David Gelernter predicted Dropbox in 1996

David Gelernter is prognosticating the future of the web in Wired today. He's got a history of being right:

The most important way people are going to make money on the Net is on the model of the electric power utilities or cable TV companies, by providing a service that you are going to pay for monthly. I am going to hire a server to manage all my documents, I am going to throw out my desk and file cabinets, I am not going to care what computer I use, and I will be happy to pay $12.50 a month for an absolutely reliable storage facility. This company stores my documents, supports all sorts of fancy searches, and makes my documents available anywhere.

DAVID GELERNTER, Professor of Computer Science at Yale

via Digerati, published in 1996

What's a good startup domain name?

Naming is a tough biz. You want to create something that will stand the test of time, that so many people will remember and invest their time, money and effort into using it. 

Here's the cheatsheet: 

  • It's meaningful
    It should be related to the purpose or service you provide.
  • It's a .com
    When normals think of the Internet, they think .com. You could do others, but they just plain don't have the same kind of authority. 
  • As few characters as possible
    Complexity means people won't remember it. The shorter the better. This minimizes the number of keystrokes to try it as well.
  • As few syllables as possible
    See the last rule. This minimizes the number of things people have to remember. 
  • Unambiguous spelling
    It's better to be two simple, commonly used words mashed together like sitemint.com (leandomainsearch.com is useful for this) than one super long complex one. 
  • Unambiguous pronunciation
    When people talk about your site, it should be obvious how to pronounce it. This reduces the cognitive load of telling someone your site name. Be careful with names that might have ambiguous word boundaries. Expertsexchange.com is a notorious example of this. (Obviously this is one where posterous.com failed... but it can work to your advantage if it turns into a mini-conversation e.g. paw-sterous or post-erous, since in memory, every second you think about a given thing makes it more likely you will recall it.)

One or more of them can be broken, but the best names conform to as many of these as possible. 

Other useful resources include instantdomainsearch.com and wordoid.com. I've also had success finding usable domains for under $1000 on sedo.com. For those buying domain names from squatters, Fred Wilson's post on buying a domain is probably best practice. 

Good hunting!

Tenth Grade Tech Trends: My survey data says says rumors of Facebook demise exaggerated, but Snapchat and Instagram real

Branch cofounder Josh Miller's recent post about how his 15 year old sister uses the Internet blew me away with its observations the other week. I'm 31, so young enough to remember what it was like to be young, but old enough to be out of touch with the youngest millenials and those even younger. To be honest, it's a sobering notion that there's some piece of technology out there that you and your peer group doesn't use and doesn't understand. As far as I can tell, it might be a first for me and my geezer friends. 

I kept turning it over in my head. I wanted to understand this phenomenon -- if I didn't have an intuitive sense, then I wanted to at least get more data. 

That's where YC startup Survata came in. With their help, I surveyed 1,038 people in two groups -- those aged 13-18 (546 responses) and 19-25 (492 responses) and asked which services they used regularly (defined by several hours per week or more, multiple answers OK). 

Here's the result:

And the raw numbers:

Survata cofounder Aaron Wenger noted: "Usage levels were higher among 13-18yr olds than 19-25yr olds for every social network.  The biggest differences were for Snapchat (13% for 13-18yr olds vs 4% for 19-25yr olds) and Instagram (21% vs 11%)." 

This confirms Josh's observation that there is some significant usage among the younger generation -- particularly among high-school age teenagers. Whether they continue to use it as they mature, get email addresses, and enter the workforce will be an interesting thing to watch. 

It turns out Facebook's doing just fine with the kids these days -- in fact, slightly more of the younger demographic reported using it regularly. But perhaps most impressive was Tumblr topping the list at #1, with 59% of respondents saying they used it regularly. 

Survata showed my question as a content survey-wall to people throughout the United States -- respondents were slightly female skewed (60% vs. 40% dudes) -- and they appeared on blogs and content providers like Hyperink. I was impressed with how the data came back just overnight, and how it ended up costing so little to get such useful data. 

Perhaps the most heartening observation from the Snapchat/Instagram phenomenon is that new social behaviors can and will happen. For a time the door may have seemed closed. Yet Flickr sprung out of nowhere in 2002 when nobody else believed in consumer web. Ten years later, it might be deja vu all over again. 

If you're curious like I am and are wondering about how people think or use anything, run your own Survata and share the results -- real data from real people is like dietary fiber -- we need more of it, and more often.

You should follow me on twitter here

Writing online will surpass that of the printed page. What will you write?

"More than any other single invention, writing has transformed human consciousness." -- Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy

It's possible that online writing will actually surpass that of the printed word. The only thing that is necessary to make this so are:

a) quality writing
b) a sufficient shift in the perception of that which is written online

In certain groups of people on this planet, this may already be true. Svbtle is a great example of this, but so too Longreads, a curated set of long-form magazine-style articles that cut across a wide swath of media, both personal blogs and the long-form stalwarts of the existing publishing superstructure. 

Indeed, when browsing these new forms of media, I find that they are even more compelling and relavant to than a typical flip through any given magazine or book down at my local bookstore. It's instant, more interesting, much more curated, highly accessible -- anything that has this many things going for it can be considered an inevitable winner. 

To earn the audience of thousands of people once took a lucky break (guess who I met at the lunch counter today), the right connection (often nepotistic), or once in a long while, an editor taking a curious look at the latest submissions pile. (Incidentally, even this is changing, with recent YC company Submittable). Today, an audience can be built consistently from the comfort of your own home. 

You supply the insight. It turns out, that's the hard part. 

What will you write? 

Always. Be. Shipping. A lesson from Jacopo da Pontormo, circa 1545.

In 1545, an artist named Jacopo da Pontormo was chosen to create a fresco for the church of San Lorenzo in Florence by Duke Cosimo I de'Medici. He cloistered himself in his chapel, closing it off with partitions and curtains so nobody could witness the creation of his masterpiece or steal his ideas. 

Robert Greene describes Jacopo's story in his classic work 48 Laws of Power

He would outdo Michaelangelo himself. When some young men broke into the chapel out of curiousity, Jacopo sealed it off even further. 

Jacopo filled the chapel's ceiling with biblical scenes -- the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah's ark, on and on. At the top of the middle wall he painted Christ in his majesty, raising the dead on Judgment Day. The artist worked on the chapel for eleven years, rarely leaving it, since he had developed a phobia for human contact and was afraid his ideas would be stolen.

Pontormo died before completing the frescoes, and none of them survived. But the great Rennaisance writer Vasari, a friend of Pontormo's who saw the frescoes shortly after the artist's death, left a description of what they looked like. There was a total lack of proportion. Scenes bumped against scenes, figures in one story being juxtaposed with those in another, in maddening numbers. Pontormo had become obsessed with detail but had lost any sense of the overall composition. Vasari left off his description of the frescoes by writing that if he continued, "I think I would go mad and become entangled in this painting, just as I believe that in eleven years of time Jacopo spent on it, he entangled himself and anyone else who saw it." Instead of crowning Pontormo's career, the work became his undoing. 

The frescoes were visual equivalents of the effects of isolation on the human mind: a loss of proportion, an obsession with detail combined with an inability to see the larger picture, a kind of extravagant ugliness that no longer communicates... Artists who hole themselves up in their fortress lose a sense of proportion, their work communicating only to their small circle. Such art remains cornered and powerless. 

One's fear of failure, judgment, or just mistrust of others will often be the very thing that buries a project. That's why you've always got to be shipping.