Disruption Abound: The Future is Siloed Excellence

This picture gets my blood racing (NERD ALERT):

Goodbye Conglomerate Service, Hello Siloed Excellence

The above picture breaks down all the services currently competing with Craigslist. However, each of the above firms are only competing with Craigslist in one (maybe two) area(s). Essentially, what’s happening is that for a long time now, Craigslist has provided a very solid platform for personalized transactions online. However, it assumes the same basic format is applicable for all these different types of transactions. That is simply not the case.

An interface optimized for selling homemade crafts is going to be different than one optimized for job posting/searching. The reason for this is quite simple: different transactions/postings require different designs and attract different audiences.

Craigslist has provided a very successful, free, and profitable platform. I’ve used it countless times. However, the core product is too broad. Craigslist’s inability to customize its service for different sectors, along with an outdated and hassle-ridden design could well lead to its downfall. That fact, along with the flattened access and distribution platform of the modern Internet, means that Craigslist is being disrupted by many niche services (check out the linked Dave Mcclure post on the power of niche) which are custom built to excel at delivering a single, narrow product.


The reason this picture “gets my blood racing,” is because LOOK AT ALL THAT OPPORTUNITY. There is so much space for narrow, excellent vision and product execution in todays marketplace. The evolution of the Internet has led our society to a place that is so ripe with opportunity for innovation and disruption. But, what is truly beautiful is that those opportunities will/can be successful because THEY SOLVE A PROBLEM FOR PEOPLE.  They do genuine good because their products help people live more efficiently. They add value to lives. And that is just plain awesome.


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Update: This was recently published in the NY Times about what could happen to Craigslist. Interesting Read!


Respect The Consumer: Building For An Intelligent User

“Users think they’re up against a machine that thinks it is smarter than they are, and that is keeping them from doing what they want. Some could argue this is a design feature, that adding friction is a way of controlling the amount of interaction with customer service agents. But, the net result is frustration for the consumer.”

-DJ Patil, Describing the user experience of an IVR system (interactive voice response system) like the one that answers the phone when you can an airline

I am currently reading Data Jujitsu, a short and informative (and free!!) read on the Kindle. It’s by DJ Patil, a data scientist at Greylock, and explores many fundamental principles of data application in the startup/internet space. So far it has been a fascinating read that I highly recommend. However, when I read the quote above, I was compelled to stop reading and write this post.

I’ve been watching The Newsroom lately. As a moderately informed 21-year-old, never have I been so intellectually challenged by a TV show. Despite the events The Newsroom references taking place within the last few years, I am often lost and overwhelmed by the depth of content and analysis. I find myself constantly pausing episodes to open Wikipedia tabs, just to read up on these events, so I can be on Sorkin’s level of understanding.

The Newsroom challenges me, the audience. It assumes I am intelligent. It panders to no one. Because of this, I respect it. The Newsroom does not assume an unsophisticated viewer (or user). Rather, the show is made for a highly intelligent, informed one.

Many user interfaces, unlike The Newsroom, do not assume an intelligent user. Instead, they pander. They pander like an ABC Comedy.  The pander to conserve resources. They pander because they are profitable, so why care? The pander because their customers do not have alternatives.

If the user interface is like the IVR system referenced by DJ Patil, which seemingly tries its hardest to hide customer service agents from callers, than why even provide the contact number? The reason someone is engaging in such a service is to speak with an agent, not struggle with an automated service!

Build for an intelligent user. Always. Even if doing so requires additional resources (having more customer service agents, spending more money on design, etc.) or slight compromises to the simplicity of your interface design. Allow the user to find the route that works best for their specific needs, and do nothing to inhibit them.  Whatever your service, don’t inhibit the user. Assume they are smarter than you.

When a product is built that respects the consumer’s intelligence and time, they will in turn respect the service. This is vital!

I realize this comparison is a little abstract, but….I respect The Newsroom because it assumes my intelligence. The show is very smart, but the writing and depth back it up. An IVR system like the one DJ Patil describes comes off as wise and intelligent. However, anyone who has spent any time battling automated phone services know they are poorly designed and hardly ever yield any value. There is no depth of build to back up it’s automated functions.

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Hands Free Mobile Devices

“Startups should be solving for a world where the device in our hand is more useful than the device on our desk.”

-Aaron Levie, Founder of Box.com

Ray Kurzweil wrote in 2001 about the accelerating returns in technology. Essentially, the technological progress of society to time ratio is exponentially increasing. Whether or not you think Kurzweil is a joke, the fact remains that in modern society, the half life for technologies is shrinking. Vinyl Albums, Tapes, CDs, and Ipods all lost relevance with a decreasing shelf life. Now Ipods are dying as our music players and phones have converged into one device.

I find Aaron Levie’s quote to have a lot of relevance. He is an extremely accomplished individual, and we both have distaste for our alma mater (he dropped out of USC, I am a still suffering student). However, I can’t help but think that it is only a matter of time until having a device in our hands is no longer relevant. Look at Google Glass, look at the current state of nanotechnology. Shit, there are working prototypes of bionic eyes which can cure blindness.


Within 10 years, I bet that all our devices will be hands free. Maybe all our computing will be done in front of our eyes through glasses. Maybe chips will be implanted and interfaced directly into our brains. Does it seem ludicrous? New technologies often do. When the automobile first become popular, the President of Michigan Savings Bank declared, “The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty- a fad.”

By his statement, I believe Aaron Levie is saying that mobile computing is the future, not that all mobile devices will be hands-based. BUT, it is still interesting to wonder… how much longer until we are truly hands free? Never underestimate the desire of humans to be lazy; people love to avoid work. No matter how little work it requires to use a smart phone compared to a desktop computer, people will continue to strive to reduce the amount of work required to accomplish tasks.


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Radio Show

Last night I had my first on air set at KXSC (USC’s radio station). I have been shadowing my friend Jason Adams on his hilarious show Multiple Personality Syndrome for several weeks, and finally stepped up to the plate. I went with a 5-song, all soul set (see below) and spoke on air several times. GOD DAMN WAS IT FUN

1. Grace Jones – Pull Up To The Bumper
2. Quantic – I’ll Keep My Light in My Window (with The Combo Barbaro)
3. Joss Stone – I’ve Fallen In Love with You
4. Nneka – Do You Love Me Now
5. Alabama Shakes – Rise to the Sun

I’m working towards having my own show once school begins, and after last night, I couldn’t be more excited. Turning the lights down in that beautiful broadcasting studio and playing a set that took hours to put together is quite remarkable. It’s a form of musical self expression that doesn’t require composition, but that only adds to the fun. Assembling a coherent set of other peoples’ music is a fresh challenge, and I look forward to doing it again soon.

It’s a bummer commercial radio is so lackluster. Thank the lord for KCRW.

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