The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.
Feb 9, 2014


On Saturday, February 1st, I launched Project Lizzie, a storytelling effort that’s built upon 99 postcards that were postmarked between 1904 and 1925. I first wrote about the project in a September 2012 post entitled Adding Measurable Value with Story. Since publishing that post, I’ve been working to uncover the life story of a woman whom I’ve never met, nor to the best of my knowledge, have any family connection to.

I’ve followed clues from both digital and analog artifacts–from online services like Google and–to snail-mailing city clerks to acquire death certificates. And I’ve learned something: for every mystery that I solve, new mysteries surface. The journey has lead me to old cemeteries and libraries where clues were etched into everything from stone to microfiche.

The Project Lizzie website is a platform that offers visitors multiple ways to interact with the story. If you want to simply follow the story, just read the it from the very beginning. If you want to spend some time flipping through all 99 of the postcards, visit the project’s Postcard Gallery. And, finally, if you want to take a more active role in the storytelling, you can either start your own research or accept some of the Special Assignments.

For me, the most satisfying part of the project’s launch were the reactions from visitors. For example, just twelve hours into the project, educators were tweeting about how the project could be used as a teaching tool for students. It just goes to show what can happen when smart people are allowed to use a platform for things that they are passionate about.

Please feel free to visit both the Project Lizzie website and the Project Lizzie Facebook Page.

Filed under: Social Media

Dec 26, 2013


Last year I wrote a post entitled Amazon KOLL Turns One, describing the success of the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Since another year has passed, I decided to revisit the subject. At the end of that article, I noted that Amazon had doubled its $700,000 monthly investment to $1.4 million for December 2012. Based on what appeared to be a goal to put $2.00 per borrow into the hands of authors, I anticipated that  700,000 books would be borrowed. Looking backward, Amazon crushed that number, lending 744,000 books (the highest number loaned in a one month period during the entire two years of the program).

  2013 2012 change
Funded $13,400,000 $7,300,000 83%
Borrowed 6,030,738 3,563,424 69%
Royalty $2.22 $2.05 8.5%

In its second year (Dec 2012- Nov 2013), Amazon has increased its investment significantly, adding another $13.4 million, an increase of 83% over the first year. The average royalty/book paid to authors also increased from $2.05 in the first year to $2.22 in the second.

The only potential hiccup in the “$2.00 per loan” assumption is Amazon’s December 2013 commitment of $1.1 million to the fund–21% lower than last December’s number. Holding the number flat in what has been historically a peak borrowing month offers us three scenarios:

  1. Amazon is expecting the number of borrowed books to drop from last year’s 744,000 to 550,000, thus holding the royalty per borrow at $2.00.
  2. Based on an estimated 25% growth rate, Amazon may be anticipating 940,000 books loaned in December, translating into authors’ royalties of $1.18 per book–26% lower than the lowest payout since the program started ($1.60).
  3. Perhaps a hybrid of the two. For example, if we see a 25% December over December increase to 940,000 books borrowed, a $1.87 million dollar investment would be required to hold royalties to about $2.00. Perhaps, Amazon is planning on covering the difference by adding another $780,000 retroactively?

Either way, the program and the business model seems strong. To date, Amazon has distributed $20.7 million to authors after lending 9.5 million of their books. It’ll be interesting to see what a third year brings.

Update: In Amazon’s January 2014 Newsletter, they mentioned that 591,000 books were loaned and that authors got $1.86 per borrow.  Therefore, it appears that the situation reflects scenario #1.


Filed under: Social Media

Aug 5, 2013

The Networked Company

Frank is a very smart guy who works for a large utilities company. He knows more about the intricacies of enterprise software than any other human being that I know. He’s passionate about the stuff.

During a recent conversation at a friend’s party, he described an idea to build enterprise software that would solve the database woes of most large corporations. Although his description went over my head, he was convinced that if he had the right investors and enough capital, that he could build this software.

“How much will you need?” I asked.

“About $40 million to start,” he said.

“40 million?” I blurted. The amount sounded so…umm…old fashioned to me.

“Yeah,” he answered, matter-of-factly.

“Do you know other people who are as passionate about solving this problem as you are?” I asked.

He thought for a moment, nodded, and said, “Yes.”

“Then why not consider building this product as an open source project?”

Frank looked at me as if I had asked him to calculate the square root of fifty-three without a calculator.

I tried to explain. Rather than trying to find investors willing to fund $40 million into a startup company, he could start much smaller and thus less risky company whose job is to orchestrates the building of the software.  By writing the spec, partitioning the design, prioritizing the modules, and ultimately showing how they’ll all come together into a single road map, his company would become the worldwide expert in the new software.

He wasn’t convinced. “But how will I make any money?”

“If your big solution is as valuable as you say it is,” I said,  “there will be plenty of money available.” I explained that companies needed to be convinced to use the software. Once convinced, the software must be installed. And, if the solution was as valuable Frank said, companies will still need the help of consulting services to integrate it with their existing platforms.

“The key to getting paid is the fact that you know the problem and the solution inside and out. That highly specialized knowledge creates opportunities to explore new business models.”

An odd moment of silence filled the air. Soon, we changed the subject to our families. And while we both explained what our kids were doing in September, I had the feeling that we were both thinking, yet not saying, the same thing.

“That guy is nuts.”

Filed under: Social Media