Money = a way of keeping score

When I read the New York Times piece about the poor multi-millionaires lamenting their poverty — while living in million-dollar homes and making hundreds of times more than the average person — I had many of the same thoughts as my friends Mark Evans, Jason at Webomatica and Jeremy Toeman at Live Digitally. In other words, a combination of disbelief, irritation and more than a whiff of outright disgust.

At the same time though, one of the things that the piece brought home to me was that beyond a certain point — in most cases, once people get past having to work to literally put food on the table or a roof over their family’s heads — money doesn’t really matter in the same sense any more.

I’ve seen it happen to stockbrokers and bond traders and men who have made millions in the oil patch: many of them would continue to work just as hard if they were being paid in poker chips or jelly beans, provided everyone else in their social circle was also being paid in poker chips or jelly beans.

At that point, what matters is who you see as your peers, why you are doing what you’re doing, and what you see as important in life. And in many cases, the drive that makes people work so hard can’t just be turned off with the flick of a switch once they make a certain amount of money. In many ways, the money is irrelevant. I wish I knew what that felt like 🙂

Marc Andreesen on the non-bubble

My friend Paul Kedrosky — who unfortunately wasn’t able to make it to mesh last week, and therefore wasn’t able to share any of his wisdom in person — is right to point us towards a great post from Marc Andreesen about the non-bubblishness of the current tech bubble.

blowing-bubbles1.jpgThe Netscape co-founder has a long and very worthwhile analysis of why we so often see bubbles. which are actually extremely rare (this NYT story has some thoughts on that as well), and also notes several things about the current tech “bubble” that make it different from the first one — and he is ideally placed to have some perspective on that. Among other things, he notes that there are far fewer tech IPOs now (and therefore less hype and potential for financial disaster) and also that:

— It is far cheaper to start an Internet business today than it was in the late 90’s.

— The market for Internet businesses today is much larger than it was in the late 90’s.

— Business models for Internet businesses today are much more solid than they were in the late 90’s.

This is a logical consequence of time passing, technology getting more broadly adopted, and the Internet going mainstream as a consumer phenomenon.

Andreesen says that he believes it is “about 10 times cheaper to start an Internet business today than it was in the late 90’s, due to commodity hardware, open source software, modern programming technologies, cheap bandwidth, the rise of third-party ad networks, and other infrastructure factors. And the market size for a new Internet business is about 10 times bigger than it was in the late 90’s.”

Yes — but a smaller, less frothy bubble

Bubble-ology has become a more popular topic than ever now that Time magazine has named You as its annual Person of the Year (no, not you specifically, but the collective you — or us; oh never mind). In fact, there’s quite a bubblicious debate going on between my friend Paul Kedrosky and Josh Quittner of Business 2.0.

Josh wrote a piece for Time that boils down to the old “it’s different this time” argument. Yes, it’s kind of bubble-rific out there, but it’s okay because it’s different. As Paul notes, the most ominous words in the investment business are “it’s different this time” — words which are usually a prelude to all the same mistakes being made, but with different names and by different people.

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Paul counters that, if anything, this bubble is actually worse than the first one, because “it’s cheaper this time to get yourself in just as deep — and this time there is no IPO market to bail you out.” And he is right — but then Paul is also the one who told our mesh conference back in May that as a venture capitalist, he is a big fan of bubbles because they speed up the pace of development, and that it “takes a lot of dead bodies to fill a swamp.”

In the end, the debate over where we are on the bubble-ometer comes down to a debate over what was wrong with the first bubble. Was it that entrepreneurs got taken advantage of by venture capitalists eager for a big-dollar IPO exit? Or was it that the combination of those two factors wasted billions of dollars of investors’ money? If you think that VCs and Wall Street brokers were to blame (as I do), then the lack of IPOs is probably a good thing.

Then the only ones losing money (assuming they are losing) are big companies like Google and eBay. Does the current bubble make it easier for entrepreneurs to get in over their heads? Sure it does. But I don’t think they can get as far in, because there isn’t as much incentive, and because it’s a whole lot cheaper to scale up to acquisition size than it was before.

Is the Web bubble back? Ask Hitwise

From the London Telegraph comes a rumour that Hitwise — one of the half a dozen web-traffic measurement companies whose stats show up in press releases, and are used as fuel for takeover rumours — is itself the subject of takeover talks, with the price tag reportedly an eye-popping 180 million pounds or about $350-million (U.S.). Joe Duck says this sounds about right if Hitwise charges its 1,200 or so clients an average of $2,500 a month for access to its data.

I’m not sure where Joe gets those numbers from, but let’s assume he’s right. That works out to annual revenue of about $36-million, which makes the rumoured takeover price between 9 and 10 times revenue. Joe says that’s “not outrageous” for an established and growing Internet company, which leads me to believe one thing — no, not that Joe is on crack, but that he has a very high threshold for outrage.

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I think between 9 and 10 times revenue is bubble-type math. And yes, I know that Google sells for 15 times revenue; in fact, that actually helps my case. Obviously, traffic measurement is a hot area right now, primarily because advertisers are desperate to find a way of deciding where to put their money, and websites are desperate to find a way of proving they are the right place to put it.

Using page views as a metric, as Steve Rubel notes, is broken. But then, the different standards used by Hitwise and comScore and Nielsen and Alexa aren’t much better. As Matt Marshall pointed out, website measurement as a whole is a train wreck. Alexa only measures users who install a browser plugin and is biased towards the U.S.; comScore uses a piece of software that has been accused of being spyware; Nielsen phones people and asks them what they do; and Hitwise uses ISP log files.

What you typically wind up with is half a dozen measurements that all say something different — in some cases, one firm will show a website falling in popularity or flat, while another shows its traffic zooming. Is Hitwise any better than its competitors? Who knows. But any way you slice it, 9 or 10 times revenue is a boatload of cash.

Web 2.0 is dead — long live the Web

My friend and fellow mesh organizer — and all-around smart guy — Stuart MacDonald has a great blog post up today on the end of Web 2.0. But don’t get depressed, all you fans of blogs and podcasts and wikis and social media. All Stuart means is that Web 2.0 as a hot new concept (albeit one that tends to be poorly defined) is over, and what we’re seeing is the start of Web 2.0 as something that can really mean something to the general populace.

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In other words, instead of just being something cool that goes “ping,” all the things that we associate with Web 2.0 are becoming part of how people use the Web, whether they realize it or not. People are reading and commenting on blogs and using social media and those kinds of tools without knowing that they are doing something Web 2.0 — and that’s a good thing. That’s why mesh is called Canada’s Web conference, and not Canada’s Web 2.0 conference (no, it’s not because O’Reilly sent us a C&D letter).

Remember when every company sent out press releases to say that they had a website? Those days are gone (thankfully), and now the Internet is something millions of people use without ever really thinking about it. And it’s no wonder that Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the guy we have to thank for the Web, got a little testy in an interview awhile back when asked about Web 2.0. There is no Web 2.0, he said — there’s just the evolution of the Web. All that interactivity (and more) is something he envisioned in the first place. It’s just taken us awhile to get there.