Results tagged “dickcostolo”

Know Your Shit: Ten Years of Twitter Ads

April 21, 2010

Last week, Twitter announced its new advertising system, called promoted tweets. I was at Twitter's Chirp conference as a speaker, so I got an up-close look at the reaction to the big news, along with the (frankly, more interesting to me) announcements for developers and media.

But from the New York Times to CNBC to the dozens of other media channels that covered the story, there was no mention of the essential fact that Twitter's senior executives have all made similar advertising and monetization systems in the past.

Why does it matter? Because looking at the decisions Ev, Dick, Biz and other senior Twitter execs have made in the past could provide valuable insights to anyone trying to understand the roadmap of how the company got to this point, and what they're going to do next. And because innovation happens in the tech business not because of who you know or how much money you have (though those things help, of course) but because, fundamentally, you know your shit. The tech trade press wants to focus on personalities and funding, but for the developers I met at Chirp, or who are making their way to Facebook's F8 conference today, success comes from recognizing industry patterns.

So, some examples:

  • PyRads, launched in November 2001, was a self-service text ad system built by Pyra CEO Ev Williams, now Twitter's CEO, to provide an advertising system for users of Pyra's signature application, Blogger. (Trivia: PyRads was named by Jason Shellen, now CEO of Brizzly.) PyRads actually launched between Google's rollout of AdWords and its later introduction of AdSense, alongside similar efforts like Matt Haughey's TextAds and Phil Kaplan's HttpAds.
  • SpyOnIt, launched in 1999, was led by its CEO Dick Costolo, now COO of Twitter, as a realtime notification system for changes on websites. In addition to sending instant messages when a site had updated, the SpyOnIt team stayed at 724 solutions after it acquired their company, with one area of focus being the delivery of realtime notifications through partnerships with mobile service providers. Dick and his SpyOnIt cofounders would later go on to create Feedburner. You know, that thing that does realtime delivery of feeds with ads in them?
  • A bonus one: Xanga, launched in 1999, was one of the earliest large-scale blogging services, and its initial marketing efforts were led by Biz Stone, now Creative Director of Twitter. While Biz was at Xanga, they launched one of the first pages to aggregate media consumption in a blogging community, creating an Amazon shopping portal of the most popular books, music and movies amongst their users.

There are dozens more examples, but if you are going to compete or succeed in the Twitter ecosystem, shouldn't you know exactly what choices these men made when in nearly identical circumstances a decade ago? Because I'm friends with these guys, I can just ask them. But none of the developers I've talked to at events like Chirp seem to know this legacy, and they don't have the access and privilege that I do to ask questions directly. That's not really a criticism — a lot of them are young or inexperienced or simply arrogant and don't think history matters, so they are disinclined to listen to an old-timer like me rant about ancient times when they were in junior high school.

And while the brashness of youth can be a powerful driver of innovation, a blind devotion to the narratives as presented by today's tech press is incomplete at best. Without the whole story, today's startups are going to be sitting around surprised when industry cycles repeat themselves. It doesn't have to be that way. All you have to do is Know Your Shit.

Don't worry, I'm not 100% Grumpy Old Man yet; Here's video of me improvising a PowerPoint presentation to slides I'd never seen at the close of the first day of the Chirp conference. Caution: The jokes are nerdy.

Update: The video works now.

Blogs of the Year: Ask the Wizard and Fortuitous

December 14, 2007

Today's Blog of the Year Picks: Ask the Wizard and Fortuitous.


Between these two blogs, there have barely been twenty posts this year. Yet either one alone could be the best small-business (or small tech business) site of the year. Dick Costolo, co-founder and CEO of FeedBurner (now part of Google) writes Ask the Wizard, and Matt Haughey, proprietor of MetaFilter, is behind Fortuitous. Both these guys are a little too busy running their businesses to post more often than they do, but I'll take what I can get. And both are creative, funny, honest writers whose openness and candor are inspiring.

Ask the Wizard is about the financial and organizational building blocks for creating and launching a company that is venture-backed and designed for growth. Dick's done what a lot of tech entrepreneurs consider the holy grail, starting up a little tech firm, getting some first-rate funding, and then flipping it to Google. He and his team even did it in Chicago, of all places. And it's not the first-time this team's built a successful company. (Shout out to Spyonit!) So there's a level of credibility and experience here that goes way beyond the endless sea of would-be tech business pundits who are mostly just talking out their asses.

And from the side of the independent entrepreneur who worked his ass off for years and self-funded a business into being a nice little stable company with a great set of ethics, nobody's got better credentials than Matt Haughey. MetaFilter has grown from one of the earliest and most influential group blogs into a whole network of related sites, including Ask MetaFilter, which I raved about last year for beating Google and for being one of the best sites on the web. Appropriately, Matt's not talking about venture capitalists and boards of directors -- he's talking about the nuts and bolts of starting up a company and running it every day. And this stuff can be downright nerve-wracking, since there isn't exactly a school you can go to for this kind of stuff. If you have a little company, tasks like talking to the press and hiring an accountant are the kind of things that can keep you up for a lot of long, sleepless nights. So Matt walks through his own process of how he figured those things out, accompanied by a remarkable honesty about the intimidating situations and neophyte's mistakes he encountered along the way.

Best of all, both of these guys are great storytellers. You don't have to be an entrepreneur or a geek to get into the narrative of what they're saying; It's just a really modern retelling of a story as old as the American dream.

Pick of the Posts:

If you like this, try: Worst name ever for an amazingly good blog. Marc Andreessen should have been blogging, oh, about ten years ago. But I guess he was busy. He's made up for lost time with an astoundingly frequent set of posts that are up-to-the-minute in their topicality but informed by the fact that no matter what part of the geek business world you're in, he's done it bigger, louder, and earlier. I usually try to play it cool with the name-dropping and the fanboyism, and I'm very fortunate that I get to meet and work with a lot of my inspirations, but I'm not ashamed at all to admit that I was totally geeked out to see one of my posts referred to by Marc as "the smartest thing anyone has said today", even if it was only in the context of Open Social.

This is one in a series of posts about Blogs of the Year for 2007. They're my subjective picks about blogs that inspired or influenced me this year, and you can check out my introductory post to find more.

Collecting Samples

March 6, 2007

Do you want links? Because I'll give you some damn links, I'm not afraid of you! I'm not afraid of NOBODY!

Dominant, a UC Berkeley alumnus who actually attended the much-publicized class on Shakur in the late '90s, says that he finds value in hip-hop studies, provided they take the long view. "With hip-hop and all black music, you can't talk about the art separate from a lot of other things," he says. "You can't talk about hip-hop as an art form without talking about the people, the economics, how and why it was made. You have to be pretty thorough."

Finding ways to teach and study hip-hop from within a university setting is not easy. "I worry that scholars like us get so obsessed with trying to justify hip-hop that we end up running in circles," says Berkeley grad student Felicia Viator, a DJ who's finishing up a doctorate in history.

  • Businessweek's Catherine Holahan looks at the unfiltered conversations that have sprung up in light of community changes after USA Today's recent web redesign. I don't know that I'd make a change in the cultural assumptions of a site at the same time as aesthetic/UI changes, because then you don't know which one caused everybody to lose their minds.
  • Ask the Wizard, written by Feedburner CEO Dick Costolo is, flat out, the best new blog of 2007. The thing I love about great writing is it makes the pervasive truths seem self-evident and even obvious. Plus it's actually funny, not another tech exec wearing a goofy tie and claiming to be full of ha-ha.
  • Dear Drew, have you considered changing the font on Fark's homepage?
  • This is the old Top 5% of all Web Sites graphic that used to be used by Point. Which was actually Point Communications, which was actually at, until it sold to Lycos during a period of the web's history 10 years ago that is apparently so old nobody caught the reference. Winning the meaningless award used to be accompanied by an email alerting you to the good news. I suspect Todd Whitney is not still toiling away at Lycos.
  • I spoke at the Northern Voice conference in Vancouver a little over a week ago, and there's video of my presentation up on the web, albeit with suboptimal sound. But it kind of gives you a feel for what we were all talking about, if you have the patience to sit through it. (My part starts about five minutes in.)
  • If you've somehow missed them, a few articles on the tech generation gap. Emily Nussbaum's excellent, definitive look at the distinctions between the technological expectations of those born before and after 1977 in regard to privacy seems like the coming-out party for the topics danah has been talking about forever. A simpler, but still compelling, Tim Bajarin piece in PC Magazine complements it nicely. And the WaPo sez colleges have lost track of students because the schools are still trying to use phones and email to talk to kids who only use Facebook and IM. Whoops.
  • Someday, me and Kal Penn in a steel cage match for Most Famous Indian in America. Someday.