Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Omidyar speaks

I can't make this. Let me know what he says if any of you go!

The lecture entitled, "A Discussion with Hawaii's Own Pierre Omidyar," is scheduled for Wednesday, January 27, 2010 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the UH Manoa Campus Center Ballroom. Pierre Omidyar is the founder and chairman of eBay.

Expalnation for non-Hawaii readers of POT: Omidyar is setting up an online news service in Honolulu that will have serious potential to shake up the news business for the better.


Mr. Pony said...

I'm going to go. Anyone else? I'm going to call soon (registration's required).

Mr. Pony said...

Registration is full. Going to have to sneak in. Downloading old blueprints of Campus Center Ballroom, looking for secret entrances and flaws in building security.

Now who's interested?

Litcube said...

Fuck, I am.

odori said...

I'm impressed you got through, Mr. Pony!! You will have to share how you did it.

I'm curious to hear how it went. I was talking with a coworker about Omidyar's venture this afternoon. We both think it's promising, but the more we got talking the more skeptical we both became.

Possibly the biggest challenge will be finding the right reporters and editors. The most talented journalists would be from the mainland, but these people most likely have no clue about Hawaii. Or even worse, they would have very strange ideas about Hawaii. They might produce oddly focused news.

But if they hire all local editors and writers, the product may not be much better than the Advertiser or Star-Bulletin. Which would be a letdown.

As for using lots of citizen-journalists -- I don't think this is very wise as you'd get a bunch of people obsessed with whales writing about environmental policies. Putting out stuff written by activists is not a good way to offer readers a broad, comprehensive view of what's happening. I wouldn't want to get my news from activists. I would stop reading if a lot of their stuff was by activists.

So, it will be interesting to see what happens. I'm hopeful for them, and excited. I hope they succeed - and am looking forward to see what they do.

Mr. Pony said...

So yes, I made it in. I didn't really have to sneak in, either. Whenever someone asked me if I was supposed to be there I stood tall, and proclaimed, "That's a stupid question."

So anyway, this talk was sponsored by the Shidler College of Business, and there were a great many business school students in attendance, so the questions were very much about entrepreneurship, and Omidyar spent a good chunk of time talking about what it was like starting eBay.

Turns out the eBay feedback system grew out of a need to deal with the mountain of complaints he was getting. Instead of policing the site, he built a system where users could rate other users, and police the site themselves.

The thing that was so remarkable (and is still remarkable) about that that particular feedback system is that users can continue to protect their privacy by hiding their identities, but the most essential bit of information about them, how they do business, is a publicly constructed matter of public record. On a commerce site, this is the only bit of information that actually has any value—and sellers and buyers alike work hard to maintain it.

And thus, trust. Trust over the Internet, from a species bred to trust based on handshakes, and eyeball management. Kind of weird. Kind of wonderful.

He really only glossed over Peernews. The audience, and the moderator, seemed more interested in how to start a company that will make you a kabillion dollars.

One thing he did hint at was a link between the eBay feedback system, and the people he hoped to be discussing the local content generated by Peernews. He said this several times during the talk, "If you give people the right tools, they can do amazing things." Here, he said something about the discussion by real people of civic issues leading to the generation of solutions. This caused me to kind of guffaw.

(This was because I know that the Internet makes everyone into an unbridled assholes!)

But like I said, I think he was hinting at something here. He managed to create a system (possibly by accident, but whatever), that crowdsourced and distilled the very essence of commerce into something more direct and pure than the model it was based on.

I mean, if he can think of a mechanism to make people not act like opinionated dickheads on the Internet, and instead work together to find solutions to real problems, then he should screw the news thing, and bottle this and quadruple his net worth. I'm not sure. The whole thing was a little vague, probably because they're still putting it together. Maybe I was reading too much into it.

Excellent points about starting a news thing here. All places are unique; Hawaii doubly so. Yes, it's exactly twice as unique. I grew up here, and I still find it confusing. Maybe I should read more local news!

And yes, crowdsourcing the news (if that's what 'citizen journalism' means) does seem to pose unique problems. People on the internet do things they're passionate about. That's why they do them so well, and for free. Very much at odds with the dictionary definition of good journalism. ('Citizen journalism' wasn't mentioned in the talk, either—there was precious little said about Peernews.)

Anyway, the whole thing will be online at some point (follow Odori's link). Litcube, I hope we get the chance to infiltrate a facility together at some point in our short, short lives.

Lungclops said...

Can you draw a picture of a bridled asshole to be included in the pool of "Today will be like this" images? Thank you.

Galspanic said...

I second that. Does anyone find it slightly odd that he's calling it Peer news, and his name is Pierre? i mean....come on.

I'm more interested in what he plans to do with Maui Land & Pineapple.

You know Gaius Baltar's father was a farmer...

Mr. Pony said...

Someone brought up "pierrenews" and he did a little body language facepalm at himself. I think he sees that as a minor error.

odori said...

Thanks Mr. Pony!

It'll be very interesting if Omidyar tries to use the eBay feedback system on the news site. I doubt it would help as much, because when people are using eBay they have a financial incentive to get good reviews from other users. Users want others to trust them and buy their stuff. But I don't think commentators would really care if other users liked or hated them. Some people on news sites appear to get a perverse joy out of provoking other people with outlandish remarks.

Would be an interesting experiment though.

I should have figured the audience at the business school would primarily be interested in tips Omidyar had for making billions of dollars.

I wonder if the students stopped to consider that Omidyar, Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and others never went to business school...

odori said...

oh, and i too am interested to see what omidyar does with supporting non-sugar and non-pineapple agriculture on maui.

Mr. Pony said...

It's true, I can't imagine a system that would discourage opinionated dickheadery when it comes to commenting on news or discussing local problems. Even if the mask of anonymity were somehow neutralized, constructive discussion might not win the day. We have such poor role models when it comes to voicing our opinions. FOX News and MSNBC both do what they do because it's incredibly popular.

And some issues are probably impossible to discuss--The most often-heard voices in the two sides of the gay marriage debate each think the other side is composed of evil world-ending monsters.

Again, I may have read too much into this connection. Maybe the discussion component is completely unrelated to the feedback system.