Tag Archives: ” Stanford

Captains and floozies

On Monday, I wrote in the weekly newsbrief about how we can find talent on our teams in the unlikeliest places.  How project leaders who discover and promote talent can trust them to take work to innovative places.

These project leaders generally have the foresight, strength and confidence that equip them to let those they lead to excel — to enter and capture the spotlight — to extend the project message in other interesting, often unplanned ways.  The story of Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi serves as the case study.  The man was selected without any acting experience by a director who taught him as well as hired him and knew a good line when he heard it.  The ad-lib heard around the world is showing all of us, not just Hollywood, how to be delighted by the unexpected.  Not threatened by it.

By Tuesday evening, I was enduring the remarks of a so-called expert in talent who fretted that “token floozies” in companies like Twitter are not truly women of the tech workforce.  Who then refused to explain what he meant.  For two days now.

You see, he expects only to pontificate.  To not answer questions unless they are posed in a way that flatters his ego and sustains his superiority, both in the asking and the answering.  Should this man be challenged, watch out.  He cites Duke University, Stanford University, Singularity University, WASHINGTON POST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and startup Trove as the stars in his CV, and so far, they see no need to call for an explanation, either.  Rumor has it he has a book coming out about how women are leaving tech employers in droves.

If tech women are leaving anywhere in droves, it’s for two reasons.  First, for being expected to behave, code and program in the manner of the teen tech stars who have captivated Silicon Valley for the first decade of this century.  Second, women leave because guys like this appoint themselves gurus of all things female and feminine without working — hard — with the founders and teams who are actually building companies, products, services and customer lists.  There is not a conspiracy to prevent women from succeeding.  But there is money to be made selling books that tell us there is.

Guys like this think the only good women are the ones who have multiple degrees in engineering related disciplines.  Guys like this think that women who write stories or build customer communities are not really women of tech.  Guys like this believe Minimum Viable Products spring forth unaided from engineers who need marketing, accounting, sales and legal experts only to serve them, not advise them or stand beside them as founders.

At least this is what I assume.  Because in the absence of a real clarification from Mr-Women-in-the-Tech-Workforce, I can only conclude he’s like a few, not the majority, of the guys I’ve encountered in my decades of experience:  suspicious of anyone in heels, assumptive that mascara and brains do not go together, and convinced he knows better than anyone else, including women, what they need and want from a career.  He’s a misogynist.  And the only woman he can begin to trust is one with a pure engineering pedigree.

Well, even the women with those kinds of pedigrees don’t tend to believe that.  In fact, one of the great things about women in the workforce is that we understand the importance of being open to the possibilities, wherever they emerge and from whatever corner.  I’d rather see this guy write about that than feather his own nest with nasty diatribes against the producers — like Twitter, Facebook and Google — who are hiring women and creating open opportunities based on merit, not gender.

Whether the talent was once a limousine driver or is a woman with a BA, we have to celebrate the people who are inviting them to the talent pool.  And we have to celebrate the talent.  Because even the business-side floozies deserve their moment in the sun when they engage users and customers in technological marvels.

By the way.  First rule of PR:  acknowledge your own missteps.  Second:  assume the questioner is sincere and respond with clarification, even if you think it’s a “mindless rant” [his words, not mine].  That’s the only way you get in front of your own mistake.  Own it and explain it or you’ll never move beyond it.

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The problem with the semantic web: Semantics! The solution: foldier!

On November 19, VLAB, the MIT/Stanford venture lab, held a panel discussion on what was categorized as a Web 3.0 concept:  the semantic web.  It was excellent.  Thought provoking.  And between the audience and the panelists, the conversation could have lasted well into the evening.  [For Silicon Valley and nearby, this is a strong series on where technology, startups and the market intersect.  Sign up.]

The discussion was perfectly timed.  We’ve had a great deal of talk around here about the semantic web

It’s actually a new-century successor to the artificial intelligence topic that fascinated so many business and technology types in the 80s.  Nearly everyone on the panel agreed that the big difference between the semantic web and artificial intelligence — hence the Web 3.0 classification, I guess — is the impact of the Internet-as-a-platform on both the gathering and morphing of collective intelligence.

The scientists behind "the semantic web" moniker clearly value marketing.  To avoid putting people off with "artificial intelligence," they’ve decided to build interest in the topic by attaching themselves to social networking and online products and services the public is beginning to demand.

Also, to succeed, the scientists need good, old-fashioned traffic.  Because they need to gather the intelligence of the masses and track how they share content and change it.  Because the scientists must be able to manipulate the underlying data if they want to create a huge base of knowledge, or intelligence.  Since the Internet has opened a comprehensive, infinite number of knowledge exchanges, it is the perfect place to chase and capture content.  Today’s scientists know that the Internet is the promised land of intelligence.

Somebody has advised some of the semantic networks to adopt the
behavior and use patterns of Facebook and the like.  Employing marketing tactics targeted to the masses would be fine, except that when the masses get there, they find a serious science project suited — by design and interface — to what I call "high knowledge holders."

I’m actually pleased about this, because I’m working with a company that really does all the stuff the semantic networks understand people want.  And we do it in an accessible way.

Yes, we have a significant point of "competitive" differentiation.  But before I go there, I want to say first that the semantic thing is terrific for all of us, so I’ll catch a ride on their coattails any time.  The semantic scientists deserve praise, support and a lot of attention.  And we’re getting closer to clarity on the whole subject.  [Read this post by Richard McManus, linking to an article by Tim Berners-Lee.]

Eventually, our startup — foldier — will incorporate intelligent, or semantic web, technology.  But first, we’re focused on people and content.  It’s where we believe all of this intelligence, artificial or not, begins.  With people and what they’re reading and doing on the Internet.

For people to gain supreme command over their digital content, whether it’s on their own computers or all over the Web, we have to get in the habit of reaching beyond email programs, instant messaging and social networks to communicate … of using search to use and organize our own data … of thinking of the Internet as a distinctly separate entity.  To gain digital control, we have to integrate our digital actions and sources.  This requires sophisticated technology, yet you can’t lose sight of why you’re doing it:  for private individuals to use among themselves.  This has been foldier’s balancing act.

When the semantic web buzz heated up over the past few months, I would read what the semantics sites said they would do for people and shudder.  We had been keeping a fairly low profile at foldier as our programming team massaged the code, but we had come up with a description for what we’re doing.  Search.  Share.  Relate.  The semantics folks were using similar language.  Plus, they do have dough-re-mi.  That means sponsorships of high-visibility conferences and the like.  Lots of attention.

Since I’m big on differentiation, I began to dig underneath everyone’s market positioning to find what we are doing differently.  Here’s what I found. 

There is some wonderful technology in the wonderful world of semantics, but when you really read what some of the semantic scientists are saying, and when you see demos of their networks, there is a bit of a disconnect between the message and the functionality. 

The scientists are already aiming at the creation of a database that stores our collective intelligence.  They’re way beyond searching, sharing and relating one-on-one.  Note:  this is NOT deception on their part.  It’s semantics!

It may be that the marketing folks throw the messages at the scientists and since they sound good, the messages stick.  Or, the scientists really want their technology to do this stuff — but on the way to building that collective intelligence.

Foldier came from the opposite direction.  It was created purely to enable the founder, and now those of us in the company and our beta users, to search, collect [aggregate], organize and share our content — our digital stuff.  Our revenue model:  a new kind of advertising network.  Right now, though, we want to attract people to foldier so we can see how it works, make it better and entice investors who see that we have something here to offer to people and the advertisers that want to reach them.

We have a blog over at foldier, too.  We’re writing about the many aspects of personal digital content — and showing folks how they can use foldier, too.  I also have a guest essay on FoundRead.  More coming there, too.

The great thing is, foldier is pretty much what you make it.  How you use it.  Some people focus on sharing, others on aggregating and others on searching and organizing their content.  The latter is going to be my favorite, I think. 

On foldier, you can tag your items and never file them.  When you go back later to find an item, you just search by a tag or even just a word that’s in the item. 

For me, no more trying to remember which folder has that article on semantics in it.  Just search for semantics and find all the ways it’s being used this week!

Burnishing the Silicon Valley brand

Marc Andreessen announced the gift of $27.5 million that he and his wife, Laura, are pledging to Stanford Hospital, in Palo Alto, California. 

He writes at length on his blog of what motivated the donation and where the funds will go.  And he does it in a way that is the opposite of self-serving.  A remarkable feat not just from an editorial standpoint but in terms of our local ecosystem as well. 

I hope that other achievers of the Andreessen level take note of not just what success can deliver but what it is for — to pave the way for more success by others via example, not mandate.  It helps to remind oneself that while talent and skill are the primary factors of success, the luck of the draw figures into it, too.  Takes away some of the unseemly stuff associated with wealth.

Robert Scoble applauds this generous act today on his blog, too.  One of the commenters there notes that he is uncomfortable with private donations going to support healthcare. 

Friend, private funds are exactly where such gifts should originate.  American civilization — as tarnished and as weary as it is in the current decade — was built upon and will revive again through the efforts and sacrifices of the independent individual.  It’s the corresponding sense of accountability — whether it’s taking responsibility for our own health and the costs of maintaining it or making it possible for others to do so through private means — that has distinguished our civilization through the ages. 

And by the way:  personal charity and stewardship clearly set the foundation for the finest healthcare services in the galaxy.  Combating the greed and bureaucracy of today’s insurance sector by turning over management to another set of inept bureaucrats is the last thing we need.  The first thing?  Those of us in the position to recognize that we will never spend all the money we’ve amassed — and listening to that little guy on our right shoulder reminding us of what that money can do.