Interviewing Walter Isaacson

I had the great fortune to interview Walter Isaacson about his Jobs biography earlier this week for my Keen On... TechcrunchTV show. It's a four part interview which you can watch here, here & here. The fourth part, on Apple's walled-garden business model, will run on Monday. Isaacson's biography, in spite of objections from Steve worshipers like John Gruber, is really rich and fair and explains why Jobs was both such a genius and a jerk. For me, the most memorable anecdote in the book is on page 405. Having argued with his senior team about whether to allow the iPod to work with Windows software (Jobs was against, everyone else in favor), Jobs finally threw in the towel. But, as Isaacson notes, Jobs "never won  any awards for gracious concession speeches".

"Screw it," Jobs eventually conceded to his senior team about porting the iTunes software ans store to Windows. "I'm sick of listening to you assholes. Go do whatever the hell you want."

Therein lies the peculiarly consensual genius of the tyrannical Steve Jobs.




Keen On: Why Google Is Now A Social Company

It was a first. Yesterday, we were fortunate to welcome Google’s two principle architects of Google+, Vic Gundotra (VP Social) andBradley Horowitz (VP Product), to the TechcrunchTV studio in San Francisco for an extended interview about what they call their “project”. So what is Google+? As Gundotra told me yesterday, it is an attempt to “understand people” and to make human relationships the heart of the Google experience. Both Horowitz and Gundotra acknowledge that this is a major project, something that may, in the future, redefine the company. This unGoogle-like goal to,as Horowitz said, put “people first”, may well, in the long run, transform Google from a algorithmic company to a social one.

Gundotra and Horowitz believe that today’s social web has only scratched the service of how to make the Internet into a truly human experience. Google+ is their attempt to transform Google into the leading player of the social age. It’s a massively important project, one that will define the company’s significance in the Web 3.0 age.

Thanks to our readers for sending in so many questions. Many questions came in asking when Google+ was going to add a certain feature. But, to each of these questions, the oracular Horowitz and Gundotra would only say “in the future.” That question and non-answer, therefore, was going to get old pretty quick and I thus mostly avoided this kind of (non)conversation. Many comments were also very specific questions about functionality which weren’t really appropriate for this kind of broad interview. That said, the Google team were happy to hear all the comments and are reviewing the feedback we generated.

Keen On… A Super Sad True Love Story

America’s most talented writers are discovering the electronic network. In “Super Sad True Love Story,”Gary Shteyngart’s best selling trip into the digital future, Shteyngart invents a darkly disturbing world in which we all wear electronic pendants around our necks called “apparats” which reveal everything about us to everybody. In the future, he tells us, privacy will be dead and our blazingly public lives will be broadcast by transparent ranking networks (think Klout and Peer Index on steroids). But, as Shteyngart told me when I caught up with him yesterday, the real challenge for today’s writer is that the future has already arrived. “You can’t make this stuff up”, he told me, while explaining that the present no long exists and that his most fantastic literary inventions such as entirely transparent onion-skin jeans (which reveal all our most intimate jewels) are more than simply figments of his sparkling imagination.

Keen On… Don’t Steal This Book

“Steal this book,” wrote Abbie Hoffman in 1970. So, today, why should we pay for our books – especially in a digital age where intellectual theft is both ubiquitous and pretty much risk free?

According to Gary Shteyngart, the best-selling author of novels like “Super Sad True Love Story” and “Absurdistan,” paying for his books means that he doesn’t have to work at a gas station or a car dealership. When we pay for one of his books, Shteyngart explained when we spoke earlier this week, it “allows me to produce more work.” Buying a book, he insists, represents an investment in creativity.

And creativity – real creativity – may be at a premium today – at least according to Shteyngart. As he argues, the Internet may be killing our eccentricity and transforming all of us into 140-character conformists. Thus, in today’s networked age, he says, there is an acute need for writers who can grab our attention and drag us away from broadcasting our boring selves on Facebook and Twitter.

Why a Squirrel Dying on Your Front Lawn Isn’t More Important Than Somebody Starving in Africa

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Eli Pariser’s New York Times best-selling new book, has been applauded by net skeptics like Jaron Lanier and Evgeny Morozov as well as digital optimists like Clay Shirky and Craig Newmark. It’s an important book which argues that leading websites like Google and Facebook are delivering personalized information to us, thereby shielding Internet users from the broad news and ideas that traditional newspapers delivered to us. Pariser, who is the President of the Board of is concerned that the Internet isn’t living up to its original promise. And the Filter Bubble is a passionate polemic against Facebook and Google algorithms that simply serves up information that it believes the user wants to see. For Pariser, this is creating a less and less well informed public and compounding the ghettoization of contemporary intellectual and political life.

This is the first part of a two part interview with Pariser. Check in tomorrow to hear whether Pariser believes that progressives have lost faith in the Internet.


Peter Stern: How Cable TV Can Win Back Our Trust

As the Chief Strategy Officer at Time Warner Cable, Peter Stern is responsible for planning the long term future of America’s second largest cable company. Much of his job involves rebuilding both the appearance and reality of the cable industry in a 21st century world of ubiquitous online video and revolutionary consumption devices like the iPad.

Stern is at his most provocative in his acknowledgement that cable needs to rebuild trust with its customers. In our interview last week, he spoke about Time Warner Cable’s commitment to providing their customers with what he calls the “4 anys”: being able to watch any video content, anytime, on any device, anywhere. Most importantly, he stressed that a traditional cable provider like Time Warner Cable needed to change from selling products to providing their customers with great experiences such as his company’s new personal solutions agents.

This is the second part of a two part interview with Peter Stern. Check out yesterday’s interview, in which Stern explains why cable has a future and why it is the least expensive form of legal entertainment.

Peter Stern: Does Cable TV Have a Future?

Peter Stern is not only the Chief Strategy Officer at Time Warner Cable, but he’s also one of the smartest analysts of today’s complex media landscape. So it was a real honor to interview Stern last week in our New York City studio about why cable has a future, why the wired network is critical for wireless to succeed and why he believes that cable at, he says, an average price of 30 cents per hour, is the least expensive form of (legal) entertainment around.

Stern doesn’t pull his punches. He is brutally honest about how the illegal consumption of music has killed the music industry, why content on cable networks is ten times better than that on Netflix, why cable companies generally avoid a la carte pricing and why Network Neutrality legislation is a bad idea. This is essential viewing for anyone who loathes their cable company. It might even persuade you that cable companies like Time Warner Cable aren’t quite the evil empire that many of us love to hate.

This is a two part interview with Peter Stern. Check back tomorrow for his thoughts on the pricing of broadband, on Time Warner Cable’s iPad controversy and what cable companies need to do to regain the trust of their users.

Keen On… Ze Frank: Why the Future of Play is a “Hot Thing”

Ze Frank thinks that the future of play is a “hot thing.” That’s why he founded, his soon-to-be fully public startup. And that’s why he’s shifted his focus from stand-up entertainment to stand-up entrepreneurialism.

But why has he gone from being one of the web’s top entertainment stars to yet another star-struck startup guy? As he told me last week when he came into the TechCrunchTV studio, it’s because the future of play is a “hot thing” which is going to change both business and play. In Ze’s world, we are all going back to kindergarten, giving each other stars, learning how to be kids again.

But Ze wouldn’t be Ze without a few jokes. And the humor, of course, is self-referential, especially when (ha ha) it comes to imagining a business model for





Keen On… Ze Frank: Why We All Need to Go Back to Kindergarten

It’s Not Just Apple That Is Tracking Our Every Movement

Keen On… Scott Harrison: Water Changes Everything (TCTV)

Losing Independence

While big budget movies continue to be hurt by Internet theft, it's low- and mid-range films that are being damaged the most. With stolen revenue eating into returns, legislation and education are necessary so the next generation of independent directors will be able to survive.

     One of the Internet's greatest fallacies, its fishiest tale, is the idea of the "Long Tail." Popularized by Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, first in a 2004 magazine article and then in the bestselling 2006 book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, it argues that the Internet is an ideal distribution platform for independent filmmakers, musicians, and writers struggling to compete against the financial might of mass media conglomerates. By providing online stores with infinite shelf space, Anderson, among others, contend that the Internet balances the playing field between the large movie studios and the independent filmmaker and guarantees that a rich and deep catalogue of indie artists is always available to consumers.


Keen On… George Friedman: Why Technology Is American Culture

How important is the technology sector to the US economy? According to George Friedman, the author of the New York Times bestselling The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been…and Where We’re Going, technology is American culture. Rather than Coca-Cola, it has been the personal computer that has swept the world, spreading the American language and distributing the central American values of individual freedom and empowerment around the world.

While Friedman recognizes that other countries can copy US technology, he is bullish on American prospects in the 21st century because of our unrivalled skills in marketing. So where are we going in the next decade? According to Friedman, the iPad and Twitter aren’t fundamental technological breakthroughs. But he does think that we are on the brink of another technological revolution in non silicon, non binary based computing – a change, he says, that will have as profound an impact on the American economy as the personal computing revolution of the Eighties.