Tag: Tot Jot

Reminiscing – the first half of 2007

I.e. the glaring gap between January and May of this year…

Shut down one company

The victim was Tot Jot. Be as it may, it was a good learning experience. The biggest lesson…you can’t ignore the “feet on the ground” marketing needed by a business, even if the company is entirely virtual.

I certainly want to thank the potential investors I spoke with, even if they didn’t wind up writing any checks. Good insight can always be had from conversing with professional stakeholders. You may not think that way when they are telling you to stick your concept in the “FU bin” (yes, one actually said that), but reflection will make the message a lot clearer. I’ll also thank several close friends who supported me in the endeavor, as well as those that advised me to pull the plug.

Prepped another company for financing

A great job some folks I know did building something really fantastic. They aren’t really part of the local club, operations are spread all over the place, and they were missing a solid financial arm. We pulled together a years worth of books and records in under a week, and spent the rest of the time sculpting a set of financial projections that, for the couple of months I was involved, were mirroring actuals within a couple of percent of gross revenue and even a bit closer below the margin line. The Excel model was a bit of a pain to share, as it was over 2mb, but heck, it worked.

Now let’s just keep our fingers crossed that they get their cash.

Technology Use

I had a Powerbook on the desk for more than two years. But in my infinite wisdom, I thought I needed an Intel-based MacBook Pro so I’d have easy access to Windows and Linux (through virtualization). Now, I’d be hard pressed to think of a computer I’ve had more problems with – I think Apple has quality control issues resulting from new-found popularity and an obsession with earbuds and living rooms. They’ve jumped though hoops trying and set things straight – things are still not quite right, and I’ve given up. Sad.

Recreation

I missed out on more recreational activities than any one person should in a lifetime while working on Tot Jot. While it was a great mental exercise, a person shouldn’t have to leave a dozen fly rods sitting in their tubes for an entire season. It’s almost inhumane. I promise it won’t happen again.

Stringing together something new

Yes, but I’m not all that keen to start popping off about it. It’s kind of the in-thing to “pre-market” your “pre-alpha” product or service, and by invite-only to boot! Doing this has two effects: 1) it essentially cuts you out of any more worthwhile opportunities that might arise before your idea really gels; and 2) it almost guarantees that if you go down, it’ll be in flames. There used to be a term for this…vaporware, and proliferation of it is usually a pretty good sign that the pot is ‘a boiling over.

What ever happened to the element of surprise? Or do I mean humility?

UPDATE: I’ve got a lot of handwritten notes from the past few months – I’ll use them to fill in some of the blanks, as time permits.

Taming the MySpace monster

myspace.gifAs if everyone doesn’t know already, MySpace is being sued for failing to protect one of its users. I am not going to delve into the details of the case – plenty of speculation already abounds – but I will say I agree that failure to properly supervise a child can be a precursor to problems in almost any environment. I was covertly supervised catching fish off “borrowed” john boats, jumping my BMX bike too short over the neighbors’ flowerbeds, and crashing my go cart into the tires of parked cars on the street – I didn’t understand it, but there was generally some adult around being held accountable. In the internet age, that no longer seems the case.

Some colleagues and I recently launched Tot Jot, geared towards parents of small children, and we presumed a high level of privacy was a foregone conclusion. We leveraged what meager contribution I could make on the matter from my workings over at Spamroll, but I still thought it would still be a good idea to see how the other side works. So I took the plunge and joined MySpace – the goal being to analyze, from a beginner user’s perspective, what makes MySpace so potentially dangerous.

Now, for what I found….

Uh, not much

Hate to disappoint you, but I don’t have any real blatant issues with the way the site is run. No, I didn’t try hammering a style sheet with a cross-site scripting exploit, and no, I didn’t try passing a home-cooked virus to someone via messaging. Those are potential problems that Fox Interactive should take care of on their own. Furthermore, I didn’t try to harrass some underage participant under the guise of being an underage participant – that is an issue for users (and in the case of the underage, for their parents). Considering the sheer number of users on MySpace, the relatively frequency of trouble is probably no more significant than what occurs in the real world – you just hear less about the latter because the citizenry is immune to it – they don’t want to admit the problem is more likely to happen in their own home. You hear about it via MySpace because the mainstream media needs all the attention it can get. Scott Granneman of Security Focus aptly focuses on the mass hysteria begin created by the media – I concur with him wholeheartedly.

As for solutions…

Passing a COPPA agreement to users is not going to stop this type of issue, as users will just lie. Requiring a credit card to join (a favorite web age verification system nowadays), won’t stop it either. Unless MySpace charges, kids are going to grab that wallet after the parents go to bed, enter that card number, and the parents won’t ever know. For goodness sakes, the lawsuit screams of lying about ages anyway – none of these checks are going to bring any additional security to the table. Bruce Schneier noted that MySpace is beefing up its security by allowing restriction of full profile information, but more as a measure to cover its butt in the case of additional lawsuits. That (a lawsuit) is all the previously mentioned measures are going to mitigate, but the change in profile functionality is a different matter altogether.

I say it is a good move to allow users to restrict access to their profiles. And MySpace could go one step further by tightening down the friends and friends of friends functionality too. At Tot Jot, we purposefully restricted user profiles on their behalf, to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of profile information. In fact, we kept profile information to a minimum, and further restricted friends access by creating a one step friends list – you can see who someone’s friends are, but not friends of friends. We made it relatively mistake proof, because we felt our potential userbase was less inclined to understand additional, optional complexity. MySpace, however, is made up of a lot of moderately tech saavy, style-sheet loving, spare-time-on-their-hands types, and they could easily allow the option of restricting profiles, friends list access, etc. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen, as it would clearly stem MySpace’s growth. And if they are already doing it somehow, they certainly aren’t pubicizing it very well.

Dear Parent

If I was a parent of a child on MySpace, I’d be a lot more worried about the government archiving my kid’s records for eternity. Bureaucrats possess less than grand wisdom when it comes to matters like technology (to the point of sounding just plain stupid) – next thing you know, your child will be blacklisted from public educational institutions because he posted his or her thoughts on government waste on a MySpace page. I say give the kid a scholarship – he or she could be a future President. Meanwhile, parents should learn to ignore the hysteria, as well as spend a little more time supervising their children’s online activities.

End Note

I once asked how all this growth could be happening at MySpace, questioning whether spyware might be involved. Now, I don’t think that is the case. What I did find is that by putting together an almost non-existent profile on MySpace (I mean devoid of virtually any information besides the required birthday), I seemed to have attracted a lot of interest. Yes, I’ve made a lot of friends on MySpace, although those friends seem to be a lot like me – not very real. Initial friends in my “extended network” (whatever that means), as well as subsequent requests to allow others to “be my friend” (which turned out to be relatively thin in profile, but with lots of friends of their own), lends me to believe there is some gaming going on.

Or maybe that is the real allure of MySpace – making unreal amounts of unreal friends, without really trying. Regardless, the title of this post could easily have been Taming the MySpace Media Frenzy.

***UPDATE***

And yes, for those who were wondering who my first friend was, his name was Tom.

***UPDATE 2***

Seems the MySpace/spyware issue (mentioned in comments) is a spyware company action afterall, and in violation of the MySpace TOSs to boot. The reaction from Zango, when outed, was to dance around the issue (i.e. blame everyone else). I say the Zango executives should quit their day jobs and run for office.