Living the Justopian Life

Buenos Aires Tulip Close up

Tulip on Libertador in Buenos Aires, Argentina — Opens and Closes with the Sun

The Next Big Thing?

Justin Kan just might be on to The Next Big Thing. If you’ve seen featured on The Today Show or ABC’s Nightly News, heard him on NPR’s All Things Considered, or followed him on MTV, or, if you saw Kan’s face splashed all over the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle, you’ll recognize him as the twenty three year old Yale Graduate who wears a web cam on his head 24/7, streaming his life live to the world via the internet. Justin, along with his college and elementary school buddies Emmett, Michael and Kyle, along with Lindsay, their producer share a not too neat suite in San Francisco and hope to ride this idea to media superstardom and beyond. They’ve done pretty well so far. But I doubt they have what it takes to join the ranks of the Internet 2.0 success stories.

How do I know? Because I worked as a small cog in a big wheel at one of the biggest Internet 1.0 success stories, America Online. And Justin Kan, you are no Steve Case.

Good Running Man

The AOL Running Man

Who is Justin Kan?

I begin this rant with a nod to Justin Kan. The Justin Kan of WHO the hell, you are most likely asking, is Justin Kan and WHAT is That surprises me. I realize I’ve been home, held captive by Television, my own iTunes mixes and my knitting needles since the December 13 AOL layoffs, but could it be true that I am the only one in my town, once touted as the Silicon Valley of the East that has been sucked into the 24/7 life of a 23 year old not-quite-grown-up that thinks he has hit on “The Next Big Thing?”

Justin has surrounded himself with college cronies and even some impressive names in the high tech VC world, Paul Graham to name one. The audience he has engendered appears to be nothing more than the offspring of the original chat room regulars of the early consumer driven internet days who spent their idle hours lurking or stalking, looking to shock the unknowing, inexperienced paying members of something that was so new that even the employees of the company didn’t know how to handle what was going on in the crowded chat rooms, behind the scenes in email or in the secret “whispers” of instant messages that spanned the globe with the speed of light.

The (JTV) Draw

At about the time I became a full-fledged employee of the wonder-child of the start-up world, I fell out of love with chat rooms. I realized I could actually make friends IRL – In Real Life — with people that could form full sentences, could probably spell the words used in the sentences and could hold their temper or curb their erotic fantasies rather than subjecting any unwitting stranger to the inane, banal insanity of it all. I am the first to admit that chat rooms are what drew me to AOL. I do not deny that I had my share of dates set up by virtual meetings with guys in the Virginian’s Online chat room on AOL, but the novelty quickly wore off.

After a nearly 12 year career with AOL, finding myself at home, alone most days with my laptop and other electronics surrounding me in my high-brow penthouse condo with views of the Shenandoah mountains beyond the Dulles Headquarters of AOL, Network Solutions, Microsoft, Computer Associates, Oracle and countless other high tech behemoths, I am locked into another chat room life, but this time it comes with 24/7 video of Justin Kan and his banal escapades around San Francisco.

If you listen to Justin, he is the visionary, the only clever one in this brain trust of Yale graduates that had the genius to believe he was onto “The Next Big Thing,” That thing is tuning in to his “Lifecast” to watch him do everything from being on a panel at a UC Berkley sponsored venture capitol contest to careening down Lombard Street on a lime green plastic Hot Wheels trike, to taking women out on blind dates, using the bathroom, complaining about having to clean the apartment, going out to eat, and most recently as a participant in a number of Web2.0 events. He also seemed to enjoy opening his mailbox and reading the mail that was beginning to populate his once empty box, but once the mail began to criticize or just be adolescent-crazed lunacy, the readings stopped. It looks like he might be running short on friends and acquaintances willing to pony up and pull their wallets out to pay for the lunches and dinners he’s been enjoying. If he stops enjoying the “fans” and looses these money-offering friends, what will he be left with?

What Do People from Justin’s IRL Enconters Have to Say?

I had a lengthy conversation with one of his pre-launch dates who lamented that although Justin asked her out, he expected her to pay 1/2 of the dinner bill. That didn’t go over well, but this seemingly quiet, attractive, intelligent, respectful young woman with Southern charm (all this I believed to be true from a day of Yahoo Messenger convo’s), didn’t stop at just one date. She tried two more times until she finally realized the guy was just a user. He seemed to want more than a first or second date and that was enough to cause her to say done, fini, the end, I’ll go back to my modeling career now, thank you very much.

The lucky thing for her is that she did not date him after the launch of His lack of respect for anyone that didn’t wave the I Love Justin flag would have landed her on his “lifecast” with profane language insults and laughs all around from the business partners that litter his apartment, to say nothing of what the talk in the chatrooms would have turned to. He disses his sponsors, the venture capitalists that seem to want to befriend him, Ann Curry for “blind-siding” him with questions he wasn’t expecting during his Today Show interview, the bloggers he meets IRL, his parents, the grand institution of UC Berkley that invited him to be on a panel of experienced entrepreneurial “peers”. These are just a few of the people or entities he chooses to take off on during his 24/7 broadcast.

The ones he scowls against most though, are his so-called fans. The ones he cannot afford to trash if he wants to make a go of

Voyeurs are Fans <——> Fans are Voyeurs

I choose to call us voyeurs, not fans. Yes, those of us who find ourselves tuning in to watch and listen to the insanity or mind-numbingly boring antics of a filthy apartment-dwelling Yale graduate and his buddies allegedly working their fingers to the bone to make this “Next big thing” a success that they can continue building on, or sell to a buyer that offers the right price. Last time Justin and his buddies launched the “Next big thing,” Kiko Calendar, Google launched at about the same time and they put their product up for sale on eBay. As Justin explains, they had a “fire sale” and unloaded the thing, or so it is reported on a couple of websites, including Tucow’s who claim to have purchased Kiko for $258,000. After paying back the Kiko investors, or rolling the money back into the new venture, they were funded again.

Now Justin and friends are into something that may actually be “The next big thing,” but without any interest in customer satisfaction, I am not sure how they will realize success. When I say customer, I am talking about those that both pay and do not pay to be involved with The sponsors they have signed are, to the viewer’s eye, few and are treated poorly. They have hung the banners on the walls of an apartment that’s used for business and living far from view of the low-resolution web cam Justin has strapped to his baseball cap all day and night. The online banner ads fall below the fold on the average-sized computer monitor, so without making the effort or having any need to scroll down the page, the ads go totally unnoticed. I am taking a leap here, but assume that they want more companies to sponsor them?

Is it Time for Customer Service 101?

The other customers are the ones that don’t pay for “privilege” of watching Justin’s life any time of the night or day for as long as they wish. The “fans” as he calls us, surf over to and can watch his life with or without the inflammatory chat running beneath the video and can participate in the insanity with nothing more than signing up – no personal information is culled during the 3 line sign-up process – Username, Password, Password Confirmation. He has talked about web hits in interviews, but never seems to have a solid idea of what the size of the audience truly is. He does make mention of spikes in viewers which seem to relate to media coverage, but nothing statistically valid. It seems that he depends on the chat room counter that appears at the top of the chat window, however, it is possible that web guy, Emmett may have something more reliable up his sleeve.

Beware – don’t try to ask that question or make a suggestion, no matter how sophisticated or logical or intelligent it may be, or you’ll surely end up on the hot side of a flame from Justin or Emmett or Michael. Kyle doesn’t seem to have much of a voice; he seems to prefer to stand in the background, quietly going about his business developing what’s needed to do his part to make this thing technically successful. They have a long way to go, but if they can keep their attention long enough, and perhaps listen to their adoring “fans,” perhaps they will create some raving fans that will make it more than a case study for a failed business venture, more than a flash in the pan internet experiment.

It’s difficult to determine what the biggest draw to the phenomenon is; the 24/7 lifecast or the chat rooms. If chat continues in this manner, his audience may pique out with the school season coming to a close, and the allure of the beach or community pool scene drawing hormonally crazed chat participants away from their computers for the summer.

Justin, buddy, listen up. The 25 year old and under generation that you tout being your audience are not the target to go after. It’s the 78.5 million (as reported by the US Census Bureau in July, 2005) baby boomers that are set to begin retiring next year and will need something to spend their time doing and reading and watching and yes, spending what disposable income they have that you probably want to turn your attention to. Ask your Y-Combinator pal, Paul, he’s one of us. If he thinks you have a great idea, it might be worth listening to him rather than mocking him when he leaves the room next time.


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