So this is interesting. It’s a way to take clips and mash them up together. Definitely up my alley. I think it’s introducing some of the concepts I’d been thinking about in a way that’s accessible.
*This isn’t a fully formed thought yet, but I thought I’d try to explore some of it through an essay. Feel free to skip it. I had a dream about it and I need to write it down.
So if video really does turn into something completely dynamic, where each piece of video is really an iframe (or something) displayed on a page, we’ll need a mechanism to allow the underlying video to talk to the parent window and vice versa.
postMessage lets cross-domain frames talk to each other safely and securely. It’s a tightly controlled channel… the child frame doesn’t really know much about the parent and vice versa, however they can pass simple messages between each other.
What if there was a protocol for linear content? That means anything that has a time-based start, middle, and end, could communicate with its parent iframe according to a protocol. It’d be loosely defined like RSS, but it could serve as a really useful way for, say, a YouTube video to outsource the responsibilities for titling / annotations to the parent frame. Imagine SportsCenter, which uses highlights from various locations. Currently, they record the highlights and then air them, with their own CGs on top, etc. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could do the same thing, but have the metadata related to the broadcast be passed along separately, so things like the courtesy credit would be ensured to be accurate, and the parent frame would get back details about the video, related audio, related graphics, and could conditionally choose how best to air the content.
There’s some obvious implications for how this would work. What would you do if KXXX swapped their video out for porn, or took it down completely, wouldn’t that ruin SportsCenter?
Perhaps a trusted embed system could develop, where you’d get a key from a server that guarantees the ‘parent’ is allowed to play back said highlights. Perhaps you could whitelist / blacklist allowed outlets. That way, MLB could be the central repository of all content, and they could strike deals with whomever they wanted to permit use of specific chunks of broadcast.
postMessage data, for sports, might include current time, players currently being shown in the clip, etc. For interviews, it might include a whole normal ‘name super’. Maybe you even have ‘quote’ metadata like Vidpresso that could be put in an iFrame? Hmm.
Not to mention digital signage. Hm.
I’m not totally sure how to mitigate all these questions, but I’m starting to figure it out in my head. More coming.
Careers are rarely a straight line. The good ones, like any quality art, come through a struggle that takes years. I’m finally on a path that feels like the right one, so let me take a few minutes and navel gaze. You might find something interesting in here, or you might think I’m grandstanding. Either way, I’m taking a few minutes to look back on my struggle.
Let’s start in 2008. Ugh. That year.
I had left a really comfy job with little oversight to helped launch a tech news / reviews / database site. I was picked to be the leader of the site, and as the leader I was responsible for building the editorial parts from the ground up.
Where is that site today? Wiped from the face of the internet.
So let’s just say I was really bad at that venture. Like really bad. Like it imploded likely singularly thanks to my lack of skill / personal awareness of my weaknesses.
To put it how I’d have said it at the time: That sucked.
I thought the 2008 venture was going to be it. I had worked my way out of TV news, where I discovered even though I was obsessed with producing video content, however I loathed covering local news. It was impossible to care less about the content of the newscast. But, I knew I cared a lot about technology content, and I was lucky enough to escape TV and work with some great technology publications in CNET and Engadget… mostly doing video production.
Somewhere along the line, I had the hubris that I could recreate one of the most respected technology brands, just by hard work and sweat, basically copying their structure. I didn’t really have an original bent to what I was trying to do, nor had I done a lot of writing nor leading a group of writers, but I was excited about the topic area, and thought I could do anything.
Yeah. I was wrong.
I had a theory about our differentator. I thought comparison charts would be it. I thought everyone wanted to shop for gadgets that way. I probably should have realized that wasn’t the case, since I had never looked at a comparison chart, but hey, retrospect.1 In the years since the lean startup movement has evolved, it’s clear that had I come up with a simplistic chart comparing major phones, and not done it by coding lots of software, we could have come to that conclusion faster and less painfully.
Anyway, bad direction, bad leadership, bad at following up on tasks, that venture basically was destined to die with me at the helm. Oh, and remind me what the hell that had to do with video again? My strength?
So basically I was fired. I quit, but realistically the venture was doomed so had I not quit, I would have been fired, and everyone else was laid off eventually.
After what seemed like the biggest professional failure I’d ever had, I basically had a month or two of mourning. My wife tells me I was pretty depressed.
I started watching a lot of TV. Specifically ESPN. I’m not particularly a sports fan, but I thought, and still think, they’re some of the most innovative video producers in the world. I only mildly like sports, but I love ESPN2.
Would it be possible for me to create an ESPN quality show out of my living room? Maybe an Around the Horn style show for technology?
I started experimenting. I had some of my NYC media friends3 do a test, where I rigged three extra computers to share a screen. I connected each of them into an audio mixer, and I routed their audio so that none of them could hear themselves, but they could hear each other.
That evolved in to TechVi. TechVi was a daily show that I produced solo for the first year or so, where I’d have different technology journalist guests come on the show, and talk about one topic of the day. I kept it under 10 minutes, because YouTube had a strict upload limit of 10 minutes back then.
Eventually, I met Iyaz Akhtar, and convinced him to do TechVi with me as my cofounder. We didn’t know what we were doing, but it was fun. (Iyaz has since moved onto amazing things at twit.)
The show was ahead of its time for sure, and production quality that was pretty good, but still not exactly a source people turned to for technology news. Also I didn’t spend enough time on the content. I found myself messing more around with coding the site than preparing the show, so I wasn’t extremely happy with how the content of the show came out.
By coding on TechVi, I learned that coding is something anyone could do. I created a hacked-together site that would poll the video player for its timecode. When the player would hit a certain timecode, the player would shrink, and the background would change out for an iframe of a website, effectively allowing me to dynamically insert b-roll into the video. Also, since I made it so the site was a big single-page app, the video player would continue to play even when you clicked around on links.
Using websites / iframes as b-roll was pretty unique. It meant that the video, while crucial to the experience, didn’t have to be the entire experience on its own.
I realized: Shouldn’t video be like that? Video right now is this static thing that cobbles together clips and stuff, and then once it’s rendered, it’s one thing. Stuck that way. Forever. Shouldn’t it just stay clips forever? Shouldn’t you be able to update a video the same way you update a blog post? Shouldn’t you be able to edit out a word, or swap a video clip, after the video has been published? What if video wan’t just this static thing, what would be possible?
That’s where the path I’m on now starts.4
Vidpresso is an expression of the answer of those questions. It’s a way for TV producers to start wading in the waters of dynamic video.5
For what it’s worth, John Falcone of CNET actually gave me a great idea that I should have done. He said people don’t really want to compare items, they just want to know the best. He said a page that just did extensive research and listed the best would win. So all the scores and rubricks aren’t really the tool people use. People just want to know what the best thing is. That, incidentally, is what (The Wirecutter)[http://thewirecutter.com] is, and they’re killing it. I should haven listened. ↩
I used to work for ESPN earlier in my career as a freelancer. It was heaven, working in a fast-paced, innovative video production truck. ↩
Kyle Monson, who was at PC Mag at the time, Maggie Reardon of CNET, and Nicholas Carlson of Business Insider. You guys helped me out hugely. Thanks! ↩
For some reason, it doesn’t feel like I can contextualize what happened after that yet. Justin.TV and my experiences with Y Combinator are hugely formative for my company, but I don’t think I can effectively know what impact they’ve had yet, so those will have to wait. ↩
Is that what I’m going to call this concept? Dynamic video? I hadn’t really considered what to call it before, but I think that’s going to be it. Hey, look. A new part of the story unfolded while navel gazing. Guess this post wasn’t useless after all. ↩
I didn’t invent this stuff, but I like spotting a trend. Nadia, a startup founder who recently was funded by the illustrious Dave McClure and 500 startups, contrasts her experience living in San Francisco on a budget under $20k annually. Last year, she lived on an extremely strict budget (aka goal) vs this year, enjoying her life by living thoughtfully with two specific goals.
- Do I really need this?
- By purchasing this now, what can’t I purchase later?
It’s not about managing your dollars, it’s about managing your stress. If you get stressed out about money, you lash out by spending erratically.
This matches my experience pretty much 1:1.
She had some great success, including living in a sweet apartment in SF ($1k / month) and being able to travel to Belize. More on her blog, and check out my original goals vs values post if you haven’t yet seen it.
(hat tip to Jason Shen, someone who probably has a great opinion on the goals vs values debate that I’d love to read. Hint hint.)
Internet video distribution hasn’t dramatically changed in quite a while. When Adobe added H.264 support in Flash1, video on the web went from grainy, blocky, uglyness to a quality that people expected from regular TV.
That was the last major technical innovation of internet video distribution that’s made it past the science experiment phase.2 Before 2007 / 2008, we had some pretty crucial breakthroughs. Podcasting, for one, was HUGE. Flash video embedding, HUGE. YouTube? Huge for discoverability of content.
But since then, internet video distribution has sort of stopped with real innovation. You might say, “But what about the html5 video tag?” Sure. The video tag lets some cooler things happen, but realistically, its primary job is to replace Flash. That’s about it. It lays a solid foundation for internet video to grow, but currently it hasn’t shaken up our experience much.
On the creation side, we’ve seem some great innovations that are huge leaps of progress. Most notably, the RED camera served as an impetus for all camera manufacturers to create cheaper, better sensors in all of their cameras. Now we’ve got DSLRs with interchangable, fantastic glass, killer sensors, and finally, video can actually compete visually with film. It’s clear that soon, the tools to take light and convert it into data will soon be inexpensive enough that anyone can have access to them, regardless of price.
Crucially though, the distribution mechanisms for video are still caught in two different worlds. Professional video producers deride YouTubers as ‘folks in their bedroom with a camera,’ because often times the quality doesn’t match. However, that argument is becoming less and less valid.3 But the mechanism for distribution is singular: YouTube. Broadcast is still where most people watch TV, and it’s unlikely for that to change in the immediate term.
So what are some agents that could agitate that change and help it happen faster?
Well, H.265 / a new crop of codecs seem interesting. They could allow for more video consumption / more interesting applications without rapid changes in bandwidth. Oh also, bandwidth could get faster too. :)
On the consumer side of things, we see the Smart TV movement which is happening right now, but often times the platforms which Smart TV manufacturers are using aren’t platforms which are accessable enough to facilitate independent development… for now the independents have to rely on YouTube to present their content best.4 And given their draconian agreements, it’s unlikely popular YouTube stars could make a go at signing with a Cable company, or other traditional distributor, since most of the power of the independent is capturing a diverse audience without being at the mercy of geography, or showtime.
So what is the future of TV distribution going to look like for producers?
Obviously I don’t know, but I feel like YouTubers would be better to adopt the Wordpress model, vs the Tumblr model. Let me be explain.
Say you’ve got an idea for something funny, and you think it could be a show. You don’t know how to program, and you don’t really want to learn, so you upload it to YouTube. It becomes a repeatable viral success, and you’re reliant on YouTube’s entire platform for your continued success.
Right now, if you get disenfranchised with YouTube, your option is to… basically do nothing, because you need the discoverability of YouTube, and the hosting infrastructure to pull it off correctly. To develop custom hosting of videos, without the support of a community, seems both cost prohibative, and ill-advised except for the most savvy of video producers.
What if instead, as you outgrew the walled garden, you could move to your own hosting provider if you wanted… or outsource the work (paid) to another provider who wouldn’t take a cent from your ad revenues, but would provide you with all the necessary infrastructure to distribute video on your terms.
That, to me is the opportunity. If there was an ecosystem of open-source software, like Wordpress, that compatibly existed and allowed a person to easily create, host and distribute their own content, you’d have a whole new industry formed around it. Larger, more established video creators wouldn’t have to feel like they’re iTunes-ing themselves into oblivion, as sometimes the music industry laments, and with a more open platform / standard, other folks could come up with more interesting applications / ways to present content that haven’t yet been tried.
It may seem weird, but I remember the day they announced it, since I was doing video for CNET, and we quickly realized that “OMG OUR VIDEOS DON’T HAVE TO LOOK LIKE CRAP ANYMORE!” ↩
My favorite current science experiment is seriously.js. It’s a code-based node-based compositor (like shake or After Effects) built for HTML5 videos entirely in HTML. It’s really impressive. Popcornjs is kind of interesting, but their approach seems backward. They’re trying fun experiments without anyone using them in the real-world on a massive scale. Science project. ↩
Which is fine for the short term, but a YouTube monopoly on content seems unlikely to be sustainable in the long-term. Content creators are bad at selling / monetizing / distributing their content today, and YouTube serves as a useful intermediary, but as a creator grows larger, they shouldn’t need to cede drastic control to a third-party entity to exist. ↩
I started reading some really awesome essays by people like Paul Graham, and it made me want to be a great essayist.
But I realized something. It prevented me from putting mostly anything out there, because I wanted to revise and rework my essays for at least 4-6 readings, which takes several hours of time.
Very few people can spend several hours writing essays.1
So rather than continue to not produce, I’m going to switch my writing style from waterfall to agile. Continuous deployment of essays, even if they’re bad.
I might even go back and rework essays after they’re published. So you might see an essay in a very different form the next time you read it.
I’m uncertain if Tumblr is the platform to pull this off correctly, but I’m going to stick around and see. At least it natively supports markdown.
I’m not even sure anyone will read, and that’s ok. For me it’s about processing ideas correctly, and giving them a place to live, even if I can’t always execute them to their fullest fruition.
Maybe if you sold a startup for millions, you qualify as being able to write essays, or answer questions in long form on Quora. ↩
So I posted that Goals vs Values post a few weeks ago, and I wanted to give an update. It’s working amazingly.
After I stopped setting goals, the things I started to do and have continued to do include:
I’m using Lift to track everything. And while I haven’t set a goal to do these things on some sort of rigid schedule, I did lay out the things I want to do on a regular basis, and I’ve been doing them.
One place where I feel like I’ve fallen down is on not sacrificing home time for work time. I’ve had a busy few weeks, and been making a lot of progress, which has meant I’ve been sacrificing nights to work. Yesterday, Traci came home late, and I basically didn’t do anything but work after she got home. Need to improve there.
I realize posts like this aren’t as insightful as the essays I strive to write, but I think they are useful because it’s proof of performance. The values thing works.
So I used to be very goal oriented. I had a goal to get my associates degree done before I finished High School. I had a goal to get a CCNA. I had a goal to become a technology journalist.
But then somewhere along the road, I decided that goals are kind of bunk. Every time I achieved a goal, I thought it would fill my life with meaning, and I’d have a much better life afterward. Oddly, that never happened. I’d hit a goal, and the things that filled my life with meaning were never related to the goal itself, but instead related to the run up to the goal.
So I’m done setting specific numeric “goals” per se. The downside of goals? This zen habits post outlines it better than I could. Basically they don’t give you a ton of upside, but give you a ton of downside, in the form of self doubt.1
Now, I’ve been trying to live my life according to a bunch of principles. Basically I want the following:
And that’s about it. Those two principles lead to sub principles.
That’s about it. Originally, when we started Vidpresso, I had set weird growth targets and goals that didn’t have any grounding in reality. And, I’ve been disappointed by not growing as fast as we could, and frankly, I feel really lonely sometimes as a founder. However, I’ve begun to adopt the “go with the flow” mindset for Vidpresso, and it’s paying some dividends.
For instance, we originally moved to Oregon to live here for 3 months and then move back to Utah. We ended up staying 6 because we really liked being around our family up here. A lot. But also, I didn’t hit my original goal of making enough $$$ to live in Utah without requiring my wife to work f/t.
I was a disappointed that we didn’t hit my goal. But I decided that it didn’t matter that we didn’t hit it, because we were happier being around our family for an extra 3 months.
Vidpresso, believe it or not, has doubled revenue every quarter since launch. That’s something to be proud of, and sometimes I miss that fact when we’re not hiring 30 employees or whatever i dream up.
But now, we’re able to go back to Utah in July with the money we need to live, and we’re really excited about it.
A second example is health: I strive to be healthy, but some days I strive less hard than others. Lately I’ve been on a running / 7-minute workout kick, so I’m trying to keep that going for as long as I can. But I haven’t set a specific weight-loss goal. Instead, I’m going to track my progress and try to trend downward long-term, instead of hitting the 20+ pound goal, and then being “done” like I did before.
Ambition is required, goals aren’t. I have the ambition / drive / wherewithall / gumption to make Vidpresso be as big as it needs to be to fulfill its mission2, but I don’t want to set a point where we’ll have “made it.” This is an adventure, not some sort of planned trip from a to b.
I’m not sure how to reconcile this with business yet. I mean I’m watching my revenue graph go up and to the right, but should I be setting more explicit goals? We have analytics, we track our conversions, and we’re trying to improve them. We track retention and try to improve it. But maybe specific goals are silly anyway? Like if you optimize one metric at the expense of other metrics, who cares? I have no idea what to do. ↩
Helping anyone create broadcast quality video without a broadcast budget ↩
Much ink has been spilt on the concept of work / life balance. I think most people just figure it out as they go… and I think I’ve finally got that figured out.1
So now, I have a new balance problem. I’m not sure what to call it, but let’s start by calling it balancing worry with excitement.
You see, startups are a fickle beast. They’re very up and very down, often times within the same week, if not day.
Founders get on top of the world when people externally validate their existence. Jessica said it best last year at startup school.
What you don’t realize until you start a startup is how much external validation you’ve gotten for the conservative choices you’ve made in the past. You go to college and everyone says, “Great!” Then you graduate get a job at Google and everyone says, “Great!”
What do you think people say when you quit your job to start a company to rent out airbeds?
When you get any flicker of external validation, you feel on top of the world.
External validation events, however, are completely temporary phenomena, and typically sparse. They give way to two different downers: The temporary, and the ever present.
The temporary ones are sort of the anti-dopamine… they aren’t too bad, but if you’re already feeling poorly, they’re a further drag on an already burdened soul.
The bad guys? The ever presents. These guys are there and never leave… gnawing on your soul, tearing at your startup will power.
The ever presents, for an early stage company:
Temporary dopamine injections don’t help with these worry sources. These guys seem to have one common cure: Empathy.
There seems to be something to knowing you’re not the only person going through these issues. Hearing other people’s stories that feel analogous to your own are extremely cathartic and encourage a return to the center, from the extremes.
I think the best way to cure them might be a program like YC. With 20-50 other companies going through similar problems, you’re bound to get a dollop of empathy every Tuesday during dinner.
For the majority of us who aren’t in SV’s most prestigious program, there are other options. Tonight, I had a good time balancing it out. As I was down, I had a phone call with one of my cofounders… something I hadn’t done since moving to Portland. It went really well, mainly because we just kinda talked about random crap. Yeah, I need that. This working from home isolation thing is kinda killing me.3
Next, I started watching these videos from a PandoMonthly event which I think just happened. They were about Drew from Dropbox, and his experiences with YC and startups. He had a hard time finding a cofounder. PG told him he had to find a cofounder. All experiences I felt like I could empathize with.
Hm. Empathy is the antidote. Go figure.
My first boss told me I had no work/life balance because I worked 80 hour weeks doing 3 different jobs at a TV station. But when you’re 21 with no interest in dating, that was actually a balance. - A few years later, my sister, with whom I was living, gave me crap because I worked my regular job, then came home and worked my new startup job, and didn’t hang out with any friends. So what? I ended up getting married by the end of that year after meeting the love of my life, on accident. Trying hard to date is over rated. (For me, anyway.) ↩
The plan is weekly google hangouts now. [^3}: Surprisingly, a LOT of the YC companies I had the fortune of meeting split up because of cofounder drama. Was shocked. I guess if you’re not a good fit, it’s not really temporary. ↩