Category Archives: web 2.0

Now that we’re all here…

The last decade was all about getting to an awesome party – the social network party. Everyone was invited (eventually) – if you knew someone that knew someone that knew someone, then there was a reason for you to open a Facebook account and update the world (your version of it) with “what’s on your mind?” And we got there pretty fast… and the whole time it felt organic. We (some of us) all wondered why it didn’t happen earlier – a sign of great innovation.

I first heard about Facebook in 2006… admittedly the idea of another Myspace did not appeal to me. I thought Myspace was a juvenile remix of AOL Homepages (digital real estate to express yourself) and AOL Instant Messenger (connect with people you know, may want to know and Tom). But after spending a week on Facebook – I was hooked… Facebook was enabling, valuable and transparent. It connected me with people I cared about, enabled that connectedness with easy interactions (wall, status updates, poke) and the platform was invisible throughout this experience. It was elegant, simple and powerful – the makings of a revolutionary product. A revolution that addressed a basic human need – feeling connected.

Sure – life is great without Facebook… I mean life is great in Sweden… but very few of us will actually pack our bags and move to Sweden, because there is value in staying. That is why we stay – there is value in being on Facebook.

But now what..? There are 500+ million users updating statuses, posting on walls, sharing content, spawning revolutions, running political campaigns… it is a marketplace of ideas, feelings, intentions and expressions… It is life as it happens with the ability to rewind, pause and play.

Now that the social animal has found his tools that allow him to be ubiquitously social.. and the network has been created – where do we go from here? The next decade will be about understanding, mastering and creating influence in social networks… the need to influence is derived from man’s inherent need to be political. Cities, towns and villages were formed because we are social animals. Social arrangements – governance, hierarchy, rules, norms – happen because we are inherently political…

There are lot of questions in the influence space that will be really interesting to answer:

– who owns the digital you?

– how do you measure influence?

– what does credibility mean in this space? Is it about badges and achievements? Or activity streams?

– attenti0n is the currency in the digital value chain – how will we engage users?

The next Facebook will be not the next Facebook, just like Facebook wasn’t the next Google, and Google wasn’t the next Microsoft, and Microsoft wasn’t the next IBM. Great companies don’t try to incrementally add value to the marketplace, they completely redefine value by creating a market that no one thought existed…

And that is why this period is so f*cking exciting..!

(I did not use the term gamification even once in this post…

…..Doh!)

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It is about social data, not social media

Maybe a little on the copious amounts of social data that I wrote about in the last post: the quality of that data will be of a lot more significance than the quantity. The public sector, more specifically the government, will have an important role to play as the data provider… but what are standards for accessibility of the data and for the data itself? How is this data being created and stored?

Working for a large public university I see these challenges at work daily – too often data is created in silos to be access at the unit level… creating standards for new data and converting existing data to those new standards will be crucial to making it feasible for the private sector to jump in and create end user apps that take the data and convert it into user-centric information.

Web X.0

To say social media is in a state of ascendancy is to say man continues to evolve… I mean it’s quite obvious isn’t it? Two companies that occupy the most mindshare when we look to the silicon valley to make ourselves feel better abut the economy are primarily social media platforms – Google and Facebook. The third company (or the first) on that list has been a critical driver in that growth – Apple continues to, more than any other company, provide the most intuitive ecosystem (device, platform, distribution channel) that enables a group of content consumers to become a community of content producers. And that is the story of web 2.0… And that is becoming the story of man.

Take the revolutions (and you hope it is a good one) in the Middle East for instance – social media has played a huge role in creating the awareness of the status quo, providing the moral impetus for change and then providing the tools for organizing towards that change. The dictators of yesterday had prepared themselves for the push communication technologies of yesterday and had no answer for the pull communication that Twitters, Facebooks and the Googles of today have enabled. This revolution brought to you by the good people that bring you: search, social networks, real-time trends, blogs n micro-blogs and mentos-bursting-in-coke videos… Maybe we don’t need the State Department anymore? I think I just heard Sarah Palin say: I wanna blog that on my Facebook page… I was kidding.

So as I start of this year’s expo… I am expecting to hear a lot on best practices, the meeting of here and now mobile applications with the presence of copious amounts of social data and maybe a little of where do we go from here?

More later.

The Daily

A few quick notes on News Corp.’s “The Daily”. Hard to say if I like it yet, but I can certainly see the value-add (to the plethora of iPad reading choices) in it. This is a decent attempt to combine traditionally delivered pushed-media (loud voices like news headlines, opinions from opinion-makers) with new pulled-media (the noise from twitter feeds, blogosphere – coalesced as trends/citizen journalism) on a multimedia rich interface (btw, 2 of the more relevant 360 viewpoints i have seen – cowboys stadium and Egypt today from a street-level).

I also like the attempt at personalization/localization. The app is slow to load the current edition, but i appreciate not having to pick the subscriptions that fall out of the magazines and the joy of having to fold a newspaper when done reading.

The one thing that still bothers me is subscribing to a News. Corp. editor… A Roger Ailes view of the world as it is and as it should be doesn’t hit as you start reading… But then, Mr. Murdoch is a business man and maybe a right-wing approach to journalism (contradictory) isn’t good business on the iPad.

So yeah don’t know if i will buy the subscription at this point and am thankful to Verizon (did you hear they are finally getting the Jesus phone?) for the free trial.

Facebook Dilemma

Here is something I did not know: Mark Zuckerberg wears hoodies with the company mission printed on the inside. I am not quite sure how that makes me feel about him… but it is one of those things they might ask when you are at the $64,000 question on “Who wants to be a Millionaire?”

So I learned this interesting (admittedly redundant) piece of information watching the Zuckerberg interview at All Things Digital Conference – a good place to be, if you are looking for broad, opinionated strokes from the CEOs companies that matter in the digital space.

But what is relevant and useful in that interview is Mark’s view on the fine line (and it is a fine line) between personal privacy and the need for sharing of information to make the internet more personal. Zuckerberg is the CEO of a company that is the market leader (some may argue that broadly speaking Google is in the same space and therefore the market leader) in monetizing social data (information + interaction). It is how they make money and it is in their best interests to qualitatively/quantitatively refine that social data. The more we share and the more we interact with people on Facebook the more data Facebook has to monetize.

So in essence, the” more open and connected” (Facebook mission) the world is, the better it is for Facebook. The mission is noble and makes money for the company.

Then there is the other side – privacy. This is what concerns a significant user base. Current Facebook snafus have done little to convince users that Facebook will protect their information with the same zeal that banks and hospitals protect (are required to) their information.

I say snafus because they were not errors in judgement, but in communication and overall execution. Consider the defaulting of privacy settings to “Facebook recommended”; once Zuckerberg explained why it was done and how it was done, it made whole lot of sense to me. This should have been communicated with the user base and the new user sign ups before implementation, with an opt out option made available to the users on that same communication. Simple – this is why we were doing this, this is how it makes sense for you and you can opt out if you don’t like it.

Then there is the whole generation thing. Young people are more comfortable sharing personal information, older folks tend to be more careful and deliberate about what they share. Also, there is a segment of the US population that is obsessed with “Big Brother voyeurism” in their lives. So when you have such a diverse user base, it is important to come out of your monolithic silicon valley view of the world and conduct some online focus groups to see how important changes to the platform are going to play out. I don’t expect them to let you change your mind about the implementation, but it will give you some useful data on how/what to communicate.

Then there is the interface issue. It is hard for non technical folk to understand groups/access lists/containers…. Facebook can take a cue from Apple here and revamp their settings interface a little and make it more interaction friendly…

Then there is this side of me that thinks… maybe Facebook wants to make it hard for me to control my data…. but then there is this other side of me, that wants to believe Zuckerberg is serious and sincere about creating a more open and connected web… and in spite of the recent The Social Network, it is my trust in the new nerd God and his mission that is winning. For now.

The Day the Music Died (no MJ tribute here)

I have not written a blog post in some time, so that gives me – the communicator (wannabe) – the fundamental right to vent and rant.

I am pissed at me (word from our sponsors: Despicable Me is out in theatres) for thinking Umair Haque has been full of shit recently. I thought his head was in the clouds (Up in the Air is out on DVD) and he was hanging out with Bill (Maher) and Richard (Branson) smoking doobies and blowing the fluff in the faces of his readers (that would be me – told you it is about me). So why this epiphany, you ask?

It was the Apple press conference. Those that do not know me well and those that do, will tell you I am a major Apple fan (check out my black turtle neck collection at apple.com/stilladork).Like huge man – it’s like Apple is Justin Bieber (relax there is an explanation as to why I know of him) and I am my little cousin, who with a comb in his hand tries to style his hair like Bieber 80% of the time he awake. Well, okay… it is not THAT bad – but the point being: I love Apple products. But that is not the reason I love Apple, the reason that I am so enamored over a tech company is because they are not a tech company. At least they don’t think like one. I am in IT… to the normal human, I am the stereotypical geek, who carries two PDA’s (I do), one laptop and the iPad (that was supposed to replace the laptop), the only original DVD in my collection: Star Wars (I don’t) and someone who gets a power trip out of having “admin” rights to a machine (Napoleon should’ve been a tech. Would’ve saved the blood n money). So to this geek, Apple is great, because it takes the power away from me and gives it to the users. There is no greater goal in IT, then making IT more personal and personable to the end user. I love it to see geeks squirm blaming Apple for taking away their power. Knowing how to right-click, doesn’t make you feel smart anymore, eh?

Then there is the idealism. Apple truly believes that it is not about the market share; sure the market share is a bery bery important thing. But the market-share is a consequence (not the goal) of getting up every day and believing that your single purpose as company is to make great products that people love using. Some (geek alert) may deride them as toys for adults, but isn’t that the whole point though? Using technology should be easy and if you are lucky it should be fun. Applied technology is an extension of our natural senses as human beings… we have used technology to feed and enhance our senses (plug opportunity: retina display in iPhone 4 is amazing!). This interaction if complex can kill the personal relationship between a user and his/her content (and enter desktop support). Apple makes this interaction fun and simple (and natural). Consider the John Ives quote (paraphrased): “For us, it is about removing everything between the user and their content.” Ah the elegance of thought! The C becomes the PC, once the user’s personal data gets on it. It is about “I” first and then the device (iDevice). For all the people that are afraid of using their computers, and have no idea what “runtime memory error” means, they should contact their systems admins. No, I was kidding. They should have hope – a tech company that sees the world from their perspective is the numero uno (press 2 for English) company in the world. About time my brother. About time.

If the boy king has returned and has rightfully claimed his throne – why am I upset? Well because Apple has started doing things that are very un-Apple like. It has started looking like Steve’s left the building and Apple is being run by Nixon. First there was this over-the-top reaction to a lost phone, then the reception-issues with the iPhone 4, then the deleting of comments referring to the Consumer Reports report that does not recommend the iPhone 4 (still calling it the best smartphone out there) and then there was this sneaky press conference on Friday.

Sure you are giving free cases. Sure the iPhone 4 has been the most successful launch Apple has ever had. Sure this problem is not unique to the iPhone 4. We get that. What I did not get is why is this an engineering flaw and not a design flaw. Is the Jobs ego so confusedly bloated now that instead of presenting rational arguments, Apple chooses to hide behind the technicalities of the English language and not admit that the best design company in the world could make an error in the design of a product. Why was Bobs Mansfield present at the conference and John Ives absent? I am okay with the band-aid proposed, what I am unhappy about is the assessment of the problem. It is important to me that Apple admits and fixes problems like these with the same fanfare that is associated with its product launches. That is what leaders do, that is what they are supposed to do – take control of the issue, admit to the mistakes and present a clear-cut plan of action, while reminding their users why they make these products (okay they did that last one). I think the great communicator lost this communications battle. So what if the Bold has the same issue? I have a freaking iPhone in my pocket for a reason.

And what the hell is up with this censoring of information?!? Closing your eyes doesn’t cause the world to disappear. You guys have an unplugged hole in Gulf of Mexico spewing oil by the boatloads? Was that you? I expected better.

Maybe I am over-reacting to this one incident. You are allowed one mistake after a decade of clean, right? Maybe the problem comes with being number one and having the highest market and mind share? Maybe.

But I expected better.

So what does this have to do with Umair smoking weed with Bill and Richard? Umair talks about the current economy being a ponzi-economy. A system that rewards companies for doing bad -I need to buy a house. To do that I will get a loan I cannot afford (shift the risk to the bank). The loan approval officer approves it, because his bonus structure is tied to the loan getting approved (risk shifted). The bank looks the other way and its investment banking arm packages these loans as derivatives that investment guides push to their clients (risk shifted). Banks are not worried at all because they are too-big-to-fail and tax payer will bail them out (risk shifted). Cycle repeats itself and a bubble is created. So you see there is a inherent incentive in the system to conceal information and transfer the risk.

I believe (Umair does not) that it is meaningful value creation that is at the heart of Apple’s renaissance. “Apple had to go back to being Apple” – said Steve. “Do no evil” was Google’s motto, that Apple practiced. The last two months were weird and this time there is no Gil Amilio to blame.

There is no “Secret Sauce”

In the recipe for entrepreneurial success one comes across an oft used phrase: “secret sauce.” Venture Capitalists talk about it, in fact they look for it. When we were fund hunting, we were asked about it…. hell I even wrote a post about it.

It even came up last week in the self-SWOT analysis… and if our meeting notes were ever leaked, you would see that someone said:

“If you can provide your customers with products that are solutions to their problems at affordable price points then you are adding value in a market place. As long as you’re adding value in a market place, you survive. You don’t need sauce, gravy or toppings for that.”

And forget “the recipe”, this is the reality. The real litmus test you should take, or the self-assurance you should seek when designing a “business plan” is: are you adding value to the marketplace? If you are, then you are in the same boat as 37signals, animoto and  Facebook… no secret sauces but real, meaningful value-addition to the marketplace.

No denying secret sauce has its value… odds of achieving success are increased. Secret sauce also helps (to an extent) to answer scalability, makes positioning easy, mitigates competition and exponentially increases profitability (G-O-O-G-L-E). And all factors you will find in those assessment sheets that VCs use to grade your business model.

But the “el dorado”dinian search for the secret sauce should not lead to paralysis. There are other ingredients that also help with increasing the odds in your favor.

Customer-driven development helps.

Short product development cycles help.

A good team definitely helps.

And adding value to the market really helps.

And all of that is scalable as well.