Thursday, December 21, 2006

8 Types of Burning Man Attendees

I don't remember if I've written this post before, but I got a bunch of visits from some burners so here goes.
  1. Hippies
    Sad but true, there are a lot of hippies at burning man. They eat terrible vegan food, do a lot of yoga, and spin fire. The good news is that you can easily keep them away by cooking bacon in front of your camp.

  2. Yuppies
    Just like regular life, the hippies and yuppies travel together. This is because they are the exact same people, one group is just 10 years older. I actually prefer the yuppies, which I guess makes me a yuppie. They're less self-righteous that the hippies, and they have good cheese.

  3. Rednecks
    A lot of first-timers are surprised by the number of real live rednecks. They drive trucks, hunt, drink cheap beer, fight wars, and vote republican (though they still dislike Bush). They also have way more fun than anyone else. Plus they have really nice generators that they keep around in case they need to go off the grid for a few years. Try to get to know the rednecks.

  4. Software Engineers
    These guys (they are almost all guys, like the rednecks) do a few good things for burning man.
    1) They build all the cool techy stuff, like super LED flash walls and video feedback systems.
    2) They pay for everything with their fat technology salaries.
    I like these guys because I'm sorta one of them.

  5. Retirees
    Another underestimated group, these folks show up in their RV's and seem very prepared because they spend the whole year going from one event to the next, or hanging out in Slab City. They are generally great if you can get them drunk. A large subcategory of this group is the Shirtcockers.

  6. Frat Boys
    Frat boys are bad people who should be destroyed. My policy is to treat every frat boy as if he is a cop. We know you're a narc, narc.

  7. Fetishists
    These are seemingly normal people who usually keep their weird fetish private, but for one week a year they feel free to let it all hang out. I once saw a dude totally naked chained to a board next to the road with the words "caught masturbating" written on his chest in magic marker. He was having the time of his life. These people are great because they scare off the toursists

  8. Burners
    These are the people who make the event happen, and who live the lifestyle year round. They're easy to spot:
    1) They have a funny name, like Dookie or Bloody Knuckles.
    2) They seem to be doing exactly what they want to do.
I like to think that I'm at least half Burner, even though my name is just Jonathan and I have a steady software job. I honestly hope I'm more Yuppie than Hippie, which is pretty likely since I have a Schwab account. (And I opened it myself; a surprising number of dirty hippies have trust funds.) I'm not a Frat Boy or a Fetishist, unless snacks count as a fetish. I aspire to be a redneck retiree by Burning Man 25.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Cool, simple mobile product

I just heard about Teleflip, a new service that lets you send a text message to any US phone by emailing [mobilenumber]

I bring this up because it reminds me of a little story. At Yahoo a few years ago we were working on a project to allow users to register for Yahoo over a mobile device. Believe it or not, this service is still not available. It's been *years*.

Anyway, I had this clever idea: just give everyone in the world a yahoo account by making every phone number a yahoo account. If you phone number is 1-555-1212 then your yahoo ID is You send a password txt to your number to confirm your account and that's it.

The service would spread virally when people sent messages to friends. We would convert any email to txt for free, and when users replied we would get a cut of the mobile-originated txt message fee. If it was a landline we could place a voice call and read the message with text-to-speech. We could put ads in any un-used space (i.e. a 10 character txt message has 150 characters free for ads). Users could opt out any time, make black/white lists, forward messages to an email address, etc. We'd have to build a good anti-spam system, but we already had the carrier relationships and most of the technology to make it work.

I still think this is one of the best ideas I had while working there. Actually, thinking about it now, this was one of the best ideas I've ever had. But I couldn't get anyone to go with it. Maybe I'm wrong and it's a dumb idea, or maybe I just did a bad job of promoting it, but mostly I think it was just too bold. It was an end-run around the mobile carriers, and it was a huge, market changing concept. Yahoo couldn't handle that kind of thing.

Around that time all the talk was of "game changers." Each group was challenged to come up with some really huge ideas that would change a whole market. This was one of mine. (The other was a totally free ad-supported mobile carrier.) Neither of them were seriously considered by anyone but myself.

It's fashionable to criticize Yahoo this week, so this is my contribution. These were two bold ideas promoted by a low level employee that were dismissed immediately. Maybe they would have been huge money sinks, but maybe they would have been real game changers. Yahoo (and I) will never know.

I'll keep my eye on Teleflip and see how they do. I wish them the best. And if they want a couple hours of free consulting I'm available; I'd like to meet some people who are thinking big.