Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

5yrs Archives

Saturday Post: Silicon Valley's Liquid Amorality - Water Will Find Its Way


The Facebook campus sits next to colorful algae on salt flats along San Francisco Bay.

Ten years ago in mid 2004 I left the Financial Times and started publishing Silicon Valley Watcher. Silicon Valley was starting to wake from a long downturn from the dotcom deflation and Google's August IPO was a good sign after several years of bad news.

The culture of Silicon Valley was different then. The software engineering community was more radical than today, and far more socially conscious. The open source software movement was very strong among engineers and there was overall an anti-commercial attitude and a respect for protecting an open commons.

It shared much in spirit with the radical English groups from the mid-seventeeth century such as The Diggers, and also with the The Diggers of the 1960s in San Francisco, who ran free stores and served free food from their kitchens.

The business bible of 2004 was The Cluetrain Manifesto and it came directly from that culture. Here's an excerpt:  

Story continues...

Blogging's Massive Failure To Topple Mass Media

Om Malik, publisher of GigaOm, recently posted some thoughts about his 12 years of blogging and he came to the conclusion that blogs today are where he can aggregate all his fractured expressions across the web: Instagram photos, articles, comments, and whimsical musings.

But he writes, “The concept of blogging as we knew it has lost some of its meaning and even a bit of meaningfulness.” It certainly has and Om is being too gentle in his criticism because blogging has fallen very far from the promise it once had, and in attaining real meaningfulness.

Story continues...

MediaWatch: The Strange Joys Of Blogging...

"I am no longer sure if I am in control of my blog, or if the blog could also be described as controlling me."

This line jumped out at me as I was reading Irving Wladawsky-Berger's latest post: The Evolution of My Complex Relationship with Blogging

Story continues...

The Two-Way Internet...

[Here is a draft of an article for the fifth anniversary of the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) - a Palo Alto, California based think tank. I'm a founding fellow of SNCR.]

It's easy to forget that we are still in the very early stages of the Internet -- a basket of technologies that continues to evolve and affect nearly every aspect of our business and personal lives.

The first phase of the Internet emerged into the commercial space only in the mid-1990s, from military applications at first and then university research uses.

In this first phase of the commercial Internet, the development of web browsers meant that we could now publish a page of content: text, photos, video, to any computer screen regardless of the platform. It didn't matter what the operating system was, or the type of computer: mainframe, minicomputer or pocket computer -- as long as it can run a web browser we can publish a web page to it from anywhere.

That was a significant achievement because you used to have to be on the same network, for example AOL, or CompuServe to be able to publish the same content to other users. There was no cross-platform communications, even email was difficult. I remember it took years for gateways to be developed that could send email between CompuServe and MCI Mail - two popular email networks.

It took government funding and support for industry standard protocols to be able to achieve what we call the Internet. And once the rivalries between the competing self-contained networks could be bypassed, the Internet took off like a rocket.

The Internet's potential effect on business was extraordinary. In the mid to late 1990s, stock market investors built a massive "dotcom" bubble. A company only had to announce that they would launch a web site to have a massive spike in its market value.

Those days seem ridiculous in hindsight but only because we did not yet have the means to truly transform business operations, at least not yet. But the investors were correct in their prediction that there was a truly disruptive force at work and that those companies that were forging ahead would have significant advantages.

In those heady, early days, large corporations were faced with threats that the "dotcom" companies would "eat their lunch." Many companies panicked and launched expensive Internet operations without thinking things through; many companies were frozen in indecision and did nothing.

The dotcom dotbomb soon arrived and established businesses breathed a collective sigh of relief: their lunch was intact and most dotcoms disappeared overnight. A recession gripped the entire tech sector for several years as the excesses of those early years played themselves out.

Recessions, however, are excellent nurseries, it's where innovation emerges. And the early 2000s is where blogging started to emerge, and thats when the first social networks such as Friendster and MySpace appeared. And it is where the roots of what we now call social media emerged.

There is much written about, and spoken about, and tweeted about social media, social networks, social CRM ... "social" with everything. But the "social" part is a red herring because what emerged in the early 2000s was the second phase of the Internet.

The first phase allowed us to publish content to any computer screen. The second phase of the Internet is where any computer screen can publish back.

We now have a two-way Internet.

If you thought Internet 1.0 was impressive then look out because now we have a two-way Internet, and this time, the new "dotcoms" will be far more challenging to established businesses, they will eat lunch, breakfast, and anything else of value. It is an Internet on steroids.

For example, we now have a printing press in our pockets that can potentially reach tens of millions and soon billions of people. It's no wonder that Rupert Murdoch is pissed. You used to have to be a media mogul, buying ink by the barrel to have the potential reach an audience that anyone with a smart phone, or desktop computer can now reach.

The Internet is a powerful media technology, it's a publishing technology. And it has become very easy to use thanks to sophisticated development tools and services that anyone can use.

- You used to have to be a computer expert to set up and publish a web site, now anyone can do it in less than ten minutes.

- You used to have to build a large audience in order for your content to be seen now you can post something to Facebook or Twitter and your network of friends or contacts will republish it and potentially reach huge audiences.

The Internet has become a two-way medium.

What does this mean?

It means that "social" media is just one application of this next stage of the Internet. It means that every company, every person is potentially a media company and has to learn how to use this two-way Internet.

Every company, even if it makes diapers or ball bearings is also a media company because it publishes to its potential customers, employees, neighbors, etc. And it also has to learn how to listen and engage with those communities as they publish back.

Businesses that figure out how to use the two-way Internet will prosper and the ones that don't, won't.

New types of applications will emerge such as personalized advertising that is location based; and a whole host of other applications that have yet to be imagined.

- A two-way Internet means that anything and everything can become connected.

- A two-way Internet means that there is a huge amount of data to be mined that can provide businesses with incredible insights into their markets.

- A two-way Internet can provide businesses with real-time responses to changing market conditions.

- A two-way Internet will unleash a tremendous amount of innovation in the forms of applications, new media formats, and new societies/communities.

A two-way Internet will also transform the way we consume and interact with media. The media is dying but long live the media because we now have more forms of media, in more formats than at any time in our human history.

How will that affect us? Media is how society "thinks" it is how countries develop policies, it is how we figure out solutions to important problems such as the economy, the environment, education, elderly care, energy and those are just the problems that begin with "e."

What are the new cultures being formed? What will the cultural changes mean to business?

A business that doesn't understand its changing culture won't be in business for long.

It is these types of issues that SNCR was formed to research and to try and understand.

We have plenty of technology and technologies in our world but so what? It's how these technologies are used, how they are applied, how they affect and effect our society that SNCR seeks to understand and to share with others.

We now live in a two-way Internet and that's an immense field of study and it is one that will continually surprise us with its near infinite permutations.

For journalists, for professional communicators of all kinds, these are troubled times but also extremely exciting times. At no other time in our professional lives will we see such huge changes in our jobs, our lives, our communities.

We don't know the answers, we know some of them but there are so many more to discover.

We all can take part in figuring out what those answers are. Those answers might keep changing or they might become the new rules for the next phase of the Internet. We don't know yet, we don't even know all the questions but it's sure exciting finding out.

And that's why SNCR has managed to attract some of the best people working in this area, eager and curious about the future and what it might look like.

- - -

If you liked "The Two-Way Internet" there are similar posts in my book: "In My Humble Opinion"

Consumer Watchdog Targets Google In "Don't Track Me" Campaign

The Washington, DC organization Consumer Watchdog is making a big publicity push for its "Do not track me" campaign, which asks Congress to create a list for people that don't want to be monitored on the Internet.

If the campaign succeeds it will be a massive blow to Internet advertising and e-commerce companies because they will lose the ability to tailor targeted commercial messages and discovering user behaviors across a range of web destinations.

Consumer Watchdog has purchased a 540 sq. Ft. Jumbotron digital billboard on Times Square and is showing a video showing an animation of Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, driving an ice cream truck so that he can spy on kids.

Consumer Watchdog said:

Google has collected massive amounts of personal data from Wi-Fi networks through its Street View cars, made private Gmail contacts publicly available on Buzz, and done a complete about-face on net neutrality, joining with Verizon in calling for toll lanes on the Internet.

Schmidt has appeared clueless regarding privacy himself, Consumer Watchdog said. When questioned about privacy, he has said, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Recently, he suggested children could change their names when they got older if they wanted to escape what was embarrassing and public in their online lives.

- About 80% of Americans support a national "Do not track me" list according to a poll by Grove Insight.

- 90% said that it is important to “have more laws that protect privacy of your personal information” online.

The poll indicated strong support for:

- Require the creation of an “anonymous button” that allows individuals to stop anyone from tracking their online searches or purchases: 86% favor; 9% oppose.

- Ban the collection of any personal data on children under the age of 18: 84% favor; 10% oppose.

- Prevent online companies from tracking personal information or web searches without your explicit, written approval: 84% favor; 11% oppose.

-- Ban online companies from tracking and storing information related to children’s online behavior so they can target them with advertising: 83% favor; 12% oppose.

- Require the creation of a “do not track me” list for online companies that would be administered by the Federal Trade Commission: 80% favor; 12% oppose.

5years - Lessons And Insights: Sniggering About Blogging ... And The 'Original Gangsters' Of Blogging

I've been writing about my five years as a journalist blogger and the many lessons and insights I've experienced. Five years is a good time to reflect about what I got myself into when I left the Financial Times.

I had very little experience of the blogger world in 2004. I knew that my buddies Om Malik and David Galbraith were bloggers but I didn't read them. I had a typical attitude of a journalist at one of the top newspapers about the emerging world of blogging: Give me a break.

I was writing 4 to 5 news stories a day, plus a news analysis, plus collaborating on feature articles with FT journalists in 200 plus news bureaus around the world.

I remember sniggering about blogging with my colleagues at the FT and other newspapers. I remember visiting with Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBM's top strategist, sitting in the stylish offices of IBM HQ set in a lush sylvan valley, with a deer peeking through the window, dismissing blogging. (Irving also soon started blogging and is of a much different opinion. Here is his blog: Irving Wladawsky-Berger.)

I thought I knew what "blogging" was about. But it quickly turned out I didn't.

Once I left the Financial Times to become the first journalist to leave a major newspaper to make a living as a "journalist blogger" (and without having blogged at all) it was a huge revelation.

I thought that "blogging" was all about writing lots of news stories and analysis -- it was but it wasn't. It was a whole lot more. And that's what Dave and Om were trying to tell me way back when.

You can't know it unless you do it. And that's what I advise people today, whether it is blogging, Twitter, or anything. Reading about it, being told about it, does very little. Experience it and you will know it so much better.

I finally got it. And it opened up a whole new world of people that I didn't know where there!

Suddenly, I had fallen through a trap door into a whole new world of early pioneer bloggers. I was a newbie and I still feel like a newbie compared with this group.

I'm talking about the pioneers of blogging and the whole new media world. In 2004 there weren't too many of those people around.

And by becoming a journalist/blogger I suddenly was part of a pool of people that were smart as hell, passionate, and crazy in one way or several.

And the extraordinary thing about this group is that they are still (mostly) around.

In the hip-hop culture they would be respectfully referred to as "OG," Original Gangsters. And there is a lot of similarity between the blogging and urban cultures of rap.

- There is the notion of 'keeping things real.'

- There is a lot of braggadocio, a vocal self-reference of great things done, or great thoughts thought first.

- There is a lot of playing with language, deliberate misspelling of words, making up words (I do it all the time.)

The OGs I started off with are still around. But most of these 'Original Bloggers' are much more than that, they are also Original Thinkers and that's what inspires me.

Here are some of them in no particular order (here is a Twitter list:

Om Malik - GigaOM
Dave Galbraith - David Galbraith's Blog
Robert Scoble - Scobleizer - Exploring the 2010 Web
Dave Winer - Scripting News
Ross Mayfield - Ross Mayfield's Weblog
Renee Blodgett - Down the Avenue
Nick Denton - Nick Denton: The long and illustrious history of bile
Jason Calacanis - The Jason Calacanis Weblog
Steve Gillmor - TechCrunchIT
Dan Farber - Dan Farber
Nick Carr - Rough Type
Jeff Jarvis - Buzzmachine
Mike Arrington - Techcrunch
Danny Sullivan - Daggle
John Paczkowski- John Paczkowski | Digital Daily | AllThingsD
Richard Edelman - Richard Edelman - 6 A.M.
Sam Whitmore - Sam Whitmore's Media Survey
Andy Lark - Andrew Lark
Jeff Clavier - Jeff Clavier's Software Only:
Steve Rubel - The Steve Rubel Lifestream
Dan Gillmor - Dan Gillmor
John Furrier - The SiliconAngle
Anil Dash - Anil Dash
Paul Kedrosky - Infectious Greed
JP Rangaswami - Confused of Calcutta
Tim O'Reilly - O'Reilly Radar
Frank Shaw - Glass House
Shel Holtz - a shel of my former self
Shel Israel - Global Neighborhoods
Dennis Howlett - AccMan
Mike Manuel - Mike Manuel's Blog
Richard MacManus - ReadWriteWeb
Jen McClure - Jen McClure's Ruminations
Jeremy Zawodny - Jeremy Zawodny's blog
Stowe Boyd - /message
John Battelle - John Battelle's Searchblog
Roger Ehrenberg - Information Arbitrage
Marc Canter - Marc's Voice
Gabe Rivera - Techmeme
Craig Newmark - Craig from Craigslist Indulges himself
Jeff Nolan - Venture Chronicles
Chris Pirillo - Chris Pirillo
Jeremiah Owyang - Web Strategy
Charlene Li - Altimeter Group
Tara Hunt -HorsePigCow
Scott Beale - LaughingSquid
James Governor - Monkchips

- - -

Please see:

5yrs: Lessons From A Blogger/Journalist - The Start of A Series

5yrs: Where's The Disruption From The Internet?

5yrs: Meeting Cisco's Dan Scheinman and Realizing Every Company Is Now A Media Company

5yrs: Wish Everyone Well . . .

5yrs: Where Have All The Blogs Gone?

5yrs: Building A Better Mousetrap

5yrs - Lessons And Insights: Building A Better Mousetrap . . .

[5yrs: Lessons and Insights - a series of posts looking back at the five years since I left the Financial Times and my job as a columnist and reporter, to become a "journalist blogger" at SVW.]

When I worked at the Financial Times it was difficult to know who was reading the work of my colleagues and myself in the San Francisco bureau.

Occasionally I would bump into people who would tell me they had read one of my articles, but that was usually because they had read the paper on a recent plane trip. Generally, people on the East coast still read newspapers but on the West coast, they didn't. They might read the FT online but we had a paywall.

I remember trying to encourage my bosses to let my column be free for a while, so that I could help build an audience and then they could put it behind a paywall -- but that wasn't part of their plan.

I think it is fair to say that all journalists abhor a paywall because they want to be read as widely as possible. Journalists are the most enthusiastic proponents of "free" news despite how damaging that might be to their employers. It's a paradoxical position.

Market research to find your readers . . .

The FT management would occasionally commission market research studies and focus groups to figure out who was reading the newspaper and which sections.

For the FT this was a C-suite executive VP readership with an average salary of more than $250,000 and a net worth of at least $2 million. [If the market researchers knew FT journalists read the FT it would drag down the demographics.]

Outside the box...

When I started publishing SVW, I quickly found out who was reading my articles without the need for focus groups. I could see it in my comments, I could see who was discussing my content elsewhere, and lots of people I met would talk to me about my posts.

What was even more eye-opening was that my content was finding readers in places I didn't even know I had readers. If I wrote about a music service I would find my posts being discussed on DJ blogs. If I wrote about video mashups I would find an audience among communities engaged in video editing.

Print publications rarely find a readership outside of their designated focus groups.

On one occasion, there was a group of senior business leaders and academics from Asturias, a region in northern Spain, visiting Silicon Valley who wanted to meet with me and who were avid readers. I was elated.

Here was yet another insight: online content found its own audience rather than the other way around.

Finally, it was true: if you built a better mousetrap the world would beat a path to your door.

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Please see:

Tilting at the windmills of Web 2.0: A Spanish delegation visits Silicon Valley

I had a fascinating conversation a couple of Sundays ago with a visiting delegation of Spanish business and technology leaders from the region of Asturias, in Northern Spain.

I was very flattered and honored that in their very busy three-day tour of Silicon Valley's top companies, universities, and research institutes, they wanted to meet with me. This is one of the wonderful pleasures of my job, finding out that I have readers in places that I didn't know I had readers...!

Asturias is a former coal and iron mining region with about one million inhabitants and it is the fourth fastest growing IT region in the European Union. It has a rich, wonderful history, especially its role in the defense of the republic during the Spanish civil war . . .

Read the rest here...

Previous articles in this series:

5yrs: Lessons From A Blogger/Journalist - The Start of A Series

5yrs: Where's The Disruption From The Internet?

5yrs: Meeting Cisco's Dan Scheinman and Realizing Every Company Is Now A Media Company

5yrs: Wish Everyone Well . . .

5yrs: Where Have All The Blogs Gone?

5yrs: Lessons and Insights: Where Have All The Blogs Gone?

[Another post in a series looking back over my five years since I left the Financial Times as a reporter and columnist.]

When I left the Financial Times in early summer 2004 I didn't launch Silicon Valley Watcher until mid-September.

I remember thinking I had better start writing before people forget my name. The summer was over, people were back at work, I had better stop talking about what I was going to do, and start doing.

I found myself staring at a blank screen and wondering how to start? How should I write? What is blogging? What's an appropriate mix of public and personal writing? And many more questions.

I started off doing what I knew how to do: writing news stories and columns. My first post on SVW was a tongue-in-cheek look at my barometer of how well Intel is doing.

Backpack barometer...

Intel is the world's largest chipmaker. What is not generally known is that Intel is also very careful with its money - if it can pinch a penny or two on non-essential spending, it will.

This means that the quality of the backpacks that Intel likes to give out to attendees at its Intel Developer Forum (IDF) conferences, tends to vary according to how well it's doing financially. I called this my "secret barometer of Intel's health."

Intel's IDF backpack in September 2004 looked good. Decent zips, and sturdy construction. I initially pronounced Intel to be in good health. However, my colleague Joe Fay, who was at the time US Editor at Computerwire, later noticed a strange smell of fish coming from his IDF backpack. Clearly things were not quite right at Intel :)

Fun with html...

Writing on SVW I found I could be very creative. I could write in my usual style for news, news analysis, columns, features, etc. But I also found that I could experiment with other styles, the 3am posts could be quite interesting...

I started experimenting with content. I would throw into my copy things that you wouldn't see unless you looked carefully. For example, I would sometimes put a hidden message behind a link. You wouldn't see it unless you clicked on the link. Sometimes the link was behind a period. This made it more difficult to notice.

Sometimes I use this technique to make a comment about a person who is acting in an unreasonable manner. I'll give you an example. I was writing about a prominent journalist and his behavior at a dinner. I didn't write directly about his behavior but I put a link behind his name.

You might assume that the link went to his column but instead, it linked to the Urban Dictionary and its definition of "jerk."

Where have all the blogs gone?

When I started SVW there were lots of blogs around. Om Malik with GigaOm, Robert Scoble's Scobelizer, etc. I was a newbie. But that was fine with me because that meant I didn't have to get into tiresome debates about using strikeouts, commenting policies, updating protocols, and much more.

The blogs at the time were news like but also very personal. I wanted to be less personal, I wanted to publish an online news magazine.

So it is with a sense of irony that five years later, the "blogs" have become news magazines and SVW has become more personal, more blog-like.

GigaOm, Techcrunch, ReadWriteWeb, and others, have become online news magazines with reporters, editors, production staff. Just because they publish using a blogging platform doesn't make them blogs.

They look the same as the traditional media publications of 2004, such as CNET's The new media now looks pretty much the same as the old media it replaced.

Does this mean that the "new" media might be vulnerable to displacement by a new generation of "blogs" in the same way they themselves displaced the older generation of news sites? Maybe.

- - -
Please see:

5yrs: Lessons From A Blogger/Journalist - The Start of A Series

5yrs: Where's The Disruption From The Internet?

5yrs: Meeting Cisco's Dan Scheinman and Realizing Every Company Is Now A Media Company

5yrs: Wish Everyone Well . . .

5yrs: Lessons And Insights: Wish Everyone Well . . .

[This is a series of articles marking my 5 year anniversary of leaving the Financial Times to become the first professional journalist/blogger.]

When I left the Financial Times in late May 2004, I took a couple of months off. I had lunches, dinners, and drinks with lots of people during that summer.

They would ask me what I was up to. And I would explain. Except that it would take me half-an-hour to explain what I was going to be doing. And to be frank, after half-an-hour they were confused about what I was going to be doing, and so was I.

I would say I want to do this, that, and also this. But not like that, what these people are doing, but more like this, that, and so on. A long list of things (I will spare you the details.) It was confusing.

It took me most of the summer to boil it down to this: Silicon Valley Watcher is an online news site about the business and culture of innovation. Simple and clear.

And this is something that other people and companies need. A simple and clear message.

Story continues...

5yrs: Lessons And Insights - Meeting Cisco's Dan Scheinman and Realizing Every Company Is Now A Media Company

[Five years ago I left my job as a reporter and columnist at the Financial Times to become a professional journalist/blogger. The first two installments of my story are here: Part 1 and Part 2.]

After I left the Financial Times I wondered if I would still have the same top level access. I was used to speaking with the top executives of the largest companies in Silicon Valley and beyond. But now I was a "blogger" writing for my own web site. I was just a guy with a laptop working from a home office. This wasn't the Financial Times with its worldwide reach and a trusted reputation built up from over 100 years of publishing newspapers.

To my great relief, nothing changed. I still had the same access to top executives as I had before. I still got pitches from the same people I worked with when I was at the newspaper. In fact, I now had an additional element of exotic notoriety, which helped in my transition.

A suitable transition...

But, some PR people, and also some journalists would sometimes look at me in a strange way. Five years ago, it was poorly understood what a "blogger" was. Some people asked if was still a journalist? Did I keep embargoes? What were the rules of engagement with a "blogger"? I tried to reassure everyone that I was still working as a professional journalist. Just because I used a blogging platform (Movable Type) to publish my articles did not change anything about me or my job.

Story continues...

5yrs - Lessons And Insights: Where's The Disruption From The Internet?


[5yrs: Lessons and insights as a blogger/journalist - This is part 2 published at 4pm Pacific every day (or so). Part 1 is here.]

After leaving the Financial Times in mid-2004 to become a professional "blogger/journalist" I began to think intensely about the nature of media and its changes. Coming from the old world and now jumping into the deep-end of the new world, it triggered some very interesting insights into the nature of the world around me.

At the time, I had the attitude typical of traditional journalists: blogging was merely a hyped up form of self-publishing, a narcissistic trend with very little value, and frankly, we were all sick to death of hearing about it.

Boy, was I wrong, as I soon found out. In fact, soon after I started blogging, I began to see everything as a media "nail" - I had found my hammer. And the more I did it (blogged), the more I discovered . . . and the more I discovered about myself. It's embarrassing to say this, but blogging also turned into an incredible spiritual journey (more on that later).

Story continues...

5yrs: Lessons From A Blogger/Journalist - The Start of A Series

It was about five years ago that I left my job as a reporter and columnist for the Financial Times in the San Francisco bureau. And it's been a tremendous journey.

I didn't realize at the time that I would become the first reporter to leave a major newspaper to make a living as a professional journalist/blogger. It puzzled a lot of people as to why I would give up one of the top jobs in my industry for an uncertain future.

I did it because I could see that there were a lot of changes happening in my industry. I could see that staying in newspapers would mean staying on the sharp, pointy, business end of the disruptive forces that were starting to be felt. I believed it would be better be on the other side of the disruption, afterall, things would not get any better for newspapers, but would gradually get better for online publishers.

I could also see that the management of newspapers, not just mine, didn't see what was going on.

Story continues...