*** RYAN TATE: Shocking secrets--revealed! ***





Professional bio

Media appearences



Weblog archive



Contact info

RSS feed

PGP key

415.640.6119 mobile

415.288.4968 office

510.548.4576 home

Home address and map

My building

AIM: ryantatedotcom

Recent San Francisco Business Times stories

Table set at Ferry Building (Jun. 6)

S.F. out to rattle chains (May. 30)

S.F. plan sets goal of 10,000 homes (Jun. 27)

Stanford's new senior class (Jun. 13)

Is San Francisco's housing crisis over? (Jun. 20)

Stanford Shopping Center on block (May. 23)

Insurers locking up condos (May. 23)

Developer makes bold housing play (May. 16)

Williams-Sonoma revs web (May. 9)

Residential Real Estate Deals of the Year (May. 9)

More ...

Recent personal essays

Private property (Oct. 8)

Blogs I read

Anne and her Cheese Diaries





David Warsh

Dave Winer


Philip Greenspun

Joel Spolsky

Friday, May 20, 2005

Dave Winer posted an MP3 podcast yesterday where he floated a friend's idea for an online radio show focused on the intellectual life of Silicon Valley, including interviews with venture capitalists at Kleiner Perkins.

The idea sounds a lot like the first few issues of Red Herring. Hear me out ;->

This is the legend as relayed to me by a Sand Hill road VC principal back in 2000. Back around 1993, Tony Perkins, having recently left Upside, which he started, gathers a bunch of venture capitalists for drinks at a bar and essentially asks, "what is the buzz out there? What is happening? What is new and interesting on Sand Hill? What gets you excited? What is the off the record truth, and by the way I'm turning all your tips into a magazine."

The first issue was distributed BY HAND to offices on Sand Hill road and other VC offices and probably some tech companies. It was laid out over his business partner's parents garage on a mac with quark or pagemaker. It had this great disclaimer in each issue that read something like, "The information contained herein was obtained over drinks at such and such, pancakes at Buck's, whispered behind the stage at such and such show, passed across the dinner at such and such restaurant." The idea was, we can't guarantee the absolute truth of every single statement, but we're giving you the real insider chatter.

There was a certain intellectual energy and excitement at that point in Silicon Valley, and Red Herring took off because it was where people who were passionate about technology, especially mass technology and otherwise monetizable technology, could read these spirited discussions and see who the money thought was going to really take off and why and who was out of favor and why and oh by the way here's some random new idea you might not have heard of before. (Upside had been doing the same thing since 1989 but Red Herring brought a maniacal focus on the Sand Hill VC community and was more rabidly "insider". It also had free interns from Stanford to do a lot of the grunt work.)

(For more on the early days of the magazine, read Gordon Young's 1996 SF Weekly story.)

Unfortunately most people never met Red Herring until 1999 or 2000, when it quickly became about money, money and did I mention money, put out by a monster staff many of whom were transplants or felt like transplants (the editor spoke with a British accent but grew up mostly in LA).

What Dave is proposing hearkens back to the original mission and spirit of Red Herring and even Upside, where you are interested in technology, and the money is interesting because of what it says about the technology, and in ideas, and the money is interesting because of what it says about the ideas. I can tell you from direct experience, the idea in media since the downturn began is, "we can't afford to talk about ideas. We don't have the money to pay for the time and space. Talking about ideas and technology in and of itself is a luxury we can't afford. Show me the money. I am interested in the tech and the ideas only insofar as it reflects on the money." Notice the inversion there.

Talking about the money is a great way to cut through all the PR crap and hype but as it happens a terrible way to tell readers what is coming, to give them the edge they want and, probably more importantly, is also a poor way to stimulate their minds. It's ultimately a lazy shortcut if any of those are your goals. In other words, writing about Google after it goes public or RSS after the NYT adopts it is great for grandma but has little utility for most readers.

Somehow newspapers and magazines are stuck in this idea that we need to conserve space and words are a luxury. Umm, no. Why is the Washington Post editor demanding shorter stories? Has he gone hard drive shopping lately? Why is the NYT charging for opeds? Have they seen Google's financials? Across the country, we have papers shrinking in size (literally, from broadsheet to tabloid) and ordering reporters to writer short little stories. Because space is a luxury.

When in actuality we all, us reporters, should be encouraged to write longgggg and deeeeep. To compete with the weblogs? Sure. But also because -- why not? If the newsprint is really costing an arm and a leg, put a condensed version in print and a link at the end. Put it on the website, where the economics are more profitable anyway. The last paper I worked for now offers bonuses for short stories. They should offer bonuses (duh) for long in depth stories that make the website something other than what most newspaper sites are, "a pimple on the butt of something much larger," as a wise man once put it.

Anyway, while the newspapers are NOT busy doing that, Dave's busy actually USING all the space. Dave's VC podcast idea, or his friend's, or colleague's, is bright because it does hat a lot of print media has stopped doing, which is explore ideas for the sake of ideas, technology for the sake of technology, and put money second. And Dave can do it because he realizes there's ROOM. There always was room, but for anyone to not SEE that today, when you can buy a GB for well under a dollar, boggles my mind.

More updates