Le Déserteur

My uncle Max passed away yesterday. He was a truly special man, a person who loved people, and loved life. His last request was to hear the chanson Le Déserteur. The lyrics were written in 1954 by Boris Vian and Harold Berg, and were performed by many. The version he asked to hear was performed by Mouloudji, a French singer and actor:

The lyrics were read at the funeral today by his friends, as he requested. Almost 60 years later, they still make my shiver and are just as relevant:

Monsieur le Président,
je vous fais une lettre,
que vous lirez peut-être,
si vous avez le temps.

Je viens de recevoir
mes papiers militaires
pour partir à la guerre
avant mercredi soir.

Monsieur le Président
je ne veux pas le faire,
je ne suis pas sur terre
pour tuer de pauvres gens.

C’est pas pour vous fâcher,
il faut que je vous dise,
ma décision est prise,
je m’en vais déserter.

Depuis que je suis né,
j’ai vu mourir mon père,
j’ai vu partir mes frères,
et pleurer mes enfants.

Ma mère a tant souffert,
qu’elle est dedans sa tombe,
et se moque des bombes,
et se moque des vers.

Quand j’étais prisonnier
on m’a volé ma femme,
on m’a volé mon âme,
et tout mon cher passé.

Demain de bon matin,
je fermerai ma porte
au nez des années mortes
j’irai sur les chemins.

Je mendierai ma vie,
sur les routes de France,
de Bretagne en Provence,
et je crierai aux gens:

refusez d’obéir,
refusez de la faire,
n’allez pas à la guerre,
refusez de partir.

S’il faut donner son sang,
allez donner le vôtre,
vous êtes bon apôtre,
monsieur le Président.

Si vous me poursuivez
prévenez vos gendarmes
que je n’aurai pas d’armes
et qu’ils pourront tirer.

Mr. President
I’m writing you a letter
that perhaps you will read
If you have the time.

I’ve just received
my call-up papers
to leave for the front
Before Wednesday night.

Mr. President
I do not want to go
I am not on this earth
to kill wretched people.

It’s not to make you mad
I must tell you
my decision is made
I am going to desert.

Since I was born
I have seen my father die
I have seen my brothers leave
and my children cry.

My mother has suffered so,
that she is in her grave
and she laughs at the bombs
and she laughs at the worms.

When I was a prisoner
they stole my wife
they stole my soul
and all my dear past.

Early tomorrow morning
I will shut my door
on these dead years
I will take to the road.

I will beg my way along
on the roads of France
from Brittany to Provence
and I will cry out to the people:

Refuse to obey
refuse to do it
don’t go to war
refuse to go.

If blood must be given
go give your own
you are a good apostle
Mr. President.

If you go after me
warn your police
that I’ll be unarmed
and that they can shoot.

(Translation to English by Gilles d’Aymery & Jan Baughman)

Goodbye Max. If only there were more people like you.

Define "Success"

Warning! Do not read.

Leena Rao writes on TechCrunch: “Mint.com Socializes Personal Finance advice With New Q&A Feature“. Congrats Mint – Q&A is indeed a very basic human need, and I am sure your Mint’s users welcome this addition to the wonderful toolset you’re already providing them with.

Leena goes on:

It makes total sense for Mint to launch an establish portal for financial advice; especially considering the success of current social Q&A sites like Quora.


I respect Quora. It’s a formidable team that created an impressive Q&A service, intelligent and feature-rich. I’ve been using Quora for a few months now, and have even sent out Quora invites to several people.

I am using Quora because I can see Quora becoming a potential formidable competition to our own Yedda.com if it ever opens up to the public.

However (and this may surprise you if you feed only on TechCrunch assessments) Quora is NOT open to the public yet.

Quora is in private-alpha invite-only mode, with a relatively small number of well-chosen users using it, most of them from the Silicon Valley tech community.

My guess is that Quora will get acquired by Facebook for $60-$100M, because it has Facebook Acquisition written all over it. I am guessing it will be a worthwhile acquisition for Facebook, unlike other recent SV-hype-fueled acquisitions in this space which make a lot less sense to me. I am also guessing it will happen before it actually opens up to the public.

Once this happens, we’ll be able to define Quora as a financial and professional success for its founders and investors. In the hands of Facebook, it may even become an actual success in terms of number of users and amount of content (did anyone say “Community Pages“?). If it’s a wild success, it may get to the point where it is an actual competition for Yahoo Answers. Before getting to that point, it will need to grow by several orders of magnitude, bypassing FunAdvice and Yedda and AnswerBag and Mahalo Answers and WikiAnswers and several other successful players in the Q&A space. It may very well do that. When it does, we’ll be able to say “considering the success of current Social Q&A sites like Quora”.

I also respect TechCrunch. Scratch that. I have a deep emotional link to TechCrunch. TechCrunch is where we received our initial coverage when we launched Yedda. Michael himself was the one who patiently waited while we worked out the bugs in the initial beta registration form, as well as the one who first reported on the Yedda acquisition by AOL. TechCrunch is where I get most of the tech news from. Which is why I would love to see TechCrunch resisting the friendly pull of the SV inner circle and its self-feeding hype-chamber, and creating content that is based on facts.

Email is dead. Long live the Fmail.


PC Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNET and many others have been busy lately claiming that email is mostly dead.

And yet, Facebook are busy building a new email service from the ground up, internally called Project Titan, and even more internally dubbed Gmail Killer (uggh!). Facebook users will be able to use it through Facebook itself or independently via POP and IMAP.

Mark Zuckerberg might be growing old and is losing it. But then again, he’s only 27, so that’s not a very probable explanation. So, does he have anything up his sleeve again?

Pretty much most of today’s email clients block just about anything in an email message that isn’t text. It wasn’t so long ago that you could send JavaScript, Flash and even *gasp* ActiveX objects embedded in an email message. Today, even downloading images require an explicit consent by the user, and embedding anything other than text and images is next to impossible or at least impractical.

That is of course because sending non-static content in an email message is a huge security issue and could result in viruses spyware and other malware invading your machine, not to mention a general meltdown of your hard drive and an escalation of the global warming process.

We’ve learned to live with this restriction. Just like there will never be peace in the middle east, there is no way to deliver dynamic interactive content over email, and that’s about it.

Or is there?

It was 3 years ago that Facebook executed the 3rd milestone in its world domination program and announced the Facebook Platform, allowing every developer out there to enhance and extend the original Facebook experience by embedding dynamic, interactive content directly into the Facebook pages. Guess what, this injection of 3rd party, dynamic content, with support for full HTML, Flash & JavaScript (no ActiveX though thankfully) did not result in anything melting down, warming up or giving life to a new strain of viruses (Farmville excluded of course).

Now, what if…?

What if Facebook did the same for email?

What if Facebook were able to magically lift this restriction, allowing app developers to embed dynamic content (e.g. applications!) into email messages?

It doesn’t really require magic. All it requires is a major email service (check) with an ecosystem of 3rd party app developers (check) and the guts to question old, no-longer-relevant axioms (check).

Oh, you’d still be able to send and receive plain old boring email. If you were to receive an email through these IMAP and POP interface that contained a Facebook app you’d get an empty rectangle and an invitation to click through and get the full experience on Facebook, just like you’re getting today with rich content in badly designed emails.

If you want to enjoy The New Email though, you should consume and create your email on Facebook itself, or through a Facebook-enabled email client.

The implications for app developers, publishers and marketers would be huge. Oh, you could still send an email blast telling your users about the sale you’re having, but only through Facebook email you could let them complete the purchase right there, in the email message, increasing your conversion by an order of magnitude. You could still send a link to a cool game to your friend over plain old email, but with The New Email, your friend doesn’t need to click through – they can play the game right there, from the email message (did I mention conversion?). There is so much more you can do when the email evolves from a transport for text, sometimes links and hopefully images into a container for interactive applications.

Is this what Mark is planning? I have no idea. Clearly, of all the players out there, Facebook is best positioned to pull this off, and change the rules of the game – again.

So, assuming this hypothetical gold rush to the new hypothetical apps-over-email frontier, which email app would you do develop first?

Twitter, can you hear the Buzz?

Cuteness3 months ago I speculated on what would happen to Twitter if it didn’t open up. I suggested a possible model for Twitter, one that is similar to the WordPress model, where you have the choice of using the WordPress.com hosted version, using another WordPress host or hosting it on your own.

WordPress is interoperable. It plays nice with the web. It plays nice with other blogging systems using RSS and Pingbacks and Trackbacks and Linkrolls.

If WordPress.com crashes, it doesn’t stop the multitudes of WordPress blogs out there hosted on numerous hosts from humming along just fine. Even if all WordPress blogs in the world would run into the weirdest bug on 2022, February 2nd, all the Moveable Type hosts will still continue to operate.

The same is true for email, DNS, SMS, and any other ubiquitous communication platform we truly rely on. (Except Facebook of course. But then, Facebook operates in a different universe altogether).

Twitter could have been the WordPress of the microblogging world, opening it up and establishing as a platform we can rely on, and at the same time capturing a significant part of the market.

But Twitter didn’t.

I also speculated that given Google’s failure to acquire Twitter, and having botched the Jaiku acquisition they did in Oct 2007, they’d have no choice but to build their own microblogging platform.

And they did. Can you hear the Buzz?

Guess what. It’s open, and it’s distributed, and it’s a platform on which we could potentially exercise microblogging knowing that it’s supported by multiple vendors and having multiple instances through which traffic can be routed and re-routed if one of them fails.

Google Buzz plays nice with standards. It plays nice with RSS and Atom and MediaRSS and Activity Streams. It plays nice with PubSubHubbub and AtomPub and OAuth. But what I find most interesting is that it (will) play nice with WebFinger and Salmon.

WebFinger is an open protocol that allows for the introspection of third party addresses for their public endpoints, allowing networks to discover external users’ public preferences for message delivery, identity, and contact information.

Salmon is an open protocol that defines a standardized mechanism for comments and activities on distributed services to be shared upstream with the activity source.

Together, these two standards could very well be the underpinnings that would enable multiple Buzz instances running on different hosts (centrally hosted or self hosted) and Buzz-compatible systems to interact and connect, allowing users from one service transparently interact with users from another service – to follow, @reply and publish their microblogging content.

So there we have it. The building blocks for a distributed microblogging platform that could make reliable, fail-whale-less trustable microblogging a reality.

Is Buzz a good product? Your taste may differ, but at this point I kind of hate it. Buzz seems like an almost feature-by-feature copy of FriendFeed (acquired by Facebook on August 2009), except for the features that FriendFeed implemented to reduce clutter and noise. Plus, just like in FriendFeed, the lack of the often-hated 140 characters limit on the published text results in a stream that is far less readable and digestible than then Twitter stream. Personally, I still prefer (and love) Twitter.

But that doesn’t really matter. Google will improve Buzz. They have more than enough feedback from the many users who had Buzz forced on them. If not Google, someone else will build a more digestible Buzz experience. What really mattes is that the building blocks are there allowing such service to flourish and create a much healthier ecosystem around microblogging.

I think the implications are even wider though. Buzz could change the way we interact with content.

Take comments for example. Nearly every content site has comments. One has to wonder though what is the value of a comment to the content publisher. A person reads an article, gets furious about one point or another, and types in a comment. And that’s it. That’s mostly a dead end as far as the publisher is concerned.

Now imagine a world where comments on articles and blogs are inherently tied into the microblogging world. Where every comment I publish appears instantly on my Buzz stream, with a link back to the article. Responses to my comments would be syndicated back into the original article comments. Instead of a dead-end, comments would become a truly powerful personal content distribution platform and content creation platform for publishers.

BackType, Disqus and JS-Kit Echo are all brave attempts to retrofit this model on top of the existing systems and connects the two worlds today. But without open standards underlying these systems, it is very, very hard to have a consistent thorough implementation and a good user experience.

All this and a lot more could have been Twitter’s to grab. But Twitter failed to learn what so many have learned over and over again in the young history of the net – that the Internet abhors a funnel.

What do you think? Is the game over? Can Twitter still recap? I hope they do. Twitter has our love, and the last thing we need is Google (or worse, Facebook) capturing yet another domain on their road to Total Net Domination.

The 140-characters Netscape

As in "free beer"

I’ve had an interesting conversation earlier this week with a VC guy. He’s looking at a company that is basing its business on Twitter. My immediate reaction was – there is no way I’d consider building a long-term business on top of Twitter.

That’s because I don’t think there is a long term future for Twitter.

I love Twitter. I really do. Not in the Mel Brooks sense, mind you. I use Twitter a lot (not as much as Jeff, but still :), and I value the way Twitter changed our world.

However, I believe that in 2 years the Twitter brand will be in the same position as the Netscape brand is in now: Twitter will be credited with starting the revolution, and paving the road for followers (pun intended). But at the same time, it will be pushed into a minor position in the market with other players taking the lead (or, as is the case with Netscape, will no longer exist).

Continue reading The 140-characters Netscape

The Beatles Remastered into useless obsolete plastic circles

The Beatles Remastered CD's released in New York

I love the Beatles. I grew up listening to their amazing melodies, appreciating the lyrics and the rich and visual compositions. I love the Beatles and what they stood for.

Over the years I’ve replaced some of the vinyl Beatles records I had with CDs, but there were several Beatles albums that I never got around to purchasing. I kept thinking I should buy them already, but never did.

Until The Beatles Remastered was released. Clearly, this was the opportunity to fill in the blanks and reacquire the entire collection in the best available quality, and to rediscover their genius music.

Last Friday I went to Tower Records (yes, an actual physical store!), handed over the counter 999 NIS (which is about $250), and received in exchange a beautiful black box containing the entire collection. On the way home I opened the box with excitement, took out "Revolver", put it into the car CD player, and enjoyed the familiar tunes.

When I got home, I did what I always do when I buy a new music discs. I inserted the disc into my Windows 7 Media Center machine, planning to rip the music into my Media Library so that I can listen to it like I listen to the rest of my music. After I am done ripping, I usually put the original disc away in storage, because I have no real use for these plastic pieces anymore.

Not this time though. Windows recognizes the disc as a multimedia disc with videos and all, but does not see the music tracks.

I tried another disc from the box. Same result.

Continue reading The Beatles Remastered into useless obsolete plastic circles

More Digital Junk Please!

GeekCon 2009 took place last weekend, and was – as usual – tons of fun. There were so many cool projects this year – from the personal Kong-fu sound effects generator, to the amazing physical Tron game, the 3D Lunar Lander, the low-cost Matrix-like bullet-time studio,  the wheelchair arcade game, and so many others. (Get the never-up-to-date not-even-nearly-full list on the never-up-to-date GeekCon projects page).

I love taking photos in unconferences like this, there are always so many interesting things happening. But the thing is that being behind the lens has the effect of somewhat disconnecting you from the actual happening.

So this year,  I thought I’ll build a replacement for myself as my GeekCon project. Initially I called it the *ConAutoDoc, but shortly after we activated it for the first time I came to the conclusion that "The Rabid Digital Junk Photos Generator" would be a much better name.


Yes. Rabid:

Continue reading More Digital Junk Please!

From TFileLinkedList to Project Voldemort

I am leaving soon for Seedcamp week 2009 at London, where I will be mentoring as well as participating in a panel on Scaling and Performance (with Blaine Cook, Vijay Pandurangan, James Aylett, and Matt Biddulph). And this got me thinking.

I remember my first job interview. It was back at 1991, and I was interviewed by Ron Loewy for a developer job.

Ron asked me to tell him about things I’ve done before. Having done 3 commercial projects already as a freelancer self-taught developer, I described them. They all involved long term storage / query mechanisms of some sort, and Ron asked me to describe what I used for storage.

Now, the only data structure I knew at that point was Linked List. I also knew a bit of OO that I picked up from the Object Oriented Programming Guide booklet that shipped with Turbo Pascal 5.5. So I came up with FileLinkedList (TFileLinkedList in TP-speak), which descendant from my LinkedList class. And that is what I used for storage and query in these 3 projects.

Ron listened patiently while I described my incredibly versatile FileLinkedList, waited for me to finish, and then asked – so, ever heard of a database?

Continue reading From TFileLinkedList to Project Voldemort

Tel Aviv Innovation BootCamp October 11, 2009

Esther Loewy from Bootcamp Ventures sent me a note telling me that they will be holding another Bootcamp in Tel Aviv on October 11, 2009.

The format is the usual (and effective) Bootcamp format:

  • 30 Second Elevator Pitch
  • 8 Minute Investor Presentation
  • Network with targeted c-level investors in an intimate & interactive environment
  • Receive on-the-spot feedback from leading angels, under-the radar-funds and venture capitalists from the US, Israel and Europe

On the "Drill Sergeant" Panel this time:

Continue reading Tel Aviv Innovation BootCamp October 11, 2009


evolutionIt’s a good thing that Satan is so behind the times.

All these eons spent crafting complex traps to get people to sign that infamous contract where they sell their soul to the devil. All that human suffering that led to the creation of Faust and of the category AT 756B.

So much wasted effort, when today all it really takes is a reasonably popular (preferably viral) web app, a well crafted TOS, and a "Yes, I agree to the terms of service" checkbox.

Do you read these terms of service? I usually scan them quickly, which is probably more than most people do. But this quick scan will probably not be enough to reveal clause 666b, which says "Furthermore, by using the Service you agree to provide the Devil with an eternal non-revocable complete ownership license for your soul".

Back when Facebook did that controversial change to its terms of service I’ve discussed with some friends a way to avoid this finely crafted trap. My suggestion consisted of the following components:

Continue reading SellYourSoul.com