Twitter; still; again

Twitter is only becoming more fascinating to larger groups of people. The possibilities are expanding even while we await an announcement about a business model.

The Singularity Hub blog posted an interesting thought about the idea of a tweetbomb which is like a virtual Flash Crowd or Flash Mob. Twitter has this possibility where blogs (and even blog rallies) do not. Repressive governments beware!

Many commentators remain mesmerized by the real time search possibilities (eg Twitscoop, Tweetmeme) in tracking what is going on in the Twitterstream. This strikes me as an amazing by-product of Twitter, but not the core of its value. My own thinking is that Twitter should learn a little from Google. It should embrace its universal nature, promise and try not to be evil, and offer premium corporate services for a fee, leveraging its universality and simplicity. I see both corporate social media revenue opportunities, and automated enterprise uses. In either case, Twitter would charge for high volume usage, and would charge for ancillary services (SLAs, security options, archive options, multi-account management etc).

To reinforce some of this, let me repeat and expand on a previous post when reporting on my presentation at Social Media Jungle Boston in March. In that presentation I posit that automated tweeting is a hidden opportunity and possible future for Twitter, alongside its very human current incarnation. In the comments of that post, I added a few examples of automated tweeting and consolidate them here.

Here is a commercial idea that is in use: a semi-automated tweet when fresh stuff ready at the bakery. Check out the video on Vimeo. I also found a (completely non-commercial) great tweeting cat door.

I also heard about Zappo's real time sales map: a real-time automated (mapped) data stream of sales made ... if sent to twitter simultaneously this would be another example of my hypothesis, and is pretty close, wouldn't you say? The a grand "now" dashboard from Sprint, is also on the same topic, showing the power of automated sharing of mechanically collected data (although this widget may in fact be "calculated" data rather than "collected" data).

Finally, here are the slides (again), and the video of the presentation.

#VCpitch: Tweeting the pitches

I am going to start a regular series of twitter posts with the hashtag #VCpitch with a focus on highlights from pitches I get as a VC.

I am not going to breach any confidences, and will not publish the identity (or even anything identifiable) about the entrepreneur or new business. I am also not going to focus on the negatives, of which there may be many.

Instead, a la appreciative inquiry, I plan to focus on the positive from the pitches I get. Today I met three entrepreneurs and heard about their businesses. Each of them happened to be related to Health 2.0, and none of us were attending the Health 2.0 conference.

My first such tweet (and first ever #VCpitch hashtag reference I think) was #VCpitch health 2.0 content; already getting expressions of interest from top payers and providers. Starting with customers always a winner.

Too big to fail

Twitter (thanks @kevinmeyers) alerted me to this chart, from the IMF April 2009 Global Financial Stability Report. Kevin's original source for the chart, NPR, reports the numbers represent how all these institutions were linked by credit default swaps. This seems to explain, because of the number of links, and values associated with them, why AIG and Bear Stearns were "too big to fail".

It's Earth Day ... here's something else too big to fail. Let's do something about that.

Health IT is not simple

It sounds so simple ... apply well-tested information technology approaches to the health-care system and watch the quality go up, costs fall and all our problems disappear.

This is not so simple. Consider the simple idea of sharing hospital system data with patients in Personal Health Records (like Microsoft Healthvault and Google Health). Ask e-Patient Dave and John Halamka CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (and Harvard Medical School). Ask David Harlow, expert on health law issues. Read the recent survey in The Economist.

Have a look at the latest news on the Human Genome ... now showing that genetic predispositions to disease are less and less clear (not more and more)!

Biking, happiness and bones

I had another great ride this morning ... we are getting back into our Sunday morning routine. We rode 26 miles (not the Boston Marathon route, although that is prepared for tomorrow); we rode out to the Campion Center (and then down and back to double the hill quotient) before heading home. The weather was perfect for a ride and I am enjoying feeling stronger this year than last. I was telling one ride buddy that I wanted to feel better each year (more than negating the effects of age)... better in what way she asked? Good question... then she supplied the answer. Happier? she asked ... And yes, that's it. Thanks Elisa.

If I feel happier on my bike each year then I will be thrilled. I don't have to be faster, stronger, bike further (although those would be great, and so far that is the pattern). What will drive that happiness? Who knows! ... but I find myself more and more impressed with the "pursuit of happiness" clause ... those founding fathers knew what they were writing. Perhaps they were cyclists too, pursuing happiness on two wheels as well as in other areas of their lives.

Even a flat tire doesn't deflate cycling happiness. Two of my ride buddies helped me when I got a flat almost at the end of the ride (thanks Mark, Guy). Such events no longer fill me with dread, but is always nice to have help. Mark also sent me this link to an LA Times story noting that cycling's low-impact nature isn't conducive to building strong bones. Adding high-impact exercises can ease the risks of injury (especially breaks). Thanks to my work with Adam Poock, I am feeling that I am paying attention (and doing some hard work) in that direction as well.

Food for Passover

We are in the middle of the Passover week, and are reminded of that at every meal and every time we open the fridge or the pantry. The theme of Passover is the Children of Israel's Exodus from Egypt and freedom... the reality of Passover is the food is way different!

Enjoy these 10 videos about Passover, including this one below which is fabulous.

For those chocolate lovers allergic to soy lecithin, rejoice in the fact that this additive is one of the foods not eaten at Passover and check out the selection of Passover chocolates ... many are soy lecithin free. Also the Passover Nesquik only has chocolate and sugar (all those other additives are banned) ... this is the hidden story for Passover - many chocolate foods have much simpler ingredient lists when formulated for Passover. Oh, and corn syrup is also banned - so Passover sodas are sugar based, with no high-fructose corn syrup ... more good news.

And now, relish the great news that chocolate makes your brain smarter (I knew it all along).

Blog Rally to Help the Boston Globe

We have all read recently about the threat of possible closure faced by the Boston Globe. A number of Boston-based bloggers who care about the continued existence of the Globe have banded together in conducting a blog rally. We are simultaneously posting this to solicit your ideas of steps the Globe could take to improve its financial picture.

We view the Globe as an important community resource, and we think that lots of people in the region agree and might have creative ideas that might help in this situation. So, here's your chance. Please don't write with nasty comments and sarcasm. Use this forum for thoughtful and interesting steps you would recommend to the management that would improve readership, enhance the Globe's community presence, and make money. Who knows, someone here might come up with an idea that will work, or at least help. Thank you.

Here is my suggestion: Publish the New York Times in New England as The Boston Globe, using a local newsroom to provide high quality local journalism for the region, and the Times' great national and international content for the rest. Repeat this in other cities to provide economies of scale and distribution for national and international content created by the central NY Times organization. Don’t hide the truth of this painful restructuring from the readers (who are not dumb), but embrace it by maintaining the best local reporting for the city, state and region.

Yes, my suggestion is to combine the Globe and the Times. Publish a vibrant New England (NE) section in a regional edition called The Boston Globe, with at least a couple of stories from this section on the front page and in the sports section. Maintain only city, state/regional and sports bureaus – do not duplicate national and international resources. Retain the highest quality journalism, investigation and writing for local, regional and sports news. Sell subscriptions on the Kindle and on the iPhone, and maybe even on the web (reducing the free stuff significantly). Charge more (there will no longer be competition between the Globe and Times). Charge premiums for out-of-area access; charge more to see the NY edition in NE and more to see the Boston content outside Boston … “ex-pats” living elsewhere and wanting home news will pay for it.

For a final step, repeat this formula in other cities. Buy other (failing) quality mastheads. Create economies of scale from the central content and use those economies to maintain the sharp local flavors in a symbiotic structure that works.

As well as a direct suggestion, let me also add some commentary. Previews of this blog rally prompted the question of why are we trying to save something that is clearly failing in the marketplace. Implicit here is inappropriate skepticism of bailouts for failing private sector concerns. However, our blog rally paragraph does not suggest any specific direction, and does not pre-suppose a non-market, interventionist response. The question is, merely, if you believe the Globe has something to offer, what might you do to save it.

If a bunch of customers wanted to save one of my companies I would certainly ask what the customers truly value. For many years the Globe has had two customers – readers and advertisers. My guess is any new ideas had better work for readers, because market forces have already shown advertisers that it no longer works for them.

I would ask customers who wanted to save my company (a) to pay more for the services and (b) to make an equity investment. My suggestion above centered on local investigative journalism, the local beat and sports reporting. These are things that a great local newsroom can provide which customers may value under a branded editorial umbrella. Despite complaints that the national and international staff are being cut, there is little (or no) additive value these provide under a Globe masthead.

That equity investment idea ... that's what a subscription is ... an upfront long-term payment for a share of whatever is produced (kind of like a CSA farm share program).

Good luck Boston Globe, and good luck New York Times, and kudos to Paul Levy for instigating another great rally.

Boiling the ocean

From time to time, we at Sigma Partners see business plans which are so large in scope that we worry the founders have overreached. We ask whether they are "boiling the ocean", the quintessential example of a task that, surely, no-one can accomplish.

Looked at from the vantage point of my involvement in Jewish environmental non-profit, Hazon, we wonder whether humanity as a whole is succeeding in boiling the ocean as part of our global warming project. Even if we don't boil it, we may well be acidifying it quite successfully.

One response to global warming is called geo-engineering -- the concept of engineering solutions for the whole planet. Any geo-engineering project, were it to be a start-up seeking funding, would indeed be accused of trying to boil the ocean, even though they would likely be trying to stop exactly that! Unfortunately, geo-engineering projects are very difficult to model, and because of their enormous scale, are risky to undertake because the unintended consequences will be of that same worrying, enormous scale. In January, the Economist magazine reported on several geo-engineering projects and touched nicely on these themes. In March they had a more detailed report on one such project, based on seeding the oceans with iron (read the story) ... and the unexpectedly disappointing results from early tests.

I wonder from time-to-time whether the venture capitalists' natural skepticism about boiling the ocean should be equally applied to the opposite problem.

Bikes and Food on iPhone

Regular readers know I am involved with Jewish Environmental non-profit Hazon. Hazon's signature programs are our bike rides and food work. I recently read of two great iPhone apps that fit our profile wonderfully. (Despite the date these are not April Fools jokes.)

First check out the Locavore iPhone app which I first read about from John Halamka's GeekDoctor blog. This app uses the location finder capability of the phone and then tell you what is in season locally and where to find it.

Secondly, and my personal favorite (as a bladder-limited cyclist), is the iPhone Have2P restroom locator.