Aside

Social Network, the Movie

I played hooky last Friday afternoon to see Aaron Sorkin’s story telling of the Facebook story via the Social Network film.

Since then, I’ve reflected on the implications of a movie based in SV and my industry. If something good comes of this new visibility, I hope it helps us make 3 decisions well.

1st: Leave the Web Open
First, the hero of the story is the openness of the web and we ought to be doing more to preserve it. Initially advocated by Tim Berners Lee and supported by an every day hero of Tim OReilly (and many others), the web has been a open platform that anyone can play in. That is at risk today with the Net Neutrality discussion going on. Rather than capture my own thoughts on this, I will defer to the much more articulate expert on the topic: Lawrence Lessing:
For less than $1,000, Mark Zuckerberg could get his idea onto the Internet. He needed no permission from the network provider. He needed no clearance from Harvard to offer it to Harvard students. Neither with Yale, or Princeton, or Stanford. Nor with every other community he invited in. Because the platform of the Internet is open and free, or in the language of the day, because it is a “neutral network,” a billion Mark Zuckerbergs have the opportunity to invent for the platform. And though there are crucial partners who are essential to bring the product to market, the cost of proving viability on this platform has dropped dramatically. You don’t even have to possess Zuckerberg’s technical genius to develop your own idea for the Internet today. Websites across the developing world deliver high quality coding to complement the very best ideas from anywhere.
This is a platform that has made democratic innovation possible—and it was on the Facebook platform resting on that Internet platform that another Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes, organized the most important digital movement for Obama, and that the film’s petty villain, Sean Parker, organized Causes, one of the most important tools to support nonprofit social missions. The tragedy—small in the scale of things, no doubt—of this film is that practically everyone watching it will miss this point. Practically everyone walking out will think they understand genius on the Internet. But almost none will have seen the real genius here. And that is tragedy because just at the moment when we celebrate the product of these two wonders—Zuckerberg and the Internet—working together, policymakers are conspiring ferociously with old world powers to remove the conditions for this success. As “network neutrality” gets bargained away—to add insult to injury, by an administration that was elected with the promise to defend it—the opportunities for the Zuckerbergs of tomorrow will shrink. And as they do, we will return more to the world where success depends upon permission. And privilege. And insiders. And where fewer turn their souls to inventing the next great idea.” (more of his post is here: http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/78081/sorkin-zuckerberg-the-social-network?page=0,1)
I have frankly been surprised by Google and the larger ecosystem that we are not violently defending the thing that enables great innovation. That said, we need to think about net neutrality online in nuances which include “general online” and “mobile experience”; unfortunately, the telco experience is such it needs some intervention to create a truly open environment. That said, the decision is this: do the people and companies who used net neutrality to innovate now come and close the doors behind them (we made it, you can’t) or do you support the thing that will let innovation thrive? 
2nd Decision: Call to Arms & our Ambassadors to Refocus on Value Creation
The 2nd decision is really a call to arms for my fellow Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, VCs, journalists, angels and extended community. We need to refocus and have our % of time allocated to creating value, not talking about creating value. 
We look like a bunch of pot-smoking, deal-making, not-at-all-focused on real value creation idiots. Now, if I’m to believe Michael Arrington’s comments in the latest edition of Inc (http://www.inc.com/magazine/20101001/the-way-i-work-michael-arrington-techcrunch.html) and the many scenes in Social Network, we really all just smoke a lot of weed and we are all about the deal. 
“TechCrunch is known for our parties. That’s how I met all my sources in the early days. These days, we do three big blowouts every year, five or six smaller events, and then a few small parties. It winds up being an event every month, and I try to go to all of them. I started the tradition when I first moved to Palo Alto in 2005. I wrote a blog post inviting people to a party—10 people came. I made hamburgers. We drank beer and stayed up until 4 a.m. drinking Scotch by the fire. Two weeks later, I had another party, and 20 people showed up. About 100 people came to the next one, then 200. Venture capitalists were smoking pot in my backyard and passing out on my couch.”
Whatever we do in private is really that, BUT I hope that our share of conversation hasn’t shifted from 80% doing good stuff and 20% on deal-making… to just the inverse. The amount of time focused on the “deal” in SN and here in the valley is getting outlandish. 
One company I recently helped with an angel round of money is spending a huge portion of their time raising money. And by huge, I mean HHUUUGGGEEE. I would bet 80% of the CEOs time is focused on raising funds and as soon as she’s done with that round, she’ll do the next round. While Robert Scoble and many others advocate the conversations is really more balanced than that, I am more than questioning it. Hence my twitter stream comment that the best thing that could come out of Angelgate is the work Chris Sacca suggested — streamline processes that create overhead and B.S. and focus proportionally back on great products, great teams, and solving real problems. We surely have enough of them. The metric ought to be 80/20 and not the other way. We make money when we build great things that serve true audiences.  (And Arrington, I know you wanted to share that quip, but it reeks of insider-club-ness and isn’t worthy of what we all do; you are an ambassador of our community and that holds a responsibility in what you do and say.)  Maybe that means we feature less about deal flow in TechCrunch and more about categories that matter and why. That would take more reporting, more thought but it’s more representative of the value creation rather than deal flow. 

3rd DECISION: Privacy Management

And the 3rd decision is one that will take us all time to figure out. It is the question of how much we are willing to fund ourselves to get back some privacy. Michael Fertik, the CEO of Reputation Defender, made what I think is an astute comment at the panel on privacy that Eastwick organized. He said that right now FB has every economic incentive to limit user privacy and until we — the users — decide we are willing to put something into the mix, that incentive stays as is. And that led me to a whole set of thoughts about the exchange between users and what is free or not and what we are willing to pay to manage our reputation online. Smarter people than I (and hopefully Fertik himself) can develop a set of ideas along the continuum of “we want it all for free” to “we are willing to give to get”  but it will require all of us to consider what it means to be public, what it means to give data of ourselves and what we are willing to do to manage that online presence. Matt Cohler of Benchmark Capital made the point that FB and many similar platforms let each of us create our own presence rather than rely on the “authority” of mainstream media. That’s true. And we might just be willing to therefore manage it well over time. 
(I can’t do a post like this without a shout out to the great team Eastwick who hosted the panel led by Kara Swisher and to participants which include Matt Cohler, Fertik, Brian Solis, and Ryan Calo.)

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