Ignite NYC: The History of Online Advertising (Who really is to blame)

Here are the slides from my recent Ignite NYC talk on the history of online advertising. Video should be available shortly.

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Cancer: The First Anniversary (and now giving back)

Labor Day weekend last year, my wife Katie was told she had Breast Cancer.

Thanks to the incredible team of physicians at the Seattle Cancer Care Allliance, our loving families and the vast support of our friends, Katie is officially in remission.

Katie recovering from her mastectomy

Yes she suffered through chemo and a double-mastectomy, but she is alive and recovering nicely.

Her hair is coming back nicely (it’s up to an inch long in places), she’s active – getting back in dance shape and more importantly about to participate in the Susan G Komen 3 Day Walk for a Cure Fundraiser on September 24-26.

Katie is hoping to raise $3,000 as a way to raise awareness, funds and hope for the millions of women who like her will be diagnosed with breast cancer.  Hopefully some of you will be able to donate and if not at the very least wish Katie well as she walks 60 miles in 3 days.  I am so happy to see her not only win her own battle with cancer but also want to make sure others do as well.

Please Donate to Help Katie Continue to Kick Cancer's Ass!

Thanks in advance for all your help and donations!

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Things you don’t want to hear from the doctor: Your Wife has Breast Cancer

There’s no real good way to break the news, as Katie and I have learned – we just found out Katie has breast cancer.  We’re telling the world now as within a month she’ll lose her hair so there won’t be much to hide anymore.  This is not something I ever wanted to hear about the woman I love, have spent the last 15 years with and expect to spend the rest of my life with.  Also we’ve been overwhelmed with the support and kindness from our circle of friends, family and colleagues.  We really, really appreciate everything offered in words and deeds so far.

We found out from a call from the doctor while we were driving – all Katie did was grab my hand as we were driving and I knew the news wasn’t good. Given Katie’s age (35), the fact she’s a mom and her family has _no_ history of breast cancer this was quite a shock.

We met with the oncology team this week and got the full prognosis.  The good news is that Katie’s cancer was caught early enough where the doctors feel good about her outlook.  Like she’s in the bucket where this should all work out just fine.

The bad news is on the various scales of how aggressive her cancer is – she was three for three for bad on the good to bad scale.  The doctors all said Katie should be patting herself on the back for finding the tumor when she did.  6 months or a year from now Katie likely would have been facing very dire circumstances if the cancer had been left untreated.  Katie has more details on her blog here.

Katie’s looking at 4-6 months of the really crappy chemo that will knock her hair out and likely make her feel like crap for the entire time.  Unfortunately all the new age hyper targeted chemo’s don’t apply in her situation.  She gets the bazooka chemo treatment (ie. kill anything that moves good, bad or otherwise).  But better a shitty 6 months to a year for a disease free lifetime.

So we’re off on this journey and though freaked out beyond belief – we’re trying to life our lives.  As many before Katie have said – Katie might have cancer, but we’re going to not let cancer get Katie.

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How I Learned to Like Ballet (Being Married to a Professional Ballet Dancer) – A Primer on Ballet

(CC) Randy Stewart, blog.stewtopia.com

(CC) Randy Stewart, blog.stewtopia.com

Last night I got to give a presentation at Ignite Seattle 7 titled “How I Learned to Like Ballet (being married to a professional ballet dancer)” – here’s the abstract for the talk:

“Often times we see talks about how spouses deal with being married to geeks and startup jocks, now its time to turn the tables. This is a talk on what I’ve learned about ballet and how to appreciate it being married to a former professional ballerina. Hopefully you too will be able to tell the difference between a first and fifth position and a Plié vs. a Passé. Even a geek can learn to love classical dance.”

And here are the slides:

For those not famaliar Ignite is an event where speakers present on a variety of topics using a very proscriptive presentation format – 20 slides, 5 minutes with the slides auto-advancing every 15 seconds.

It was estimated that over 700 came out to event and I hope everyone enjoyed my talk and had a great time.  I look forward to speaking again (this was my second time).  Even as someone who has given 100′s of talks in my career, this is by far one of the toughest venues.  Part talent-show for grown ups and part performance art, it’s a lot of fun to try and impart wisdom, humor and information in just 5 minutes.

Thanks to Brady, et al. for organizing the event and til next time!

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Help Katie & I raise $1,250 to help save 200+ Children in Kenya from Malaria

My wife, Katie, and I are trying to raise $1,250 $1,000 $750 $500 in a week to help our parish priest, and native Kenyan, provide 250 200 150 100 families in rural Kenya with anti-malarial mosquito nets for their children.  We know times are tough economically, but even a small donation of just $5 – roughly  your daily triple, non-fat, caramel machiatto – can buy a mosquito net that will keep families safe from malaria carrying mosquitoes.

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We are hoping many of you choose to donate $5 for a net (and hopefully more), but please donate what you can, any amount puts us closer to giving a family a life saving tool.  It’s important to note that 100% of the money we raise will go directly to buying the nets.  No overhead, no wasted donations.  Just money to save the lives of poor children in rural, western Kenya from the malaria.

Donate now!  Just click on the widget and you can donate via paypal today.

Your $5 Can Make a Difference to the Children of Bar-Kowino and Stop Malaria (and do it Now!)


Why Are We Doing This?  A Little Background

Fr. Crispin dedicating the new Peace Wall

Katie and I belong to St. John’s Parish here in Seattle where a year ago Fr. Crispin Okoth, a village priest from Kenya, became our parish pastor.  Fr. Crispin  has been a wonderful addition to our lives. He is a joyful man, an even humbler priest and a selfless humanitarian.  The last is not surprising given that Fr. Crispin hails from the rural, poor village of Bar-Kowino in Western Kenya outside the town of Bondo.

Bar-Kowino has a little more then 4,000 residents, not a single paved road, and only a simple medical clinic in the nearby town of Bondo without a full time doctor.  According to Fr. Crispin, the average “house” is a hut where all the kids of the “house” sleep together on the floor on mats.

This is a poor community that can use all the help it can get and where a little help goes a long way.

The Kenyan Goes Home – to help his Mother and Village

Fr. Crispin’s mother is ill and so he tries to go home as much as he can which, given the cost and distance,  is only once or twice a year.  When he has the chance to go home, Fr. Crispin likes to not only help his mom, but also do what he can do help his village. Fr. Crispin is well aware that very rural areas are often over-looked by the Kenyan government and international charities due to the logistics of getting to remote locations.  So he takes it upon himself to cut through the red-tape to bring whatever assistance he can to his village.

One of the things that is near and dear to his heart is the fight against malaria.  Priests are often surrogate care-givers in rural, poor areas of the developing world.  And, as such, Fr. Crispin has done his fair share of acting as a medical proxy.  Unfortunately that has meant holding way too many children in his arms as they suffered and died from malaria.  All told, more then 50,000 (!) children die form malaria in Kenya every year.  For comparison, there is a global swine flu epidemic that has dominated news cycles and public attention yet has killed less then a 1,000 world wide.  How is it that we yet overlook the tragedy of malaria, horribly deadly but easily preventable?

When the subject of malaria came up in a recent homily, Katie & I were both struck by the horror of so many children needlessly dying.  One of the most effective ways to prevent malaria is to have children sleep under medically treated mosquito nets.  And even better they are cheap solution- only $5 each!  It truly only takes $5 to essentially block malaria from attacking and possibly killing a household of children because, as Fr. Crispin told us when we asked, all the children can sleep together under one large net on their sleeping mats.  Both of us had heard of large charitable efforts like the one run by the NBA to help provide malarial nets, why did that not have a greater impact?  The answer is two-fold.  First is simply the scope of the need for the nets, Africa is after all, an enormous, highly populous continent.  The second reason is logistics.  It is simply easier to distribute nets in more urban areas.  The further from a population center you are, the less likely your are to have a net.  Sadly, you are also far more likely to have less access to health care as well, not a good combination.

We decided that we had to help

After several dinner table discussions, Katie and I agreed that we would try to help Fr. Crispin help his community back home by providing him with money to buy nets for his village.  And now we need your help. Your donations will have an immediate impact.  Fr. Crispin leaves for Kenya on July 26th and will be distributing the nets to the neediest families as soon as he arrives.  We need the donations by the 22nd so Fr. Crispin can order the nets in Nairobi for pickup when he arrives.  Again, all the money donated will be used to purchase the nets.  So please help the children of Bar-kowino.

Remember, $500 = 100 families protected.  That’s a pretty darn good ROI.

Thanks for all your help and consideration,

Todd and Katie

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Twitter the Open Source Social Platform and Command Line

This is the story of how the Facebook dev platform is sooo 2007, while Twitter – as a platform and social command line – will be the story of 2009.  Twitter’s openness as an app platform could make it the default development platform for community apps.

Facebook: The King of 2007

The incredible popularity of facebook’s dev platform from it’s launch in May of 2007 – shown by both from the huge number of 3rd party app developers as the incredible amount of users – provides firm evidence there is a huge market for social applications.  Users want to engage with other users both friends and the like minded public and platforms and applications that offer that functionality will be very successful.

Despite a platform that was generating 25 billion page views a month with a user base of 25+ million a month, Facebook decided to pull back.  Facebook decided it didn’t want to be a personal billboard service where a user could express themselves with badges from any number of apps.  Facebook is now a controlled sandbox where only certain things are allowed.  Facebook wants to be a personal automated rolodex with built in messaging & annoucements (aka news feed).  There’s nothing wrong with facebook’s chosen direction (except for the fact they pulled the rug out from thousands of app developers but that’s a different story).  Even just as a super, automated personal CRM, facebook is is a hugely valuable business.

In the wake of Facebook’s changes, the opportunity for a truly open, flexible, non-walled garden social platform presents itself.  Myspace as the social expression platform makes sense except Myspace seems to have evolved into the Fan Club platform – again a valuable market but it is what it is. But what has happened is that given

Twitter: The King of 2009

If there is an open source social platform – it’s Twitter. There are a minimum set of rules other then the 140 character messaging limitation. There are no limits on who and how often you message folks who follow you.  All the apps built on Twitter are by default open – as all tweeted items are in the public Twitter domain.  Thus all commands, messages, actions, reactions cause Twitter to look and feel like a public command line.  Twitter is not about private back channel api’s.  For instance, Stocktwits might have popularized the $stock symbol short hand, but it doesn’t own it.  Any other app can take advantage of the $ short hand even co-opting Stocktwits audience.  Tipjoy is popularizing the command “p” for micropayments and so on.  And what’s great about the open command line model – Twitter isn’t dictating functions from inside the kremlin it’s letting its users and developers do it for them.

Twitter is now a powerful platform for social apps and the folks who figure out how to build popular apps and communities on top of it will do very well for themselves.  Facebook might have the social graph, Myspace the fan clubs, but Twitter will have the truly social apps.

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You’re making Kia’s with a Mercedes Cost Model – A Car & Startup Guy’s Take on the Big 3 Bailout

I want to preface this post by stating that I am a hard core car guy who’s owned cars from just about every auto company.  I love, love cars.  Innovation, execution and design are all things I long for in a car.  Also as a startup junkie I am biased as every day I am ultimately working to either unseat incumbents or make their lives very uncomfortable.

If you have been following my twitter feed, then you’re familiar with my distaste with the idea of a federal bailout for the auto companies.  Despite my conservative political views, I do accept the idea of the government as the banker of last resort if and when the financial markets come to a screeching halt.

Yes the financial markets are very weak and wounded, but they are still functioning.  The reason the big 3 have turned to the US government tin pail in hand is that not no rationale investor would lend those companies money.  Thus we, as taxpayers, should ask ourselves why should we invest in 3 companies that no private, profit seeking investor is willing will do so?  Economy.com esimates it could take 400 Billion in direct taxpayer financing to save those 3 sceloratic dinosaurs.  In large part because it’s good money after bad and thus you’re really just trying to build new co’s inside the rotten shells of old co’s.

The fundamental problem with the big 3 is not that can’t sell cars – they can and do sell millions world wide.  The problem is that the big 3 can’t sell their cars at a price point where they make a profit.  The market values their often misguided, mediocre offerings at a rate well below what the big 3 need to make a profit and survive.  The reality in terms of brand reputation and actual product performance is that big 3 are more like Kia and a lot less like toyota or bmw.  The problem is that when the big 3 sell at kia’s prices they lose money because they have bmw’s cost structure.

Now the uaw and big labor had a lot to do with it with 5000 pages of work rules and european style socialist job protections which required the big 3 to produce high volume vehicles instead of focusing on smaller, more profitable niches like bmw. But the big 3′s inability to create products people would pay a market premium (see prius) or dream of driving to show status (bmw, porsche) has left them where they are beggars at the table.

I understand the short term societal cost that putting thousands upon thousands of people out of work.  And I am ok with spending tax dollars helping folks transition to a new world order.  But the future would better served using those government funds to fun 100 startups reborn from the ashes of the big 3.  Unleash the best and brightest teams of designers, engineers, and yes factory workers come together and form new companies.  Yes offer government financing to make it happen.  Dictating to 3 large dinosaurs to build competitive, innovative cars that will sell for a profit when they have essentially shown no ability to do that for 40 or 50 years is maddening to me.

For our country and economy to survive and grow, we need old dinosaurs to die and spawn their replacements from their remains.  Creative destruction has been an amazing blessing.  Look at how the internet grew out of the breakup of ma bell.

It’s easy for our political leaders to look to the past, the hard thing is to look to the future.  Let’s hope (though I doubt it) it happens.

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Travel Hack: One way to get free wifi

Recently I was in London for Seedcamp and ad-tech on behalf of Lookery.  One of the challenges of traveling to Europe in this Crackberry/iPhone day and age are the INSANE data roaming charges that mobile co’s like ATT Wireless like to charge.  The standard rate is 2c per KB or $20/MB.  Egads!  For perspective, my mobile twitter home page (http://m.twitter.com/sawickipedia) is 7k so 14 cents everytime I wanted to check. Mobile Wall St. Journal home page – 10k or 20c.  Definitely cheaper to buy the dead tree version at those rates.  300 emails a day (Lookery’s a virtual company and I’m in marketing and biz dev) @ 1kb each = $6/ day.   The moral of the story is it adds up quickly.  Now ATT Wireless offers a bulk purchase plan – great $25 for 20 MB’s (a 60% discount off of rate but still not a lot of data if you’re a mobile data power user).  Great except it requires a 12 month contract (seriously in this day and age I can’t believe we as consumers put up with that customer service B.S.).

So as a frugal, penny-pinching startup guy, I decided that I was going to rely on free wifi as my only means of accessing my email and mobile web needs.  I’m not sure whether or not iPhone’s automagically connect to open WAP’s, but Blackberries don’t.  They require you to manually search available WAP’s and then select the one you want to connect to.  So my first night in London, I arrive at my friends house (another frugal startup tip – don’t stay in hotels in NY and London – stay with friends) and connect to his open WAP still using the default SSID.  So the next day, I’m wondering around London and I notice my phone buzzing.  It’s connected to an open WAP and then it happened again later that day in a different part of the city.  That got me thinking – I should enter all the most popular default SSID’s for WAPs which all just happen to typically be the name of the WAP manufacturer.  And so I did.  Let me tell you, I was astounded at all the free wifi I was able to grab having pre-registered those WAPs on my wifi-enabled Blackberry Curve.  And even back at home in Seattle, I am still finding lots of free wifi as a result.  So I figured I should share the tip.

Here are the SSID’s I’ve entered so far: Netgear, dlink, Linksys, Belkin54g, Buffalo.  And if you wanted to enter more a quick web search would find many more default SSIDs.

Happy Travels.

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One Former Physicist’s Thoughts on the Large Hadron Collider (or Will the World End?)

I have a college buddy from Duke – David Hardtke, who is retired physicist who worked at LBNL and CERN (the guys who built LHC) and now Chief Scientist at SurfCanyon a search startup, who sent us his thoughts on what’s going to happen with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) as its now online (though not yet attempting the things the world is worried about).  As a geek at heart – I am fascinated by stuff like this.

So when asked whether the LHC would create black holes that would destroy the world – here’s what Dave said:

Today the $10 billion dollar Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva
Switzerland took its first baby step towards operation.  The LHC is the
highest energy particle accelerator ever built.  I will now make
predictions about the outcome of these experiments — unlike other
predictions on this list I allegedly know what I am talking about on
this subject.

1)  The main goal of the LHC is to find the last piece of the so-called
standard model.  The standard model is a theory that encompasses all
known particles and their interactions.  There are two types of
particles: leptons (including electrons, neutrinos, and their cousins)
and fermions (quarks) that interact via gauge bosons (photons, gluons,
and the W and Z).  The missing piece is something called the Higgs which
is supposed to give all of these other particles their mass (without the
Higgs, they are all massless).

PREDICTION:  Higgs is found, probably around 2010-2011.  Peter Higgs
dies one month before discovery and is thus denied Nobel Prize.

2)  Most physicists think there is a whole zoo of fundamental particles
more massive than any we have observed.  The reason they speculate of
the existence of these particles is that the standard model is ugly –
it has a bunch of “free” parameters that are arbitrarily tuned to crazy
values (you can reconcile God and physics by positing that only a God
could fine tune such a mess).  The favorite new theory is super-symmetry
which speculates that particles we have observed have a corresponding
superpartner such that there is a super-lepton for each fermion and a
super-fermion for each lepton.

PREDICTION:  Supersymmetry (and all related theories including string
theory) are B.S. (I am in the minority of physicists on this point, but
my paycheck no longer requires that I believe it).

3)  Some predict that LHC will create mini-black holes that may eat up
the earth.  This is definitely not going to happen since it requires
string theory to be true and string theory is BS (see previous
prediction).

PREDICTION: Earth survives

4)  96% of of the gravitational mass of the universe is unaccounted for.
There is something called dark matter that accounts for about 20%.  Many
predict that the LHC will find the Dark Matter.  This requires
super-symmetry or something similar to be true.

PREDICTION:  No dark matter found at LHC.

5)  The LHC is supposed to be a discovery machine that opens up a whole
new zoo of particles.  The next accelerator (the International Linear
Collider) will cost $40 billion and is designed to clean up the mess.

PREDICTION:  LHC is last large atom smasher ever built.

REQUIRED BEER COMMENT:  If you’re ever in Geneva, the CERN cafeteria
serves the cheapest beer in all of Switzerland.

UPDATE: Slight edits to Dave’s background

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The Fallacy & Conundrum of User Influenced Ad Models

As the online display ad business continues to focus more and more on the idea of user targeting (the idea of targeting the user instead of targeting the site or the context of the page), there is a growing interest and some potential concern around how we’re going to target users.  With some of the more extreme ad models now scaring the bejeebus out of users (see Phorm and Nebuads) and growing concerns about the hegemony of companies like Google and the data it’s collecting about users (see the lack of privacy built into Google’s new browser), some companies are going creating ad networks and systems based on the ideas of users themselves giving explicit feedback about ads they like and don’t like.  Let’s just say I think that any ad model that relies on users giving feedback is a disaster and doomed from the start.

Filed Under – Doomed to Epic Fail

On paper, the idea of allowing users to give direct affirmative consent and feedback about ads they like, things they want, their interests sounds very democratic and utopian.  Power to the People! and all that.  The problem is that any model that relies on users doing anything other then what they really want to do flies in the face of what people actually do online.   Despite the web being about interaction and participation, almost 99% of what people do online is read, not participate.  At any UGC website – only a small portion of the audience actually ever uploads anything.  At YouTube for instance, I’ve heard reports that despite the 100 million users it sees everymonth less then 600,000 users ever upload and share anything publicly.  600,000 might sound like a lot but it’s less then 1% of their user base.  At FoggyGames.com, the casual games website I own, the percent of users who’ve ever rated a game – which only requires a nano second of effort to click on the classic rating star – is less then 1% as well.  Again and again you see participation rates in that range.  So now these new ad models expect the vast majority of users to actually rate each and every ad – even when they have shown again and again they won’t even participate in sites and actions where they actually want to participate – I don’t think so.

Sampling Don’t Work

OK then what about the idea that you don’t need every user to participate that just getting that sample to tell you about what ads they like or don’t like.  Unfortunately the idea of a sample defeats the whole principle of user targeting.  The basis of user targeting is targeting a specific’s user definite demographics, intents or interests.  And again and again – we’ve seen that sampling doesn’t work since it is the way that most site level targeting works today.  Sites sell ads based on samples of their user base – their user base is 60/40 Female/Male and thus they sell a disportionate number of ads targeting females (it’s largely what Glam Media does across multiple websites – not very sophisticated technically speaking).  Thus lots and lots of men get poorly targeted ads just because they go certains websites in this example.  The whole idea of user targeting is to solve that problem – show ads to men with ads for men in that scenario instead of generic ads based on a sample.  So without finite, user level data no user targeting scheme can work.  So in a web where you’ll likely get more then 1% of users to participate, models that requires something much greater then 10% and more like 25% of users to participate seems like a folly even at the start.

Conundrums and Contradictions

The conundrum and contradiction with user targeting is that users say they don’t like being tracked.  Yet what they won’t do is explicitly tell the advertiser or advertising provider what they want.  And yet, again and again users say they want ads targeting to them individually as way to increase the quality and relevancy of ads.  I’ve done enough research to know users like relevant ads – they actually stop them ads and start calling them information (ads are pejorative term meaning noisy, irrelevant, uninteresing, annoying marketing messages).  Tying a user’s information and interests from where users express them willingly (communities, social networks, etc.) to where they get exposed to ads is a way to solve that.  Doing so in a conscientious and respectful manner is critical for all players in the market (trust me I speak from experience – one bad actor can sink a market) if we want to solve the user targeting and participation problem.  And the folly is we’ll be able to avoid that get by getting the all the users online to vote on each and every ad – I’ll hopefully save everyone some time and investors money ‘cuz it ain’t going to work.

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