Saturday, March 22, 2008

Jason Calacanis Responds

The preface here will be lengthy, but I will also respond to Jason’s response. If you can’t wait, scroll down about 9 paragraphs!

I recently took a break from obsessing on NCAA March Madness and Jericho Ratings to write a post about Mahalo’s foray into social networking and the “semantic web”. I posted it here, and although I hadn’t written on this blog in 5 months and I didn’t look at the web stats, I’m pretty sure Jason Calacanis who runs Mahalo was probably the only person to actually *read* the post, and he responded to it as well.

I’ve known Jason for over 10 years, back in the days when he was running the Silicon Alley Reporter in NYC. I admire Jason quite a bit, for the same reasons I admire one of his mentors, Ted Leonsis and for the same reason I admire someone likes of Tony Hung even though I’ve never met him: they are all tireless and their energy never seems to wane.

Ted is among the super rich, while Jason is merely rich enough where he’d probably never have to work another day in his life if he didn’t feel like it. But these guys LOVE what they do. There is no question, loving what you do is about the best thing you can have happen to you. I’ve been fortunate enough to have that experience at least once or twice for more than a fair bit of time. But I never had the energy, or more accurately the proper psychology to maintain the energy.

The Internet has many useful aspects, but one utility I’m sure I never prognosticated about in 1994 was that it can serve as a tool to shame you. Through connections I made years ago, I see the likes of Jason and Ted and Mark Cuban and Fred Wilson and Kara Swisher and now the new breed like Michael Arrington, Om Malik, and Tony Hung. To a man (or woman) they are all tireless, and they all LOVE what they do.

I ask myself if I was a person who was running a startup and some guy whose writing I used to like 10 years ago posted a column on his blog that nobody reads -- would I respond? Even if it was a fairly well thought out post? My answer: probably not. And I ask myself WHY NOT? Why not?

Many times when it comes to the likes of Jason and Ted I’ve asked ‘Why o’ why are you not lazier than I!?’” I know the answer though. And here’s where it gets a little tricky. I love taking stuff apart. I’m a classic dismantler. I can dismantle, Mahalo, or why I think GigaOm’s business model is lousy as hell, but I’m not just hypercritical of everything and anything outside of myself. I’m hypercritical of myself too! I’m not sure whether I have completely dismantled myself or whether I actually did it so thoroughly that I was unable to put myself quite back together.

The reason the likes of Ted and Jason and Cubes and Fred Wilson and Swish all have boundless energy where I don’t is pretty simple really: they all love what they do. And what they really do, what they really, really love doing more than anything is this: competing.

I have not shared their love of the competition, and the truth is, I need to.

Jason responded as follows:

Well, when you see the actuall pages I think you'll see that it's not a bad use of time for us. couple of points:

a) this isn't a huge investment on our part. We've got a solid base of users and allowing them to share their opinions on a search result page is fairly easy, while providing a great experience.

b) you're correct that opinions are personalized per user. You might give your brother advice to watch The Wire and your friend advice to watch Battlestar. However, those individuals also know you and your tastes and can digest what you mean when you review each.

c) we're in the third inning of web search/research and navigation. we believe that combining humans and the social graph with machines is the best model.

d) we don't have to own this social information--we're going to import/sync much of it from other places like NetFlix and GoodReads and Facebook.

anyway, thanks for the feedback... it will give me much to consider over the weekend.

all the best,


Jason, I agree with everything you wrote. I’m sure it’s not a big investment, and I’m sure it’s very early in the game and that Mahalo needs not own any of the social information and can get it elsewhere. But I’m fairly resolute in this: doing any of that stuff isn’t really very important to or for Mahalo right now. I could be wrong, but as I remember it, like AOL, Google went with the KFC model initially. They only focused on doing one thing right. For AOL it was creating graphical client software that made getting online (and later, on the Internet) easier than what anyone else had going at the time. Google focused on having the best search and didn’t expand into other areas until they were already fairly well recognized as the best search on the Internet.

Since the use case for Mahalo seems to be exactly the same people who are influenced by Taco Bell, Burger King and McDonalds commercials (which is an extremely big market based on the ad spend) trying to tie Mahalo into social networking and the semantic web seems like a complete waste of time.

I wrote the lengthy preface above because I see (a lot of) people take personal pot shots at you frequently. And while not even you have any question that you bring at least some of it on yourself (you are a “bring it on!” kind of guy), and while all of the tactics you use in promoting aren’t always for me personally, the only way you actually rub me the wrong way is by reminding me that I’m a dope for not being more competitive. I can’t hold that against you, and I don’t. Probably the thing I like about you the most is that with almost everything you’re just completely OK with having the conversation right out in the open. I hope that never changes.

I think the best thing you could do for Mahalo is focus almost exclusively on the best search results possible, at the end of the day that’s all that’s going to matter. If you get that right, you’ll figure out all the rest. If you don’t get that right, no matter what else you do and how well you do it, it won’t matter. Keep doing Mahalo Daily please, though. :-)

No comments: