Politics, Technology, WeTheCitizens

Giuliani Campaign Post-Mortem

Some time tonight, the social action network we at WeTheCitizens built for Rudy Giuliani will be replaced with a splash page thanking his supporters and endorsing John McCain.  This news should surprise nobody at this time, but this moment in the life of our company merits some reflection.  It marks not the end, but the beginning of a new era where our new customers, including one entering beta on Monday, can benefit from the maturation of our Wildfire platform during the Giuliani engagement.

We signed with the Giuliani campaign at a time when he topped the polls at 36+%.  It was a challenge we had been preparing for since November 2006 – after finishing our engagement with Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, we began building out features and scaling the platform to meet the needs of a national customer, a challenge that had many twists and turns, but ultimately resulted in us building out a rocking production cluster with a bunch of architecture enhancements to handle 170 million voters and orders of magnitude more supporters.

Even if they took a few hits in the media early-on for their lack of a social presence,  the Giuliani eCampaign staff deserves a great deal of credit for their understanding and usage of our platform as a social tool to advance their campaign.  Bill Skelly, Katie Harbath, Ted Jarrett, and many other staffers who I didn’t interact with directly deserve high praise, and I hope they are not out of work for long.  They pushed us to grow the platform, but in ways that forced us to be creative, to build a better product.  They were one of the best customers I have had the privilege of serving.  They made the most of each feature we delivered to them, and kept feeding the community with new content, new challenges, and new actions to help their candidate win.  They used our Wildfire product to continue growing their online supporter base, even as his offline support dwindled.  They understand the future of social advocacy.

But how to explain the precipitous decline in Rudy’s poll numbers?  Many blame the strategy of bypassing the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, in favor of focusing on Florida, where Rudy was most likely to win, and using that win to build momentum into Super Tuesday.  Let me first say that the primary process as it stands is senseless to me.  The inexplicable favored position of NH and IA builds “momentum” from states that are not representative of the nation as a whole.  The winner-takes-all-delegates approach in many primaries and general election disproportionately rewards a candidate who can get a plurality of votes.  That said, I’m doubtful that the strategy was the real issue.  I think that the idea of Rudy is more interesting than the reality of Rudy.  Read his book, read a quote, hear stories about Rudy, and you believe he is a great leader – I still do.  But somehow, every time I heard him speak, my confidence faltered, I thought less of his candidacy.  My theory on his decline is that 6 months out of the election, voters liked the idea of voting for Mayor Giuliani, but as the primaries neared and voters really began considering their choice, close examination of Rudy left them feeling like they needed to find another option.

With Giuliani out of the race, I can take a brief moment to declare my support for Congressman Ron Paul.  Being politically opinionated in a company with political customers can be a challenging position.  I can confidently say that we all gave our best professional effort to Mayor Giuliani regardless of our personal political affiliations.  I can dig into presidential politics a bit more soon.


Facebook Launches Internet-as-Platform Play

Facebook has announced an API that will allow Facebooks apps to be used on any site. Although I thought their API was interesting, and it has certainly garnered a lot of attention, this extension is what really makes that platform interesting.

I believe that the time is very near where we will see web companies that do not have a significant presence on their main web site. Possibly even with no web site, or just a few pages of corporate boilerplate and contact information. Fred Wilson notes that his recent investment, social-gaming provider Zynga, had no web site at the time of the investment, but they are quickly building out a significant web presence. Applications can live as widgets across the web, with no need to become a destination themselves.

This move by Facebook immediately lets Zynga propagate all of their Facebook apps onto the whole web, with very little effort, while still benefiting from Facebook’s social graph.

The coming herculean battle will be how Facebook chooses to handle ownership of their social graph. They’ve moved from a very closed model to granting API access, and extended the use of that graph beyond the site, but anyone building a business on Facebook is at their mercy for the continued use of the graph. So far, the backlash has been minimal – they’ve continued adding features to give developers deeper access and broader reach, and no real alternative is available.

Thus far, it seems that they want to keep a monopoly on the graph itself – many believe this is their most valuable asset, but monopolies often appear to be sizable assets. Another emerging trend seems to be that the life cycle of monopolies is decreasing. Innovation means that the painful limits imposed by a monopoly are felt sooner, and solutions rise to relieve that pain more quickly. If a more open, significantly-sized social graph can be developed, I don’t see the value of Facebook in the equation.

Despite their many missteps over time, particularly Beacon and Zuckerbook’s painfully bland 60 minutes interview, this move makes it clear that Facebook is not asleep at the wheel. They are painting an example of the future of the internet, and I imagine they will make several more steps in this direction. The biggest obstacle to their own innovation will be how closely they cling to owning their social graph – coaxing people to enhance your monopoly can be a challenging task.


MacBook Air Hype, and other MacWorld Thoughts

Yesterday, I promised to chime in with a non-fanboy perspective on the events of today’s MacWorld keynote.  This annual Steve Jobs speech is typically laced with new Apple product announcements, and has really become quite the cultural event – either you watch it, read about it, or stand in exile from 50% of all geek conversations for the next month.

First of all, shame on Apple for yet again refusing to deliver or allow live online streaming of the event. They’re wasting a real opportunity to take a major event and turn it into a complete frenzy.  Instead, all we got was Twitter crashing and the chance to watch it later (did they edit out any of the technical difficulties they apparently had?).

The main event of the day was the MacBook Air.  Stammy has a solid review that echoes most of my thoughts on the product itself – like most Apple products, I wouldn’t spend my own money on it, but wouldn’t say no if given one.  And I’m fairly sure I couldn’t use it as a primary laptop – 2 GB of RAM isn’t enough for writing Java and using Firefox.  The naming also sucks.  Adobe already has a product called AIR, get over it and find a new name.

That said, the most compelling thing about the Air is that Apple built a VERY interesting, capable, miniaturized PC with what seems to be relatively minimal R&D.  They asked Intel to shrink the chip.  No effort on their part.  The standard 80 GB HD is presumably cripped from the iPod.  They presumably built-in or hardwired the RAM, video card, 802.11n, and any other components that are normally options – this takes some work, but the process to do this is fairly well understood.  Everything built right into the motherboard can be pretty thin, not very customizable.

It’s a niche product.  I think Apple knows that.  But it’s also a proof of concept – they’ve applied multi-touch to the “desktop”, made large strides in miniaturizing capable PCs, and found a way for people to pay for this stepping stone.  It’s not that impressive as the focus of a keynote, but I think future products based on this research and design will be more interesting (but still overpriced).

On to the rest:

Time capsule – a $500 Airport Extreme with a 1 TB hard drive is overpriced and combines 2 pieces of hardware that shouldn’t go together.  Nobody buy fanboys will ever understand what this is supposed to do for them.

iPhone – 5 new apps free for iPhone owners, $20 for existing iPod touch owners.  The Apple screw-the-early-adopter schtick is stale.  It makes me glad I don’t have to put up with it.   I expected at least a minor update to the iPhone hardware, maybe at least more storage or faster data capabilities.  This seems like it would be easy, but maybe they’re saving their goodies for a date when they can sell to all carriers.

The big WTF of the day for me was the Apple TV 2.0 and rentable video download thing.  I am a fan of the  subscription model for media – I have Netflix for movies and Yahoo Unlimited for music.  Both allow me to try out a song, a band, an album, or a film without committing to a purchase ahead of time.  I can compulsively torture co-workers with Warrant without the embarrassment of owning the song.  I do not understand paying $5 per movie for HD that can only be played on AppleTV, or $3 or $4 for iPod watchable movies, especially when I can easily crank through 10 movies a month for $18 on Netflix, with a broader selection, and without trying very hard, plus UNLIMITED online viewing (with an admittedly weaker selection).  Unless you compulsively decide you want to watch a movie immediately on a regular basis, I don’t see how this trumps Netflix.

Apple TV COULD be a compelling product, and may actually be the Apple product I would be most likely to buy for myself.  But I would want to be able to watch online Netflix movies, download and play torrented files, and listen to Yahoo Unlimited music, and pipe it through my Slingbox as well.  I don’t see Apple embracing much of this package unless they can either control it or can’t prevent it.


MacWorld Keynote Response…

In the morning, I’ll be seeing and responding to the MacWorld keynote.

The first computers I ever used were Apples – Apple II, IIc, IIg, and IIgs in my school’s computer lab. The first computer I used at home was a Mac SE/30 with a 4 MB(!) hard drive, and later, an 8 MB external hard drive which was larger than a Mac Mini. I think we were on Mac OS6 around that time, and amusingly enough, my biggest beef with the OS at that time was that it was very hard to program (Hypercard anyone?) , and it was nearly impossible to resolve ANY error (what did random positive and negative integers accompanied by a bomb icon mean?).

That said, I have been cynical of Apple products ever since. After OS 6/7 (and maybe 8/9 for that matter), DOS and Windows provided the amazing ability to delve into the guts of the OS and tweak the setting as needed (though getting rid of himem and emm386 couldn’t come soon enough).

Since then, Apple has made great headway in charging premium prices relative to comparably featured hardware. Many people credit a superior interface and design for making this worth their while. I’m not picky about either, provided the hardware at least works.

I currently own NO Apple products. I use a Treo smart phone running Windows Mobile. My MP3 player is an RCA Lyra – the main storage is an SD card that I can upgrade as technology advances, vs. a fixed capacity iPod nano or whatever.

I would take an iPhone, iPod, or MacBook if someone else were paying for it, but I’m likely to buy cheaper alternatives with my own money. Apparently the skeptical nature of many developers I know falls apart when Steve Jobs is involved.

With all of this in mind, I’ll be blogging a response to the MacWorld keynote. I’m open to liking whatever they announce, but even more inclined to give a skeptical counterpoint to all of the geeks who suspend their rationality when they hear the voice of Steve Jobs. I expect them to push mostly incremental advances, market them as “revolutionary”, and get a ton of buzz (for instance – if they pump out a scrawny, disc-drive-free, laptop, why is this genius rather than stupidity – DVD drives are useful and cheap).


WGA to Jay Leno – ad lib only, please

Often times, union agreements baffle me, but the ongoing news on the writers’ strike nearly takes the cake.  While David Letterman’s production company has reached an interim agreement to bring writers back to his show, Jay Leno’s production is run by NBC, which has no such agreement in place.

Apparently, Leno is a member of the WGA in addition to whatever union he may be a part of as an on-screen performer.  Apparently in preparing to film his show without the usual writers, he had the audacity to write material for himself rather than just making things up as he goes along, and the WGA is up in arms over this.  If he weren’t a WGA member, would he be shunned as a scab?  Should he just go out there like an idiot rather than writing jokes for himself?  And what constitutes “writing”?  Does it have to be on paper or print?  What if he writes on his hand?  What if he makes something funny up in his head, memorizes and delivers it without ever “writing” it?

The WGA seems to be running in fear from a very simple fact – they are not needed – their members are in a market of skilled workers capable of being paid in a meritocracy.  Sure, there are members who would be paid less under a market-driven system, but this sorts itself out.  With the escalating costs of actors and special effects, talented writers are a small piece of the overall cost and thus good writers should be relatively well paid.  Bad writers (such as those involved in any plot line on “24” that involved Kim Bauer, especially also involving a mountain lion) shouldn’t be propped up by a contract.  They should find new careers.

I  truly hope that the rampant predictions of this strike and the impending actors’ strike leading to new models for TV-like entertainment production, but I am skeptical.  Watching TV is a passive activity, and most of America seems to watch whatever garbage is shoveled their way.  Many people don’t want to find what entertainment may be appealing to them – they are happy to be told what else to watch while snoozing through the glorified coin toss known as “Deal or No Deal”.



I’m just now jumping on the Twitter train – I finally jumped on board to follow what Sanjay’s tweeting surrounding his new Bilgistic blog, and ended up following some other folks I know who are already on Twitter.

Like many new technologies, I didn’t jump on board when it first arrived.  Sometimes this is great – I skipped the ghetto of MySpace and got into Facebook when a critical mass of my network was there.  I’m sure I missed some of the fun and hype of the early stages of the service, but I’ll live.

TinyTwitter looks like a slick way to manage interaction with Twitter without enduring an endless stream of text messages, but their download page is jacked up at the moment.

Here’s my Twitter profile, so follow me there if you like, and I’ll be interested to add you as well.


Fearless Presidential Predictions

With the Iowa Caucuses concluding tonight, Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Barack Obama securing their respective parties’ convention votes for the presidency, it seems to be as good a time as any to give my own prognostication on how all of this is going to shake out.

On the Republican side, I see it coming down to the wire between Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani.  Huckabee is the candidate the religious right has been looking for.  He’s the candidate some people hoped they were getting in Fred Thompson, but Fred is reputedly either lazy or health-hampered.  Most of Fred’s supporters will defect to Huckabee after Super Tuesday, if not sooner.  Romney was the early frontrunner to carry the banner of social conservatives in this race, and it is only a matter of awareness that keeps many of them from defecting to Huckabee.  If being Catholic was a large challenge for JFK, being Mormon is a gargantuan challenge for Mitt.  Once the social conservatives leave his camp, Mitt ceases to be viable numbers-wise, and much of his New England and business-minded support would probably fall to Rudy.  John McCain polled acceptably in Iowa, but he is damaged goods.  It’s very hard to imagine a scenario where he regains the broad support he had 8 years ago, and easier to imagine that he drops out before February 5th with dwindling numbers in the next few states.  Giuliani is the politically spiritual successor to George W. Bush, and as much as that may alienate some, it appeals to a large portion of the GOP base and his perceived electability in a general election makes him a favorite for Republicans most concerned with retaining the presidency.  Although I personally appreciate the ideas and person of Ron Paul, the GOP seems more concerned with legislating morality at the national level than the constitutionally federalist approach to fiscal and social policy which Paul espouses.

On the Democrat side, the quick answer is not-Edwards.  I continue to find Hillary Clinton’s wide support to be fairly inexplicable in that I have yet to meet a staunch Hillary supporter, much less one that can provide a logical explanation of why she is appealing as a prospective President.  I suspect her key supporters are the establishment-minded members of the Democratic Party and people who believe strongly that we need to elect a female president.  Obama is the rock-star candidate of the party, and throws around big yet vague ideas and speaks about hope.  Most non-political-establishment people I encounter who are left-leaning seem to favor Obama.  If ever there was a time where we could elect a President based on style rather than substance, it is now, and this has the potential to benefit Obama greatly.  Obama has the better shot at becoming President.  Hillary has horrendously high negative numbers in a general election – the GOP would have a field day getting the vote out to vote against her.  If Obama is willing to bring on some serious advisors to turn his audacity of hope/hype into detailed policy that he can articulately describe, the presidency is his for the taking.  Without this, he risks annihilation in the general election because his current policy initiatives are high on hyperbole and low on detail.

Guess at the final outcome?  Giuliani over Clinton in the general.  Huckabee over Obama is also easily imaginable.