A $46.6 million Bet on Sling Media

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UPDATE: One of the main investors is EchoStar, which also operates the Dish Network satellite TV service. The plan is to differentiate the Dish service with the Slingbox “take your video anywhere” service and, “to expand into mobile platforms like cell phones and handheld devices. Sling Media also recently announced plans to introduce Macintosh-compatible versions and offer the service beyond the U.S. market.”

Silicon Beat reports that Sling Media, the folks behind the Slingbox set top box that allows you to stream your television or DVR over the internet to your PC have raised a gigantic $46.6 million round of financing. This is on top of the $15 million they raised two years ago so obviously someone is thinking this whole rush-home-to-watch-your-favorite-television-show thing is coming to an end and the boys at Sling Media are going to strike it rich.

We’ll find out more tomorrow but I think it’s clear that the future of disintermediated television is going to include viewing on any internet-enabled device which includes wifi-enabled PSPs, video iPods, and phones. The future is going to be one of television where and when you want it.

I remember skipping work on Monday morning in Tokyo to catch the live broadcast of the Super Bowl at the US embassy residential apartment because that was one of the few places to get the live feed (strange to drink at 6am on Monday morning but that’s for another post). Now, with Slingboxes, anyone with a friend in the US can get their own private feed.

My wife and I pay Comcast $25/month to get Japan TV which carries NHK (the BBC of Japan) live. Every so often a broadcast is interrupted with an image of Mt. Fuji set to generic background music and a message on screen saying the segment is not covered by NHK’s overseas copyright distribution agreement. In this new world of Slingboxes, as long as you’re accessing your own TV signal, then there is no restriction on transmissions across borders right? It’s as if you have a long pipe through which you’re watching your television set.

I know that the professional sports leagues are very restrictive on which regions can carry which games. I wonder what the NBA or Major League Baseball league is going to have to say about travelling salesmen using their PC to watch the homegame outside of the broadcast region. I’m sure someone’s already run into this, we’ll just have to see how it all plays out.

Guy Kawasaki at Yahoo!

Yahoo invited Guy Kawasaki in to talk about what it means to be an evangelist and how to write a corporate mantra (not to be confused with a mission statement). His talk was well-attended and more than a few old Mac hands came to worship the prophet. I love the fact that Guy is blogging. His writing lends itself very well to the medium and he said so himself that he’s really pleased with the interaction he’s been getting and devotes a couple of hours each day to his posts.

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One slide that got some laughs was his section in which he stressed the importance of not listening to bozos picking out some choice quotes from folks that clearly didn’t have their eye on the ball.

I think there’s a world market for maybe five computers.

– Thomas Watson, Chairman IBM, 1943

This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.

– Western Union internal memo (1876)

There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home.

– Ken Olsen, Founder Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

Yes, we’ve all heard the Tom Watson quote to which Guy admits (as do I) that we have five computers in our house. If Western Union was keeping up with the times, they should own the market that PayPal is in and poor Ken Olsen must feel like he missed the boat thinking that innovation stopped with the invention of the mini-computer. There comes a time in every entrepreneur’s life when they just want to kick back and coast as did Guy when asked by the VCs that backed Yahoo if he would like to interview for the CEO position back in the late-90’s

It’s too far to drive and I can’t see how it can be a business.

– Guy Kawasaki

Many innovators rest on their laurels and think their mountain was the last great mountain to climb. Perhaps it just takes too much energy to manage an existing business and that they are too fat and happy to realize that another wave is about to hit them upside the head. Always be hungry because the next great thing is going to be around the corner where you least expect it. If you don’t move quickly enough, your competition will. Most importantly, listen closely to your customers because they are the ones that are going to tell you where to look next. I do believe that we are going through one of these disruptive times today where old business models are being torn down and new ones created. There will be lots of opportunity for disruptive innovation ahead so keep your ears to the ground!

Star Horse

Tyler’s getting into the Star War movie series. Julia, who’s had enough of Luke Sykywalker and the gang and tells Tyler she’s sick & tired of his "star horse" movies. Izumi and I almost lost our morning coffee.

Long Live the Aibo!

aibo.jpg We are sad to hear news that Sony, in a cost-cutting measure, is shuttering the robotics division famous for the production of the Aibo robotic dog. They were a little pricey at $2,000 a pop but they were really sophisticated and quite ahead of their time. Sony provided a SDK which could be used to program emotions and face recognition software allowed the dog to respond to it’s owners.

We also will never get the chance to see 60 Aibo dogs dancing in unison to the Bee Gees. (6.6MB wmv file)

Tyler hacks the pebble system

Tyler’s onto us. Izumi set up a little system with the kids to reward them for good behavior. The way it worked is that we had a jar of glass beads. Whenever they did something that we wanted to encourage, like make their bed without our asking them, clean up their room, or otherwise help out around the house, we’d reward them a pebble or two. Wnen we started, we made a little ceremony of it each night and would hand them the pebbles explaining what each one was for and clearly linking the deed to the payout which they would keep in their own little plastic cup. At the end of the week, we would exchange a pebble for 10 cents and they could then use the money to buy something for themselves.

Over time, there was less and less to reward them because they were regularly making their beds and clearning the table. Sometimes we would take pebbles away if they did something bad but usually nothing especially good happend so days went by without any pebbles.

This morning, Tyler told me he’s figured out a way to get the pebble supply flowing again. He spelled it out to me in plain logic as a grifter would explain his latest scam.

If I’m good all the time, you don’t really notice when I’m good. If I make my bed everyday, you stop giving me pebbles for making my bed. What I should do is stop making my bed for a few days, then make my bed again. Then you notice and you’ll give me pebbles!

Nuts.

The San Francisco way to build community

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One of the things you don’t want to do when you’re trying to start a community is create a barrier to entry for potential members. The key to the survival of a community is a rich and diverse membership. One example of this is the San Francisco Motorcycle Club which has evolved and morphed through the years with only one central thread, an interest and passion for two-wheeled motorized transport. But even more than that, they have a very low-key message to potential members poking around on their website (which is endearingly 1990s-esque). This invitation just the right tone. From their website FAQs:

The San Francisco Motorcycle Club is, paradoxically, made up of people who aren’t club-types. Club-types gravitate toward associations because all they’re interested in is the posing. A club doesn’t provide them with instant gratification. Our clubhouse is kept up and filled by people who enjoy motorcycles, and since you seem inclined that way yourself, you’re likely to meet people at the clubhouse who share your interests. Stop by on a Thursday evening or for a club ride and check us out. Do not be deterred by the application process, just stop by and hang out a while. The clubhouse’s walls are covered with 99 years worth of framed photographs, banners, awards, trophies and documents. It’s a veritable museum to San Francisco motorcycling, it’s free to drop in, and you should.

You can learn more about the club and listen to a podcast of it’s history at Sparkletack.

Recommended Podcast – Sparkletack

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One of the great things about podcasting is that it’s bringing back the art of story-telling. I drive about and hour each way to and from work and this time in the car is my time when I can either get ready for the day or decompress on the way home so sometimes the stories I listen to can set the tone for the day.

This morning I hear the tale of Luisa Tetrazzini the turn of the century Italian soprano and how she brought hope to the city of San Francisco as it was finding its way out of the rubble of the 1906 earthquake. I’ll admit I’m a bit sentimental – the way the tale unfolds is quite moving and it’s told masterfully.

If you get a chance to listen, do! It’s great stuff.

Izumi’s Excellent Day

Izumi just told me three stories that were just too funny not to share:

The Afghans in the Locker Room

We’ve been going to this gym on the other end of the island and Zoomer’s told me a few times about these two rather Rubenesque women in the sauna that always seem to be drying their laundry or something. She could never figure it out and didn’t even recognize the language they were speaking – they always sounded angry and one of them would give her dirty stairs. Today she was at the gym and again, they were in the sauna, taking up most of the space with all their clothes again.

But today, one of them reached out to Izumi. She smiled and tried, in broken and rough sounding English, to communicate. She explained that she was from Afghanistan where, at 14 she married and proceeded to give birth to six children. "Boom, Boom, Boom" she said slapping her palms demonstratively. Pounding her chest she proclaimed, "Now, am 55 – it’s over! No more children! Zvittt!" she said while demonstrating that she got her tubes tied to shut down the factory.

Tyler and the Autistics

Tyler seems to gravitate towards autistic kids. He’s compelled by how much they can teach him. This year there is one child who is just mildly autistic and Tyler has been hanging out with him learning all sorts of things. Today, Tyler came up to Izumi and was kind of in awe of this kid. "J. knows so much! He knows about the weather and stuff, he’s going to be a scientist for sure!" Neither Izumi nor I knew that J. was autistic so Izumi shared this compliment with J.’s mother who was so happy to hear that a classmate of her child could see past his handicap and find what’s special in her child. Funny thing is, it seems like all the mothers know that J. was autistic and I guess the kids clued in on it too and kind of gave J. a wide bearth. Tyler was just fascinated and would hang out with him and J.’s mother really was touched. It’s nice to know that your kid doesn’t even have a negative bone in his body and can seek out the good and special in someone and hold it up and celebrate it.

Julia 4 a Day

Yesterday was Julia’s 4th birthday. It was really special for her as I think she actually soaked in the significance of it and basked in the little extra things that were showered on her all day. She came home from school proudly wearing a paper crown her pre-school teacher had made for her – she was on Cloud Nine and went to bed happy. When she woke up this morning, longing for happiness of the day before, she asked when she could be four again. When Izumi told her that she’s going to be four for the next 12 months and flipped though the calendar to show her how long that is, Julia’s eyes popped open, "Wow! I get to be four for the whole year!"

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. . .

I was hoping to just let the dust settle a bit before choosing to post but then I was reminded that my last post on weird Japanese exercise devices seems to be an odd welcome to anyone looking for a perspective on the latest hullabaloo from someone focused on social media projects at Yahoo.

Early yesterday morning, I posted my befuddlement on an internal mailing list. An active discussion followed and many agreed that the quote seemed strangely out of character. Anyone who has heard our CFO speak knows that giving up the good fight is totally at odds with the Sue Decker we know.

Yahoo’s been in the business of connecting people to what they want for ten years and have gone from being a simple directory of useful links to a full suite of services that range from Fantasy Sports to Web Hosting. Not only is Yahoo testing innovative and experimental ways to search, we also provide you with answers. We’re hiring some of the best minds to think long and hard about not only what the next generation search engine will be but, more importantly, what the next generation of the internet will look like. Hint: it’s not just on your PC anymore.

One of the reasons I joined Yahoo is because I saw that they was a vision for an internet which kept people in the center. Powerful tools married to funny and sometimes irreverent design choices. You could read the documentation and see that it was written by a person. It was good to know there was a news desk deciding which ten headlines to put on www.yahoo.com. When your IM client actually laughs at you, it was refreshingly goofy.

Back to the title of this post – we still have a long way to go. Sure, we all are working feverishly on search but I think the context that was missed in the Sue Decker quote was that there is so much more to do around search that is equally interesting and important. The more people I meet at Yahoo, the more I am amazed at the energy and enthusiasm for this next phase. You can see the pieces coming together – tagging, social networks, user ratings & recommendations, geographic and temporal identifiers, developer outreach, RSS in and out – everyone here is sucking it all in and amped up in anticipation of how great it’s going to be to build the stuff we only dreamed about in the past. Trust me, there’s some real cool stuff coming down the pike.

One of the great things in my job is that I get to talk to people across the company, in many different business units and regions. The excitement over social media and how open interaction with our users can infuse our products with relevance and humanity is not limited to just one department – every Product Manager is thinking through the possiblilities of what the new people-powered internet will look like and is hard at work putting these ideas to work. Yesterday, there was a mini-trade show of sorts where one group was showcasing all the great platform tools they are building and were showing them off to anyone interested just to get folks thinking how these services could play with each other. It was great to listen in on some of the hallway conversations taking place – new services being born every minute.

Yahoo has only just begun but the pieces are coming together and, as the title of this blog suggests, there’s going to be an arc that will flash two experiences together (search & community) to create a new online experience that will be a quantum leap ahead of what we have today. This new environment will have us looking back at the days of keyword searching as quaintly as we now look back to the blinking C:\> prompt of old.