Remixing video, Snap, and Toussaint L’Overture (Notes by Ada — Edition 1)

As this is the first edition of the “Notes by Ada” project, a quick note for context. My aim is to collect 5 interesting ideas or storylines from everything happening in tech during the week. I expect some of my points of view to be a mix of controversial, thought provoking, interesting and, every once a while, wrong. Either way, I expect to learn through the process, improve my thought process and share all the goodness with you.


Choose your own adventure by Netflix. I thought we’d kick it off with an interesting piece of news — Netflix is testing having users choose multiple narratives for its TV shows. I think this is an important piece of news.

Technology has affected art in predictable ways — it has made it easy to create, consume and distribute. Think about how easily art like music, photo and books can be created, remixed, consumed and distributed thanks to the likes of YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Kindle, etc.

As technologist Kevin Kelly predicted in his book “The Inevitable”, an important part of the creative process is the ability to “remix” content. Musicians do this on YouTube all the time, Instagram’s filters are arguably a remix tool and most bloggers does this with content from books and other blogs. This process hasn’t been easy to do with video because video technology hasn’t lent itself to be flexible in the same way. So, Netflix’s move could be the beginning of a very interesting journey.


The fight for video supremacy. As far as internet video goes, there are, very roughly, 2 categories of video giants — 
- User generated video: YouTube and Facebook
- Original content: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, et al

This is a rough categorization because YouTube has sought to move beyond user generated video for a few years now (it phased out the “Broadcast Yourself” tagline around 2010). And, Facebook has been investing in video in a big way — announcing an experiment this week to add original shows to a “spotlight module.” What makes this all interesting is that Twitter has been going all in on video of late. And, AOL announced this week it would join the video fun, too.

All this focus on video makes sense. Everybody wants a share of TV budgets and the pie is large enough to have multiple winners.

How would AOL compete, you might ask? It’s a fair question. My sense is that Verizon (which owns AOL) will use the new US administration’s move to relax net neutrality to provide video content to Verizon for free. If this works, we might see an acquisition of a video player by AT&T in the future. I’d be surprised if either telco manages to gain significant share, however.


The Snap IPO — asking a better question. There’s a lot been written about the Snap IPO of late. They’ve largely been similar in tone to this article on Forbes — “Don’t confuse popular with profitable.” I think these reactionary points of view one week into the IPO are generally shortsighted.

The question to ask where Snapchat is concerned is not — “How will Snap make money given its current business model?” A better question is — “Will Snapchat be able to grow its base of user attention?” The price of a stock is largely determined by the discounted value of future cash flows. It is nearly impossible to predict the future — and this is especially the case with consumer technology companies. As far as advertising businesses go, however, money follows attention. If Snap can grow user attention, they’ll do fine. This is very hard when Facebook is powerful competitor meets copycat.

But, buying Snap’s stock is about the option value. The bear case for Snap is straightforward — Facebook didn’t have to contend with a Facebook sized behemoth when it went public. Twitter did, and that hasn’t gone well so far. However, the bull case is that it is only a matter of time before all this copying catches up with Facebook. While Facebook has the insane advantage of porting Snap’s features into one of four powerful apps (Main app, Messenger, Instagram, Whatsapp), there are costs to blind copying that show up in the form of a disjointed user experience in the long run. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out.


Einstein, Watson and AI. There were many cute headlines like “Einstein, meet Watson” this week with the partnership between Salesforce’s Einstein and IBM’s Watson. It isn’t immediately obvious why this matters. They said — “By combining local shopping patterns, weather and retail industry data from Watson with customer-specific shopping data and preferences from Salesforce Einstein, a retailer will be able to automatically send highly personalized and localized email campaigns to shoppers.”

It looks like IBM’s “Weather.com” properties were a big selling point for Salesforce.com. And, there’s certainly something to be said for the effect of weather on sales and marketing decisions (SFDC’s bread and butter). For IBM, the biggest win here seems to be offering consulting services to customers who are implementing salesforce tools — an industry estimated to be >100B.

I also see this as a move by two tech giants who want to up their focus on artificial intelligence.

Related, Ben Evans’ post on “voice and the uncanny valley of AI” is a must read. TLDR — 
- Voice seems suited for unrestricted and general purpose interfaces given the lack of friction involved. However, voice only works well (currently) for narrow domains (music, turning on the lights)
- The tech giants are investing heavily into voice as a source of input as the industry is looking for the next big thing. While it is clear that voice is a big thing, it still doesn’t seem to be that next big thing.


Uber, culture and Toussaint L’Ouverture. Uber’s had a rough few weeks. The news this week is that Travis is looking for a COO. A COO isn’t going to do much by herself (yes, herself) — we all know that. An organization’s culture is a collection of norms and processes that describe how the organization behaves when no one is watching. A company’s culture is a result of 3 things — 
1. The Leader’s personal culture and, to a lesser extent, the culture of the executive team
2. Who they hire, fire and promote
3. How decisions are made

These aren’t easy to change as organizations scale. But, the awesome Ben Horowitz took a historical detour to the Haitian slave revolution led by Toussaint L’Ouverture to tell us there is still hope. Ben lays out 4 ideas — 
1. Keep what works (e.g. Steve Jobs keeping Apple’s culture of innovative devices instead of simply copying Microsoft)
2. Create shocking rules (e.g. “Desks as doors” at Amazon and “Move fast, break things” at Facebook make people question why these rules exist)
3. Incorporate people from other cultures and insert them at higher levels within the organization (e.g. Google hiring Diane Greene to create Google’s Enterprise product culture)
4. Make decisions that demonstrate priorities (e.g. Netflix going all in on streaming)

The Haitian revolution story is amazing. Toussaint L’Ouverture did all of this and for good reason — slave culture had never led to a successful revolution. Ben’s video is a great way to spend 30 minutes if you are interested in learning more.

And, keeping companies aside for moment, this matters as much for our personal lives just as much. Our norms and processes define our culture. These norms and processes are more powerful than any strategy we lay out (“I will exercise 5 times a week this new year).

In the long run, culture is strategy.


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