To grow, Boxee must embrace porn

January 14, 2010

Boxee, the social browser for your TV, has been making all the right moves lately, from its open API and app ecosystem, to the huge splash it made at CES, unveiling a sexy Boxee Box (to put some Boxee on your Boxee while you Boxee). Boxee can be a truly disruptive service, by disaggregating content from the pipelines that choke it. You search for shows, without caring if they’ve been made for TV or for the web, if they’re on networks or cable… This is both a tremendous opportunity and a really uphill climb, precisely because those content pipelines aren’t going to let themselves be commoditized so easily.

To be able to compete with them, Boxee needs tremendous user growth, and they’re not going to do that with a Flickr app and a nice-looking cube. The history of media teaches us that new media channels win thanks to one thing, and one thing only.

Yep. Porn.

Porn is what made VHS triumph over the superior Betamax format, porn is what made the DVD, and of course — don’t deny it — porn fueled most of the internet’s mass market adoption.

The best way for Boxee to grow like a weed and have a chance to take on Comcast and the rest is to become the best way to experience internet porn. It should take a page from software like Heatseek, the porn browser that makes it easy to search for porn, hide and clean your history, browse the many porn equivalents of YouTube and avoid ads and spyware (er, or so I’m told).

Using porn to boost your growth is a hallowed strategy, pursued by such reputable internet giants as Microsoft, with Bing’s video playback feature, and Google, with Chrome’s incognito mode (yeah, sure, it’s for shopping). Like Microsoft and Google, however, it’s important that while you make it clear to everyone that you’re optimizing for porn, you lie through your teeth about ever doing such a thing.

Make Boxee the best way to search, stream and watch internet porn in glorious full screen format, and user growth will explode. I’d certainly use it more often.

(My wife is so going to kill me when she reads this.)

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Please give for Haiti

January 14, 2010

A injured child receives medical treatment after an earthquake in Port-au-Prince January 13, 2010. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz) Source: The Big Picture

Damn. Not two days go by and already I break my rules. This post isn’t about technology or entrepreneurship (there will be one forthcoming later today), but look at these pictures and read this first-hand account and tell me you can’t give.

To make this related to tech startups, Chris Anderson, the curator of the TED conference, is asking for ideas on how technology can help Haiti, and Tumblr has put up a page with links to the most prominent organizations you can donate to: click here.

And, last but not least, if it’s the sort of thing you do, please pray.


The meaning of Google VS China

January 13, 2010

Yesterday Twitter and the world was rocked by Google’s extraordinary announcement that a coordinated Chinese attack on their sites, and in particular the Gmail accounts of Chinese and Western human rights activists, had been the straw that broke the camel’s back, and that they’re now thinking about getting out of China entirely. This is huge, unprecedented news. No Western company has ever thrown down the gauntlet at the Chinese government.

Back when China — and US corporations including Google — were getting hammered over the Beijing Olympics, I already thought that Google should pull out of China, or at least threaten to do so, because they weren’t going to win there, and it wasn’t worth the cost, as well as the PR and government relations headaches. And who knows, maybe they did it privately. (See, this is why I opened this blog. Instead of saying I had an idea, which nobody will believe, I could point to an actual post.)

Anyway, there are basically two ways to look at Google’s move here:

  • Google cares about human rights, cares about its “don’t be evil” motto, thought it was doing more good than evil by participating in the opening up of China, but is now fed up by the government’s abuses.
  • Google is getting its ass kicked by Baidu all over the place — Baidu’s market share is 75-80% to Google’s 15-20% — and so they’re cutting their losses and dressing it up as concern for human rights for marketing purposes.

(There’s also a third way, which is that this is just an opening salvo of hardball negotiations about Google’s impediments in China. But I don’t think so. The Chinese government always, always calls bluffs (it even called Khrushchev’s nuclear bluffs). Furthermore, negotiations via PR might be great if you’re trying to fill a prime time slot, but in China they’re a big no no. Google has caused the Chinese government to lose face, which is a very, very big deal there. Of course I could be wrong, but I think Google is dead serious about leaving China.)

So which is right? The goody-two-shoes explanation or the cynical explanation?

Actually, it’s both.

It’s both, first of all because each explanation has as its core the same actor: the Chinese government. The Chinese government is behind the human rights abuses in China, obviously, but it’s also behind Baidu’s stunning success. Two things make Baidu so successful: it’s the best place to look for porn, and it’s the best place to look for pirated MP3s and movies. Both things are illegal in China, but the law is only enforced against Google (and Yahoo!). Furthermore, behind the Great Firewall of China, there is no net neutrality. The government decides whose servers go fast, and whose go to a crawl. (To be sure, Baidu also has a bigger sales force that is more adept at talking to Chinese SMEs who are big online advertisers, but something tells me having 80% market share and the government’s implicit backing doesn’t make their life harder.) So to sum up, the Chinese government’s repressiveness and Google’s failure in China aren’t two different issues — they’re two sides of the same coin.

Second, because this is obviously a decision that comes from the Triumvirate, and human beings don’t make decisions for clean-cut, rational decisions. I’m sure that Larry and Sergey believe in the “don’t be evil” motto, and genuinely believe they make the world a better place at Google (human beings are stunningly talented at convincing themselves than what’s in their best interests is morally desirable). They’re getting their asses hammered all over the press over their marketshare, over privacy, over their role in the collapse of old media, and they want to show to the world that they’re still good, damnit. And at the same time, they know that Google.cn is a huge money sink, a huge time sink, a PR nightmare, and they know they’re never going to crawl out of the hole . Unlike Google, Yahoo! has been spinelessly giving in to every Chinese government demand and has only done marginally better for it.

I would’ve thrown the towel as well.

After all, owning 5/6ths of the world ain’t all bad.

(P.S. Check out @wikileaks for the credible-conspiracy-theory angle to all this.)


Hello, world!

January 13, 2010


Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, reportedly said that if you’re not slightly embarrassed by the first version of your product, you haven’t launched soon enough. In this spirit, welcome to pegontech.wordpress.com, a mundane address for what I fervently hope will be a thoughtful and original resource on technology, entrepreneurship and business in general.

My model for doing this are people like Chris Dixon and Fred Wilson who write smartly and daily about these issues, and have managed to create a true community around their blogs, which is obviously very important to me. Feel free to leave comments and email me at pegontech at gmail.

This is my umpteenth attempt at blogging seriously, so this time I will set my self clear, serious, actionable goals:

  • post every day;
  • keep my posts short and sweet;
  • keep my posts about startups, tech and business

Furthermore, I really intend to spruce up the place, with its own domain name, perhaps a custom theme, Disqus, and all that stuff. But it’s not what matters right now. What matters is to get started.

So, welcome! Subscribe to them thar RSS and Twitter and tell your friends.