Ugh

I think I’ve got the summertime sadness, y’all. I’ve been working on a depressing post which (shocker!) I’m not finding myself all that eager to sit down and write.

PLUS, Heironimus has killed again and now 16 West is basically a forgotten dream.

PLUS, it is hot and the humidity makes me feel icky.

But since it has been two weeks since I’ve posted, I thought I had really better check in and let all my dear, dear readers know that I am still here. Bewilderingly so.

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Filed under Pointless musings

“I’ve Been Bored,” Superheaven

I’ve been listening to Aural History this morning, which is a music podcast from Alex Ezell, an SDM for Rackspace down in Blacksburg.

Really good stuff all the way around, including a song from Bully called “Trying” which I’ll definitely be listening to again soon.

However, the track that has really grabbed my ears holes is this far-out rock and roll jam by Superheaven.

Get to slam dancin, y’all.

**UPDATE: Superheaven is the grunge band I wanted to hear in 1993. 24 hours later, I’m completely sold. Unexpected chord progressions! Melody! These guys are awesome…like Weezer covering  Where You Been-era Dinosaur Jr. If you like the song I posted (and if you don’t, what is wrong with you?), then let me recommend “Leach,” “Downswing,” and “Dig Into Me” from the same album, Ours Is Chrome. Also, note that, for legal reasons, the band had to change their name, previously being known as Daylight. The stuff they recorded as Daylight is just as good…maybe better. Here’s a link to their album Jar, recorded under their old name.

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Filed under Tunes

Periscope Isn’t airbnb, Or: Don’t Suck

Can we all agree that Periscope is a sad train wreck? I think we can.**

I was on vacation last week. I checked Twitter on Wednesday, saw that CoLab had tweeted that they were broadcasting XpoWednesday LIVE! on Periscope, and didn’t consider for even one second wasting data clicking the link.

No reflection on CoLab or XpoWednesday…it is just that watching anything on Periscope is boring and painful. Meerkat isn’t any better. The technology promises to put you LIVE! in the experience, but it doesn’t and can’t.

The problem is one of curation. A live feed is inherently boring.

Consider this anecdote about airbnb: when they first launched, they had real trouble attracting users. And what they realized after soliciting feedback is that the site was unappealing because all the posts of available lodgings featured poor quality cell phone photos. So, they took a chance and hired professional photographers to go around and photograph available places. A few multi-billion dollar valuations later, that gamble seems to have paid off.

At the time, though, hiring professional photographers could have appeared like throwing good money after bad. Which is to say, airbnb sucked and pouring more money into that “bad” idea was sort of crazy. Yet, it worked. Not because the concept or technology got better, but because the content did.

The analog to Periscope? Actually, there isn’t one. Sorry, Periscope, your technology isn’t worthwhile. Because what is needed to save Periscope is an editing suite to merge multiple live streams into one coherent whole. We call that “television.” And while live streaming is cheap and boring, live television is compelling but hella expensive, y’all. That expense doesn’t come in to the equation because of the technology, it is because you need talented professionals to do the editing, in real time. Talented professionals are precisely the people cut out of amateur live streaming.

So why this discussion? Because I think it illustrates a really simple, basic (and you would think obvious) truth of the new online economy we find ourselves navigating like Vasco da Gama, with confidence and purpose yet without certainty as to exactly where it is we are going to end up. If you want to make it, your content MUST be either wanted or needed, and it must be good.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Periscope does such a bad job providing a good version of something people want (a live experience) given its association with Twitter, considering Twitter’s bad job of providing a good version of something people need (a real-time news outlet).

“Need” is an elastic term, but think about IMDb. IMDb is the gold standard, a site everyone uses and treats practically like a like a public utility. You’ve got a question about who was in a movie? You go to IMDb. You don’t go anywhere else. Ever. They are accurate and reliable and everyone knows where to go. Easy. They provide exactly the service you need for the specific purpose for which they exist.

Compare that to Periscope. Why would you open Periscope? That is not a rhetorical question. You go to IMDb with a purpose in mind. You go to Facebook with a purpose (baby pictures and vacation pictures, amiright?). You go to Reddit with a purpose (kill time/learn weird shit). And then you visit those 10 different sites you check because they feature your other interests (ESPN for sports, Car and Driver if you are into cars, whatever…you know what your interests are).

Ok, so, why would you use Periscope? The promise is compelling live content — in a nutshell, whatever you click on should be interesting. However, the reality is almost NOTHING on Periscope is interesting, and even those events that could be interesting are poorly shot and have bad sound quality.

Some people might say YouTube started out with bad quality content and turned out pretty okay, and they’d be right, but the technology already existed before the site launched to create good content, e.g. editing software. You can’t make live content “good” in the moment without a trained team of editing professionals. You know, like tv.

A really interesting comparison is to Twitch. Twitch is also a live streaming platform, but with a built-in content advantage: video games. There are millions of gamers around the globe, whereas all the streamers on Periscope who broadcast the contents of their refrigerators (really, that is a thing) have no built in audience at all.

Nobody wants this product.

And that is why I wanted to write about it. Sadly, there are a number of start-ups locally that are facing this problem. There isn’t any need to name names. But there is a need for soul searching. These local guys don’t have API problems or UI problems, they have “why?” problems. “Why would anyone visit your site or use your service?” is a much more clarifying question for a start-up than “Is there an unmet need?” Even if you are correct that there really is a need, that doesn’t mean the product you hope to build is going to properly address it.

Took me almost a thousand words to come around to the point…maybe I’m a bit too polite. I don’t want to just come out and say, “hey bro, everything you’ve been working on is kinda shitty.” So I’ve illustrated the point with a big dumb startup far away from us. The idea that if you build something “cool” people will show up just isn’t true; there are simply too many options out there. Cool is a starting point, not a destination.

**So, in an interesting twist, just an hour after I originally posted this, I got some feedback from a regular reader letting me know that she sometimes enjoys watching the occasional stream on Periscope, specifically from people working in television and radio. Let me therefore slightly revise my thesis: Periscope can be used to some decent effect by media professionals, especially when supplementing their other media efforts, like a radio host broadcasting what is going on live in studio. It can be done. However, that isn’t the norm and is in fact a very small, very specific subset of streams.

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Filed under Blacksburg Start-ups, Pointless musings, Roanoke Start-ups

The Exit: Valley Bank

Let’s be honest: I write more about music than I do about start-ups. But when I DO write about start-ups, I generally confine my meandering discourse to tech start-ups.

However, I’m as interested in Roanoke business generally as I am in the particulars of our burgeoning tech scene, so when a different kind of “start-up” takes off, I think it is worthy of attention.

Enter Valley Bank. Founded in 1995, Valley Bank has been a runaway success here in Roanoke, often with double digit growth, year-over-year. And that has been a real boon to us all, because local banks and banking local are vital to organic growth in small markets like Roanoke. However, that kind of macroeconomic crap is not the point of this post.

Let’s talk instead about Valley Bank’s “exit strategy.”

Like many tech start-ups, Valley Bank built a small, loyal, local following, and when a bigger bank came calling with a cash offer, they sold out. I got a form letter last week from Ellis Gutshal, Valley’s president, saying that the long-planned merger is now official.

This is the start-up dream, right? Build something great and let somebody else scale it for you, taking a fat payday.

I can’t say I blame them, but at the same time, local banks occupy a place of public trust that I feel Valley has broken in this case. Personally, I went with Valley because I liked their community focus, and I have no confidence at all that their purchaser, BNC Bancorp, will give shit one about Roanoke. They are based in High Point, NC. Valley Bank is probably a write-off for them. And I feel a little bit betrayed, and disappointed in myself that I didn’t pick Hometown Bank instead.

Banks matter in tangible ways in the lives of individuals that tech companies, even big ones, just do not. Think about it: Facebook buys Oculus, and nothing changes for anyone other than the employees of Oculus; but a local bank like Valley gets bought out, and suddenly it is a little bit harder for all of us in Roanoke to get a mortgage. Whether the issue is a home loan or a business loan, they’ll say their underwriting will stay in-house and all decisions will be local, but that will NOT be true. Instead of a personal banking relationship, Valley’s customers will be dealing with the local representatives of far away shot calllers.

I kinda think that sucks.

HA HA! Business! - HA HA! Business!  Ha Ha! Business

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Filed under Downtown Roanoke, Grandin culture, Start-up culture

“Next To Me,” Emeli Sande

I first heard the last half of this song coming in scratchy on the fading signal from some Adult Contemporary station the Seek button found for me outside Richmond a couple of years ago, hurtling down twisty Huguenot Trail at a fairly reckless speed, fingers popping and snapping unconsciously against the steering wheel — catching the rhythm and matching the irresistible forward propulsion of the drums, like the constant chuffchuffboom thrum of a tugboat diesel churning at harbor.

Not a great song, but a darn good one.

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Filed under Pointless musings, Tunes

A Few Thoughts On Noke Codes

Noke Codes. Yeah. It is time to address this joint.

But why has it taken so long? I’ll tell ya, having a job is real drag, man. I really thought by now Barack Obama would have read this blog and come to my house and said, “Guy, I’ve read every single one of your posts about bands that nobody likes or has heard of, and WE NEED YOU. I want you to take this salary from the American people of one billion dollars so that you can write full time, hombre. This is important.”

RIGHT?

Anyway, Noke Codes.

Noke Codes is an effort by a group of local guys to accomplish several goals at once via a civic hackathon.

Let us first to be dispensing with the notion that hacking is bad. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily so. Kinda like how not all rectangles are squares, dig?

What then is a hackathon? It is a weekend-long sprint to a build a solution to a vexing IT problem. And a CIVIC hackathon is just applying that method to a community or societal issue.

The goals for Noke Codes (in no particular order): bring together the local tech community in a sort of nerd mixer; help local organizations that need tech help; and throw a bitchin’ local party. Being local is very, very hip right now. And Noke Codes ain’t nothin’ if not hip.

This is the kind of event that will either be Ground Zero of a Roanoke Revolution!, or a friggin’ train wreck. I don’t know which, but there doesn’t seem to me to be the possibility of a middle ground here. Either folks will come out and be astounded at the opportunity and talent that exists here, or nobody will show up.

Behind the scenes, the organizers are putting in the work to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to make this work, and they are partnering with CoLab not only for space but also for help in spreading the word. So, I think if people show up, it will work. But will anybody show up?

StartUp Weekend didn’t work here. That was almost two years ago, and I think our start-up scene is accelerating daily, but still…StartUp Weekend pretty much works everywhere. It is a franchise. And Roanoke loves franchises. Hello, Mission BBQ!

Noke Codes is a project worth supporting. There is no downside. But like most things, people will stand on the sideline until they see it is a success, and then NEXT year, it will be well attended. If they make it to next year. But if you are reading this, you are the type of person who is needed THIS year so that they can make it to next year.

So get involved, yo! Now is the time. YES! WE! CAN!

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Filed under Grandin culture, Roanoke Start-ups

Throttle!

Is Mindsense a start-up? I mean, they aren’t Microsoft, but they’re pretty well established…

Hell, they’re local. Let’s write about ’em.

They have a new product in soft launch called Throttle. I’m not going to explain it, because you can just click the link. Click it. Just CLICK IT! Jeez…you know I can see the metrics on the back-end, right? I know when you’ve read something and I know when you click stuff. CLICK IT.

Ok. I know you aren’t going to click it. So here’s the thing: Mindsense is trying to save email. They have Mail Pilot and now they have Throttle. And I like email. I know most people hate email, and it isn’t a perfect communication medium, but now that stamp-and-envelope letters are dead, it is really all we have left.

To quote Win Butler, “it may seem strange how we used to wait for letters to arrive, but what’s stranger still is how something so small can keep you alive.”

I don’t know…maybe I should hate email. The immediacy of it. No forethought, no effort. Reduced humanity.

What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, Throttle.

It is cool, I guess. Whatever. Click the link.

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Filed under Blacksburg Start-ups, Pointless musings