Monthly Archives: March 2011

+1 button

Why doesn’t Google have a Like button for websites a la FB? If it improved SEO, sites would adopt it en masse, plus it would reduce web spam@cdixon jan 16

As you might guess from my older tweet, I think Google’s +1 button is a smart move and what I was hoping they would launch. The real power will come when sites embed +1 buttons prominently to get better organic search rankings.  Yes, I realize users might prefer to share via FB vs Google and hence prefer FB Like buttons, but the countervailing force is that websites will have a greater incentive to get users to press +1 over Like.  Think of it like retail, where — while it does matter which products consumers prefer — it also matter how much and which shelf space the store allocates to each the product.  FB has an advantage with users (“consumers like the product more”), but Google has an advantage with websites (they’ll get better “shelf space”).

 

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MIT is a national treasure

My friend and business partner Tom Pinckney started two companies with me and one company before. He invented many non-trivial patented inventions and raised many millions of dollars in venture capital, and returned capital to those investors many times over.

He got his Bachelors and Master degrees from MIT. He’s the nicest, smartest, and most decent guy you’ll ever meet.  

But my favorite thing about Tom is he never got he never got a high school degree.  High school students today optimize their grades and SATs and after school activities. They speak French and Chinese, play piano and paint abstract art.  They dance around and play hockey and act like they help homeless people.

Tom grew up in rural South Carolina and mostly stayed at home writing video games on his Apple II.  There was no place nearby to go to high school. He took a few community college classes but none of those places could give him a high school degree. It didn’t really matter – all he wanted to do was program computers.  So when it came time to apply to college, Tom just printed out a pile of code he wrote and sent it to colleges.  

Stanford, Berkeley and everyone else summarily dismissed his application on technical grounds – he didn’t have a high school diploma.  

MIT looked at his code and said, “we like it” – we accept you.

For his Masters the best four CS schools – Stanford, Berkeley, Carniegie Mellon, and MIT — all recruited Tom  He stayed at MIT, the school that gave him a chance without a high school degree.

MIT is a national treasure.  If you believe in meritocracy and the American dream, you believe in MIT.

NY megamillions jackpot: it is rational to buy a lottery ticket today (3/22)?

gattis recommended this 2 hours, 34 minutes ago

The expected value of a ticket has gone above the price for tonight’s drawing. Depending on your risk profile, it may be actually be rational to buy a 

ticket.

9

gattis

gattis commented 2 hours, 31 minutes ago

To spread the risk variance we started an office pool with 40 tickets so far. Take a phone picture of your ticket(s) with a signature and email it to winners@mit.edu if you agree to join the pool.

gattis

gattis commented 2 hours, 28 minutes ago

And do so before the drawing at 11pm… you don’t want to be the only one who’s not filthy rich!

hugo

hugo commented 2 hours, 20 minutes ago

i wonder if anyone has ever before flashmobbed the jackpot to game it?

gattis

gattis commented 2 hours, 15 minutes ago

You can but the more people you add, the smaller the variance is, and the closer you’re likely to get to the 11% or whatever return. Some guy at MIT actually did this and made a successful hedge fund for the MA progressive jackpot.

hugo

hugo commented 2 hours, 4 minutes ago

@gattis LOL

chris

you commented 1 hour, 1 minute ago

on twitter someone made the good point: @cdixon Not post-lump sum, post-tax. Last time I tried to do the math, I ended up at a $561 million jackpot or something.

gattis

gattis commented 6 minutes ago

The cash option for the jackpot is $155.7M and the chances for a jackpot are 1/175.7M, plus there are a bunch of other prizes (1/4M for $250K, etc). If you multiply the cash values by the probabilities you get about $1.07 as the value of the ticket. Your losses are also tax deductible so that offsets the tax penalty for winning depending on your income bracket.

gattis

gattis commented 4 minutes ago

Real unknown is how many people will play and split the jackpot, but historically it has averaged out to about 1

gattis

gattis commented 2 minutes ago

Plus if you invest you can get a much greater % return on $156M than you can on $1. Rich get richer.

Dropbox and why you should invest in people

It was reported today that Dropbox will generate $100M in revenue this year.  Whether or not those reports are right, it is certainly a great product, beloved by its customers and will almost certainly be wildly successful. I knew the founder, Drew Houston, back before he started Dropbox. He was an MIT CS guy, hanging around Boston in 2005 when I was working on SiteAdvisor and spending most of my time trying to recruit great devs. He was introduced to me by my investor and friend Hemant Taneja, another MIT CS guy, as a super smart kid I should recruit. I tried to recruit him but lost him to another company called Bit9.

(Funny side story about Bit9:  After we sold SiteAdvisor to McAfee in 2006, I encountered Bit9 again when I was visiting SF and crashed a party hosted by one of their investors.  This investor was a lifetime middle manager from Symantec who had never started a company and was now a partner at Kleiner Perkins.  He spent 30 minutes giving a speech about how the Internet was dead and people investing in it were stupid and KP was focused on Cleantech instead, and then started talking about how rich he was and how many wineries he owned (yes, seriously). He barely mentioned the poor startup that sponsored the event. It was totally embarassing and represented everything wrong with the old, dead VC world. When I was introduced to this jackass VC after his speech as someone who had just sold his company to McAfee, he said to me “Bit9 is going to eat McAfee’s lunch.” Trying to neg a startup guy by saying a startup is going to beat an incumbent just shows how incredibly clueless and middle-managery this guy was.).

Anyways, the next time I met Drew was after I left McAfee and rented a small temporary office space in the garmet district in NYC. We were on the 19th floor of this awful shared place called E-merge (this was before the resurgence of incubators) in a tiny room infested with fruit flies. I was sitting there with my pals from SiteAdvisor Matt Gattis and Tom Pinckney coding some random machine learning ideas which eventually led to the seeds of Hunch. Drew came by to get advice on his new startup and we met for an hour or two. We chatted about strategy, recruiting, fundraising etc – the usual early stage conversations. He then moved off the California – I think to do Y Combinator. Next time I heard from him he had just closed a round of financing from Sequoia. I was never offered to invest in the company but probably I could have if I asked Drew since he had come to me for advice. Sometimes when people come to you for advice like that they are really hoping you will ask to invest and I didn’t. I’d have to say in all honesty if I were offered I probably would have passed.  2005-6 saw about 100 consumer backup/storage/file sharing companies raise funding. I remember after Drew left my office I looked at some article on RWW or Mashable or someplace that listed page after page of consumer backup/storage/file sharing companies. It just seemed like an insane idea to start another one and it seemed like Drew’s only thesis was that his product would work better.  

Well, it turned out storage is a hard problem and having an MIT storage guy who builds a great product actually matters. I don’t know how under any investment philosophy that emphasized theses, areas of investment, roadmaps, etc you could have decided to invest in B2C file sharing company #120 in 2007. Obviously Sequioa knew better than me and invested. I think the only way they could have made that decision was by ignoring the space, competitors, etc. and simply investing in a super talented person/team.  Dropbox is one reason I now have a strict rule to only invest in teams. There are other examples of companies I missed and other examples of the converse – companies where I invested in mediocre people chasing a great idea and the company failed – but Dropbox is emblematic to me as to why you should always invest in people over ideas.

 

Twitter: power users and lean-back users

quoting Jeff Pestor from http://nmsk.co/dMiCSE

"
1) Power Users. This group uses it as a business tool of some sort (customer acquisition/competitive intelligence/etc) and/or as an interaction platform. These users overwhelmingly use 3rd party clients because those clients are the only way you can process Twitter efficiently. Twitter.com for this group is a complete non-starter.

2) Lean-Back Users: This group tends to follow high-profile celebrities, personal interests, and/or industry leaders. They consume and surf Twitter very similarly to what they do with Television or the Web in general. This is the group for which the development of a "channel" solution would be very smart: http://www.uniquevisitor.net/if-twitter-were-tv-in-search-of-a-better-twit

IMO the smartest thing Twitter could do is to recognize these two basic user groups and figure out how to best monetize each. Ironically, what they'll realize is that the "consistent experience" they claim to be protecting is actually the thing that will handcuff product development and ultimately constrain it's ability to monetize.
"

coding

I grew up coding. From about the ages of 10-25 that’s how I spent a
lot of my time. While other kids were playing baseball I was trying
to create computer baseball games. I was never a great programmer. I
was mostly just a hacker in the original sense of the word. I didn’t
like to plan out my code and the code I produced was rarely commented
or elegant. I did a fair amount of object oriented programming later
on (C++ & Java) but was always suspicious of objects and basically
anything except C, assembly, text files, and ever using code in my
programs I didn’t write myself. I was really turned off my the
Microsoft programming model which felt more like shopping than
creating. I mostly quit programming after doing some initial coding
on my last company, SiteAdvisor. I guess I was burnt out.

This past Thursday night after a long day of business meetings (seems
like that’s all I’ve done for the past few years) I thought I’d try
coding again – partly for fun and partly because my company (Hunch)
has an API that is central to our strategy and I felt like I needed to
use the API first hand to truly understand it. So Thurs night I made
a simple Youtube + Hunch mashup and put it on a domain I’ve been
sitting on for a while – Forage.com. It’s a very simple program but
taught me a lot about our API. The Hunch API is much more powerful
when you require the user to oauth (login to Hunch) but I wanted to
avoid that in the first hack. So the recommendations aren’t as good
but there is very little friction for the user – just put in a twitter
name and press go (plus you can “cross dress” as other users which is
fun). (Personally I’ve been really digging mixes when you type in
twitter name = cdixon, genre = hip hop, version = experimental).

This weekend I wanted to try some authenticated (oauth) hacks so built
two more little demos. One of them suggests people you should do
things with (http://forage.com/u.php). It really only works if your
Hunch account is linked to Twitter or FB and there is no error
handling so if you want to try it, login to Hunch, connect to
Twitter/FB (go to your profile, edit, services) and then try it. The
other one I wrote uses Yipit’s API (Yipit is a daily deal aggregator –
great company and founders) to find daily deals. It then cross
references the venues with your predicted hunch preferences and finds
the daily deal that day you’ll like the most. (I’m also working on
adding a feature that will suggest 5-10 friends who would also like
the deal so you could invite them along but it isn’t working yet).

In the process I had to learn about “signing” you URLs (apparently to
defend against man-in-middle attacks – not sure how common those
really are). Kind of a poor man’s SSL. See
http://hunch.com/developers/v1/docs/auth/. Turns out we had Python
code samples on Hunch but no PHP code samples (yes, I prefer PHP – I’m
old school). So I had to figure out my own code signing function in
PHP. Here it is :

function signUrl($url, $secret_key)
{
$original_url = $url;

$urlparts = parse_url($url);

// Build $params with each name/value pair
foreach (split(‘&’, $urlparts[‘query’]) as $part) {
if (strpos($part, ‘=’)) {
list($name, $value) = split(‘=’, $part, 2);
} else {
$name = $part;
$value = ”;
}
$params[$name] = $value;
}

// Sort the array by key
ksort($params);

// Build the canonical query string
$canonical = ”;
foreach ($params as $key => $val) {
$canonical .= “$key=”.enc(utf8_encode($val)).”&”;
}

// Remove the trailing ampersand
$canonical = preg_replace(“/&$/”, ”, $canonical);

// Build the sign
$string_to_sign = enc($canonical) . $secret_key;

//print $string_to_sign . “
“;

// Calculate our actual signature and base64 encode it
$signature = bin2hex(hash(‘sha1’, $string_to_sign, $secret_key));

// Finally re-build the URL with the proper string and include the Signature
$url = “{$urlparts[‘scheme’]}://{$urlparts[‘host’]}{$urlparts[‘path’]}?$canonical&auth_sig=”.rawurlencode($signature);
return $url;
}
?>

We are going to add this code (most likely a prettier version) to the
Hunch API docs for PHP programmers (also need to add Ruby code). I
think we’ll also make URL signing optional as only some apps really
need it and it seems like a barrier to development.

One thing I noticed is how much more fun it is programming these days
with so many great APIs out there. YouTube’s API was a joy to use, as
was Yipit’s. Because of all these great APIs, someone with minimal
programming skills (like me) can hack together interesting stuff
really quickly. I do wish the APIs were more standardized. Having a
SQL interface for every API would be awesome. But still now that
everyone is using similar authentication, JSON, etc it is pretty easy.

People in the startup world say it’s a good practice to “dogfood” –
use your own software – and if one of your products is an API you
should use that too, which means doing some simple programming. The
stuff I hacked together over the past few days are not meant to be
real products. This is no “pivot” in Hunch’s strategy. Hunch has two
official and I think really great products coming out soon – one
web-based and one mobile. And if you think Forage.com is good or bad,
just wait until you see the music recommendations we are developing
with a major music provider. Their data + our data + our algorithms =
truly incredible results.

In the meantime it’s fun and informative to hack on APIs.

my favorite recent iphone/ipad apps


Apache Overkill for iPhone 

Apache Overkill for iPhone

added by chris from itunes.apple.com 23 minutes ago

In Video Games

 

chris

you recommended this 23 minutes ago

Well executed classic side scroller shoot em up. Nice parallax effect on the terrain and satisfying feeling of having demolished lots of people and things.

0

Infinity Blade for iPhone

Infinity Blade for iPhone

added by chris from itunes.apple.com yesterday

 

chris

you recommended this 20 hours, 26 minutes ago

First this game has SICK graphics. Best of any iPhone game. At first I thought the gameplay was weak but after playing it more found it to be solid: good use of touch screen, relatively easy to learn, and addictive.

1

Tap DJ - Mix and Scratch your Music for iPhone

Tap DJ – Mix and Scratch your Music for iPhone

added by chris from itunes.apple.com yesterday

 

chris

you recommended this 20 hours, 43 minutes ago

Fun way for amateurs to sound like pro DJs.

0

Talking Larry

Talking Larry

added by chris from itunes.apple.com yesterday

 

chris

you recommended this 21 hours, 26 minutes ago

Talk and larry repeats what you say back. Fun party game.

0

Police Scanner Lite

Police Scanner Lite

added by chris from itunes.apple.com yesterday

 

chris

you recommended this 21 hours, 52 minutes ago

Interesting to listen to police scanners.

1

ColorSplash

ColorSplash

added by chris from hunch.com yesterday

In Tech

 

chris

you recommended this 22 hours, 38 minutes ago

Cool iPhone app for making photos partly color and partly black-and-white.

0

lego photo iphone app

lego photo iphone app

added by caterina from www.designboom.com 3 days ago

 

chris

you recommended this 3 days, 6 hours ago

so cool.

0

Grimm for iPhone

Grimm for iPhone

added by chris from itunes.apple.com 5 days ago

 

chris

you recommended this 4 days, 21 hours ago

Gameplay is kind of typical platformer but graphics and style is so inventive it’s worth getting.

0

Jenga

Jenga

added by chris from itunes.apple.com 5 days ago

 

chris

you recommended this 5 days, 3 hours ago

Surprisingly good on the iPhone. Very good physics.

1

WackaMonsta

WackaMonsta

added by chris from itunes.apple.com Feb 27, 2011

 

chris

you recommended this 1 week, 1 day ago

Fun time waster for the iPad.

0

 

 

The Economist on iPhone and iPad

added by chris from www.economist.com Feb 27, 2011

 

chris

you recommended this 1 week, 2 days ago

For people who like The Economist, this is a really well done iPad app. As easy to read as on paper and reasonably priced (by 3 month period – single issues are expensive).

0

.

Flashlight ® for iPhone 4

Flashlight ® for iPhone 4

added by chris from itunes.apple.com Feb 24, 2011

In Tech

 

chris

you recommended this 1 week, 4 days ago

Turns your iPhone into a real flashlight using iPhone 4’s new flash (LED) light. Works well.

0

jon

jon recommended this 5 days, 4 hours ago

The very best iPhone 4 flashlight. Super handy.

0

 

Tiny Wings

Tiny Wings

added by chris from itunes.apple.com Feb 23, 2011

In Video Games

 

chris

you recommended this 1 week, 6 days ago

Fun, simple time waster game.

0

 

 

TestFlight | iOS beta testing on the fly

added by chris from testflightapp.com Feb 23, 2011

In Tech

 

chris

you recommended this 1 week, 6 days ago

Great for testing your iPhone app.

2

 

augmented reality skulls

IMG_1292.MOV
Watch on Posterous

Harold from hunch (@HaroldShouting) hacked this together for no
particular reason. He says he’s going to follow up with an iphone app
that shows people as full bodied skeletons. Stay tuned!

Pastrami principle

Katz’s deli has the best hot dogs and the best pastrami in NYC. But the pastrami is so incredible that it is much better than the hot dogs, so every time I go there I end up getting pastrami. Hence I never eat the best hot dogs in NYC. Kind of a shame.