Category: Internet

Many have taken the position that pure Net Neutrality is essential for an open Internet.  Today the FCC announced that they will not be requiring a pure Net Neutrality solution, but what they will require is not clear.  And, to quote Ross Perot, the devil is in the details.
Traditionally, on the Internet there has been the concept of “peering”.  This means that if AOL and Hotmail were sending each other a fairly balanced amount of traffic, they wouldn’t owe each other any money.  But if a site was sending a lot more traffic into your site than you were sending to it, that site would owe you “peering fees”.
Imagine this.  A small city builds a set of roads that is adequate for its normal traffic.  The normal traffic of its citizens travelling to other cities is balanced by citizens visiting from other cities.  At some point, another city starts sending a massive number of trucks into the small city, jamming the roads so the normal traffic can’t get through.  Traditionally on the Internet, the other city would help pay for the small city to widen and maintain its roads, since the other city is making money selling furniture (or whatever) to the citizens of the small city.
This system worked reasonably well when the “cities” were distinct in purpose; there were residential cities (access providers like AT&T and Comcast) and commercial cities (Netflix, Amazon, Google, etc.)  But now the residential cities want to be the providers of stuff as well, and they want to use the peering fees, and sanctions for not paying the peering fees, to disadvantage the commercial cities.  As a result, sites like Netflix want to stop paying peering fees.
Pure Net Neutrality advocates think we should require access providers never give preferential access to any site, nor charge any other site for the demands that its traffic put on their network.  That, in effect, means they must provide whatever level of bandwidth is required for any arbitrary application on the Internet.  This requirement seems overreaching to me.
When Netflix came online, the bandwidth at many access providers increased more than a thousand times what it was before.  Streaming movies have many orders of magnitude more data than email or normal websites like Facebook and Google.  And that was after YouTube had greatly increased the bandwidth people were using before that.  These increases required access providers to do massive upgrades to prevent the streaming movies from slowing down all the other traffic, and/or for them to restrict how much bandwidth Netflix and YouTube were using.  And Netflix is not the last Internet application that will require an increase in bandwidth.  I suspect that an understanding of these factors has caused the FCC to be uncomfortable with a pure Net Neutrality position.
That said, we need to do something.  For example, I have AT&T U-verse for my Internet access provider.  AT&T wants me to buy movies from them rather than getting them from Netflix.  They should not be able to use the fact that I get my access from them to disadvantage Netflix or other sites, but they will if they get the chance, as any competitive company would.  Netflix should help pay for the extra bandwidth, but they shouldn’t be taken advantage of.  I’m not sure there’s a good way for the FCC to balance this.
It’s a thorny problem.  I don’t think a naïve pure Net Neutrality approach is the right solution, but we need something.  A decent solution might be to re-regulate the former phone companies and other access providers, banning them from providing commercial services, but guaranteeing them a good rate of return.  I’m aware, however, that will never happen.

Crowdsource Me!

Many of my creative friends have been looking at raising money for a project using a crowdsourced funding site like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.  I’ve been reading the advice available for them on the Internet, and having backed a number of projects on these sites, there is information I think would help them that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, if you aren’t familiar with them, sound almost too good to be true.  You just put your project up there and thousands–perhaps millions–of dollars roll in through the magic of the Internet!

The truth is that this does happen to the projects with the greatest appeal and best presentation, but many projects get little or no money.  On Kickstarter, as of this writing, just 44% of projects reach their funding goal.  Their site requires that you meet your funding goal, or they never collect any money from those who backed your project and you get nothing. 56% of projects–that’s more than half–end up this way.  IndieGoGo allows you to create a project where you will get what is contributed (minus their service fee) even if you do not make your goal.  On IndieGoGo only 10% of projects meet their funding goal.  There are other crowdsourced funding sites, but these are the biggest ones.

I’ve looked at more than a hundred projects I considered backing at one level or another (I know a lot of creative people), and it’s clear to me that the creators of some of these projects don’t understand the thought process a backer goes through.  I’ve made some suggestions how to make your project attractive to backers below.

Of course, your project, whether it’s a CD or an electronic kit or a book, needs to be something that appeals to backers.  If it cannot capture people’s interest, no matter how professional your presentation, people will not back it.

  1. Do everything you can do without the money.  When I was involved in a startup company and talking to investors, this was the advice they gave me.  People who back projects think much the same way; they often expect you will get the project to a fairly complete stage.
    Before you put the project up on a funding site, you should, as much as possible, have all the difficult creative parts finished, leaving only the straightforward parts that can be done easily if you have money to get them done.  Of course some kinds of projects (a film, for instance) this may not be possible.
    Most successful CD projects have the music written, recorded and mixed, and the artwork completed so all that is left to do is manufacturing.  If you are putting out a book, try to have it written/drawn, edited, etc. and ready for the printer.  If you are doing a consumer product, try to have a run of prototypes already made and beta tested, and the final version quoted and lined up at the assembly plant.
    I’ve noted projects that ask for funds to finish the initial creative work often do not meet their funding goals, and when I’ve backed such projects, they more often do not deliver.  That said, some have been successful.
  2. Be specific.  If you are creating a CD, tell backers the names and lengths of all the songs.  If you are creating a book, tell them how many pages, the page size, and how many pages are in color if you have pictures.  If you are making a consumer product, give the exact specifications.  Backers want to understand what they are backing, and nothing will turn off a backer faster than vagueness in the description of your project.
  3. Know what you plan to do, and stick to it.  I recommend, before you create your project, to get a group of advisors.  These can be normal folks who you think might have an interest in backing your project and/or people who may have done their own projects.  Show them your proposed project before it goes public, and have them ask questions and make suggestions.  Try to anticipate any concerns your backers will have.  Make any changes necessary before you go public.  While you may add to the project for stretch goals (funding goals beyond your initial goal), do not change the core project.
    Once you start changing things, it will be hard to say “No,” to other requests for changes, and many backers will defer backing until they feel the definition of the project is final, which will reduce your ability to hit your funding goal by the end date.
  4. Have the first batch of backers lined up.  Nothing says “failing” to potential backers like a project with just one or two backers.  I recommend you get 20 or more people lined up ahead of time who agree to back your project on the day it goes public.  This gives your project an initial momentum that will inspire other backers.  Encourage your 20 initial backers to share the fact that are backing you on social media.
  5. Look at successful projects.  Get ideas from other projects that have worked well.  Here are a couple of my personal favorites.  Spock’s Beard offered all their older musical instruments as premiums that people could get for higher levels of backing.  Girl Genius had an inspired strategy for stretch goals.
    Spock’s Beard CD
    Girl Genius
  6. Read the rest of the advice.  There is lots of good advice out there about crowdsourced funding; I’ve just tried to cover some practical aspects that others are not covering.  Some good advice can be found at these links:
    Smart Blog
    Music Think Tank
    Young Entrepreneur Council

All-in-all, it is quite possible to create a successful crowdsourced funding project; it just takes a bit of thought and planning.  Good luck on your project!

FacebookI like Facebook.  It lets me stay in touch with people I like, with whom, for a reason of distance or other barriers, I would nornally lose contact.  It also lets me publish the occasional bon mot (which, being realistic for a minute, some of my friends probably block) or tell people about events in my life.

Of course, like any good thing, there are bad aspects also.  My personal peeve has been Facebook chain letters (you know, posts of the form “If you have any tiny vestige of patriotism/humanity you will put the following as your status for just 1 day/48 hours”), but recently I became aware of an even greater evil.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of Facebook applications.  I blocked Farmville my first few days on Facebook.  I don’t have time for it, and I’m not sure why, but I find people giving me random Farmville objects strangely annoying.  Ditto for other Facebook games.  But two Facebook applications have recently tempted me.

A friend of mine uses NetworkedBlogs to send notifications of her blog posts to people on Facebook, and I play in a progressive rock band that wants to use Profile Pages for Musicians to promote the band.  Just out of curiousity, I clicked on the invite to Profile Pages for Musicians to see what I would allow if I accepted.  Below is what it showed me (with my email address removed).  They can:

  • Access my basic information
    Includes name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other information I’ve shared with everyone.
  • Send me email
    Band Profile: Profile Pages for Musicians may email me directly at <insert your email address here>
  • Post to my Wall
    Band Profile: Profile Pages for Musicians may post status messages, notes, photos, and videos to my Wall
  • Access posts in my News Feed
  • Access my data any time
    Band Profile: Profile Pages for Musicians may access my data when I’m not using the application
  • Manage my pages
    Band Profile: Profile Pages for Musicians may login as one of my Pages
  • Access my profile information
    Birthday and Hometown
I may be just showing my age, but I’m a little bit horrified that by accepting the invitation to the application, I am:
  • Providing tons of information about me, including stuff I only let my friends see
  • Providing a list of who my friends are
  • Giving them access to see all the posts by my friends (who may have privacy settings that are supposed to prevent this)
  • Giving them access to my news feeds, so they can see what my interests are and what stuff I “like”
  • Giving them my email address and allowing them to spam me
  • Letting them post stuff to my wall (which gets around my friends trying to block the application)
  • Letting them look up my information even if I am not using their application
  • And even letting them manage my Facebook pages!  

Note that I have my privacy settings moderately strict, so others may allow even greater access by accepting the invitation.  Facebook trusts those who provide the applications to act responsibly (in compliance with a vague policy), and has kicked out applications that do the most egregious violations (like posting blatant ads to people’s friends’ walls).  But Facebook does nothing to prevent the application from quietly gathering lots of data as long as it doesn’t do anything obvious that upsets users, and has no measures to enforce its rules other than kicking the application out after the fact.

I absolutely hate the idea that I am becoming an old Luddite curmudgeon, but, if I am honest, I will not be joining these or other Facebook applications, and you might think about adopting the same policy.