MediaFile

from Paul Smalera:

Fred Wilson on Bitcoin, Airbnb and immigration

This week Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures sat down with me for a video interview (part of Reuters' Tech Tonic: Interface series) to talk about a wide variety of topics: Bitcoin, wireless spectrum auctions, Airbnb, immigration, the New York City mayor's race, even his wife Joanne (the Gotham Gal), and a few others. Why so many topics? Fred’s simply one of the most thoughtful technology investors working today, and peppering him with as many different questions as possible can help us learn how he thinks.

Fred often cites “pattern recognition” as the main job of a venture capitalist, and I think I got a pretty good sense of Fred’s pattern: he understands the mechanism behind a company or technology, and figures out whether his firm can help that company grow. In this interview, he's an insightful and persuasive defender of the interests of the tech industry, because he very sincerely believes in its ability to do good for people.

Do you think Fred's take on technology's promise is accurate? Watch and share the interview and let me know in the comments.

How tablets can save the PC

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

‑ Winston Churchill

These are tough times for the personal computer: The 30-something device that everyone used to covet is being crowded out by younger objects of our affection. Time for a makeover.

Visionaries like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs started a revolution by imagining that computers — at the time, massive, room-filling machines that basically just did arithmetic — could become indispensable tools for the masses. PCs led to a world filled with powerful electronics we could take anywhere: Desktops became laptops, phones became mobile and then smart. And now there are tablets.

Home is where the phone is

It hasn’t yet been six years since the start of the smartphone revolution and we’ve already become an “always on” culture. At least, that’s the temptation. Those who submit can be called The Immersives: checking e-mail, keeping tabs on Facebook “friends,” debating on Twitter, snapping photos of food for Instagram. It would be rare if any of us didn’t have at least one toe dipped in the stream.

We are all Immersives sometime: We bury our faces in the small screen while we walk, or come dangerously close to driving blindly into traffic. We can’t get through a meal without virtually leaving the table. We keep our phones on permanent silent to conceal the depth of our addiction. If we even momentarily lose track of our phone, we are as anxious as new parents whose toddler has dipped out of sight.

Immersives are the target audience for Facebook Home, a new version of the social network’s app that was announced this week. Home lives on the front side of the lockscreen — it’s the first thing you see when you pick up the phone. It’s a major release that reveals the extent to which Facebook needs us to stay Immersives to help it meet its bottom line. This decade’s major technological question is:  Who’s in control — our phones, or us?

The future of search only cost $30 million

On the surface, Nick D’Aloisio’s story is the kind tech lives for, and sometimes regrets. It’s the tale of a kid selling an obscure startup for an inflated price, and then it becomes as irrelevant as Netscape, and its buyer’s remorse is part of the company’s enduring legacy.

But the story of Summly, a startup whose app appeared in the Apple Store only five months ago and was purchased on Monday by Yahoo for a reported $30 million, isn’t part of this trite arc.

This isn’t a boilerplate tale about a youngster hitting the jackpot, a former Internet giant trying to buy a relevance makeover, or even about an intriguing programmatic way to summarize news. It is about the future of search. 

Susan Crawford on the internet disconnect


The backbone of the Internet — fiber, cables, and copper wires – sounds boring. But these physical structures enable the bits and bytes that increasingly define our lives to flow to and from computers around the world. Without them, there’s no Internet. If they’re slow or outdated, they handicap our access to the digital world. Which means these boring pieces of hardware are a new battleground for access in our digital age.

In this interview, I speak with telecom policy expert Susan Crawford about the state of this backbone. She explains the technologies involved, the players who control them, and how the U.S. has already fallen well behind other developed nations when it comes to speeds and connectivity. Finally we talk about her prescription for how America can regain its preeminence — not just as the creators, but as the leaders — of the Internet.

Susan Crawford is the author of Captive Audience, a recent book that looks at the state of telecom policy in the United States, with a focus on the NBC/Comcast merger and its potential implications on the way you access the Internet. She is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law, a former Special Assistant to President Obama for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy, and a former board member of ICANN.

What is Google doing?

A few years ago, web thinker Jeff Jarvis published an homage to the world’s most successful Web search and advertising company titled “What Would Google Do?” These days, the question seems to be, “What is Google doing?”

Google won us over with a revolutionary approach to Web search that made its predecessors seem archaic. It quickly toppled Yahoo as the coolest company on the planet based solely on its efficient and fast way of finding everyone else’s content. Now, though, Google is something entirely different.

What is Google doing? I’m not sure. There may well be a great, bumper-sticker answer. But Google’s actions are too chaotic to come up with a grand, unified theory. It’s toying with apps, mobile software, mobile hardware, mobile phones – and, oh yeah, still dabbles in Web services it decides with zero discussion to terminate with extreme prejudice. It’s one thing to be pulled in all directions as a dance partner, it’s another to have it happen on some carnival ride.

BCG finds that local online ad dollars aren’t that local

A new article from the Boston Consulting Group sheds some light on the world of online local advertising, a $21.2 billion market  in the U.S. and cited often by a variety of players from AOL’s hyper local network of news sites, Patch, to Yahoo as a the holy grail of ad dollars.

What the authors found is that small business owners – think of the local mom and pop run pizza parlors and  hardware stores-  only dedicate a fraction of their advertising budget to online.  BCG’s Sebastian DiGrande, David Knox, Kate Manfred and John Rose surveyed 550 small business owners in the U.S. who said that only 3 percent of their marketing dollars go toward online advertising. Instead they turn to newspapers and coupon mailers to find new customers.

“People think the small and medium enterprises are spending a lot of money in digital and the truth is that is not correct,” said Rose, a senior partner and managing director at BCG, said in an interview.

Pebble: This smart watch is a rock star

When Alvin Toffler popularized the term “information overload” in 1970, even that legendary futurist could not have predicted the flood of data that drowns today’s road warrior. E-mails from multiple accounts, instant messages, texts, iMessage and Google Voice — and, oh yeah, phone calls — all clamor for attention from our smartphones.

Enter a new solution: The smart watch. Pebble, a Kickstarter project now being delivered to its first backers, uses the power of your smartphone instead of competing with it. Pebble is still in development and a little rough around the edges, but it is the first to get the smart watch formula right. It could become a big deal. It’s easily the most important thing I’ve added to my go bag since the tablet.

Pebble is an e-paper* wristwatch that displays messages and caller ID on a crisp display that is always an arm’s length away. This allows you to leave your phone in your pocket or across the room instead of constantly reaching for it or leaving it face up at arms’ reach (Eliminating this custom at every conference and restaurant table would alone earn Pebble a place in heaven). It is a one-way device: you still have to use your phone to answer messages, or talk on the phone.

Paying the piper for privacy

Three privacy stories caught my attention in the past week:

1. Google is paying a token $7 million fine for sniffing out private information as its roving Google Maps cars gathered images for Street View.

2. A new study has found that seemingly innocent disclosures on Facebook can be used to form highly accurate predictions about whether you are a genius, drug user or gay.

3. If you use certain porta-potties at the Austin, Texas, tech confab South By Southwest, passersby know if you are … standing or sitting inside, and for how long.

PayPal’s mobile, physical retail efforts gain steam

PayPal efforts to process more mobile payments  – online and in the real world – are gaining steam.

Almost a year ago, the company unveiled PayPal Here, a small triangular device that plugs into smartphones to let small merchants accept credit and debit cards. The launch put PayPal in direct competition with start-up Square Inc and was a coming out party of sorts for David Marcus, the new president of PayPal.

After a year, PayPal Here has signed up “hundreds of thousands” of merchants worldwide, PayPal says. (It won’t say exactly how many).