Spring is sprung

Spring has sprung,
The grass has riz,
I wonder where the birdies is?
The birds is on the wing,
But that’s absurd...
I always thought ...
the wing is on the bird!

And here for a little light spring reading and viewing, a few choice morsels.

First Jeremiah Owyang reminds us what VCs are good for (including partying ... err umm networking).

Next, be inspired by Majora Carter.

Finally, think carefully about education and creativity.

Bittman Smitten

I too have been smitten by Mark Bittman since buying How to Cook Everything a few years ago... a great cookbook.

Bittman is walking (cooking) in the same direction as Michael Pollan (Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food) and is becoming known for wanting to change the world by changing how we eat.

If you are not familiar with Bittman, listen to this NPR Morning Edition story, or the one-hour On Point call-in show.

Catch him regularly on his NY Times "Bitten" Blog.

Bon Appetit. Bon pour le monde.

Twitter data stream redux

A couple of weeks ago I posted my slides from Social Media Jungle Boston on Twitter as a Universal Data Stream. Jared Rosoff responded with a series of thoughtful questions and let me know it was fine for me to post and answer his questions here.

Jared's questions are in this red color, and my responses are in purple, flagged RMD.

1) Centralized vs. Distributed event stream architecture

-- Unclear twitter can scale to handle the flood of data that would come with "automated publishing" from things like sensors and systems. Not sure if this is a systemic problem of this kind of architecture, or rather a twitter specific deficiency.

RMD: clearly Twitter can't scale to handle its own organic growth right now. I think this is a Twitter specific deficiency. However, putting "all the world's messages" (automated and not) onto Twitter would increase the load by several orders of magnitude. This may take the load to somewhere with real systemic problems. Hopefully this is not the case ... see Sigma portfolio company Tervela... perhaps they can help.

-- Do we really as a community want to endow any single company with all of the value that that data holds?

RMD: Great question. Google already has "all" the public data (effectively), but this goes to a new level when I suggest proprietary streams be published using Twitter as well. Answer, probably not, at least not without assurance that Twitter does not have ownership rights which they can assert. However, charging for access to such a rich *and integrated* data stream seems OK to me. If the data provider wants to charge for access, perhaps Twitter can be a pass through biller (with appropriate markup). Perhaps the source data provider would also provide other means of access to assure a competitive marketplace for the data. Then Twitter's specific value becomes the fact "all" the data is available in one place.

-- Corollary: Are companies that have valuable data going to be willing to hand over the keys to someone else?

RMD: probably not! However, if the value to their customers of integrating their own data with a wealth of other data is sufficient, then perhaps.

-- With twitter's focus on social updates, do you think a different player will emerge that will focus on more "machine readable" event streams?
RMD: very possibly ... want to pitch a startup?

2) Search / Filter methodology

-- Search on twitter is pretty limited. To do the kind of analytical reasoning you suggest in your prezo, it strikes me that you need a more sophisticated query language. Something beyond keyword search. Need to be able to deal with structured and semi-structured data as well as calculate statistics over the set of data in the streams. Do you have thoughts on what kind of search technology is needed for a system like twitter?
RMD: You are right. The 140 character limit is also terrible for this... back to "want to pitch a startup?" The character limit is probably what does this in ... a longer (or unlimited) message can be tagged (either with folksonomy based hash tags, or with references to published ontologies). Once properly tagged, the data becomes searchable, and we are back to "just" a scale problem.

-- Is analytical reasoning separate from the event stream aggregator? Or does it need to be part of it? In other words, can I plug a tool like Visual Sciences or SAS into the data I get out of the event-stream or am I limited to the analytical tools that twitter (or a twitter like business) provides me? Benefit of having the tools at twitter are that it can access the "whole data set" whereas if I'm using SAS or VS, I'm probably working on some subset of data that I've downloaded...
RMD: I definitely want to be able to use third-party tools to do the search/filter/analysis. My original assertion was based on Twitter's very simple, easy and *open* API, which (assuming volume access is allowed) enables you to use whatever tools you want. Your notion of tools built in to Twitter makes sense (another revenue idea for them). If this all ever really happened I imagine you would be able to subscribe to sub-streams from Twitter for real time analysis, as well as going back later for data exploration.

All great questions - thanks Jared!


Innovation is often given complex definitions. We prefer the simple one: ‘new ideas that work.’
- Geoff Mulgan, Social Silicon Valleys: A Manifesto for Social Innovation, Young Foundation (Spring 2006).

This is a great definition of innovation, but suffers from the problem of survivorship bias. We only know later whether the idea works. What happens to all the innovative work that leads to dead-ends and failures? These look just as innovative in their early stages, and often help spur innovation by helping map out the topology of what works and what doesn't.

Furthermore, those of us who invest in startups have no clue whether the innovation will work when we invest. This is just as relevant in Hazon's innovative programs in the non-profit sector as it is in Sigma's venture capital portfolio. This is not to say that the engineering itself is untested. Often it is clear that the gizmo works, but we have no idea if it solves the problem: do people like it, use it, adopt it... does it scale, cause other problems, create more complexity... and does it really solve the problem? All of those things are only ascertained after a fair amount of capital is invested in packaging and promotion, and a fair amount of time is spent as well.

With this in mind, here are a couple of interesting items to read about innovation in the non-profit sector.

First, an easy read from Jumpstart on the Huffington Post, Philanthropy's New Ice Age: Will Social Innovation Survive the Freeze?, including a quote from Hazon's own Nigel Savage.

Second, check out the Intentional Innovation in Philanthropy report from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. There is an exec summary as well as the full report.

2009 Hazon NY Environmental Bike Ride

As you may know I have ridden in the Hazon New York Jewish Environmental Bike ride for the past three years. Some of you have also participated previously. I plan to be there again this year. It is a great weekend, a great challenge (whether a beginner, or a century rider with a choice of routes), and for a great cause. Please consider joining me this year.

This is great to do on your own, with family members, as a bar/bat mitzvah project or with your friends.

Click on the link to see a brief video and all the details you can imagine: http://hazon.org/rides/2009NY

The ride registration fee goes up on March 20. If you are thinking about riding, now may be a good time to register. The fees are only going up by $50, so if you decide later, it’s not too terrible.

Let me know if I can answer any questions.

Sunday, Sunday ... so good to me

For the second Sunday in a row I got to go out biking with friends, this time seven of us. We planned to do the same route as last week, but decided to add to it, on-the-wheel, given how beautiful it turned out. So we rode up to the Campion Center and a short loop around back to Weston. One of our group missed a turn and ended up taking a detour, but we found him.

It was a 22 mile ride for me (more for the guy who got lost, and the Guy who went to rescue him), and it was fabulous. I have been more disciplined about my winter exercise routine this year and that has made a difference in my strength coming back to biking, and I am loving it.

Early in last year's season (and in fact at the end of April), I was complaining that I felt out of shape. So far, this year, much better.

Thanks to the magic(??) of Twitter, and someone who tweets about recumbent bikes (@recumbentbike), I saw a retweet originating from @larrymadill who said "Think I hurt something on my recumbent bike yesterday." I want to know if Larry hurt himself or his bike.

@recumbentbike uses this as a profile image... much lower than my bike, and with front wheel drive. My 'bent has the long chain under the seat driving the back wheel. This thing looks sleek, doesn't it?

Non-profit Twitter

In the tech world, it is a little bit of wry humor to say that all twittering is non-profit. No-one really knows how to make money from Twitter (the company Twitter, least of all, it seems).

Here are a couple of links about real non-profits (charities, as opposed to early stage startups) and twitter:

I also want to highlight Beth Kanter's blog on "How Non-profits can use Social Media" which is about twitter and all the other aspects of Web 2.0 and social media for non-profits.

Report from the Jungle

I spent today at Social Media Jungle Boston, organized by Jeff Pulver. Check out the twitter stream on #smjbos, if you want to see the back-channel chatter.

The speakers mostly (and understandably) looked at the interpersonal interactions of what is, after all, social media. However when I got up for my slot, I choose to talk about Twitter as a Universal Information Stream. Slides below or here.

I included an idea from Matt Volpi (about automatically reporting point-of-sale data and also DVR data), from his comment on this blog when I first previewed this talk and asked for input. Thanks, Matt! Others may also recognise their ideas replayed here as well, so please remind me if I owe you credit.

Reclaiming my identity

Here I am blogging as Venture Cyclist and very little cycling, or even cycling related stuff, has happened for a while. However, those who follow me on twitter might have noticed the following twit this morning "Welcoming the cyclist back into my venturecyclist identity - 60 degrees in Newton today - woohoo."

A few of my friends (I know who you are) managed to get out yesterday ... another beautiful day to bike, but I was enjoying some great outside time with my family at Cold Springs Park on the Exer-trail.

Today, however, I fired up my trusty biker GPS, pumped up my tires (they held, phew) and went out with good friend Lee Goldfinch for 14 miles of spring time bliss. We cycled out on Comm Ave, through the Meadowbrook golf course and back down towards Upper Falls (a segment of our "usual" summertime route). This is pretty much the earliest in the year I have managed to get out, and certainly the earliest I have done more than a quick ride on the Comm Ave Carriage Lane. Last year I did the same ride for the first time in early May. So I am feeling virtuous, happy, not entirely unfit, happy, tired, and, did I mention, happy.

Tomorrow it's winter again (eek, just checked the weather -- 1-3 inches of snow!).
Today I had a taste of spring and summer and fall, and that will keep me going for a while.

Crowd-sourcing Jewish News

In a not particularly subtle imitation of Digg (amongst others), the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has started crowd-sourcing Jewish news.

JTA is democratizing Jewish news gathering by giving you the ability to share with our editors and community of readers the Jewish content which matters most. We believe that together, there's not only strength in numbers, but wisdom to be found.

Read all about it here, and add the bookmarklets to have your voice heard in choosing stories to highlight.

Vignettes from Tech

A couple of tech industry vignettes from Jeff Pulver's Social Communications Summit in NY last month.

Fred Wilson asked the question of all startups who purport to be offering a new platform: "Can I grow a company on your platform?" Of course, the right answer has to be yes. This is an interesting test for both Facebook and Twitter. I think the answer for both of them will be yes ... and there are strong indications that others are building companies on top of Facebook (more) and Twitter (less) already, hence answering the question in the affirmative. What startups have you heard about who are planning to create new platforms? Of our recent investments we hope and expect Viximo will meet this test.

Another speaker, whose name I did not write down (sorry), talked about the new transparent world for consumer products (or even all products). She or he said "The product is your ad. The customer is your agency." The takeaway is that all the fancy advertising and creative agency positioning in the world will be swamped by user-generated content on the internet (blogs, facebook, twitter), discussing the product and whether it matches up to its promise. If the product is good, it will be its own advertisement, and the customers will be your agency. Unfortunately the same goes for if the product is no good at all.

John Stewart takes on Twitter

Update: YouTube video pulled for copyright reasons - but can embed from Comedy Central, which is what I have now done.
(Email subscribers: click title to link to article on web to see embedded video).

Purim Spiel

Next week is Purim, another Jewish festival that falls into the category of "They hate us; We beat them; Let's Eat."

Purim is such a happy festival that the entire Hebrew month in which it falls (Adar) is considered happy. There is a tradition of humor that pervades even the annual retelling of the almost gothic story, along with an imprecation to drink enough that you can't tell the difference between the hero and the villain.

Hazon (Jewish environmental non-profit and sponsor of the bike rides that got me on my bike in the first place) has a tradition of its own ... a high production values video spoof of a current cultural phenomenon. This year "Mad Men". The Yiddish word for mad, is, of course, meshugene.

You can also see previous Hazon Purim videos.

Happy Purim!