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Startup School
March 4, 2006 3:17 AM   Subscribe

A 'startup school' was hosted by net guru Paul Graham in late fall in Boston last year, which brought together a few hundred would-be Web 2.0 success stories to hear advice from previous success stories, players in the tech industry, and even a few pieces of legend. The Presentations page contains links and slideshows for each presenter, and you get to hear (mp3) from an excellent cross-section of some of the modern web's most influential tinkerers.
posted by spiderwire (19 comments total)

 
[more inside...]

I highly, highly recommend the Wozniak speech, especially if you've never heard him speak before. It's just this non-stop barrage of goofiness and interesting insights. Stephan Wolfram (who you may have heard of) spoke after Wozniak, and even every ounce of British physicist gravitas he could muster paled in comparison to the hyperactive Woz.

All the speakers are worth listening to, of course, but my second-favorite behind Woz was Langley Steinart, the co-founder of TripAdvisor, discussing their early experiences and how they managed to get profitable. He's a great storyteller and does a good job of putting a human face on these things.

Even if you're not part of the whole Web 2.0 thing, it is going on out there, and to me the much-maligned difference between Web '1.0' and Web '2.0' is: this time, the geeks are doing the innovation in the trenches, and the companies are coming to them to find the best, rather than the other way round. So I see this sort of 'Silicon Valley From Below' thing as pretty neat. Be curious to hear thought and other links and discussion on this.
posted by spiderwire at 3:18 AM on March 4, 2006


I briefly met Woz at WWDC last year, I was giddy for the rest of the day.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:07 AM on March 4, 2006


Wolfram, Wozniak, and Graham are interesting people that have done interesting techy things but I must be missing how they're important web innovators. All technology != The web. Other than that, I'll wait to comment until I've digested the links' contents.
posted by rdr at 4:51 AM on March 4, 2006


rdr, I'd say that since the conference was for the benefit of web innovators themselves moreso than a showcase _of_ web innovators that someone attending the conference would benefit more greatly from a broader spectrum of speakers. Just because Woz worked on circuits and wires instead of ruby on rails doesn't make his wisdom any less valuable.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:01 AM on March 4, 2006


WHAPPA WHAPPA WHAPPA 2.0
posted by quonsar at 6:34 AM on March 4, 2006


Whappr
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:20 AM on March 4, 2006


I think the fundamental debate in regards to Web 2.0 comes down to whether you feel that designers and developers are on to something new, or whether designers and developers are still struggling to create the kinds of tools envisioned by Bush and Nelson more than a generation ago. It is quite reasonable to be approving of the innovations that are happening, and be critical of claims that everything is different.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:33 AM on March 4, 2006


Man, I don't understand the bonerisms tossed to Woz...I mean, what has he done lately? (Cept campion the sport of Segway Polo...)
posted by sexymofo at 8:37 AM on March 4, 2006


Wolfram, Wozniak, and Graham are interesting people that have done interesting techy things but I must be missing how they're important web innovators.

Huh? Graham created a company that later became yahoo stores.
posted by delmoi at 8:50 AM on March 4, 2006


I think the fundamental debate in regards to Web 2.0 comes down to whether you feel that designers and developers are on to something new, or whether designers and developers are still struggling to create the kinds of tools envisioned by Bush and Nelson more than a generation ago. It is quite reasonable to be approving of the innovations that are happening, and be critical of claims that everything is different.

As far as I know, "Web 2.0" really just means "hey, you can make money at this again! For the second time!"
posted by delmoi at 8:51 AM on March 4, 2006


IMNSHO: There is a heck of a lot more to learn about how innovation actually works if you sit down in library full of business journals than from reading technology blogs or whitepapers and following cvs and svn repositories.

The basic reason is because business understand innovation as a socio-technical system, while "geeks" tend to obsess over innovation in terms of cool toolsets valued for their own features and efficiencies. (Ironically, quite a bit of soico-technical analysis is derived from Marxism, but still, it works.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:03 AM on March 4, 2006


kirkjob that sounds like 'design the next great new thing by committee' to me. Hasn't happened yet as far as I can remember.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:30 AM on March 4, 2006


I'm aware that Graham's startup created Yahoo Stores but that's implementation not innovation. What's more, if you believe what Graham tells us, a major chunk of his competetive advantage over others when creating Stores was using ancient (a language slightly younger that FORTRAN) technology.
posted by rdr at 9:39 AM on March 4, 2006


Space Coyote: kirkjob that sounds like 'design the next great new thing by committee' to me. Hasn't happened yet as far as I can remember.

Oh please.

A socio-technical view of innovation has very little with how you "design the next great new thing." You can design the "next great new thing" as a solitary person sitting in a room, or as a diverse group. Actually, most great designs these days seem to be developed by multiple people taking advantage of differences in expertise and work style. (Case examples: open source development, and contemporary architecture.)

What it says is that "next great new thing" is going to live in a social and cultural context. You don't get innovation by hacking computer programs or mechanical tools. You get innovation by hacking cultures and societies, and the computer programs and tools are a small part of that.

rdr: I'm aware that Graham's startup created Yahoo Stores but that's implementation not innovation. What's more, if you believe what Graham tells us, a major chunk of his competetive advantage over others when creating Stores was using ancient (a language slightly younger that FORTRAN) technology.

Arguing about computer languages based on their age is a pretty stupid mistake. Most of the languages we have are not that much different from languages that existed 30 years ago. (And I'm not talking about add-on features like libraries or text processing, I'm talking about the core grammar and capabilities of the language.)

Graham's arguments is that the innovation comes from a rapid prototyping and development methodology that allowed him to adapt changes to the market faster and cheaper than competitors using alternative frameworks. Of course he pins this on one of the core features of lisp. Lisp programs are data that can be produced or manipulated by other lisp programs. But lisp is just the best current tool to fit his methodology, not really the core of what he advocates.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:23 AM on March 4, 2006


Incidentally, Graham has identified himself as a web 2.0 skeptic as recently as November.
Does "Web 2.0" mean anything? Till recently I thought it didn't, but the truth turns out to be more complicated. Originally, yes, it was meaningless. Now it seems to have acquired a meaning. And yet those who dislike the term are probably right, because if it means what I think it does, we don't need it.
So pinning this as a specifically Web 2.0 development workshop seems a bit out of place. He also confirms my suspicion, (drawn from other sources) that the whole "Web 2.0" is less about actual innovation, and more about trying to market a post-bust bounce.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:38 AM on March 4, 2006


Metafilter hates the web, don't we know that by now? Let's get back to posting funny videos and flash games, for crying out loud.
posted by dhartung at 12:22 PM on March 4, 2006


dharting: Metafilter hates the web empty marketing campaigns, don't we know that by now?

Just had to make the correction.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:47 PM on March 4, 2006


rdr: ... If you believe what Graham tells us, a major chunk of his competetive advantage over others when creating Stores was using ancient (a language slightly younger that FORTRAN) technology.

It's not like he was using McCarthy's original Lisp implementation. In any event, the major advantage he claims he got from Lisp is the ability to write code in continuation-passing style. If you want to argue that, you'll either have to argue that it's easier to write CPS code in Java or whatever, or argue that such an ability isn't important. The age of the ancestors of the language he was using seems irrelevant compared to the features it offered.

Anyway, I actually attended Startup School, it was a blast. It was definitely much more about business than about specific technologies, though it was assumed that you wanted to make a piece of software that probably worked over the web. "Web 2.0" wasn't really the focus (though one of the Y Combinator summer-founders program folks told me I should use that phrase as often as I could in the hopes that the phrase would eventually start a new Internet bubble). Most of the talks were about finding capital, managing your business, keeping on top of intellectual property issues, knowing who to hire, knowing when to take buy-out offers and when to stay independent, and things like that. My favorite was actually Michael Mandel's talk about the global economy and how startup companies play into it; if I remember correctly, it had nothing to do with "Web 2.0" at all.

At the end Paul Graham told me was probably going to do it again next year. If you want to start a tech company, I'd really recommend it to you.
posted by jacobm at 1:26 PM on March 4, 2006


Wow, I didn't expect this thread to go the way that it did. Paul Graham is a very smart guy, although really not that interesting of a speaker. As I indicated, Wozniak is pretty much the smartest person I've ever met.

In retrospect, I wish that I could strike that last FPPgraph as so much marketing blahblah (yes yes, quonsar and KJS.. but i'm not getting paid for this, just pointing out something that moved me... and lest I forget, fuck bush!) and just encouraging people to listen to Woz speak. Put the professonal, technical, amd rhetorical barbs away for just one moment and listen to the Woz:

[Listen to Woz speak.] The point of the whole thing, as Space Coyote intimates, is that listening to the Woz speak is really a treat. You can discard everything else and just do that (although if you do have genuine interest in the topic of web startups, the Steinart speech is awesome.) I initially approached this whole "startup conference" as "woohoo, a bunch of starry-eyed kids with undergrad CS degress who want to slap XML and W3C and AJAX over everything in sigh and show up the New and Improved Web."

...And still to this day I have no idea why I found that notion intriguing. That said, the speakers were absolutely awesome. I needed to get them out there.

So that's the point of this post for me. I sat next to Woz at the Boston 'conference' and got to listen to him absolutely go off for a half hour about how he tries to corner certain phone numbers as they come available (1-888-8888, 1-888-888[1-4] for his kids, etc.), designing a floppy drive from scratch ("Well, we didn't know to make one, so I just figured you chain this hoo-ha into this doo-dad..."), making a color monitor for the Apple II ("I didn't have a monitor, so I came up with a way to make it output to my TV..."), and eventually you realize that you're listening to geek to the fifth power. Most people at the time would ned 3 teams to do what the Woz could do in a day More importantly, this was not 'Web 2.0' stuff. Those guys don't even know which end of a soldering iron is up.

I'd really never heard anything like it. Woz was just talking about bulding this thing from bare wires and transistors, and even managed to learn BASIC on he fly, then splice it into the system memory -- an ad hov floppy there, a mointor hack there, and voila -- Apple II. You don't really get a feel for how gritty at was til you hear him tell the story.

It sort of makes you wonder why Apple would ever let go of thie crazy wonderlode genius; I think that the answer is simple; he knows that Apple is de facto his playground, and he can come back and twinker around wherever. And of course Apple cultivates the Woz asset for all he's worth and more. He just makes useful shit.
Shortly, he's doing crazy innovative work in some other division or field he'd never touched before, and more than that -- making breakthroughs. I know I'm hyperbolizing Wozniak to soe extent. If you meet him face to face, I assure you that you will understand the energy and brilliance he brings to everything he does.... it's kind of uncanny, really.

Look, I disagree with the whole Web 1.0/2.0 thing, and I apologize for muddying the issue. What I'm saying is: I listen to this Wozniak speech (mp3) and I think that, like me and Space Coyote, you'll enjoy it, and it will give you a whole new insight on 'Web2.0', Apple, and just business in general. Trust me. More importantly, it provided me with a shining, guiding, moral light from which to move forth with my fture companies, and I feel comfortable about that. In ways I can't put to words.

Wozniak's most unique contibution to the new wired world call it web point whatever, is his claim of intrinsic morality to the things that you do. Innovate to create, and you will fulfill your dreams. That's what I got out of this.

Once again, apologies for the lack of clarity. It is late. :) Please forgive my tired misspellings. It (the Woz speech) just really is that good and I wanted to share it with the Metafilter community. I would appreciate it if we could get off the Web 1.0/2.0 stuff and talk about Woz, althoughof course some of his anecdotes and intended to make up consider that wider tech world.....
posted by spiderwire at 3:26 AM on March 5, 2006


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