Monday, December 21, 2015

Yahoo relies on annoying ads and specialized Websites

Will Internet news go the way of newspapers?

December 17 was the anniversary of President Obama's call for change in our Cuba policy. That milestone sparked a lot of coverage in the mainstream press, which I discussed in a post on my blog on the Cuban Internet.

The most extensive Cuba coverage I saw was a week-long series of posts on Yahoo -- U. S. and Cuba, One Year Later. The series has many well written posts on various aspects of Cuban culture and the political situation. Most are human interest stories on tourism, fashion, baseball, etc., but several were Internet-related.

The posts are not detailed or technical, but they are well written for a general audience -- like newspaper readers. (Remember newspapers)?

That is the good news.

The bad news is that the posts are overrun by annoying ads and auto-play videos. This is illustrated by the series "home page," shown below.

The series table of contents -- can you spot the ads?

Most of the elements in this array of phone-sized "cards" consist of an image from and link to a story on Cuba, but, if you look carefully, you will see that several of them link to sneaky ads. It's like Where's Waldo -- can you spot the ads?

In an earlier post, I suggested that advertising-based, algorithm-driven Internet news might be increasingly redundant and concentrated in high-volume sites. The advertising revenue is used to pay talented writers, photographers and videographers who are capable of producing timely news coverage of a story like this one.

But, people are fed up with those ads and increasingly deploying ad blockers.

Reasons people turn to ad blockers

People are circulating manifestos and Google and Facebook are proposing standards to improve the advertising and speed of the Web, but will those moves cut Yahoo's revenue?

Furthermore, mainstream media like Yahoo rely to some extent on specialized, "long tail" sources, like my Cuban Internet blog. Yahoo interviewed me (and many others) and took material from some of my posts in preparing their coverage. But, will specialized blogs and sites continue to exist? Losing focused sources would increase the cost of mainstream media stories.

I really liked Yahoo's coverage of Cuba one year later, but I wonder if they will be around for Cuba five years later.

Update 12/27/2015

ASUS will include the AdBlock Plus ad blocker in their proprietary browser. Apple is now allowing ad blockers on iOS devices. Will Firefox be next? Microsoft Edge?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Google Fiber considering Los Angeles and Chicago

Will Google free me from the evil clutches of the dreaded Time Warner Cable?

Google's first foray into municipal networking was connecting 12 square miles of Mountain View California in 2007. In 2010 they issued a call for proposals from cities wishing to participate in an "experiment" called Google Fiber, which would offer symmetric, 1 Gbps connectivity to customers. In 2012, Kansas City was selected as the first Google Fiber city.

But, was it an experiment? An attempt to goad ISPs to upgrade their networks? The start of a new Google business? In 2013, Milo Medin, who was heading the Google Fiber project, said that they intended to make money from Google Fiber and that it was a "great business to be in."

Today, Google Fiber is operating in three cities and they are committed to installing it in six others. Eleven cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago, have been invited to apply.

Google is considering big cities Los Angeles and Chicago.

Los Angeles and Chicago were just added to the list and it is significant that they are the first very large cities -- both in population and area -- on the list.

Since the initial installation in Kansas City, Google has codified the city-selection process in an informative checklist document. Google knows they are offering a service that will benefit the city in many ways, so the checklist is essentially the guide to an application form in which the city has to offer access to poles and tunnels, 2,000 square-foot parcels for equipment "huts," fast track permitting, etc.

I expect that Google will also have their eye on the Los Angeles tech startup community and entertainment industries. While Google Fiber does not seem to be a mere "experiment," they will doubtless enable and discover new applications that captialize upon gigabit connectivity (and increase Google ad revenue).

Rollout order within a selected city is governed by the willingness of residents of a neighborhood to sign up for the service. High demand areas get high priority. But, this can exacerbate the digital divide within the city -- serving wealthy areas before poor areas. Google encountered this problem in Kansas City. As shown below, wealthy neighborhoods (green) committed before the poorer areas, so Google initiated programs to reach out to them.

Wealthy KC neighborhoods committed early.

Based on that experience, they now consider inclusion plans in the application process and hire city-impact managers for fiber cities. They also offer very low-cost copper connections for those who cannot afford fiber.

I am not familiar with the situation in Chicago, but Los Angeles has been pursuing fiber connectivity for some time. The city issued a request for proposals for city-wide fiber two years ago, and last year CityLinkLA was formed with the goal of providing "basic access to all for free or at a very low cost and gigabit (1 Gbps) or higher speed access at competitive rates." The effort has been led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Bob Blumenfield and they are working with both Google and AT&T toward that goal.

I assume that AT&T will upgrade their current infrastructure to DOCSIS 3.1 in order to achieve faster speeds over copper running from fiber nodes to individual premises, but they only serve a portion of Los Angeles. Other areas may have to wait for Google. It seems that Verizon gave up on their fiber offering, FIOS, some time ago.

Now for the belated full-disclosure. I live in Los Angeles, and am hoping that competition between Google or AT&T or someone will one day free me from the evil clutches of my current monopoly broadband service provider, the dreaded Time Warner Cable.

Friday, December 04, 2015

The Los Angeles startup scene – looking back

The recent LA Startup Week reminded me of the early days of personal computing and of the meetup that may have initiated the LA startup community.

When personal computers were getting off the ground in the 1970s, hobbyists and budding entrepreneurs met at places like the Homebrew Computer Club in Palo Alto or the Southern California Computer Society in Los Angeles to talk about what they were doing and to help each other out. There was idealistic, shared enthusiasm – we knew PCs were totally cool and were a "big deal."

The line between competition and cooperation among entrepreneurs was fuzzy. So was the line between entrepreneurs and hobbyists. Competitors met for beers after meetings to talk about the boards they were designing and I recall Steve Wozniac offering copies of the schematic and parts list for his wire-wrapped computer at the Homebrew club while Steve Jobs was behind a card table offering to sell them assembled.

The early Internet days felt the same – the Net was clearly revolutionary and it was born in an academic community with a culture that valued sharing and collaboration. The National Science Foundation backbone network (NSFNET) was established "to support open research and education in and among US research and instructional institutions" – for-profit traffic was not acceptable. (NSF also established an International Connections Program, which subsdised NSFNET links from academic and research networks in other nations).

The LA startup scene

In April, 2012, I attended the first meet-up of Tech Entrepreneurs of Venice, CA. It felt like the early PC days. There were no business suits or fancy offices. As you see below, we met in a warehouse (thanks to MovieClips), and stood around drinking beer and talking. But, the attendees were not hobbyists and the focus was on business opportunities, not research and education.

Venice is a small part of Los Angeles, and might have seemed an unlikely place for the birth of the next "Silicon X," but it has a history of avant garde community and culture.

Venice was the heart of the LA beatnik community in the 1950s and the counter culture of the 1960s. The Peace and Freedom party was founded in Venice and it was the center of the LA art scene. The design studio of Charles and Ray Eames was also in Venice. The Eames were design rock stars who IBM turned to for their World Fair pavilion and many IT and education exhibits. They even designed the look of IBM mainframes -- the Eames put the blue in "Big Blue."

I don't know if that meetup marked the founding of "Silicon Beach" (a name also claimed by Miami), but it felt like it.

Homebrew Computer Club meeting in Palo Alto

SCCS Interface, published by the
Southern California Computer Club

First Venice tech entrepreneurs meetup

This building housed the Eames studio

Inside the Eames studio

Los Angeles startup week

I recently attended several events during LA Startup Week and, even though I live in Los Angeles, I was surprised at the scope of the LA tech community. RepresentLA maintains a multi-layer, interactive map showing that greater Los Angeles is (currently) home to 1,616 self-defined Internet startups along with accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces, investors, consultants and hacker spaces that support them.

Over 1,000 startups and organizations that support them

The startup week featured dozens of sessions with how-to talks, demos, pitches by organizations that support startups, etc. Kevin Winston of Digital LA kicked the week off with an overview presentation on the startups, the organizations that support them with capital and services and companies like his that support the community. He said only New York City and Silicon Valley have more startup activity than LA and he made the point by listing examples of successful companies, big buyout deals and the numbers of startups and supporting organizations.

Kevin Winston presenting an overview of the startup ecosystem.

Winston’s company, Digital LA, organizes events and tracks the Los Angeles startup scene – kind of a digital chamber of commerce.

Represent LA lists 30 accelerators, 44 incubators and 52 co-working spaces. The difference between accelerators and incubators can blur, but both are intended to help startups get off the ground. Accelerators provide space, mentoring and capital to startups in return for equity in the company. They typically admit a cohort of companies for a limited time – perhaps ten companies for four months -- then admit a new cohort.

Incubators are similar to accelerators, but companies may come in at an earlier stage – accelerators often want a company that has a product and is generating revenue – and they are more flexible on the time the company stays in the incubator.

Note that some of these are focused on a specific industry – for example the LA Dodgers' accelerator focuses on sports related applications.

The services provided by co-working spaces also overlap with those provided by accelerators and incubators. In a co-working space, you pay rent for the facilities you need and hopefully meet people with common interests and complementary skills.

Some of the startup week events were held at the Cross Campus co-working space, shown below. Cross Campus will rent startups everything from a virtual office – just a mailing address and the right to schedule meetings or demos – to a suite of ten or more offices. A full-time dedicated desk rents for $500 per month.

The Cross Campus co-working space

The open space and list of amenities conveys the startup culture and values – here are some of the amenities: 7-times filtered Flowater, free craft beer, standing desks, only low VOC cleaning products used, weekly on-site massage therapist and, of-course fast Internet connectivity. (I'm a misfit – had to Google "low VOC cleaning products").

My guess is that the most valuable thing one gets out of participation in a co-working space, accelerator or incubator is meeting people with complementary interests, values and skills.

Los Angeles also has willing investors. The Represent LA site lists 72 angel and venture capital investors and Winston gave examples of a number of high-valuation investments during the last year.

There are also 17 hacker spaces open to hardware startups and 287 consultants – offering technical and business assistants. (Many of the latter also offer their services as accelerator and incubator mentors).

If you would like to keep up with the happenings in Los Angeles, subscribe to the newsletters and event listings at Digital LA and the organizations that hosted the week's events: Cross Campus, General Assembly and Expert Dojo.

I was surprised by number of startups and organizations that support and finance them in Los Angeles. The emphasis was on making money from startups – more MBA than hacker. The business emphasis reminded me of athletes who dream of playing professionally in the big leagues – I wonder how many of the startups will be around in a year.

The week also reminded me of the early PC days in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley and of a meet-up in Venice, CA that may have marked the beginning of the LA tech community, so I wrote a companion post on those times.

Update 12/11/2015

Mayor Eric Garcetti launched an initiative aimed at upgrading the Los Angeles Internet infrastructure soon after his election and it may pay off. AT&T has announced vague plans for fiber rollout and, more interesting, Google is considering Los Angeles for their 1 Gbps Google Fiber.

Google Fiber is an important asset, so Google can negotiate for concessions, but the city has some negotiating power too. One of Google's goals is to spur the development of unique applications that require high-speed connectivity, which the Los Angeles tech startup community and entertainment industries may very well invent. For more on Google Fiber and their consideration of Los Angeles, see this post.