The Top 50 Stories Since the Invasion of Iraq

War is over, if you want it. ~John Lennon

This is a time of year, as we draw 2011 to a close and embark on 2012, to reminisce about the events of the last year. It’s a tradition followed by journalists, bloggers, and opinionistas alike. But since today marks the day where the War in Iraq is officially drawn to a close, I thought I’d share some of the top stories of the past nearly 8 years. The world has changed drastically. For those who served, bled and maybe died… we salute you.

50. Saddaam Hussein Captured (December 13, 2003)

A mere 9 months after the U.S. Invasion began, Sadaam Hussein is captured by Special Forces and turned over to the interim Iraqi Government. He was tried and convicted for crimes against humanity and was later executed by hanging.

49. NASA Mars Rover Confirms Water (March 2, 2004)

NASA Rover Opportunity confirms that the area where she landed on the surface of Mars once was covered in water. The discovery was made when Opportunity confirmed the presence of gypsum, a compound formed when calcium water encounters sulfates.

48. Massachusetts Gay Marriage (May 17, 2004)

Massachusetts becomes the first state in the United States to formally legalize gay marriage. This came about after a Massachusetts Supreme Court decision deemed it unconstitutional to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. Governor Mitt Romney ordered State agencies and government to issue marriage licenses in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling. Efforts continue to formally amend the Massachusetts Constitution.

47. Freedom Tower Groundbreaking (July 4, 2004)

After several years of planning and politics, ground is broke for the building of the new Freedom Tower at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. When complete, the tower will stand 105 stories and cost over $3.1B. It is estimated to open in 2013.

46. Boston Red Sox win Game 4 of the ALCS (Oct 17, 2004)

Red Sox faithful are given a spark of hope when, after being down to the New York Yankees 3 games to none in a best-of-seven series, came from behind in the 9th inning to avoid elimination in Game 4. The game proved to be pivotal as the Red Sox went on to win the ALCS 4-3 taking the Yankees to Game 7 and then sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals for their first World Series win since 1918.

45. South Asian Tsunami (Dec 26, 2004)

Tragedy struck on Boxing Day as a powerful sub-oceanic earthquake triggers a tsunami that would affect the entire Indian Ocean rim. Most devastating were the effects in Sri Lanka and Indonesia where confirmed deaths approached 170k.

44. Scott Peterson Sentenced to Death (March 16, 2005)

Scott Peterson is convicted of the capital crime of murdering his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn child. Laci was 8 months pregnant and had gone missing. While Scott was a “person of interest”, it wasn’t until the remains of Laci and their child were discovered, that Scott was arrested and ultimately convicted. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection and remains on death row in San Quentin Prison.

43. Pope John Paul II Dies (April 2, 2005)

The Catholic Church and the world go into mourning at the passing of 84 year old Pope John Paul II. Born Karol Jósef Wojtyla to Polish parents, the Pope was renowned for his progressive world views and is widely credited with helping to bring about the end of communism in Poland. He served for 26 years.

42. Deep Throat Revealed (May 31, 2005)

Since 1972, the identity of the notorious Watergate informer was speculated on but never really known except to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who legendarily covered the scandal. On May 31, 2005, Mark Felt, then the number two guy at the CIA, revealed himself as Deep Throat. Bob Woodward, when reached for confirmation, acknowledged the revelation to be true bringing to an end one of the most intriguing conspiracy stories of recent history.

41. Steve Jobs Gives His Stanford Commencement Address (June 12, 2005)

Since the death of Steve Jobs a few months ago, his famous “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” commencement address at Stanford University has seen a resurgence. In this 15 minute address, Jobs relates three anecdotes from his life and lessons learned from them. It would go on to become a window into the kind of man Jobs was and continues to serve as inspiration.

40. Lance Armstrong Wins His 7th Tour de France (July 24, 2005)

Lance Armstrong, the six-time Tour de France winner, notches his 7th win, an unprecedented feat. Armstrongs story in inspiring considering his battle with (and his defeat of) testicular cancer.

39. Hurricane Katrina (August 29, 2005)

A devastating time in American history, Katrina became the biggest natural disaster ever to occur in the United States. The initial brunt of the storm wreaked havoc on the Mississippi and Alabama coastline, but the whiplash effect that occurs as a storm passes by proved to be as devastating. As the storm passed over Mississippi, the back winds pushed water from Lake Pontchatrain on the north-side of New Orleans over and through levees setup to hold the water back from the sub-sea level city. The media coverage was vast. The horrors and atrocities deplorable. And the political response wreaked of incompetence.

38. The Sago Mine rescue (January 5, 2006)

A mining explosion deep in the tunnels of the Sago Mine in West Virginia trapped 13 miners underground for over 2 days. Ultimately, only one survived. This came after the mine released misinformation that led news outlets to report the exact opposite – that one miner was found dead and 12 rescued.

37. Apple sells it’s 1B Song via the iTunes Store (February 22, 2006)

Announced to great hype and with great marketing prowess, Apple sold it’s 1 billionth song via the iTunes Store continuing to mark the iPod as one of the greatest market-transforming technologies ever built by the Cupertino, California company.

36. The Enron Trial Jury Conviction (May 25, 2006)

After a much publicized “media trial”, a jury convicts former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay and COO Jeffrey Skilling. Skilling was convicted on 19 counts of securities fraud and wire fraud. Lay was convicted on 6 counts. Lay died before sentencing and, accordingly, his conviction was vacated. Skilling is currently serving a 24 year sentence.

35. Twitter launched to the public (July 15, 2006)

Formerly known as Twittr and, really, at the time unknown to the public, Jack Dorsey launches a prototype of the short form status message service based on text messaging. With funding and support by Odeo’s Evan Williams and Biz Stone, Twitter quickly becomes the horse they all rode in on. Twitter has become one of the most necessary and integrated forms of online communication and has contributed to social, economic, political and mundane events around the world.

34. Crocodile Hunter Steve Erwin Killed By a Stingray (September 4, 2006)

Beloved crazy man, Steve Erwin, is killed by a stingray who stung him through his chest to his heart while filming a stunt. He was known for putting himself in dangerous situations with unpredictable wildlife.

33. The Louisiana Superdome Re-opens After Katrina (September 25, 2006)

An emotional New Orleans celebrates the re-opening of the Superdome, the location of shelter and horrendous criminal actions following Hurricane Katrina. The Dome was re-opened with a New Orleans Saints-Atlanta Falcons Monday Night Football game. The halftime show featured U2 and Green Day. The Saints won an emotional game 23-3.

32. Facebook Opens It’s Walls to the Public (September 26, 2006)

Facebook before September 26, 2006, was only available to college students or select corporations that were registered with Facebook. That changed when the doors were opened for everyone. This was the first step for Facebook to dominate the Myspace-Facebook war.

31. North Korea Tests a Nuke (October 9, 2006)

North Korea gives a 6-day warning of an impending nuclear test, the first time that any country has ever done that. China is alerted 20 minutes ahead of the test and they promptly sent an emergency dispatch to Washington. North Korea explodes a small-time nuclear bomb under a mountain near the Chinese border. The test garnered international criticism and put troops in South Korea and Japan on high alert.

30. The Democratic Landslide of 2006 (November 7, 2006)

In an election widely scene as a referendum on President George W. Bush, Democrats won the day in a large and sweeping manner. Nationally, the Democrats took control of both the House and the Senate. In the Senate, the Democrats picked up 7 seats for a 51-49 majority. In the House, they commanded a 233-202 majority. They also took 6 Governorships from the GOP giving them a 28-22 majority there. In statewide elections, similar results were reflected as the national electorate was widely seen as rebuffing the Bush Administration.

29. The iPhone Launch (June 29, 2007)

To much pomp, circumstance and expectation, people lined up outside of Apple, AT&T and other partner carrier stores around the world to get their hands on the iPhone, a first of its kind product. To that date, no one had effectively released and mass-marketed a touch screen convergence device such as what Apple promised. People camped out for days to be the first to buy the phone with a price-tag of $600.

28. Public Vote for a Barry Bonds Asterisk on #756 (September 26, 2007)

Mark Ecko makes a controversial purchase of the homerun ball that was Barry Bonds 756th and record-setting homerun. Due to the steroids controversy, sports fans debated ad nauseum about whether the hall of fame ball (and player) should have an asterisk (the proverbial, “oh by the way this is controversial” indication).

Ecko put a website up asking the public to vote on whether his purchased ball, which he intended to donate to the Baseball Hall of Fame, should be marked with an asterisk prior to donation. The public thought it should, and so it does.

27. The Mitchell Report (December 13, 2007)

Former Senator George Mitchell releases his controversial report from the steroid investigation committee he chaired on behalf of Major League Baseball. The report blamed a culture of performance-enhancing drugs on both players and management and implicated a menagerie of current and former players, including Andy Pettite, Miguel Tejada and Jason Giambi, in substance abuse problems.

26. Michael Phelps Wins 8 Gold Medals (August 17, 2008)

Baltimore-born swimming superstar, Michael Phelps, dominates mens swimming at the Beijing Olympics with a record 8 gold medals. He previously won 6 golds and 2 silvers in Athens.

25. Sarah Palin Makes Her National Debut (August 29, 2008)

In what may go down in history as one of politics biggest “oops” moment, GOP Presidential Candidate John McCain, wanting to make a statement with a woman VP candidate, names Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. The move proved to be disastrous as Palin was not prepared for the national spotlight. After the Campaign ended, controversy continued to swirl around her, her odd resignation as Governor and her personal and home life.

24. Market Crash of 2008 (October 2, 2008)

The Global Recession, by most accounts, began in late 2006 or early 2007, but it became acute and pronounced on October 2, 2008 when the Dow Jones fell 3.22% (~348 points). It would continue to fall for the rest of the week losing 22% of it’s value in 4 days. The market was exacerbated by the failure of Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and would ultimately lead to government bailouts or facilitated mergers of some of the worlds largest lending institituions under the mantra, “Too big to fail.”

23. Too Big to Fail – Bush Bailouts (October 3, 2008)

Under the Bush administration, with tremendous economic pressure and fatal outlooks, a $700B emergency bailout fund was established by Congress to assist in the closure, restructuring, merger and re-capitalization of major banks and institutions like Bank of America, Washington Mutual, Wachovia, Wells Fargo, AIG and more. It became one of the most controversial economic storylines of recent times and was extended by the incoming Obama Administration.

22. Obama Landslide (November 4, 2008)

With celebrations in Washington, DC and major cities around the United States and world, Obama is elected as the 44th President of the United States marking the end of a terrible Bush Administration and marking the first time a black man was elected to the most powerful Office in the world. Impromptu celebrations were held in front of the White House and in the streets around the world.

21. California Adopts Proposition 8 (November 4, 2008)

Stop the Hate
Photo by Chriki on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

In what has been viewed by equal rights organizations around the country as a severe regression, one of the most progressive states in the nation adopts Proposition 8, a statewide ballot initiative that would prohibit gay marriage in California. It also became a hot button issue for critics of special interest influence in politics as the ballot initiative was largely funded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – the Mormons – who executed a well-funded grass-roots effort to pass the proposition.

20. Obama is Inaugurated (January 20, 2009)

On a frigid day in January, 1.8M people descended on the National Mall to witness the Inauguration of America’s first African-American president. Parties included a concert the day before at the Lincoln Memorial where rapper Jay-Z sang “I’ve Got 99 Problems but a Bush ain’t one” and the ceremonial Marine One whisking away of the outgoing president was greeted by millions chanting, “Nah nah nah nah. Nah nah nah nah. Hey hey hey. Goodbye”.

19. The Birth of the Tea Party (April 15, 2009)

Around the country, on tax day in 2009, hundreds of thousands of Americans gathered to protest heavy taxation by the government. What began as an anti-tax movement, quickly turned into one of the most influential – and arguably nutty – political fraction groups in the history of the United States. In 2010, the Tea Party successfully elected pro-Tea Party Congressmen in the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives.

18. H1N1 (June 1, 2009)

The Swine flu became a hot button issue of concern for many fearing a pandemic – and a source of ridicule for Halloween goers later in the year who dressed up as the H1N1 virus. The swine flue was a strain of the common flu that was potentially fatal and caused deaths nationwide. The CDC, along with other sister agencies in other countries and the World Health Organization, ran heavy public education campaigns to reduce the risk of pandemic.

17. Michael Jackson Dies (June 25, 2009)

The world mourned the loss of Michael Jackson who died of an overdose mis-administered by his personal doctor. His death was not believed to be suicide, but was the result of negligence. Days later at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, a funeral was held with touching eulogies from his brother and father, among others.

16. Steve McNair Murdered by His Mistress (July 4, 2009)

NFL Quarterback Steve McNair, who played for both the Tennessee Titans and the Baltimore Ravens, was killed by his 22 year old mistress in Nashville. Rumors of jealousy and rage were circled as particular motives.

15. Wikileaks Bursts on the Scene with Cablegate (February 18, 2010)

The controversial grassroots organization founded by Aussie vigilante Julian Assange, Wikileaks, makes huge political waves by releasing State Department cables to select media organizations. Though redacted to protect the identities of spies, informants and individual workers, the cables represent damning internal and international diplomatic decision making and communications.

14. Health Care Reform Act (March 21, 2010)

After over a year of debate, arguing, politicking, and blockage, the House and Senate finally agree to a compromise Health Care Reform Bill that has become President Obama’s signature legislation. Parts of the bill are under judicial review.

13. Icelandic Volcano Grounds Europe (April 14, 2010)

Mount Eyjafjallajökull erupts in Iceland spreading volcanic ash across the UK, Europe and the trans-atlantic flight corridors. Flights are grounded for days and passengers stranded. Some passengers reported trying to drive across Europe to other countries, like Spain, to get to an airport with outgoing flights – like Barcelona – but with no success. It became a massive economic problem.

12. The BP Oil Spill (April 20, 2010)

An explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig operated by BP caused the rig to collapse and snap the pipe dug into the earths crust. The result was 3 months of oil continually flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Multiple solutions were attempted to seal the well but nothing was successul until September. Cleanup continues to this day.

11. Reggie Bush Gives His Heisman Trophy Back (September 15, 2010)

New Orleans Saints Running Back Reggie Bush, who won the 2005 Heisman Trophy while at USC, gave back his Heisman Trophy amid public pressure after sanctions were dropped on USC for recruiting and other violations. USC was required to vacate all 2004-2005 wins including their National Championship win over Oklahoma, and is banned from post-season play for both the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Bush became the first player ever to return a Heisman Trophy.

10. Brett Favre’s Penis (October 7, 2010)

Brett Favre apparently has a little penis, or so the pictures say. The news of Favre texting pictures of his junk to, then-Jets sideline reporter Jenn Sterger was broken by sports-gossip blog Deadspin. Brett’s taste in women… impeccable. Brett’s taste in text message appropriateness… questionable.

9. The Republicans Win Back the House (November 2, 2010)

In a national referendum on Obama, the GOP retook the House of Representatives and made significant strides in the Senate on a wave of Tea Party momentum. Freshman Republican legislators, such as Rand Paul, would become influential in the budget and taxation issues in the current Congress.

8. The Arab Spring Begins (December 17, 2010)

The Arab Spring, a coordinated series of protests that would ultimately turn the Middle East on its head, begins with a Tunisian man setting himself on fire in protest of police confiscating his vegetable cart. An uprising would subsequently occur that saw the fall of the Tunisian government. Other Arabs, buoyed by a sense of enablement, protested and in some case achieved regime change in Egypt and Lybia. Unrest and calls for revolution were also heard in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Iran and Algeria.

7. Japanese Nuclear Fallout (March 11, 2011)

After a devastating earthquake rocked Japan, concern began to spread to the Fukushima Nuclear reactor. Despite efforts to contain damage – and initial reports that the reactor was safe and not breached – it became clear that containment was not possible. Though ultimately contained, it did not happen until significant amounts of radiation escaped into the ground, water and atmosphere. Trace amounts of I-131 radiation (non-harmful doses) were detected as far away as California.

6. Osama Bin Laden Killed (April 30, 2011)

With a dramatic late-night address to the nation – called with only an hour warning – President Obama informed America and the world of the death of Osama Bin Laden. Osama was killed by Navy SEAL Team 6 in a raid on a Pakistani compound. Later, some would question the death because the Administration decided not to release pictures.

5. Amy Winehouse Joins the 27 Club (July 23, 2011)

British pop superstar, Amy Winehouse dies of an apparent drug overdose at Age 27. She joins the “Club of 27″, a group of musicians that include Jimmie Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, who also died at Age 27.

4. Faster than Light (September 22, 2011)

Battlestar Galactica fans would endorse the concept “Faster than Light”, but physicists at the CERN research center in Switzerland release a preliminary report showing that they had found a neutrino – a tiny sub-atomic particle – that traveled faster than light. Secondary test would reveal the same finding. Other scientific researchers question the results, however. If true, the discovery would undermine the core building block of modern science – that nothing is faster than light. Albert Einstein is turning over in his grave.

3. Occupy Wall Street (September 17, 2011)

The economic difficulties and political climate in the past few years finally force a boil over of sentiment toward the perceptions of class-entitlement. The mantra “We are the 99%” has become a rallying cry for anyone who feels slighted by entitlement. The Occupy Wall Street Movement, while protesting excesses on Wall Street, has been mirrored across the country. In some incidents, occupy movements have turned into political hot potatoes that shine the light on police corruption and brutality as was the case when a police officer casually pepper sprayed a series of kneeling protestors on the campus of UC-Berkeley.

2. Moammar Ghaddafi Killed (October 20, 2011)

After months of civil war, belligerent resistance to national and international calls to step down – generally in the form of hapless, wandering, rambling televised addresses – NATO military intervention and repeated rumors (but no proof) of his death, Moammar Ghaddafi is confirmed dead in Libya. After a NATO airstrike hit a convoy he was riding in, he took shelter in a drainage ditch where he was captured by National Transitional Council forces. He died en route to the hospital.

1. Penn State Child Sex Scandal (November 5, 2011)

We are rocked by the grand jury indictments handed down on former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky is charged with multiple sex abuse charges as they relate to 4 alleged victims. In the wake of the scandal, fingers are pointed at various people and blame is passed. Ultimately, Penn State’s Board of Trustees remove the President, Athletic Directory, Head Coach Joe Paterno and others from their responsibilities.

So there we have it. 8 years of war. An entire different country. Have we learned from our mistakes? Probably not. We’ll see. Happy Christmas! War is Over! If You Want It!

Rules for Entrepreneurs: Compete and Collaborate

Photo by Roger Barker on Flickr.

Google and Apple are not only competitors… they are collaborators. Indeed, Apple and Google both offer top level smartphones – The iPhone from Apple and the assortment of Android devices by Google (Google not only has its own phones but is the main proprietor of the Android open source project).

In the same world, Samsung and Apple are rivals (and becoming even more rival-ous) with competing smartphones (Samsung runs Android) sparking ferocious lawsuits back and forth, but Samsung is also a major supplier of parts to Apple.

This segment of my continuing series on Rules of Entrepreneurship is all about knowing when and how to compete and when collaboration is a better option. They are not mutually exclusive. This is a natural segue from my last post where I suggest that entrepreneurs focus on doing one thing well.

Principle: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

It frustrates me to watch startups (usually not very good ones) try to reinvent the wheel. A classic example of this was from back in 2007 when I was sitting in a Starbucks in Columbia, MD. We had a group of entrepreneurs who gathered there on a daily basis and cowork together.

One of the guys I was working with introduced me to a pair of African-American entrepreneurs and he wanted me to hear about what they were building. I sat down and listened to their pitch. They were building the “YouTube for the African-American community”.

Full stop.

What? Why? Why not use YouTube?

They were well into the process of building an entire video platform from the ground up, complete with their own video encoding technology, instead of leveraging what YouTube (and subsequently Google) already created.

The entrepreneurs real mission was creating a video-sharing community for African-Americans, not creating video technology for African-Americans to use. I told them that day that they should abandon attempts to build their own video service, and instead leverage YouTube (which is built and maintained by really smart people at Google) to build the community they really wanted to build.

Why re-invent the wheel? You distract yourself from your core goals.

Sidenote: I have never heard of or from those entrepreneurs since.

Collaborate

As an entrepreneur, part of the process is identifying your competition. We certainly have done that at WP Engine. Sometimes, it is to your benefit to team up with your competition to achieve a common goal. Remember, business is business and it’s not personal. Don’t let your desire to “win” get in the way of your ability to get ahead.

Also, remember the age-old saying, “A rising tide lifts all ships”. What is good for your competition is often good for the entire industry you’re in. Everyone wins.

Certainly that’s not always the case, but it certainly isn’t not always the case.

Compete

In my opinion, competition is a bottom-line issue and there are lots of ways to positively affect your bottom line. Usually, competition does not equate to a zero-sum game, an assumption that rookie entrepreneurs tend to make. (I did this a lot in 2006, 2007 while at b5media and trying to take pot shots at competing blog networks – years later, I find it all kind of silly).

When you do choose to take on direct competition, keep it narrow, precise and for a specific purpose. Don’t allow personal feelings to affect your business strategies and, in the process, keep the door open to cooperation with your competition in other areas.

Next week, I’ll continue this series and talk a bit about release cycles – which is always a fun debate. If you’re not already subscribed to this blog, do so now. Also, follow me on Twitter where I’ll be talking about entrepreneurship, WordPress and a healthy dose of sports on the weekend.

I’m Pro Choice. I’m Android.

We in the tech world are a fickle bunch. On one side of our brain, we scream about openness and freedoms. We verbally disparage anyone who would dare mess with our precious Internet freedoms. Many of us, especially in my WordPress community, swear allegiance to licensing that ensures data and code exchanges on open standards.

We in the tech world are a fickle bunch. On one side of our brain, we scream about openness and freedoms. We verbally disparage anyone who would dare mess with our precious Internet freedoms. Many of us, especially in my WordPress community, swear allegiance to licensing that ensures data and code exchanges on open standards.

Yet one thing stands out to me as an anomaly on this, the opening day of pre-orders for the iPhone 4.


Photo by laihiu on Flickr

Ah yes. The iPhone. The gadget that makes grown men quake in their shoes. The thing that causes adults to behave as if they left their brains at the door. At one point in time, I called this behavior “an applegasm” and identified the Apple store as the place where intelligent people go to die.

And it’s not only the iPhone. It’s the iPad too (I bought one 3 weeks after release and only because I needed it for some client work). In fact, it’s any Apple device. Apple has a way of turning people into automatons controlled by the Borg in Cupertino.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Apple and I love Apple products. However, there is a degree of hypocrisy (or shall we call it “situational morality”) that comes into play here. There is nothing “open” about Apple products. Sure, Steve Jobs famously points out that Apple encourages the use of open web standards like HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript, but the devices are nowhere near open.

In fact, the devices are so closed and guarded that strange things like lost stolen iPhone prototypes make huge news. There is only one device. There is only one operating system. There is only one permitted way of designing apps. There is only one carrier (in the United States).

And the open standards, web-free, maniacal tech world that is ready to take off the heads of closed entities like Microsoft, Facebook and Palm, whistle silently and look the other way when it comes to Apple.

In another few weeks, I am going to be eligible for an upgrade with Verizon Wireless. As a longtime BlackBerry user (I refuse to give money to AT&T ever), I will be investing in a new Android-based phone. I won’t be doing this with any kind of religious conviction about open source. There is a legitimate place for closed source in this world. I’m doing this because the culture of openness (which supersedes the execution of openness, in my mind), allows for more innovation and creativity.

In the Android world (which is quickly catching up to the iPhone world), apps are being created without the artificial restrictions placed by a single gatekeeper. There are more choices in phones. Don’t like this one? Try that one. There is a greater anticipation around what can be done.

Apple had to have its arm twisted to enable multitasking in it’s latest operating system. It had to have its arm twisted to allow cut and paste. It still hasn’t provided a decent camera, despite consumers begging for one. In the Android world, if Motorola doesn’t provide it, maybe HTC does. You have choice. Choice is good.

I’m pro choice.

Do Not Lock In To One Device Lest You Kill Your Company

It’s funny. Comical even. A few weeks ago, I wrote that The iPhone is to Smartphones as IE6 was to Browsers. Most of the readers of that article agreed with me but almost all had a “but, but, but…” argument. This is because the iPhone is one sexy beast to users, even though AT&T can’t seem to support the iPhone, as we also noted.

This is a comical observation because my position was endorsed (if not directly) by Peter-Paul Koch who daintily comments that “[He] will shout at web developers who think that delicately inserting an iPhone up their ass is the same as mobile web development.” He goes on to slam the web development community to catering to the iPhone in the same broken-record way that web developers catered to IE6 ten years ago.

Photo by Matt Buchanan

And adding insult to injury, the Guardian also picked up that story and offered their own ringing endorsement for both Peter-Paul and my perspectives.

I just got off the phone with an unnamed entrepreneur who wants to build a product that, while looking to the future and planning to diversify over a variety of products, looks at Apple’s forthcoming iPad as the launch device. I will offer you the same advice I offered him as well as the same advice I offer to iPhone only products like Gowalla.

If you want to start on the iPad, fine. You better be damn sure you’re ready to diversify quickly. I don’t care if you put it on a non-touch device like, oh I don’t know, the web with a normal browser on a normal computer… do not disenfranchise users. Peter-Paul Koch notes, in the article I linked to above, that the iPhone carries only 15% of the worldwide mobile market. Yet it gets an insane amount of attention as if it was the most important product ever created.

Newsflash… it’s not. It’s not even close.

In fact, it’s still not a business class phone (with rare exception). And in fact, developers continue to ignore other platforms… like the BlackBerry.

Sidenote: It’s okay to have a mobile web interface but don’t lose the forest through the trees. Users will feel like second-hand citizens if you don’t pay attention to their needs.

Mobile developers: Think before you develop only for the iPhone or only for the iPad. Entrepreneurs: Think before you start a company or launch a product made exclusively, or designed with a business model only for the iPhone or the iPad.

The iPhone is to Smartphones as IE6 was to Browsers

A few years ago when Apple stormed on the scene with their new, revolutionary phone that they called the iPhone, a moment in history occurred that would change the mobile space. It suddenly became possible for rich web browsing from a mobile phone. It became possible to listen to music in a natural way on your phone. Touch screens became the norm.

A year later, Apple announced their second generation phone, the iPhone 3G. With it, they opened up the ecosystem even more by allowing developers to build third party apps that could run on the iPhone. 50 million apps later, it is still the best thing about the iPhone.


Apple made some mistakes during this process, as it would naturally be assumed they would as a relative newbie to the phone manufacturing world. They took too long to open up the device to third party apps and when they did, they employed draconian and inconsistent rules that were undocumented, uncommunicated and, generally frustrating to companies building apps for the iPhone.

When their third generation phone, the iPhone 3GS emerged, there were some improvements (such as cut and paste, video and voice control), but the more frustrating aspects of the device remained unchanged. The iPhone still doesn’t provide a flash for its camera. It still doesn’t support Flash. It still can’t be tethered as was promised (at least in the United States under AT&T).

Worse, the inherent failure of the iPhone (undoubtedly expected to be it’s greatest appeal) is the restriction of the operating system to a single Apple device. I get why. But now let’s flip the card.

Google today announced the Nexus One, a new Android-powered phone that, in the words of Good Morning Silicon Valley, is “a worthy iPhone competitor“. Actually, that’s a tame phrase. Let me give you a piece of this article titled, “Google vs. Apple: There Will be Blood”:

No single device is going to “œkill” the iPhone, and that’s not really Google’s intent anyway, iPhone users being the heavy Web traffickers that they are. But Google does have a strong interest in fostering enough competition to keep Apple from dominating the mobile market, which is why it chose the strategy it did “” providing a strong and improving platform that could support multiple manufacturers offering multiple models to multiple demographic segments across multiple carriers. Google doesn’t need to tear down the iPhone; it just needs to make sure there are plenty of attractive alternatives for smartphone shoppers who for various reasons don’t feel compelled to join the Apple-AT&T axis. As an Android flagship, unlocked but initially aligned with T-Mobile, the Nexus One fits as part of that plan.

And now it might be time to note that Google is winning this battle. Besides last years flop G1 launch with T-Mobile (I’ll be honest, the thing was a brick and ran on a very early version of Android so not surprised it really didn’t go anywhere), Verizon Wireless has just launched the Droid by Motorola and the Droid Eris by HTC. They are promising three Android phones in 2010. T-Mobile is now launching with the Nexus One and Verizon Wireless should get it this spring.

AT&T will not get an Android phone as long as they have an exclusive relationship with Apple.

The road to victory is very clear and Google has the advantage. Despite Android being open source, it’s patron saint is Google. Therefore, Google has distribution interest. The more Android phones that can be sold and made – of multiple varieties – on multiple carriers – possibly including Netbooks, the more they control the market. The more Apple fails to radicalize their roadmap with the iPhone, the more they lose the market.

Let’s go back a few years. The great browser wars of the 1990s were dwindling down as NEtscape was acquired by AOL then turned into a bastard half-breed of itself. Firefox, under leadership of the Mozilla Foundation, was blazing new paths in the browser market. Microsoft had largely cooled its heels standardizing around Internet Explorer 6. No further browsers were expected to be made. The battle had been fought, the war had been won. Microsoft ruled supreme.

That was what they thought. Meanwhile, Firefox kept making progress gradually stealing market share here or there like a rogue flitting through shadows snatching purses and wallets.

This opened the door to other browsers – Opera, Safari, eventually Google Chrome – to enter the marketplace. Microsoft realized they had sat on their heels too long and finally began building Internet Explorer 7. Internet Explorer 8 would soon follow. Internet Explorer 9 is around the corner. All of the sudden, when competition increased, Microsoft ran heavy and ran hard to keep up.

This is where Apple is going.

In about 6 months, if history teaches us anything, Apple will launch their 4th generation iPhone. Conventional wisdom suggests that the fat days of Apple and AT&T operating in lockstep are over. Conventional business wisdom suggests that the iPhone must radically alter the playing field with this release to stay competitive in the market. While the iPhone still has market share, so did IE6. While Apple sits back and does incremental enhancements and call them major releases, the scrappy Android will take market share if given the opportunity.

What are your thoughts on this extremely interesting business environment?

* Photo by ColorblindPICASSO

How Location Based Services Saved My Life

Sitting here in Automattic offices in San Francisco, I find myself lovingly caressing my Blackberry which, for a short time yesterday, I believed was separated from me for good. Turns out I lost it the night before and was having phantom spasms over not having it in my pocket to check email, twitter or do other activities I would normally engage in with my long-time partner and friend.

As I arose from my grogginess yesterday morning, my first instinct was to reach for my Blackberry to ascertain important overnight occurrences. You know, such as what drunken text messages I might have sent or had sent to me, what the final score was on the Red Sox game or who was talking about me on Twitter. It’s a hard habit to break so when I realized my phone was nowhere to be found, I panicked.

Then I remembered Google Latitude, the new mostly useless location based service announced earlier this year. Google Latitude has a small piece of software that can be installed on [supported] phones. It uses GPS or cell tower triangulation to pinpoint the location of a person. As I’m a Verizon Wireless customer, the only option I have is cell tower triangulation. So I can be pinpointed to an area.
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In a stroke of brilliant genius, I logged onto Google Latitude from my computer in the hotel. There were only so many places the phone could be. The last place I wanted to see it was in the back seat of the cab that had given me a ride home the previous night.

Fortunately, I was pinpointed (inaccurately because it was more my phone was pinpointed in Fisherman’s Wharf at the In n Out Burger that I had enjoyed a west coast delicacy the night before. I thought.

Fortunately, upon arrival at the In n Out Burger, the store manager did indeed have my Blackberry and I was able to carry on with my life.

This is a great example of how location based services can actually be useful. Instead of simply inviting the stalkerati or providing an unnecessary window into the life of the user, it is a good way for employees or assets to be tracked inexpensively. If you run a courier service, company-issued phones with Google Latitude might be a handy way to streamline your business operations.

Google Latitude is not the only “homing beacon” service out there. Tomorrow, with the launch of the iPhone 3G S, Apple is also introducing “Find my iPhone” with MobileMe which will pinpoint the location of a lost or stolen iPhone. Clearly a different benefit to the argument of value surrounding location based services

The iPhone still is not a Business Phone

Since the launch of the original iPhone almost two years ago, it has been the position of this journalist, that the iPhone is not equipped, nor designed to be a business class phone. Although Apple has done a lot to address the concerns raised by many around the time of the original launch, such as third party apps and 3G speed, there are still inherent (and potentially unsolvable) problems with the phone.

Without a doubt, the iPhone is the sexiest phone on the market. Even with Research in Motion’s Blackberry Storm launch and a variety of other touch screen devices from other manufacturers, nothing meets, much less exceeds, the beauty and elegance of an iPhone. With it’s intuitive scrolling interface, the presence of a real web browser and hours of entertainment value via games from the app store, iPod capability and social networking capability, a la Livingston Communication’s Mobile Manifesto, there is no doubt that the iPhone is the device of choice for the long tail of consumers.

However, the finger typing (as opposed to tactile QWERTY keyboard of other devices, such as Blackberrys) poses a significant architectural barrier to business adoption. From a business standpoint, a mobile device is meant for utility. Email, productivity, and collaboration. That’s what we in business need from our phones, no? We need to be able to ensure connectivity to mission critical offices, and projects.

In Washington, we are a working class. We may not be the working class, as bandied around in political campaigns, but we are a town driven by long hours, massive public-interest footprints and a very east-coast “on the go” mentality. In Washington, Verizon Wireless rules the roost because of solid coverage and underground Metro coverage (granted, other carriers will have expanded coverage by the end of the year and full access by 2012).

During the Inauguration, while those in proximity to me (on the National Mall) lost coverage for all or a portion of the ceremony while using the Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile networks, Verizon Wireless troopered on without so much as a hiccup.

So, let’s review the iPhone. The iPhone is locked into the AT&T network (for now). Therefore, large collections of iPhones all throttle the same towers as opposed to dispersion of traffic across a multitude of networks. FAIL.

The iPhone presents significant usability and utility challenges to the “working” American due to the finger touch system. Additionally, the lack of viable Exchange integration (sorry, the iPhone OS 2.0 upgrade providing ActiveSync is junk), and lack of Group Policy mechanisms that prevent IT Administrators from effectively tying into a Enterprise Active Directory structure and enforcing group policy and security across an infrastructure in the same way they can for Windows Mobile or Blackberry devices, will continue to prevent the iPhone from seeing widespread adoption in enterprise environments.

The Dickensian 2008: A Look Back

This year might be the strangest year ever. It roared in with news of Robert Scoble having his Facebook account suspended for utilizing scripts to sync data between Plaxo and Facebook in violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service. Of course, the year ends with Facebook opening up fbConnect in a way to share that same data with anyone who so chose.

We started 2008 with CNETs Caroline McCarthy reporting that MySpace voters preferred Barack Obama on the left and Ron Paul on the right. As we know now at the end of 2008, there was one group of netroots voters that managed to be successfully heard and we now have a new President-elect. On the other side, the GOP demonstrated their complete ineptitude tapping into the grassroots by marginalizing the candidate that would have fired up their internet base. At least at the end of 2008, there are some pockets of common sense on the right, but those pockets will likely not be heard or heeded.

In the first half of 2008, ridiculous acquisitions, funding rounds and business plays flourished. An example was when job search site, Monster.com acquired San Francisco-based Affinity Labs for $61M. On contrast, companies receiving funding or valuations at the end of 2008, are doing so on devalued terms while other companies are laying off workers and cutting back contract costs in an effort to extend their runways as far as they can into the second half of 2009 or beyond.

In every way, 2008 ends in a Dickensian way, highlighting two sides of a very different coin and leaving investors and entrepreneurs with a scared and tentative look in their eyes.

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We made our annual predictions early in the year, and wanted to review those predictions for those keeping track at home.

Macworld/Apple

We said: Since Macworld is right around the corner I don’t think we will see any real new products but rather a grow what they have to meet their projections. This means upgraded iPod Touches, iPhone 2.0, iPhone SDK, upgraded Apple TV, patches to Leopard, improved Cinema Displays and upgraded Macs/Macbooks. The only thing I could see would be integration of their multi-touch technology on laptops (like the rumored sub-notebook).

What actually happened: Apple announced Time Capsule, an iPhone SDK for developing Apps for the iPhone (now available through the iTunes App Store for the iPod Touch and the iPhone 3G), iTunes movie rentals, Apple TV 2, and the now famous Macbook Air.

Accuracy: We accurately projected the iPhone SDK, Upgraded Apple TV, and the Macbook Air with multi-touch. Later in the year, we would see the iPhone 3G, improved cinema displays and the release of the new Macbook/Macbook Pro lines. We consider 100% accuracy here in 2008 with a 50% accuracy for Macworld 2008.

Microsoft

We Said: Let’s face it, Vista blows. It’s slow, doesn’t have any real innovation under the hood and takes more horsepower to run. I predict they will continue forcing it down people’s throats and in revolt people will continue to order machines with XP. On the other side of the coin, the Xbox is rocking and I predict they will announce an integrated Windows Media Center/IPTV version with HD-DVD to compete with the Playstation 3. They have a real opportunity to own the living room since Apple TV has flopped.

What actually happened: Some manufacturers, including Dell, decided that based on actual customer demand and trends (wiping pre-loaded Vista systems and installing Windows XP), computers could be shipped with XP instead. In addition, the Xbox did receive a much-needed face lift (called Xbox Experience) that we talked about here, though it did not go as far as we expected. We did not predict the emergence of Apple TV/Xbox Experience/TiVo challenger Vudu at the beginning of the year.

Accuracy: We consider our predictions to be mostly inline with actual results, but we missed or misjudged several things along the way. We claim a 60% accuracy rating here.

Web 2.0

We Said: Ok, hype over. Game over. Most “Web 2.0″ companies will go into the dust bin of history because their marketing strategy or ideas just didn’t pan out. Also, as more companies adopt these technologies into their “œEnterprise 2.0″³ strategy there will be less of a rush to create another social network or AJAX-ified web site unless it has real value. Side note – kill the term Enterprise 2.0. The enterprise hasn’t changed, the apps have just gotten easier to develop.

What actually happened: We feel that this was an overly-generalized prediction. It could have been more specifically Enterprise 2.0, as opposed to Web 2.0. That said, there was an actual push and adoption into the Enterprise space. Most notable of all Enterprise 2.0 companies was Yammer which is build as a standalone Twitter for Enterprise. Yammer won the top award at Techcrunch50.

Accuracy: Though there certainly has been more focus in recent months on utility over “bling” (Ajaxified sites, as we put it), we don’t necessarily believe that corporate Web 2.0 has advanced far beyond “Corporate blogging”, but with Yammer like companies popping up, we’ll claim a 40% accuracy rating.

Twitter

We Said: Twitter will get bought – it is a cool tool but not a lot money to made behind it. It needs to be part of a bigger whole. They also need better infrastructure because they crash whenever there is a big tech conference. CES will be a big test for them.

What actually happened: Twitter did not get bought, and in fact, took a third round of funding. It may have been their failures of June/July that prevented an acquisition, and there certainly were rumors of a Facebook acquisition of Twitter recently. The company seems to have turned a corner on reliability, and have a business model in mind, even if it hasn’t been outlined. In addition, Twitter development continues to proceed with a release of an all new Twitter API in 2009.

Accuracy: 0% – hands down, we were wrong. The company continues to confound even the experts.

Pownce

We said: Pownce will die – Twitter won this battle. Game over.

What actually happened: Pownce died.

Accuracy: 100%. ‘Nuff said.

Digg

We said: Digg will get bought – After rumors of a sale for the last 18 months, they finally get bought by a media behemoth. Sale price? $300 million.

What actually happened: While Digg did not actually get bought, they are bleeding money as reported by TechCrunch this weekend. According to the TechCrunch, the Microsoft search deal which was supposed to bring in over $100M over three years is clearly not doing that at all.

Accuracy: We want to take some credit for seeing the dark side of Digg, but clearly cannot based on our actual predictions. 0%.

Yahoo

We Said: Yahoo will continue to struggle and have massive layoffs – Yahoo didn’t change much with their executive restructuring and they have really sucked at integrating their products. They are going to get hit with lower stock prices and will have to cut the fat out.

What actually happened: What didn’t happen, might be the more accurate question. We had the Microsoft-Yahoo deal that was on, then off, then on, then off. The forced resignation, by all accounts, of CEO Jerry Yang, the hostile board takeover (“hostile” in the loose sense, not the SEC sense) by Carl Icahn, and the devaluation of Yahoo stock to approximately half of what it opened the year.

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As for the predicted Yahoo layoffs… Well, it’s such a bloodbath that sites like this exist to track the chaos.

Accuracy: Can we score a 110%?

HD-DVD vs Bluray

We said: HD-DVD and BluRay will not have a winner, still – This year is just going to continue the fight with hybrid drives getting cheaper so by 2009 the choice will be irrelevant.

What actually happened: Bluray won.

Accuracy: 0%

Google and Wall Street

We Said: Google’s honeymoon with Wall Street will end – With the acquisition of DoubleClick there is more of a chance for Google to fail. Along with it trying to change to many sectors, Healthcare and Energy to name a few, it will need to shore up its core competencies before people start to trash it and the stock will be worth half what it is today.

What actually happened: Everyones honeymoon with Wall Street ended with the collapse of the economy. Google has lost over 60% of it’s value, falling from a Jan 2 open of $685/share to the current trading number of $298/share.

Accuracy: We will claim 75% accuracy on this. We can’t claim 100% because the reason for the value loss is not similar. It’s just the nature of the market at this time.

Facebook

We Said: They are a necessary evil right now and their beacon debacle will need to be fixed in order for them to go IPO. They will be the new IPO darling as analysts are ready to trash Google.

What actually happened: Facebook did not IPO in 2008, though they had a significant investment from Microsoft at a highly questionable valuation of $15B. Experts like Kara Swisher don’t expect an IPO until 2010. I might add that with the economy the way it is, pre-collapse predictions of 2010 might still be ambitious. I personally doubt Facebook will ever IPO.

Accuracy: 0%

Bringing 2008 In for a Landing

It’s always tricky to really predict a year in advance. With the economy and turbulence in the various sectors and markets, 2009 will be highly tricky to predict. Predict we will do, early in the new year, though so stick around.

Are You Captain of Your Destiny?

Returning to quickly skim my blog reader 1,000+ after two weeks’ head-in-the-sand, I see ‘Pownce acquired,’ and ‘Yahoo’s Chief of Insights Joins Bunchball.’ My spin radar immediately starts blipping, because I know that behind the ‘good news,’ guts are wrenching. Decisions are being made for people, and that never feels good. Yet another reminder that all the sacrifices may well be worth captaining your own destiny.

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Sustaining yourself with a small business doesn’t make headlines. Money-raising has been the mainstay of startup news since venture capital exploded on the scene in the ’80s. ‘Huffington Post Nabs $25M.’ And why not? It was validation that the company ‘has arrived.’ It was the Big Show. But ask any CEO what changes when investors step in. Everything.

No, they’re not (necessarily) evil. They’re just bound and determined to turn your company into a successful exit. It’s their job, in fact. It’s not about you, or even your technology.

Chances are, your primary mission is not to achieve successful exit. (If it is, you’re probably going to fail.) For most of you, it is about you — your passion for your technology, or your customers, or what you do.

If it sounds like that’s at odds with investors, well it often is.

So when Bunchball (the Silicon Valley company that applies gaming mechanics to making sites stickier) announces its new ex-Yahoo CEO, I hear a founder’s gut wrenching. When crafts-aggregator Etsy announces former NPR Digital head Maria Thomas taking the helm, I hear a gut wrenching.

Often from the outside, the decisions seem right. Geeky founders often don’t make the transition to leadership — ubergeek Bill Gates is an exception — and Heidrick & Struggles and CTPartners (formerly Christian & Timbers) and the like make a lot of money plucking SVPs out of big companies and placing them in VC-funded startups. (The genealogy of silly titles can actually be traced back to CEOs being made to step down — where do you think Chief Product Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, Chief of Insights, and other staff titles came from?) But then, investors aren’t all-wise. Gross blunders are made at the highest levels. (Remember when Pepsi head Sculley was brought in to run Apple? Not to mention Gil Amelio . . .)

There’s really only one way to avoid decisions in your company being made for you: captain your own destiny.

That usually means going slow, growing customer by customer, often staying small. If you want to go ‘big’ — and not everyone does — you’re most likely to find yourself at the investment/management crossroads. As an ambitious technologist/hard-core developer, you might decide to bring in someone to run the business. (Hey, it happens — sometimes founders themselves honestly recognize the need for new leadership.) That bespeaks true wisdom on the part of tech founders. Eric Schmidt’s install at Google was a coup — not a coup d’etat.

In his blog post, ‘10 Tips for Building a Profitable Business,’ Dogster CEO Ted Rheingold’s entreated:

So constantly ask yourself, are we spending 50% of our time selling? I bet you’ll always realize you’re focusing too much on the product and not enough on finding customers that want it.

Any of us who’ve consulted know that hard truth: love doing the work, hate hustling to get it. If that’s you, and you find yourself running a company, you either need to embrace being the CEO (read: chief salesman) and quit coding, or find someone who’s a good complement to you to do that job and leave you to program (or design, or write, or do whatever it is that you really do best.)

Once you’ve piloted your ship (to belabor the metaphor) past the shoals into the smooth waters of profitability and solvency, and feel the need to raise cash, get big, and pull away from your competition, the dynamics of a deal with a VC changes radically — you get the money on your terms. Still el capitan!

I’ve observed a lot of folks in charge of their destiny lately. (In the month of November, 533,000 who were not, had their ships sunk for them — so much for job security.) Software, the Interwebs, automatic ads, SEO, and (yes) social networking have made it a greater possibility than ever — unlike the previous waves of semiconductors, PCs, and computer networking. It’s akin to the artisans of the Renaissance — with skills, there’s always work. Entrepreneurs today can be captains of their destiny.

And I truly admire you folks. The ones scrapping it out, making a living, while they build their business, serve their customers, and develop a following. Those of you who eat, drink, and sleep (not much) your startups.

Remind yourself this at the end of your crappiest days: You’re the one making the decisions. Go make some really tough ones.

The Apple Store isn't the Only Place Intelligent People Go to Die

Apple announces an iPhone and people stand in line for it, despite the manufacturer never having entered the phone market before.

A new line of computers is announced with some new feature never seen before in the platform, and people make a rush on the store to get their hands on the new sexiness.

Apple announces a new line of iPods and the rush to get one takes over the market with a hysteria only eclipsed by the rush to buy other Apple products.

I wrote the post, The Apple Store: Where Intelligent People Go to Die last year but since then I’ve noticed that Apple really isn’t the only company that has this effect on its customers. Google does as well, in a slightly different way.

The obsession with Google is less about consumer usage and more about press and media obsession. Whenever Google does something, it is covered ad nauseum.

Google has now released their G1 Android phone, a first for a company who, like Apple, has never been in the phone business. The G1 phone was announced earlier in the year and is built on the Android platform, an open source code base that seeks to challenge the way phones are done in the age of the iPhone.

T-Mobile is the carrier of choice for G1 users. It is available in the United States and will be available on October 30 in the UK with the same carrier.

Fortunately there hasn’t been a consumer obsession with the first generation Google product yet, as there is already a security flaw that could allow malicious keystroke logging software to be installed on the device. What do you expect from a company who is perpetually in beta?

My point is this: Google is a great company that produces highly innovative products that always run a chance of revolutionizing the landscape. But, they are subject to the “Don’t buy Generation 1″ rule. Consumers and media need to be careful not to simply give the Big G a pass because they are the Big G. Approach every product with skepticism looking to falsify their claims. If they pass the test, then use the product. Google, Apple, Microsoft, or any other company with any other product out there. It takes time for a product to fully gain trust, and in the meantime, you don’t really want to have security or stability problems.