The anti-innovation system

The patent system has become dysfunctional. Even The Economist thinks so. This from the current edition:

Patents are supposed to spread knowledge, by obliging holders to lay out their innovation for all to see; they often fail, because patent-lawyers are masters of obfuscation. Instead, the system has created a parasitic ecology of trolls and defensive patent-holders, who aim to block innovation, or at least to stand in its way unless they can grab a share of the spoils. An early study found that newcomers to the semiconductor business had to buy licences from incumbents for as much as $200m. Patents should spur bursts of innovation; instead, they are used to lock in incumbents’ advantages.


U2 can be in Facebook

From The Register.

Elevation Partners, the private equity firm backed by bad-backed U2 frontman Bono, has stumped up $120m for just over 0.5 per cent of Facebook.

The deal values the dominant social network at $23bn, and takes Elevation Partners' total stake to 1.5 per cent, having invested $90m at a $9bn valuation last year.

Reports earlier this month claimed Facebook's sales were between $700m and $800m last year, so Bono and friends reckon it's worth about 29 times revenue at the moment. Which is a lot.

The widely-held assumption is that Facebook aims to IPO in the next couple of years, when Elevation Partners and the other private interests who have paid its running costs since 2004 will cash in.

Bono's fund could use a hit. It sank hundreds of millions into Palm's attempted revival, which ended in a fire sale to HP this year…

iPad: the blog killer

As part of my ongoing project to try and assess the utility of the iPad, I’ve been using it as much as possible in the course of my day. We’re now several weeks into the experiment and I’ve noticed something interesting: I’ve been blogging less. And the reason is simple: the iPad is hopeless as a blogging tool, or at any rate as a tool for the kind of blogging that I do. Since I use Memex as a kind of working notebook — an online commonplace-book — multi-tasking is absolutely essential: I read something online and decide that I want to log it in Memex. On a real computer, that’s dead easy: highlight the key passage, hit the ‘Press This’ bookmarklet (I use WordPress), edit, hit ‘publish’. That’s it. With the iPad, the workflow needed to achieve the same result doesn’t even bear thinking about — it involves closing one application, launching another, clumsy selecting, cutting and pasting, etc. etc. Zzzz…

There is a WordPress App for the iPad, and it’s ok as far as it goes, which is only to write posts from scratch. For some bloggers — those who just write original stuff — it’s useable. But for someone like me it’s not really helpful.

Another quirk: when blogging with WordPress (and, I guess, Blogger) one’s composing inside a text box — as here:

Note that when the draft post exceeds the size of the box a scroll-bar appears. On the iPad, there’s no scroll bar. “No problem”, you think. “Just grab the text and move it up to make room”. Not possible: all that happens is that you move the entire web-page. Not sure if this is fix-able within the parameters of Apple’s touch interface, but at the moment it makes the editing of longer blog posts effectively impossible.

(And as for getting an image into the post to illustrate a point — as above — well, forget it.)

My hunch is that there’s an opening for a serious iPad blogging App. The big question, I guess, is whether it’s possible to do one within the confines of the present OS.

All of this merely confirms, of course, that the iPad has been conceived as essentially a tool for consumption rather than creation — and that users like me are, really, rather quaint exceptions with little marketing significance. Steve Jobs might say that we should stick to our multi-tasking laptops; and, given the huge sales of the iPad, who’s to say that he’s wrong?

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid

This morning’s Observer column.

Sadly, there is no cure for megalomania. But venture capitalists ought to start funding the search for a cure, because it’s costing many of them a lot of money, and is likely to cost even more in the future.

Here’s how it works. A smart entrepreneur – a Harvard dropout, say, or some guy who made a lot of money by selling off his last venture to some clueless multinational – starts up a web business which grows like crazy by attracting millions of subscribers who use its services for free. Pretty soon, it's got 400 million of them and everyone is saying: “Wow! 400 million users! That must be good for something.”

Then several things happen. Firstly, the proprietor of the sensation du jour starts drinking the Kool-Aid and contracts the aforementioned megalomania. He begins to fantasise that he could own the whole internet. Secondly, thousands of other entrepreneurs think “Wow! He could own the whole internet. We need to make sure our stuff has hooks into his stuff. Otherwise, we’re toast.” And then the mainstream media, whose insights into this could be written in 96-point Helvetica bold on the back of a postage stamp, are going around saying, “Jeez, this stuff is the real deal. How do we get onside?”

Stephen Fry on the “pointless babble” report

Lovely blog post.

The clue’s in the name of the service: Twitter. It’s not called Roar, Assert, Debate or Reason, it’s called Twitter. As in the chirruping of birds. Apparently, according to Pears (the soapmakers presumably – certainly their “study” is froth and bubble) 40% of Twitter is “pointless babble”, ( which means of course that a full 60% of Twitter discourse is NOT pointless babble, which is disappointing. Very disappointing. I would have hoped 100% of Twitter was fully free of earnestness, usefulness and commercial intent. Why do these asinine reports jump onto a bandwagon they don’t understand and why do those reporting on them relate with such glee that a service that was never supposed in the first place to be more than gossipy tittle-tattle and proudly banal verbal doodling is “failing to deliver meaningful commercial or political content”. Bollocky bollocks to the lot of them. They can found their own “enterprise oriented” earnest microblogging service. Remind me to avoid it.


The small print

Intrigued by Pixelpipe, I’ve been examining its terms & conditions. Here’s a key clause:

Unless we indicate otherwise on the Site, you retain all copyright in any User Content you post on the Site. However, by posting any User Content or otherwise participating in any Interactive Area, you grant Pixelpipe a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, and fully sublicensable right to use, publish, distribute, reproduce, perform, adapt and display the User Content on or in connection with the Site and the Service, including the right to use the name that is submitted in connection with such Content. You further understand and agree that, in order to help ensure smooth operation of our system, we may keep backup copies of User Content indefinitely.

So that’s another one I won’t be using, then.

The original Mr Madoff

Meet Charles Ponzi, of the eponymous scheme. Cheery looking chap, isn’t he? The Times of July 28, 1920, reported thus:

An amazing “get-rich-quick” scheme, whereby Mr Charles Ponzi, a short time ago a relatively poor man, now estimates his wealth at upwards of £1,700,000, has attracted the attention of the public authorities of Boston.

The extraordinary feature of the case is that the authorities are not at all certain that Mr Ponzi’s operations are in any way illegal, and have only called a halt until his accounts, which run into millions of dollars, can be audited.

His arrest was quite a circus:

Mr Ponzi surrendered yesterday to the Federal authorities just in time to prevent his arrest by the State officials. It is said that the completed audit of Mr Ponzi’s affairs will show a deficit of at least £600,000. It is estimated that during the past six months he received from investors nearly £2,500,000, that in the fortnight since the run on his bank began he paid out about £1,500,000, and that his securities, realty, and other assets amount to perhaps £800,000.

The statement by the Federal auditor that Mr Ponzi’s accounts would show a deficit resulted in scenes almost approaching riot. The streets of South Boston were filled with hundreds of Poles, Italians, Greeks, and Lithuanians who had entrusted their savings to his charge.

This was before the foundation of the Palm Beach club, of course.