Learning to blog again

I used to blog semi-regularly about the music industry, technology, products, and other things I found interesting. It was always a nice, therapeutic respite; someplace where I could singularly focus on a topic and write some drivel pontificating this n’ that.

I’m not sure what happened really, but over time I just kind of stopped. It wasn’t abrupt. It was the slow and steady loss of interest in writing.

Around this same time, I left SPIN. The legendary magazine had become a home to me after four years. It was acquired just four months after we had completed an exhaustive 18-month reboot of the brand (e.g. everything from editorial to business model to design language). I left at the right moment, but my heart still aches for what could have been. I jumped to FUSE TV, then Forbes, before landing at Business Insider – all within 12-months. 

Leaving a career in the music industry, which I had worked my entire adolescent life trying to attain, and entering the business news world was a shock, both culturally and professionally. And, one I needed more than I (still) care to admit.

With each of these job changes, I lost a sense of focus and purpose. And, slowly but surely this absence permeated parts of my personal life, and this blog. It’s been a long, slow, and at times painful journey back to finding an interest in writing, again. But, I’m excited to get back to scribbling down thoughts on the future of media, and what it means.


American Experience: Silicon Valley

Led by physicist Robert Noyce, Fairchild Semiconductor began as a start-up company whose radical innovations would help make the United States a leader in both space exploration and the personal computer revolution, changing the way the world works, plays, and communicates. Noyce’s invention of the microchip ultimately re-shaped the future, launching the world into the Information Age.

It can’t just be “better.”

  1. Make it a lot better
  2. Build a different solution, rather than a better one
  3. Timing matters

Product design debt versus Technical debt

Important navigational areas like homepages, inboxes, notifications, etc are all the same way. Each incremental menu item is not a big deal, and provides a lot of value downstream, but a slight incremental cost. But do this enough times, and you’ll start to pollute the overall design aesthetic, which is a public good that all features share.

Mobile is Eating the World


8 Principles For Building Products People Want

Mike Krieger’s Eight Principles Of Product Design:

  1. Draw On Previous Experience and Understanding – The biggest problem is startups in search of a problem. Chase what you’re passionate about; you’ll probably already have knowledge in the space.
  2. Have A Hypothesis About How You’re Different – Have a point of view about your startup. Why is there a special opportunity for this now?
  3. Never Build Without Sketching – Mike says he and Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom would go to a cafe with little iPhone design pads where “we’d build and throw away entire features. You’d waste three or four pieces of paper, not three weeks of coding.”
  4. Learn In Weeklong Increments – Start with a question: “Will folks want to share photos on the go? Can we build filters that look good?” Spend the week investigating, and by Friday have a conclusion and move on.
  5. Validate In Social Situations – “We called this the Bar Exam. If you can’t explain it to the guy or girl at the bar, you need to simplify.” Don’t just test with your techy friends.
  6. Know When It’s Time To Move On – “I know ‘pivot’ has become a dirty word, but if there’s no unanswered questions left, then it’s time to move on.”
  7. The Wizard Of Oz Techniques For Social Prototyping – You don’t need to build everything at first. You can be the man behind the curtain. Krieger says him and Systrom tested an early version of a feature which would notify you when friends joined the service. Instead of building it out, they manually sent people notifications “like a human bot” saying ‘your friend has joined.’ It turned out not to be useful. “We wrote zero lines of Python, so we had zero lines to throw away.”
  8. Build And Maintain A Constant Stream Of Communication With Your Audience – Don’t spend months building something without any idea if someone actually wants it.

Stables and Volatiles

This great post by Rands explains perfectly how messed up the media industry is. Read the following definitions: 

Stables are engineers who:

  • Happily work with direction and appreciate that there appears to be a plan, as well as the calm predictability of a well-defined schedule.
  • Play nice with others because they value an efficiently-run team.
  • Calmly assess risk and carefully work to mitigate failure, however distant or improbable it might be.
  • Tend to generate a lot of process because they know process creates predictably and measurability.
  • Are known for their calm reliability.

Volatiles are the engineers who:

  • Prefer to define strategy rather than follow it.
  • Have issues with authority and often have legitimate arguments for anarchy.
  • Can’t conceive of failing, and seek a thrill in risk.
  • See working with others as time-consuming and onerous tasks, prefer to work in small, autonomous groups, and don’t give a shit how you feel.
  • Often don’t build particularly beautiful or stable things, but they sure do build a lot.
  • Are only reliable if it’s in their best interest.
  • Leave a trail of disruption in their wake.

Who are Stables? They’re print guys. The publishers and managing editors that are scared of the digital unknown. They’ve been in the business for years, scraped to get by, and just want to coast to the retirement finish line. They’re boring, and, ironically, think it’s safe to cling to a declining business. 

The Volatiles? They’re the digital guys inside your print business. They see the edge, and where we’re headed. You need to put them in charge… of everything. Disrupt yourself before you die. 

Your Stables are there to remind you about reality and to define process whereby large groups of people can be coordinated to actually get work done. Your Stables bring predictability, repeatability, credibility to your execution, and you need to build a world where they can thrive.

Your Volatiles are there to remind you that nothing lasts, and that the world is full of Volatiles who consider it their mission in life to replace the inefficient, boring, and uninspired. You can’t actually build them a world because they’ll think you’re up to something Stable, so you need to create a corner of the building where they can disrupt.

The Future of Mobile Devices and News Consumption

I really love this study by Pew on the state of mobile devices and news consumption. It crystalizes some things a lot of news organizations have ignored (or don’t realize, yet?) about the migration of users from desktop to mobile/tablet, and the effect it’ll have on their businesses.

Consumers are engaging with news more often and on more devices. The landscape is becoming more fragmented as consumers migrate from desktop (website) to mobile/tablet (app & mobile web), and news organizations are faced with increased competition for attention. To complicate matters further, the mobile/tablet ad spending is nowhere near that of on desktop. There is a major disparity in CPM rates. 2013 will likely be a pivotal year for news organizations. The reckoning is coming. 

The Pew study confirms this fragmentation and increased consumption, saying:

For most with multiple devices, there is not a single place for news. People who acquire mobile devices appear to be using them to get news on all their devices. This also suggests they may be getting more news more often. About a third, 34%, of desktop/laptop news consumers now also get news on a smartphone. About a quarter, 27%, of smartphone news consumers also get news on a tablet. While this smartphone/tablet news consumer group is small, just 6% of the population over all, it is a large percentage of those who own smartphones and tablets; fully 44% of people who own both kinds of devices use both for news. What’s more, most of those individuals (78%) still get news on the desktop or laptop as well.

That analysis seems to be echoed in this slide from Henry Blodget’s presentation on the future of mobile and how smartphone/tablet sales are now outselling desktop PCs.


This fragmentation can further be underscored in the amount of time spent using the device and the consumption of news in the Pew study:

Smartphone news users are now nearly split between their laptop and smartphone as their primary news platform; 46% still get most of their news on the desktop/laptop; 45% get most on their smartphone. Another 7% of these smartphone owners say they get most of their news on a tablet. Early tablet news users are moving in the same direction, but remain somewhat more reliant on the laptop or desktop computer. Of tablet owners, 47% still get most of their digital news via desktops or laptops, while a third, 34%, have already transitioned to consuming most of their news on the tablet

And, from the Blodget presentation, you can see the disparty in ad spend vs consumer time spend:



And, to complicate matters further, the news organizations are losing the war for attention as social networks are increasingly becoming the starting point. Consumers are likely becoming less brand loyal as a result. 

From Pew:

For those who get news on both the smartphone and tablet, social networking is a much more popular way to get news. Among that group (13% of all digital news consumers), fully two-thirds (67%) have ever gotten news recommendations from Facebook. That compares to 59% who get news on just one of those devices and 41% who only get digital news via the desktop/laptop.  Similarly, 39% follow news recommendations on Twitter, compared with 24% who just use a smartphone or a tablet and 9% who use only the desktop/laptop.

All in all, it’s becoming clear that consumers are using multiple devices to consume more news than ever, but paradoxically, it’s at the expense of the news organizations themselves! As consumers move upstream to smartphones and tablets, news organizations will earn less revenue per consumer till the gap closes between consumer time spend and ad spend. And, coupled with the fragmentation of sources, like social media, the news organizations are no longer the starting point. 2013 is shaping up to be a rough year for many publishers…

Reaching the Startup Holy Grail: Product-Market Fit

Some really, really solid stuff here, including lots of good links. 

Why I think Apple is Building An Ad Hoc Social Network

I’ll be writing up all my thoughts on the topic, but here are some key takeaways to consider:

Apple’s social service would no doubt give people the opportunity to establishing lasting connections, but the default will likely be to erase connections and dissolve the networks when everyone leaves.

More importantly, Apple could achieve what Ping never could, which is to give people the means to share and socially discover music and other content, always with the added benefit of offering a path to purchase for that content. 

Crowd Patronage: How A 400 Year Old Model Can Save The Music Industry

I wrote about the scarcity problem with recorded music once before, and I think this article *nails* the future of the music industry: relationship access + ecosystem of fans + crowd patronage. 

Whether or not artists like it, the inherent value of a record’s property value was in the scarcity of its physical distribution (i.e. CDs, tapes, vinyl). This scarcity has been permanently destroyed in the copy-and-paste internet era.

First, we must allow ourselves to be okay with music being free, or close to it. Second, we must recognize the anthropological value of music itself in human societies. Lastly, we must attempt a solution based on what the internet enables (direct fan-artist connection + community), as opposed to what it took away (scarcity of content distribution). 

The DNA of Product Management

1) Product managers wear three hats
Congrats, as a product manager you get three jobs:

a) Project manager: keep the wheels on the bus, the trains running on time and over-communicating about status, documentation, strategy, vision, etc

b) Product manager: the actual feature and requirements spec’ing, working with your x-functional team to get things built and shipped

c) CEO: the buck stops with you no matter what the org chart says. When your product succeeds lavish praise on the team. If your product is struggling you don’t blame sales or marketing - you help them get on track.

The 100% Easy-2-Read Standard

Who said websites need to be crammed with stuff?

Mastering the art of disruptive innovation in journalism

The value for news organizations now increasingly lies in providing context and verification—reporting the “how, why and what it means”—and facilitating communities around that news and information. 

Amplification & the changing role of media

With the rise of the social web, that has changed. Blogs, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other such platforms have made it easy for news makers to go direct to their constituents. So what is the role of today’s media person? In addition to reporting news, I think picking things to amplify is also important. Back in the day, news people made choice by deciding which stories to write. Today, we have to adopt a similar rigor about what we choose to share and amplify. In sharing (on Twitter or even re-blogging) we are sending the same message as doing an original news report. The easy thing is to share or reblog everything, but by being deliberate about it, we are essentially “editing” and telling the world: “this is how I see the world/this particular beat.”