Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving (and Beardvember)!

Just wanted to wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. And, as my friends at home have found out (to their horror), a happy Beardvember. It's gotten pretty bushy, and I'll be sure to post pictures at the end of the month...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Killer Apps

My last post got me thinking about killer apps, and just how crucial they are to the success of a website. Taking into account the Facebook example I gave in that post (how Facebook's first killer app was basically the ability to look up/keep tabs on hotties of the opposite sex), perhaps it's not so much killer apps as killer purposes to use a website.

But regardless of what it's called, I truly believe it's necessary for a website to succeed. I hear a lot of pitches that paint a picture of an elaborate, multifunctional online ecosystem, and how it would be so great for some large set of internet users. So of course, the first question I ask them is, "What's the killer app?" For some (very few, unfortunately), the answer is easy, even if it's something like "Well, it's different for different kind of users." (The latter is definitely the case with Athleague.)

But for the vast majority, I get a dumb-struck look for a split second, and then the confident assertion that the killer app is "everything" because it's entire package of features that makes their concept so great. Honestly, I just don't buy it.

Maybe it's because I'm something of a disciple of Scott Rafer (he's only been beating the concept into me for a year and a half...), but I think this line of thinking represents the way real people work and how they adopt websites.

A salient personal example is Gmail. My best friend (and co-founder at Athleague) managed to get his hands on an early beta invite. Right away, I got my first killer "app" - the exact address I wanted (because there were very few existing accounts then). Then came the second killer app - college. Specifically, as I'm in college, I'm on a bunch of list servs with varying degrees of importance. To this end, the conversations feature was amazing - I can't imagine what my inbox would look like if a thread of 30 emails were displayed as individual messages. Finally, I looked for an online email solution (rather than a desktop application) in the first place because I knew I'd be using a variety of computers to check my email. This last feature (being able to check email on any computer with an internet connection), however, was by no means a killer reason to use Gmail in particular, only an online email service.

The clear take-away for me is that killer app(s) drove my Gmail usage. But this post is about a couple questions, the first being, is this how you function? Is it one or two features that cause you to use the websites and applications that you use? Or is it a variety of features that all happen to be at the same place (and am I just an idiot? - wait don't answer that one)?

The second quandary also deals with an aside from my previous post: are we out of killer apps? To be clear, I think the term "killer app" can mean anything from small to large. For example, driving directions were the killer app for people using MapQuest in the late 90's, but the ability to drag routes to create waypoints on Google maps, an innovation on an already common feature, could be a killer app for real estate agents. Today, we're seeing innovations mostly of the latter kind (it's hard to create a whole new branch of features/applications - virtual worlds is a potential example).

So yeah - whats sorts of killer apps do we have yet to see in the near future, if any? And, of those, do any present an opportunity for an internet company to make serious money?

Friday, November 02, 2007


I don't get it. The Valley is going nuts over OpenSocial. And yeah, it's cool. But not "checkmate" cool, as TechCrunch seems to think.

Yes open source is great. Yes platforms are greater. Look at what Wikipedia has done, harnessing the wisdom and intelligence of the masses - it's created what is probably the largest factual database in the history of mankind within only a few years.

But let's take a step back. Only a few months ago, Facebook's new platform was all the rage. Fast forward to today and, well, what's changed? I'm talking user experience. And when you boil it down, not much has. I don't have any stats, and maybe apps have revolutionized the Facebook experience for some small subset of users, but the core reason people log on to Facebook hasn't really changed.

And that's what Facebook is about. What the internet is about. People. You can make all the platforms you want, but it's very hard to change the way people operate.

People base their web behavior around killer apps. For example, Facebook's first killer app was basically dating/sex - a tool for checking out the fine (or ugly) guys or girls at your school. Then Facebook introduced pictures, which became a killer app for some. To a lesser extent, the news feed was a killer app, a reason to log on. Ditto with Walls and birthday reminders.

For the core of Facebook's users - that young, college-aged, 20s demographic - OpenSocial changes, well, nothing. Hell, I'm not sure I'll ever leave Facebook, if only because the vast majority of visual documentation of my 4 years at Penn (pictures) are on their servers.

But I digress. The point is that, so far, internet platforms (Facebook being the only example) haven't, on the whole, created killer apps. Who's to say OpenSocial will? And even if it does, will it steal traffic from Facebook?

(As an unrelated/related aside, writing this post got me thinking about the web and killer apps in general. Because, at it's core, that's what Web 2.0 is about - harnessing advancements in a variety of fields (everything from bandwidth speeds to "new" languages like AJAX) to create a new set of killer apps. But if platforms are unable to come up with this new set, how about the internet as a whole? This relays directly into what is, in my opinion, the question of the day: are we in a bubble?

And from this line of thinking, the answer is surprisingly clear and yet still fundamentally complex: if the current set of web companies can't succeed in developing new killer apps - websites that truly give us the ability to do things we could never do before (interactive virtual worlds, for example) and make those things worth doing (so maybe virtual worlds aren't an example:) - we're in trouble.

Maybe that's deep or maybe it's foolishly obvious, make of it what you will.)

(As a second aside, I thought I'd reference a post a wrote over the summer, when Facebook's platform was the big story. The post voices my thoughts on open platforms and suggests that maybe Google or Yahoo should launch one of their own (wait, did I predict OpenSocial?:). Specifically, I wonder if OpenSocial will take the structure outlined in the post or something else entirely.)