April 02, 2006

Features Aren't Products

Yesterday, I wrote:

I had dinner last week with a friend of mine who's a Sand Hill VC, who told me about seeing a business plan from one entrepreneur who had implemented a single feature -- the kind of thing a talented AJAX programmer could get up and running in a day or two by hooking into an existing Web service's API -- and was looking for full first-round funding. The feature wasn't a demo of a small slice of what he wanted to build with his funding -- he just wanted to build services around it. Around a feature.
What I didn't write was that late last year, within the span of a week, I had two friends e-mail me asking me what they thought about both the company mentioned above and another company building what appeared to be an identical product. I replied then just as I wrote earlier today, that it sounded like a feature to me, something that could be built on top of an existing Web service within days.

What triggered today's blog entry was reading a commentary by a well-known entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist saying that Web 2.0 companies are massively overhyped (often true) and that the term is basically used to get funding for ideas that don't deserve it (often true). This person then went on to list his investments -- one of which was the company described above, about which he says he's excited. So Web 2.0 is just hype, unless you're invested in it, in which case it's cool?

Everyone repeat after me: features aren't products.

How can you tell when something's a feature?

  • If it can be built to prototype stage by one programmer within 24 hours, it's a feature.
  • If it's completely reliant on an existing Web 2.0 service, and is valueless without that service, it's a feature.
  • If you can imagine it as a single menu item on an existing desktop software application, it's a feature.
  • If, when you show it to people, their typical reaction is, "How cute!" it's a feature, unless you're showing them a picture of puppies, which isn't a feature -- it's just a picture of puppies.
By the way, if someone reading this decides to write a business plan asking for $3 million to build a Web 2.0 service that uses AJAX to serve up pictures of puppies for users, please don't mention that you got the idea from me.

March 10, 2006

BoingBoing's Greatest Moment

It's true, I'm biased: I think BoingBoing is the best blog going. But they surpassed themselves today.

There's a story that involves Secure Computing and its SmartFilter censorware, BoingBoing, and a Secure Computing employee who has been apparently outed as having a fairly interesting fetish. I don't need to repeat it here -- the blogosphere is covering the issue quite extensively. What I'm concerned with here is BoingBoing's response to this alleged outing:

We believe there's nothing wrong with consenting adults doing what they enjoy with other consenting adults, and writing about it on USENET if they want. If there's any black pot to Foote-Lennox's [Tomo Foote-Lennox, director of filtering data at Secure Computing, makers of SmartFilter] alleged charcoal grey kettle, it's us. We're all about celebrating the weird, about wooing the muse of the odd. About being in touch with your inner outsider.

What is relevant about the and posts attributed to Foote-Lennox is this: If one of us went to observe one of these parties and blogged about the fact that this subculture exists, Smartfilter would block it. No big deal if you're inside a corporate cubicle in the USA, because you can always access blocked sites from home or elsewhere. But netizens in countries that use Secure Computing's censorware to filter traffic nationwide effectively lose their right to access this information, and anything else Secure Computing deems naughty...

To sum up: It's wonderful to live in a country where you have the freedom to do your own freaky thing. It's terrible to live in a country that limits your freedom to be freaky. And it's hypocritical to celebrate your own freakiness to the fullest while helping oppressive governments restrict others from celebrating their own freakiness.

If the USENET archive posts attributed to Foote-Lennox are legit (they could be an elaborate hoax, but so far, no denial has been issued), it would appear that like all of us at BoingBoing, he uses the Internet to connect with and enjoy the odd things in the world that interest him -- but works tirelessly to stop the rest of us from doing the same.

We support the right of consenting adults around the world to enjoy diverse lifestyles, and read all about them on the internet.

Foote-Lennox speaks for a company that makes censorware. When questioned about his company's censorship of BoingBoing, he was dismissive of their complaints. It was then alleged (not by BoingBoing) that he had, in the past, posted information to the Internet that his company's own product would prevent users in many foreign countries from seeing -- not at work, not at home, not anywhere. In this light, the editors of BoingBoing would have been justified in going on the attack. Instead, they chose to point out the hypocrisy of his position without criticizing his alleged behavior. In fact, Xeni, Cory, and their co-editors went out of their way to point out their support for people to pursue their personal interests on the Internet -- not just themselves and their readers, but Foote-Lennox and anyone anywhere in the world who might want to read his alleged posts.

I told Xeni in a message that I thought this was one of BoingBoing's greatest moments. I was wrong. It's BoingBoing's greatest moment, period.

February 25, 2003

Conditional Payment Systems

Experiments with online publishing of full-length works continue. As noted here yesterday, Roger Williams has posted his science fiction novel, The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect, on Kuro5hin. Williams plans to publish a physical version of the book if possible:

As part of the deal wherein I mooched the web hosting and support for this online project, I offered to make preparations for publishing it as a book, bound on paper and all that.

What makes this possible is Book On Demand publisher For a modest fee, they will electronically design and typeset the book, and make it available for you to order online. While the exact price will depend on page count it appears a trade paperback copy of The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect would cost you about US$20, about US$5 of which would return to me as a royalty.

It appears that I would need what they call "basic service" in order to accommodate the formatting of the novel. This requires an up-front payment of $500 on my part.

The offer I am making is this: If 100 people e-mail me and promise to buy a copy of the novel when it's available, I will contract with Xlibris and have it done. This is just to cover my costs. I won't ask for money up front. I expect that this will either happen in relatively short time, or it won't ever happen at all.

I have also put a tip jar on this site, and I will put all tip money directly toward the Xlibris charge. If I get $200 in tips, I'll only require 60 people to sign on instead of 100. If you really want your copy badly, you could just give me a $500 tip and I'll get right on it :-)

I sent a tip to Roger -- mostly simply to thank him for the reading experience, though helping him towards his goal of physically publishing the book played a role -- but realized that the existing PayPal system is insufficient for his needs. What Roger and others need is a conditional payment system.

In this case, the conditional payment system might take the following form: an interested reader would agree to pledge $25 to Roger, which would be deducted from the reader's account and placed into escrow. If Roger's book was published in physical form by a specified date, then Roger would receive the $25 from escrow -- minus a condition verification fee -- and the reader would receive a copy of the book. If, on the other hand, the book was not published by that date, then the $25 would be taken out of escrow and returned to the reader. (Presumably the originator of a conditional transaction would have to post a small bond to cover verification costs if the condition is not met and purchasers' money returned.)

We need conditional payments, micro-payments, and other innovative payment systems in order to fully enable free enterprise in intellectual property in a post-P2P world -- the sooner, the better.

July 10, 2002

A New Low for the Web

Actually, I don't think it's a new low... I have the feeling this page is a few years old. It's new to me, though. It's the Petition to Repeal the Nineteenth Amendment.

At first I was mildly amused by the inanity of it. After all, it's hard not to chuckle when you begin reading how women's suffrage is linked to increased murders, low SAT scores (interesting, that one), the decline of US banks, drunk driving fatalities, and so on. After reading through the petition, though, and scanning the rest of the site, the level of misogyny on display is breathtaking. Do people exist who believe this? The author of the site must, unless it's subtle parody. The signers of the petition must, unless they were joking.

It's frightening to think that people exist who believe this stuff. I presume there aren't many of them, but that there are any is scary enough. We need a word that goes beyond "misogyny" to describe this.