Monthly Archives: April 2013

NFL Fantasy: Draft 2013 Predict The Pick

B3TZ won’t be running an NFL football draft game this year on April 25 — our first draft game ever will be later in June with the NBA basketball draft — but that doesn’t stop me from checking out other draft games. Especially from the master game builders at NFL.com.

So without too much ceremony, and because I’m on airplane wifi, here’s a quick Love + Hate list for this year’s NFL.com game.

THE LOVE

1. Juicy — the trend is super pimpy user experiences — knobby chrome controls, velvety backgrounds, airbrushed pictures, tons of slideable-moveable bits — and this version does not disappoint. As much as I generally hate this much juice in my UX, I will say that I think a couple of the effects really improve game play — especially the collapsing position slots once a pick is made. Love is due.

2. Experts vs. Consensus vs. You — one of the coolest features is that once you’ve made your 32 picks there is a nice display that shows you how you’re stacking up with a couple influence groups: the crowd and the pundits. There’s a detailed breakdown on the pundits, which is also very cool. What I didn’t see that I really really wanted was past years’ scoring for these pundits — just how good are these bums? Accountability!

3. That GM Experience — you have to give it these guys, there’s a lotta great links out to the non-game draft content here. Mock draft, scout grades, workout videos. If you have the time, there’s no excuse — you have the tools to be ridiculously informed.

THE HATE

1. That GM Experience — um, unless you’re part of the 0.5% of the football universe that has hours and hours and hours to noodle the draft, the game is a bit overwhelming. You *have* to make 32 picks to even be in the game. And even if you guess all over the place it still takes you 10 minutes to grind through this thing. Ouch.

2. Prizes — is it just me or does a pair of tickets seem kinda anti-climatic for a game on NFL.com. That’s all you got guys? Winner and a friend go to whatever game the Sponsor picks? Retail value $4,800, but probably really only costs south of $3k? They’re so ashamed of this one weenie prize that they hid it in article 7 of the fine print. Hidden! I can think of a lot funner ways to distribute even $3k — multiple smaller prizes, personalized trophies, merchandise or signed memorabilia, etc. If this de-emphasis came at the expense of a better head-to-head experience, I would be forgiving. Not the case and I say boo boo boo.

3. Friends — arrgh, why is it with these games it’s so hard to get your friends involved? Please! This is THE MAIN THING THAT I WANT IN THESE CRAPPY GAMES, why can’t anyone give me a great experience here? This is what has made fantasy sports a killer app for years, the woofing with your friends, the daily contact with your peoples.. Yes, NFL.com has groups, and that kinda works. But the setup, the communication flow, how its surfaced, re-entry points — there are a dozen things in the way of a simple, friction-free head-to-head or fun group game experience. Best in class right now for groups is Yahoo Pick’em games. Still waiting for a great H2H game. You can bet your root toot toot that B3TZ will take a hard run at this one.

One small thing in closing — did you notice that on the NFL.com website what the first item in the top menu is? Fantasy. Games! In front of News & Media. Not sure when that evolutionary adaptation emerged — it wasn’t like that 10 years ago, not even 5 years ago. Games layered on top of entertainment is pulling the people in. It’s all about engagement. And the sports category is just the beginning.

Facebook And Bitcoin Sitting In A Tree

So I read Mitch Joel’s post yesterday on Bitcoin And The Future Of Business that was forwarded by one of my many fans. (Heh heh.. thanks SC!)

Mr. Joel’s main conjecture is — what if Facebook harnessed the pure digital currency Bitcoin to “facilitate exchange”? Yes, the whole content world is trying to figure out right now what exactly a post-advertising revenue model looks like. Does Facebook figure that out and become a commerce play? Does commerce sit easily in what they’ve already built?

While I’m inclined to believe there’s some long term truth to crazy people like Jeff Jarvis who argue that magazines will become stores someday — that interrupt advertising will become native advertising will become direct marketing will become direct commerce — I think there’s a lotta years on that transformation. And it will be accomplished finally with little fanfare by companies not even in play, IMVHO.

But even more fundamentally, here’s why I don’t think Facebook and Bitcoin won’t even make out, much less get married —

The Bitcoin Problem:  Bitcoin is a great store of value and a largely friction-less medium of exchange online. But only online. Getting “real” currencies in and out of BTC will become increasing difficult as it gains popularity and the border of the real and virtual is where banks and governments will be camped out. You want to exchange your 10 BTC for 1000 USD? Soon that will be a regulated (taxable? illegal? definitely trackable!) event. The current best practice of using BTC as a laundry machine to buy drugs and guns with USD will be, if its not already, a diminishing use of BTC. The border will be patrolled.

But! Wherever value can be both offered online and consumed online, where that border never comes into play, that’s where BTC rules. If you created and uploaded music in digital form, sold it to someone who then listened to from the cloud — BTC can facilitate that transfer of value without any help (read: knowledge or oversight) from a bank or government. Same goes for books, movies, artwork, games, things in games, really anything that could be created purely for online consumption.

Does that sound like the future of Facebook?

Facebook Currency — Facebook facilitates social connecting, it’s a social exchange. That’s is core value proposition and I think the pivot to a commercial exchange is a such a violation of that core value that it wouldn’t survive any sudden transformation in that direction. Not a perfect analogy but think: Napster going commercial. Poof.

Don’t forget that Facebook already has at least three very popular and entrenched currencies — likes, comments and friends. Not only are these value markers exchanged and consumed by your friends, but that sly algorithm Edgerank is pruning your feed based on your social “spending patterns”.

How would a commercial currency sit beside these social currencies? Well, how would feel if your Grandma wanted you to pay — even a tiny amount — for pictures from her last birthday party? Or how would feel if you found out that a friend was paying for “likes” (I think this is already happening..). Or if you found out your friend had paid someone cool to comment on their lame status?

I think Facebook is already in a very fragile position and to the company’s credit I think they’re improving their core value — relevant social connections. But still the site is like some crass bar where people with a certain kind of social facility come off as cool and happening, but then there’s  the 80% of us who are kind of doofuses who get just enough value from glimmers of furtive social connection that we stay and try. Or go and come back again. But definitely do our fair share of lurking. So what’s that about adding a commercial element? Now you have a crass bar with hookers.

So no, I don’t think Facebook and Bitcoin make a very good match at all — Facebook would have to change too much. And this is ignoring the coming regulation of Bitcoin that is likely going to keep Amazon and Ebay and the real commerce plays — even fully digital online consumption sales — on the sidelines. But if Facebook won’t work and if Mr. Joel is still looking for an object-focused weakly-social play that’s on the prowl for a business model and could use some Bitcoin lovin’, why not Pinterest?

The O’Reilly Factor

If you’re involved in the tech industry and have been following the development of the interwebs over the last several decades, you probably should read The Meme Hustler, the Evgeny Morozov take-down of Tim O’Reilly that was published a couple days ago. You might need to set aside a couple quiet hours for the project — it’s roughly the length of John Galt’s speech.

About halfway through this piece I heard the click of something large, not quite a planes-into-buildings or a tear-this-wall-down click, but definitely a click. It sounded a lot to me like something making a dent in the cult of the internet or what Morozov calls “internet-centrism”, the belief in the social good that comes from broadly applying the the decentralization, radical transparency, network effects and crowd intelligence dynamics that have emerged from people connecting at scale on the internet.

Yes, Morozov is a flawed character — too clever by ten, mean and petty, and addicted to the sardonic turn of phrase. It might be easy to dismiss him as a up-and-coming professional grumpypants kicking people in the shins to get buzz for his upcoming books.

But in the growing collection of voices I’m reading like Lanier and Pariser and Carr who are starting to question the basic ideas of internet-centrism — and the manufacture of those ideas — Morozov dares to name names. And not just any name, but probably the most respected and above-reproach name at the middle of all of cyberlandia, Tim O’Reilly.

If I had to boil this critique of O’Reilly down to a sentence I think Morozov is saying that a belief system held by an important collection of internet capitalists, entrepreneurs, and academics is heavily influenced if not outright manipulated by O’Reilly, and regardless of his intentions, the means and results if this influence deserve to be questioned critically. Morozov’s core case studies are O’Reilly’s semantic engineering work around the shift from “free software” to “open source software”, the development of the “Web 2.0” meme, and more recently O’Reilly’s foray into “government as a platform”.

Despite his crusty prickliness I resonate with Morozov’s deep skepticism of the internet centrist view and I think he makes a pretty compelling case for O’Reilly as a central figure in the development of this dogma. I’m not sure, however, that I’ve been convinced that O’Reilly is a bad guy at all and I think my essential pre-Morozov view of O’Reilly has emerged roughly unscathed — a natural optimist with a builder mentality who has a knack for leading conversations.

What has changed is that I see another O’Reilly layer: a publisher and a salesman of ideas who necessarily (and ironically!) uses insider hierarchies and influence groups to achieve his communication ends. It will be interesting to see how this more complex and commercial view of the man matures in my brain in the coming months.

O’Reilly’s best comeback so far to Morozov’s critique is that while the “hatchet-job” is entertaining it is ultimately “not useful”. My question is — useful for what? It certainly doesn’t wash dishes and you can’t dance to it. And it’s pretty useless for advancing any internet-centrist agenda. But as a check on conventional wisdom and a reminder to let history back into the conversation about our future — for those nudges it was quite useful for me.

On Goodreads I’m Petunia Huggins

As part of my general move to get out of the code basement this year I have been secretly plotting my return to Goodreads. On my way back into Goodreads I’m meeting a few people who are on their way out — closing their accounts! — in protest to its acquisition by Amazon last week.

It turns out the the Goodreads community had some expectations — or better, hopes — that their growing community, built around socializing books, was going to go down the ideologically pious “internet foundation” path of Wikipedia and Craigslist to remain independent, unbiased, non-commercial and protective of their privacy.

Whatever. Not be too flip, but I don’t feel much outrage here:

1. First off, I think this is a genius move for Amazon and Goodreads both, but Amazon more. I like the angle that by allowing Goodreads to stay independent Amazon gets some anti-trust mitigation. Ha ha ha! And ironically, as long as Amazon is *really* being a bully on the commercial middleman front the more they need the IMDB and Zappos and now Goodreads businesses to appear independent. Every revolution needs a sugardaddy — viva la revolucion!

2. I think Goodreads will be better off as a product with some financial stability and access to Amazon catalogs and Kindle integration. Only a year ago Goodreads users were freaked out because Goodreads had decided that Amazon integration demands were too restrictive and they withdrew those features! You can’t have it both ways. I tend to vote in favor of better UX when it’s an option.

3. Sure, the independence is precarious (1) and the better UX (2) is funded on the back of commercial pimping, and maybe those are just my cheap justifications for hitting the walkaway privacy-protest fatigue wall. Come on — I think the model is well understood at this point, no? You are giving up some version of your personal information in return for a software service. If Facebook and Twitter and the social services become too draconian or commercial or sucky, they will be replaced by better ones by the market or they will turn into public utilities. Have some faith here. Is pouty take-my-toys-home protest the only way to be heard in this conversation? Meh.

As an alternative to protest I’m seeing something else pop up as a way to register in this the social media privacy conversation:  plural identity, by way of pseudonyms.

I’m still ruminating on Jeremy Duns and his sock puppet crusades and I’m still running through my head the Disqus belief that pseudonyms are the healthy norm in online social contexts. Whatever the implications of plural identity as an online behavior and the varied intentions of people who practice it, both me and Petunia Huggins (hint: watch the video) are starting to see that it represents an alternative, subversive, backlash to the commercial data machines that are trying really really hard to get to know us. The machines that scare the walk-away crowd. Hmmm..