There is simply nothing like Twitter for being a fly on the wall. People sit at work and tweet about what they’re doing. They tweet at night, they tweet in the morning and they tweet a lot on the weekends – find a vein of good tweets from a group of people you want to learn from, watch it over time and world is your oyster.
That’s my theory, anyway. One of the things I’m interested in tracking are the streaming music services. So tonight I built a Twitter list of people who work at Rdio, Pandora, Mog and Spotify. (Then I remembered Grooveshark!) Give it a click and you can follow it too. I’ll show you how I made it below – and of course this process could be applied to any field.
Step 1 – I knew where the list of Rdio staff members was, because I had asked my darling virtual assistants at FancyHands by email to find it for me a few weeks ago. So tonight I sent that link to them as an example and asked them to find similar lists of staff members curated by other companies in the space. I asked for Pandora, Spotify and Mog. I remembered Grooveshark later.
Becky from Fancyhands sent me back great links for lists to Pandora and Spotify right away. The list she sent from Mog wasn’t so great but no one appeared to have made a list of Mog employees yet.
Step 2 – I made a list of Mog employees by searching for them on LinkedIn. Then I trained the point-and-click database creation tool Needlebase to go to that search result page URL, click through each person’s profile link, check and see if they had a Twitter profile linked there and if so scrape it for me. (My tutorial.) I created a new list of Mog employees myself and added each of those people to it.
Step 3 – I only had a small handful of Mog employees so far and I knew there were more on Twitter, so I searched for mentions of Mog in Twitter bios using Twellow. At that point I had 8 Moggers and was ready to move on with my life. Then I remembered Grooveshark and saw that they had a nice staff list they had created myself.
I did and it was AWESOME. Click click boom, thank you Formulists, here now is a list of exactly 140 people (coincidence!) on staff at the 5 leading streaming music services:
Give that link a click, follow the list, then either visit the link on your Twitter page or add it as a column in Tweetdeck or Seesmic and just like that, you’ll have a front row seat for conversations between some of the hippest cats online. Hey, Team Rdio, thanks for the music – I’m so happy I subscribed!
So, there I was, sitting at TCHQ, discussing the recent Vanity Fair article about Jack Dorsey — and the ridiculous bluebird-on-the-shoulder picture that accompanied it.
Keen to track down the image itself, I typed Dorsey’s name into Google’s predictive image search box.
Here’s what came up…
“Huh,” I thought. “‘Jack Dorsey girlfriend’ – that’s an odd thing to come up as the second suggested search term.”
Google bases its prediction on what the majority of other users have previously searched for — and certainly there could be numerous reasons why large numbers of people are interested in the relationship status of paper-centimillionaire Dorsey.
Still, I tried some other famously wealthy and eligible names in tech…
And, last but not least, let’s not forget Twitter’s resident superstar Biz Stone. After numerous high-profile appearances on Howard Stern, Conan and then vodka advertising campaign, surely his romantic currency is…
President Obama seems to understand the role that startups play and the contribution that skilled immigrants make to U.S. economic growth. He has talked a lot about the importance of science and engineering, and expressed fears that, unless we improve our game, China and India will out-innovate us. He even visited Silicon Valley recently to talk to its elite. And he has had his Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, make several trips here to the Valley.
I commend the President for putting a spotlight on entrepreneurship with his Startup America initiative; but I can’t help wondering whether this is just a giant press release. It needs more substance: a way for foreign-born entrepreneurs to start companies here and a leveling of the playing field for entrepreneurs wanting to solve government problems.
I debated this with Aneesh Chopra, at the Economist Innovation Summit in Berkeley, last week.
The day before that event, Aneesh had invited me to a meeting with the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alejandro Mayorkas, at Stanford Law School. We had had a very productive discussion with leading academics, lawyers, and entrepreneurs about how the government can interpret existing laws in a more favorable way for immigrant entrepreneurs. I was pleasantly surprised at how open Mayorkas was to criticism and at how he listened to the ideas presented to him. Both he and Chopra acknowledged the deficiencies of the current system and pledged to do all they could to have them fixed.
But Chopra dropped a bombshell at the Economist event. He said that the President would only support the Startup Visa in the context of “comprehensive immigration reform”. What this means is that the legislation will be lumped in with toxic debates about illegal immigration and will be held hostage to other interests.
There is reason to be concerned about the plight of the 12 million unskilled workers who are in the U.S. and lack documentation. But there is a lot of anger and other emotion in these debates. Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform say that it will provide “amnesty” to people who broke the law. Supporters argue that there are humanitarian concerns, and that we need these hard-working people to do jobs that Americans don’t want. Regardless of what is right or wrong, there is almost no chance that this contentious issue will be resolved until after the next elections—which means that the Startup Visa could be Dead on Arrival.
Indeed, I received confirmation from a staffer in the office of Senator Lugar (one of the two sponsors of the Startup Visa Act) that without the support of the White House, the legislation has almost no chance of passage. The senator believes very strongly that the Startup Visa will help keep the best and brightest entrepreneurs in America and create jobs for all Americans. He says that “the United States should not wait another day, and certainly not until after November 2012, to improve our global competitiveness”. And he warns, “If the White House delays, our economy and job creation in America are likely to pay the price”.
Senator Lugar is right. Our economy will pay the price. The poor, unfortunate, unskilled workers will still be here five years from now, because they have nowhere else to go. But the highly skilled, highly educated entrepreneurs, doctors, engineers, scientists, and researchers who are trapped in “immigration limbo” will be long gone. They are in high demand and have many options.
If the President is indeed serious about addressing the needs of Silicon Valley, he should endorse the Startup Visa legislation. Most Americans will readily support a bill that ties visas to job creation. We can then focus on building consensus for comprehensive immigration reform.
In my debate with Chopra, I also criticized the Startup America initiative for providing what Forbes’s Maureen Farrell called a “Venture Capital bailout” rather than fixing the government procurement system to level the playing field for entrepreneurs.
I have written about California’s ageing legacy systems, which cost billions to maintain and can be replaced by newer web-based technologies for a tiny fraction of their maintenance costs. The problem is even bigger at the national level. We waste tens of billions of dollars on federal systems. The governments’ procurement systems favor the big contractors—who charge as much a hundred times more to build and maintain computer systems and infrastructure than Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs would. Why not level the playing field and allow our innovative startups to bid on these? This will save taxpayers billions of dollars. Such a program will spur entrepreneurship as nothing else will. That’s a real Startup America.
To Chopra’s credit, he responded very well to criticism from Babson professor Daniel Isenberg and me. Even The Economist‘s “fireball” moderator, Vijay Vaitheeswaran, was no match for Aneesh.
I also challenged Aneesh on the Administration’s obsession with “clusters”. As I explained in this article, these well-intentioned efforts to build Silicon Valley–style technology hubs are all based on the same flawed assumptions: that government planners can pick industries they want to develop and, by erecting buildings and providing money to entrepreneurs and university researchers, make innovation happen. There is not one example of a Government-sponsored tech cluster—anywhere in the world—that has worked. Yet our leaders talks about clusters as if they are the secret sauce for entrepreneurship.
Our economy is stuttering and stalling, and our competitors are rising. So our debating skills are not what matter here. What matter are how soon we fix our policies and what we do to boost entrepreneurship in this country.
(You can watch the entire segment including Chopra’s keynote here.)
Editor’s note: Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. He is a Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School, Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University, and Distinguished Visiting Scholar at The Halle Institute for Global Learning at Emory University. You can follow him on Twitter at @vwadhwa and find his research at www.wadhwa.com.
Almost exactly one year ago (their birthday is tomorrow), WePay launched its group payment platform to the public. The goal was simple: give people an easy way to divvy up bills, member dues, and other common transactions with an integrated payment system and easy reminders to nudge those fraternity members who haven’t paid their dues yet. The service is also handy for selling tickets and collecting donations.
In light of the occasion, WePay is starting to talk about some of its numbers (albeit vaguely). WePay CEO Bill Clerico says that in the last three months, the service’s engagement numbers have surged from around 5,000 users per week to 25,000 per week. These users aren’t just visiting the site — they’re actually taking substantive action, like sending bills. He attributes this growth to optimizations the site has recently made to its sharing flows on Twitter, Facebook and its emails. He also says that WePay has drawn a lot of new users from referrals.
As for the amount of money WePay is actually dealing with, Clerico says that it is currently seeing “several million dollars” in payment volume per month. Obviously WePay only takes a small fee for each transaction (3.5%, with a 50 cent charge to pay with your bank account), so WePay isn’t seeing millions in revenue. But Clerico says that revenue is up 70% month over month. He declined to get much more specific, explaining that he didn’t want to draw apples-to-oranges comparisons with other payment platforms that have different fee structures.
In light of the growth, the company is hiring — a lot. Clerico says they’ll be hiring 25 people in the next 90 days, which will be enabled by the $7.5 million they raised last summer.
BuzzFeed and Huffington Post co-founder Jonah Peretti talked at Web 2.0 Expo today about the much misunderstood subject of how to make something go viral (no it’s not all about cats and bacon). Peretti began the talk running through his various early experiments in virality and what they taught him about why content spreads.
As part of his theory as to why content that elicits a reaction from users has more of a penchant for going viral, Peretti contrasted Google and Facebook in terms of their approaches to information. The difference between the “Google” and “Facebook” approach is namely that the Google philosophy is that media is about finding information related to queries like “How to stop oily skin?.” On Facebook media is just another way to express your feelings and more importantly a way to do something with your friends.“On Facebook you share things that define you,” Peretti said, as opposed sharing something trashy or embarrassing like that oily skin thing.
A lot of Peretti’s points could be gleaned from the single slide below, which shows “Viral Lift” or user engagement that isn’t from normal site traffic but instead from sharing activities happening on sites like StumbleUpon, Facebook and Reddit. BuzzFeed is designed with this viral lift in mind, and arranges it’s navigation to focus specifically on user reactions, separating it’s content into the Internet-inspired emotions “LOL,””omg,””wtf””cute,””win’ and “geeky” instead of by traditional news topic.
But what BuzzFeed does that’s particularly notable is that it extends these devices beyond editorial content to ads, sharing one CMS format for editorial and advertising, and optimizing its ads for viral distribution as well. Features like “Badges” and “Add Yours” where users can create their own viral content allow readers to go beyond reading and further engage and also apply to ads as well.
“Think of your social content not as information you want to get into people’s heads, but as an excuse for people to react,” Peretti explained was the key to virality. “The content matters, but [what matters] more importantly the ability to share a laugh with friend.” BuzzFeed is slated to hit 11 million uniques in March.
Have you ever been using Facebook and randomly found that you were suddenly unable to do some very basic thing, like update your status? Or comment on and “like” your friends’ statuses? Maybe the design suddenly changed slightly and you were the only one seeing it?
Don’t worry, Facebook is a website and websites aren’t haunted, so there’s nothing supernatural at play. Rather, it could be that someone at Facebook is intentionally messing with you to see how you react…but in the end, it’s all for a better user experience.
Facebook product designer Adam Mosseri spoke earlier this week at a Design Drink Up at Yelp headquarters about how “design is ‘informed’ by data, and not the sole driver.” During his talk, Mosseri discussed a number of different ways that the world’s largest social network slightly tweaks certain settings for a small percentage of its users. The funny thing about having more than 600 million users, of course, is that even just 1% means 6 million people.
According to Mosseri, 2010 was a year of design focused on increasing user engagement. They knew that the number of friends a user had was related to their engagement with the site, but what other factors were driving this engagement?
To find out, Facebook’s design team began running different studies. One, informally dubbed the “Yo Momma” study, consisted of interviewing new mothers about their experience on Facebook. Just your garden variety user study, right? Another study, however, turned off the ability to like or comment on friends’ status updates for a “small percent of users.” That small percent accounted for “several million” users, said Mosseri.
Facebook ran the study for two weeks, before finally ending it early because users were getting so annoyed at their situation. The company found that the “bug” caused a 7% drop in sessions and a 10% drop in time on the site for affected users. These users did, however, find a way of expressing their grievances.
So, the next time something goes completely awry with Facebook and everyone looks at you like you’re crazy, worry not – it might not be you, your computer or the wires in-between. It might just be the friendly folks over at Facebook seeing how you react so they can try to make things better.