- Q&A With Survivor Host Jeff Probst On Surviving Social Media
- We’re In The Middle Of A Terrible Blubble!
- (Founder Stories) The GroupMe Guys Reveal How To Land A Job At A Startup
- Q&A With Geoff Cook: How We Solved The Chatroulette Porn Problem
- Obama-Zuckerberg and Expeditionary Economics
- Gillmor Gang 4.23.11 (TCTV)
Posted: 24 Apr 2011 07:00 AM PDT
This Q&A with Survivor host Jeff Probst was conducted by guest writer Narendra Rocherolle, CEO of The Start Project. He and his partners hold the curious distinction of selling their company, Webshots, twice. Narendra is an occasional contributor to TechCrunch, you can read a Q&A with Lance Armstrong here. He is @narendra on Twitter.
The CBS show Survivor is completing its 22nd season—a run with a business and social impact that are reserved for extraordinarily few productions in Television history. Survivor launched the Reality TV genre and has managed to continue to do well during a decade where the very foundations of TV have been shifting. The show’s host Jeff Probst has been a mainstay and a driving force behind the show’s continued innovation in storytelling. I recently caught up with him to get some unfiltered thoughts. If you have questions or comments you can direct them to @jeffprobst on Twitter!
What was the genesis of JeffProbst.com? Can you talk about how all of your social media efforts are tied or not tied to CBS, your contract, etc.?
I’m fascinated by the major shift taking place that allows for truly global conversation with people all over the world. JeffProbst.com offered the opportunity to own my content and also provided the ability for me to take control of my voice and not have to rely on other outlets to accurately convey the things I want to share.
Survivor is a deceptively complex media property because you have multiple narratives: the game, behind the scenes details, and deeper looks into the actual participants. Building on these narratives, you are now live tweeting during Survivor shows (both East and West coast feeds). Where did you get the idea?
I am a big Howard Stern fan and one weekend he tweeted while watching a re-run of his movie, Private Parts. That was the inspiration for me to do the same thing with Survivor fans. I wanted to continue the conversation and give them more of what they crave, which is behind-the-scenes information and personal insight. In addition, I learn valuable information about what is and is not working for the show. It’s a very satisfying, albeit time consuming, effort.
Any thoughts on the Twitter medium in general?
I think Twitter is just another amazing step in the ongoing transition that will change so much of how we communicate as a world. Twitter will not be the final frontier but Twitter and Facebook are definitely the pioneers.
Do you feel like there has been adequate production resources to explore these other narratives?
No. I feel we are in the very early stages of this global conversation and almost all of the traditional networks are very far behind when it comes to utilizing social media. Initially, CBS didn’t know or care that I was tweeting. Once they saw people tweeting back with comments like “I used to DVR, but now I watch it live” they took notice. They are on board now but I still think we are in the early stages of what will be a global transformation.
In your mind, how has your role as host on the show changed over time?
I’m much more involved than I was in the early seasons. It’s been a natural evolution. As the game has changed, so have I. I have always had a point of view but CBS wasn’t comfortable including it in the show until around season five, Survivor: Thailand. At that point things really started to evolve. It’s a great job in that I get to be myself, say what I’m feeling without any fear of retaliation because I’m not playing for a million dollars. I have nothing at stake.
Since you know the outcome (to the finalists) for each season, how difficult is it to blog and tweet without accidentally giving something away or unduly influencing perceptions of the story that is unfolding?
I always have somebody else proof it to make sure I’m not giving anything away, but in general I’ve become oddly comfortable forgetting what happened when doing interviews and just speaking as an audience member about what I see and what I think.
You recently conducted a fascinating Skype video interview with 3-time Survivor participant, Russell Hantz. It is notable for many reasons (including being a video of a video, 15-minutes long, and having poor lighting). Yet, It is incredibly compelling because it is the real thing, composed not long after the airing of an episode, and with a participant who is both wildly charismatic and creepy/off-putting. What were your goals with that video?
My goal was to have an honest interaction with Russell. To achieve that I felt it important that we limit the interference as much as possible. Russell had never skyped before that night so it was definitely a new experience. We shot the interview on my iPhone and uploaded it about 20 minutes after the interview. There was great feedback and I would do it again but only with someone that I felt really had something unique to offer.
Is it strange to be producing and creating content that has a completely different quality than the high gloss Survivor shows? Does this lend to authenticity or does it chip away at the brand that Survivor and CBS has been building?
I really haven’t done that much, but I’m not worried about chipping away at the brand. Not at all. If anything this adds to the experience. The advent of all the new technology is fantastic in that it lets anybody be a filmmaker or story teller. Anybody could have shot the interview with Russell and posted it on You Tube. If your story is compelling nobody cares what it looks like. On the other hand, if your story isn’t compelling then it can be as pretty as a sunset, it won’t matter, nobody will care.
Why choose to have clunky Google ads on your site? Is there no title sponsor that will step up to the plate?
Fair criticism. We are new to this and experimenting. Agreed. They are ugly and don’t provide much content at all. You may be the impetus to lose them all together.
Survivor TV audiences have cracked 20M viewers. Your YouTube channel has 500+ subscribers. How does starting from ground zero affect the way you look at the history of Survivor? Or media and distribution in general?
It doesn’t. I’m not on a show that will ever attract that kind of attention again. Our day was 8-10 years ago. We’re no longer the new kid on the block. This is a personal experiment for me. I have no idea how many twitter followers I have and I don’t read the stats for how many people visit the website. It’s about content and connection.
I am not sure people realize how dedicated you are to these new channels. You have a heart-felt video talking about people posting spoilers to your blog. On TV, you appear to be the alpha dog when it comes to controlling the contestants. Online, that is obviously much more difficult. What are the big challenges you face in trying to both create online content and build community?
For me it is simply about authenticity. There is so much hyperbole online that I know I can’t compete. Everybody vying for our attention. Celebrities are the worst. So instead I am just posting stuff that interests me. I am ignoring the pressure that I can sometimes feel to always post new stuff or to “please” people. You will never win that battle. I just don’t have the time to monitor it all day. For that reason alone it will never be a huge site. But as I said, as an experiment, really fascinating.
Great question. Not sure how you measure success. If you have a dialogue with one person and that impacts your life or theirs; does that equate to success? If you interact with millions and discuss the best cup of coffee does that equate to success? I really don’t know. I’m a neophyte. I do believe a global conversation will be had in the near future and I hope to be involved in some way.
When you are on location how much time or thought goes into ancillary content and future social media concepts/angles? How has that evolved or changed in the last few years?
This will be the first time on location with my website, so we’ll see! I’ve done behind the scenes over the years. The reason for those was two-fold. Give fans more insight and give young producers the chance to prove themselves.
Can you talk a little bit about philanthropy and the extent to which your Survivor experience has informed your awareness/concern?
I’ve been involved in many organizations including EGPAF and St. Jude’s. A few years ago I founded my own non-profit,The Serpentine Project, to help foster youth. We just merged with The Alliance For Children’s Rights. It’s been a great journey and a very powerful experience.
How many hours a week have you been spending online dedicated to various projects?
It really varies. I do the blog which takes a few hours to write. I tweet online live on Wednesday nights during Survivor which takes a few hours and then I post stuff occasionally. The trick is finding the time. It’s all about how you want to spend your time on the planet. I strive for balance. A bit of this, a bit of that.
What do you love about Survivor? What has kept you at it?
The study of human nature. It’s endlessly fascinating to me. Why we do what we do. Justifying our ethics. All of it. I learn so much about myself through others.
Do you have any specific regrets over 22 seasons about your own performances?
I always try to move forward and learn from each situation. There are many things I could have done differently over the years but it’s a live, unscripted show. You prepare for what you think might happen, do your best and try to learn from it.
While I have you on the spot, a truly pressing question. Over the years you have settled on an incredibly awkward gesture in conjunction with “Survivors ready…Go!” It is this strange double armed thing where you always look like you aren’t quite sure that you are going to get it right. What gives? How about waving a flag or no gesture at all?
Very fucking funny. Finally somebody said what I’ve been feeling for years. It all started on episode one, season one when I had to let the first group of Survivors know when to start a challenge. They were way out in the water and so I threw up my hand and dropped it as a signal. It stuck. Not my greatest idea. Then again had I known we’d be on 12 years later I might have chosen a different wardrobe too!
Posted: 24 Apr 2011 12:16 AM PDT
If you’re an early stage venture capitalist or angel investor there is no time like the present to declare a bubble, say valuations are out of control and predict the demise of the tech industry in the very near future. Since they’re in the business of buying low and selling high, any angle that suggests that the buy price should be even lower sounds great to them.
If there’s any evidence of said bubble all the press will eat it up. Mostly because they were out buying Internet stocks in 2000 instead of doing their jobs and reporting on the fairly obvious signals that the Nasdaq was about to implode. They won’t get caught with their pants down and their hand out again. Declare a bubble early and declare it often.
And there is some evidence laying around. Valuations on a few select private tech startups are pretty darn high right now. And valuations on early stage “Series A” startups have surpassed the all important $4 million line and are now averaging in the $6 million – $8 million range.
That’s bad for seed fund economics. Which leads to paragraph 1 above, followed by paragraph 2 in the press.
There are a lot of arguments that whatever is happening today in tech is absolutely nothing like what happened in 1999-2000. If you weren’t in the industry then, it’s understandable that you’d be concerned when you see Facebook being valued at up to $70 billion in private transactions. Heck, even I’m concerned when I see companies like SecondMarket holding public auctions for Facebook stock, driving the price ever higher, and private equity firms like Felix Investments out there pitching Twitter stock as a must have to any retiree with a million dollars.
But this isn’t a bubble. It’s more like a Blubble.
A Blubble? Yes, a Blubble. Because there is a lot of whining going on.
The biggest problem in 2000 wasn’t that companies were being formed in triplicate to address the burgeoning pet food home delivery need. Or even that billions of dollars was being invested in new ideas, most of which didn’t work.
No, the biggest problem was that no one had any idea how to value these companies. It was clear by the late 90s that this Internet thing had legs. And everyone wanted to be at the party. People flocked to Silicon Valley to take jobs like “Business Development Manager.” Anyone can be a biz dev executive because it’s not a real job. It’s kind of like sales but you usually don’t have any kind of quota. You just work on “deals.”
Business development, marketing and sales jobs exploded. If you had experience selling anything, or were willing to give it a try, there was a hot new well funded Internet startup that would hire you, pay you at least $100k, give you a bunch of stock options and then actually loan you the money to pay for those stock options immediately, getting your long term capital gains period started.
When I left the law firm I was working at I became VP of Business Development the startup I joined, a former client. I was running the sales group too within a few months. I was 29 and had never sold anything in my life. But there I was, doing deals and in the thick of things. My stock options, Morgan Stanley told me, were worth over $40 million.
That story has a sad ending. I’ll tell you all about it later. Short version is that by 2001 I was basically broke and moved to London where I learned to appreciate drinking heavily at lunch every day because that’s what you did in London.
But back to the Bubble and the Blubble.
The problem in 2000 is that all anyone cared about was revenue. Users and page views were an afterthought. Profit was a pipe dream. But revenue. Now that was something that Wall Street understood and could put a value on. Everything was valued at a multiple of revenue. It didn’t really matter how unprofitable you were. Which is why WebVan, for example, could blow though a billion dollars and be nowhere near profitability and still go public. And then go bankrupt right after investors cashed out big. Everyone lost money on every transaction and nobody cared. Because your stock price was tied to revenue, and when you ran out of money raising another hundred million dollars was nothing more than a fancy powerpoint presentation and a month’s work.
As a lawyer I sat in board meetings for my clients. And in those meetings I saw very well known venture capitalists tell these companies to spend as much money as they could as fast as they could, and then raise a bunch more and spend that as fast as they could. Hire anyone remotely competent who comes in the office, they say, and figure out a way to create revenue. Even, they said, if you have to spend $10 to get $1 in revenue.
Take the startup I worked at, for example, called RealNames. When I was put in charge of sales I was told to get us from zero revenue to $1 million/quarter in revenue. We achieved that goal through hard work and creative accounting. And boom! Morgan Stanley was brought in to take us public. At the first internal meeting for the IPO they told us that we could expect to debut on Nasdaq at a $1 billion valuation, and should trade up quickly to a $9 billion valuation, which was the market price for Ask Jeeves at the time. I had about half a percent of the company in stock. Thus, my $40 million net worth.
That IPO never happened because in March 2001 the Nasdaq crashed. And then all those creative revenue deals fell apart.
In the most innocent cases Company A would buy a bunch of ads or whatever from Company B. Maybe a $5 million deal over 24 months. Company B would then buy a bunch of stuff from Company A. Say $4 million over 18 months. As long as the deals weren’t mirrors and they were separate and binding contracts the accountants were high fiving everyone.
Everyone was doing those deals, particularly the public companies that absolutely had to keep those revenue numbers up to support their valuations. Note that I haven’t said a word about profits.
Some people, many of whom were subsequently convicted of felonies, were forward thinking enough to begin to hide the fact that these were reciprocal revenue deals. They invested “triangle deals” involving at least three companies so that there were no mirror deals between any two companies. AOL was particularly fond of these deals:
I once sat in a meeting where a Homestore executive pitched me on participating in one of these deals. Even in the craziness of the 90s, it smelled awful.
So to sum up.
2000 Bubble: Raise at least $100 million in venture capital. Spend! Hire everyone (particularly sales people)! Get revenue by any means necessary! Go Public! Sell Your Stock! Run!
2011 Blubble: Drag blubbering angel investors into Series A rounds valuing your company at $6 million instead of $4 million. Hire engineers, lots of them, as many as you can. Don’t hire non-engineers or other overhead people unless you absolutely have to (thus the dearth of VP Biz Devs around). Balance fast growth with low burn (through cost controls or profitability). If you happen to have started Facebook, Groupon or Zynga, capitalize on your massive profitability by doing big late stage rounds that value you at something like 30x forward profits (which isn’t that crazy). If you’ve founded Twitter and have no revenue, capitalize on the massive worldwide cultural impact you’ve created instead.
But no one. Absolutely no one, is telling startups to raise and spend money as fast as they can. With the possible exception of Color. I have no idea what those guys are up to over there in crazy picture sharing land.
Posted: 23 Apr 2011 09:22 PM PDT
All week long we’ve been running clips from the Founder Stories interview with the GroupMe Guys, co-founders Jared Hecht and Steve Martocci. In the video above, they answer some rapid fire questions about how to impress startups during an interview (give great product feedback), what do they look for in “social engineers,” and what is the hardest part of running a startup (delegating and hiring).
Host Chris Dixon mentions Paul Graham’s essay on how founders should split up their time into a Maker schedule and a Manager schedule, and how in practice that turns out to be impossible. “Balancing the founder stuff on top of your actual responsibilities” is really tough, says Martocci. (Disclosure: Dixon is an investor in GroupMe through Founder Collective)
The full interview from the past few episodes is below, or you can watch each segment via the related links at the bottom of this post. You can also check out other previous episodes of Founder Stories or subscribe in iTunes.
Posted: 23 Apr 2011 04:54 PM PDT
At the end of last year, social networking site myYearbook shifted its focus more towards games and introduced a live video chat feature which could have completely backfired. But instead of turning into the next Chatroulette, the site has managed to keep the unwanted live porn vids to a minimum. While Chatroulette still has an estimated nudity rate of 1 in 50 videos, myYTearbook was able to cut its nudity rate down to 1 in a 1,000. In a Q&A with myYearbook CEO Geoff Cook, he explains the strategies he used to get there.
Q: When you decided to add live video chat to your site, what were you thinking? I mean, seriously, what were you thinking?
When we decided to build a Live Video gaming platform, the best example of Live Video at scale was Chatroulette, and it was full of porn. At the time, 1 out of every 10 video streams on Chatroulette was obscene.
Chatroulette was growing in part because it was obscene—it was the accident victim and the public was the rubbernecker. Chatroulette's traffic peaked in March 2010—the same month that Jon Stewart screamed into the camera "I hate Chatroulette!" to end a segment that would be the service's high water mark.
While we were bothered by the content, the visceral social experience that Chatroulette represented was compelling. We loved the serendipity of the Next button, and set out to build a service that would allow the promise of the Next button to be realized. A lot of our effort went into matching users based on location, age, and gender in real time while building out a gaming-platform to give them something to do beyond chat. Since launching in January 2011, we've grown to 750,000 video chats a day with 100 times less nudity than Chatroulette a year ago.
Q: How did you do it?
The core of our abuse-prevention approach is a system that enables us to capture and analyze thousands of images a second from the hundreds of thousands of daily streams. We sample the video streams of users at random, frequent intervals and then conduct processing—both human and algorithmic—on the resulting images.
Q: What did you find out from this process?
One early finding was that images with faces are 5 times less likely to contain nudity than images without faces. If you've ever used Chatroulette, this will make sense as the most common pornography encountered there contains a body part other than, ahem, the face. This is useful information because open-source facial recognition is relatively advanced while other-body-part detection is much less so. As a result, it is possible to use the presence of a face to limit some of the human review problem.
Q: Does the fact that there’s a face in an image mean it’s free of porn?
The mere presence of a face does not make an image clean. In fact, around 20% of nudity-containing streams also contain a face. However, with a lot of effort and additional processing logic including many factors like chat reputation, social graph, motion, etc., we've made the presence of a face helpful in determining "safe" images. Of course "safe" images may themselves be a false negative, and so we do human sampling of these images at a lower sample rate than images not marked "safe."
Q: What happens once a human steps in?
The heart of our human-powered solution is a two-tiered image review organization that enables each individual reviewer to scan 400 images a minute looking for abusive content. Both groups are 24 x 7 x 365. Our goal is to be no more than 5 minutes delayed in reviewing streams. We have a zero tolerance policy. If two reviewers deem your behavior inappropriate, your account is removed and you are banned from the site forever. Based on our findings, we believe purely algorithmic approaches to moderation will never provide adequate safety.
Q: How does this compare to what Chatroulette is doing?
As our product has grown, we've noticed Chatroulette make some progress in reducing their nudity problem as well. On a recent night, a review of 1,500 Chatroulette video streams yielded a 1.9% abuse rate—or roughly a 1 in 50 chance of encountering nudity on any click of the Next button. This compares to a less than 1 in 1000 chance on myYearbook.
Q: Why the order-of-magnitude discrepancy?
myYearbook requires a login. While much has been made of Facebook Connect as an identity-layer that will discourage abuse, we don't believe the identity aspect plays much of a role per se. Someone who is interested in taking down their pants will do it even on their iPhone in the now-banned iChatr app, which was quickly overrun by abuse, despite the fact that every phone can easily identify you uniquely. The more salient aspect is that there be any login.
Q: What difference does a login make?
So long as there is any login, a user's device can be blocked—and we've found people who take down their pants for strangers generally lack a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to circumventing security systems—unlike, say, spammers. We use a technology called Threatmetrix to fingerprint devices and ban both the user and their physical device when we detect abuse. Threatmetrix helps provide the teeth of our zero-tolerance policy.
Q: Couldn’t you do this with photos also?
Our system for reviewing live video has proven so successful that we are now actively engaged in bringing a similar system to bear on every photo uploaded to myYearbook. In a few months time, we will have perfect insight into every image being posted to the service, and we believe we can make incremental gains there as well by fundamentally turning a report-based system into a pro-active system. Eradicating abuse from user-generated content is a never-ending, human-and-machine-intensive problem that may well spell the difference between success and failure, especially when you are dealing with live video.
Image: Nick Bilton
Posted: 23 Apr 2011 12:20 PM PDT
Thanks to the revolutions happening in the Middle East, our leaders have been touting social media as the new force for democracy. President Obama went out of his way to schmooze Facebook employees this week. He told them that when it comes to solving the challenges our country faces and to precipitating changes in the rest of the world, they were "at the cutting edge of what's happening".
It's great that Silicon Valley is getting all this love and affection. But could this attention end up killing the golden goose? Think about it: if you are an evil dictator, looking for an excuse to block Facebook and Twitter, what better propaganda weapon than a picture of President Obama getting chummy with Mark Zuckerberg? Yes, I know that the U.S. government didn't invent Facebook or even figure out how to use it until recently; and that it doesn't control Facebook's policies. But don't those pictures and video clips tell a different story?
While the President was visiting Facebook's campus I was having lunch with Twitter founder Biz Stone. We discussed the pitfalls of entrepreneurs cozying up to government leaders. Biz clearly understands the good that his technology can do for the world, and the responsibilities that potential brings. He said that Twitter had developed stringent policies about what information they would release to any government or authority; the company keeps a distance. Biz believes that Silicon Valley's role is to develop world-changing technologies, and to leave it to others to effect such change.
I agree with Biz. Rather than leveraging the PR opportunities that Silicon Valley affords, our government should instead focus on removing barriers to entrepreneurship in the U.S. and encourage entrepreneurship abroad.
As I have written in this piece, if the President really wants Silicon Valley to continue to lead the world, he should unconditionally support the Startup Visa (and clear the skilled-immigrant-visa backlog). Right now, the President is saying all the right things about the need for skilled immigrants, but is bundling this legislation in with other bills that have virtually no chance of passage. And he should fix government procurement systems so they are not rigged in favor of big contractors—who charge as much as a hundred times more to build and maintain computer systems and infrastructure than Silicon Valley's entrepreneurs would.
To encourage the spread of democracy and increase global economic prosperity, the President should apply the principles of Expeditionary Economics—which has been championed by Carl Schramm, president of the Kauffman Foundation.
In a nutshell, expeditionary economics is about reorienting economic development efforts away from the conventional wisdom, which usually fails on one of two bases. In places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where the U.S. military has (often out of necessity) taken the lead in trying to stimulate economic activity, the approach is typically to focus on large-scale projects, including infrastructure and the revival of state-owned enterprises. The “build it and they will come” mantra has failed, though, even in American urban-revival efforts. The second dismal convention of international development has been on painful display in the revelations this past week about Greg Mortenson, adored author of the book Three Cups of Tea and purported savior of a myriad of Afghan and Pakistani villages. It turns out that Mortenson not only fabricated parts of his story but also misappropriated charitable funds. Whatever comes of this, Mortenson’s work and the accolades he received for it typify the expiatory nature of Western development aid: it is a redemption narrative played out across the world, as sainted Westerners bring relief to the benighted hordes.
Lost in both of these dimensions is precisely what drives economic growth in most of the world: entrepreneurship, and the efforts of individuals to take their futures into their own hands and create something new. The emerging field of expeditionary economics seeks to reorient international development toward the promotion and support of entrepreneurship.
We've seen how Silicon Valley can help change the world. Facebook and Twitter were the tools used for fomenting revolutions; a prominent Google employee played a large role in organizing demonstrations in Egypt; advanced cell-phone and security technologies are allowing people to overcome government controls. Let's create more of these. But let's do it without government involvement and without the photo ops.
Editor's note: Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. He is a Faculty and Advisor, Singularity University, Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School, Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University, and Distinguished Visiting Scholar at The Halle Institute for Global Learning at Emory University. You can follow him on Twitter at @wadhwa and find his research at www.wadhwa.com.
Posted: 23 Apr 2011 10:00 AM PDT
The Gillmor Gang — Danny Sullivan, Doc Searls, John Taschek, Kevin Marks, and Steve Gillmor — endured technical glitches and a dissection of the disruption formerly known as TV before settling into a debate about privacy. I know, sounds like the usual nonsense, but this show was high quality nonsense. I forget who brought up the famous iPhone/Android hidden recording file crisis, but things quickly got out of hand when one of us suggested that was a feature not a problem.
It turns out that not that many people are aware that when we are on the Internet, everything is recorded. For those who seem surprised by this, all those free apps are actually there to harvest our clicks, searches, and other gestures of our intent. As Doc Searls pointed out, how else does Google make money except by random clicks on Adsense adding up to billions. It’s only when we can’t figure out how to delete our wanderings that people get upset. Me — I count on being surreptitiously tracked so I can go back and figure out where I was last week.
|You are subscribed to email updates from TechCrunch |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google Inc., 20 West Kinzie, Chicago IL USA 60610|