Sonos Rocks.

We just got a Sonos as a wedding gift from some close friends of ours.
It’s more amazing than I thought it would be. I won’t get into all the details, since Fred Wilson has done a great job describing it already. With the Pandora and Rhapsody subscriptions integrated tightly with the controller, I don’t think we’ll ever need to buy another album (physical or digital) again.

The truly amazing thing is how much it has changed our music listening habits already. We are exploring new music more than ever and listening to something during almost every minute we’re home. The controller is so well designed that it is addictive. It just works.

If anything, Sonos proves that the future of consumer electronics is good software and UI design. The days of dumb boxes with simple circuitry are over… that seems obvious. But less obvious is that using a full-blown PC for tasks traditionally done with dumb devices is just as unlikely to succeeed. The Sonos is great because it isn’t a PC – it just does things that you used to only be able to do with a PC running specialized software.

I’d love to work on this thing. There’s so much complicated engineering in there, but on the surface, it’s as simple to use as your television.

More Evidence on MSFT Death

This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard a manager say publicly:

…the general manager of virtualization strategy at Microsoft, Mike Neil, said the company is making some “tough decisions” to meet its schedule.

“Shipping is a feature too,” Neil said.

Yes it is. Especially when you cut features your main two competitors (Xen and VMware) have had for years. Yet another example of MSFT getting completely owned by their nimbler competitors (including one open-source one) after already being years late to the party.

See the original blog post for a bunch of wonderful acronyms, buzzwords, biz-speak, and worthless explaination.

I just realized I’ve been doing way too much MSFT bashing… It’s just been pretty easy recently. I’m not usually this much of a hater.

Dead MSFT

Lots of confusion, discussion, and vitriol around Paul Graham’s essay, Microsoft is Dead. Don Dodge asks the question “since when did $4B a year = dead?”

He even goes on to say, in an addendum that:

Just to put $4 Billion of growth in perspective, Yahoo’s entire revenue last year was $6.4B, and Adobe had revenues of $2.57B. Think about Microsoft growing almost an entire Yahoo in one year, or almost two Adobe’s. The numbers are staggering.

Well, those numbers WOULD be staggering if it didn’t amount to a YOY revenue growth of only 8.7% in the year of a new (major) product release. As a coworker of mine is fond of saying, “just barely beating the market isn’t a very good business plan.”

The acceleration of revenue and earnings at MSFT is negative. While this will allow the company to remain profitable for many years to come, it’s not exactly the juggernaut of growth it used to be. They can’t get much bigger, and their attempts at entering new markets have been clumsy, at best (XBox excepted, though, I don’t think MSFT has earned a penny from this effort).

It has always been foolish to ignore the predictions of technical early adopters. Like Paul says in the end of his essay:

The other half, the younger half, will complain that this is old news.

The perception of death is as bad as death itself. Most of all, it hurts recruiting for new talent. If MSFT isn’t seen as a great technical innovator, the best and brightest won’t want to work there anymore, and that is the beginning of the end for a technology company. Ask any bright young programmer about MSFT: they’ll probably agree with Paul.

MSPW – Make Something People Want

I’ve been thinking a lot about the YCombinator mantra: Make Something People Want. The idea is that startups should focus first on creating a compelling product, since that’s the hard part, and then on how it will monetize. If you build something people want, making money from it will eventually be easy.

I think the reason this mantra appeals to me so much is that my current employer (Pixar) is all about MSPW. What makes our films successful is that we make stories we want to watch. We don’t think too much about demographics or about what is popular – instead we try to make films that have great stories and expect the box office to follow. Instead of focusing on the kinds of films that will make money, we focus on the kinds of stories that are compelling. Then, we focus on great execution: everyone works towards the single goal of making the best film possible.

Apple does it too (notice a pattern?), but they’ve learned another important lesson: customers will pay (absurd) premiums for things they want to use. Marketing plays an important role, but you have to be marketing a compelling product, not just throwing lipstick on a pig.

Startups, like films, will often fail even if they have great stories and great execution. But, as people have more choice about what software they use and what films they watch, the ones that are sold solely through superb marketing will fail at accelerated rates.

People often ask what the Pixar formula for box office success is, and I think the answer is simple. We MSPW.

Steve Ballmer and Ringo?

Is Steve Ballmer the Ringo Starr of Microsoft, or does he have anything to bring to the table other than being the last founder left? Was he just in the right place at the right time?

When I see him taking worthless jabs at Google, I become convinced that he is. Just like Ringo, he’s a bad parody of himself. Sad.

New Toon Sites

TechCrunch is reporting on two new user-generated animation sites: mytoons and aniBOOM. I think Arrington is an animation geek, otherwise I’m not sure why he’d bother reporting on these sites, since (especially mytoons) are basic YouTube clones: a search for animation comes up with over 100k results, many of them very similar to the kinds of content on these other sites (people’s thesis projects, demo reels, short films, etc).

I haven’t heard anyone at work talking about either of these sites, so I’d imagine there isn’t much buzz outside the 53,651 group. In order for these sites to be successful, they’re going to need some significant traction in the animation community – so that they can get high quality content. In order to do this, they’re going to need a differentiator.

AniBOOM has better content right now, but mytoons just came out, so we’ll see who wins (and if either wins this niche over YouTube). My suggestion to these sites, if they want good animators as producers and viewers is simple:

Great animators care about individual frames, about drawing the perfect curve, about getting the timing just right. It’s really hard to appreciate those details in a YouTube quality video. If these sites want animators and FX people to really use their sites as an outlet, they’re going to need to find a way to broadcast higher quality video. Compression artifacts are really distracting, especially for 2D animation.

Startup Skool

I got into startup school, the one day free workshop started by Paul Graham et al at ycombinator. I’ve been a huge fan of pg’s writing for a while and think he has a great sense of how to foster innovation.

I’m most excited, though, about hearing/meeting Chris Anderson, since I’m reading his book and am really interested in how the Long Tail phenomenon will effect feature film production. I wonder what ideas he has about some of the ideas I outlined in my last post about Eisner.

As a related aside – I’ve really been digging the Y Combinator News site. Lots of great information from recent and older blog/news posts about starting companies and technology in general. Check it out.

Eisner Back in the Biz

Michael Eisner, (basically) ousted former CEO and Chairman of the Walt Disney Company, is breaking back into the movie business with a new venture named Vuguru – a web television production company.

I think Owen Thomas’ take on this is spot on in two ways:

1) Eisner has shown a complete inability to succeed at or understand anything about the Internet.

2) Bringing the Hollywood cost structure to Internet exclusive content is doomed to failure. Even if these spots cost half what they would cost for regular television, there’s still no way they can be profitable.

However, I don’t fully agree with him on his next point:

Clearly, Eisner hasn’t spent much time surfing YouTube. What kids are going for isn’t “slickly written produced and acted Web video”: It’s either clips from shows they’re already familiar with, or raw, first-person confessional material from their peers. In either case, YouTube’s not paying much for the video.

He’s right. That’s where we’re at now. But I believe there’s a desire and market for well produced content on the web somewhere between the lone teenager with a camcorder (for free) and rebroadcast content originally developed for television or film (for lots of $$$).

But the key to creating this content is not to bring the top down, like Eisner (and a lot of other web-exclusive production companies), but instead, to bring the bottom up even further than YouTube, digital video, and iMovie already have. The internet, inexpensive equipment and editing software have, in the words of Chris Anderson, democratized film publishing and production. It’s easier for everyone, with every level of experience, to make a movie, and get it seen.

But there’s one thing that Hollywood can still do better than any lone filmmaker (albeit, through an expensive network of casting and production companies): build teams of talented people and bring them together to produce films. In order for web-exclusive, profitably produced, professional quality content to exist, we’ll need to develop ways to more efficiently replicate the processes, not only the technology, that Hollywood uses.

 

Owen Thomas is right: this venture is doomed.

But I hope he’s not right about the future of digital content. I like good movies and good TV. I think people outside Hollywood are capable of making them and being empowered by the democratization of distribution that the web provides. I think we should strive for more than just silly films of kids doing stupid things. Instead of only getting YouTube quality home movies that cost nothing to produce, I hope for a future where films with Hollywood production values and niche appeal can be made for $50,000, or even $500,000.

I think of this as the Middle of the Chris Anderson Long Tail. The web can make independent film cheaper, and it can make it more popular. But first, it needs to be used to help talented people get together (and get funding) to make those films in the first place.

Techno-irani

A few weeks ago my friend andrei, who works at technorati, asked me if I could tell him what this site was all about. Though I speak decently fluent Farsi, my ability to read it is lacking, and I had no useful input. He asked because it had jumped up on the Technorati 100 and no one knew what it was. I didn’t think much of it… until…..

Today, while reading this interesting Read/WriteWeb post, it looks like there are TWO Persian language blogs in the top 20 (#7 and #17). Is this an algorithmic anomaly, or are there really so many young Iranians blogging and linking back to these sites?

The intertubes are a great place for young people to semi-anonymously and openly express themselves, and I can see how this is especially popular for Iranian youth. While Read/WriteWeb focused on how tech and politics are the most popular blog topics, I think it’s more interesting to think about the political (and maybe economic) implications of such an active Iranian web community.

There’s the obvious stuff about how the Iranian youth are secular and like American culture and all that stuff, but what makes Iran so special w/r/t blogs? Is it that there’s a reasonable sized middle-class with Internet access and no other outlet for expression and speech? Is it just that all the Iranian bloggers link to the same stuff? Unfortunately, I can’t really read the blogs that are linking to these sites either.

I’d love to know what these blogs are about. I’ll ask my family to help, but if anyone is out there and has some insight, please comment.

Hello blogoworld!

My first blog post. How exciting.

It’s almost as exciting as when I joined friendster.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.