Category Archives: VentureBeat

We need more people like Aaron Swartz

Here is my latest column on VentureBeat: We need more people like Aaron Swartz.

I spent much of the past few days thinking about Aaron Swartz and what a loss we suffered when he took his own life last week.

His passing breaks my heart. I didn’t know him, though he was in my circle: I know many people who knew him well. But he made my life better, and every day I use technologies that he contributed to. Whether that was working on an early version of the RSS spec, laying out the Python framework for web applications known as (used by many sites now, including Reddit), or working with Larry Lessig on the launch of Creative Commons, he had a knack for finding useful projects where his considerable talents could make a real difference to millions of people. I use the fruits of those projects constantly.

That, in a nutshell, is the focus of what I look for and try to write about: technologies that have the potential to make a difference to millions.

Unfortunately, most of what tech journalists wind up writing about instead are technologies that have the potential to make millions (but only for a few people).

Read the rest of the story: We need more people like Aaron Swartz.


Dylan’s Desk: CES still matters, even if you hate it

Some guy at the Canon booth at CES 2011

Some guy squinting into the future at the Canon booth at CES 2011. Photo by Dylan Tweney

After a two-week holiday break, my VentureBeat column is back. This week: why CES still matters.

Coincidentally, this morning NPR ran a similar story on Morning Edition. The reporter points out that, while big companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon don’t have booths at CES, they still send many executives and other people to scout out technology and make deals. And, for many companies, CES can actually lead to unparalleled press coverage — especially if you have something that photographs well.

Here’s my piece on VentureBeat.

Tech journalism’s annual festival of self-loathing is in full swing. I refer, of course, to CES, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that will draw, this year, over 150,000 visitors and nearly as many blog posts complaining about how irrelevant and miserable it is.

I won’t argue about the miserable part. When you take people from all over the world, many of whom were just visiting with family members a week ago, and cram them into a single, shared space with industrial ventilation systems, you’ve got one of the most efficient systems for transferring pathogens ever invented. It’s crowded, the lines for cabs and coffee are long, and it takes forever to get anywhere, whether that’s from Caesar’s Palace to Mandalay Bay or merely from one side of the Las Vegas Convention Center to the other.

And yet, CES is still, for all its failings, one of the most important single events in the technology industry.

It’s not important as a press event, but it’s critical as a meeting place for manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of consumer electronics. I think of it as a temporary bazaar or souk on a grand scale: a huge marketplace where vendors compete to draw the attention of buyers, who flock up and down the aisles looking for a good deal, an angle, or merely an interesting distraction.

CES is also a barometer for where the hardware industry is going. Yes, hardware as we know it is dying. Software is more important than ever, and there hasn’t been a world-changing product unveiling at CES for years. The action has shifted to apps and cloud services, and it’s arguable that those are all more important than the hardware used to deliver them to consumers. But the pendulum may be starting to swing back, and CES 2013 shows the first signs of it.

Read the full story: Why CES still matters, even if you hate it

How to take back control of your own social networks

cat blogging

People are increasingly dissatisfied with their social networks — the advertising, the lack of clear privacy protections, the intimations that anything you say can and will be used in a promotional manner at some point in the future — and some of them, this week, have even started to abandon them. Kim Kardashian is so upset she might even sign off of Instagram!

But social networking doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing, love it or leave it thing. In my VentureBeat column this week, I suggest a third way: Using a blog as the hub for your social universe, and sharing it out to social networks from there.

That shifts the center of gravity and puts you back in control of your own words. It makes it so that each social network is no longer the exclusive “owner” of your social life. And, in time, it might encourage us to create networked connections of our own, based on open-source standards instead of commercial platforms.

Like Mullenweg, those of us who have had blogs for a decade or more have been using them less and less, drawn to the ease of tweeting and the warm, friendly responsiveness of Facebook.

But now it’s possible to circle back to the blog without giving up the social networks. In fact, it’s increasingly easy to use a blog as the center of your social universe.

That’s because, while social networks like Facebook and Twitter are reluctant to share data out, they are eager to bring your data in. (This is why Twitter no longer lets you update your LinkedIn status from Twitter, but you can do the reverse and update your Twitter status from LinkedIn.)

So if they won’t share, fine: Make your own website the source, and share it out to various other networks as a way of staying in touch with your friends there.

Read the full story at

Photo credit: Vicki’s Pics via photopin cc

How Microsoft can break the logjam of carrier anti-innovation

In my column this week, I return to the subject of Microsoft — and suggest a way that the company can give its Windows Phone OS a boost.

Carrier subsidies are increasingly standing in the way of innovation.

“We’re drunk off the subsidy model,” IDC analyst Ramon Llamas told VentureBeat last week.

The lure of cheap, subsidized phones underwritten by massively long two-year contracts stands in the way of competition and innovation. The big carriers use their contracts to lock in profits and help limit the customer “churn” that would otherwise make their revenues too unpredictable. But those two-year contracts keep people from upgrading as quickly as they would otherwise, stifling handset makers’ ability to get the latest models in our hands.

Carriers also stifle OS upgrades, keeping you from upgrading to the latest version of Android because they don’t want to invest the time to make it work with a string of older phones: They’ve already got you locked in to a contract, so why would they want to make your phone any better than it already is?

The U.S. is not unique in its dependence on carrier subsidies, but it’s not the only way: In many European countries, for instance, people buy their phones and SIM cards separately, without long, onerous contracts.

Some carriers are starting to see this as a wedge issue. T-Mobile, for instance, promises to do away with contracts and subsidies altogether. The carrier sees it as a more honest, direct model, and I agree: I’m done with contracts. I recently paid $245 to get out of my contract with a large carrier after I had endless problems with its service and its phones.

In an earlier column, I blamed Microsoft for not being able to solve these problems. It was an unfair criticism, but it does reveal an opportunity for the Redmond, Wash.-based software company.

We need someone to break the logjam. Could it be Microsoft?

Instead of standing by and playing the same ballgame as every other mobile phone maker, Microsoft should take a page from Apple’s book and rewrite the game. It’s got the leverage, it’s got the installed base, and it’s got a powerful weapon: cash.

Read the full story:

Dylan’s Desk: 6 reasons CloudBeat will be the cloud event of the year


VentureBeat’s second annual CloudBeat conference is coming up, and here’s why you should be there:

* Unlike most other conferences, customers are center stage at CloudBeat 2012. We’ll have IT executives talking about how they implement cloud technologies in the real world, sharing equal billing with the vendors that provide those technologies.

So if you’re sick of marketing mumbo-jumbo and want to know what the reality is behind all this “cloud” verbiage, come check out CloudBeat.

* It’s a small, intimate venue, perfect for learning about cloud technologies at a high level and for making deals. If somehow the people on stage aren’t clear enough with their examples or aren’t giving you the data you need, ask them about it afterwards. This is not a velvet-rope conference where only the few have access to the speakers. This is a true networking event.

* Cloud and mobile are two sides of the same coin. Cloud technologies enable the be-anywhere, you-can-take-it-with-you mobility that tablet and smartphone users demand. If your employees are using iPads or Nexus 7s for work (and you can bet they are, whether or not they got them from IT), cloud-based enterprise apps will make those devices far more productive and useful. That’s why learning about the cloud is critical right now.

* Last year, one of the most amazing revelations came from the chief information officer of a nationwide physical therapy chain, RehabCare: He said that the company saw a 92 percent reduction in broken devices after it switched to supporting Apple iPads and iPhones. The tipping point that pushed IT to support Apple devices? When the CEO got an iPad, of course.

The lesson isn’t that Apple products are amazing — though that certainly might enter your head, especially if compared with whatever pathetically outdated device, probably from RIM, your IT used to provide. Rather, the lesson is that well-made devices that don’t get in people’s way are less likely to get hurled against the wall in frustration and rage. The world is shifting away from PCs and smartphones designed for computer lovers and towards simple tablets made for nontechnical people; your employees expect your company’s tech to keep pace with this trend.

* Another thing we learned at last year’s CloudBeat event: Small startups have a shot at knocking behemoths like Microsoft and Oracle off their pedestals. Enterprise technology is where it’s at, as far as market opportunity and revenues are concerned. Forget about trying to make the next Pinterest clone or yet another mobile app for getting your Facebook friends to help you find the best onion rings in town. Build something that will solve a real problem for real businesses, and there is a small army of investors and customers waiting to help you succeed.

* We’ve got an amazing lineup of speakers. On the vendor side, we’ve got senior execs from Box, VMWare, Nimbula, Cisco, Huddle, Google, and more. On the customer side, we’ve got IT execs from Pepsico, Harvard University, Bosch Tool, Dignity Health (the largest hospital network in California), and the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Yes, the Mormon Church is going to talk about how it is using the cloud.

And, of course, on the VentureBeat side, we’ll have the talented moderation of our founder and editor-in-chief Matt Marshall as well as the onstage interviewing talents of VentureBeat reporters Jolie O’Dell, Meghan Kelly, and Christina Farr. I’ll be there too, so get in touch if you’re attending. I’d like to hear from you.

Want to attend? Here’s a link to register with a deep VIP discount of 30%.

Originally published on VentureBeat.

Wake me up when the iPhone 42 comes out

iPhone concept in colors

Here we go again. The clouds part, and another iPhone descends from the heavens.

What mystical secrets will be written on the device’s extra-large, 640-by-1,136-pixel Retina display? Will there be earthshaking new features? Will it contain the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything?

Not likely. Apple has entered a new phase in the evolution of its iPhone line, and you can pretty much forget about radical reinventions from now on.

The iPhone is now a mature product, and as with many mature products, the chief innovations will interest chief financial officers more than tech reporters like me: Expanding to new international markets and new carriers. Reducing dependence on sometimes-antagonistic partners like Google and Samsung. Marginal improvements to major features. Enough new features to maintain parity with chief competitors. And a few nifty extras, like rainbow colors (my favorite speculative iPhone 5 concept), to keep customers feeling special.

At this point, Apple has settled into its favorite spot: A comfortable No. 2. That’s because the company has always prioritized profits over market share and is happy to cede the latter as long as it can hang on to the former.

Read the whole story on VentureBeat: Wake me up when the iPhone 42 comes out

How to hold a tech product press conference

One product that Apple does exceptionally well is the press conference. This week’s Worldwide Developers Conference was no exception, with a two-hour presentation that, while on the long side, was perfectly orchestrated, beautifully presented, and full of real news.

It’s that last item that, for some reason, many companies overlook.

Sure, it’s easy to focus on the razzle-dazzle, and when Steve Jobs was alive, his curiously mesmerizing personality was one of the main reasons Apple keynotes were so thrilling. Also, there’s no doubt that Jobs’ persnickety nature contributed much to Apple’s press event skills: He was famously obsessive about getting every detail of an event just right.

But now that Apple is led by a series of corporate wonks who have about as much collective charisma as an IRS audit team, do its presentations still have the same magic? The answer: Yes, pretty much so. The crowd still oohs and aahs over every new detail. They cheer wildly for Retina displays and — go figure — Apple’s homegrown maps application. They laugh at Siri’s lame jokes, and they chuckle at Apple’s worldwide marketing head, Phil Schiller, too.

The only conclusion I can draw is that Apple just knows how to do a press conference.

Many other companies don’t. That’s too bad, because press conferences are one of the most efficient ways for delivering news to a large public.

Read the full story: How to hold a tech product press conference | VentureBeat.

Let’s just agree the bubble has burst

Facebook’s post-IPO performance has been poor. But is it so poor that it will hurt the prospects for other startups?

The short answer: Almost certainly.

This is the subtext of the wave of anger and disappointment over Facebook’s stock slide over the past few weeks.

First, let’s get something straight: Facebook did well for itself and its investors, although its bankers and top executives allowed some embarrassing, unethical, and possibly illegal things to happen — notably, sharing detailed revenue projections with key investors that weren’t available to the broader investing public. The company is now faced with several state government investigations as well as two shareholder class-action lawsuits, which will cause problems for it and its executives.

But as many commenters to my earlier post pointed out, it doesn’t matter much to Facebook — or even to its employees — if the stock declines after the IPO. The stock price six months from now, when employees’ post-IPO lockup periods expire, is much more significant.

Full story: Let’s just agree the bubble has burst | VentureBeat.

Facebook IPO shows the playing field is permanently tilted.

Here’s my latest column.

I wrote this yesterday, after stewing about the affair over the weekend. Perhaps my anger is misplaced? Let me know what you think. The text of the column is below.

Also, this week I’m in Los Angeles for the All Things Digital 2012 conference, also known as D10. Will you be there? Look me up!

If there was any doubt that Wall Street is a sucker’s game designed to take money from stupid people and put it into the hands of bankers and powerful corporations, Facebook’s initial public offering should clear that up.

Of course, we can’t know why Facebook or its investors and bankers were selling as much stock as possible, at as high of a price as possible, to as many naive investors as possible. But the result is clear: Anyone who bought Facebook stock on the opening day got duped.

Now, from Facebook’s point of view, that just makes good financial sense. While a nice big “pop” in the stock price on its first day of trading makes for good headlines, it’s a sign that the company has mispriced its stock and left money on the table; in Facebook’s case, it maximized its return.

And if you’re buying an IPO stock on its first day of trading in hopes of a quick one-day profit, you’re presumably smart enough to know that you’re basically gambling with your money. So the onus is on you if it doesn’t pan out the first day — or has a terrible first week. Give up your dreams of a quick return and hold onto the stock; maybe it’ll go back into the 40s. Some day.

But what really irks me is the revelation that Morgan Stanley and Facebook may not have actually broken any SEC rules. It appears that it’s allowable for analysts to communicate different information verbally with select investors than they reveal in the publicly-filed documents. That’s a ridiculous situation that seems to run directly counter to the purpose of a public, and transparent, IPO.

Read the whole story: Facebook IPO shows the playing field is permanently tilted

A spaceship is the perfect gift for the billionaire who has everything

Now that Planetary Resources has unveiled its plans to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new deposits of platinum and water, and to strip-mine them and shuttle them back to secure facilities back on our home planet, I think it’s time to take ask the question we’ve all been wondering:

Just what do Earth’s billionaires think they’re doing?

It’s no longer enough, if you’ve made a fortune in electronics or videogames, to buy yourself a $30 million ticket to ride on the Space Station, as Lord British and Anousheh Ansari have done. Now you’ve got to create your own space-exploration company.

Crazy, yes. But going into space has all the earmarks of a perfect second career for the modern billionaire. It’s amazingly cool and is guaranteed to provoke vast amounts of envy in the hearts of the other billionaires you run into at TED, Davos, and the Bohemian Grove. It’s the sort of hugely ambitious project that is worthy of a man (or woman) with an enormous ego. It costs a whole lot of money, so the barrier to entry is high (that keeps out the riffraff). And done right, it could be massively profitable, maybe even enough to create the world’s first trillionaire. So really, the wonder isn’t that billionaires are doing this, the wonder is that it’s taken them so long.

Full story: Dylan’s Desk: A spaceship is the perfect gift for the billionaire who has everything | VentureBeat.