Education in Arizona – The Cuts to Come

This is for all of my friends in Arizona.

As you may be aware the Arizona State Legislature has proposed to cut $1.5 billion from education budgets over the next year and a half. That is a 20% cut for K-12 and a 30% cut for higher education. Arizona currently ranks 49th in per student spending for K-12 education and 35th for spending on higher education.

These cuts will sacrifice our future – they will in the words of Michael Crow, ASU President “give Arizona a Third World education and economic infrastructure.”

I encourage all of you to visit speakupnowaz.org and send a letter to your state representatives informing them of the error they are considering and your full displeasure with it.

I’ve included the letter I sent this morning:

Dear Arizona Legislator,

As a veteran of Silicon Valley technology companies; and as a entrepreneur in Chandler; and as a father of two elementary school children; and as a dedicated proponent of Arizona and the Valley of the Sun; and as a committed partner of ASU; I’d like to inform you that cutting Arizona’s education budget at this moment in time – is both ill advised and exceptionally short sighted.

I’ve been an Arizona resident for more than 15 years. During that time I’ve worked for Silicon Valley technology companies as both a consultant and an executive. I know first hand that Arizona has lost major offices (specifically data centers) from several of these companies due in large part to the state of our education system. I have refused lucrative job offers in Silicon Valley because I believe that Arizona is capable of producing great technology talent and companies. I’ve committed to Arizona – I continue to wonder why our State officials refuse to do the same.

Phoenix has a single major university. Every major metropolitan area of equal size has many more. Our K-12 per student funding is 49th in the nation. Is it really any wonder that the only way we can sustain growth is via construction? While that may have been a viable approach in the past, it will no longer work. We must begin the process of transitioning from a boom and bust real estate market to building the competencies that can and will – with your support – transform our economy to a vibrant and lasting technology base.

Please understand, low taxes alone are not enough to attract and retain these businesses. They require well educated workers – workers they do not have to import. Workers who want to be in Arizona because they can raise their children here with the confidence that our education system will not fail them. Workers educated right here in Arizona.

While I understand that there are tough decisions to be made, we can not continue to sacrifice our future for the expediency of today. Tough choices will need to be made. But understand this, cutting education funding is not an appropriate choice. Do this – cut education funding – and not only will you lose my vote, but you will lose my business, and my commitment to the state of Arizona.

Sincerely,

Brian T. Roy

Founder and President

cosinity

http://www.cosinity.com

602.635.1013

Update: January 22nd 2009 @ 11:20 AM AZ Time

Linda Lopez – The AZ State Senator for District 29 responded to my email as follows:

Thank you for your email regarding your concerns about proposed cuts in
the Senate and House Republican Appropriations Committees Chairmen’s
budget. I do not support these cuts. I know full well that because of
our current budget crisis there will need to be some strategic reduction
in funding in all areas of state government, including education.
However, the level of reductions that are being proposed will, in my
estimation, not only decimate education at all levels it will undermine
our ability as a state to recover from this economic situation. I
strongly suggest that you let the appropriations chairs, Senator Russell
Pearce and Representative John Kavanaugh, and the legislative
leadership, Senate President Bob Burns and House Speaker Kirk Adams,
know about your concerns. In addition, you must also contact Governor
Brewer and her staff and let them how upset you are with these
proposals.

I have been a long time vocal supporter of education at all levels,
preschool through university. It is the bedrock of our state and our
country. We shortchange education at our own peril.

Sincerely,

State Senator Linda Lopez
District 29

Update: January 22nd 2009 @ 11:49 AM AZ Time

Frank Pratt – The AZ State Representative for District 23 responded as follows:

Thank you for sharing your concerns. We are taking any proposed budget
cuts to education very seriously.

Very truly yours,

Frank Pratt
State Representative
District #23

Frank – that is a very political response. I assure you I take your votes on this matter very seriously.

Why is the Real-Time Web Community Shooting Itself in the Foot?

2008 was supposed to be the year we began to see real-time web take shape. And while Twitter and FriendFeed have begun to show us some bits of what a real-time web might look like mostly it has been a year of discontent.

While I hate year end/beginning “predictions” (what am I Nostradamus?) I’m predicting 2009 won’t be much better. Why? Well that is the interesting part.

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I’ll let you in on a secret (shhh, this is just between you and me). Real-time services on the “web” are nothing new. We have a pretty good idea how they work (and don’t work). We know what the challenges are – and to a large degree how to architect/engineer the solutions. The problem is we aren’t leveraging the work that has already been done.

More after the jump…

Continue reading “Why is the Real-Time Web Community Shooting Itself in the Foot?”

Micro-Messaging – Data Interchange Standards and Track

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I’ve been hard at work over the past week. Having your own company which you are attempting to bootstrap in this economy and sponsoring an academic project with ASU Polytechnic and – in my spare time – working on the challenges of real-time information discovery and participation is exhausting. Never-mind the two children under 6.

I’ve listened to what everyone has had to say regarding the “fire-hose” – or as I tend to refer to it – the question of trackable scope. Karoli took the time to write a very persuasive and passionate post – which you can read here. While we still may not agree weather or not the “fire-hose” is required to make track – I think we understand each other’s point of view. We agree on what is important – if not in which order and why. That is enough for me.

Apparently I was mentioned on the Gillmor Gang on 11/11/2008 – I’ve included the podcast below:

PodCast courtesy of The Gillmor Gang

icon for podpress Standard Podcast [60:12m] Download (746)

The discussion turns to track for the last half or so of the hour. After sitting with my latte this morning and listening (to some parts more than once) I believe I have a clearer understanding of Steve Gillmor’s perspective on the issue.

I completely agree with Steve that establishing a base mechanism for data interchange between real-time/near real-time social media services is going to be critical to the ultimate value delivered. As I’ve discussed on identi.ca we need a real-time data “bus” which moves data in real time from publishers to subscribers. Much the same way an electrical bus moves electricity from generators to consumers. At some point that bus – when widely adopted – will become a standard.

I’ll be posting more about the bus early next week.

I believe – and I am quite certain history bears this out – that standards develop because they benefit the services that implement them. In most cases this is because the interchange of data in some structured way is required to unlock the full value of a particular service or solution. We’ve seen this evolution in the past – email is an excellent example. Prior to SMTP every major producer of email systems had a “standard” for routing email between users. SMTP became dominant because it became more valuable to have email that could be exchanged with anyone than to have email without that capability. As a matter of fact it became a deal breaker if you couldn’t send email to anyone.

A counter example can be found in the world of Instant Messaging. After nearly 10 years there is no dominant standard. Each network implements it’s own standard and perhaps bridges messages to other standards. AIM uses OSCAR, GTalk uses XMPP, MSN uses SIP/SIMPLE. You want them all – you need a clever developer who creates a client that can talk to all 3.

There are many reasons that these standards either emerge or fail to emerge. But I’m fairly certain that it has rarely been the case that the standard was implemented because a small, vocal community of users insisted on it. I am very certain that the majority of standards become dominant is because there is a business imperative which makes using a standard more valuable than not.

Call me cynical – but that is how the world works. The question isn’t should there be a widely implemented standard for real-time micro-messaging, the question is what is the win-win? What is the business imperative that will drive widespread adoption? Specifically – how does it benefit Twitter to publish everything to the real-time messaging bus?

My contention is – as I’ve said before:

When compelling and broadly adopted services exist, which demand real-time un-scoped access to multiple underlying services, the individual services will have no choice but to “open their kimono” or face massive user defection.

The key part of that statement is “broadly adopted services exist“. My opinion is that we have to focus on the value proposition. What are the problems being solved and why are the valuable to users?

There are many – and some can be solved today (and as Karoli knows – some that can’t) – without the fire-hose. If I did not believe that to be true I wouldn’t be attempting to solve them. Will they be imperfect? Yes – but the goal isn’t perfection on day one – it is making a situation incrementally better by solving the important problems facing the user.

FriendFeed offers an interesting case – since they base their business model on being an aggregator. And, at least in theory, aggregation is one way to establish a real-time messaging bus and standard. It, however, requires not a network of peers but a single massive aggregator serving as the gateway/hub for access to information.

What I know – with complete certainty – is that the marketplace has ways of working these types of issues out. There will be a winner (or winners). They may or may not be the best technical solution. The real-time micro-messaging bus will be created to support the solutions that gain traction in the market. The solutions will not constrain themselves to 140 characters or any other standard which impedes the ability to solve important problems.

In short – until we hash out the types of services and how they deliver value AND the business imperative which drives a broadly implemented standard… there will be no standard (beyond paper standards).

So I’m going back to work creating value and solving important problems using the power of real-time (or near real-time) information discovery and participation… you in?

The myth of “everything” – Responses to my view of Track

My post yesterday – specifically regarding the Great Track Debate – received several responses on Twitter, identi.ca and friendfeed. Many of these – really all of them were positive – but the debate is far from settled.

I learned something very important from one discussion in particular – that there is a myth that permeates the conversation. The myth of “everything”.

This myth is the adherence to two ideas:

  1. That somehow the “fire-hose” (as discussed here) represents the complete information about any given topic – that somehow the “fire-hose” is everything.
    1. At the root of it, this is the idea that everything is attainable.
  2. That – in order to monetize track – having everything is essential. For example, if you are trying to manage your brand you need every reference to it in real-time.
    1. At the root of it, this is the idea that everything is required and valuable.

The reason I refer to these two ideas collectively as the “myth of everything” is because when they are clearly stated and examined they are immediately recognizable as inconsistent with reality.

So let’s take the two ideas one at a time and examine how tenuous their attachment to reality is.

First, that the “fire-hose” represents everything about any given topic. The fire-hose is the sum total of what is said on a given service. In order for that to be everything that service would need to be participated in by everyone. That is a hard enough hurdle to overcome, but there is more – not only would it need to be everyone, it would need to be the only method by which they communicate their thoughts, ideas and feelings.

Even if you were able to combine the fire-hose of every service available – every social networking site, every blog, every micro-blog, every IM service, every news site – you would still be far short of everything.

So the idea that track only becomes valuable when it can capture “everything” is a myth. Everything is unattainable.

Second, that having everything is essential. Let’s suppose we were to allow that somehow everything was achievable. Even if it were would it be required? Would it provide value commensurate with the effort required to collect it?

Let’s evaluate this in terms of brand management. The assumption which underlies this is that it is required to respond in real time to every post which is misleading, false, or damaging. This assumption is flawed – the reality is that it is required to respond to a statistically relevant sample of those posts. You aren’t trying to refute every post – you are trying to move (or keep from moving) the average (or perhaps mean) opinion.

If any company were forced to staff enough positions to actively monitor and respond to every post made about them – they would immediately cease to be profitable. It isn’t scalable, and more importantly it isn’t required.

This holds true equally for politics.

So the idea that track delivers value because having access to everything is required and the primary driver of value is a myth. Everything is neither required nor valuable in real terms.

What the track community should be focused on – again IMHO – is not the fire-hose and the attendant myth of everything, but creating systems which can attain enough trackable scope to provide a statistically relevant sample of the posts in the social media universe.

I understand that, emotionally, it feels good to tap into some perceived “everything” and refute any and all posts that you think are misleading, false, biased, or offensive. But this isn’t about what feels good – at the end of the day it will be about what is effective. And to be effective everything is neither required nor valuable.

These two conclusions – that everything is unattainable and that – even if attained – is neither required nor valuable should allow us to dispense with the “myth of everything” and return to the point of track:

  1. Real-Time Information Discovery
  2. Real-Time Participation

The evolution of FFStream and the Great Track Debate

ff-filtered-twitter.pngAs those of you who follow me on twitter or friendfeed know FFStream – which I began discussing in this post – has evolved into FF-Filtered. The changes are not dramatic, but they are significant.

FF-Filtered is now focused on providing “your friendfeed – filtered” – and as that implies what it does is filter your friendfeed (home feed to be specific) by a list of keywords. If these keywords match the post title, comment, or user you receive the update in real time – in the browser or via IM, including GTalk, Jabber, AIM and Yahoo.

It isn’t track – as I’ve been repeatedly and vehemently told by the “community” over the last 5 days – more on that later.

Additionally – for the mobility set – we’ve added like, comment, post and filter updates via a mobile web page. If you click on the link in the IM from a mobile platform you get the following mobile web page:

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I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve – so look for more changes this week including a name change.

Now for the second half of the post… I’m going to talk about Track again… so sharpen your knives (or tongues) and get ready to revel in your abject disdain for my refusal to “go along” or shut up.

Let me say one thing first – if you want to attack my positions and opinions go for it. If you are here to attack my motives or me personally – GO AWAY NOW.

The last 5 days has been very illuminating for me – both in terms of the fervor of the “track community” and in terms of their point of view – which at times verges on dogma.

Let me attempt to “play back” what I’ve heard and then explain – as clearly as possible given my limited skills – my point of view.

Track – by the definition of the “track community” as led today by Steve Gillmor of Gillmor Gang/News Gang Live, is defined by the “fire-hose”. This fire-hose is the complete unabridged stream of posts occurring on any social media site. In the case of Twitter, this is the entire public timeline published in real time.

This is an important distinction – because it states that “track” can not be achieved without the “fire-hose”. More on this latter.

The second component of “track” is the ability to keyword filter the real time stream and deliver the filtered content in real (or near real) time.

The third component of “track” is the ability to insert posts into the public timeline from the same user interface you are viewing the stream in.

Those four things collectively comprise the “holy grail” of track.

I’m sure you will all let me know exactly how wrong I am… but I think those four capture the broad brushstrokes. Ok?

Before I attempt to explain my point of view – let me clarify one point. Regardless of my agreement or disagreement with the track community on any given point, there is one thing we vehemently agree on:

There is massive value in the ability to discover and participate in the social media stream in real (or near) real time. Our objective where that is concerned is the same.

When I consider track – I consider it in terms of the problems it attempts to solve. To me, track is an attempt to solve 2 very important problems:

  1. Real-Time Information Discovery
  2. Real-Time Participation

Any solution which solves those two problems would – by my definition – fall within the scope of a “track” service.

Now let me explain why (take a deep breath… you can throw something at me later). Where I differ with the “track community” on this issue is on the scope of the track-able data not what happens after the “track service” receives it. As importantly I fundamentally agree that the wider the scope of the data being tracked the more effective the track solution will be.

But, consider this – not every user wants to track the entire social media universe. To the contrary – most IMHO simply want to track their friends, family, co-workers, brand, market makers, influencers, power users, etc.

For those users a limited scope is a good thing. Beyond consideration of the scope of the data being tracked this service solves the exact same problems.

  1. Real-Time Information Discovery
  2. Real-Time Participation

So apply the duck test. It walks like a duck… it quacks like a duck… why isn’t it a duck?

It is my opinion – and you can feel free to take issue with it – that the track communities’ obsession with the “fire-hose” has actually retarded the growth of alternative track services. The obsession with scope has prevented the creation of useful (if limited by their limited trackable data) solutions under the banner of track – and that is a shame.

Every developer that seeks to solve the two problems should be embraced, encouraged and supported.

The real battle here is one of leverage. And the way to get the social media services to both open up their data and participate in the creation of a standard for doing so is to create a win-win. I believe track services that are useful and solve real problems (e.g., real-time brand monitoring) can and will provide the leverage that causes the change the community has been seeking.

If Twitter wants to pretend they ARE the social media universe – let them. It is abundantly clear from the success of friendfeed that no single service is or will be the social media universe – any service that ignores this will fail.

When compelling and broadly adopted services exist, which demand real-time un-scoped access to multiple underlying services, the individual services will have no choice but to “open their kimono” or face massive user defection.

So stop complaining about the lack of a “fire-hose” and figure out what those services are, who needs them the most, and how to drive that value to as many users as fast as possible. If you do that – you’ll get what you want… not today, not even tomorrow… but relatively soon.

I had intended to discuss standards, what I believe the high level components of an open track environment might look like, and why friendfeed is in the best position to lead standard development… but this has already gotten too long. I’ll set those subjects aside for another day.

If you’ve disagreed with everything else I’ve said – please remember – I share your goal. I’m not saying the outcome you seek isn’t valuable – I am just proposing a different course of action. I hope I’ve done so respectfully and without denigrating anyone or their point of view.

Pandora joins the 15% club (layoffs)

Pandora announced today that they have laid off 14% of staff in reaction to the state of the economy.

Via TechCrunch:

Music-streaming service Pandora joins the growing list of startups laying off employees to survive in a worsening economy. The company let go 20 people yesterday, or 14 percent of its staff. Founder Tim Westergren broke the news in a blog post:

This is a very sad day for Pandora, and for me personally. Today we reduced our staff from 140 to 120 employees. Like virtually every company, Pandora is not immune to the challenges presented by the current economic turmoil. We are trying to react quickly and responsibly to the new environment.

[From More Layoffs: Pandora Cuts 14 Percent of Its Staff]

Paul Graham’s Advice to Startups

TechCrunch published a post referencing Paul Graham’s (of Y Combinator) advice on why you should start a company now. He makes some great points. I would argue that Mr. Graham’s advice should apply in any economic environment.

A financial nuclear winter may be upon us, but many startups will still survive and even thrive in this environment. Y Combinator’s Paul Graham argues that, in fact, now may be the best time to launch a startup. In an essay titled “Why to Start a Startup in a Bad Economy,” he notes that “what matters is who you are, not when you do it.”

[From Paul Graham’s Startup Survival Guide For The Coming Nuclear Winter: Be a Cockroach]

One of the downsides to VC funding is that it forces a company to immediately chase exponential growth – ready or not. Often that leads to strange thinking. The metrics become out of touch with reality and revenues (and profit) take a back seat to subscriber growth, or aggregating eyeballs (remember when portals were huge and search was not?).

Listen – VCs are smart. But they want big multiples (if the invest 3MM they way 300MM back – that is their ideal deal). The problem with that is it is really, really rare. You should take Mr. Graham’s advice and focus on managing costs, generating revenues and being sustainable.