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The Coming “Post Social Media” Era

Do you think that one year from now your online behavior will be the same? – what about five years from now?  Stop and think about it for a minute.  If you are like most people, you will say “of course not” – things always change – systems change and our own needs change, and often these two things drift apart so that something that once had an important place in your life is no longer useful.

I think I have a pretty good idea of where social media is going. Probably lots of other folks do too because “spending less time on social media” seems to have become almost the zeitgeist – or “spirit or our time”.  It has been exemplified in viral videos like “Look Up” and in endless blogs and self-help articles about how to get your social media actives under control, and there’s lots of evidence that people are taking this advice to heart.

Designed to be “sticky” not efficient

I read somewhere that when people look back on this era we are in, they will be astounded by how much time we spent online  in mostly useless activities- a shocking three hours a day by some measures. We have to remember that, most social media applications are purposely designed to waste as much of our time as they possibly can. To put that another way, they are designed to be “sticky” not efficient. This allows them to maximize the all important “time on site” metric so we reveal more of our interests through posts, comments and “likes” – information that is then sold to advertisers.  As has been observed, we are not the customer, we are the product.

The social media companies are well aware of this shift and are scrambling to address it.  It has been widely reported that many of the big centralized social media sites are fragmenting as users spend more time in specialized applications.  The recent attempt by Facebook to force its members to download its messaging application is purportedly so they can continue to control your contacts and dominate your time. This was documented n a recent Huffington Post article “The Real Reason Facebook Is Forcing You To Download Messenger“:

Facebook says it’s forcing people to move to Messenger because the app is faster and has more features. But the real reason is that the company wants to protect itself by diversifying its offerings. Simply put, Facebook doesn’t want to end up like another Myspace, all but abandoned for the next big thing. “Imagine a future where the News Feed becomes less important to people,” said Nate Elliott, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, a research company. “They don’t want people to stop using Messenger just because they stop going to the News Feed. And that’s the risk they run if it’s all bundled together.”

I am not a big user of Facebook. Remember that adults weren’t allowed to use it when it first started, and when I finally got around to setting up an account there I let it add all my email contacts which was a huge disaster. That’s another story but as a result I adapted Google+ as my social network instead so on this issue I may be a bit atypical.  I have met some truly amazingly cool people on Google+ – some who may be friends for life, but since it is essentially a copy of Facebook it has many of the same issues. It is purposely designed to be a time suck. Google employees were actually paid a bonus to increase that “time on site” metric and it is ridiculously inefficient in even its most basic functions.

Has “the stream” outlived its usefulness?

Recently I did an experiment – I decided to try to use Google+ “backwards” and instead of spending time in the stream, to go directly to the profile of people I like instead to see what they have been posting about lately. It is almost impossible to use Google+ that way – almost like they wanted to make that difficult but what I found surprised me. People seem to be leaving Google+ even more than what I assumed – or more accurately, they simply aren’t posting anymore (not many people delete their accounts, they just walk away). What’s worse, many of the people who have left were some of the most interesting and creative people I have ever met online. What’s left is an awful lot of “social media consultants” – not exclusively but enough to affect the character of that network.

Here’s the problem with this: while my stream my still be moderately interesting and entertaining, it is now completely useless as a way for keeping up with people. With this important “use case” Google+ has failed. Since I am not much of a Facebook user, I can’t say whether or not the same thing is happening there – maybe it is to a lesser degree, but I do think “the stream” is no longer serving the needs of most of us.

The stream is a near perfect example of “survivorship bias” – as Wikipedia defines it, “the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that ‘survived’ some process and inadvertently overlooking those that did not because of their lack of visibility“.   Most people know the famous example – in WWII engineers desperately wanted to stop Allied bombers from being shot down, so they analyzed the bullet holes where returning bombers had been shot, and reinforced those areas. It didn’t work – just as many bombers were being shot down until someone realized that they were analyzing only the planes that had survived and had been shot in non-critical areas.  The bombers that didn’t survive had been shot in critical areas that the engineers never even saw.

This is exactly what I learned  when I looked at my Google+ contacts “backwards” by going to the original profile:   The “stream” that is being presented to me was that of  the survivors – the “non-survivors” – people who no longer post,  were not visible to me so they got much less of my attention.  Out of sight, out of mind.

We are all hyper-connected: now what?

Most young folks may not be all that aware of this, but before social networks, and Facebook in particular, leaving college or moving to a different city was a sad event. Unless you were very close, and knew their parents, there was a very good chance you would be saying goodbye forever. While some other network would probably have come along had Facebook not done it, this did provide the important need of our society – “keeping up with our friends” no matter how distant. To a certain extent, this had to be done by one centralized application – it allowed us all to be better connected.

Times have changed, however, and this particular “use case” is now satisfied. We are all now “hyper-connected” – not just on one, but on many networks. We don’t think twice about letting Linkedin or Twitter read our email contacts, and we happily add the people we know when they are found on other networks. Now, however, there are even more places we have to keep up with people – it has become even more of an inefficient, time consuming choir. What was once a huge advantage, has become a hindrance, and clearly ,this is no longer cutting it. People are hungry for something different – something designed for them- for their interests and needs, and not designed to serve the needs of the big social media companies and their advertisers.

What will the future bring?

Do we know what these next generation of systems will look like? Predicting the future is always a risky business, but I think the basic outline of what people will want in the next generation of social networks is emerging, and may already exist in different systems:

1. People-centric vrs Stream-centric. While spending time in “the stream” may be a harmless pass time and mildly entertaining, I believe it has seen its day. I think people would rather know what their friends and associates are up to, and what’s on their mind – whether that appears in a fast moving stream or not. I am not sure what this infatuation with the stream is, because all the social networks have the data for a “people centric” interface, but few of them are designed this way. We are alomst like hamsters on a wheel, constantly churning out content and posts to just fill the basic human need of keeping up with our friends and associates. A better design would simply let you make sure you have seen the most recent posts of your associates even if that was weeks ago. We don’t want to have to jump through hoops to fill this basic human and business need – we want this process to be efficient.

2. Interest-Based. Somewhat related to the stream issue is the need for systems that are more interest based. It is really surprising how many of the big social networks have missed the boat on this because it would make the user experience infinitely better.  On Google+ people who follow me,have to follow “all of me” whether they want to or not. Since I use it as a multi-purpose network, this causes some problems – not just for me, but for everyone. People might like my business posts, but not care for some of my off beat humor – or vice versa – or they may like my jokes but hate my progressive politics, or again vice versa.  The technology doesn’t accommodate this however, because there are no “user interest channels”. With the exception of the sensible design of Pinterest, few social networks do. Do people really want to see a near random collection of posts on all matter of topics in their streams?  I think that for many people this is getting a little old and in the future “interest based” networks will prevail.

3. Platform Independent. If you like someone, or if you consider them to be a potential business associate or customer, you probably want to know more about them and what is on their mind, but to you really care where they express this? So what if they share their thoughts on Facebook, Twiter or on their own blog – your alligenence should be to this person, not to a social media platform. A while ago there was a system called “Gist” that did this. It has since been pulled from the market, but it was amazing – and a little scary to see what your associate were saying on other social networks. It almost felt like spying – but it wasn’t – these were things they were saying publicly, and it really helped to get to know people much better. I think in the new era we will see systems like this re-emerge – if they haven’t already. I know that several of the CRM systems to be headed in that direction – and FullContact will consolidate this data for you, but there are probably others doing this as well.

4. Meeting New People. With the possible exception of Facebook, which has a well established use case of “connecting with people you know in real life”, people often participate in social networks to meet new people. Google+ participants often boast that “Google+ is great for meeting new people” but that is not quite accurate. It is the user community on Google+ that is good at this – and doing it in spite of the technology, not because of it. The technology itself is terrible at it – almost designed to make it more difficult, and Google still seems to be infatuated with “the social graph” and “who we know” even though they are really bad at it. They often recommend people to me because they follow some of the same people I do – something I couldn’t possibly care less about.  Can you meet new people on existing social networks? Of course you can, people do it all the time, but is is often a difficult and convoluted process that is time consuming and relies a little too much on chance occurrence. In the coming era, the process of meeting new people will be streamlined – it will be faster and more friction-less to make introductions and meet like minded people with similar interests.

5. Meeting Local People. One of the really wonderful things about social media is how it has allowed us to meet, and even sometimes befriend, cool people from all over the world. Still, there is nothing like real life- and meeting someone from your own town who is interested in the same things you are is the icing on the cake. Years ago during the early days of the Internet, I remember being at a meeting at a local college where the speaker slammed his fist on the podium and described his vision of the future: “I’m saying if you want a baby sitter in your neighborhood, you will be able to find one with just a few clicks”, he shouted. Strange, but after all these years, we still aren’t there yet. I always thought the dating sites – if they weren’t culturally restricted to meeting people to date would have been pretty good at this but they didn’t go in that direction. I know there are lots of applications now working to satisfy this use case, but as far as I know none has emerged as a standard yet, and they would need a pretty big “critical mass” to be useful. In the post social media era, however, I think “meeting local people with similar interests” this will be one of the big things people want.

6. Focused on speed and efficiency. In the near future, people will want networks that are lighting fast and super efficient – if they don’t already now.  I recently completed a quixotic experiment to use Google Contacts as a CRM but had to abandon this effort. The reason? – it was dog slow! So slow that I would think about doing some quick task while waiting for a contact record to be displayed – ridiculous. The best designed systems actually count the key strokes for every possible user interaction – and the fewer keystrokes the better. Especially with information about people it needs to be immediately available without forcing the user to poke around. In the coming post social media era, users will expect information to be quick and easy to retrieve.

7. Posting what you want. Every social network, whether you realize it or not, has its own culture. For this reason, there are cultural restrictions on what you can post on most networks, though they may never be expressed in the terms of service. Most people just know this intuitively or learn from experience – what you can get away with posting on Tumblr, for example, is very different than what you can post on Facebook.  On Google+, while no longer resembling the “I am a Google employee eating a doughnut” meme, is still very “Googley” (the term they use for the cultural indoctrination of their employees), and you have to be super careful about criticisms of Google there. That is just wrong – people should be able to post more or less ‘whatever they want” – it almost defeats the purpose of a social network if you can’t. Related to this is the problem of “flooding the stream”. We have to worry about posting too much, because we have to worry about bombarding people with our posts. While I don’t necessarily know how this will be accomplished, I believe technology can and will solve this problem. In the coming post social media era, people will be able to post what they want, when they want and will be able to showcase their own material.

8. Reading what you want. Closely related to “posting what you want” and the discussion on “interest based” as well as “efficiency” , people should be able to read more or less what they want. That means if you are not in the mood for politics or baby pictures, but want to read the business posts of your associates, you should be able to do just that. Feed readers like “Feedly are pretty good at this- why aren’t our social networks? In the coming post social media era, systems will be much better at letting us read the kind of posts we want to read from our associates.

9. Ownership of your information. Last, but certainly not least, people want a much better sense that they are the owners of what they post on social networks, and even (maybe especially), of their own profile. I am not trying to pick on Google+ but that is “the devil I know”. I remember reading an article in Pando Daily about Google+ where they talked about the “despair” they felt when after posting a thoughtful and carefully written post only to see it disappear and get immediately buried in a fast moving stream where is was essentially lost forever.   That is a problem with most stream-based social networks – the “shelf life” of our posts can be ridiculously short and we don’t have much control over the presentation of our own material.

The problem with this is that while many of these functions could be satisfied with the emergence of another big centralized system – a “Gist” type application”, for example, that allows us to track our friend’s activities on multiple networks, many of these functions cannot.  Most social networks are simply not designed to let us “post whatever we want” and “read whatever we want” and they certainly don’t give the even the sense of “ownership” of our information.

Could “Peer-to-Peer” technology be the answer?

The “holy grail” of social and business networking, has always been peer-to-peer (P2P) technology. It seems to be talked about more than it actually happens though and I still don’t know of any major systems – with the possible exception of Skype in its early days, that have actually taken off. Lot’s of systems claim to be P2P – like Disporia for example, but I am not really sure they are. Although I am not a programmer, I wonder if this has had to do with the limits of this technology. While thinking of this a while back, I remember wondering if somehow some of the bittorrent networks could be used for this purpose – perhaps with our profiles as individual torrent files.

Recently, while writing some material about “WebRTC” for a client, I realized that this might be the perfect technology to use for a P2P “interests based” social network. For those who don’t know, WebRTC is a protocol that allows real time communication real-time communication between web browsers with no central server. It has not been formally accepted as a standard, but is backed by Google and is already embedded in both Firefox and Chrome. While it has been around for more than four years, most non-technical and many technical professionals have never heard of it even though it is now being used in some really amazing and innovative systems.

Others have discussed the possibility of a “peer-to-peer” social network using WebRTC – and a few system have even been built – for example “Create a Mixer” for video meetings. While that looks like fun, I had something more basic in mind and think I know how an “interest based” network could be designed.  By adding CRM elements could even get around the “chicken and egg” problem that plagues most social network startups – that you need members to get members. This idea is currently being vetted by a small group of professionals and we recently decided to open source it – so contact me if this interests you and you would like to contribute. As of yet we have found no “show stoppers” that will prevent it from being built.

This is not what the Internet was supposed to be

Regardless of whether the system I have in mind ever happens, I am convinced that our current way of doing things is not stable. I wonder if some of the big media companies – especially Google, knew what they were getting into and really wanted to manage “a stream” of potentially most of humanity. Bad players will always know how to take advantage of these systems and they will always require human intervention – and I think that it the thing these companies hate most. They just want to build beautiful and elegant systems and step back and watch them run – and of course, rake in the cash.

More significantly, however, it is not what people want anymore, and it is not really good at anything. It is not good for posting, it is not good for reading, you can’t “post what you want” and you don’t even really own your own material. We are essentially “unpaid content creators” for the big social media companies.

Eventually, of course, the social networks as we know them will fade away. Nothing lasts forever – empires rise and fall, and they too shall pass. The question, of course, is “what will take their place?”.  I read a blog post not long ago that said “the replacement of the car has already been invented” – meaning that the technology for some new kind of transportation was already out there somewhere, we just don’t know specifically which one will prevail. It is entirely possible that this “post social network” has already been invented too – but if it has, I don’t know what it is. .

What I do know, is that what has evolved is no longer working. The Internet was supposed to be free, and democratic – and empowering of the individual, not a technology that tricks us into serving the needs of big corporations. We are creatures of habit, who have become prisoners of habit. Like lobsters being slowly boiled, we never knew when to jump out of the pan.  It is way past time we figure out how to take the Internet back.

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Google Contacts as a Lightweight CRM

UPDATE AND DISCLAIMER.    I wrote this almost a year ago but never published it because this technique worked much better in theory than it did in practice.   The main problem is that Google Contacts is just too slow and the UX is too cumbersome.    I am publishing this now because a few of the “hacks” – if you want to call them that, actually were pretty useful.   The first two I mentioned here anyway – the “sort by” as a priority view and using date-stamped notes.   The third one for “tags”, however,  was too awkward and didn’t work for me.   I have added a new alternative to tags using Google+ circles which is better in some ways but requires the use of Google+.     

I am also publishing this now because many solopreneurs and self-employed still don’t have a CRM and I think a crude and flawed CRM might be better than no CRM at all-  and this one is free.   Maybe someone reading it will know some other hacks or tricks that will make it work better This is where I left off with this project.   I myself still haven’t found a solution for the way I work – so have recently launched an open source “P2P Social CRM” project to address the needs of solopreneurs and the self-employed.   I welcome other ideas on how to better serve the needs of that community. 

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How to use Google+ as a lightweight CRM with 3 simple hacks

One of the most important things you can do as a small or new business owner is establish a CRM – a customer relationship management system.   There are lots of good cloud-based programs on the market but most charge a monthly fee.    Sometimes this fee is low – there are decent solutions out there for as little as $10 a month, but these fees are essentially “forever”.   It can also be tough to move your data once you have committed to a commercial service and who wants to have to make a payment every month just for data on your own customers?   It is totally understandable that solopreneurs are reluctant to make what seems like a lifetime commitment for someone else to manage your most valuable asset.

With a few simple hacks, there is a simple way to use Google Contacts as a crude, but perfectly serviceable single-user CRM platform which should be of interest to almost any solopreneur or small business owner without a sales staff.   The best part – it’s free – your data is yours and it even integrates with other systems.   While you will almost certainly customize this approach to suit your needs, it is a great way to get started with a CRM and will help you understand these systems and your own needs should you later decide to purchase a commercial service.   This document will guide you through the process of using Google Contacts to quickly develop your own CRM.

What does a CRM Do?  

The first thing we need to cover, at least briefly, is the basic functions of a CRM so we can see how Google Contacts fits in.  Basically, a CRM system will do just what it says – help you manage the “relationship” with your customers, but also all business associates including partners, affiliates, prospects, suppliers and basically anyone you might have cause to do business with.   CRM systems  basically provides the following functions:

1.  Contact Information.  They provide a secure place to store your prospect and customer contact information: physical address, phone numbers, email addresses and other information about your associate.

2.  Contact History.  They provide a way to record the actions or communication you have taken with this prospect or customer.

3.  Contact Plans.  They provide a way to plan the next actions or communication you plan for the future with this prospect or customer.

4.  Contact Research.  They provide a way to research information about your contacts so you can learn more about them and plan your next actions or communication.

Some of the bigger commercial services provide hundreds of other functions, and can be extraordinarily complex  but these are the basic functions you will need, and Google Contacts, with a few simple modifications can provide all of them.

The Google Contact Record

The Google Contact record provides a complete view of your associate’s contact information, along with some other useful information.    The first thing you should do here is adjust some of the default settings.  Under the “more” dropdown you will find a few options for how you display your contact data.  It is recommended that you change the default setting to the “business” template and use the “underneath” display – you can however keep these default settings if you prefer.

Google Contact Record

Google Contact Record

 

Google Contacts View  

Anyone with a Gmail Account should have access to Google Contacts.   The standalone module is available at the  link below and a similar view of this data can be found on your Gmail by going to a dropdown menu in the upper left of the screen (on desktop versions) right under the red “Gmail: label.   There should be a record of anyone you have already exchanged email with there and you can easily add new records or even import contacts.

https://www.google.com/contacts/u/0/#contacts

Google Contacts allows you to store up to 10,000 contacts without charge – more than adequate for most businesses just getting started on CRM approaches.   Here is what that screen will look like after you have added some contacts.  Note that the numbers you see in front of the names and contact groups will not be there when you start.   We use that as a rough “priority” and is part of the hack described here.  We have blurred out the email addresses and phone numbers on this real world example.

Google Contacts View

Google Contacts View

 

Circles and Groups

While users of Google+ might especially like this approach it does not require you to be a user of Google+.   Google+ users, however, need to be aware of the difference between “circles” and “groups”.   In a nutshell “circles” are what Google+ uses to let you limit the visibility of your posts to certain groups of people you have included in the circle you decide to share a post with.  Google Contact “Groups” on the other hand let you put related contacts on the same list and treat them as an integrated unit.  You can, for example, refer to a group and send them all the same email message, or you could grant them all permission to view or edit the same Google Drive file.  It is a powerful business tool.

The most important thing to know about this is that any contact you add to a contact group, at least in theory, is data you own and cannot be lost.   For example, if you have someone in a Google+ circle, and later remove that person from that circle,  they will still be in your contacts if you have added them to a group – even if you have never sent them an email.   There is a dropdown menu at the top of your contacts screen that allows you to move a circle to a group so they are permanently saved.  It is strongly recommended that all Google+ users learn how this action works.

Hack Number 1:  The “File As” field.

The first simple hack we have done to our Google contacts is to you a special field they provide “file as” to provide a rough priority of how important they currently are in our business funnel.   We do this by adding a two digit number – from 01 to 99 in front of the contacts name in this field, followed by a period and a space for cleaner formatting.   The is just a very rough number for us, and we change it frequently, but it allows us to look at the Google contacts screen and get a quick view of who we might have pending business with.  You can use your own coding system, but it has to be numerical or it won’t sort properly.

Hack Number 2.  Date and Time Stamp.

As we discussed, an important attribute of a CRM system is the ability to store information on the history of actions with that associate.   With some commercial CRM systems this can get really complex.  The will, for example, provide an index of every email you have exchanged with them and every document related to them.   We have opted for a much simpler approach.  By using a “date and time stamp” extension for the Chome browser we can quickly add an annotated note to the contact record.  This lets you just add a brief mention of some action you had taken with that associate – for example “discussed the sales proposal we sent him”.   That is really all you need in most cases, and has the advantage of not being overly complex.   We strongly recommend you use a browser extension for the date stamp though.   It is just enough of an annoyance to hand enter a date that you might not bother, and an extension like  this one for Chrome – or other for other browsers, makes this really easy.

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/timestamp-it/odoaicmoiegnjbpmilmdpdkialhojlid

Hack Number 3.   Custom fields and simulated tags.  (Option 1)

This is probably the most kludgy hack, but it does provide some useful functionality.   Google contact provided the means to add a “custom field” to each contact record.   The problem is that this custom record must be added to each and every contact – they cannot be added universally for your entire contact database so this is a slight disadvantage we have to put up with.  The custom fields you select may be different, but I am using:two  “Industry” and “NextAction”.  The hack here involves the addition of a special “tag” or keyword for the content of each field.   I do this by added the number “1” after each tag.   The stander “#” doesn’t work for so the number  just ensures that is it unique.  You can come up with your own custom fields but I mostly use two “Industry” and “NextAction” as described below:

Industry field.  The industry field is used to provide a categorization of the contact’s industry or sector.   Since everyone describes industries differently, your tags here will be unique, but the addition of a number after the tag is important.  If you put the word “software” in the industry field, when you did a search every profile with the word “software” would show up in your results list, so this lets you limit it to just those contacts you have purposely designated as being in the software industry.

NextAction Field.  The “NextActon” custom field is used for planning my next action with that contact.  One of the advantages over this approach over that of many commercial services is that most services assume that you have sent your contact an email.  In this era of social media, sending an associate is often late in the game.   There are all sorts of ways you can communicate now before you send a formal email.   Since I am a heavy Google+ users, I make extensive use of these other communication means, and have set up my tags as follows to help move relationships forward.  Again, these are all “planned action”::

  • post1.   This tag is used to show I intend to make a private post to this contact.   This is valuable when you meet someone on social media with whom you think you might have common interests and want to initiate a discussion and explore that possibility.
  • chat1.  After you have established some kind of a relationship, there may be situations where it is appropriate to send a brief instant message.  Obviously this is not for first time contacts, and must be done with care because can be interruptive but for exchanging some kinds of information,, or with some people, it can be appropriate and useful.
  • email1.  After a relationship has passed beyond a certain point on one of the social media platforms, it is a good idea to exchange emails.   This will not only establish the contact record, it has an important psychological effect of making it more “real” rather than your being “lost in the crowd” on a social network.
  • phone1.  Taking it up another level if that old fashioned instrument the telephone.  If there are people in your social media contacts you value you should consider talking to them on the phone – it makes a big difference.
  • hangout1.  This refers to, of course, a Google+ hangout – Google’s name for a videoconference.  Hangouts are a great way to build relationships – the next best thing before a real world meeting.
  • meeting1.  This means, of course, that I want to schedule a meeting with this person, and complete the transition to “real life”.

Each of these tags – with the number after the name, forms a unique term so you can now do a seach on in Contacts to display those records.   So, for example, searching on “phone1” will bring up a list of all the people you want to make a phone call to.   Each of the search terms also forms its own unique URL.   For example, my url for searching for “post1” looks like this.

https://www.google.com/contacts/u/0/#contacts/search/post1

That will be blank unless you put the simulated tag “post1” in a custom field, but you can experiment with it to see how it works.   Note that these URLS can be now put in your bookmark system to provide a quick way to see your next actions.

Hack Number 3.   Custom fields and simulated tags.  (Option 2)

Another way to simulate tags in Google Contacts is through the use of Google+ Circles.   Actually, in some ways this is little more than a perspective shift – instead of thinking of circles as a place to read post or share material, you think of then simply as “labels” or keywords or tags for a given individual.    I make this more obvious by preceding the tag with the word “TAG:” and then grouping them on my circles list so that they appear in order.   For example here is a partial list of that section of my circles.

TAGS: Coach
TAGS: Content
TAGS: Ecommerce
TAGS: Fashion
TAGS: Finance
TAGS: Education
TAGS: Fundraising
TAGS: Health
TAGS: Graphics
TAGS: International
TAGS: Marketing
TAGS: Photographer
TAGS: Programmer
TAGS: Recruiter

And so on.   This will give you much better information in the Google Contacts record view – but the search is still a little indirect and basic – but at least you have captured the information and can transfer the circle to a group.    I have also simulated the “future plans” function of this CRM by preceding the action with the word, “ACTION:” so that part of my circles looks like this:

ACTION:  Add (to Google Contacts)
ACTION:  Call (by phone)
ACTION:  Chat (Instant Message)
ACTION: Email
ACTION:  Hangoutv (schedule a videoconference)
ACTION:  Post (write a private post to them)
ACTION:  Research (review their website, read their blog, etc)
ACTION:  Watch (notification circle)

At this writing, I am using this technique but the jury is still out on whether it will work for me in the real world.  Doing anything with Google+ still has the problem of being terribly time consuming.  The standard disclaimer applies “your millage may vary”. 

Advantage and Disadvantages.  

Disadvantages of this approach.  Let’s start with the disadvantages.   Google Contact can be a little slow and you may have to get used to taking a breath or even two as you wait for a contact record to be displayed.  Some of the methods we have described here – for example the ways we use custom fields are a little labor intensive.  The information displayed for each contact probably won’t necessarily be comprehensive – this approach doesn’t really tie together all the different communications you have had with a contact – especially on social media platforms, though an option in the contacts view on Gmail give you a useful listing of all emails you have exchanged.   Finally, this is very much a “single user” approach, and would not be appropriate for team sales or any company where more than one person is communicating with the same contacts.

Advantages of this approach.  Now the advantages.   First of all it is free and this is a service Google is not likely to shutter anytime soon.    Second, it is ubiquitous – your contact data is in the cloud and should be available on any device or computer that is attached to the Internet everywhere.   Third, you have good control over your data – you can export your data to other system or even let certain “apps” read your contact information to provide value added services.   Forth, it is certainly one of the “standards” – along with Microsoft Outlook, for storing contact information.    There are lots of apps that use Google contacts now, and there are likely to be more in the future.

That is about the long and short of it.  Your results may vary, and you will certainly want to modify this approach to fit your needs, but if you don’t have a CRM not, this will get you well on the way quickly  without costing you a dime.

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The Cover Up: Age Discrimination in Silicon Valley

Recently the head of Global Marketing for Linkedin, Nicolas Draca, was asked in an interview by CNET ( reported by VentureBeat) about his approach to hiring, and he was quoted as saying, “Don’t be afraid to hire young”.

Wow – What a bold move!  How courageous!  How different and unique!  Not being afraid to hire young, white males in Silicon Valley – imagine that!

The average age on on Mr. Draca’s team is only 24 – young even by the standards of Silicon Valley, widely known for its ageism.  When asked about his young staff Draca’s response was both lame and nonsensical. “it’s tough to find talent,” he said, so “limiting to seasoned professionals would just make hiring impossible”.

A Brilliant Plan

Not to worry, however, Linkedin, like Google and Facebook before them, have a brilliant plan for dealing with their fetish for certain demographics. They now simply publish the data on the racial, ethnic and gender makeup of their workforce publicly.   This allows them to claim that they are being “transparent” and to appear to be taking action, even though this does nothing to directly address the actual issue.  It basically just reports on the issue and pushes it off to some future management to be accountable for the problem.  This gives executives like Draca the freedom to continue to build their teams of twenty somethings.

Now, even if you want to believe that the tech companies are sincere in their effort to become more diverse, and this “numbers centric” approach is what they believe will really work, there is still a HUGE problem with this – and VentureBeat report is actually the first time I have seen it mentioned:

NONE OF THE TECH COMPANIES INCLUDE AGE IN THEIR NUMBERS!!!!

I am sorry that I had to yell, but I was astounded that none of the tech press picked up on this. See for yourself – here is the report Google did: http://goo.gl/HJ0bGd, Facebook http://goo.gl/MEaxkq and most recently Linkedin http://goo.gl/yMWlXb

Seeing what isn’t there

On our Google+ profile we were once asked to name our “superpower” and I proudly listed mine as “seeing what isn’t there”.  It is a skill I read about years ago – it’s a Zen Buddhist thing I think, a skill said to be highly valued by Japanese business people, and I really do think I am pretty good at it.  When those “diversity reports” were coming out I was was astounded that age data would be missing from a demographic report and none of the tech press seemed to even notice. Why wasn’t it there? It was so obvious to me that it seemed it must be deliberate – like something was being purposely hidden.

Even more amazing, many in the tech media used these charts to compare the tech companies to each other – rather than society at large, or at least other similar industries – like this one from TechCrunch. Am I missing something or isn’t the media doing exactly what the tech giants must have wanted?  – comparing the tech giants  to each other, i.e. “We are better than Google” – which is actually what Linkedin bragged about in its report. This is like letting the worst offenders in some criminal activity – say bank robbers – publish statistical reports  so they can be compared to other bank robbers, “Hey, isn’t this cool! – I committed way fewer bank robberies this year than those other bank robbers”.

It is of no matter – the smokescreen was launched – the tech press took the bait and did exactly what they were expected to do and the operation was a success. Everyone got to wag their fingers at the tech giants and say “you’re bad – not diverse at all” – then go on to non-stories or even misleading stories comparing the tech giants  to each other. The actual “problem” has now been kicked into the future so they can keep happily hiring teams with an average age of 24 while an equally big – maybe bigger problem has  been effectively hidden from view – perhaps forever.

Collusion, or just a coincidence?

This latest report by Linkedin is where it hit me – something smells fishy about this. It is just too much of a coincidence that three of the major tech companies have issued almost identical “diversity” reports, and all three have been missing something screamingly obvious – any mention at all of age, or even an explanation as to why it is missing. This almost seems like collusion-  it is almost certainly a cover up.  That is not being inflammatory. A supposedly scientific and objective report containing demographic information, and key demographic information is missing with no explanation.  That is a cover up in my book.

The real question is “why?” – and “what are they trying to hide?”. A young workforce does not necessarily mean age discrimination, and they may have valid reasons for not hiring older workers. So why are they hiding the data? I have been in online discussions with fairly high level employees at Google where I voiced my opinion but most of them couldn’t “because of legal issues’. I mentioned that the average age at Google was only 29 and that was among the youngest in the industry. I made it clear that I wasn’t accusing Google of age discrimination – but that I did believe they are “unnaturally young” and that in fact it showed at times. The point is I really had no way of knowing whether Google was doing this or not – I simply didn’t have the data or information, and with the release of these reports, I still don’t.

A Preponderance of Evidence

Now, having come to the conclusion there is some kind of cover up here, I have to change my mind on the age discrimination assumption as well.  It is now fair to conclude that a “preponderance of evidence” is showing that companies like Google really are discriminating by age. Why else would they be hiding this data? In fact, how did three different tech companies come to the same decision to release data about race, gender and ethnicity but withhold data about age? If there is some policy or legal justification they should disclose that but I don’t believe there is. The fact that the very thing they are suspected of “age discrimination” is the area where the data is “missing” is more than a little suspicious.

As I understand it, the spirit with which they released these diversity reports was that by honestly laying this data on the table, they could learn why this was happening and then figure out ways to address it. Why can’t they do the same for their age data? Is there something so dark and terrible in those numbers that we must not be allowed to see them?

Maybe the truth is that the tech companies simply don’t like older workers – that they are harder to manipulate or something, or maybe they think they are simply not smart enough, or their skills will never be up to date. Maybe, in fact – and this might be the real truth – that older workers have been “written off” by the tech giants.

Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation is probably the right one.   The data is “missing” because the tech giants don’t want to solve this problem –  and they don’t care.  They may want to improve their racial and gender makeup – otherwise they just wouldn’t be cool – , but they want older workers to ” just go away”.  It is possible, of course, that they are making some efforts in this area, but as long as they withhold this information, it is reasonable to assume that the companies issuing these reports really are practicing age discrimination.

 Legitimizing Age Discrimination

In the explanation accompanying the Google diversity report they said the following:

We’re not where we want to be when it comes to diversity. And it is hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.All of our efforts, including going public with these numbers, are designed to help us recruit and develop the world’s most talented and diverse people.

Google seems to be “leading” the way on this, but by withholding this data they are not helping – and in fact they seem to be going further down the road “legitimatizing” age discrimination – to the point where it is now widely accepted in Silicon Valley.  That is the really unfortunate thing about this – people seem to look at these companies as leaders, but in this case they are leading us in the wrong direction.

If this was just them showing their bigotry and could be contained to Silicon Valley  it would be one thing, but they have already done a great deal to make age discrimination “the norm” and acceptable in our society.   Now, by making it clear that older workers are so unimportant they should not even be counted they are doing huge amount of damage, and someone needs to say something.

Time to Come Clean

Let’s hope they do the right thing and release this data – if they do, the other tech companies will likely follow suit. If they don’t – the tech press, needs to realize they have been played on this, and they need to point out at every turn that those “diversity reports” are in fact bogus, and are missing a major chunk of the human race.  It is way past time for Google, Facebook, Linkedin and the other tech giants in Silicon Valley to come clean on this.

 

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The collaborative economy will double this year

The collaborative economy will double this year, according to an analysis reported by the Wall Street Journal in their  “The Accelerators” blog:

“The acceptance in mature markets of used-good sharing, like eBay and Craigslist is well established, but in the new market sectors where we see Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, Lending Club for peer-to-peer sharing of accommodations, transportation and crowd-funding, we saw a single digit adoption rate. What really piqued our interest, however, was finding that people indicated they intend to double their utilization of these sharing services within the next 12 months”.  

The article was written by Jeremiah Owyang, author of “Sharing is the New Buying” and he concluded that these trends “could spell disruption for incumbent businesses that should actually “see this as a market opportunity to adjust their business model to partner with the crowd” since “the crowd is proving that they can get what they need and share what they have”.

http://blogs.wsj.com/accelerators/2014/04/23/jeremiah-owyang-the-collaborative-economy-will-double-this-year/?mod=WSJBlog

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Entrepreneurial Paradox

Are you resourceful? I agree with the gist of this article, that being called “resourceful” is the highest compliment that can be paid to an entrepreneur. I also agree with most of the advice they give here – especially the ones about bending the rules, the common good, burning our ships, and playing a few hands at once, and even recognize some weakness in myself in some of the ones I am not doing. http://goo.gl/y4advK

I also love the definition of “entrepreneur” here – a 25 word definition that a Harvard Business School professor named Howard Stevensonan came up with 37 years ago: .

“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled”

That is really an awesome definition – that is really what most of us are doing here – going after something, torpedoes be damned. That was actually one of the few things I remembered from that online course on entrepreneurial technology I took from Stanford – it really resonated with me.

So if I think this definition is so great, and I think this article so wonderful, why am I just a tiny bit disturbed by it? Well, for one thing, what about the resources that we do control?

There is another idea we have discussed here – seemingly the opposite of what is expressed in this definition, that I find to be equally “awesome” That is the power of “effectuation”. I have written about this before – it is a different definition of what entrepreneurs that was the result of a study about how successful entrepreneurs think by Saras Sarasvathy at the University of Virginia,

In a nutshell, Sarasvathy discovered that great entrepreneurs don’t necessarily have “goals” – rather, they look at the resources they have, figure out what can be done with them, and then just try it. As described in a Wall Street Journal article titled “The Power of Negative Thinking”: http://goo.gl/s2f29U

“Rather than choosing a goal and then making a plan to achieve it, they took stock of the means and materials at their disposal, then imagined the possible ends. Effectuation also includes what she calls the ‘affordable loss principle’. Instead of focusing on the possibility of spectacular rewards from a venture, ask how great the loss would be if it failed. If the potential loss seems tolerable, take the next step.”

In other words, this is almost precisely opposite of that best definition of entrepreneur – you aren’t looking at the resources that you don’;t command, you are looking at the ones that you do command:

This is typical of all the “advice” you get on entrepreneurship – like Chinese proverbs, they come in opposites “look before you leap:; “he who hesitates is lost” For entrepreneurs, you will hear things like “ideas are worthless” and “ideas are central to your business” – or “to be successful, you must have a team” to “to be successful, go it alone”.

While I am not exactly a huge success these days, I am a veritable walking encyclopedia on this stuff, and I can tell you there is almost no piece of advice you can read or hear about entrepreneurship where you won’t find a very good case being made for the exact opposite point of view.

Maybe that is just the way it is. Like life itself, there can be no “one size fits all” strategy – for if there were, then life itself would not be successful. Maybe as entrepreneur’s we just have to embrace these contradictions in an almost Zen like manner .

As Niels Bohr, the father of quantum physics put it: “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

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https://plus.google.com/102170431816592344972/posts/QubeXfW9iLc

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How Dare You Negotiate: Collective Bargaining verses Individual Bargaining

Note: This was the comment I made in response to a post made by Eva Fleming on Google+ that itself was the share of an article in Slate Magazine called “The Tenure Take-Back” – about how job offers are being rescinded when candidates try to negotiate (link at bottom). I have included both Ms. Fleming’s comment and my own

Eva Fleming originally shared:   It is unfortunate that businesses believe that because the job market is in such trouble that they can treat anyone applying for or offered a job like shit.  I had this happen to me with a couple of jobs I applied for in the past ten years.  I attempted to negotiate salary at one (I was going in with 10+ years experience, which is rare in what I did) and something else at another.  I was told to either take the offer or leave it as nothing was up for negotiation.  Every person is different and may want or need different considerations.  Negotiation is a normal part of the process.  You’re not hiring robots no matter how much you may wish to be. When the market gets better these companies are going to regret treating people this way.  They will run for the next best thing as quickly as they can (and that’s exactly what I did, too).

Employment Negotiations.  Absolutely wonderful post by +Eva Fleming.  I keep getting accused of being a far left wacko here and honestly I don’t get it.  I have all sort of conservative beliefs, but I believe in this day and age being conservative means you have to hate the President – and I do not, and that wasn’t the America I grew up in. One conservative view I have is not being all that hot on unions.   I think they served their purpose at one time, but their day is gone.   What I would love to see more here is what Eva described – good “individual bargaining” as opposed to collective bargaining.   So for example, one person may be willing to work all sorts of hours, while for another a flexible work schedule may be the most important.  Everything should go on the table instead of trying to cram everyone into the same box.   What happens, however, when companies refuse “individual negotiations just because the can – because the market has provided them with an endless supply of desperate people who will do anything for a job.  In this case, the system has failed.   In another era, trade unions addressed these inequities but what will address them in this one?  Some believe the free market will eventually fix this.  I am not so sure.

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/03/nazareth_college_revoked_a_job_offer_when_a_candidate_tried_to_negotiate.html

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A shot in the real culture wars

I had more or less given up on Obama doing anything to help the self employed – especially after that disastrous “Startup America” program that was immediately captured by greedy corporations to use for their own benefit.  With Republicans controlling Congress, and their dedication to “doing nothing” while they are there except collecting their government paychecks and lining their own pockets, I assumed they had effectively neutralized the President the majority of us voted for.   There really is only so much a President can do by executive order – especially when the opposition party will start screeching “treason” to even minor executive actions.

This move that Obama made yesterday, completely out of the blue, may actually have been brilliant.  Corporation have been abusing the nations overtime laws for years by simply declaring that almost everyone is “in management” and thus exempt from those rules.  What has happened as a result is that companies that would have hired more people, simply pile on more work to existing employees.   While this will take some time, it should help that job market by stopping companies from stealing time from their workers.

It is also possible that that this may help the self-employed and freelance job market, which I believe is emerging as another major sector of the economy.  If companies can’t just dump extra work on existing employees, maybe they will be persuaded to look more at the independent workers – which does not seem to be happening to the extent it should now.

As predicted, groups that pretend to represent “business” but who are actually hostile to small business, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have vowed to oppose this so that corporations can continue to exploit their workers.   In truth, this could be of huge benefit to the self employed and anyone who is really in support of “free markets” should support it.  Our time, and work hours, are the most valuable thing we possess and no one should be allowed to take it for business purposes without paying for it, or giving something significant in return.   For small business and the self employed, time is is a “non-renewable resource” and should not be subject to exploitation.

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-obama-overtime-20140313,0,4225344.story#axzz2vt2hZd8Q

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Who are the self-employed? Results of entrepreneur community survey

This is the preliminary results of a survey we did on the “Entrepreneurs, Self-Employed & Small Business” community.  The survey wasn’t very scientific, and the sample size was small, but we asked questions that few ask, and the results were interesting.    I continue to be stunned that so little work has been done in this area and strongly believe more research is needed.    The original survey can be found at this link http://goo.gl/dnxHB5  and the discussion of the results can be found here http://goo.gl/vJIXAo

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Who are we anyway?

Preliminary results of the Entrepreneur, Self-Employed & Small Business community survey.

As you know, I put together a rather unconventional survey here and asked our members to fill it out.    I am going to be the first to admit that this survey was anything but “scientific” but there still might be a few insights into the results.   I did this, some of you know, because I have become interested in the massive and growing number of the self employed.  By some measures, it is now now larger than the conventional workforce.

In the U.S., more than 100 million Americans have “fallen out of the workforce” yet there is very little information on who we are or what we are doing, and this survey is a feeble attempt to address this.  I have observed that if you get your information about entrepreneurs, self-employed, and small business owners from social media or even main stream media, you may have a highly distorted view of reality.

Fewer than 100 people participated in this survey,  so this is hardly “big data” and any “conclusions” from this – including mine, need to be taken with a grain of salt.   Still, it is a sample, the data doesn’t lie and I think there are some insights here.  Some of the results here have even challenged my own assumptions.

Basically, I was trying to answer a few questions.   Beyond all the social marketing hype – some of which we produce, how are we really doing?   What factors are contributing to our success,  or lack of success,     I am providing my main takeaway from an analysis of some, but not all of this data, but have included the source data in addition to the summary so you can make your own conclusions.    There is still some results here that need to be analyzed – I didn’t do any “cross correlations” yet, so this is just my initial take.  There are all sorts of ironies and seeming contradictions here.

1.  We are an optimistic lot.   The first question “how are you” was something of a joke – intended to let people know this was no ordinary survey, but also as a rough measure of our mental state.   Most people -64   percent said they were “great!” – 35 percent said they were ok, and only one respondent said “life sucks”.  (whoever you are, I hope things get better).   The last question that more directly asked about about how optimistic we are about the future was the same.  72 percent said “the future is looking bright” – only 7 percent thought “things might get worse”.

Given some of the other data in this survey, this may be something of a disconnect.  I am reminded of an old movie “Little Big Man” which took place in the old west.  One of the characters was a business man – an entrepreneur of the time.  He would always have some new venture and was always optimistic – but every time he showed back up in the movie he would have been more horribly injured – first losing an arm, then a leg, then an eye I think – yet through it all he remained totally optimistic.

Maybe their is a flaw in the way we asked, or maybe depressed people don’t fill out surveys, however the data doesn’t lie – regardless of the reality of our situations, we are optimistic.

2.  We are not spring chickens.    Sixty four percent of us are over 40, only 14 percent are in their 20s or younger.    This should say something about the Silicon Valley obsession with youth – lots of smart, innovative and experienced older entrepreneurs among our members.

3.  Still mostly a boy’s club.   Sixty five percent male and thirty five percent female.   I think that might reflect Google+ demographics though, and of course it doesn’t measure intensity.   Many of our female members are highly active here and have helped build the community.

4.  We are not doing so hot financially.   For the question about the “phase of business” 70 percent of the respondents  reported that their business had little or no profit, though a majority had revenue.   Only 25 percent reported being fully operational and profitable.  When the question was asked more directly – “What is your business situation: 40 percent said their business was not profitable, and 34 percent said they were profitable but not growing.  Only 26 percent reported being profitable and growing”

Even worse was the “making ends meet” question.    Over 80 percent said they were either not making ends meet, or just barely making some ends meet.  Fewer than 20 percent reported that they were “doing quite well”.

If that is not bad enough, but there is some fairly hard data that is a little scary.   That is, our level of savings and access to credit.    Almost 60 percent of us either have no savings at all, or only enough to survive a month or less without income.    Only about 30 percent could survive more than three months without income.   Almost 50 percent of us either had no credit at all, or less than $1,000 in credit.   Only about 30 percent of us had access to more than $5000 in credit.    Most of us – 71 percent,  have not received financial help from friends or family for our business.

This may be our most significant finding and it is one that we should at least try to address.

5.  For the most part, we don’t have employees.   The number of members who reported having employees however – 30 percent, what more than I thought.   Of those, the number who plan on hiring in the next year – 36 percent, was also higher than I thought it would be.

6.  Most of us have something else going on.    More than,  40 percent have a part time job or some other source of income – that is more than I expected.   Apparently, many of us have been able to keep “one foot in the system”.

7. Being married or partnered may contribute significantly to success, but more research is needed.     Almost 75 percent of us are married, but only about 30 percent of those reported that their spouse has a regular job.  Another 30 percent reported that their spouse was either also self employed, or was their business partner.   We have not done any cross correlations to prove this, but a look at the source data seems to indicate that.   No hard conclusions are being drawn at this time but I believe this should be looked at in more detail.

8.  We are big on  brand names.   More than 50 percent of us market our business using a fictitious or brand name, and only about 15 percent market primarily using their own names.   An additional 30 percent markets using both their brand name and their own personal name.

9.  We Like what we doing.   The question, “If you were offered a salaried job, would you take it?” was especially revealing.  Fully 50 percent of us flat out said no – that our primary objective was to grow our business.   Further, only three percent – just a few people, said they “would take almost any job” and only 16 percent said they would accept employment “if the job and salary were decent”.   This seems to argue against “involuntary entrepreneurs” being a big part of our ranks, though they do seem to exist.

There were a number of other questions, but these are the ones where I thought the results were most significant.   The summary data is attached to this post, and I will share the source data with anyone who wants to do a more sophisticated analysis.

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British Airways will host in-flight innovation lab

It may be a publicity stunt, but it sounds like fun. British Airways will invite 100 guests to participate in an 11-hour “innovation lab”  called “Ungrounded” during a transatlantic flight from San Francisco to London. After the flight lands, participants will attend the DNA (Decide Now Act) Summit at the House of Lords, and will be able to present their ideas to executives from around the world.

According to their press release, the airline is partnering with the United Nations: The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Decide Now Act (DNA) Summit. Its stated purpose is to “connect industry leaders and creative minds for the purpose of tackling a challenge that affects the next generation of global innovators”.

Participants will incluse Todd Lutwak of Andreessen Horowitz, Leor Stern of Google, Celestine Johnson of Innovation Endeavors, Duncan Logan of RocketSpace, Gerald Brady of Silicon Valley Bank, Marguerite Gong Hancock of SPRIE, Stanford Graduate School of Business and Rhonda Abrams of The Planning Shop.

British Airways Executive vice president for the Americas Simon Talling-Smith was quoted as saying that the goal of the program is to create an “axis of innovation” between the UK and Silicon Valley. “As one of the world’s leading airlines, British Airways deeply believes in the power of face-to-face engagement to ignitenew ideas, co-create and accelerate innovation” he said. The firm also announced that it has recently joined RocketSpace, an innovation center in an Francisco, and plans more active engagement with the start-up community there.

The challenge these participants of this innovation lab will be asked to address is “the misalignment between where science and technology talent is emerging and where opportunity exists for talent to realize their potential”. They will be tasked with “designing a platform to inspire and connect this talent with civic and commercial opportunities, to accelerate innovation in communities around the world”.

That is a pretty tall order for an 11 hour flight, so we have to wonder if this is more of a perk for Silicon Valley exectives than a serious attempt to connect enterpreneurs or solve serious world problems.

The flight will depart on June 12, 2013. An application and more information can be found at: http://ungroundedthinking.com/

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Has the JOBS Act Failed?

That’s what Zach Seward of Quartz says and and he makes a pretty good case in this article.  If the primary goal of the JOBS act was to encourage smaller companies to go public, then he is certainly right.   Only 65 companies have filed IPOs since the legislation was enacted and all it has really done is allow them to have almost zero transparency.   If the larger goal was, as he says “to help startups grow and, in the process, add more jobs to the US economy” then it has obviously failed even more dismally.

The important takeaway from this article though is that this legislation came almost entirely out of Silicon Valley – the JOBS Act was written by venture capitalists for venture capitalists.  Like the disastrous “Startup America” program, it was never for startups at all – at least not the tens of millions of smaller ones.

The crowdfunding aspects of this legislation still haven’t taken place, so as this article says it is probably “only fair to reserve judgement”.   Still, if a full year of history is any judge, there is good reason to be skeptical.