VicG Leaving

News today that the GM of my team, Vic Gundotra, will be leaving Microsoft for a year and then joining Google.

It’s a big loss for us, and an even bigger gain for Google (they are dead last in the industry at some of the things Vic knows how to do well).  My only consolation is that Vic (unlike a few others who have left) worked hard to grow the management chain beneath him, and has cultivated one of the stronger and more competent orgs at the company.  This isn’t just spin — I’ve blogged in the past about cases where I felt that managers did not cultivate an org that could thrive without them.  But things change, nobody works at one company forever, and the best you can hope for is that someone leaves the group stronger than it was when they arrived.  Vic definitely did that, and more importantly, left behind a group that is committed to doing the same.




The words “pimp” and “pimping” have become somewhat common, and I often hear people using them incorrectly.  Wikipedia is basically useless on this subject, so I am submitting my authoritative dissertation as a service to the world.

For starters, “pimp” has largely fallen out of use as a term to describe a man who finds clients for a prostitute.  The industry doesn’t operate that way anymore, for a variety of reasons which could be covered in a future dissertation.

Today, a “pimp” is any man who does little work and has multiple women give him money and expensive gifts.  This is accomplished by borrowing money and not paying it back, alternately telling her sweet things and abusing her, getting her involved in questionable investment schemes, getting her to buy expensive gifts, and so on.  One should not consider the woman in this relationship to be a victim; it’s a complex but common codependency pattern which deserves a dissertation of its own.

A “pimp” depends on his ability to impress women (in most cases).  He needs to appear to be physically and financially strong, in order to get women to fight over him.  He most definitely should not have lots of money to spare, otherwise the women would ask for their money back, and he would have a harder time borrowing.  In short, the women need to believe that “this guy would be rich and a great protector, but the system is unfair, so what can you do?”  He needs to look rich, so other women can be jealous when he is out with a particular woman, and so on.

Because of these constraints, and because the type of women attracted to pimps are not necessarily good at knowing what real quality is, the symbols of virility adopted by pimps are usually flashy, tawdry, gaudy and cheap.  In addition, since women of this caliber tend to be influenced mainly by broad sweeping demonstrations and spectacle (as opposed to reason or money), the pimp knows that you can never have too much jewelry, too many bright colors, or too funky a wardrobe.

Therefore, “pimping” is to adorn oneself or one’s posessions with flashy symbols for the purpose of impressing others.  It is most accurate when used to describe enhancements that most normal people would not spend any time or money on, and which are of questionable value outside the context of the pimp’s social circle.


Therefore, a geek could “pimp” his XBox Console or PC with some flashing lights, heavy-duty cooling equipment and so on.  But adding a productivity-enhancement like GTD toolbar for Outlook, is not “pimping”.

Deep Structure of Language

In English, we use “have” to represent past experience, and “will” to represent future — “I have skied before”, “I will ski tomorrow”.  Since English is full of homonyms, we seldom think about the fact that “have” is also used to indicate posession, and “will” is used to represent desire (“I have some money.  I will that it be given to my nephew when I die.”)  It’s just a coincidence, right?

Actually, Chinese has the same construct, but without homonyms.  In Chinese, the word “you” (pronounced “yo”) is used to signify both posession and past action (exactly like “have”) in English.  And the word “yao” (pronounced “yow”) is used to signify both wanting and future action.  In Chinese, there are plenty of homonyms too, but every word has a different character, so you can tell the difference between homonyms in written text.  In this case, the “you”s and “yao”s are exactly the same character.  There is no ambiguity — wanting is future action, and posession is past action.

It is remarkable that two languages so distantly separated use exactly the same constructs to represent the most basic concepts of past and future.  These are fundamental to human thought.  Since English has many homonyms, and “will” has fallen out of use as a word for “want”, it’s understandable that most English speakers don’t make the connection.  In fact, the use of inflected verb forms makes the “have” and “will” somewhat unnecessary, and many English speakers omit them.  But it’s interesting that most Chinese speakers don’t notice it either.  In part, I think it is because modern Chinese has an alternative form to “you” that can be used to indicate past action (similar to English -ed).  In Taiwan, people still say “wo you kan shu” (“I have read a book”), but in the north, they prefer “wo kan le shu”.  The “you” form is considered stiff and old-fashioned.  But even Chinese speakers I’ve talked to have assumed that this is just some accident of history.

The fact that exactly the same structure exists in both languages has got to be more than just a coincidence.  Having, wanting, past, and future are four of the most fundamental concepts for enabling human thought.  I am sure that some linguists have remarked on this before, but I couldn’t find anything about it.

So, why is posession so tightly tied with past, and want so tightly tied with future, in our deep structure?  Wanting is somewhat understandable, but for many people, the past is about loss.  It’s also interesting that Chinese and English have somewhat deprecated the opposite poles of this relationship — English has mostly de-linked want/future, while Chinese has started to deprecate posession/past.  While I think that sapir-whorf is a bunch of B.S., I wonder if this indicates anything about relative cultural priorities.  I would be interested to read more about this.


Ballmer Irrelevant?

Business 2.0 says Ballmer is irrelevant.  It’s typical that the tech press is repeating rumors, speculation, and basically piling on.  I hate to be a Kool-aid pimp, but this is just silly.  Ballmer came on-board when everyone said Microsoft was dead, and he doubled revenues in a six-year period.  I challenge anyone to name a CEO who could have done that with a company Microsoft’s size, and with the challenges Microsoft was facing.  I understand the need to blame people for things (like the issues inherent in the transition from growth stock to blue chip), but I think Ballmer is the wrong guy to blame.  He’s done a great job facing the company’s problems, and as the recent changes show, he continues to do the right thing.  It’s just insane to think that someone else would do a better job.

User Created Content

Jon Udell continues his crusade to obfuscate the idea of “user-generated content”.  As Orwell implored in “Politics and the English Language”, people should call a thing what it is — it’s user-generated content.

There are problems with Jon’s two proposed replacements.  First, “reader-created context” is what Stumbleupon does.  It’s what digg does.  It’s not what YouTube or MySpace do (except indirectly).  And “reader” is a lot more arrogant than “user”, IMO.  It implies that the “reader” is somehow not on equal footing with the publisher, and that this is not a conversation.

Second, I object to the artificial dichotomy between “professional” and “amateur”.  There are so many shades of gray between one nonexistant pole and the other, that it adds nothing to the conversation.

The way I see it, the whole point of these systems is that they level the playing field.  Certainly people like Jon will continue to have more competence and incentive to produce more “content” than others.  But the point of YouTube, Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers; is that there is no longer an arbitrary distinction — the users are the publishers.  The system simply enables social human sharing behaviors that have been built in since we developed language.

Radio Hotness

I’m spending a week in Hot97 home territory, after spending a week in Power106 territory.  I make the comparison a couple of times per year, and still have to say that Hot97 is on top.

For the people obsessed with the “long tail” of music production, and the power of outlets like iTunes to disintermediate the record labels, it’s instructive to see how much influence and control the taste-makers like Funkmaster Flex continue to have.  I don’t have the exact stats, but I blogged here last year my opinion that iTunes Music Store (itms) owes a lot to Funk Flex and Angie Martinez.  A couple of years ago, it was almost impossible to find songs on the current Hot97 playlist on itms — last year it was getting a lot easier, and now we have Hot97 offering the first branded itms.  Hot97 is helping listeners try out and decide what songs they want to to put in their iPod playlists.

This is really smart; if you think about the previous scenario, which was happening hundreds of thousands of times per week:  someone hears something on Angie Martinez’s show, and thinks “I want this on my iPod”.  The listener picks out a few lyrics, and does a Google search to figure out the exact title and artist.  After bouncing around to a few pages, viewing lots of adsense ads and getting assaulted with attempted spyware installs, the listener realizes the music is too fresh — she ends up trawling around some discussion boards (or waiting until the playlist on the Hot97 site is updated).  Once she gets the name of the song, she goes to itms and tries to find the song.  Based on various permutations of name, she may or may not get lucky.

And note that the above scenario requires a pretty sophisticated listener.  The *real* “long tail” of this industry is people who txt all day, but would get lost on step 2 of the scenario above.  As long as someone has an iPod, you can assume that they know how to use itms (not exactly a safe assumption, in my experience, but good enough).  So baking Hot97 into itms just lowered the bar enough to sell a LOT more music.  Now just imagine when we make this experience seamless and easy using nothing but your cellphone.

But, wouldn’t it be better if we just autogenerate radio stations, tailored to each individual user, and based on that user’s social network of friends and their interests?  I am sure there is a place for such a system (and we’ve done similar) to drive music sales.  But I think it’s crazy to think that taste-makers like Hot97 will lose their dominant role.  People listen to radio because it’s local; because they can feel like they are part of a community; that there is a soul behind the playlist.  They want to feel like they are participating in events as they unfold; not being force-fed some homogenized, sterilized, and soulless computer-generated playlist.  Genre is the crudest community, and outlets like XM with 1000 channels based on genre are missing the point.

And of course, I think this applies far beyond radio.  The point is, it would be ridiculous for Funk Flex to claim that “I am just manifesting the desires of my audience; my playlist is a fair representation of what the listeners have asked for”.  There is a bit if “wisdom in crowds” thing, but that’s not Flex’s role.  His role is as an emcee, it’s his party and if you want to come along you’re going to have fun.  Good companies realize that it’s as much about being emcee as about reflecting the “invisible hand of the market”.  Steve Jobs gets it; Tim O’Reilly gets it; Scoble’s comments about “story to tell” get it.

What this means is that we either try to become the new taste-maker in whatever market we’re in, or we work closely with the taste-makers.  I think it’s cool that 50 cent is trying to sell branded Apple Computers.  It’s cool that Windows Media partnered with MTV.  It’s cool that Hot97 partners with iTunes.


Scoble’s Bridges

Scoble says “farewell“, and Nick Carr says that Scoble might be burning bridges.  Scoble tends to never say bad things about past employers, so perhaps Nick doesn’t trust Scoble’s comments about the situation.  On the other hand, I’ve known Scoble since three companies before he worked at Microsoft, and I’ve never hesitated to say exactly what I think about specific high-profile employee departures, so maybe what I say will have some credibility.

First, I think Nick is completely missing the point when he talks about us hiring Scoble to be the “public face” of the company.  If we had hired Scoble to be a shill, then Nick’s arguments apply.  But we hired Scoble to help drive a new level of transparency and a new style of direct grassroots community engagement (through channel 9).  As part of this, Robert showed that it’s safe to be an independent voice engaging directly with customers and critics through blogs, and helped change the culture of the company (or IMO, helped bring out the culture that was already there).  The value of Scoble was that his voice wasn’t “paid for”.

Next, what does this say about our continued commitment to transparency?  Nick asserts that we would pay any price to keep Scoble if we truly cared.  But I think the answer is a lot simpler than that.  Scoble accomplished everything he set out to accomplish, probably more than he or anyone else expected.  Seriously, what was he going to do next?  Go to Google and help them be more transparent?  Write another book about “Business Blogging 2.0”?  Please…  The revolution is secure — I am sure there will be a cottage industry in seeking out imagined threats to the revolution, but the fact is that the company and the industry have changed for good now.

As for “burning bridges”, Scoble built bridges throughout the company, and between the company and the rest of the industry.  He could easily hang out at Microsoft, resting on his laurels and coasting for the next ten years.  And while I would like to believe that Microsoft has enough interesting and challenging opportunities to keep a guy like Scoble interested, he’s not exactly the kind of guy who “rests” or stays at one company for life.  And we aren’t exactly the kind of company who need to lock people in for life.  If it was good for him and good for us, why cry?  We can only hope that the future holds many more relationships like that.  Scoble will always be a friend, but for now we say farewell to him as a co-worker, and I give him my heartiest e-bay seller rating: “A+ Great Communication, Would Do Business With Again!”

Giving Away Attention

[via Scripting] Gillmor challenges Microsoft to endorse free and open attention data interchange.  He then asserts that Google would surely follow suit (if not lead the way), and Yahoo is just nervous.  To me, this is as naive as Tim Berners-Lee currently going around saying that “the semantic web is finally happening”.

I want to believe it, and there are hopeful signs.  RSS is everywhere.  Companies like edgeio are building systems based on an enlightened philosophy identical to the philosophy of the original WWW (all publishers and all readers are equal).  And microformats are building using the same philosophy as RSS.

On the other hand, while people like Steve Gillmor worry about pulling attention data out from behind the walled gardens, we are seeing the basic building-block of web 1.0, user-generated content, increasingly move behind walled gardens.  Yahoo answers currently boasts ten million answers.  Do you think Yahoo will freely allow Google to crawl and index those answers?  Is MSN Expo about to let Google Base index their classifieds?  All three of the big three are making it easier and more compelling for users to generate content directly into the Google/MSN/Yahoo-plex, and taking ownership of that data in a way that is decidedly not what TimBL imagined.  For a whole slew of reasons, I think we’ll see the trend toward walled gardens increase, not decrease.

It’s not something I endorse, nor is it something I think will be able to endure.  But I think it’s naive to be too optimistic right now.  Let’s worry about keeping content open first, then we can worry about making the indexes open, and then maybe attention.

Hitting Reset on the Blog

I’ve run this blog on dasBlog for the past few years, but finally got tired of the comment spam and strange permalink bugs.  I’m trading in for a new set of idiosyncracies with WordPress.  Expect old posts and comments to be imported to this blog as I have time.

I have decided not to map the old RSS feed URL to the new one.  In the more than 6 years that this blog has been running, I have no idea how many of the subscriptions in bloglines or newsgator are for people who actually read the blog.  Although it’s an inconvenience to those who do read, I don’t plan to switch again for at least 3 or 4 years, and I get better statistics this way.  For anyone reading this post in an RSS newsreader, thanks for re-subscribing!