All posts by Marty Poulin

About Marty Poulin

I am yet another serial entrepreneur who is engaged in Socail Media and games. Previously I have been Director of Online Technology at what is now Disney Interactive, A Senior Engineer at Sony SCEA and CTO at a small MMO Playnet which produced WWIIOnline. If you are a bit more curious you can peek at my mini bio at

Farewell to China and my friend Robert

Dr. Robert LaiOn June 25th Dr. Robert Lai (Mr. Lai Chi Tau) Chief Scientist of China’s Cyber Recreational District (CRD) passed away in his sleep at the age of 50. I met Robert at the Virtual Worlds Conference and Expo (VWCE) and in November I had the privilege to be invited by Robert to speak at the Virtual World Summit a part of the ICCIE Summit. As his guest I got to know Robert and came to regard him as a friend.

We all have aspirations great and small. Though he had lived his life as a scientist and teacher and was at that time the public face of the CRD, Robert’s dream was a modest retirement on a hillside in China. The CRD was to be his last task before relaxing and living the simple life. It saddens me to think Robert won’t get that chance. I hope he was dreaming that dream the night he left us in his sleep.

Robert was a man who you could not help but like. A man who you felt you could trust and who regardless of what happened around him would treat you with respect. He had an infectious love of life that was only tempered by the his role and place in the world. I will miss my friend Robert and how he represented to me the many sides of China as it enters this brave new world.

Farewell to our friend Robert, you will always be China to me.

Greg, Robert, Marty, Damon, Chris

Left to right: Greg, Robert, Marty, Damon, Chris

The Tipping Point

FireA recent discussion about what critical mass is for a social network site started me thinking about the difference between tipping points and critical mass. Technically both are defined in similar words (sometimes considered synonymous), but they do have different connotations.

A tipping point can be defined as “the culmination of a build-up of small changes that effects a big change”. It is many times tied to an event that adds a missing catalyst or critical amount of energy to achieve a self sustaining reaction. In Gladwell’s book (The Tipping Point) he refers to the mechanics of this being related to “three agents of change” which he calls “the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context”.
Continue reading The Tipping Point

The Free Economy

Internet GrowthIt comes to no surprise to many that I am an ardent follower of the economic trends and business models that are evolving online. Among other things this affords is a perspective on what happens when you take traditional media and services and move them online where the cost of production and friction for consumption starts to approach zero.

When we amortize most work over millions of consumers it becomes practical, and sometimes more profitable to make the product “free” and support it through advertising or ancillary sales. Because of this trend there is a growing expectation among some people that all content should be “free”.
Continue reading The Free Economy

Sleeping with the GPL

GNU wants UToday there is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about what uses of GPL’d software might compel a company to open source their software. Having run into this issue at Disney, Sony and several startups, this article is meant to clarify my own understanding as well as hopefully help a few others make informed decisions. Please note that I am not a lawyer and this article must not be relied upon as a substitute for reading the GPL and obtaining specific legal advice from a licensed attorney.

While there are many less restrictive licenses (MIT, BSD, MPL, etc.) the GPL is perhaps the least understood and most feared by business. To an extent this confusion shouldn’t be a surprise. The FOSS ( Free and Open Source Software ) movement is made up of an array of activists that have slightly different ideals. Since to an extent law relies heavily on intent and consistent treatment, the inconsistencies in this approach muddy the waters. When over time the leaders of the movement make contradictory statements regarding the scope and intent to the GPL, this injects Fear Uncertainly and Doubt (FUD).
Continue reading Sleeping with the GPL

Getting It

Blind Men with Elephant“It” is a paradigm shift. A concept that may be elusive, visceral and something that we need to understand completely to be part of the conversation. We see the symptoms in sales statistics and market reactions and try to understand it in terms of what we already know.

The changes happening to the societies of the world due to the advancement of Moore’s law and the Internet into every facet of our lives represents this on a titanic scale. The problem is that this paradigm shift does not fit in the box we understand. In order to understand it we frequently have to look for the things that change on a macro level. What are the currents that are shifting the sands? Where is that sand going?

To come up with comparisons we have to look at the telegraph/telephone as a precursor and realize how profoundly it changed the world. We then realize that even that shift pales in comparison to what we are experiencing today.

Getting our feet under us in this whirlwind of currents is difficult. In order to start understanding we have to examine the foundations of enterprise, social interaction and even assumptions of why we do things in our daily lives. We track the currents and try to predict where the next wave will hit.

This is an interesting time we live in, it can be a lot of work keeping up, but it can also be a lot of fun. Part of the fun is running into other people who get it. These meetings are often a fervent exchange of ideas and feelings as we negotiate a common understanding of the most exciting thing we have ever witnessed. We challenge each other and grow. Stitching together what is happening is in an imitation of blind men trying to describe an elephant.

There is a patchwork of understanding, a mosaic picture of convergence that is coming into focus. The world is changing and the new shape is just starting to emerge. The only constants are change and our basic human needs. To those that are awake to the possibilities this represents opportunity. The world has become a canvas for us to paint on.

BrightQube: Blowing the Bell Curve

BrightQubeOne of the realities that some may have to face when trying to get a company funded is that although your company rocks, another company may just be rock stars. BrightQube is one of the companies I would feel hard pressed to compete with if I were in their space. If getting funded is a bell curve, these guys skew it way to the right.

How do they do this? With a complete and utter understanding of their space, a rock star management team, enthusiastic seed investors and deep relationships. In his presentation at the Pasadena Angels Presentation Screening event BrightQube’s CEO Lee Corkran handled every question head on and nailed it to the floor with a smile.

So they rock, are you doomed? No, it just means you probably won’t be getting any money from the same well. If you have a competent team and a great product that will give people the returns they are looking for then you need to persevere and you will likely get funding. The lesson here is not to give up, that sometimes your lack of success is just because someone else is being very successful.

Those who know me know that I do not hand out faint praise. I will say nothing rather than complement a company I don’t think has what it takes. I am hard to impress, and these guys pulled it off in spades. What more it’s my impression that they are offering a way cheep valuation for having what is essentially a polished and innovative product. The funding is probably a done deal, but if you can get in on this series B, I would hop on.

Talking to Angels

Angel InvestorI have attended a few events for Angel Investors this week to get a feel for the community and how the system works here in LA. While I got a great perspective at the Tech Coast Angels Fast Pitch Competition, today’s time at the Pasadena Angels Screening Event cemented some of my perceptions.

The format of the screening event was geared for fast presentations (less than 20 minutes) rather than 1 minute elevator pitches. This allows the presenter to paint a much more elaborate picture of what they are doing and why you might be interested in investing. As it turns out it can help, but it also masks some basic communication problems.

By luck one of the presenters at the Screening event, HauteSpot Networks, was one of the winners at the Fast Pitch event. HauteSpot is a solution for streaming CCTV and HiDef video over wireless. At the fast pitch it was unclear what the target market was and how the product was used. The questions from the judges aimed at a consumer play and that didn’t seem to jell or make sense with what I knew of the competition in that space.

The presentation at the screening presented a much different picture of what the company was about and I had an opportunity to talk to HauteSpot’s CEO Bob Ehlers after the event. It turns out that the technology developed by HauteSpot is geared towards government, large public installations and the media. In those markets they had done a lot of work to get government approvals, partnering relationships and start the ball rolling on lucrative contracts.

The interesting thing here is that Bob was using the same type of language in both presentations. In the screening with his PowerPoint there was enough context to see exactly what the business was, but in the fast pitch there wasn’t. Instead the judges assumed that it was yet another consumer play based on their experience and context. If it looks like a hammer we know where to find a lot of nails.

As I talked with Bob afterwards we recounted some of this and that the miscommunication was simply the lack of understanding of the context of the investors. In Bob’s case he assumed that he used some of his terminology that everyone would instantly know his market. That in a way the market speaks for itself. His context was the presentations he had been so successful with in government meeting rooms.

In business as anywhere we need to start by understanding our audience, what they are looking for, what they need to understand. We assume that many things are obvious that just aren’t. Lessons learned, drop the domain specific thinking and adopt the language of the audience. Focus on what the audience understands and build a bridge to your vantage point.

HauteSpot is great technology put out by a company that knows its market and to my view is making the right moves to capture it. They have enough on the ball that most investors can see potential past the delivery, but Bob is also taking his experience to heart and will be tuning his presentations to address defining his market, its potential and their exit strategy in the language of the investor. I look forward to seeing his company grow and have no doubt they will be a great success.

Tech Coast’s Best Fast Pitch?

Tech CoastLast night I went to the Tech Coast Angles Fast Pitch competition at UCLA. Overall I thought it was good event that gave me a bit more insight into what the organization is looking for and how they function. You get a fair amount of access to practical investors that are candid about what they think a good venture is.

That said I still walked away a bit disappointed in the pitches themselves. The companies, supposedly handpicked from over 80 applicants, did not impress. Few of the presenters were able to concisely and explicitly convey their value proposition or why they were differentiated from the competition. In all but one case I did not see any company that I thought would provide the 30x returns that most investors are looking for.

This isn’t to say that some of the companies are not going to do well. I think several will be profitable businesses with modest returns for their investors. As an Angel or VC, modest is not what you are looking for. Modest returns rarely warrant the risk. Typically an investor will invest in 20 companies and 5 of them will pay for the failures of rest. To do this those 5 have to have exceptional returns.

Where do we get exceptional returns? We get them from people who can adapt and turn the current paradigms upside down to find value for the customer. Investors look for people who think outside the box for opportunities and apply good business practice to achieve results in that space. It is not enough to differentiate what you do, you have show how that will shake up the industry and be a clear advantage.

Alex Quilici (CEO YouMail) gave a good presentation that illustrated what a company has to do to succeed and provide these types of returns. That you really do need to watch your market, respond by tailoring your business to the markets needs, and provide simple measurable goals that everyone can work towards. Alex did a great job of communicating exactly what and why these concepts are important.

What company peaked my interest? I won’t name names, but they had perhaps the least glamorous market, hair extensions. They clearly articulated that it was a $500 million market, and that their product was going to take a 5 hour application process down to 30 minutes. Their proprietary product will reduce the time and cost of extensions by an order of magnitude. In essence they can and should turn that industry upside down when they release. They didn’t win.

What is Community?

CommunityJeremiah Owyang posted a question about how we define “Online Communities”. In referencing Jake Mckee’s post on the subject he wonders is Twitter a community?

Before we answer that question we have to define what a “Community” is? As has been pointed out by Robin Hamman, “Community” “has dozens if not hundreds of distinct definitions”. In practice we shouold go by the most common definition that covers the specific context. If we go to the dictionary we find a definition of “a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (e.g. “The Business Community”)”.

The key’s points here are:

1. Common Interests.
2. Perception of being distinct and separate.

When we examine Twitter and find that the common interest is Twitter and the activities on it, and that the perceived distinction is of those who use/get twitter and those that do not. So yes, by definition, Twitter IS a community.

That said, groups of followers within Twitter may NOT be a sub-community since they do not identify themselves as being separate from Twitter itself. We are not the “following Scoble” community.

Of course all this “definition” talk begs the question, how should we forge this new online vocabulary? Like any lexicon it will develop on its own via adoption patterns. When creating definitions I lean towards either adhering to already established meanings, or inventing new words entirely. This makes words less confusing when we use new meanings in conversation.

What is SPAM?

SAPMTo a previous post, MaxS commented that my reaction to SPAM was different than his and particularly to that of teenagers and young adults (Millennials).

SPAM is in the eye of the beholder. The point of the other article is not whether we should consider one thing or another SPAM based on frequency or other metrics, but instead that we should pay attention to how our perceptions of the source color our assessment.

There is a double standard that we take for granted. We classify companies and people of authority differently in our minds than we do friends. The type of interactions we expect are completely different.

Regardless of the generation if someone radically changes the interaction context on us (turning mentoring or friendship into marketing) then we are going to view that as betrayal of our perception of what we have signed up for. I give you permission to be my friend, not sell me a car.

In the end while we may each have different ideas of what constitutes SPAM it all comes down to unwanted or inappropriate interactions as colored by our perception of the source of those interactions. Appropriate interactions build trust and “Social Capital”, inappropriate ones tear it down.

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas
Holidays are a time to reassess and reconnect with friends and community. Wherever you are, with friends or family, we wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season and a fine new year.

Merry Christmas, and remember to Drink Eggnog Responsibly!


Please note that Christmas is in fact not only a celebration of Christian beliefs, but coincides with and in part may be substituted for celebrations of “winter solstice”, the Roman “Saturnalia“ and “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti” and its progeny the “Twelve Days of Christmas“. Christmas is also coincides with the secular holiday of Chri$tma$$ celebrated throughout the world, but was perfected in the USA.

For the politically correct:

Please accept with no obligation, explicit or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2008, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wished.

Moore’s Law vs. Dunbars Number

Johnny MnemonicMoore’s Law wins.

In a recent twitter conversation Jeremiah Owyang asked the question, ” Did we break Dunbar’s Number of 150 members per social network? Or are tools more efficient?”

The reality is that we have been pushing Dunbar’s number since we first invented the little black book. By offloading much of the social context data into long term storage we can maintain much more meaningful social interactions with a larger number of people. We can also pick up stale relationships and rekindle them much easier.

So what does Moore’s Law have to do with any of this? Our mobile phone and Social Network contact lists are this generations black book. We may not quite be up to the level of Johnny Mnemonic, but the reality is that we are already augmenting ourselves. For now the interface is our eyes and keyboard/pad.

Some of us are already living in the future…

RIP, The last honorable man in Washington. I was saddened today when I came across a story about the death of Chuck Riechers, a person I had worked with and respected.

Chuck was a good guy who was incredibly smart and capable. One of the few straight shooters I know in Washington. He not only had a great reputation, but it was well earned.

I don’t know why he ended up killing himself. I know that the government can be a meat grinder, especially when you get to a high enough level. I got out of DOD contract work quite a while back to escape the drain it can be. I do not for a minute believe that Chuck did anything wrong. It just wasn’t his style.

No I believe that a good man got caught in the machinery of sensational news and government digression and his sensibilities made him do the “honorable” thing. It is a true shame when the system harms the true heroes it was put in place to support.

All that aside, I salute you Chuck and all that you were. I support your friends and family in thier morning and will always remember Chuck as the great guy that he was.

Who is the Long Tail?

Long Tail BookWe have been making a lot of noise about the long tail for a while now in our little world of Web 2.0 and it struck me this morning while reading a post by Gordon Haff that we don’t really talk about where it comes from.

The long tail has many forms, some obvious ones being older and niche music as well as practically all of the blogoshpere. I disagree with the idea Alex Iskold posted that, because the individual content contributor isn’t making money, the long tail is in trouble. Making money is not necessarily first and foremost for many of the people producing content for the Long Tail.

I just finished reading Moneyball where Michael Lewis relates that Billy James was ecstatic at having sold 64 copies of his first Baseball Almanac. This was done out of passion and a need for recognition, not greed. This type of attitude is pervasive in the Long Tail.

The Long Tail is real and here to stay not because the people creating the content for the long tail are making money, but because someone else has figured out to monetize access to it as part of their service. The Long Tail was always there, and is growing because the internet makes it so easy to share content and get positive feedback.

I know that I do not have a large audience, but blogging still holds value to me. Even if the numbers are low its still a fun to look at Firestats and realize that other people are getting what you are talking about.

We are the Long Tail.

Amazon Kindle: Too little too late.

Amazon KindleA friend on Facebook suggested that Amazon’s Kindle was perhaps the perfect eBook reader and worth a try. I haven’t tired it.. and wont.

The reason is that I have been using the hacked books app fro the iPhone for a while now. The iPhone has a great screen, intuitive interface, and not only fits in my pocket, but it is always with me. When (they have too) apple releases their own eBook reader hooked up to iTunes there will be no competition.

I am afraid that I have to agree with Tim O’Reilly, while Amazon’s Kindle is a good product, it is too little too late. My question isn’t whether I should buy a kindle, but when can I get ALL my books on my iPhone?

Drupal is Growing Up.

DrupalFor little while now I have been dabbling in the open source content management framework Drupal . Drupal promises ( in time) to allow practically anyone to be able to set up and mange complex social web sites with more features than a swiss army knife.

Today a friend of mine Darius asked me for my thoughts on my recent participation in the DrupalCampLA BarCamp. This gathering of self proclaimed Drupal geeks was one of the better events I have been to. The thing that makes all gatherings worthwhile are the people that you interact with.

On this level DrupalCampLA far exceeded my expectation because I came in contact with some real pioneers that are genuine and working hard to bring the platform up to a usable level for everyone including big business. Much credit to Crystal Williams who with AOL and a group of volunteers put together a great event.

The efforts of WorkHabit and Bryght to get this platform usable and maintainable go above and beyond. By using their consulting as a way to fold resources back into the development of Drupal, they not only moves the platform forward, but in the end give their clients better value in a platform that grows with them.

That said there is also a lot of money being spent by the likes Ethan Kaplan over at Warner Brothers Records who have put themselves out on the beading edge by using and pushing the platform for real commercial sites. This is a big risk in many ways since they and a few others really are blazing a trail.

Before you run off and start using Drupal be aware that although it is definitely suitable for many small to medium web sites, configuring and using it is significantly more difficult than WordPress and it does not yet scale to the level of MySpace or Facebook. Drupal is also potentially a real performance hog if you don’t pay attention to how modules interact.

My takeaway from DrupalCampLA is that Drupal is a good content management platform with a alot of features and a thriving community of developers. It has a long way to go, but it is the developers and people like Jonathan Lambert at Workhabit that will eventually evolve Drupal into a scalable and maintainable enterprise grade solution for real development. If your development curve and needs matches that of Drupal you should give it a try.

Another side observation is that for many applications Drupal is a better solution than Rails. The reason is that the development community is much more open about sharing modules that you can build on. Starting with a content management system as its core means that CMS is core to any module created. This is a big benefit for anyone that uses it and instantly increases the value.

The velocity of exposed and usable community development outstrips the difficulty of developing in PHP. At this point, while I dislike PHP, it is already scalable (with work) and I believe will through Drupal and some Rails like frameworks be the only logical choice for social web development in the next few years.