twenty-year Jet Propulsion Laboratory veteran Charles White drove 350 miles from Pasadena to attend what amounted to a rave in Hangar 211 at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View on Friday night.

It was worth it, he said. At Yuri’s Night Bay Area, rocket scientists were bigger than rock stars.

“My generation has a stereotype of the next generation, that the only thing they care about is Nintendo,” White said. “But you know, not one of this generation believes that. What’s out there,” he said, gesturing to the crowd and choking up, “what’s out there is a testimony to the love and the care that young people have for science and for space exploration. I go out there with the NASA logo on my shirt, and people come up to me and say, ‘You work for NASA? That’s so cool!’” White paused to wipe his eyes. “And when I tell them that I make nuts and bolts for space missions, they say, ‘That’s awesome, man!’ They ask me questions about it. They are really interested.”

Yuri’s Night Bay Area was almost certainly the first time that NASA ever gave one of its facilities over to a crowd like this. Dancers, hackers, Burning Man fans and space enthusiasts filled the hangar and the concrete apron in front of it.

NASA research aircraft were temporarily transformed into projection screens for trippy screensaver art. Videos and still images of space travel loomed on projection screens everywhere, while DJs spun dance music. Hackers and do-it-yourselfers showed off Sharpie-wielding art robots, an LED-illuminated polycarbonate-frame bicycle, a Google Earth flyover of Burning Man 2006, Lego robots, LED-illuminated hula hoops, ham radios, clothing, paintings, space helmets, LED-illuminated costumes and more. Geodesic domes gave symbolic shelter to tech demos and to hangout rooms with old, worn sofas. The Space Cowboys‘ Unimog, a military vehicle transformed into a self-contained mobile party machine, blasted dance tracks and showed space imagery on its fold-out projection screens.

It was, as one attendee remarked, as if NASA had decided to host Burning Man.

What’s more, Yuri’s Night gave a glimpse of an emerging culture of space enthusiasts, of people who are as interested in science and technology as they are in partying and having fun. When the music was interrupted by PowerPoint presentations, the crowd, far from dispersing, gathered closer in to the stage and listened attentively.

Self-funded space traveler Anousheh Ansari described her week in the International Space Station, showed a short video of her $20 million, week-long space trip and was greeted with applause and whoops of support. NASA exobiologist Chris McKay described how to colonize Mars without causing irreversible biological damage to any life that’s already there, and was loudly cheered.

The party celebrated the anniversary of the first human spaceflight, by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961, and was put on by Yuri’s Night, a nonprofit organization that also hosted parties in dozens of other locations around the world on the same date. NASA participated because “we hope to get people enthusiastic about NASA’s plans to establish lunar outposts and send humans to Mars,” according to the official press release.

Mission accomplished. If Yuri’s Night is any indication, people are wildly enthusiastic about space travel. Not to mention LCD projectors and wearable LED art.

Link: Party in a NASA Hangar Gives a Glimpse of Space Culture

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Kathy Sierra Case: Few Clues, Little Evidence, Much Controversy

In the mountain of commentary that has been published about the Kathy Sierra affair on blogs and in mainstream publications, one fact has so far remained obstinately unconfirmed: Who was it that posted threatening messages and images on Sierra’s website and on two other blogs?

Wired News interviewed many of the principals in the original affair, including Sierra; Frank Paynter and Chris Locke, the creators of the meankids.org blog; and other contributors to meankids.org. Our goal was to find out who actually posted the threatening content.

The investigation so far has led to two people, a meankids.org contributor and a commenter, who have acknowledged to Sierra that they authored content she found threatening. Sierra no longer considers these individuals as physical threats to her, and has agreed to keep the identity of one of them secret. There are at least two other people whose identities remain uncertain, however.

Identifying these perpetrators has proven impossible because most of the evidence has been destroyed, including server logs, IP addresses and the threatening content itself. Although others have identified a prime suspect, he has an alibi, which is impossible to confirm or debunk.

An account of the case can be gleaned from publicly available sources online, but it has so far been spread across dozens of blogs and thousands of comments. One exception is Jim Turner at One By One Media has the only comprehensive factual account we have found.

What follows is a fairly full summary of the case, based on facts Wired News has been able to verify.

The controversy broke March 26, when Sierra canceled an appearance at the ETech technology conference citing online threats against her against her life. Sierra contacted the Boulder Sheriff’s Department, which advised her to take the threats seriously.

Sierra, who is the author of several Java programming books as well as a marketing blog called Creating Passionate Users, reported she’d received death threats in the comments section of her own blog. Additionally, Sierra said, threatening images and commentary had appeared on meankids.org, a group blog that is now offline.

It’s not clear what provoked such a vitriolic response to Sierra. She attributes it to comments she made a year ago in support of bloggers’ rights to delete comments on their own blogs.

Reaction to Sierra’s announcement was swift and polarizing, with many people remarking on the viciousness of the commentary, and others defending the original posts on meankids.org as non-threatening satire.

“I think it touched a nerve,” Sierra said. “People had so much pent-up fear, anger, frustration, hurt over their own experiences, and it just opened up the floodgates.”

Our investigation revealed a few facts that are not disputed by any of the parties we interviewed:

· A contributor using the moniker “Rev Ed” was responsible for two of the most controversial posts on meankids.org, including one with a doctored image of Maryam Scoble (wife of tech blogger Robert Scoble) and a second post with a doctored image of Sierra. It is the second image that Sierra found particularly threatening; she posted a copy of this to her own blog but the image has since been removed. (It showed Sierra’s face covered by lacy red women’s underwear, and seems to have been based on this image posted on Flickr.)

· The nickname “Rev Ed” belonged to meankids.org contributor Alan Herrell, a Phoenix, Arizona-based computer and networking consultant, or someone posing as him. In an e-mail published after the Sierra affair broke, Herrell claimed his computer had been hacked and his identity stolen — that whoever was posting to meankids.org under the nickname “Rev Ed” was not him. The blog’s creator, Paynter, said he initially suspected Herrel, but the hacking story cast doubt on that suspicion. “My impression that (Rev Ed) was Alan is now tempered by Alan’s statement that he was hacked,” Paynter said. Herrell could not be reached for comment.

· Another post, which included an image of a noose, was made by a meankids.org contributor who later acknowledged authorship of that post to Sierra. Sierra acknowledged this poster’s explanation and no longer considers the poster a physical threat. The contributor, who has asked not to be identified, confirmed this version of events.

· Paynter provided the e-mail address and IP address of a meankids.org commenter called “Joey” to Sierra. This person had added a comment to the noose post that said, “The only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size.” Joey has contacted Sierra, and has offered his own account on another website.

· The most direct threats were posted to Sierra’s own blog. Sierra published the e-mail address and IP address of a commenter, “siftee,” in her March 26 post, along with one of the commenter’s threats, which is patently violent and sexual. The IP address indicates a user probably located in Spain, but attempts to contact this person by Wired News have so far been unsuccessful.

Getting to the bottom of the Sierra affair is complicated by the fact that meankids.org (as well as a second blog with many of the same contributors, unclebobism.wordpress.org) is now offline. Paynter and Locke deleted the sites as soon as they felt the content was becoming unacceptable. Paynter retained none of the data or server logs for meankids.org, which was hosted on his server. Unclebobism.wordpress.org was hosted by WordPress.com, and Automattic, which operates WordPress.com, declined to share server logs or web pages from the deleted account with Wired News.

The content of both sites is no longer available in public repositories, such as the Internet Archive or Google’s cache. As a result, it’s difficult to establish who posted what, and attempts to determine the threatening content of the posts is impossible because the posts themselves are unavailable for examination.

Additionally, Herrel’s claim that his computer was hacked means that server logs, even if available, would not be conclusive.

In the absence of public facts, such as server logs or even the blogs themselves, it is no surprise that public debate has been dominated by opinion and interpretation. There is only one certainty: For most commenters — whether mainstream media or bloggers — the absence of evidence has never been an obstacle to offering a strong opinion.

Comment on this story.

Link: Kathy Sierra Case: Few Clues, Little Evidence, Much Controversy

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Office insanity.

Office 2007 RibbonImagine you had a roommate who you’d known for ten years as a somewhat annoying, slightly compulsive, very finicky but ultimately very talented and capable individual. Now, suppose that one day this person showed up wearing completely new, very trendy clothes. A new hairstyle, sort of a New Wave flip, shaved on one side and with a big flop of hair over the left eye. Imagine that he insisted on doing everything different: milk in his coffee when he used to take it black, taking cabs to work instead of the bus, eating raw grains and sushi instead of hamburgers and french fries, switching his keyboard layout to Dvorak, filing things according to Zodiac signs instead of alphabetically. Suppose everything you asked him to do now took him three times longer to complete than before.

Suppose, too, that he insisted on speaking a new language, like Esperanto, whenever possible, although he’d condescend to translate his statements into English when you asked him to. Imagine that he moved all the kitchen cookware to new drawers, hiding some of it in the coat closet, his shoe drawer, or out in the garden under an inverted clay pot. Imagine that he redecorated your apartment in shaded gradients of blue, and replaced all the fixtures and switches with translucent candylike plastic buttons.

Imagine that on top of this he was also asking you to pick up a greater share of the rent, because he’d blown all his money on the new clothes, the sushi, and a feng shui consultant who advised him on where to hide all the cookware.

Would you think this person was merely odd, eccentric, or that he was going through a phase? Maybe he’s finally decided he’s gay, and that’s OK? Would you think, “Hey, it’s a daring new move, and once we all get used to it, we’ll love him even better this way”? Would you applaud his bold new look and try to get used to the new apartment, the slowness, the Esperanto?

Or would you conclude that the guy had gone completely insane?

My new favorite word.

Asshat,” which perfectly combines aspects of stupidity or clownishness and assholism.

I say this knowing that Gadget Lab blogger Rob Beschizza has outed me as someone who says “Oh my goodness” with no apparent trace of irony. Guilty as charged. Hey, I’ve got a young child. You want to hear a kindergardener calling you an asshat? I didn’t think so.

Tim O’Reilly: Web 2.0 Is About Controlling Data

It’s not too late to get on the “web 2.0″ bandwagon, says publishing magnate Tim O’Reilly, who coined the term. And if you’re wondering what it takes to build a web 2.0 startup, O’Reilly has just the conference for you — the Web 2.0 Expo.

O’Reilly Media and CMP are co-hosting the conference, which runs April 15 to 18 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Organizers expect between 7,000 and 10,000 people to check out the conference’s 120 exhibitors and seven educational tracks, covering topics from the elementary (web 2.0 fundamentals) to the complex and critical (web operations). O’Reilly describes it as a “how-to conference for web 2.0 developers.”

O’Reilly has been on many bloggers’ lips during the past two weeks. The buzz at his recently-concluded ETech conference was about Kathy Sierra’s abrupt cancellation of her speaking appearance there. Sierra cited anonymous death threats and harassment on her own blog’s Comments section, as well as on two blogs created by Cluetrain author Chris Locke. In the ensuing debate, O’Reilly brokered a meeting between Sierra and Locke, and made a call for a “bloggers’ code of conduct.” He even proposed badges that bloggers could put on their sites to indicate whether they moderated comments heavily or not at all.

We spoke with O’Reilly this week to find out what’s in store at the show, the current state of the much-hyped “web 2.0″ terminology and his current thoughts on civility in the blogosphere.

Wired News: Can you tell us what’s exciting about web 2.0 and what we can expect from the conference?

Tim O’Reilly: One of the big changes at the heart of web 2.0 is the shift from the creation of software artifacts, which is what the PC revolution was about, to the creation of software services. These are services that ultimately, if they are successful, will require competencies of operation, of scale, and the like.

I remember talking to people about this three or four years ago, and they (wanted to know) how many people need to scale services to the size of Google? Well, there are now hundreds of services as big as Google was back then.

Increasingly, with services like Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) and EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), we’re starting to see the emergence of operations as a platform, as well as an internal competency. Amazon’s been a real pioneer there.

WN: Are there any trends among the companies exhibiting at Web 2.0 Expo, the kinds of services and technologies being shown?

O’Reilly: Well, obviously this is a market with a lot of froth in it already. I have to say there are a lot of me-too products and companies. Yet another social network, of the 15th flavor — that’s common in every new technology revolution. There are imitators who have marginal improvements.

One of the companies that’s going live on Monday is Spock, which is a people-search engine. It’s really, really impressive. It’s thinking about whether there are other classes of data to which search hasn’t really been applied.

That goes back to a major theme of web 2.0 that people haven’t yet tweaked to. It’s really about data and who owns and controls, or gives the best access to, a class of data. Amazon is now the definitive source for data about whole sets of products — fungible consumer products. EBay is the authoritative source for the secondary market of those products. Google is the authority for information about facts, but they’re relatively undifferentiated.

Why did Google, for example, recently decide to offer free 411 service? I haven’t talked to people at Google, but it’s pretty clear to me why. It’s because of speech recognition. It has nothing to do with 411 service, it has to do with getting a database of voices, so they don’t have to license speech technology from Nuance or someone else. They want their own data stream.

WN: So you think that (control of data) is actually more characteristic of web 2.0 than social networking or Ajax (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) interfaces?

O’Reilly: Absolutely. Anybody who thinks that this is about Ajax is completely missing the boat.

I do think building rich internet applications is an important part of web 2.0. I don’t want to dismiss it, because we are able to build richer application platforms today. But it’s ultimately about network effects, and where do you build services that get better the more people use them? And it’s also about the databases that get created as a result of those network effects.

As far as I’m concerned, web 2.0 is still in it’s really early stages, and the reason is because the data isn’t all owned yet.

The network-effects play is about how you get increasing returns by everybody using your stuff, which is really what Microsoft did on the PC. Here we see it again, where these are winner-takes-all games. The internet looks like an open platform in the beginning, but once somebody gets a lead, their service gets better fast enough, if they’ve harnessed all the right levers, until it becomes a real barrier to entry.

Why, despite many attempts, have we seen nobody able to dethrone eBay? Well, it’s because there are network effects at work in auctions. You have a critical mass of buyers and sellers. We’re seeing that with Google AdWords — it’s just a bigger and better marketplace. There are these tipping points where these services really become monopolistic.

We’re still trying to move people toward really understanding what that new world looks like. I don’t think a lot of people are there. A lot of people still think, “Oh, it’s about social networking. It’s about blogging. It’s about wikis.” I think it’s about the data that’s created by those mechanisms, and the businesses that that data will make possible.

WN: You’ve been blogging about civility and your bloggers’ code of conduct. Do you expect that will be a topic of discussion at the conference? Or do you think it will change the tone of discussions there?

O’Reilly: Well, you know, people at a conference would not tolerate the kind of conversations that happen in the comment threads on many blogs. If somebody started standing up and shouting obscenities, you’d throw them out. My point is, most bloggers are way too tolerant of abusive behavior on their blogs.

I’ve come to think the call for a code of conduct was a bit misguided. A lot of sites have their own terms of service that are a lot like what I proposed for the code of conduct. And I was just saying, let’s get the best of the breed, let’s figure it out, so somebody who wants to have one of these doesn’t have to think it all up for themselves.

People have interpreted that as a call for some kind of MPAA ratings system or something. That’s not at all what I was proposing. I was proposing a modular set of terms of service, so somebody could say, “I don’t want this kind of behavior.” Now, a lot of people already do that, so it’s really much ado about nothing.

The problem, as I’ve really wrestled with it, is that right now your options in terms of enforcing civility are pretty binary. You have the ability to delete someone’s comments (on your own blog), or to let them stand.

There are some fairly sophisticated moderation systems out there. Of course, Slashdot is full of people who make terribly uncivil comments. But it’s possible because they have a good moderation system, where good comments are voted up. You can set your moderation threshold, you can say, “I only want to see the good comments.” So you’re exposed to a hundred useful comments, and the 900 comments that have generally been considered drivel or that haven’t been voted up, you don’t even see them. If you want to read them all, though, more power to you.

Most blogging platforms don’t have that kind of control. I want to get an attempt together to get some good moderation plugins on all the major blogging platforms, so people have other options than simply deleting.

The whole (code of conduct) was a reaction to Chris Locke’s original statement, you know, “I didn’t say that so I have no responsibility.” And I’m going, “Wait a minute, yeah, you do. You’re the manager of a site that was getting progressively nastier, and you let it happen.” It really started with a reaction to this idea that a site owner can and should disclaim comments on their blog.

WN: He did take the blog down.

O’Reilly: Yeah, he did, but that’s actually a terrible outcome, because now nobody knows what really was said. There’s a lot of he said, she said, with a lot of people who were involved saying “Well, it wasn’t really so bad, it wasn’t really a misogynistic, nasty site, it was just funny.” Well, how do we know? We can’t see. It’s gone.

WN: So would you put an “anything goes” button or badge on your own website?

O’Reilly: No, what I’d really like, and what I’m going to work for, is to get some better moderation mechanisms. One of the things Slashdot says is to focus on moderating up, not moderating down. Promote the good (comments), because they’re often really useful, thought-provoking comments and you want those. If we can give people good mechanisms, that’s probably actually better than promulgating any one policy.

Link: Tim O’Reilly: Web 2.0 Is About Controlling Data

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

What I Learned From Friendster: Jonathan Abrams’ New Startup

Jonathan Abrams’ last startup, Friendster, was one of the first social-networking companies to attract an audience of users numbering in the millions. Launched in 2003, the site grew quickly through word of mouth, as people rushed to connect with their friends online. Abrams became one of the most visible faces of the Web 2.0 renaissance. But Friendster’s infrastructure couldn’t cope with the rapid growth, and as users increasingly encountered delays and outages throughout 2004, Friendster was eclipsed by upstarts like Facebook and MySpace.

After leaving Friendster, Abrams invested in a San Francisco bar, Slide, and disappeared off the Silicon Valley startup radar screen for awhile. He has now returned to the internet business with a small startup called Socializr, which is designed to help people share event and party information with their friends.

Wired News visited Socializr recently in the company’s San Francisco offices, adjacent to a freeway demolition project. As jackhammers reduced the remnants of the Central Freeway to rubble, we asked Abrams about his new company’s mission and what he’s doing differently this time around.

Wired News: So, can you give me your elevator pitch? What is Socializr?

Jonathan Abrams: It’s a site for sharing events with your friends.

WN: There are already sites that do that, like Evite, so what’s the differentiator?

Abrams: We don’t really think Evite does that, because Evite doesn’t allow you to see what your friends are doing. The central concept of Socializr is the idea of combining social networking and event functionality together.

Step one is providing a really cool alternative to Evite, which hasn’t improved in five years. There’s just so much stuff — integrating music and video and SMS and IM — there’s just so much stuff that Evite doesn’t do. And that’s certainly part of why Socializr is valuable.

The big vision goes beyond that. The big vision is integrating that with social networking, and creating something where you could share stuff with your friends, which is an area that Evite’s never even got into.

WN: It sounds like you’re saying Evite is more of a broadcast model.

Abrams: Well, Evite doesn’t allow you to say, this person is my friend. There’s no concept of friends on Evite. And there’s no concept of sharing. On Socializr you can say, (Socializr executive assistant) Toni (Graham) is my friend, and if I’m going to go to a book reading, or a concert, or a club, I put it on Socializr, and if I leave the “share this” checkbox checked, she’ll see it on her calendar, because we’ve decided we’re friends with each other and we want to see what each other is up to. It’s a very, very lightweight, easy way of sharing events with your friends.

Now, you can still invite people to things, but if you and I and 20 of our friends are going to a whole bunch of events this weekend, we don’t necessarily want to have to send an invitation email for every single one of those things. It could get a little spammy.

WN: One of the things that’s different about your approach from other social-networking sites is that you’re more open to integration with other kinds of social networks.

Abrams: Well, first of all, we’re not really a generic social-networking site, in the sense that Friendster and Friendster’s imitators like MySpace and Facebook are. We’re really trying to do events. But we think that a great events site in 2007 includes modern features like photos, videos and music. We think sharing should be part of it, and that includes social networking.

So it makes sense to integrate. Could we create Socializr blogs? Yeah, quite easily. But does anybody really need another blogging site? Why reinvent the wheel? There’s so many great services that already exist. So we integrate with Flickr, we integrate with YouTube, we integrate with Digg, we integrate with a ton of stuff.

WN: I noticed that there’s not a lot of flashy sort of Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) stuff in the Socializr site. Is that because it’s still early, or because you’re deliberately trying to not be flashy?

Abrams: It’s a few reasons. We think that Ajax is quite overused. And I don’t think a lot of people have thought through the scalability implications of increasing the number of concurrent server connections by an order of magnitude. In many cases it’s not really providing a real benefit.

There are some things on Socializr that look like Ajax, but actually are not. They’re using JavaScript, they’re providing a dynamic-feeling user interface, but they’re actually not asynchronously requesting data from the server. Most of the data is sent in the initial page request, and then there’s a more dynamic user experience, but we’re not making a lot of asynchronous calls. And that’s deliberate, to address scalability concerns, because of having gone through the Friendster experience.

WN: There were scalability issues at Friendster.

Abrams: Of course. Another thing is that I think some of the ways people are using Ajax now actually makes the user experience worse, rather than better. There are so many sites where you click on something and they use that thing where the background fades and then this window pops up in a sort of modal dialog, and it’s completely intrusive. It poses an unnecessary delay, because you have to wait for this animation to happen that really adds no real value. It’s just a trendy Ajax effect that everybody seems to be copying from each other. And, you know, that’s not what our style is.

I think the hundred million people out there who actually use the web aren’t impressed by those things, and they actually want something that loads quickly and is navigable and that works. So, our focus right now is more on substance over style.

When it comes to the event page itself, that’s where we’ve gone all out. You can put videos and music and stuff in the events (that you create), you can use this really cool graphics customization feature that your reviewer talked about. We actually allow you to use special fonts through Flash that are much cooler than the regular fonts you can normally use on a web page. That’s what’s important. I don’t think it’s important, while you’re navigating and using the site, creating an event, for it to be all flashy and Ajax-y. I don’t think that necessarily adds any real value.

WN: How has your experience at Friendster changed your approach to starting up Socializr?

Abrams: I wouldn’t even know where to begin. We’ve definitely learned a lot of lessons about the technology and scalability. A lot of it is just about focus. Not raising a huge amount of money, not hiring a ton of people, staying pretty lean and mean. Just being disciplined to focus on the product and the users.

WN: Can you expand on that a little bit? How does raising a lot of money change the game?

Abrams: I think when you have a lot of investors, when you have a lot of money raised, when you have big-name VCs and a large board, all of those things make it more difficult to focus.

At Friendster we had three big venture capital firms, we had a whole bunch of people on the board and we hired a whole bunch of executives who had great resumes. Yet we went years without fixing the core technology problems. Years. Which is pretty crazy. We didn’t add music, didn’t add events, which were the really obvious winning additional features that I was excited about. And we did do a lot of weird, poorly integrated partnerships throughout those years as well: with Eurekster for search, with Pandora and Grouper for media, with GloPhone for voice over IP and none of these things were even really well integrated.

Considering that the site still wasn’t very fast and still had bugs, and there was still so much opportunity to do more core things, more things really related to what people thought Friendster was about and what they used it for, (doing partnerships) was not good prioritization and focus.

WN: So are you ruling out venture capital this time?

Abrams: We have venture capital. A very small amount. We’ve raised less than a million dollars in only one round, a seed round, and there’s a whole bunch of people in it. Most of it is from individual angel investors, and a small amount is from my friend Richard Ling’s VC firm (Rembrandt Venture Partners). I’ve read that I’ve said that I won’t (take venture capital), but that’s not true, I didn’t say that.

WN: So it’s a question of taking less so that you can retain more control of the direction of the company.

Abrams: It’s not just about retaining control. It’s about focus. It’s easier to be smart when you have less money.

Of course that sounds crazy because most people think that the risk is reduced and that you can do better when you have more capital. But I’ve seen that it’s easier to make more right decisions when you have less money. When you have a lot of money sloshing around a company too soon, you can blow a lot of it on dumb marketing things, hiring too many people, or the wrong people, or people that the company’s not really ready for — consultants, headhunters, all sorts of stuff. I think when you’re being more frugal it’s harder to do things that make no sense.

It’s all consistent with saying look, we’re still developing the site, we’re still working on our product, that’s our focus. You don’t need 10 million dollars to do that.

WN: What’s been better for meeting people — Friendster or your club, Slide?

Abrams: Well, that’s a fascinating question. I actually have never had any success whatsoever in my life with internet dating. And I have met many girls at bars and parties. I actually have a fantastic girlfriend now, so we go to Slide together. But I’ve always met people through my friends or at bars or parties. I’ve never met anybody online, ever.

The idea about Friendster was to try to replicate the experience of meeting somebody through your friends. It was supposed to be more like that than (meeting) anonymous people on the internet.

To me, the stuff I do, whether it’s Friendster or Socializr, it’s the complete opposite of something like Second Life. I’ve never been interested in chatting with random anonymous people on the internet who are pretending to be someone else, who you’re never going to meet. For me it has always been about using the internet to meet people that you’d actually meet in real life. Or bringing those real-life connections with you online, and creating sort of an integrated experience.

But I do have a lot of friends who have met people on Friendster. And there have been times when I’m just standing somewhere at a party and someone comes up to me and told me that they met their boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband on Friendster and it’s kind of weird. One of Friendster’s original angel investors met his wife on Friendster.

WN: Well, that’s a nice return on investment.

Abrams: Yeah. So it’s definitely worked for many people, including some of my friends and investors. But for me, personally, my interest was more in bringing the relationships I already had onto the internet and integrating them into a good experience. So on Socializr, hopefully, you get to see what the coolest parties are going on, and then you go to the bar, and you go to Slide, and then you meet the person.

Link: What I Learned From Friendster: Jonathan Abrams’ New Startup

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

The Art of the Pitch: Be Direct

At Microsoft’s Silicon Valley headquarters Monday evening, a couple hundred entrepreneurs and investors gathered to schmooze, eat mashed-potato-and-roast-beef hors-d’oeuvres from martini glasses, and spend a few desultory moments looking over the eight companies on display in the middle of the meeting room. Like other networking events, Connector Showcase III promised to connect those who need money with those who have it, or those who have opportunities with those who can take advantage of them, depending on how you look at it. Some of the companies on display were Web 2.0 startups (KickApps), some were Web 2.0 nonprofits (Kiva.org), and some were just plain old-school bastions of old-fashioned electrical engineering (Plantronics).

But only one had the chutzpah to ask point-blank for the money. "Zubio is going to do for the massage market what Starbucks did for coffee," founder and CEO Sam Keller enthused, talking up his company’s online massage reservation system, its two downtown locations, and his plans for nationwide expansion, while his business partner gave free chair massages a few feet away. The posterboard behind Keller touted Zubio as "an excellent opportunity for angel investors," with a minimum investment of $10,000 — "the last chance for small investors" to get on board. When one visitor expressed interest in the company’s business, Keller was quick to go for the close: "Did you bring your checkbook?" he asked, only half joking.

Across the room, Monster Cable founder (and "head monster") Noel Leestood, an imposing 6 and a half feet tall on his Segway, rocking gentlyback and forth on his cybernetically balanced wheels. Bambi Francisco,the recently deposed Marketwatch columnist, began her introduction of the night’s product demos. In a  quiet voice she gave a modest pitch for her new startup, Vator(short for "innovator" as well as "elevator pitch," she explained).Francisco acknowledged the value, in terms of site traffic, of a majorwriteup in the Wall Street Journal, even if that writeup came afew weeks before a redesign which would, she promised, look and workmuch better than the current site. There’s no such thing as bad press,but it can come too early: A first lesson in press control for thenewly minted entrepreneur.

The demos went on, as Silicon Valley businessman Auren Hoffman(a cofounder of the company sponsoring the event) stood at the back ofthe crowd checking his BlackBery, and the schmoozing continued, more orless quietly, in the darkened corners of the room.

As the night wound down, Keller spoke happily of the event. "We’vehad several people tell us tonight that they want to invest. Of course,we’ll have to see how many of them actually work out. You never knowuntil you have the money in your hands. But we got our last biginvestor at the last one of these. It definitely works." Providedyou’re willing to ask for the money, straight up, and not beat aroundthe bush.

Link: The Art of the Pitch: Be Direct

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