Sunday, December 24, 2006
I'll also probably have a post soon about India and its economic prospects. This place has been getting a ton of media attention, and I've always wanted to voice some of my opinions on the development going on here. In short, the dichotomy here is stunning. I'll leave you with that and the promise that the piece should be one of my best.
And, of course, a sincere Merry Christmas to all of you. Hope the holiday season is a great one for you and yours.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Confused? The magazine is honoring you, the empowered individual, in the wake of the re-emergence of the internet in our lives. The article quotes sites like YouTube, MySpace, and Wikipedia as examples of the growing influence each person has on the global online community.
I think it's great when the old media titans sit up and take notice of whats bubbling in Silicon Valley. Although, it's also usually humorous - apparently "Silicon Valley consultants call [today's internet] Web 2.0." Really? I didn't know we had consultants in the Valley, and that it was just them using the phrase...
The article is also a little creepy. When Time starts talking about the merits and beauty of Web 2.0, you know it's time to be scared that we're in a bubble. (I mean this is Time, not the Merc or Techcrunch or the rest.) Some proof:
America loves its solitary geniuses -- its Einsteins, its Edisons, its Jobses -- but those lonely dreamers may have to learn to play with others... We're looking at an explosion of productivity and innovation, and it's just getting started, as millions of minds that would otherwise have drowned in obscurity get backhauled into the global intellectual economy.
The funny part is, while they spend most of the article spewing the kind of babble written above, toward the end they caution, " it's a mistake to romanticize all this." And they close by calling Web 2.0 "a massive social experiment."
Nice article, overall. Always interesting to see the old media attempt to explain the latest buzz in the Valley, even if it results sensational journalism.
Note: I promised the profile of company that recently came out of stealth mode, and it's coming. A draft is in the works, and it should be up by Wednesday. Also, the blog may not see any action the 20th-30th, as I'll be in India. Just giving the heads up.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Recognize the quote from Boondock Saints? This is like that, except the monsignor is the San Jose Mercury News.
I've often wrote about or referenced the differences in the VC and start up environments between the coasts, but this time the Merc joins in on the fun. The San Jose paper discusses the various reasons that Silicon Valley is head and shoulders above the Least Coast, including reputation, universities (Stanford and Berkeley), and infrastructure.
I'm not going to bore you with my take on all of this - you can read some of my previous posts on the subject here and here. But for all the grief I give the east coast, I must say that, at the end of the day, it's really just different and not necessarily worse. The tendency towards traditional businesses and security, the lack of innovation, the call for obedience over risk-taking, and the self-justification and toleration of abysmal weather are hardwired into the community and part of the culture. (I had to throw that last one in there. It boggles my mind when people out here tell me they enjoy "the seasons.")
Thus from an entrepreneurial and start up standpoint (that of this blog, for example), this place (Philly and generally this entire coast) is far less desirable than back West. This also explains my tone and language when referring to the East (although my homesickness probably also plays into it).
So when I speak of the derogatorily of the East coast, know that it is only because I think it's awful, not necessarily because it actually is. :)
(Stay tuned for my first "exclusive" profile, of sorts, of a Silicon Valley start up that recently came out of stealth mode. It's not really an exclusive, but at least I'll be blogging about them before any of the big names do.)
Saturday, December 09, 2006
(By the way, note on that last post: I got myself out of bed with the flu to see those presentations, and, needless to say, I was a little disappointed with their quality. The piece may have reflected some of the ire I felt at the time, resulting in harsher than intended language. Finally, between VentureVoice picking up my post and it, like all my posts, being plastered on the home page of the Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs website, there's almost no way my professor didn't read my rant. If you're reading this, Professor, I didn't so much think the problem was you, but rather the structure and content of the class. You obviously have a wide knowledge base, and you could really spice up the content by getting away from the textbook. That said, I understand if you fail me. I probably deserve it.:)
On to Yahoo! So what happened? The long-awaited reorg, of course, a celebrated Valley tradition. Much like Apple employees used to jest back in the day, Yahoo workers joke that having an awful boss isn't a big deal - in 3 months, you'll have a new one.
Ok, down to specifics. This reorg dwarfs those in recent history. Yahoo established 3 divisions - Audience, Advertiser & Publisher, and Technology - to refocus their efforts. COO Dan Rosensweig will be resigning in March. CFO Sue Decker will be running the Advertising Group and CTO Zod Nazem the Tech group, while the Audience group head will be found in the coming weeks and months. Topix has a nice AP article here if you're more interested in the nitty giritty.
My thoughts are basically... what? The typical Silicon Valley reorg involves a lot more heads rolling. Only Rosensweig is leaving, and by most reports only because he didn't want to play second fiddle to Sue Decker. And CEO Terry Semel said no layoffs are planned. I'm confused as to actually what the reorg is, then. It doesn't seem like much has changed. Maybe the company is more focused internally, but Yahoo hasn't gotten lean and mean to address their many problems. The coming months will tell what, if anything, has changed.
But what should Yahoo do differently? This covers only a small part of their business, but Robert Young voiced an interesting opinion on GigaOm - that Yahoo should start a Facebook clone. I've been thinking someone should do this for a while, and Yahoo would be a good fit. The Facebook clone would be closed (like the old Facebook), addressing the ire of being in an open social network that some students are feeling (though this sentiment has declined). Basically, a Facebook clone aimed at high school and college kids with a few perks (video uploading, for example, and possibly some smart classified functionality) has a good chance of seriously challenging Facebook.
Yahoo would probably want to build a separate brand but link it to the Yahoo name (to encourage visibility). Lastly, Yahoo is in a good position to launch it, as they have vast resources to design and ship the social network cheaply and efficiently. Anyone have some other good ideas to save Yahoo?
Monday, December 04, 2006
Why the ire? I just got out of Marketing 281, a class entitled Entrepreneurial Marketing, where a couple groups presented their business plans. Let me share their gems with you...
(Side note to the groups that presented: You didn't make us sign NDAs, but I will still respect your wishes if you'd like me to remove presentation material from my blog. Email me or leave a comment. I'm only writing about your ventures to make a point, and I'd like to think that, despite having screen shots in your presentations and names for your companies, you aren't actually planning on executing your brilliant ideas.)
The first company, called Finedorms.com (they haven't launched yet, apparently), focused on providing tenants with a space to post residential openings for subletters. Ok. They dismiss craigslist as "not targeting the college market." Their presentation goes on. "Tenants looking for someone to sublet will pay a fee to post on the site." Really? And the kicker? Their financial statement. The team of 4 confidently believes that the rolling out of their site across campuses around the nation will allow them to make, by the 5th year, a whopping $70 grand. Investors, line up.
So these guys honestly believe that an increasingly tech savvy college population will shun the immensely popular craigslist and pay money (despite being cheap college kids) to the site to get their sublet ad looked at? And all this to accumulate an annual revenue that doesn't reach $70k till 5 years from now?
But the second presentation made the first look legit. Entitled eDough.com (the URL is taken, but they may be launching under a different name...), it featured an "off campus meal plan." In reality, their idea was a bank account that could be used only for food. Seriously. Their only selling point was that "parents can deposit money."
Are you kidding me? First off, after claiming that a significant portion of Penn's students orders food online, they failed to mention those same students order from Campusfood or EatNow. Not only is their entire functionality already covered by someone who has his parent's credit card linked to his EatNow or Campusfood account, but they're also completely vulnerable to the two companies implementing their product. While eDough is out doing the time-consuming stuff (negotiating deals with individual restaurants, setting up the website, etc.), all either of the two competitors has to do is implement a "bank account" function on their site to render eDough useless. And why again do college students want a way to limit what they can spend their money on...?
And Penn wonders why their precious school doesn't churn out high profile start ups. So where's the problem? In this case, part of it is apparent: the class itself is atrocious. For half a semester, I've listened to our Professor use the same Marketing 101 buzzwords in an attempt to describe what is different about getting the word out for start ups. And, for that half a semester, he's really said nothing.
For starters, our class has a textbook. A textbook on how start ups should market. Isn't the point of the class that start ups have to think outside the box? Symbolically, a start up is like antsy chameleon, jumping around, not knowing what it is or what it's really doing, always changing and evolving. No textbook can begin to cover the tenants of how the lizard should get its name out to the world, and (even if a textbook could,) especially not this one.
The problem starts pretty high up. Culturally, Wharton is a finance-hub, priding itself on producing finance drones who will go on to work 100+ hour weeks and make $100 grand+ a year. Going against the grain, following your dreams, and being different are highly discouraged (unless, of course, you're a management-drone who will do the above with 30 hours and $30k subtracted from the respective totals above).
And Wharton's culture pretty much fits in with the (l)east coast. But I aim to be constructive, and not just a whinny SOB. So what can be done?
First off, the classes need to be revamped. Don't call something Entrepreneurial Marketing if it's not. And the faculty could do with an upgrade - hiring people with credentials in entrepreneurship could go a long ways in giving class a degree of legitimacy. I mean, wouldn't you sit up and take notice if it were Josh Kopelman teaching a class about Entrepreneurial Marketing? Maybe that's a little unreasonable, but a Professor who references their own experiences in a class, especially about this subject, is far more influential than one who is constantly referencing some text. And as a whole, the classes need to focus on actual issues that face start ups, and they need to be taught by people who know what they're talking about and understand what we want from the class (that is, an oasis from Wharton's "fall into our cookie-cutter" mentality). Out with the textbooks and trite buzzwords and in with real discussion and real lessons.
Of course, this will all probably never happen. So how to solve the problem? Looks like we may have to take things into our own hands...
(Oh, and as a side note to the "drones" I referenced: Please don't take me seriously. I love you guys. And I believe you; you do love I-banking and consulting, and it's definitely been your dream since you were a kid. And you're definitely not a douche bag. Hugs and kisses.;)
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Luckily, the Valley has entered the lull between Turkey Day and the start of new year, so I haven't missed out on much. The biggest news from the past week-ish has probably been the release of the two next gen gaming platforms, Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Wii.
I actually had a draft of an analytical piece on the gaming market, focusing on the new platforms, but decided to trash it when I realized that, well, I don't know jack when it comes to video games. My favorite system is still probably N64 or even SNES, both from back in the day (you really can't beat Bond, Smash Bros., Mario Kart, and the rest). And I get smoked whenever I play Halo, but you can't blame me, those new controllers are so hard to figure out. Finally, forgetting to save the draft of the piece (as I was engrossed in Manchester United's riveting UEFA Champions League game) sealed the ensured that the post would never see the light of day.
Anywho, the point of that post was that I'm betting on the Wii to emerge as the dominant platform. And the point of this post is that I want your opinion. My thinking behind conjecturing the Wii's success is that it's the cheapest and aims to simplify games, enabling it to target a market outside hardcore gamers. But let's hear what you have to think...
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Unfortunately, my opinion on this is pretty middle of the road, so don't expect a scathing piece. That said, I'll try.
The rapid propagation of the MBL rumor yesterday highlights the negative aspects of blogs, especially compared to traditional media.
For starters, there's the unreliability. Bloggers usually ink what they hear immediately, vying to be the first to report a piece. Furthermore, as soon as one prominent blog has broken a story, the others swoop in and report it as well, assuming its accuracy has been verified. For example, yesterday, Valleywag reported that MBL had been bought out in the morning, and, by noon, Techcrunch and GigaOm had followed suit, tacking on that the buying company was, in fact, Yahoo.
Now, this particular rumor did no harm. But what about the ones that do? Reputations tarnished once are never again made completely whole. In that sense, bloggers, especially the big names, need to verify the accuracy of a story when it could have a potentially damaging effect on a person or group.
In a larger sense, we, as a society, need to keep the blogging phenomena from decaying into exaggerated journalism. Anyway who has seen the Google World Domination video (EPIC) knows its underlying message is scary. The video portrays a future in which we "consume" our news via a network of popular blogs, making for embellished and sensational reporting. And that might not be too far from the truth.
However, blogs do have a positive effect on society as well. As I wrote before, they are truly revolutionary because they give the average joe a voice. Personally, my blog has given me a forum to discuss issues on my mind and, hopefully, has provoked thought and opinions in my readers (once in a while, maybe?).
It's this sliver of light that keeps me optimistic about blogging. Blogs can empower the individual in ways this world has never seen.
And that brings me back to the title of this post. Most of you have heard of the movie "Snakes on a Plane" (side note: best worst movie ever. Seriously). But what you probably don't know is that the promotion for the movie, and the cult-following that had built up even before its release, stemmed from articles on blogs. The movie's blogging-based viral marketing campaign caused more people to go see Samuel Jackson combat hoards of serpents than most ever thought possible.
Long story short, it's crucial that we, as bloggers, realize the power of the double-edged sword we wield. Failing to do so can have disastrous consequences for the future of news and journalism.
(Personal note to the Penn Sixers who dared me to title a post "Snakes on a Blog" and have it make sense: Booyakasha, wugwan.)
As always, best of luck to Scott, Eric, and the team at MBL over the next few days as this plays out.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
No, it was important because it was the beginning of the 2nd annual Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. And it's the place to be. It's the flashiest, sexiest, coolest conference in the Valley this year (and I'm stuck in Philly. And it's raining, of course).
And not without reason - Web 2.0 is the rage of the Valley right now. But we've seen rages come and go. The last one, lovingly nicknamed Web 1.0 after the fact, we probably remember all too clearly. I blogged about the new Internet early in the summer, and those thoughts are mostly still valid, but they also represent the oogling of wide-eyed newbie.
And, in that post, I never really addressed the what: what's the real deal with this Web 2.0 nonsense? I'd say it's mostly glitz and glamor - Silicon Valley doing its version of Hollywood. We have our gossip, and our rumors, and it makes sense we have that thing, that ideal, that is very much en vogue right now.
And, as with all buzz words, Web 2.0 has come to mean a lot of things - anything social, viral, AJAX, API-related, and much more has been dubbed "Web 2.0" at one point or another. However, some of the really "2.0" attributes, especially the social features and user generated content, have always been around, albeit with much less fanfare.
But I'm beating around the bush and avoiding the question - does the Web 2.0 represent a fundamental shift in the way we use the internet, or not?
Yes - but not for the reasons you'll hear from most people. Gurus will tell you that the Web 2.0 phenomena is unique because of the great, lifestyle changing ideas that are being churned out. I'd argue the enabling technologies and changing social norms, far more than the ideas and websites themselves, deserve credit for bringing about the online movement.
Disagree? Think about it. Think about the sites that come to mind when you think Web 2.0. YouTube? Brought to you by faster internet speeds and a cool new flash player. Facebook? Brought to you by the ease of internet access on college campuses. MySpace? Ditto, for homes and kids. (Venturing into the more geeky...) Digg? The proliferation of computers and the adoption of the internet as a form of entertainment, causing people to turn to the Web when they're bored. Flickr? The mass adoption of high quality digital cameras and, again, increased connection speeds, making it possible to upload more photos online.
The point is, Web 2.0 has it's roots in the development of computers and electronics - stuff is easier and faster, and some smart people have found ways to leverage that into neat businesses. You can deduce factors, social or technological, behind the success of most 2.0 sites that have little to do with the sites themselves. But don't get me wrong - the ideas and web sites of today are great - brilliant designs by brilliant people (well, some).
In the end, Web 2.0 should not be thought of merely as some cool new web sites, but the harmonic convergence of a variety of variables, empowering the individual to do much more on and with the internet than he ever has in the past.
But that is where we must be careful. "Web 2.0" is great, but it's far too sexy of a term for what should be a fairly long lasting era. And with that "sexy-ness" comes the requisite over-investment.
So VCs beware - the darkside of Web 2.0 is creeping in - irrational exuberance is in the air. (I totally didn't mean to rhyme there.) Money is being poured into start ups at a record rate once again, even with the memory of the bust fresh in our heads. VCs are enamored with the new "generation" of web start ups, to point where it could be dangerous. Whether Web 2.0 causes another bubble is yet to be seen.
But evil, good, fake, real, or bubble, Web 2.0 is currently being discussed. A lot. And I really, really wish I were there...
Anyway, thanks to Tim, Peter, and everyone over at WEP for the shoutout.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
The kicker, though, is that they got a $31 million pre and $42.5 million post valuation. Wow. Google just may be in trouble if these guys can do what they say they can do.
Stay tuned, this could be the beginning of an epic battle...
Thursday, November 02, 2006
For a full description of the service, refer to a post I wrote on them earlier in the summer.
In short, my MyBlogLog work was mostly marketing and business development-oriented. I got to contact some of the major gossip sites on the web and convince them to use our service, which was pretty cool.
I think the biggest lesson I learned from the experience was the fallibility of the "build it and they will come" approach. Sure, a good product is necessary, but it is far from sufficient. By actively recruiting big name sites and strategically positioning themselves as not only a blogging tool but a social network and all purpose click tracking service, MyBlogLog has gained users and opened up their target market significantly.
The company has a great product (if you're a serious blogger, blog reader, gossiper, etc., go use it), but their ability to convince users to adopt them will determine if they are successful in the long run. "Build it and they will come" sounds great but isn't always reality.
The second biggest lesson I learned was flexibility, though that was more from the company's story. Basically, they started out as just a click tracking site but were astute enough to change directions when they realized they could expand their offering. Yes, it's trite and cliche, but it was still cool to work for a company that successfully was able to switch gears and take advantage of a growth opportunity.
As a side note, their recent relaunch has went over fairly well. The site's new look cements their service as both a social network and functional tool for bloggers and many others. Good work to Scott, Eric, and the MBL team.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Anyway, I know I promised articles on other stuff, but I had to write about this - my boss and fearless leader over the summer, Scott Rafer, was featured in an article in the San Jose Mercury about entrepreneurs who are captaining or heavily involved in multiple start ups. And Scott definitely embodies the part.
The coolest part about working for him this summer was not only getting to see him work his magic but trying my hand at it as well. As I've mentioned on this blog, I spent time working on projects for WINKsite, Mashery, and MyBlogLog, as well as a personal project when I could spare the time.
In particular, one of Scott's quotes from the article, "VCs spread their risk across numerous companies. Why shouldn't we?," really stood out to me. Spreading risk was one of the Rafer-isms I got all summer, and he makes a very good point.
Being an entrepreneur isn't easy. Hell, it's for the crazy ones, not the sane ones. No stable paycheck. No 9-5. Just a dream to make it big against the odds (really against the odds). And I really don't even know the half of it. It's easy to work for a start up for 3 months over the summer when you're under the same roof as your parents, but doing it for a living requires a lot of luck and even more skill.
Yet Rafer manages to pull it off - not only does he make a livelihood out of being an entrepreneur, he does it with mostly small start ups. The biggest lessons I learned over the summer were balancing and prioritizing - taking safer gigs to counter the risky ones and knowing which one is the most important (and communicating that to everyone involved).
But my most important realization went a level deeper: at the end of the day, the serial entrepreneur is doing more than just minimizing risk - he's living his dream. Working more than just a day job, especially for start ups, has got to be fueled by passion. Though practical reasons justify the decision to take on multiple projects at once, love for the work has to drive it.
(By the way, Scott, I'm going to use this post as a spring board for the write ups I promised a while ago. Sorry, it's taken so long, but they'll be up soon.)
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Stay tuned for posts on, in no particular order, Friendster and their patent, MyBlogLog, The Venice Project, GooTube (finally), the various financials released this past week (once Microsoft gets theirs out next week), the web and user generated art, the emergence of localized websites (a discussion stemming from SmallTown's recent launch), and maybe even a guess piece on Amarnth and their recent collapse. Not sure if/when I'll get to all of them, but keep reading.
As a side note, you're welcome Zach and Mike (the MyKin guys) - I hope it boosted traffic for you guys (though I really doubt it did much:). And I promise to be nice with the reporter from that Iowa paper.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Two of the most memorable people I rubbed shoulders with would fall mostly into that last category, and I say that with nothing but love. At an event in San Francisco, I met Mike Basten and Zach Smith, a duo who had just launched a social networking site for families.
But here's the kicker: to promote the site, they went on a national tour in a '71 VW Bus. Literally, they threw some computer equipment and two mattresses in this van and set off across the country from Iowa.
How utterly awesome is that? As someone who considers entrepreneurship to run in his blood, I have an enormous amount of respect for the two of them. So when Mike called me the other day, it clicked that I should dedicate my next post to profiling MyKin, as I had promised a non big name one anyway.
So, MyKin.us. As mentioned, it's basic concept is a social network for families. Today, MySpace (and now Facebook) offer a social slant that doesn't work well for families (the average kid probably wouldn't want family members to frequent their MySpace page).
MyKin's concept revolves around the connectedness that families usually share. MyKin gives families an online forum for communicating and sharing photos. The social networking aspects of the site are fairly typical (can set up families and family friends, send messages, etc.), but my two favorite parts of the site are the photo share and family tree. The first is very practical - families always have pictures they'd love to show their relatives in other parts of the country but don't always have a set way of doing so.
The family tree is really cool, despite an ambiguous functionality. For example, if you get your entire extended family on the site, the tree gives you a graphic view of how everyone is connected. Keeping track of or in touch with distant relatives becomes much easier.
Overall, MyKin's outlook is fairly rosy. The success of these sites is always a crap shoot, but I truly believe the idea behind it is fairly practical and helps families keep in touch. From a Web 2.0 framework, the site is fairly viral, as one family member will actively try to get his family on the site. However, word-of-mouth has a harder time working between families, as individuals probably won't try as hard to get non-family members on the site.
Anyway, its great to see the Valley spirit alive and well, especially when it's not in the Valley. Win or lose, a project like this is always great to see. Best of luck to Mike and Zach.
Monday, October 09, 2006
I know I said I was going to refrain from posts on the big names a bit, and I've got drafts of pieces on lesser known, non Silicon Valley start ups in the works. But I had to give my 2 cents on the big news.
The rumor mill had been churning for a while, and the whispers were dead on. Today, Google formally announced the purchase of YouTube, the rapidly growing video sharing site, for $1.65 billion.
My thoughts on the acquisition are mixed. In some ways, YouTube is a copyright nightmare just waiting to happen, as Mark Cuban wrote a little while back. The company could turn into the next Napster, and with Google backing it, that could bode poorly for the leading search engine.
On the flip side, Google wants their foot in the online video ad world, and this is a great way to realize that goal.
My overall conclusion is that time will tell. If Google can dodge or safely navigate the lawsuits and lega issues, the move will probably be a positive one. However, the impending cloud of legal worries puts a definite damper on the purchase.
The opinion pieces are everywhere on this one, so I'll save you some time and wait a little while before putting my thoughts up at length.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
On to Google, and their imminent death. OK, not really, but the wheels are in motion. Companies like Google don't die: they're too big. Google has made it big time, so it won't belly up per say anytime soon. The big timers don't die - they are simply transformed into zombies, shells of their once-great selves, that whither away over a long period of time.
The fertile ground of the Bay Area has been sowed with the seeds of companies that will one day challenge Google. The talk of the town today is Powerset, a search start up that allows people to use natural language when searching and takes into account words that Google ignores. For example (borrowed from the Techcrunch article about the company), "books by kids" is different from "books for kids" is different from "books about kids" in real life, but Google sees them all as "books kids" and returns results accordingly. (An in depth article about Powerset is on VentureBeat.)
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The new, cool search sites are popping up all over the place. A close friend of mine worked at one in Emeryville (near Berkeley) over the summer that incorporated neural networks and thus approached search from a radically different perspective compared to Google, which clings to their patented, antiquated technology (details withheld due to secrecy issues).
The point is that Google's core competency, search, is under fire. Like many Silicon Valley titans with a once-groundbreaking product, Google has chose to diversify their business rather than focus on what makes them good. Their basic offering hasn't really changed in 8 years, and it's now ripe for replacing.
And though it may not seem like it, search is still quite inefficient. Studies report that around 50% of users aren't satisfied with the relevancy of the results from their searches. And, of course, any techie will tell you the Holy Grail of computer science is not only developing a fast, thorough search algorithm but also enabling the search engine to understand exactly what the user desires.
And that's exactly what the next generation search engine will do, whether it's Powerset or someone else.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Good thing or bad? Most college kids don't like the idea of it. But screw them, right? It's overall registered users and page views that matter. And most pundits agree the move will boost both, thus increasing the site's overall value.
However, I feel their analysis could be a little superficial. Today, college kids make up the vast majority of Facebook users, especially the avid ones that sign in almost every day. How will this move affect them?
Well, their non college friends will be able to get on the network, so more friends means more time on the site right? Not necessarily. As an example, today I received a friend request from a someone I used to work with.
And the dilemma hit. Clicking accept would give this guy insight into the college-me. The partying, off-color joke making, irresponsible, immature me. Not the image I want this guy seeing. Or any potential employer. Or certain family members. The list goes on and on.
So what does this mean on a large scale? This move could simply take the "social" out of Facebook's social network. When Facebook was college-exclusive, its members felt safe. Facebook was their place, where they could express themselves and not worry about who was looking over their shoulders. So they did, and did so often, giving Facebook a very active user base.
But now Facebook is open. To me the problem is real - do I strip my profile down to the bare bones (a picture, name, and email), removing the social aspects of the site (my wall and photos, for example)?
And how many other people are pondering the same thing? Sure, not many today. But the question will spread, because at the end of the day, it's not actual privacy that concerns people, it's perceived privacy. The company can implement all the privacy restrictions it wants, but people are only as safe as they feel. And when a freshman with a profile picture of himself drinking a beer gets a friend request from his Mom, he's going to reevaluate how much social "expressing" he really wants to do on Facebook.
And when the site's members feel they can't express themselves freely, they'll stop. No more posting pictures or writing on each other's walls. No more creative profiles. And Facebook will be reduced to a glorified address book, if that.
OK, so I'm not saying all of this will necessarily happen. But I am painting a picture of a possibile future. And the crux of the issue rings true - Facebook enjoys an active, avid user base primarily because college kids have deemed it an acceptable online outlet for social expression. If that changes for any reason (real or imagined), Facebook could fall out of popularity very quickly, at least with the college audience.
At the end of the day, the move will probably help the company compete directly with MySpace and other social networks. However, its consequences may lead to it backfiring if Facebook's heaviest users decide the site is not secure or exclusive enough for social expression.
And, if they do decided that, could it be that the site's total page views could, gasp, go down? No one knows, but as always, time will tell... Thoughts?
Friday, September 22, 2006
And now Apple and Google's flirting have them headed in a direction to attempt to finish what McNealy and Ellison could not. Eric Schmidt joined Google's board about a month ago, and the companies recently entered talks - the pieces are in motion. The topic has been a hot one in the Valley - Om, Robert Young (who writes for GigaOm), and Michael Arrington (of Techcrunch fame for you east coasters who don't know...), to name a few, have all blogged about it recently.
Their general consensus has been positive - Om warned competition about the companies' synergy in the media distribution market, Young pointed out that Google's internet-platform focus fits nicely with Apple's hardware/software core competency, and Arrington mentioned Google Video on Apple's upcoming iTV as an intriguing possibility.
My take on it isn't so rosy, and it's not just because I love flying in the face of conventional wisdom (well ok, maybe it is a little bit...).
To start off, synergy in media distribution (i.e. watching a movie on Google Video and then buying it through iTunes, etc.) breaks down when the market is thoroughly examined. The hallmark of the online media industry is razor thin margins. Thus, though partnering could reach a wider audience, in the end, vertical integration gives the most potential for profits. For example, if SoapBox and Zune both take off, the two could be linked to increase video sales for Microsoft. It's not a surefire strategy, but it hints that perhaps Apple would be better off not having to share profits with Google and attempting to vertically integrate rather than partnering. Still, Om astutely points out that there are certain overlaps between Google's search capabilities and iTunes that make a potential partnership valuable (linking song searches to buying songs, for example). So maybe A/G can add some real value this way.
But the real groundbreaking potential of the partnership lies in what Young delved into - aiming a dagger at Microsoft's heart, Windows - the Holy Grail that McNealy and Ellison chased for years. Making a pretty penny of media would be great, but taking down the juggernaut has to be the ultimate goal. But how? Young argues Apple's hardware/software approach juxtaposes nicely with Google's internet platform applications.
And to an extent, he's right. As he states, the next step in computing is the bridge. The future is headed towards an online OS and the "dummy terminal" dream that has launched and failed so many times. Some day, our computers will be simple ports from which we can access all of our data, instantly, via the web. But because technology has not yet brought us to that point, today we must aim for a hybrid of local and online apps, a set of goals that seemingly aligns nicely with Apple's and Google's core competencies.
So A/G could potentially join forces to bring us that bridge. Apple provides the hardware and a sweet OS, while Google keeps churning out web-based applications. A close partnership could lead to well-knit integration that adds seriously value in terms of UI.
Of course (and here is where I take the position that makes you scratch your head and wonder if I'm crazy), I just don't think they will win. Hear me out. Yes, they can build some pretty cool stuff and yes, they have a bunch of very smart people working away at it. But here's the dirty little secret that's slowly getting out: Gates is one step ahead. Boss man Bill is at it again - he's realized his weakness, as great leaders and minds often do, and rectified it via the creation of Live, Microsoft's next gen series of web applications.
And to be blunt, Live is awesome. Sick. Dope. Ridic. Even the Microsoft haters admit it. Microsoft was vulnerable, sure, but the key word in that statement is was. The core of the A/G partnership would be the integration of desktop features with web applications (the so-called "webtop"). For example, there could be an icons on the desktop that open Google applications (spreadsheet, maps, etc.) and other tie-ins between offline and online programs.
But Microsoft beat them to it. If they've got half a brain (admittedly questionable as of late), the boys from Redmond (thats Microsoft you east coasters) will integrate Vista (their new OS) with their Live applications.
At that point, A/G's attempt begins to smell a lot like the one from a decade ago (or two decades ago with Mac vs. Windows) - too little, too late. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think Microsoft has them outfoxed. Furthermore, Microsoft has a clear advantage in terms of integration between the OS/desktop and web apps because it owns both, whereas Apple and Google are two separate companies who will have to collaborate. To top it off, a serious partnership would be somewhat contingent on Apple regaining market share, and for all the hype they've been getting recently, they still own an extremely small segment of the computer industry.
My conclusion - the A/G partnership is a nice thought, but they will suffer the same fate as Sun and Oracle. Many have tried to dethrone Gates and Co., but none of have succeeded. Media distribution could be a cool card trick, but attempts at winning the OS/platform war will fail.
Then again, Jobs should be used to it.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
The post is the kind of piece I aspire to write (and have tried to many times on this blog as you loyal readers know), but his analysis is obviously far superior. Stay tuned for a similar article (by me this time) on the merits of the possible Google/Apple partnership.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
The occasion holds special significance to me - my boss over the summer, Scott Rafer, is an adviser for the company, and I was lucky enough to meet the men and women behind Dogster and spend a few days at the office. Jeff Clavier, who I was fortunate enough to meet this summer and is one of few VCs who is a truly great guy, wrote a great piece on the company on Thursday when the news broke.
But the biggest reason the news is so joyful is what it represents. At its outset, Dogster was a few guys with a dream - to unite dog owners and give them a place to express and share their love. But their story isn't just a feel good one - they followed a winning strategy: "thinking small." It seems counterintuitive, but it just may be the recipe for success in the Web 2.0 world.
Conventional entrepreneurial thought tells us the individual shouldn't be afraid of going all out, of thinking big. One guy can change the world, right?
Maybe, but that isn't always the healthiest attitude for a start up to take. The founders of Dogster identified a problem, built the solution, and concentrated on getting it out fast, rather than adding a lot of features. They weren't trying to take over the world, and thus they didn't try to build a product to do so. Rather, they focused on a niche they intimately understood and immersed themselves in a labor of love.
And, in many cases, that is what being an entrepreneur is about. We shouldn't be starting our companies to flip to Google or Yahoo, we should be doing it to make our own little dent in the world. As Web 2.0 continues to revolutionize our life, many of the companies that succeed will be the ones born out of passion.
As Clavier points out in the article, Dogster's numbers look great, and their future is bright, but, for me at least, it all starts with love. And they really love dogs. Their "office" is a room big enough for 10 desks and a couple couches with no less than 4 dogs running around. Forgive me for sounding like Steve Jobs, but Dogster's employees don't just work for a company, they work for a cause.
So what does it all boil down to? Of course, start ups need a sound business plan and product. But though it may sound cliche, at the end of the day, success starts with passion, and that passion can be harnessed by "thinking small," by not worrying about the big picture and focusing on your niche.
("Thinking Small" was a presentation at Comdex a few months back, one that my boss preached to me as a strategy for approaching a project of my own. A video of the presentation and the slides can be found here.)
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
For the full story, check out TechCrunch's article.
My 2 cents: by all accounts, Steve Jobs was at it again. He worked the room in true form. His status as a genius has often been debated, but theres no denying he's a master showman. More than 2 decades after the legendary Mac launch, he can still capture the hearts and minds of Silicon Valley and the world.
We've all heard stories - VCs replacing the CEO with their own man, founders turning on each other to increase their own equity, and many more. Conventional wisdom frowns on such practices, but my I'd like to question that.
At what point is the backstabbing ok? Granted, it's never the preferred option, but sometimes it must be necessary, right? Otherwise, it would never happen. (Yes, that's debatable, but stick with me for a bit.)
I'd contend that the survival and success of a company always comes first. The organization is above the individuals, and its salvation is of utmost importance. To that end, the founders who oust one (or more) of their own are somewhat justified. Sometimes the circumstances and people involved leave no other path - trying to openly solve via discussion just puts a band-aid on the would, one that will inevitably come off.
But making the decision is hard. Most early stage start ups are comprised of people who are already friends. When your company has 10 people, all of whom you know well, how do you gather the courage to fire the bad apple? And what if that bad apple is your CEO?
It's tough. But I firmly believe that the members of the company have an ironclad duty to the firm as a whole, one that supersedes ties to individuals, and that they must do the right thing for the team, regardless of the consequences and any apprehension. That's the sign of true strength in an organization.
Of course, it's easy for me to sit here and write this. When you face this problem, good luck executing. (Yes, that was a pun.)
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Arrington rightly wonders why they are launching the service under the MSN brand, rather than the Live brand. The Live set of products are it - the next generation applications that will enable Microsoft to stay atop the market over the next few years. It's really, really cool stuff (a post on it to come shortly). But then why launch SoapBox as an MSN product? MSN has labored for years to be the type of all-in-one portal that Yahoo is, without much success. Launching on Live would give SoapBox traction much faster, crucial for a service that derives its utility from its user base.
However, in my mind, the more obvious is question is "Why?" Why launch a video sharing service in the first place? It just doesn't make sense - YouTube already owns the market by a wide margin. Just as importantly, the space is crowded - really crowded. How many video sharing sites have sprang up since YouTube gained popularity? Google and AOL have already joined the rush, not to mention countless start ups. Does Microsoft really think its SoapBox can pull a number on YouTube like its Explorer did on Netscape?
It's not going to happen, and this will probably be yet another failed experiment on Microsoft's part. But the move really makes you wonder - what are they thinking? Has the the preeminent tech company of our generation really fallen so far? Do they really believe their minuscule chance of success is even worth the effort? And even if they do succeed, what will they have gained? The reward is almost non existent, regardless of the risk.
The "chicken with its head cut off" syndrome has become far too common place at today's tech titans. I don't even think this post is all that insightful - I think I'm just stating the obvious, that SoapBox is a horrible idea. But that's the point - it's so obvious, but Microsoft is still doing it. The market leaders keep churning out these pointless projects and clones rather than sticking to the ingenuity that made them leaders in the first place.
But I guess it's not so bad - at least it leaves room for you and me to make our own little dent in the world...
Thursday, September 07, 2006
To summarize, Khosla has been pushing ethanol as an alternative energy source for a while now, claiming many benefits. As stated above, Rapier blasts Khosla's stance with solid economic and technical arguments. VentureBeat has a great summary of the debate here.
I'll throw my lot in with Matt Marshall and VentureBeat - I think Rapier makes better points and generally wins debate as Khosla needs to fall back on moral arguments to have a case. From what I know about ethanol from a scientific perspective (granted, not much), it doesn't seem to be The Answer to the energy debate. The economics just don't add up, but read the debate all the same.
Cool side note (as told to me by Rahmin, who has been previously mentioned in this blog and is co-founder of Involver): Ethanol is only around because of socialist policies our government put into place in the 1970s. Basically, laws were created to protected domestic corn producers, offering subsidies to help support the declining demand for their crops. Over the years, this led to an overabundance of corn until some brilliant scientist discovered it could be used to produce ethanol. It'd be interesting to see what would have happened had the government let the Invisible Hand do its thing.
(To be clear, the above paragraph is most certainly NOT meant to be complimentary towards the government. Because they didn't have the guts to make the farmers find new crops, we're stuck with a mediocre un-solution to the energy problem thats draining manpower and resources. I'm very much against the governmental aid for ethanol for which Khosla is lobbying.)
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Oddly enough, most of the preeminent tech blogs were praising the changes as a quantum leap in social networking, as written below. (Ok, maybe not a quantum leap, but you get the point.)
There probably is a middle ground in terms of new features and maintaining some level of privacy from stalkers, but time will tell if Facebook can find it. In Zuck's own words: "Calm down. Breathe. We hear you." A little condescending, but at least they realize they have a problem.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
To summarize, there are two new features added. The first is an RSS feed-type aggregation of what your friends have been up to (writing wall posts, friending, joining/creating events, etc.) and the second is a mini-feed that appears on your own personal page about what you have changed on Facebook.
My thoughts on it all are mixed. I think they've taken a fairly unique approach to social networking, and the new layout offers a plethora of information at users' fingertips. It's nice to keep up with friends, especially those you don't see much. From a business standpoint, the features will probably result in increased page views, as users now have more to look at. Quite simply, Facebook has become a more interactive social experience, so people will probably spend more time on it, especially the moderate to heavy users who currently spend much time "facebook stalking." (However, an alternative theory could be that since the info is all there, people won't spend more time looking for it and thus page views will decline. Thoughts?)
On the flip side of all this is a very real worry about privacy. The (few) people I've already talked to have echoed these concerns. For example, I may not want everyone to know when I've signed a wall or friended someone. Facebook was already a privacy nightmare, and the new design has only exacerbated the situation. The facade of protection that came from requiring college email addresses has long since evaporated, as employers and many others are already on the site. In regards to the new features, "it's too much" seems a be a popular response.
Another interesting note is the launch of the redesign coincides very closely with YouTube's announcement of a college section on its site. Though the move received mixed reviews, it is clearly the first real competition Facebook has faced. Oddly enough, the current Facebook design doesn't include video sharing, which is the logical response to YouTube's move. Time will tell what, if anything, Facebook does to directly address YouTube's threat.
But I want to conclude with an interesting angle that (I believe) hasn't really been considered yet. My first take on the redesign was that, with a little more work, it could be a fantastic events portal. The events scene has been getting a lot of attention generally (Upcoming getting bought out, Zvents, Eventful, etc.) and personally with my boys Rahmin and Matt launching Involver recently (which will garner a full post once I get the time to poke around the site thoroughly). But if people start using the events functionality on facebook, the new interface would be great for keeping track of whats going on and who is going where - the long sought after, first true social events network.
But then again it's doubtful people will really start using the events, and it's more doubtful Facebook will gear their site around events.
As always, and especially with this topic, your thoughts are highly encouraged...
Sunday, September 03, 2006
I'm also attaching this blog to facebook, so hopefully it can reach a some people who wouldn't otherwise read it. And keep the comments coming.
All in all, I'm back.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
I will keep up the blogging as well as I can (expect a post on the changing face of news soon), but the pace will be slow until I get my laptop back. I'll definitely be back blogging once every day or two once school kicks off Sept. 6. Sit tight, and stay tuned.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Over a dinner conversation with my Dad and his college buddy, my Dad pointed out a counterintuitive phenomena in the telecom industry - for all the advancement of cell phones technology, a hallmark of today's hand held era is consumers' tolerance of the system's imperfections - dropped calls, fuzzy voice, etc. Landlines never had those problems.
So anyway, that got me thinking of something I decided (but subsequently forgot) to blog about - free(dom). Not the Constitutional kind, but the "wow I'm getting so much free stuff" kind.
Confused? Think about it. How much do we get for free in today's world that we paid for just a decade (or less) ago. Contacting relatives on the east coast (or across the pond) took a phone call or, at the least, a letter. A few bucks or a stamp. But we were willing to pay for that contact. Now? Are you kidding me? An email, IM, or VoIP call is free, and even a cell or land line call is dirt cheap. The web has drastically altered the value we assign to a vast majority of services.
There's free wifi in Mountain View and London and coffee shops. Free music and movies on the internet. Free text messages, emails, and calls. Hell, even free APIs for mashup developers. Free, free, free.
The question really is what are people still willing to pay for? And it's a tough one. Hell, most start ups can't come up with a coherent answer. Seriously, my most popular question for entrepreneurs at Mashup Camp, "What's your business model?", was usually greeted with dropped eyes, stutters, and shuffling feet.
Sure, music and movies still have markets, but the revolutions that will transform those industries have already begun. I mean, iTunes does quite a bit of business, but free file sharing sites are thriving. People got a taste of free(dom) with Napster, and most never went back. And why should they?
We're getting used to free stuff. Paying for information, media, telecommunications, and much more is so 20th century. We just aren't willing to shell out for the same services we used to. And it's affected the way companies make money.
The key, then, is to find other ways to do so. Two answers the market has spat out other than simply selling stuff are advertising (Google) and taking cuts off transactions (eBay, Amazon, etc.). But other than those two models, online businesses aren't really making money. The Salesforce model has gained some popularity, and perhaps leveraging real life services in the virtual world is the answer to this dilemma. Whether it is or isn't, the future will belong to those who come up with unique applications of the two tried and true revenue streams and invent others.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
So it happened. Intel released the Core 2 Duo, their answer to AMD's assault on the industry Intel once ruled. As the Merc reports, the Core 2 Duo has up to 40% more processing power and uses 40% less electricity than today's chips, accomplished by putting two computing brains on the same chip.
Time will tell if this is the technological innovation Intel needs to leapfrog AMD. I'm going to refrain from taking my usual highly opinionated (and often minority) stance, but I will say that its success truly depends on the quality of the technology. For all the advancements in chips, I think customers still want more - this chip doesn't, in my opinion, surpass consumer demand in terms of processing power.
But then again, it won't be long until AMD answers, and once they come out with a similar quality chip, the price war will return, slashing margins and leaving Intel in the same position they are in now.
No biggie, though, as that's life in pretty much any industry.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
How Microsoft could make such a mistake is unimaginable. Chasing the iPod with an iPod clone with a couple cool extra features? Looks like life in the ivory tower is finally getting them. Unless this report is wrong and Microsoft comes out with an open platform, I partially retract my statements about Zune beating out the iPod. It's going to be much, much tougher.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Ok, I just don't get it. Granted, I think it's a great idea, but I don't think it's deserve of the shower of VC money it's getting. I mean, the numbers are ridiculous (I don't have stats now, I'll try and post some later). And the big names are leading the way.
I really just don't see it as being that cool. I mean, the screens are tiny. Maybe TV on a laptop could be cool, or even a tablet PC, but most of these companies target straight up mobile phones. Maybe I'm severely lacking foresight and vision on this, but who wants to watch TV on a cell phone? I can think of certain circumstances (like the train to work this morning), but I just don't see the market matching the hype.
Most importantly, (this being the point of my post), what do you guys think?
I'll also try to have a post up soon with analysis of the various companies' earnings that were announced last week. I know it's late, I've (pretended to have) been busy.
Monday, July 24, 2006
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Of course, Intel's problems have been no secret - AMD has been taking back marketshare for a while now. So what is Intel to do? They are caught in a price war in a market that has finally been hit by commoditization.
Intel's storied past makes my answer all the harder to swallow. Founded by 3 of Fairchild's Treacherous 8 (Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove), the company has been the darling of the computer industry, almost as dominant as Microsoft and infinitely more likable, boasting superior technology and marketing.
In fact, the decay of the one of the most brilliant marketing campaigns in history, "Intel Inside," is one of the biggest reasons for Intel's current position. For 14 years, consumers truly believed that their computer was significantly better off with Intel chips inside and were willing to pay a premium for them. For some part of those 14 years, this may have been true, but chips have long since become a commodity, and performance across brands has become basically equal.
And, at last, the consumer has realized this. However, before I give my thoughts on what the firm should do, I will digress again. I am hearkened back, once again, to a case study in my Management 237 class last semester. Very much like Intel, Kodak had fought off commoditization in the film industry for years, but the market was finally beginning to catch up with them. We were asked what Kodak should do in this situation. A friend and I boldly convinced our group of 6 other people (or rather spoke for them before they could say anything) that Kodak should sell the company.
Yeah, you read that right. Why? Sure it's a little crazy, but it makes sense. Kodak, at the time, still had a huge brand name, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that Asian film makers would be able to match (or beat) Kodak's price and quality. So, instead of sticking around and struggling for survival in a commodity market, why not just cash out at the high price their name would allow? The company, of course, didn't do this and went on to become a market leader in other fields, but their film division kept losing market share and profits.
So do I think Intel should sell itself? No, but they should learn a lesson from the past. Currently, they're saying all the things investors want to hear (they're going to try to gain back market share, etc.), meaning they will pour vast amounts of money into marketing and production. But why? Instead of trying to fight the inevitable, they should scale back operations, cut production, and try to limit losses. By realizing the hard times ahead and saving cash now, they put themselves in a position to live to fight another day. The price war and commoditization of the chip industry means that Intel will never enjoy dominance and high profits until a discontinuous innovation comes along and turns the marketplace on its head. Intel needs to devote resources to discovering that next discontinuous innovation (i.e. R&D) and exploring other business opportunities and industries (outside chips) that give them a better shot at market dominance.
Though it's unpopular and unconventional, this is the way to go. But will they do any of it? Probably not.
Side note: I write this blog for the Valley-savy, but I realize most of you are probably college kids who didn't grow up with stories like the one above, so I'll explain. The two companies are Apple Computer and Microsoft, respectively, and the tale refers to the OS wars, which Microsoft won by eschewing Apple's proprietary philosophy and allowing others to build the hardware and develop software, among other things.
Funny how history repeats itself. Just a few days ago (sorry, this post is late because the draft I was working on got deleted), Microsoft announced Zune (click for details), a hardware and software package aimed at the heart of Apple's iPod. Reactions have been mixed, but the majority opinion amongst pundits is that Zune will have a hard time catching up to the iPod.
I disagree, and history is on my side. The parallels with the OS wars are eerie. As long as Microsoft thoroughly analyzes the industry conditions, they should be able to build a product to knock off the iPod. They must recognize and capitalize on their inherent advantage: Windows (and Vista soon). Their product should offer an integrated solution (not unlike Apple's iPod/iTunes) and interface that ties in with the OS. Cool features are a must, but following through on this advantage will set them apart. Apple should be scared.
A caveat, though. Microsoft should realize that hardware isn't the path to victory in the industry. The iPod is nice and very much in vogue today, but its days are numbered even without Zune because commoditization will set in. The principles that governed the OS wars will also come into play here (software over hardware, open system, etc.). Apple has already made the mistake of creating a closed system around the iPod (they make the iPod and every related product, much like they tried to do with the Mac), Microsoft should not follow suit. The greed to capture every penny of profit in the marketplace has sunk many companies. Microsoft should be wary of delving into the hardware world, one that has not treated them kindly in previous forays.
All in all, this should be fun to watch.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Google. The enigma. I lived with two kids last year who embodied the two polar opposite (least coast) opinions of the company. One firmly believes Google is the company, destined to change the world and make billions doing so, while the other maintains that its financials reveal it's nothing but another overpriced Silicon Valley company.
The truth is probably somewhere in between. Though they continue to beat the Street (earnings were 12% above expectations), they struggle against absurdly high expectations placed upon them. But the funny thing is that people take such strong stances on the firm without knowing much about what it does. Today, almost all of Google's revenue comes from ads, whether brokering deals as a middle man or hosting them on their site. So all those cool gadgets that they regularly roll out aren't making money.
So the state of Google's then boils down to the sustainability of their business model. I'm not saying some of their other profit-seeking ventures won't succeed (Google Checkout, for example has potential to steal some market share from PayPal, especially if it can be as innovative as Gmail was for email), but I think a thoughtful analysis of the company should start there.
With online advertising spending projected to double by 2010, Google is in good position to profit even if their market share slips a bit. But all sorts of new competitors are moving into the space, so they will have their work cut out for them. In the end, they are atop the industry now but will need to be careful going forward.
The issue then turns to all that other stuff they're doing, begging the question, "Why?" I mean, I love that they give me almost 3 gigs of email storage now, but what is it doing for them. Sure they make more advertising revenue, but is that it? Some claim the services are primarily to gather information on users, which can be used later to roll out even cooler applications.
So, overall, I think Google's ability to "take over the world," as my roommate often put it, will depend on their ability to leverage all these side activities into meaningful profit at some point down the line. If they don't see a dime for all the widgets they put out, they are doing their investors a grave disservice by not consolidating operations to search and ad revenue and enjoying an absurdly high ROI.
One last point on Google - in talking to VCs and entrepreneurs in the Valley, I've noticed that, above all, the fear is gone. People aren't scared that big, bad Google will put them out of business. Time will tell if the beast has really lost its fangs.
Monday, July 17, 2006
MyBlogLog got started as click tracking for blogs, accomplished by pasting a line of code into the html of your site. Essentially, MyBlogLog offers the solution to the "Cotten Eyed Joe" problem: "where do you come from, where do you go?" The unique nature of blogs make the highly interlinked, and oftentimes readers come to one blog via a link on another. Over time, the data aggregates and allows blog authors to see which sites shuttle the most readers to their blogs. This information can be useful in offering advertising, creating partnerships and business opportunities, etc.
Once the site began to gain traction, the overall vision grew. Why limit to just blogs? Blog readers aren't the only ones who exhibit such behavior, so there ought to be other sites where this sort of tracking could be useful. Thus, the site expanded and their service is used by news, gossip, and all sorts of other sites.
However, the most recent expansion is, in my mind, the coolest. Having placed over 65 million cookies, MyBlogLog now knows quite a bit about sites and their readers' behaviors. So, the site has been completely redesigned as a social network around blogs. Once you've signed up, MyBlogLog keeps track of the sites you read or subscribe to and refers other that are similar in nature. Groups are formed around blog authors and their readers, helping both groups learn more about those around them.
Lastly, one of the great things about the site is how safe it is. It collects information in a non-intrusive way, so readers' identities are completely protected, and the information is kept extremely securely.
So yeah, if you have a blog, go sign up and check it out. You won't be disappointed.
Friday, July 14, 2006
The Computer History Museum (where the event was held) was filled with true Silicon Valley nerds, intriguing new companies, giant old ones, VCs, and a few movers and shakers. My impressions of the individual discussions were mixed. Interestingly enough, my favorite one, Jeff Clavier's talk on start up financing, had very little to do with the conference's focus on mashups. Jeff is a great guy and offered some fantastic, straight-shooting advice. He is also one of our (Mashery's) investors, so it was cool to hear him give examples involving our funding process. As a side note, I also got to meet Josh Kopelman of Half.com fame, who I have pointed at on this blog a few times. Again, fantastic guy by all accounts.
Another discussion hit at a fundamental point in the mashup world, and one very pertinent to Mashery: API pricing models. The discussion itself wasn't extremely enlightening and at times was reduced to the affirming and denying of mashup developer's willingness to pay. However, the motivations underlying the discourse were very telling. Already, two seperate camps are forming in the space - the people who want to make developers pay for APIs (and make money off the transactions) and those who want to keep them free. So far, Amazon is the only example of a successful monetized system. It was generally agreed that most models would be based on volume (pay per API call) rather than a licensing system.
The basic problem is actually quite interesting. You have API developers, who do tons of work and then publish it, making their code and data available to the public. Then you have mashup developers who use multiple APIs to throw together cool stuff. This is where it gets tricky - what if this cool stuff makes the mashup developer money? Well ok, you can say, if the mashup makes money, the API developers, who did most of the work, should get a cut, right? But what if the mash up is only making money on ads, i.e. it's just a really popular site that happens to use multiple APIs? A good overall solution would be to charge based on volume while giving the first few API calls for free. But then again, charging in general takes away from the open source feel of mash ups by economically disincentivizing creativity in making new mashups. So it is a sticky problem indeed.
A few more points about the unconference as a whole. It was interesting that one widespread problem was the lack of reliability in the space. API providers reserve the right (in their terms of service) to change their APIs whenever the way. So building a serious mashup (one that aims to make money or perform a hardcore task) is risky because tomorrow Google could just change part of its map API and you'd be left out in the cold.
Lastly, there was an overwhelming cry for better support in mashup creation. Developers seem to really want what Mashery is offering: support via blogs, wikis, forums, documentation, etc. There's a real lack of it out there in the mashup space right now. So from that standpoint, and seeing that almost everyone had heard of Mashery by the time the event wrapped up Thursday afternoon, I'd say it was quite a success. Look forward to the launch of our site (Mashery.com) in a few weeks, and I may blog once more on the unconference over the weekend.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Word to the non-technical: Mashups are the cool new thing in programming - they combine multiple APIs (application programming interfaces, essentially interfaces provided by organizations both large and small that allow developers access to their methods and data) to create new, cool applications.
MashupU will be the focus of this post. The two days consisted of a handful of companies (big names being Microsoft, Adobe, Intel, Amazon, and AOL). Presentations that stuck out most to me:
Microsoft's Windows Live looked top notch. The live messenger demo involved combining chatting with simultaneous editing of documents, games, maps, etc. So you could talk to you friend about where you're getting lunch while locating the place on a map and getting info about it in the same window that both of you can see. Pretty cool stuff. The map UI (Virtual Earth) is also very good.
Plaxo was very interesting, only because I (finally) learned about them and their business model. The idea itself (an address book that is compatible with many applications) has always been good, but the reach that their "sync" program already has is incredible. They've got a ton of companies that are already compatible, giving their service significant value, and more companies will keep coming.
Amazon's S3 stuff was also pretty cool. One interesting side point is that they claimed 160,000 registered users, proving the developer community is in fact quite large. Amazon provides a ton of APIs and have created a decent model to monetize. The Elephant Drive mashup, which combines Amazon S3 with Intel's Mobile SDK is a sweet mashup that allows users to backup their hard drive very easily.
Adobe's also stuck out, especially because they've managed to do so much with their traditional proprietary system. Though it's hard to say how their shunning of the open source philosophy will fare in the mashup world, they've created a bunch of APIs and have quite a few mashups that developers have created, primarily due to the widespread reach of their Flash player. It was amazing how quickly their newest version, Flash 8, has gotten mass adoption.
The company I'm with, Mashery, also had a great demo, and we've done a solid job getting the word out about us. Conceived less than 2 months ago, it's a testament to our team (primarily the work of our founders and architects) that pretty much all 300-400 people at this conference have heard of us. As a quick overview, we aim to provide a turnkey solution for mashup developers and create a community for them to aid each other and enhance the development experience. This is everything from blogs, wikis, and forums to a extensive list of API providers and a whole bunch of other stuff. I'll blog when we launch, but if you're at all interested in mashups, you should check it out.
More to come, especially on the actual MashupCamp.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Aside from my ire over Zidane's inexplicable head butt and England's early exit (despite outplaying Portugal with only 10 men), my biggest pet peeve of the tournament, like many others, was the abundance of diving and atrocious calls. There were so many it's hard to recall all of them, but just in the last game there was the PK awarded to France over a questionable call, and then a much more clear cut case later in the game that was not called.
How do you solve this? There are two problems: refereeing mistakes and the rampant diving. So the obvious answer is to implement some sort of instant replay system. How would this work? I think the easiest would be to have a referee in a replay booth who can talk to the ref on the field. But FIFA has said this would disrupt the flow of the game. Maybe cutting edge technology is the answer - why not give the refs a replay device that fits in his pocket? For a disputed calls, he would simply whip out the screen, take a second look, and (possibly) change the call.
And although the Zidane PK in the final was ruled correctly, other "did it cross the line completely" calls were very questionable. FIFA (and the NFL actually) needs to start using micro technology to track the ball and have a more reliable way of determining whether the ball went in the net.
Anyway, just getting some tech post-Cup thoughts off my chest. Expect a couple more posts (very soon, possibly later today) as I'm currently at MashupU, the two day precursor to the two-day MashupCamp, a tech conference in Mountain View (at the Computer History Museum, in the heart of Silicon Valley).
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
And that's where WINKsite comes in. It is basically a cross between geocities and myspace for the mobile web. As the Web 2.0 revolution takes hold, the fusion of the internet as we know it and accessibility from mobile phones will be key. WINKsite caters to this need by, for example, making your blog available from the mobile web. You simply create a WINKsite page (your own mobile web page) and then give the website for your own blog. As long as your blogging homepage can export and RSS feed (which any half decent site can do), your blog can be read from anyone's cell phone, just by going to your page.
But wait, there's more. Essentially, you can get any RSS feed to be available on your page. That means other people's blogs, news, and event feeds. In layman's terms, you can set up this site with, for example, upcoming.com and cnn.com to get news and events in your area while you're out at dinner on a Friday night.
So where does the community aspect come in? Each website also has a chat room built in. So you can go on your site, figure out what you want to do from your events feed, and then tell all your friends who are in your chat room. The possibilities are endless.
So what do I do? I'll expand more on it later, but essentially I'm analyzing possible revenue streams and looking at areas of the globe for expansion. For example, our current large user base in London affords us opportunities in advertising and event promotion in that area. My job is to figure out exactly how to do it, and then make it happen.
More to come on all this. As this was written for Peter and WEP, I'd love to answer any questions or talk with any of you that are interested in this sort of thing. Feel free to leave a comment with contact info and we can chat. Cheers.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
It's time. I knew a Web 2.0 post was coming, but I didn't know the Muse would find me so quickly.
So what is Web 2.0? At best, it's the next generation applications of the web that will revolutionize the way we live, and, at worst, it's the next bubble that triggers a recession. The eternal optimist, I'm going with the former. But if you're new to this and want to really know what it is, don't listen to me, get it straight from the horse's mouth.
Besides, what isn't the question I want to answer. "How" is - how it will change our lives? The most obvious example to me is, of course, FaceBook. The thing has changed the way collegians live to the point that, starting with my class, we can't even begin to imagine life without it. I mean, how else would you know to mention Third Eye Blind as an icebreaker when trying to score a date with that girl in your Econ class?
But, if the pundits are right, we're only at the tip of the iceberg. Specifically, I'm interested in how the revolution will actually affect our lives, like the instance above. If the revolution has truly just begun, what's next?
My hypothesis is that the web will continue this trend of increasing organization, information, and networks in our lives. It will open doors and eyes. For instance, dogster has become a haven for pet owners to meet and discuss issues and even find a buddy to walk dogs with. Dogster and facebook have taken two different groups of people with loose associations and given them a place to interact. Organization of networks. But the revolution truly makes it mark on peoples' lives outside the digital world. That girl from Econ class you went on a date with last weekend or your new dog-walking friend wouldn't be there if it weren't for these websites. But there's gotta be more...
And there is. Let's take another example: dating sites. The past 10 years has seen the proliferation of these websites, with a moderate amount of success. But I think much more is possible. How, you ask? Are you kidding me? If I knew the how, I wouldn't be writing this. I don't even know the what. But my guess is that it will happen: some whiz kid will think up a new way to link people together, and the next generation dating site will be born.
Of course, the concept applies everywhere, to pretty much any aspect of life. A few years from now, maybe we will leave Moriarty's (our wings spot in Philly) with all the drink specials and cover charges at all the bars and clubs in a 3 block radius with lists of which of our friends are at which places, all on our phones. (Actually, we're taking the first steps towards that at winksite, check it out.)
Or maybe we won't. But things will changes. That is, after all, the beauty of a revolution.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Most of you poor souls reading this (poor, of course, because you're reading this) probably have no idea the significance of the number 53,651, and that's my point.
53,651 is the number of people subscribed to Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch, a popular tech-talk blog, as Josh Kopelman pointed out in his Red Eye VC blog a few weeks ago. Josh, a Philly-based VC, goes on to wonder just how big the chasm is between
His point struck a chord with me, as a (unfortunate) member of both coasts, depending on time of year. But it didn't really hit home until dinner that night, when I asked my Dad about his feelings on Web 2.0 and such. His answer: "yeah, I've been wondering, what is that really?" Wow. I knew that Web 2.0 was a geek-only thing, but since when was my Dad less of a geek than me?
So this chasm exists. And it's huge. Just how big? As we ooh and ahh over others' brilliant new start ups and plot our own, the least coast is only now realizing what craigslist and stubhub are. It's not really a bad thing: if everyone had our enthusiasm, we'd be in the middle of another bubble before we knew it. But it does seem that their mass adoption takes longer than necessary, largely due to the cultural divide between here and there.
The question then becomes, how do we bridge the gap? We must, because we know, we see it coming. Web 2.0. The 2nd revolution. We get it. We just need to expedite the process of the slower ones catching up since, ultimately, we're going to need their business.
So what to do. There is definitely not one right answer. I think, above all, the trick will be to keep it simple, especially early on. We need to make sure we're not getting too far ahead of ourselves because it will take time for mass adoption to catch up. But then again, what do I know?