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Does Andrew Ross Sorkin worry about his quarterlife crisis?

I just finished reading a great New York magazine article about New York Times writer and now book author Andrew Ross Sorkin. There’s a lot of interesting information in the article about Wall Street’s evolution during the past year, the tensions between Sorkin and other financial reporters (even at his own paper), and questions about where you draw the line of being too close to your sources.

But what was really interesting to me was the depiction of Sorkin (who’s about my age, by the way) as a breathe of fresh air with an entrepreneurial spirit working within (some might say, trapped within) a traditional business that’s losing money. From very aggressively and socially courting valuable sources, to capitalizing on his personal brand and news trends to get into management at the Times and get a 600 page book published, to devising new ways to drive traffic and make money (like a daily morning newsletter for finance and mergers and acquisitions geeks), he’s a killer. He hustles.

There’s a growing trend I see in the blogosphere, particularly among women (not sure why that is), of talking about a so-called “quarterlife crisis” that people have in their late twenties. Just because someone writes a book about something – especially something bad or depressing – doesn’t mean you have to believe it! And just because someone generalizes about your gender or race or place where you live or age group or career path – doesn’t mean you have to be part of that stereotype!

So: Boo hoo. If everybody spent the time they think, talk, and blog about their perceived quarterlife crises and put it instead into doing something productive, maybe you’d be a little more like Andrew Ross Sorkin or Gary Vaynerchuk. You know, successful people who have built personal brands through hard work, talent, and marketing that open doors they never thought possible. Vaynerchuk signed a ten-book deal for eight figures. Sorkin has a standing offer to move to Vanity Fair. Who had really heard of these guys three years ago?

Sorkin hustles to crush it every day, and when he’s not doing that, he’s probably thinking up new ways he can do it tomorrow. He outflanks his boring competition. He exceeds people’s expectations. Sure, he steps on some toes, and sure, he takes a few wrong turns. But to quote one of his (presumed) Wall Street sources, Jamie Dimon, “It’s better to do ten things and get eight right, than to do five things and get them all right.”

If you don’t believe that, enjoy your quarterlife crisis.

Posted via email from Mark’s Cheeky Posterous

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What is Twitter’s Vision?

This post was originally published on Mashable on February 2, 2009.

Perhaps overshadowed by Super Bowl chatter, the past weekend was also noteworthy for a thoughtful Wall Street Journal blog post by Chris Anderson called, The Economics of Giving it Away. Many companies trading in bits and bytes make “products” that are built on the new economy of “free.” Yet many of these seemingly successful companies do not actually turn profits. Poster children for this phenomenon are the increasingly popular communications platform Twitter and the hundreds of clones it has inspired.

There’s a lot of attention given to this new class of decentralized, ad hoc social networks, and for good reason – many people like using them, and find personal or business value in them. Mainstream media is writing about and using them, venture capitalists and trade press debate how to monetize them, and academic scientists [PDF] are investigating them.

What is Twitter?

Just as Jeff Jarvis writes about the simplicity of Google being empowering, so it is with Twitter. However, the unstructured nature of Twitter may actually be too empowering. What is Twitter, exactly? Right now, it is whatever users want it to be: a way to drive people to a blog or business site, a micro-blog with short snippets of information, a news feed, a chat room for you and your closest friends, a mindstream of your thoughts, and more.

But sites like Twitter need a business plan to survive in the long term, and at the moment they don’t have one, despite the numerous aforementioned discussions. Call me idealistic, but while I see a good deal of discussion about monetization by the outsiders, what I really want to see is discussion about vision by the insiders.

Right now, Twitter is like the Wild West, where “frontier theory” applies (thanks to Kim Taipale for pointing this metaphor out). There are three steps to this process:

1. A decentralized system is initially chaotic.

2. The chaos becomes organized, and somewhat centralized.

3. New pioneers move into the system to again destabilize it.

Technologies like Twitter are moving from “stage one” to “stage two” of the decentralized communications frontier. What’s the vision for how the chaos becomes organized?

Finding a Vision for Twitter

A likely vision for Twitter is for it to be a premiere micro-sharing platform. The singular thing that distinguishes Twitter from blogs, RSS, IM, email, etc. is synergy. It is the synergy between people’s individual streams that makes Twitter special. This happens because of an increasingly large and diverse user base, because of retweeting and other meme-spreading mechanisms, and because of serendipitous interactions and spontaneous conversations.


Viral marketing guru Scott Stratten recently commented that Twitter is “the conversation that’s happening, right now,” and I cannot think of a more simple way to describe it to a newbie. But what many people perhaps don’t realize is that quantitative analyses of these conversations are themselves valuable.

A free, open platform of people engaging each other will contain valuable information about social networks and conversational markets. A simple example was negative discussion of the Super Bowl ad by GoDaddy. But one can imagine many more complicated research and analysis projects, and numerous ways to monetize subsequent research products for client brands willing to pay:

- How much did people meaningfully talk about purchasing Vitamin Water vs. Gatorade before and after a certain event?

- Who are the most influential tech-savvy home-schooling teachers in each state?

- Which way are men under 35 likely to vote on the immigration measure on the ballot in area code 92602?

Twitter itself is closest to the data surrounding human engagements and therefore best-suited to analyze it (after hiring additional staff, of course), but if they don’t do it, surely someone else will.

Users of free products are notoriously fickle, and many “traditional” business strategies based on advertising eyeballs or blogging platforms could disrupt the currently chaotic but somewhat balanced system of social networking interactions. If advertisements slow down the Twitter site ever so slightly, will users tolerate it? Would power users like Robert Scoble, already infatuated with alternatives like FriendFeed, refuse to pay for premium accounts? Would further development of Twitter as “merely” a monetized short-form blogging platform for brands turn many newcomers – critical to future growth – to alternative platforms for their personal conversations? Wired magazine contributing writer Clive Thompson has summed up as well as anyone the potential perils of tinkering with a social networking website to “improve” it – the users may easily go elsewhere. Kevin Thau, who runs Twitter’s business development, certainly has his work cut out for him.

Let the Users Define It, Monetize Our Mood

wont-run-out-of-things-to-twitterIn his article, “How Twitter Was Born,” Dom Sagolla reminds us that Twitter’s original vision was somewhat humble; it was designed for unidirectional, asymmetric information sharing about what you’re doing. The notion of bidirectional conversations (using @ and ‘d’) developed organically from the users themselves. Now, microsharing technologies like Twitter offer a spectrum of person-to-person communications options, and the free, open, maleable platform attracts huge numbers of new users every month.

Paradoxically, the best vision for Twitter may be to change very little – let the users define what Twitter is and how it should be used, and choose a business model that stays out of their way. That business model could very well be tracking the sentiment of large groups of people to help businesses make smart and profitable decisions.

In short: give the people what they want – we won’t run out of things to tweet anytime soon.

Mark D. Drapeau, Ph.D., is a Washington, D.C.-based biological scientist, government consultant, and frequent writer on social media and society.

Cartoon courtesy of Geek & Poke

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Government 2.0: Ask What You Can Hack for Your Country

This post was originally published on Mashable on October 20, 2008.

“The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book, you either do it right or you get eliminated.”

- Gordon Gecko, Wall Street

Corporations exist in a continuously changing ecosystem, with behavior strategies, evolution, cooperation, competition, camouflage, mimicry, and yes, extinction. The environment is constantly changing; disequilibrium is the norm.

Similarly, the governments of countries exist in a complex global ecosystem of competition, trade, and war. Some countries are up, some are down, and many are in the middle – and these ranks evolve due to many factors. Even Gecko himself compares the fictional Teldar Paper to “that other malfunctioning corporation, the U.S. of A.”

If the federal government doesn’t want our country to go the way of the dodo, it needs to adapt to changing times – and changing technology, including the many emerging Web 2.0 tools. One Gecko-ish malfunction of government is that it collects a huge amount of data with which it does hardly anything truly useful. Crime statistics, labor trends, pothole locations and many other interesting bits haven’t often been easily accessible, and that strategy doesn’t serve the public well.

Information Innovation

No longer. Innovative people are finding interesting uses for government data. Witness just one example, SpotCrime, a comprehensive private sector mashup of crime reports and real-time interactive maps for not just every state in the U.S., but also many countries around the world.

Using SpotCrime-DC for about 5 minutes, I quickly learned of three recent robberies occurring very close to my home – all between 7:00 and 7:30 am. (Note to self, no morning jogs around the neighborhood.) No one is uninterested in this topic, whether you are protecting your family or just scoping out the competition – but without this simple to use mashup, the information would be overwhelming, confusing, and inaccessible (although technically it is “publicly available.”)

The U.S. government has more than just crime data, though. They have massive storehouses of geographic data, labor statistics, transportation information, census data, genealogies, environmental and ecological trends, economic indicators, and statistics on aging, to name a few. There is literally something for everyone.

Now, a lot of this data is already publicly available; but in what formats? Take this example of the top 100 growing counties in the U.S.. However, you have to download the data in an Excel spreadsheet or as a .CSV file – how many people even know what to do with a .CSV file? And what if you can’t afford Excel, or don’t have it handy when you want to use the public data?

Public Incentives, Private Competition

How can this data best be delivered to people? Here’s
one example. In what can only be described as a very hip initiative, the District of Columbia’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer is collaborating with local interactive content agency iStrategyLabs to launch an innovation challenge called Apps for Democracy (disclosure: Mashable is a media sponsor).

This contest, open to absolutely anyone, aims primarily to visualize DC’s open, public data for the greater good of citizens, visitors, and local businesses. These public service developers will compete for both cash prizes and public recognition.

The District of Columbia is thinking very broadly about the products that will result from the innovation challenge – in play are Web applications, widgets, map mashups, iPhone apps, Facebook apps, and more. Unquestionably, this effort can serve as a model for the federal government to enhance its massive data stores by offering incentives for open-source efforts by outside developers.

Organizations like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) already have public, fun competitions like the Urban Challenge, so why not something similar to build widgets, games, and apps?

Finally, a good reason to hack the country.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is an Associate Research Fellow studying Social Software for Security (S3) at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy of the National Defense University in Washington DC. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government.

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