MediaFile Where media and technology meet Sun, 01 Feb 2015 23:22:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How about Hightail-ing it? Thu, 11 Jul 2013 17:57:30 +0000 Silicon Valley startup YouSendIt, which began as a file sharing and storage company, is getting a corporate makeover. YouSendIt comes off, and Hightail gets papered on.

 And that’s not the only change Chief Executive Brad Garlinghouse is making as he competes more directly with larger startups Dropbox and Box. Hightail will now offer unlimited storage for its paying customers, 90 percent of which are corporations and small businesses.

Garlinghouse decided to get a jump on competition with the new offer as he feels storage is fast becoming a commodity. Also, the former Yahoo executive  had seen this game played in the email space year ago when Google’s gmail robbed Yahoo mail of its momentum — by offering far more storage.

Hightail is also considering partnering with some of the larger companies — many of which have reached out to him –to expand its reach. Garlinghouse, however, would not name any of them.

With 43 million users and $57 million in revenue, the rebranding better reflects the firm’s expanded suite of products that goes well beyond  just filesharing and storage. said Garlinghouse, who has overseen a 35 percent to 40 percent growth in users since he joined Hightail just over a year ago.

The CEO – who is also the author of the famous Yahoo memo dubbed The Peanut Butter Manifesto– said he had considered many names before settling on the scrappy “Hightail.” He also consciously avoided going with anything that had the word “box” in it.

“The simple view is that there are a lot of noisy competitors like Box, Sync, Share,” he said. “We wanted to be distinctive in the market.”


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On Twitter, dubious health claims from e-cigarette bots Thu, 27 Jun 2013 16:09:14 +0000 Advertising is a funny medium. TV spots, radio jingles, banner ads — none of these are meant to get us to rise out of our seats and run to the store. Instead, most advertising is meant to impress something upon us: an idea, a favorable opinion, a subtle memory of a brand name. As social media has gotten more sophisticated, however, a funny thing appears to have happened online: People with products to sell aren’t even bothering to call themselves advertisers.

Instead, on Twitter, they open plain old accounts and start tweeting about the stuff they want to sell us. Social media has brought a revolution to advertising, but in the case of products subject to regulation regarding health, safety or efficacy claims, it’s also brought the potential for a return to the bad old days of snake-oil products peddled by quacks in the backs of magazines, where the best result would be to not end up becoming sick or dying thanks to the “cure.”

E-cigarettes — the smokeless, tobacco-free, nicotine vapor delivery systems — are being talked about everywhere lately. The devices, and their fans and detractors, are in newspapers, magazines, the mouths of celebrities, even the investment portfolios of Internet moguls. The New York Times spots one dangling out of Leonardo DiCaprio’s mouth. The Wall Street Journal notices Silicon Valley gadfly Sean Parker adding some nicotine vapor to his investment portfolio. And Bloomberg Businessweek spies an e-cig hospitality tent at the Bonnaroo music festival. This is the growth template — celebrity sightings, brand ambassadorship, big-name investments — of many new products these days. There’s even $1 billion in “traditional” advertising being spent this year by tobacco companies like Philip Morris, Lorillard and R.J. Reynolds (selling MarkTen, Blue and Vuse branded e-cigarettes, respectively) who have gotten into the vapor game. The only piece missing from e-cigarette campaigns would appear to be a social media strategy. Or is it?

A recently concluded study run by a research team from Health Media Collaboratory, based at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has in fact analyzed Twitter traffic looking to learn how e-cigarettes are marketed and promoted on social media. What the team found was a steady stream of tweets, many of which appear to be from bots, or automated Twitter accounts, that tout the health and safety benefits of e-cigarettes, primarily pushing the idea that e-cigarettes aid with the cessation of smoking the plain old paper-and-tobacco variety.

The study has the potential to open a new battle line on advertising in social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook — not just their adherence to legal regulations, but the very definition of what social advertising is. The regulation of emerging products like e-cigarettes is already a blurry field, as the fledgling industry fought to avoid being categorized as a tobacco product, a fight it lost in 2011. However, while final FDA rules on e-cigarette regulation are awaited, there is one bright line the makers of e-cigarettes are not supposed to cross. Manufacturers can, according to the study, “make unrestricted advertising appeals, provided they do not market their products as smoking cessation devices.”

In an analysis of over 73,000 tweets from a two-month period in 2012, the authors concluded that nearly 11 percent of “commercial” tweets touted cessation as one of the benefits of e-cigarettes, with a potential reach of 7.4 million Twitter users. These tweets weren’t part of Twitter’s advertising program, but they weren’t organic either. The authors concluded that the Twitter accounts were commercial in nature; that is, they touted websites and resellers of e-cigarette products, along with the cessation claims that e-cigarette sellers are supposed to be barred from making. (I first learned of the research when I moderated a panel that included study co-author Dr. Sherry Emery, at a conference put on by social data company Gnip.)

The FDA must sign off on claims of smoking cessation because, quite simply, they have to establish the efficacy and health trade-offs of the cessation devices themselves. Mini cigars, or even full-size ones, for example, could be pushed as cigarette smoking cessation devices, but there’s obviously a less than positive health benefit to trading one for the other. Studies are underway about whether e-cigarettes are effective cessation devices, according to Scientific American, but it’s already anecdotally known that the devices do help people stop smoking. Indeed 13 percent of subjects in a study conducted in Italy stopped smoking regular cigarettes, without even intending to, according to a Reuters article.

The question is, are the chemicals in e-cigarettes any better (or worse) for you then a regular old puff of cigarette smoke? It will likely take years for the FDA to decide that question, not even factoring in the lobbying and litigation efforts various interest groups will employ to attempt to put their thumbs on the scale.

Meanwhile, it appears e-cigarette companies and resellers aren’t awaiting the final verdict to begin touting health benefits. By taking advantage of the ease with which a relatively anonymous Twitter account can be created, seeded with followers and programmed with automated messages, it appears the kinds of so-called commercial Twitter accounts identified in the study have found a way around the one rule the FDA currently has established with regards to e-cigarette marketing: a ban on cessation claims. To be clear, e-cigarette tweets that make cessation claims, like this one:

and this one:

often come from very small online resellers, not the big tobacco brands that are just getting into this new market.

On the websites of leading sellers of e-cigarettes, all sorts of creative copy is employed to suggest, but not claim, that switching from paper to electronic is the smarter, safer choice for smokers everywhere. But as this data-driven study has shown, there no need to employ such hair-splitting when it comes to social media platforms. Indeed, the connections between the bot Twitter accounts and big e-cigarette makers will likely always be tenuous, which means that no matter what the FDA eventually rules in the matter of the health and safety of e-cigarettes, the bots will keep pumping out potentially misleading or illegal claims. While spam blog networks for e-cigarettes (and other dubious products) have also long existed, the “fire hose” of big data from social media providers has allowed researchers to quantify studies in a previously impossible manner.

Emery, the investigator I interviewed on the panel in Boulder, Colorado — which was about academic uses of social media data sets — emailed me, “there’s a ton of marketing — a nontrivial amount of which potentially violates [e-cigarettes’] current regulatory status.” The study is currently under consideration for publication with an academic journal. The FDA is due to present its regulations on e-cigarettes sometime this year. Those regulations will greatly affect how and where e-cigarette manufacturers can present their products to the public. Until then, and perhaps even after, the public can find, it seems, whatever health claims those with an interest in promoting e-cigarettes have, on Twitter and other anonymous corners of the Internet.

PHOTO: Gabor Kovacs of ‘smoke no smoke’ puffs on an e-cigarette that his shop sells at Camden in London June 9, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville

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Video Transcript: Cory Booker on Tech Tonic Interface Mon, 03 Jun 2013 14:59:16 +0000

Below is an unedited transcript of the video interview I conducted with Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ, in April.

Paul Smalera: Earlier today I had a great conversation with Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Let’s have a look. Mayor Booker, thank you so much for being here with me.

Cory Booker: It’s great to be here with a Jersey boy. A fellow Jersey boy.

Smalera: I wanted to ask you first of all, you have this reputation as the social media mayor, the tweeting mayor. What made you get onto Twitter in the first place?

Booker: It happened in 2009 where now co-founder with me of WayWire but really an extraordinary visionary woman who saw social media and was a social media maven before…she actually thought up the idea of a Twitter race to the top between Ashton Kutcher and CNN. For some reason she felt the platform would benefit from having indigenous, grassroots authentic leadership on it not just a place for triviality or celebrity but really a mission driven platform and to get more people like that on the platform would be better. She had seen a lot of the other things I was doing in Newark and finally decided to reach out to me. It was a great conversation but I really felt was too busy. I still didn’t understand the concept at all. She pulled a powerful persuader out on me which was Ashton Kutcher. I had this surreal moment where I thought my staff was punking me because Ashton Kutcher’s calling city hall in Newark? I can’t believe that.

I remember I was travelling back to my law school and this drive up highway 95 talking to him, he spent must have been 45 minutes on the phone, really challenging me and explaining to me the benefits of taking control of your own media, of connecting with thousands of people and said, “Look, I want you to do it but I don’t just want you to do it. I want you to dive in head first and be authentic on the platform, take risks.’ He counseled me to it and I said, “I’m going to give this a three month trial.’ And by month two I was completely sold and amazed. What really sold me was a veteran’s issue. I was greeting the largest deployment of New Jersey National Guard since World War II was coming back from the Middle East and I was tweeting back and forth about issues. A guy in California, very frustrated veteran, tweeted me, angry, frustrated, wasn’t getting support. We have a veteran’s one stop in city hall, the first of its type in New Jersey, and I just connected him with the people. Before you know it, he’s tweeting out that he got help, got housing. It was just an incredible moment and it took me seconds on my Blackberry.

Smalera: This has become a key part of how you govern the city, people do reach out to you over Twitter. I’m sure you describe it as a net benefit but what have been some of the surprising moments for you from connecting to your community in a way that probably no mayor has been able to do in a large city like Newark?

Booker: The biggest everyday benefit is now I can change a relationship with my residents as opposed to them coming before government and asking, demanding whatever they want. Now it’s created a collaborative relationship with my residents where they’re actually partners in governing. Every day people on their way to work, people in their neighborhoods will tweet me pictures, will blog at me, “there’s a water main break’ or what have you. For me it’s a powerful shift even with my departmental directors. I now will find out about things before they will; even major things happening in the city I’ll know first. Sometimes I’m even informing my police director who’s in charge of emergency response. This morning was a great example where people were furious about a major traffic back up on one of our main arteries so I texted the police director and said, “Obviously we’re not doing enough with traffic control. Can we do something about it?’ I wouldn’t have been able to make those connections if it wasn’t for my residents. Now they’re helping their government move at the speed of people and be far more responsive in a far more collaborative way. That’s one of the best benefits: I can crowd source thousands and thousands of New Jerseyians, thousands and thousands of Newarkers, from young kids to seniors, to collaborate on how to make our city better.

Smalera: Can we talk about the young kids and the seniors, the people that may be at the extremes that might not have ever heard of Twitter, might be too young to legally be on Twitter, might be too old to have a smartphone. Do you worry at all about your approach to government, that you might miss some of those people?

Booker: I would worry about it if Twitter was taking the place of the other tools in my toolbox. I will still do community visits, community meetings, walk my neighborhoods. At the end of my day, sometimes at 9 or 10, 11 at night, I’ll still do patrols around the neighborhood. I’m still doing all those things. This is just an added tool that has supercharged my ability to connect with my residents. Even if I did on my best days, pre-social media, I could maybe meet with 2,000 residents, face to face, small groups, standing in fronts of schools in the morning, greeting parents maybe I could touch 2,000 people. Now I can touch tens and tens of thousands. It would be a problem if it was replacing it, if I was just sitting at home in my sweatpants tweeting all day but I’m still doing everything as mayor. As a matter of fact, Twitter is a seamless integration into my day. What I used to do if I was driving back from New York to Newark I would be checking with departmental directors. Now I’m checking with departmental directors, returning phone calls and scrolling through my Twitter feed. While I’m on the phone, often. We are both of a multi-tasking generation. Interestingly I’ve now seen some actual data that urban communities are over-represented on Twitter. In fact, African Americans are over-represented on Twitter than the population as a whole. These are folks who may not have a laptop at home but they have a smartphone.

My favorite days are when it’s snowing at night and my Twitter feed blows up with kids, hundreds and hundreds of kids saying, “Do we school tomorrow? Do we have school tomorrow?’ The questions will go until midnight. And my responses are, “Go to bed. Yes, you do.’ Then the next day, “Will we have early dismissal?’ No, you won’t. Don’t tweet in class. It’s amazing to me that people feel like they have a personal relationship with their mayor that they didn’t have before and I become more than just this distant figure, I’m now right in their pocket. And more than that…I think the mistake politicians make is they just use it as an announcement like the PA system when we were in high school. “I will be in this place here. I just cut a ribbon here.’ No. For me it’s giving people a real window in what my life is about. I let people see when I’m angry about something. When I see somebody littering on the street that’s one of the things that annoys me the most, I’ll tweet about it. I have horribly corny jokes and anybody who follows me…

Smalera: I’ve seen them.

Booker: … they’re pretty painful but I love to laugh at silliness. When something has us all deeply affected like what happened in Boston I’ll express my authentic feelings. In many ways sometimes those are the tweets that are retweeted the most. Now people see that their mayor is accessible to them, they see that he’s a real human being who has a strange addiction to two men, Ben and Jerry…

Smalera: I assume you’re talking about ice cream.

Booker: I am talking about ice cream. Would there be a problem if there wasn’t? You’re just a guy trying to serve. The wholeness of me is expressed on the platform. You’re no longer “the mayor’. You’re just a guy trying to serve.

Smalera: You’re the mayor, you’re a politician. Let’s say you’re over-represented on Twitter, you’re very engaged and I think a lot of people who’ve studied Newark and your interactions and would say that net it’s probably a positive because, as you mentioned, you continue to do all the other things to outreach and engage. How exactly do other mayors in other cities take your example?

Booker: We all need to be ourselves. Lincoln said, he said “man’ but I’ll skip the sexism for a second, “Everyone is born an original but sadly most die copies.’ We all need to be who we are and be ourselves but not being in social media is almost like Nixon not wanting to put make up on for a TV appearance. It’s going to become so ridiculous five, ten years from now because government is going to have to catch up to the rest of society. Non-profits, businesses, religious institutions, advocacy groups, they’re all starting to move at light speed, they’re all starting to create more collaborative engagement with their constituencies, they’re all creating more transparency to their actions. Government really is stuck. We’re going to have to unstuck government by opening it up to technology in general, social media in particular. I know five or ten years from now every political leader is going to be finding creative ways to engage on these platforms as they emerge because they are such powerful tools for making change.

My hope is that everybody doesn’t become me but that everybody is going to become entrepreneurial in their engagement with technology. We have to stop thinking…you said, “You’re a politician’ and I accept that in the sense that I’m elected by the people to represent the city of Newark, but what I knew is that if I just fit into the box that people thought of being mayor I would not be able to move my city forward in the ways I dreamed of doing it. We all should not, this is a new word I’m making up at the moment, “boxify’ ourselves. We need to get out of boxes because we live in a much more dynamic world. My parents worked for the same company 25 years each; IBMers, a tech company. The millennials, people born after 1980, of which you are not. I’m just trying to make you feel old today. You’ve got obnoxiously much too hair but I hope it grays quickly. The reality is we’re going to live in a lot more dynamic world where you need to define yourself not by your job and your title but by your purpose and your mission. Just in the same way that my Twitter account is going to follow me around no matter what I do, if I become a private citizen next year, if I become a United States senator next year…

Smalera: Which will it going to be?

Booker: There will be a gap of which I am a private citizen because they’re not proximate, the two offices. I see myself as a lot of different things. I definitely am a mayor if I’m going to accomplish my mission which is transformative change in my community I’ve got to be an entrepreneur, I’ve got to be a media syndicator, I’ve got to be a philanthropist. What I’ve tried to do is find every way to use all the ability God has given me to push toward my mission. What I am excited about is that the constitution gives constitutional offices different powers but as soon as we begin to think like private sector entrepreneurs do we being to develop and imagine different ways to use these powers but also other powers to make a difference. Do you understand what I’m saying? I can be more specific if you want.

Smalera: Be more specific.

Booker: I have no power over education in the city of Newark…

Smalera: That’s because the school board is a separate body.

Booker: I have no authority over schools whatsoever. If I thought of myself as a mayor in the box that the statutes give me I would not be focusing on that issue. But that’s not my mission in life. My mission in life is to create transformative change and to help America living up to its promise. When kids say “liberty and justice for all’ I believe we should all be working to make those words real. I had to be very entrepreneurial in how I was going to get it done. Entrepreneurial means that I’m going to talk to tech people and say, “There’s a technology revolution going on. How can I work with you to make it more available to my kids?’

Smalera: You talked to one specific tech person…

Booker: I talked to a tech guy, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. We connected not as the head of Facebook and the head of a city, but more as two citizens of this country that felt this nation was falling woefully short of developing the greatest resource this country have ever seen, not oil and gas but the genius of our children. If you look at oil and gas it’s a great metaphor. When I was in a petroleum engineering class at Stanford I still remember my professor telling me we would be out of oil by 2020. And he was right if we used the same technology to obtain oil but what he did not see is that we would find are new technologies that are fracking awesome and can get more of that resource out.

Smalera: Hydro fracking.

Booker: Exactly. A joke is bad if you have to explain it. The incredible thing is that technology has helped us to further cultivate that natural resource but the genius of our kids, remember: genius is equally distributed unlike oil which is only in certain pockets. There’s as much genius being born in Beverly Hills as there is being born in Newark, New Jersey. What we’ve done horribly is develop the technology and the skill to release that genius. For me as a guy that has an overwhelming mission I’m not going to be curtailed by what people tell me my job is. I’m going to partner with other people in different sectors who by the way, it’s not their immediate mission either. Mark Zuckerberg’s job at the board of directors is not telling him, ‘show me the data on education in Newark, New Jersey.’

Smalera: Or give Cory Booker $100 million.

Booker: I was his hundredth millionth friend on Facebook. That’s how we settled on the number. That’s what I mean by I need to be entrepreneurial in how I can make a difference and make a change. My favorite example of me using media to leverage philanthropy to leverage brand changing for Newark, because Newark had a very seriously bad brand. I’m a mayor but I’m thinking about what people here in Manhattan think about all the time which is how do we help this brand advance. My favorite moment is one that five years ago would not have been possible which is mayors of mid-size, American decaying cities. When I say “decaying’, losing population, losing tax base: Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, Pittsburgh, all these cities that got hit in the 60s, 70s and 80s. They get kicked around on late night TV shows all the time. I was sitting there with my buddies, Ben and Jerry, one night watching TV and Conan O’Brien comes on and says, “Newark, New Jersey has this great new healthcare program.’ Which excited me because I was so proud of this program, I’m like, “Conan’s going to talk about our victory here.’ Then he said, “I’ve got a suggestion for Newark, New Jersey,’ which got me even more excited because I thought, “Conan’s going to give me advice.’ Then he said, “The best thing for healthcare in Newark is a bus ticket out of town.’ The more you laugh at that joke the more I’m going to…in the old paradigm when you’re stuck in who you are you lack imagination to see your true power. Remember Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is not realizing they have it in the first place.’

Five years ago when a mayor heard their city insulted, this used to happen, they could write an angry letter and it would be read by the intern’s intern on the Tonight Show or they could call a press conference. Remember, they don’t control media now; they’re dependent upon the media of others…channels 5 and 32 might be the only cameras that might show up. But I realized this is a different era and I’m far more entrepreneurial and I looked at Conan, after I grabbed another pint of Ben and Jerry’s because that’s usually what I do when I get down, I opened up my laptop and said, “How many viewers are there of Conan?’ And there were 2.5 million. That number shocked me because I know the views on my social media platform are many and many multiples of that. In a good week I can get 10, 20 million people who have seen my social media feed. So I said, “Wait a minute, I control more media than this person.’ I filmed a film at my desk and I put the flags behind me. And I tell you, when a politician puts flags behind them they are serious. I said, “I’m Cory Booker. Conan O’Brien has insulted the great city of Newark. ‘ I bragged about my city for a few moments and then I said, “By the power invested in me by the people of the City of Newark I am banning you from Newark Airport. You’re on the no-fly list. Try JFK, buddy.’ The video, which was a joke video, went so viral that we got hate letters from civil libertarians. Then the TSA got so nervous…

Smalera: You don’t have the authority to ban someone from Newark airport?

Booker: …the TSA getting nervous, as government institutions often do, clarified that very point and said on the front page of their website they just made sure that people understood mayors could not indiscriminately ban people they don’t like from their airports. I wish I did have that power; there would be a lot of people I would ban. It become such a big story that I had gone out and done this and it commanded more media attention than the 2.5 million who saw the joke in the first place that Conan had to respond. So he banned me from Burbank Airport which if you know LA is not a big deal to not be able to go into Burbank Airport. It’s a little out there. I’m an LAX guy myself. But the testosterone kept escalating, we were banning each other. The Cory and Conan Kerfuffle became one of the top news stories of the week. Eventually the Secretary of State for the United States of America, a woman named Hilary Clinton, filmed her own joke video saying in a Rodney-King way, “Why can’t you guys just get along?’ Lo and behold I’m on Conan O’Brien’s show, now I’m in front of his 2.5 million people, we apologize, we made up and he gave me $100,000 of philanthropy for the city of Newark.

This to me shows you the unimaginable potential for entrepreneurial public servants and when I say that I don’t mean elected officials. I mean all of us are entrepreneurs, all of us are collaborators in helping our democracy live up to its highest level, to its aspirations. If you think about this the power of technology and media together is what’s created really great transformations from our parent’s generation. Martin Luther King, in the same month we’re filming this in April of 1963 though, hit a wall. He was imprisoned in a jail cell in Birmingham, wrote one of the most eloquent pieces of literature in modern American history, Letters from Birmingham Jail, but what people don’t know and if you read some great accounts of this, Taylor Branch’s book and some others, he wasn’t succeeding. He couldn’t get people to organize. He didn’t have Twitter or Facebook. He didn’t have a way to affect media in the way that we do. He couldn’t do a WayWire video. What two ingenious young people, King was young at the point but these folks, Dorothea Cotton, James Bevel were younger than him, and they convinced him to do something which captured the media and transformed the city of Birmingham and brought segregation to an end. They said, “Let us organize kids, the next generation, and do a kids march.’ The power of Bull Connor and eight year olds and ten year olds and 14 year olds are still some of the most powerful images from the Civil Rights movement with the dogs and the fire hoses. It so captured media attention from the Soviet Union to newspapers in Iowa it was on the front page of the nation. This is the power King knew, if I can be creative in capturing the media and controlling the national dialogue…I get very upset and this is one of the reasons we founded WayWire…

Smalera: Let me stop you for a second. You do live the entrepreneurship. I do want you to explain what WayWire is and why you founded it. You’re an entrepreneur so you’re starting a company that is basically trying to change the way media works.

Booker: We are told in America what is important every day. By the oligarchy of media. They say, “The top stories today are, you should pay attention to who’s dating who or this divorce or this person got pregnant, the princess in England should be the most important thing we should be talking about.’ That’s very anti-democratic because people in the grassroots might be struggling with a lot different issues. Suddenly America decided because of a horrendous tragedy that I wept as I watched, America decided that gun violence was the issue and now that’s…there are millions of American daily basis in their communities and it was never decided to be a top story because the media was telling us what to pay attention to. There’s a problem with that. What I loved when I saw other social media platforms, which are really micro blogging platforms, what I started seeing is that there’s no way to really accelerate that social change through the most powerful version of media to me which is the moving picture, it’s video. I saw that the younger generation was consuming video in different ways and the appetite for short form video was growing and user generated content was exploding but there was no real way to get those voices, compelling voices, articulate voices. I met with the head of CNN recently…can I mention them?

Smalera: We’ll bleep it out.

Booker: Good. Bleep it out. I met with “bleep’. And I was telling him, “What’s more compelling: you sending a reporter to cover bullying or this amazing content being created by high school students that is so gripping?’ That’s going to be the powerful news of the future. It’s not this news agency going in but the voices of people actually talking about their experiences with deeper authenticity and independence of thought. When I started seeing that I said, “there’s something missing right now.’ I know as Cory, as a mayor, that YouTube is a very valuable utility which has hundreds of thousands of hours being put up, I don’t know. Every week? Every minute? Of new content. My problem is that there’s probably thousands of hours in that utility that I would probably love but I can’t find it and those voices that are really important being buried by the sheer volume that’s out there. Sarah Ross, who’s one of the three of us founders, and Nathan said, “We’ve got to crack this nut, figure out a way to pull out content that is compelling and important to an individual and then give ways for people to better share video content and even more than that’. Say we have an interesting conversation. One of the best parts of this conversation is right before the camera started when we were talking about sci fi and revealed the level of your geekiness and nerdiness…does not compare to mine…

Smalera: We can see about that.

Booker: …but now I want to know a little bit more about you. I have no way of knowing your favorite music videos, your favorite sci fi videos, your favorite videos about important news issues. You don’t have a video identity. I can look at your Twitter feed and read through that but that’s not even organized; it’s organized by time but not by issue. These are some of things we said were lacking out there: my video identity is not pulled in one place because I’m sure people might be interested in the most compelling videos that I might watch in a month that I have no way of…I always call it the “Pandorafication’ of video, pull videos that are important to me and better share those and by doing that, by creating a virality into the social stream of certain videos it helps to elevate them in the consciousness of our country and God willing, democratizing imagery as opposed to the oligarchy controlling it, giving more power to the people.

Smalera: Did going to a school like Stanford, where you went as an undergrad and graduate, being in a start up mecca like that, being around those people, being on campus at the same time as the founders of Google and so many other start ups, how did that impact you?

Booker: Powerfully so. I was there at the dawn of the internet age and was surrounded by people whose names we know. Like Reid Hoffman. I just had dinner with the fifth person hired by Yahoo who was a Stanford classmate, being around these dynamic folks and even organizations. I was passionate about working in east Palo Alto. I was running a crisis hotline so I was very involved in non-profits at the time and I still remember having a tech guy on our main team in the Bridge, the counselling center, and him using these Apple computers to better help us create data and metrics for what we were doing. Being in that environment, in that cauldron of creativity in the technology world, really seeded for me the way I wanted to live my life. We’re all entrepreneurs. In fact, Reid Hoffman wrote a book, The Start up of Me, and it definitely did give me that bug to do things. And also the courage to say, “You’re not going to tell me what my job is. If I have an idea that is burning in me I’m not going to do it even though it puts me as an outlier in what you perceive as being a mayor.’

Smalera: What are your hopes for the tech industry as far as your mission, as far as being someone who is trying to help elevate the quality of life for their citizens.

Booker: First of all I hate that we’ve gotten to this point where “mayor’ is a pejorative. This is the greatest job I could ever dream of. Mayor Bloomberg gave me a clock that counts down my days with a little note that says: don’t count the days, make each day count. Every day I feel…I was texting with the head of the ACLU right before I came in here for New Jersey saying, “The clock is ticking, we’ve got to get some opening data sets in Newark up. We’ve got to get this stuff done.’ I love being mayor but technology, as I sit both as a participant and a witness, is charging my imagination every day as I see these democratizing forces flow through.

Banks, here in New York, if I needed access to capital in the past I had to supplicate myself, prostate myself before big banks and say, “Please, please, please give me money.’ Now we don’t have to do that; we’ve got Kickstarter and we’ve got Kiva as democratizing access to capital. We’ve got forces that are democratizing work. One of my friends, again from the Bay area-Stanford community, started [SOMA Source] taking micro tasks and using them in developing nations, giving people internet hook ups and liberating their economic potential. I’ve got friends that are liberating in the United States using technology to better monetize their very being with collaborative consumption from Uber and AirBNB and Lift. I’m seeing in every sector education and how online Stanford courses are now being taken by people in developing nations who are outperforming Stanford students. We’re creating greater access, we’re creating greater equality. Somebody, just because they’re in a certain geography or a certain race or a certain sexual orientation, or certain socio-economic status, are being liberated. In fact, I listened to a presentation from a guy who has a company called Huge, which I thought should be my company given my size, who said, “Look, we’re talking people with a formal education in the ninth grade. But we’re seeing that people who are learning coding in college half of that stuff is not even useful anymore.’ The whole way we think about education is wrong. In fact, we don’t have an unemployment problem in America; we have a training and education problem in America. They were hiring people with six figure salaries who maybe only had a ninth grade education because that’s how demand people in coding is. Why isn’t our education system reflecting this demand that we have?

These are amazing forces going through everything and for me as mayor these are forces I want to capture and draw into my city in an entrepreneurial way. Whether we can use technology in job training, technology is helping us clean the environment, technology in creating more efficiencies for our cities, technology in better educating our children, all these things technology is going to afford us the ability to do better. And more. That’s what’s exciting for me. What gets me more excited, I do think time is ticking on the time that I will be able to call myself a mayor, and I think about running for statewide office at the federal level, I get very excited about this idea that we could hack the Senate, disrupt Congress in a great way, in a righteous way. Why do we have these omnibus bills that are so dense, there’s no light, there’s no accountability, there’s no understanding, there’s no people leaning in and collaborating. We have government really drawing away from people recently. Special interest groups, people who can obfuscate information, people who can distract people, we have lobbyists, all these people that are creating…in fact, the only place that’s not being democratized is our democracy in some ways because these people are creating a less than democratic process. The cure for that is getting more people involved.

I’m very frustrated about campaign finance rules. Very frustrated by them. I’ve been telling people for a long time, “I don’t know how to solve this problem,’ especially with the Supreme Court moving in a direction I’m not in favor of. They’re creating more and more access for large money givers to do what I subvert the system. The solution that was just given recently by a friend of mine said, “You talk about this Cory. The solution to that is people getting involved.’ You have a woman like the now senator of the great state of Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, who was facing that. Facing super PACs, facing these individual donors and what stopped that was hundreds of thousands of Americans giving small donations, a dollar online giving her a chance to fight back and overcome that. “Wow. Wait a minute. I, a dollar giver in Alaska, can help counteract the forces working against our democracy?’ That’s power. By the way, another call I made as I drove in here was to my oldest friend from fourth grade who, now knowing that I’m looking potentially to run for Senate, was bragging to me that he’s calling all my high school friends and they’re giving $5 and $20 and $100 and he was so excited about it because he really feels like he’s participating. He doesn’t need to be a super PAC guy. He can help me. Lo and behold, in our first financial filing our average donor was really, really small. I was one of the lead senators, I think I saw an article today me and Al Franken were two of the biggest fundraisers in this cycle, had so much of that push from small donors. That’s a democratising of our democracy and we need to do more of that.

Smalera: Thank you so much for being here at Reuters on Tech Tonic. I really appreciate it.

Booker: I’m grateful. Thank you.”

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How Tumblr might ‘screw up’ Yahoo Mon, 20 May 2013 19:05:39 +0000

There’s a lot to unpack in Yahoo’s reported $1.1 billion deal for Tumblr, but much of the reporting today is focused on the rather bland challenge of turning Tumblr into a profitable company. Forcing Tumblr to make money will eventually become an important mission for Yahoo, but for now it’s far from the point.

This deal’s most pressing issue isn’t what will come of balance sheets, it’s what will come of each organization’s corporate culture. Marissa Mayer has promised, in her post on the deal, “not to screw it up.” She’s talking about Tumblr. But that’s just Mayer’s very smart way of inverting what she must be hoping Tumblr becomes for Yahoo: a threat to its older, established, some might say calcified culture that has been short on innovation, creativity and user-focused design for many years now. Tumblr, indeed, will be far from “screwed up” as it gets used to its new home under Yahoo. Tumblr seems to have a bright future as something like a design lab and an already-functioning charter city under the aegis of the Yahoo brand. It will be, and already is, something Mayer will point at to tell her team, “why don’t you do it that way?”

When Mayer was at Google and led all product management and design efforts, she famously relied on data about user behavior to inform her “design” choices for Google’s products. At the time, some argued that her method of, for example, choosing one shade of blue over another because it made users fractionally more likely to click wasn’t really design at all.

Tumblr has, in some important ways, already been living by this design by data principle long espoused by Mayer. Most importantly, Tumblr is not trying to offer products to its community by throwing nonsensical new portals and features and widgets at them, the way Yahoo has for years. Rather, it’s given its community a platform, staying out of the way when it comes to all but the most fundamental underpinnings of the site. Sure, it’s got lots of handy defaults for new users, but ultimately Tumblr is whatever its users want it to be, and it’s different for every user. That’s precisely why so many different types of communities, from design bloggers to GIF makers to bored high schoolers, live on Tumblr, and why Tumblr doesn’t have to overtly try to attract new users–its platform is already doing the job.

The Tumblr-Yahoo deal isn’t about two tech companies linking up to share strengths. It’s about two entirely different ways of doing business being pitted against each other to do battle in the meeting and boardrooms now controlled by Mayer and her trusted deputies. It’s pretty clear what camp Mayer will likely favor, given that she came from the company that helped kill an earlier iteration of Yahoo. The problem is that Yahoo’s portal/agency/sales-culture DNA is still in many pockets and products across the company, however dormant. So, possibly, is Yahoo’s propensity for killing or starving to death its acquisitions, as it did with an earlier generation of once-promising startups. (Hello Delicious! Hello Flickr!) By making such a strong oath to Tumblr, Mayer is basically throwing down a challenge to her team to move forward or get left behind.

Either the existing Yahoo will learn from Tumblr’s successes as part of the new landscape of successful online properties, or Mayer (or someone) will have to take Yahoo even further, and strip the company down to the studs in order to rebuild it for a new digital world.

The individual frames of the animated GIF gracing Mayer’s announcement can almost be read as coded messages to the constituent parts of the new Yahoo. For Team Tumblr, it’s Keep Calm and Carry On. And for Yahoo’s legacy crew? Now Panic and Freak Out. 

]]> 0 Music royalties and Pandora’s box Fri, 10 May 2013 19:40:27 +0000 It is one of the oldest and thorniest questions of the digital music era: How much should artists and musicians be compensated for the Internet broadcast of their songs? And who gets to decide that rate?

You might think in the nearly two decades since music first began streaming over the Internet that some kind of consensus about paying artists would have emerged. But about the only thing most Internet radio stakeholders can agree on is that the current system makes no sense: Internet radio providers pay vastly different rates than their terrestrial, cable and satellite brethren, and even sometimes each other. Also, even a single company may pay a per-song fee in some cases, and a percentage of its revenues in others. Beyond that, there is vast disagreement, with the political fault lines forming an unusual pattern.

The business stakes of this battle flared up again this week, when the New York-based indie musician Blake Morgan picked a public fight with Internet radio giant Pandora. Morgan had received a feel-good form letter from Pandora founder Tim Westergren that exhorted musicians “to change the course of the industry in a direction that will be far more inclusive and empowering for independent musicians.” In response, Morgan said the “idea that Pandora is intimately interested in the success of independent artists rings quite hollow.” Specifically, Morgan noted that his songs were played nearly 28,000 times on Pandora in the third quarter of 2012, and that he received $1.62 from the company. (As Billboard notes, that is far less than the statutory rate to which Morgan is theoretically entitled.)

In an interview, Morgan said that it was “very dishonest for Pandora” to claim to empower musicians when its royalty payments are so low, and indeed seek to lower them further. Certainly Pandora’s royalty rates are critical to the health of its business. As my Reuters colleague Daniel Indiviglio has pointed out, in 2011 Pandora’s royalties-to-revenue ratio was 54 percent; Sirius XM’s was 8 percent. In an otherwise bullish stock environment, Pandora’s stock tumbled conspicuously on Tuesday when Morgan’s correspondence with Westergren was widely aired, though it has since recovered.

A Pandora spokeswoman declined to comment specifically on Morgan’s charges, but said that the company is constantly in touch with more than a thousand musicians and seeks their active collaboration in setting rates.

The spat over royalties is crying out for rationalization. Currently, the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) – a panel of judges that is part of the Library of Congress – sets the rules for royalty rates. Unlike many issues under CRB jurisdiction, however, there are next to no market inputs, as there is no functioning market for Internet radio licenses. Instead, the CRB relies on data extrapolations from other media deals that can vary from case to case. Thus, CRB rulings seem out of whack with other industry practices and are constantly changing; the dizzying cascade of contradictory and superseding regulatory rulings is summarized here.

A legislative effort to streamline the law, called the Internet Radio Fairness Act, came and fizzled last fall. The bill was heavily supported by Pandora, since it would lower their rates, and opposed by musicians and songwriters. Curiously, though, the AFL-CIO and the American Conservative Union – two groups which rarely agree on anything – also opposed the bill, supporting instead some kind of market mechanism to determine royalty rates.

Morgan’s argument is that the discrepancy between Pandora’s rates and everyone else’s should be resolved by raising the floor instead of lowering the ceiling. And during last year’s debate, Congressman Jerrold Nadler from Manhattan introduced a draft discussion bill seeking to impose a single royalty rate for all radio platforms. Nadler’s office told Reuters that it continues to support this idea, but is also waiting for the House Judiciary Committee to undertake a broader review of copyright issues – a process that will clearly take months – before introducing any formal bill.

In the meantime, artists will continue to use whatever leverage they can find to wring a higher rate out of companies like Pandora. Morgan, for his part, points to Spotify – which has only been available to U.S. listeners since 2011 – as the “oncoming good guys” who choose to give artists a bigger chunk; he claims that he makes $1 in royalties for every 200 plays on Spotify. Perhaps there is room in the Internet radio world for market competition after all.

PHOTO: Joe Kennedy (2nd L), president and CEO, and Tim Westergren (2nd R), founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Pandora internet radio, ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange June 15, 2011. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
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Samsung Galaxy S4: Size matters, but isn’t everything Fri, 10 May 2013 19:30:02 +0000 The Samsung Galaxy S4’s tagline — “The next big thing is here” — is a telling pitch. The Galaxy is the world’s second best-selling phone, behind the iPhone.  And the latest version unabashedly claims that bigger is better. But considering the S4 in a different light, maybe we shouldn’t think of it as a big phone. Maybe we should treat it like a very small tablet and leave our real tablet home.

While narrower than Samsung’s Galaxy Note by about a half-inch, the S4 strongly evokes a miniature but very serviceable tablet. And since making calls is one of the things we seem to do least with our phones, marketing a connected device like the S4 as a very small tablet that also makes calls might not be a bad idea.

As a “tablet,” the S4 delivers. Screen resolution is amazing.. It runs fast and smooth, which is not a given when you don’t own both the hardware and software. The S4 runs the latest version of Google’s Android mobile operating system, Jellybean 4.2.

The S4 has a larger screen — 4.99 inches versus 4.8 for the S III. The case is narrower by .03 inches. But that push to increase screen size without increasing the footprint makes it a more sensitive device. The context menu and “back” below the screen are just too easily tapped inadvertently while merely holding the phone while doing a task, like typing. These buttons were vexing in another, smaller way as well: They light up whenever you touch the screen.

The S4 also prompts reflection on the range of devices and how they’ve positioned themselves five years into the smartphone revolution. One of the biggest dividing lines is whether a mobile device is optimized for consumption or production — whether it’s a good working tool or a media hub.

As a productivity tool, the S4 left me wanting more. It fared poorly while typing, which is the baseline for me. For all the screen space the keyboard feels cramped. There is too much space around the keys. Auto-correct — offering three predictive word choices above the keyboard as you type — seemed almost out of reach. I got better at it but it never felt natural.

But the S4 is a playful device, resplendent in bright colors inside and out, with all the features you’d expect when it comes to taking pictures and enjoying media. In fact, I had three — count’em three — stores from which to choose: Google Play, of course, but also Sprint (the carrier) and Samsung itself.

Most phone picture taking is serendipitous. Check your Facebook or Instagram feeds if you have any doubt. So any feature that needs to be accessed before you take a picture is won’t get a lot of use. One that should never be used is picture in a picture — a way to photobomb yourself into the shot, which seems especially hedonistic. For all the potential to jazz up your future memories, even the trained demonstrators showing off advanced features for reporters found do-overs necessary. Not many of those in real life.

The S4 has taken some guff for its plastic — Samsung calls it polycarbonate — case. I’m not in the chorus that finds “cheap” materials a problem. Indeed, it’s a benefit because so much of the weight is in the case. And face it:Your phone is disposable. We never keep our smartphones for as long as they will work. There is always a $200 alternative and all of your data is in some cloud somewhere. But the S4 does not have a cheap feel. There is more than enough heft and balance to know you are not handling a toy.

With the S4, Samsung is outdoing Apple at Apple’s game: a modestly improved piece of hardware that loyal users of the SIII will want as an upgrade. The question is whether they can capture any new business from the business set. Doubtful.

The S4 is a fine consumer-oriented phone, delivering a familiar and robust Android experience. But even though it might find its way into a road warrior’s home, I doubt many will end up in any road warrior hands.

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Nest acquires green software startup MyEnergy Tue, 07 May 2013 19:19:01 +0000 Nest Labs is scaling fast.

The Silicon Valley company formed by Apple alums Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, who helped build the consumer gadget giant’s iPod and iPhones, has acquired  Boston-based startup MyEnergy. The fledgling company helps homeowners understand their total energy use by presenting and analyzing all their electric, gas and water usage over certain time periods, and comparing it to other other homes in the neighborhood.

MyEnergy, which has been working with utility Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative, will help Nest in its push to form partnerships with other utility companies to get the power-saving “Nest” thermostat into more U.S. households. 

Nest recently teamed up with six utilities to provide consumer incentives for the use of its thermostats.

The acquisition — deal terms were not disclosed —  would help Nest’s services to utilities by giving them an effective way to share data with customers, Nest said. 

MyEnergy will also likely help beef up Nest’s energy monitoring tools.

 Nest — which attracted funding from venture capital firms including Kleiner Perkins, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Shasta Ventures — does not provide any sales figures for its thermostats but Chief Executive Tony Fadell had told Reuters last month the company  is “blowing through all of our forecasts.

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Blackberry Q10: The key is the keyboard Fri, 26 Apr 2013 19:00:31 +0000 Not so long ago Blackberry made phones that set the bar. They were avatars of serious cool among the power set, a visible token that you had arrived. Then came the iPhone, and there went Blackberry’s cachet.

Now Blackberry is back with a two smartphone phones running a new operating system — both the phones and the OS are dubbed “10.” The rebooted line is a gambit — some think Blackberry’s last — to recapture the cool.

The Z10, released in the United States in March, was an attempt to join ’em: it’s a full screen, multi-touch rectangle with a pop-up, software keyboard — sound familiar? But the Q10, due in the U.S. at the end of May, is a spit-in-your-eye attempt to beat ’em: An unapologetic central feature is a physical keyboard, and this defining Blackberry touch makes the device an  intentional outlier in the smartphone world.

Some smartphones coming to the market are more like small tablets than phones. Some have more apps, like the iPhone. But all have access to a plethora of streaming content, e-books, games, cloud storage, push e-mail and browsers that “undesign” web pages, making them easier to read.

One has a keyboard. This feature is not a pander to the Blackberry faithful or a half-hearted attempt to get back to some company roots. Blackberry has made the hardware keyboard essential again. The Q10 is at the same time different, familiar, exciting, comfortable. The key is the keyboard.

The key is the keyboardEver since the iPhone debuted, the keyboard tradeoff has seemed one-sided. Full-face screens begat even bigger screens and led to the infantilization of phones.  They’re great for watching movies and playing games, but they don’t make handling e-mail, editing or reading a document a vastly superior experience. When you have a portable tablet like the iPad Mini, why would you choose to watch a movie or play a game on an even smaller screen?

The Q10’s keyboard takes up 33 percent of front face real estate. It measures 3 centimeters vertically and is situated below the 6-centimeter-high multi-touch screen. The keyboard is the main way you access content. Typing a letter or two from any menu page instantly calls up an app, a contact, or a calendar event. You don’t have to organize a darn thing. Sure, you can arrange app icons and gather them into folders. You can create contact favorites. But in the week I’ve used the Q10 I didn’t once access an app or a contact by looking for where I left it. I used the keyboard, typed two letters, and there it was.

This is only possible on a phone with a physical keyboard which, by definition, is always on. On my iPhone 4S I can also find apps in a device search, but that requires first going to the search page. And the iPhone search isn’t as smart: Type “te” (or “me”) on the Q10 and among the hits is the messaging app. Type “te” on the iPhone and “Messages” is nowhere to be found. On the Q10, “me” got me not only “Text Messages” but “BBM,” Blackberry’s proprietary messaging system. It understood that my intention was messaging.

For typing, the keyboard is great. And with predictive words — for some reason, this feature is off by default — you have a best-of-both-worlds scenario.

This Q10 is a winning combination of well-thought-out ideas in other ways as well. The contacts function aggregates “activity,” social gestures and even news stories about the company where contacts work, with “updates,” the exchanges you’ve had. This “all-in-one-place” approach is like a mini profile of anyone you put in your address book.

When connected to your computer, the Q10 is recognized as an external drive whose contents are accessible on your desktop through the latest version of Blackberry Link — no syncing intermediary like iTunes.

The iPhone only recently added a To Do app — Reminders. But Blackberry’s To Do leaves it in the dust with an Evernote-like ability to add voice note and attachments to a task.

Navigation, transitions and animations are all spot on. This seems to be as quick and responsive an OS as I’ve seen, perhaps because Blackberry (like Apple) does both the hardware and software.

There are still ways the Q10 could inch closer to perfection.

Apps availability isn’t ideal. Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, LinkedIn and Skype were installed on the AT&T branded unit. There was no Google Maps app, but Blackberry’s version worked just fine for me on four, hour-long car trips to unfamiliar destinations. But Pandora, Spotify, Netflix were all absent.

Without a Google Drive app — and uncertain prospects for one — you can’t work directly on a collaborative document. Blackberry is up against three powerhouses that allow collaboration in the cloud with widely used Google and Microsoft (SkyDrive) apps. That said, some of the available productivity tools are impressive: Docs to Go, Dropbox and Box.

There is no horizontal orientation (you can’t use a sideways keyboard), so video and game play is on a squarish screen. This is a gamble for Blackberry but not a big one in my view. I see a smartphone as a device of last resort for such activities anyway – a small tablet is better for those types of utilities.

Finally, I’m still not the biggest fan of how the 10 series handles notifications, which I mentioned in my review of the Z10. The Hub concept is fine, but there are no verbose, peek-a-boo alerts about received messages, just that you have new messages and what accounts they are in. E-mail in the Hub can’t be filtered by default to show only unread items, so unread items are sometimes hard to find. It is possible to filter out read items ad hoc, but that takes four keystrokes each time. You can’t even mark all items read without opening them, which you might want to do based on the subject line alone.

(Maybe we can prevail on the people at Pebble to reconsider their decision to ignore the new Blackberry line so we could outsource verbose alerts to our wrists where they belong? After all, Pebble’s CEO cut his teeth on Blackberry version in 2008, with the InPulse watch. Or, hey Blackberry — How about a smartwatch of your own?)

There are a few software upgrades in the Q10 (that will also soon roll out for Z10 handesets). Most of them will delight the Blackberry faithful — and mean nothing to anyone else. They include pin-to-pin messaging, a proprietary means of texting which doesn’t use your data plan or the Internet, and can only be done between Blackberry phones. It’s one of those quirky differentiators that Blackberry had abandoned but loyalists missed. The “T” and “B” shortcuts are back, scooting you to the top and bottom of pages.

Since 2007, I’ve owned nothing but iPhones, but the Q10 is the first phone to make me question that loyalty. Carrying one for about a week feels like I’ve put on my big kid pants. At this moment in time, the Q10 is my next phone.

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Building the perfect smartwatch Fri, 19 Apr 2013 19:37:14 +0000

In my tech predictions of 2013 I somehow missed that this would be the year of the smartwatch. But now the most established names in tech are realizing the future may be all in the wrist.

Smartwatches are shaping up to be the Next Big Thing about a decade after they were offered to the public and met with a collective shrug. Timing can be everything in tech. Microsoft marketed a stylus-enabled PC in 2001, but the tablet concept was a nonstarter until the iPad. Even the e-reader had a first life as The Rocket — before the dot-com boom. But it was Amazon, in 2007, that reimagined the device and took the brass ring.

There is still essentially no smartwatch market, but at least one analyst is asserting that more than a million could be sold this year. That astonishing — and dubious — claim would amount to one-third of the anticipated 2013 sales of netbook (which I did predict would surge in 2013).

The renaissance began last year when a startup called Pebble began a Kickstarter campaign to build an eponymous smartwatch. Pebble’s small team raised the $200,000 it sought two hours into its 30-day fundraising period. Pebble stopped taking seed money when it reached $10 million.

Behind schedule, Pebble has finally shipped to all 55,000 backers (I was one of them). The wait to now buy one is two-three months. So the project was a rousing success. So good, apparently, that it got the attention of big tech companies — which is to say it stoked their competitive impulses to leave no, er, pebble unturned to tap into a new market.

Now everybody seems to know what time it is. The bidding began with Apple, which is said to be working on an iWatch. Samsung quickly jumped in as well. The next rumor was that Google, which is going in all sorts of directions these days, is also getting into the act. The latest company that reportedly wants a piece of the action is Microsoft. 

Like tablets and e-readers before them, smartwatches are now much better poised to fill an actual need because of how other tech has evolved. Just as events conspired to make tablets practical — cloud computing, stylus-free touch screens, ultra-portability — the smartwatch era approaches because smartphones have become ubiquitous. Microsoft was one of the earliest proponents of the smartwatch, but its 2002 SPOT smartwatch went nowhere fast. Others, from Fossil and Timex, also served as mini personal information managers in a bid to rival Palm. 

It would be five years until Apple would introduce the iPhone, so there was still a market for portable, Internet-connected devices that served up weather and other real-time information. But the proto-smartwatches tended to be expensive — as much as $300 — and Microsoft required you to subscribe to its MSN service for about $60 a year. Expensive equipment and recurring fees made no sense for things that were essentially toys (but, ironically, are exactly what we willingly pay for smartphones).

Now smartphones do all the heavy lifting; the demands on the watch are fewer. All a good smartwatch has to do is be in constant contact with your phone, serving as a gatekeeper and controller.

As I noted in my Reuters review of Pebble, the watch doesn’t do much. But by relaying messages and alerts to my specifications it frees me from checking on my phone’s flood of notifications. I’m reaching for my phone so rarely that Pebble’s creators should have called it “Pocket Protector.”

None of us, of course, have any idea of what the unreleased smartwatches will be. This makes it the perfect time to speculate on what they should be. So here’s my nobody-asked-for-it list of what smartwatches should do and not do.

  • Key among the features of these unicorns is that they work well with any phone, even if they work best with their own kind. Undoubtedly all four companies allegedly entering the fray will design watches that leverage their own phones — Apple is especially good at this sort of gentle bondage to its ecosystem since it controls both the hardware and software. But a smartwatch can also be a gateway gadget: This is an opportunity to both strengthen loyalty and introduce new customers, with what could be an entry-level device, to phones they might not have otherwise considered.
  • Maximizing battery life is essential. We tolerate watches because they are relatively maintenance free — nobody wants to wind a stem every day. So sacrifice nice-to-have but battery-intensive features for endurance. Already Pebble has crossed that line by making available two games, snake and Tetris. No games. Please.
  • On charging: Make it wireless. If there ever was a candidate for wireless charging, it’s the smartwatch. The technology hasn’t caught on much with smartphones, which are easy to dock and for which we are particular about cases, including not wanting to use a case at all. But a watch is the classic “lay it on the table” device. Companies like PowerMat have been trying to mainstream so-called inductive energy transfer by creating cases that would draw power to a device from special surfaces. All you have to do is set it down.
  • Navigation on a tiny wrist device is one of the biggest challenges. The Pebble has four buttons, which seems just about right. But multifunction watches can drive a person crazy since they require particular button-press combinations to access certain features. And spare me a touchscreen interface — not enough screen to touch, or too big a screen for your wrist. But there is a mechanical design feature that would help with navigation: screen switching by pressing the watch face. My bicycle computer does this with a feature CatEye calls ClickTec. The smartwatch need is similar: You only have one free hand. Buttons are nice and essential, but click to switch would make it easier to scroll through pages, which makes multiple screens offering different data a feature rather than a tease.
  • There’s opportunity in the watch band. You wear a watch exactly where you want to take you blood pressure and pulse, and those of us who should often don’t. Several companies, including FitBit and Nike, already market bands, so it’s just a matter of agreeing to some simple sizing specifications.
  • Near Field Communication (NFC) is also a natural component. The small NFC chip emits radio signals over a very short distance, making it a relatively secure way to wirelessly beam payment information, for example, to NFC-enabled point-of-sale terminals. NFC is built into many phones — notably not the iPhone, which is what would make it an especially intriguing addition to the “iWatch.” Why in your watch? As convenient as it is to produce your phone so you can wave your hand to pay at the cash register, it’s even easier to wave your hand without the phone.

Smartwatches may not be the next iPad, but I can’t imagine a world without them. In the perfect world I’m imagining, we’ll have several to choose from. And then we can start moving on to more body parts.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Pebble.

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Video Transcript: Fred Wilson on Tech Tonic Interface Thu, 18 Apr 2013 19:54:49 +0000

Below is an unedited transcript of the video interview I conducted with Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures:

PAUL SMALERA, Technology Editor Today I had a great chat with Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures. Check it out.

Let’s start with Bitcoin. It’s captured the imagination of tech blogs, there’s been a big price spike, dozens of posts all over the internet. And your own blog is full of savvy readers; I was reading through the comments on it. One of them said, ‘I haven’t even followed Bitcoin because I don’t really understand it quite frankly.’ Can we start there? Can you just tell us from your point of view what Bitcoin is?

FRED WILSON, Union Square Ventures: Bitcoin is a digital currency.  It’s a currency like the dollar or the euro or the yen. But it’s different in a couple of important ways. One is that it’s not based on faith in a commodity like gold or in a government like the US government. It’s based on faith in a mathematic formula. What underlies Bitcoin is math really and there’s a finite amount of Bitcoin that could be created; 21 million Bitcoin in total. We haven’t created all the Bitcoin yet because Bitcoin gets mined like gold would get mined.

Mined in like a computer has to crunch through a program?

To make it simple, computers are searching for matches of block chains and it takes a lot of processing power to do it and when you get a match you own that Bitcoin. People mine Bitcoins and they either keep them, own Bitcoin, or they sell them, exchange them for dollars or yen or they conduct transactions with them.

This is the cash of the internet because you really do own that piece of code, that Bitcoin? And you put it in your Bitcoin wallet. Why does any of that matter? What’s important about this?

The cash analogy is really important. Cash is very valuable because if I give you cash, you have it and you don’t really care who I am because the cash has value so you don’t need to worry about my creditworthiness. As long as I’m giving you the $10 it’s yours and I can’t get it back, there’s no chargeback on it or anything. There are a lot of transactions where cash is really the most efficient way to do them but there is no cash on the internet. There’s no way to actually put cash on a wire so Bitcoin is cash on a wire. So every transaction that you would want to do electronically but ideally you’d want to use cash, Bitcoin is the ideal currency to do that transaction with.

Why does that part matter on the internet? Why does it matter that I can do it with cash and it doesn’t trace back to me?

There are all sorts of reasons. If you’re a criminal and you want to engage in some sort of illegal activity it would be a very effective way to do it. In fact, a lot of the early uses for Bitcoin are for illegal activities on the internet.

It’s one of the Silk Road website. You can buy any drug in the world pretty much and have it mailed to your door.

People need to because those transactions anonymously because they’re engaging in illegal behavior so that’s not a good thing. But like many...

Those of us who don’t want illegal drugs, what are we going to use it for?

Lots of transactions that people want to do anonymously or cross border. For example, there are a lot of parts of the world where you have to conduct transactions in the local currency but people don’t want to actually own the local currency because they don’t trust it: Bitcoin’s very good for that kind of thing. It’s a good way to move money internationally, there are no fees for moving Bitcoin. I take dollars, convert them to Bitcoin, I send the Bitcoin to you, you take the Bitcoin, convert them into yen and nobody’s taking any fees on that transaction other than potentially the transaction from dollar to Bitcoin and Bitcoin to yen.

It’s something that could really start to disrupt governments, monetary systems, central banking. Is it at that scale yet though?

No, the total value of all the Bitcoin in the world right now is about $2 billion which is a pittance. That’s a lot of money, right? We would all be very happy just to take $2 billion and go home. The problem is if I gave you $2 billion of Bitcoin it would take you a very, very long time to convert that into...

Right.  There’s a whole process, third parties and...

What’s interesting to me about Bitcoin really is it reminds me of a lot of other things. It reminds me of peer to peer architectures. It reminds me of protocol like HTTP, SMTP and RSS. These things that are of the internet and are fundamental to the architecture of the internet have turned out to be very, very important and Bitcoin shares a lot of those characteristics. In the venture capital business we’re in the business of pattern recognition so when I see something emerge that reminds me of all those other things it just tells me that there’s something here that’s important and that this could be a very  big deal. I’m not saying it will be but it could be.

Is it, to borrow a phrase from another company, that you and Union Square Ventures have invested in, is it plumbing of the internet? Is it something that’s already become that fundamental?

Yes. Absolutely. I think there’s a chance that it will be. There are a lot of people who will put restrictions on it; as you said central banks aren’t going to like it and governments aren’t going to like it.

Can they regulate it?

They can regulate the interface between their currency and Bitcoin. FinCEN which is the regulatory body in the US has already put guidelines saying that anybody who’s operating certain kinds of Bitcoin businesses needs to get licensed as a money transfer agent and so we’re already seeing it start to get regulated. I don’t think regulation is a bad thing; I think in many ways it might be a good thing because it might allow people to have more confidence and have more legitimate uses of Bitcoin emerge as opposed to just illegitimate uses of it.

Maybe even reduce the illegitimate uses if there are only certain things. You’re making me think of the online poker world that disappeared a few years ago when credit card companies stopped allowing transactions for those.

There are lots of gambling sites. You asked me who uses Bitcoin: there are a lot of gambling sites where people are using Bitcoin to buy chips or whatever because, again, they want to bypass laws.

From where you’re coming from as a venture capitalist, you presumably don’t want to sell illegal drugs but I’m guessing you wouldn’t want to run a gambling site, what are the opportunities to participate in something like this?

Trading exchanges. Think about NASDAQ. Should there be a NASDAQ of Bitcoin? Should there be hedge funds of Bitcoin? Should people short sell Bitcoin? Should people be able to market make in Bitcoin? The whole ‘Bitcoin as an investment asset’ I think is quite interesting. I also think allowing more merchants to accept Bitcoin and instantly convert it into whatever local currency they want so they’re just allowing people to pay them the way they want to pay them but not have to accept the risk of holding Bitcoin. I think there are a lot of interesting opportunities there. I do think more and more people will accept Bitcoin. There are all sorts of geeky type of activities but Word Press accepts Bitcoin, Reddit accepts Bitcoin, 4chan accepts Bitcoin.

There’s a bar in New York City that apparently accepts Bitcoin.

Probably filled with geeks.

Something you said a few minutes ago: it’s money on a wire, it’s $10. If you give it to me I keep it and I hold onto it. That’s assuming you don’t just rip the $10 right back out of my hands. Talking about security

Security is going to be critical in Bitcoin for this very reason.  If I can get your cash it’s my cash and if I can get your Bitcoin it’s my Bitcoin. So using the latest and greatest computer security technologies to create wallets that people can...think of wallets as banks, effectively. I’m choosing to store my Bitcoin at XYZ wallet because I think they have the very best security and they’ll keep hackers out of stealing my Bitcoin. People also take their Bitcoin and do something what’s called ‘cold storage’. So they take a USB flash drive and stick it in their computer, get the Bitcoin and then disconnect it from their computer and the internet and stick it in a safe in their house or something. The same thing they would do with cash.

That seems excessive.

I’m not sure it is excessive.

It seems like something that shouldn’t be necessary given the fancy computers sitting on the desk and the thumb drives...

Hackers are pretty good at cracking into system. If they know you’ve got $1 billion of Bitcoin they’d probably want to figure out how to get it.

Fair point. I wanted to shift gears a little bit and talk about something else and almost intersects with Bitcoin a little bit which is regulation. You have something called ‘activist in residence’ that’s actually dealing with the problem of regulation 2.0. Not the problem but the opportunity. What is an activist-in-residence, first of all?

We have found that we can use the internet to advocate for things that we’re interested in seeing happen in the policy and regulatory environment and using all the people who are out on the internet who have an interest in these policies and activating them and making their voices heard either in local government or federal government is something we’ve done a bit of and we want to do more of and so having somebody who can help us do those sorts of thing is quite useful.

Does he lobby?

No, we don’t do any lobbying but I’ll give you an example. The FCC is thinking about what to do with a lot of the white space they’re going to get back from the television broadcasters. We would prefer, we being Union Square Ventures, but I also think ‘we’, people who care about the internet, would prefer that it doesn’t all get auctioned off to the wireless carriers with the highest price. We’d prefer to see that white space be deregulated...

Allow anyone to jump into it?

Right. The way that Bluetooth spectrum and wifi spectrum is so anybody can operate in the wifi spectrum.

And those were deregulated at one point. That’s why those technologies exist today.

Exactly. But they don’t have a lot of good spectrum for wifi and Bluetooth; the TV spectrum is quite good. TV signals can go through lots of things, the frequency bands are quite good so it would be wonderful if that spectrum were treated the way that wifi is: instead of being auctioned off to the highest bidder just given to society to innovate in and create new wireless communication technologies, one of which is called ‘super wifi’. At South by Southwest we and a few other like minded people funded We Heart Wifi; we took wifi access points and connected them to the internet via super wifi which is operating in this unregulated spectrum and made wifi portable because wireless access points would get moved around. They weren’t hardwired to the internet, they were wirelessly wired to the internet. We made a bunch of these wireless access points available for free during South by Southwest and got a lot of attention around that. It’s a hack, it’s a stunt but these kinds of things make a difference.

Who’s on the other side of this wifi spectrum? Who’s on the other side of this equation when you say you want them to be open and there are big companies that want them to be auctioned? Where is the balance going to lay down and how does your activist-in-residence move the needle towards what you’d want to see?

We want to educate our elected officials. This is a federal issue so we would like to educate our the senators and representatives about the power of unregulated spectrum and one of the best ways to do that is to get their constituents hyped up about it and the best constituents to get hyped up about it are people who are in the technology industry and they’re all at South by Southwest. That’s why we did what we did.  But you’re probably not going to get them to go all the way and not auction off any of the spectrum. But if we can get them to make a meaningful piece of the spectrum available for super wifi and other forms of unregulated wireless communication that would be a good thing so that’s what we’re hoping for.

Let’s broaden out a little bit back to regulation 2.0. Right now regulation, to almost anyone, it sounds like a horrible thing...what is 2.0? What are you trying to change there?

The current regulatory paradigm is if you want to do anything you must go to the regulators and get permission to do it and only after they give you permission can you do it. We would like to change the paradigm to be you can do it without getting anybody’s permission as long as you do the following things and then let the market adopt it. Once the market has adopted it for a while then regulate it once we have some idea of what the good and bad aspects of this thing are. I think the big quid pro quo for doing that is data sharing and transparency.

What’s that?

A good example is Airbnb. Airbnb is illegal in New York State but there’s going to be a billion dollars of Airbnb renting this year in New York City. People are doing it and they’re breaking the law.

And the law isn’t stopping them. The New York Times ran a story maybe one person will get busted for running a hotel room.

One of the problems is the way Airbnb is architected. You can’t go into Airbnb and do a search on your block and see all the apartments. What I would do if I were a regulator is I’d say, ‘We’ll let you do it but you have to make the whole thing transparent. You have to make it possible to see everything that’s going on. Don’t hide anything. Make the entire thing transparent not just to regulators but to the citizens...’

Addresses? Names?

I don’t know about the guests but the hosts, for sure. Who the hosts are, where they’re operating and under what name are they operating in. That should be out in the open so that if people are doing bad things and they’re in your building and the bylaws in your building say you can’t do it you can say, ‘Stop doing it.’ But that’s not what we do. We have this stupid system where it’s illegal but it’s happening and Airbnb is incented to make it as hard to understand as possible. We should change the paradigm and in return for giving people permission to innovate they should be required to be as transparent as necessary and be transparent and share the data about what’s going on.

Another example of this is Umber and Lift and the rideshare companies. How does this model for Airbnb apply?

One of the regulatory concerns about these ridesharing things is are people going to discriminate? A licensed taxicab in New York City is not allowed to discriminate about where they take their passengers. It happens all the time, by the way. They drive around with an off duty sign. But that’s illegal.

I’ve told them that; they still keep driving.

They don’t really care. But if Lift and Halo and Umber and all these various taxi cab, black car, ridesharing applications were in order to operate, were required to publish their data in real time to not just to the government but also to the public about how many drivers are on the road at any one time, where the rides are, what neighborhoods are people being picked up in, what neighborhoods are people being dropped off in, then we would have really good data about whether these services actually reduce the discrimination problem or increase the discrimination problem and then we could regulate based on that. But today it’s in theory. ‘We shouldn’t allow this because they might discriminate.’

Everything that you’ve said that the tech companies need to do a, I think makes perfect sense to me. And b, I can see how they could probably light up something tomorrow to provide that data. I think the other half of the equation: how does the government move at the speed that technology is changing our world?

They won’t. I think what we’re betting on is these services are going to get into the market one way or another and the citizens of the United States and the world are going to adopt them. We’re betting on that the services and the citizens of the world are going to adopt them and they’re going to become so important to the way people live their lives or earn money that people are going to demand that these services exist. It’s a lot like gay marriage. I think the reason that society, certainly in this country, is changing their tune on gay marriage is that we all know people who are gay. We love people who are gay and we can’t imagine discriminating against them. Even the Republican Party which has been opposed to this, more and more senators and representatives are coming out and saying, ‘My child is gay and I’ve changed my mind on this.’ Society will change and government will change as the world changes. As these services become an important part of our lives people are going to demand that they be legal.

We’re in New York City, you’re based in New York City and New York is about to have a mayoral race. I think Mayor Bloomberg is probably someone who, correct me if I’m wrong, is considered a friend to the tech industry and has really helped develop it over his three terms. Do any of the candidates out there now strike you as someone who’s going to carry his torch? Does that worry you?

I think it depends on who we get as the next mayor. I think there are some candidates who are probably more willing to follow Bloomberg’s policies and...

Anyone in particular?

I think anybody who runs on the Republican side would be in that camp. I think of the Democratic candidates probably Chris Quinn is the most inclined to follow his policies because she’s, to some level, been an implementer of his policies in her role as speaker of the city council and she’s been supportive and would like to position herself as the logical successor to Bloomberg. I think it would be politically sensible for her to take that approach and I think she is taking that approach.

Let’s try to square the tech timeline and the political timeline. Say this happens and Chris Quinn becomes the next mayor of New York what would you hope to see in regulation 2.0 change in the city over the course of say, one of her terms?

All you want is city hall to tell these regulators to just back off, let these companies come into the market and see what happens. I’m not advocating that in any place where people’s lives are at risk. I’m not saying we should do that for the fire department, I’m not saying you should do that for the police department. When we’re talking about health and safety issues I’m not advocating for more of a free for all situation. What I’m talking about is a lot of these industries where innovation can lead to better services at lower costs. Going back to Airbnb, one of the interesting things is the billion dollars that is going to get spent by guests in New York City this year renting places on Airbnb is going to go into the local economy because all of those hosts are real people. They get that money and they spend it here in New York because they live in New York whereas if it goes to the hotel industry a lot of the shareholders and operators of hotels in New York aren’t even here in New York.

It’s going up the chain to multi-national corporations.

Or international corporations. It actually has more of an impact to the city economy when someone stays in someone’s apartment in Bushwick than it does when somebody stays in one of these hotels here in Times Square.

I want to change topics again. I think I wooed you here with a conversation about the future but I feel we’re really hitting three topics about regulation but I’m going to go for it because I think it’s another important one. Recently the valley or many of the tech companies there were supporting the STEM act. I believe there’s a White House petition and the White House’s response is, ‘We can’t support this right now because it’s not comprehensive reform.’ The STEM act would have allowed PhD’s and other highly qualified engineers and tech types to stay in the country to have long term visas. What’s so important about comprehensive reform?

First of all, I think we’ll get comprehensive reform this year. I’ve been advocating for STEM visas and start up visas for at least five years both publicly on my blog and privately meeting with lots of elected officials advocating for this. I always hear the same thing which is, we cannot do immigration reform piecemeal. We have to do it in a comprehensive way. The reason is stakeholders on both sides of the issue have so much investment in comprehensive reform that even though they would both agree that a STEM visa or a start up visa makes all the sense in the world they won’t do it because it will take the pressure off. Everybody in Silicon Valley will say, ‘We got what we needed. We no longer care about immigration reform.’ All that pressure to get comprehensive immigration reform...they want to direct all the people who want piecemeal pieces of immigration reform to be vested in comprehensive immigration reform. That’s why what’s going on is going on. But I think we’re going to get it this year because I think the politics have changed.

How so?

On the Republican side the demographics of who went to the polls, who voted for them versus who voted for the Democrats in the election last November was stark. They are not where they need to be with the Hispanic population. Their leading candidate for four years from now, Rubio, this is his signature issue. They need to give Rubio a win and they need to give themselves a win with the chances of getting back pieces of that Hispanic population. On the Democratic side they believe that they got those votes from the Hispanic population and they’re now expected to deliver it. So I think the politics on both sides is such that we’re going to get it probably the first half of this year.

You’re predicting bipartisanship in Washington DC?

People can be bipartisan when it’s in both of their partisan interests to see something happen.

Interesting. We will somehow convince them that it is in their partisan interests as a country. I have one more question for you and it was more about you and about how you run your business. People who read your blog, which again, our audience is filled with they know your wife well. She has her own blog...

It’s like who satoshi who invented Bitcoin a character in a sci fi novel. We’re all characters...Joanne Wilson is a real person. The Gotham Gal is a fictitious representation of her.

You guys are invested in some other things both separately and together. Food blogs and a couple restaurants. How is investing in a restaurant different than investing in a start up? Can you compare the two?

I think investing in a restaurant is much more of a lifestyle type of decision. We’ve invested in half a dozen restaurants, maybe more. Maybe close to a dozen restaurants and on the portfolio of investments we’ve made we will get our money back. But that’s not why we’re investing in the restaurant. We’re investing in the restaurant because we believe in the chef or we believe in the operator or they’re opening in our neighborhood and we want them to open in our neighborhood and we will be great customers. It’s a lifestyle investment. The founders of Kickstarter always say Kickstarter is so people can help make the things they want to see in the world exist. It’s an example of that. It would be irrational of us to do it if we knew we were going to lose money but if we do it across a diversified portfolio of investments and we’ve gotten our money back on a few already, and we’re close to getting our money back on a few others, so I have a fairly high degree of confidence that on the bucket of them we’ll get our money back but the financial returns are not going to be the same as the venture business. There are other kinds of returns, karmic returns or whatever you want to call them, that are quite substantial.

Do you help a restaurant founder in the same way you help a start up tech company founder?

And Joanne is better at this than I am. A restaurant we’re investors in got a bad review and she called up the operator of the restaurant and said, ‘I just want you to know I agree with the review. I know you get defensive about these things sometimes you’re so protective of your team and your restaurant. I just want you to know this review is actually accurate and you would be well served to pay attention to this negative review.’ Joanne’s very good at that.

How did he or she take it?

I’d say about the way everybody takes that type of criticism. Well enough, I guess. But it’s very important and it’s hard to do and it is our job as active investors to tell entrepreneurs the truth. You have to do it in a way that is helpful without seeming overly critical. It’s great having kids. Having kids have made me a much better investor because I’ve learned from my kids how to be constructively critical. They need to know that you love them and that no matter what they do you’re going to be there for them and that you support them but by the way, they’re screwing up in math and they’ve got to fix that. When there’s no question about all those things that I started with they’re more open to hear that criticism. But if you’re just beating them up all the time and they’re not getting that reassurance it’s not productive. It’s the same thing with entrepreneurs; they need to know that you’re there for them and you’re giving them this feedback because you want them to be successful not because you want to throw them out of their company.

Audience member: Question on regulation. You said towards the beginning of the conversation that bringing regulation to Bitcoin might increase the confidence in Bitcoin. We did have enough regulation in the credit default swaps and all those things but does that really bring confidence? Do we use Airbnb because there’s a regulation or because we like the product?

I do think regulation could help Airbnb as well. If someone lists an apartment at 4 Times Square you should be able to type in ‘4 Times Square’ and see all the people who are listing an apartment. If that was the law that would cause people who are hosting illegally to stop doing that. I think regulation can be good if it’s sensible regulation and I’m hoping whatever regulation we get in Bitcoin will be sensible regulation. It might not be a bad thing for people who are processing millions of dollars of Bitcoin to dollar transactions every day to have some capital requirements. If they have no capital requirements they could go out of business at a moment’s notice and your transaction might not clear and you might lose money so that’s not a good thing, I do think sensible regulation is a good thing. What’s not good is when people use regulation to keep competition out of the market. The hotels don’t want Airbnb to be made legal. They want Airbnb to be made illegal. Period. Full stop. They’re pushing for the kind of regulation which I think is bad which is incumbents using regulations to keep competitors out of the market.

Audience member 2: It was really great to learn about the super wifi, the regulatory effort. One thing I’ve noticed as a person living in New York City is the rich and the poor gap is very distinctive in that people who have access to high speed internet and Smartphones you can access Bitcoin, you can learn about Airbnb and those who do not have access to high speed internet and Smartphones, computers in their hands essentially, are left out of these opportunities for growth. I was wondering on that note if the super wifi and the regulatory effort that you’re spearheading whether you’re addressing that issue?

Not directly. It would be easier for libraries and schools and other sorts of facilities that are operated by the government or even non-profits to provision high speed wireless internet and not necessarily make it available to people in their homes but maybe make it available in places of public gathering and such. If you didn’t have enough money to afford internet in your home you could go to the local library or the local school and get access to it. The point you raise is a really important problem. I am wary of saying that high bandwidth internet should just be free for everybody because there needs to be some business model because it costs a lot of  money to operate internet services so people need to have a way to make money at it. If we made the technologies available the way I was advocating with the unregulated spectrum you would see the cost of provisioning wireless bandwidth come down to the point where governments and other institutions could start to make stuff available.

Can you talk about how the relationship between technology companies and regulation will change as technology companies becomes the biggest and most powerful companies in the country and maybe their interests start to diverge from the average internet user?

It’s already happening. There are issues where big companies like Google and Microsoft and Facebook are not necessarily aligned with the average internet user. Data privacy would be one I would point to. A lot of those companies, their whole business model revolves around having access to our data and be able to do all sorts of stuff with it. They wouldn’t want to see a policy regime which gave us a lot more control over what they could do with our data but we might want that. I think there are plenty of examples of that. I think that’s the role of government; figure out how to be on the side of what’s good for society as opposed to what’s good for big business.

Audience member 3: Relative to the future of enterprise data and enterprise networks do you think the companies that are willing to be a little more flexible with their data will widen the competitive advantage with companies that require everything to be behind the firewall?

I think it’s already the case. I know lots of small businesses, for example, that rely on Google Mail and Google calendar and Google Drive and have been able to grow to 100, 200, 500 employees without any in house IT organization of  any size or scale. So they have cost efficiencies by doing that whereas these bigger companies who grew up in a different era and have their own IT organizations and run their own systems definitely have a much higher cost of operation. I do think these larger companies are going to look at these more nimble, younger companies with envy and try to figure out how to adopt more and more of these technologies. But there are some areas where I think it will take longer. Anything in banking and finance and some of the other industries where data security is really important will take longer. Other industries where that’s less of an issue, retailing for example, might move more quickly. That’s where the trend is for cost reasons and completive reasons and that’s where the world will move over time.

Thank you to the studio audience for being here.  And thank you to the audience at home.

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