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John Battelle – The a:c IMterview 

October 18, 2004

The a:c is pleased to unveil its first IMterview: an interview conducted over Instant Messenger. The idea is to engage in a quick dialogue using the desktop app which – for better or for worse – now serves as one of the most common platforms for the exchange of information.
Our first IMterview is with John Battelle, media entrepreneur and commentator. His credentials include: Original Managing Editor of Wired Magazine and Founder & CEO of The Industry Standard. Props to John for a solid and varied recovery from the turmoil at Wired and the Standard. He is currently: a visiting professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism (on leave), a columnist for Business 2.0, a conference organizer for Web 2.0, a daily blogger on Searchblog, a consultant for Boing-Boing & O’Reilly, and a soon-to-be published author of a book chronicling search and, in particular, the rise and IPO of Google. He’s also working on a media project to be announced.
Battelle Comfy-chairs with Jerry Yang
The a:c: What was the most provocative
session or debate at last week’s event?
JBat: Most provocative – Larry Lessig
and Cory Doctorow. Both were calls to
arms. Best debate: probably the Marc
Andreessen/Dan Rosensweig talk
. It was
at least the most entertaining for me!
JBat: Of course, Andrew
of Adult Friend Finder was
provocative – but in an unexpected way:
We can learn a lot from the adult industry….
The a:c: And what were Andreessen and
Rosensweig discussing?
JBat: Data lock in. Lessons of the past.
The browser wars. A slew of things.
The a:c: Did you have the feeling that
people were turning their noses up at
the Friendfinder guy?
JBat: wait….phone call
The a:c: Sure.
JBat: OK sorry.
JBat No, I think the audience
really liked Andrew’s presentation. I
worked really hard with each presenter on
what they might say, and who the audience
was, and what they might value.
The a:c: OK, turning to your book: who
gave you the best interview for the book?

JBat: That’s very very hard to say. I
have done hundreds of interviews. Many
stand out. Brewster Kahle. Eric Schmidt.
Jonathan Kleinberg. Mary Meeker. Ex
Google employees who I can’t mention.
The works.
The a:c: Knowing what you now know, which
horse would you bet on: Google or Yahoo?
JBat: The answer is both. This is not a
winner takes all market. Yahoo clearly
has the edge on productization, data
lock in, breadth of services. Google
has the edge in search, brand, and a
few more ephemeral qualities. I think
they are both winners, though they are
very distinct cultures.
The a:c: If we had to read one other
Silicon Valley book, which would it be?
JBat: I’d wait for the Grandaddy of the
all, John Heilemann’s “The Valley”.
JBat: (S/B “them”)
The a:c: Do you recommend James Ledbetter’s
book on the Standard
or Gary Wolf’s book
on Wired
JBat: Pass.
JBat: (I do like Gary’s work)
The a:c: Now the question you
probably hear most – was it possible for
The Standard or The Herring to survive the
burst bubble?
JBat: Yes.
JBat: Look at the market now.
JBat: It would support a strong
publication that covered the Internet
industry and its implications. It would
have required significant financial
rejiggering, which ultimately the
owners of the Standard (and I presume
the Herring) did not have the stomach
The a:c: You wrote about problems with the
Internet strategies of the Journal and
today. In their coverage, do
major media outlets still not “get” the
JBat: They get it. Or rather, it gets
JBat: But like many industries where
the cost base is built upon assumptions
that no longer are firm…
JBat: …they are suffering from the classic
innovator’s dilemma. Their cost base, and
therefore their revenue assumptions, are
based on CPM models of print advertising
that do not translate well to the web.
JBat: However, there are great businesses
to be made publishing quality content on
the web.
JBat: They just don’t have cost centers
based on moving shitloads of atoms around,
nor are they based on spending $50-$100
per person on subscription acquisition.
Those models are under serious pressure.
JBat: Advertising *should* be
more effective, lower cost, and higher
ROI in an online, interactive world.
JBat: That’s just a fact.
The a:c: Can you give us any hints about
your next project that you are working on
and what’s happening with BoingBoing?
JBat: For BB, I am “band manager.” That
means I help the band – Mark, Cory, Xeni,
David – make decisions about the business
of BB. What advertisers to accept, what
policies we have, how we might approach
various opportunities that arise. It’s a
very good group and it works very well,
because it’s small. We want to keep it
that way.
JBat: As for my next project, once I finish
(God willing) the book, it has to do with
the things I pointed out about publishing
above. I have some ideas that have formed
from my experience blogging, working with
BB, succeeding and failing with the
Standard, and learning about search through
my book.
JBat: One thing I can tell you, it will have
as its core driver the thing I think is most
valuable in any publishing endeavor: high
quality editorial with voice, a point of
view, and a strong connection to an endemic
community. Beyond that, I’m keeping quiet
till I know what I might be getting myself
into. We’ll see….
The a:c: Fantastic John.
Thanks a lot and best of luck with the book;
everything else. We’ll have this up on the
a:c shortly.


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