- When Transaction Costs Collapse — As OECD researchers reported recently, 99.5 per cent of reciprocal access agreements occur informally without written contracts. Paradoxically, as competition becomes more intense or ”perfect”, it becomes indistinguishable from perfect co-operation – a neat trick demonstrated in economists’ models a century ago. Commentary prompted by an OECD report on Internet Traffic Exchange. (via Laurence Millar)
- Faked Research is Endemic in China (New Scientist) — open access promises the unbundling of publishing, quality control, reputation, and recommendation. Reputation systems for science are going to be important: you can’t blacklist an entire country’s researchers. Can you demand reproducibility?
- The Hobbit — ambitious very early game, timely to remember as the movie launches. Literally, no two games of The Hobbit are the same. I can see what Milgrom and the others were striving toward: a truly living, dynamic story where anything can happen and where you have to deal with circumstances as they come, on the fly. It’s a staggeringly ambitious, visionary thing to be attempting.
- How to Get Startup Ideas (Paul Graham) — The essay is full of highly-quotable apothegms like Live in the future, then build what’s missing and The verb you want to be using with respect to startup ideas is not “think up” but “notice.”
Collapsing Transaction Costs, Scientific Research Reputation, Retro Adventure Ambition, and Where Startups Come From
A few early and broad questions in our exploration of NYC's startup community.
Since the crisis of 2008 New York City’s massive financial sector — the city’s richest economic engine, once seen to have unlimited potential for growth — has languished. In the meantime, attention has turned to its nascent startup sector, home to Foursquare, Tumblr, 10gen, Etsy and Gilt, where VC investment has surged even as it’s been flat in other big U.S. tech centers (PDF).
I’ve started to poke around the tech community here with a view toward eventually publishing a paper on the rise of New York’s startup scene. In my initial conversations, I’ve come up with a few broad questions I’ll focus on, and I’d welcome thoughts from this blog’s legion of smart readers on any of these.
- How many people in New York’s startup community came from finance, and under what conditions did they make the move? In 2003, Google was a five-year-old, privately-held startup and Bear Stearns was an 80-year-old pillar of the financial sector. Five years later, Google was a pillar of the technical economy and among the world’s biggest companies; Bear Stearns had ceased to exist. Bright quantitatively-minded people who might have pursued finance for its stability and lucre now see that sector as unstable and not necessarily lucrative; its advantage over the technology sector in those respects has disappeared. Joining a 10-person startup is very different from taking a job at Google, but the comparative appeal of the two sectors has dramatically shifted.
- To what degree have anchor institutions played a role in the New York startup scene? The relationship between Stanford University and Silicon Valley is well-documented; I’d like to figure out who’s producing steady streams of bright technologists in New York. Google’s Chelsea office, opened in 2006, now employs close to 3,000 people, and its alumni include Dennis Crowley, founder of Foursquare. That office is now old enough that it can generate a high volume of spin-offs as Googlers look for new challenges. And Columbia and NYU (and soon a Cornell-Technion consortium) have embraced New York’s startup community.
Distributing Content, Effective Project Dictatorship, Ubiquitous Hardware, Wheelcasts
- The Shape of the Internet Has Changed — 98 percent of internet traffic now consists of content that can be stored on servers. 45% of Internet traffic today is from CDNs, and a handful of them at that, which makes CDNs like Artur Bergman’s fastly super-important. (via Donald Clark)
- Be a Good Dictator (Rowan Simpson) — There is no shortage of advice online about how to be a good designer or a good software developer. But what about advice for those who aspire to be good product dictators? Guidance seems pretty thin on the ground. […] Being a deep expert in just one area is not enough for good dictators. You need to be a polymath living at an intersection.
- Hardware is Dead — 7-inch tablet, Wi-Fi only with all the attributes of a good tablet. Capacitive touchscreen. Snappy processor. Front facing camera. 4GB of internal memory and an expandable memory slot. for USD75. At these levels there is almost no profit margin left in the hardware business. A $45 tablet is cheap enough to be an impulse purchase at the check-out line in Best Buy. A $45 price puts tablets within reach of a whole host of other activities not traditionally associated with computers. (via Steve Bowbrick)
- Car Transmissions and Syncromesh (YouTube) — cheesy old Chevy educational movie that does a great job of explaining how manual transmissions work. Such videos were the screencasts for the auto DIY folks. (via Nat Friedman)
Bypassing Oversight, Gantt Charts, Startup Ideas, and Learning C
- The Disturbing, Unchecked Rise of the Administrative Subpoena (Wired) — With a federal official’s signature, banks, hospitals, bookstores, telecommunications companies and even utilities and internet service providers — virtually all businesses — are required to hand over sensitive data on individuals or corporations, as long as a government agent declares the information is relevant to an investigation. Low barrier to obtain one, no oversight–the officials aren’t required to keep track of the subpoenas they issue!
- Black Swan Farming (Paul Graham) — The first time Peter Thiel spoke at YC he drew a Venn diagram that illustrates the situation perfectly. He drew two intersecting circles, one labelled “seems like a bad idea” and the other “is a good idea.” The intersection is the sweet spot for startups.
- Learning C with GDB (Hacker School) — hells yes.
Edu Tech, Harnessing Audiences, ALL CAPS, and Effective Meetings
- The Seductive Allure of Edu-Tech Reform (Chris Lehmann) — While it may be seductive to think that rooms of children on computers, each following some computerized instruction at their pace, monitored by school aides, with a handful of teachers around when things get particularly tough is a solution to both the educational and fiscal crisis we find ourselves, we need to understand that it’s fools gold we would be chasing.
- human.io — write microapps, tasks for people to do. This is a simple way to allow a publisher to turn a passive audience into a mobile army of participants. This allows publishers to easily create missions and activities to get people involved more directly than just reading stuff on a screen. If Twitter is HTML, then Human.io is CGI. (via Joshua Schachter)
- Why Contracts Have UPPER CASE PARAGRAPHS — fascinating! (via Anil Dash)
- Designing Meetings to Work (Luke Wroblewski) — notes from Kevin Hoffman’s talk. Doing something is better than seeing something, which is better than hearing something. THIS.
Music Industry, Subscribe to Me, Pipe Progress, and Modern Careers
- Meet The New Boss, Worse Than The Old Boss — transcript of a thoughtful music industry insider considering the effect of the net on the business. The other problem? I’ve been expecting for years now to see aggregate revenue flowing to artist increase. Disintermediation promised us this. It hasn’t happened. Everywhere I look artists seem to be working more for less money. And every time I come across aggregate data that is positive it turns out to have a black cloud inside. Example: Touring revenues up since 1999. Because more bands are touring, staying on the road longer and playing for fewer people. Surely you all can see Malthusian trajectory?
- Kottke on Quarterly — I eyed TED’s book club and thought “hmm, interesting business model: you like my taste, sign up and I’ll send you things”. Quarterly is a “my taste as a service” service. (via Sacha Judd)
- Pipe Viewer — clever little command-line utility to show progress of pipes.
- Sheryl Sandberg’s HBS Class Day Speech — two things stood out, beyond the honesty of the talk: If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat (that’s her quoting Eric Schmidt) and [careers] are not a ladder; they’re a jungle gym (her quoting Facebook’s head of HR). (via Sacha Judd)
MAKE's Hardware Innovation Workshop is coming May 15-16 at PARC.
Being held May 15-16, MAKE's Hardware Innovation Workshop is an intensive introduction to the business of making and the makers who are creating these businesses.
Being Contrary, Microsoft Tools, JOBS Doom Warnings, and Fibre ROI
- Change the Game (Video) — Amy Hoy’s talk from Webstock ’12, on being contrary and being successful. Was one of the standout talks for me.
- Rise4Fun — software engineering tools from Microsoft Research. (via Hacker News)
- Why Obama’s JOBS Act Couldn’t Suck Worse (Rolling Stone) — get ready for an avalanche of shareholder suits ten years from now, since post-factum civil litigation will be the only real regulation of the startup market.
- Socio-economic Return Of FTTH Investment in Sweden (PDF) — This preliminary study analyses the socio-economic impacts of the investment in FTTH. The goal of the study was: Is it possible to calculate how much a krona (SEK) invested in fibre will give back to society? The conclusion is that a more comprehensive statistical data and more calculations are needed to give an exact estimate. The study, however, provides an indication that 1 SEK invested over four years brings back a minimum of 1.5 SEK in five years time. The study estimates the need for investment to achieve 100% fibre penetration, identifies and quantifies a number of significant effects of fibre deployment, and then calculates the return on investment. (via Donald Clark)
Why Mobile Matters, Towards Better Textbooks, Kinect Hack, and Greece Cantrepreneurial Spirit
- Why Mobile Matters (Luke Wroblewski) — great demonstration of the changes in desktop and mobile, the new power of Android, and the waning influence of old manufacturers.
- It’s Called iBooks Author Not iMathTextbooks Author, And The Trouble That Results (Dan Meyer) — It’s curious that even though students own their iBooks forever (ie. they can’t resell them or give them away), they can’t write in them except in the most cursory ways. Even curiouser, these iBooks could all be wired to the Internet and wired to a classroom through iTunes U, but they’d still be invisible to each other. Your work on your iPad cannot benefit me on mine. At our school, we look for “software with holes in it”–software into which kids put their own answers, photos, stories.
- DepthCam — It’s a live-streaming 3D point-cloud, carried over a binary WebSocket. It responds to movement in the scene by panning the (virtual) camera, and you can also pan and zoom around with the mouse. Very impressive hack with a Kinect! (via Pete Warden)
- Starting an Online Store is Not Easy in Greece — At the health department, they were told that all the shareholders of the company would have to provide chest X-rays, and, in the most surreal demand of all, stool samples. Note to Greece: this is not how you check whether a business plan is full of shit. (via Hacker News)
Corruption Remains, Automated Instruction, Eolas Victory Incomplete, and CI Arduino Hack
- Why I Hate The STOCK Act (Clay Johnson) — an attempt to reform insider trading within government, but because Congress exempts itself from substantial penalties then it has little effect where it’s needed most. We won’t see change on the issues that matter to us (copyright, due process for Internet takedowns, privacy, etc.) while the lawmakers are distracted by money.
- Instruction Medium is the Message (Dan Meyer) — Print is a medium. Same as digital photos. Same as a teacher’s voice. Same as a YouTube video. Same as a podcast. These are all different media. And as we know, the medium is the message. The medium defines and constrains and sometimes distorts the message. The math that can be conveyed in a YouTube video is not the same math that can be conveyed in a digital photo or a podcast or a print textbook. Anything that can be replaced by a computer should be; it’s doubtful that successful widespread education consists only of things a computer can replace.
- Eolas Patent a Hollow Victory (Simon Phipps) — those who were extorted by the patent troll will go uncompensated, and the loss of one patent leaves their business model still intact. The patent system is extremely broken in the US, it’s a giant cost of doing business, a regulation-created tax that is paid to trolls instead of to the US Government. What idiot supports a tax that doesn’t go to the government? An ethically-corrupted one (see point 1 above).
- Monitor your Continuous Integration Server with Traffic Lights and an Arduino — nifty little hardware hack. It’s an example of making physical objects which control or portray virtual systems, and it’s tied into this Continuous Integration trend whereby software changes go live as soon as possible rather than being held off until 2am on the first Thursday of the month, when the IT team come in to manage the rollout of the new code. CI, in turn, is an example of failing early on something small rather than failing later and larger. (via Sandy Mamoli)