Monthly Archives

May 2009

Facebook, OpenID, data portability and the future of socnets

By | Facebook, Identity, MySpace, Social networks, Twitter, WAYN | 8 Comments

facebook open id

ReadWriteWeb broke the news a couple of days ago that Facebook is going to allow users to log in with their OpenID credentials granted by other sites, such as GMail, AOL, Yahoo, or dedicated OpenID providers.  You’ve probably seen this on other sites and the main benefit of reducing the number of passwords you have to remember (and making it easier to change).

The other benefit is that your OpenID account can carry some of your data, for existence your contact list.  The ReadWriteWeb speculates that Facebook has taken this step because it will enable them to more quickly provide utility for new members, thereby improving retention and increasing their growth.

I think this could change the face of social networking.  We are already seeing a shift towards tools that allow you to interact with multiple socnets from one place (our portfolio company WAYN now allows you to interact with Twitter and Facebook from within WAYN, and Tweetdeck and Friendfeed operate as social media dashboards) and data portability via OpenID could accelerate this trend.

I’ve long thought that we have multiple social graphs and most of them we just ignore, getting little value from the data they contain.  The longlist of my social graphs includes email, mobile phone, Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, LinkedIn WAYN and this blog.  If contact lists become portable via OpenID then tools that allow me to consolidate and manipulate each of these for their different purposes would be very valuable.

For example if I was using the new Plans feature on WAYN to organise a night out it would help if I was offered a list of people I might like to invite based on those who I call and email most often, whereas if I was organising a work oriented cocktail party a set of recommendations derived from my LinkedIn activity would be more useful.

According to this vision of the future socnets are less like portals and more like messaging hubs, with a variety of different modes for input and viewing content (including games and videos).  Right now the trend is towards consolidation – the larger guys are growing fastest, with Facebook and Twitter leading the way – but the logic above would lead you to expect that trend to go into reverse.  If things do pan out this way then tomorrows successful social media sites will be the ones that do one thing really well – Flickr for photos, maybe MySpace for music, maybe WAYN for making plans.

Right now data isn’t nearly this portable, as one of the commenters on the ReadWriteWeb piece points out Facebook is only really open on the way in – getting data out is more difficult.  Contrary to what I might have expected a year or two ago the trend is increasingly towards greater portability though – hence this post.

Future of search may not be about indexes and algorithms

By | Google, Microsoft, Search, Yahoo! | 9 Comments

At their conference yesterday Yahoo! talked about how they are moving from a web of pages to a web of objects – search engine land has a good report on the details here, but Head of Yahoo! Labs Prabhakar Raghavan sums it up thus:

We’re moving toward surfacing real-world objects rather than documents

and search engine land added:

Raghavan added that Yahoo is not going to be concerned about index size going forward. Rather Yahoo will be building these composite bundles of structured data. As a practical matter, these web objects are manifested in the form of multi-media content and images (Shortcuts). The broader objective is to provide more context and “answers” to minimize links and clicking back and forth.

In many ways there is nothing new in this editorialised view of search – Yahoo! has long believed that the best way to answer a query is for them to second guess the underlying intent and serve an answer – a tradition which includes the original Ask Jeeves, Mahalo, Wolfram Alpha and TrueKnowledge amongst it’s advocates.  On the other side of the debate of course there is Google and I guess now Twitter with their algorithmic approach.

Interestingly – whilst Yahoo! are talking about objects Google is talking about going more realtime, even indexing the whole web every second, as well as a host of other search initiatives.

Yesterday I wrote about how sometimes companies can lose touch with why customers love their products and I am wondering if there might be something similar going on with Google here.  Their mission of ‘organising the world’s information’ and algorithmic DNA may open them up to competition for a whole host of queries that are looking for simple answers to simple questions.  These users might not care if their search engine only works with 10% of the web, being happy to sacrifice exhaustiveness for speed and an easy UI in an 80-20 trade off.  (Saying that Google might be vulnerable is of course not to say that Yahoo! or Microsoft are any smarter – these companies have their own problems.)

Reflecting on the trajectory of the search market before I wrote this post it occurred to me that we might be witnessing a fragmentation.  We already have YouTube for video, Twitter for realtime, Kayak etc. for travel and dedicated map search sites – maybe we will now see the general query splinter between those who value Google’s approach and those looking for a quick answer.

Big companies get blind spots – which make space for startups

By | Content, Mobile, New Media | 13 Comments

It is often the case that large companies and even whole industries lose touch with what it is that their customers like about them.  When this happens they often develop their own incorrect hypotheses about what it is that their public like (or should like), and then when they see startups beginning to take market share with an offering that misses what they see as a key attribute their reaction is to think that this new competition won’t be successful over the long term, and then they go on to make an inadequate response.

When I see this happening I get excited about the potential for making investments.

I’m writing this today after watching the video below which shows three newspaper guys arguing that blogs can’t be trusted and are therefore somehow different to them.  A) it isn’t as if news papers have an impeccable record for integrity (and I don’t buy that being able to complain to the regulator and have a retraction published at the bottom of a middle page two weeks later makes a difference), and B) good blogs build their brands and take time explaining their standards – Techcrunch does a good job of this.

The result of this misunderstanding about the importance of their own brands and reputation for integrity is that they have been somewhat blindsided by blogs.

Other industries in which this has happened over time include:

  • Open source software – it will never be secure enough/work well enough
  • VOIP – the quality will never be good enough
  • Music – there is something special about owning records/CDs
  • Books – nothing will replace the experience of browsing for books in a bookstore
  • Software – companies will never get comfortable with hosted apps that store key data outside the enterprise

Others which might come in the future (arguably, some might have come already):

  • Music – people will want to own a copy of their music stored on their hard drives
  • Books – people will always want to own (dead tree) books
  • Mobile operators – have sufficient control of their customers to take a cut of their media purchases

You can’t take this stuff too far of course – some of these things will never happen – but this sort of analysis is a good starting point for identifying interesting sectors.

If any of you can think of any more I’m all ears.

Search could still get a lot better – some data for Microsoft

By | Google, Microsoft, Search | One Comment

The following quote is from a memo Satya Nadella, Microsoft SVP of Research and Development of the Online Services Division, sent to all Microsoft employees back in March:

In spite of the progress made by search engines, 40 percent of queries go unanswered; half of queries are about searchers returning to previous tasks; and 46 percent of search sessions are longer than 20 minutes. These and many other learnings suggest that customers often don’t find what they need from search today.

That is a lot of queries that could be served better elsewhere!

Microsoft of course believe that this is what will enable them to catch Google, and when I first heard Balmer say something similar 3 years ago I thought they had a shot.  Three years later the gap between Google and Microsoft in search has if anything got wider and I’m thinking that whilst Microsoft entered many software markets late and ended up dominant the web is different.  It has different types of economies of scale and changes at a much faster rate than older technology markets, and it is this that I suspect is catching Microsoft out.

The Customer Development Model

By | Startup general interest | 6 Comments

I first came across to Eric Ries’s excellent StartupLessonsLearned blog when I wrote about fear slowing execution last week, and then on Thursday Jussi Laakkonen of Finish startup Everyplay was enthusing about Eric’s model of putting the customer at the centre of the development process, so I went back and took another look at Eric’s blog this evening, and found this presentation on the subject.

The key point is on slide 2 – which is that “More startups Fail from a Lack of Customers than from a Failure of Product Development” – ergo get something in their hands as soon as possible and start building their feedback into the product.  Eric’s belief is that this is very difficult with traditional waterfall and even agile developmennt methodologies.

Twitter shows how to manage a crisis

By | Startup general interest, Twitter | 2 Comments

Anyone with half an interest in Twitter and social media will have seen the kerfuffle that ensued when Twitter removed the feature that allowed users to see @replies from people they do follow but directed towards people they don’t follow – what you might not have seen is Biz’s latest post (apparently number 4 on this topic) explaining why the change was made and what they will do going forward. 

My point in writing today is to say that this is a great post – it is clear, concise, explains why they made the change, apologises both for the PR mess and the loss of the feature, and says as much as I guess is possible today about how they will try and bring it back in the future.  Most importantly, reading it you get the strong sense that Biz/Twitter is doing the best job they can to build a great service.  This integrity has been a hallmark of Twitter communications since the get go and is one of the reasons early adopters flocked to the service in the numbers they did.

Of course Twitter is now big enough that people want to take a pop at it, and early adopters feel like too many people have turned up to crash their cool party, but this is what happens when services get popular, and if they didn’t get popular they wouldn’t last very long.  As you have probably seen Friendfeed has become the new new, even that might be getting too popular for some, as Scoble (I assume ironically) posted the following comment earlier today:

In the next hour or so I will pass 37,000 subscribers. friendfeed’s growth is accelerating. It is about time to look for a new shiny object. The celebrities will be here soon.

Back to Twitter – with hindsight I’m sure they would rather have avoided the bruhaha of the last few days, but at the same time I bet there is a feeling that if you get too careful about these sorts of things it slows down your execution, making it harder to make changes.  That isn’t good for anyone.  As I wrote earlier this week fear of failure can slow you down, and with this latest post hopefully Biz has drawn a line under this issue and moved on – showing that the consequences of making this mistake were not that large.

For Apple the app store is all about selling iPhones

By | Mobile | 13 Comments

Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed has posted a an analysis which shows that Apple has made no more than $20-45m in revenue from the app store. I won’t repeat the calculation here but it is a fairly straightforward product of the number of downloads, the average selling price multiplied by Apple’s 30% cut.

This is a much lower figure than I would have guessed, and it pales into insignificance against Apple’s revenues from selling iPhones (of which they have sold 13m). So as Jeremy points out this means that for Apple the app store is important only because it makes the iPhone a more usable device. Kind of like iTunes for the iPod.

The relative unimportance of the app store goes some way to explaining why Apple treats its development partners so shabbily.

The iTunes analogy doesn’t bode well for iPhone developers either – most of Apple’s partners in the music world feel that they have gotten on the wrong end of the power equation and would do things differently the second time round, principally because they haven’t made enough money. It could turn out to be that way with app store developers too.

If Apple’s 30% cut is $20-45m then developers have made $40-90m in aggregate, which isn’t much when you spread it across the 30k or so apps that are now available from the app store, and it still isn’t that much when you take account of the fact that most of the apps are free.

iPhone app sales are, of course, growing very fast which makes the future a bit more palatable than the past, but the strong implication of this for me is that focusing 100% of the iPhone as a platform is a dangerous game.

Twitter usage by client

By | Twitter | 4 Comments



Client Percent of Users Tweets per user
Web 27.72% 4.38
TweetDeck 13.25% 6.24
Tweetie 7.74% 3.87
Twhirl 5.51% 4.68
Twitterfeed 4.14% 5.26
TwitterFon 2.77% 2.60
TwitterFox 1.96% 3.37
Text 2.77% 3.64
TwitterBerry 1.96% 2.86

It is great to see Tweetdeck so far out in front (and if you are wondering, Seesmic Desktop has 1.34% or users) – kudos to @iaindodsworth.  If you get deeper into the data you find, perhaps unsurprisingly that Tweetdeck is more popular with the heavier user.  You can see it in the table above with the Tweets per user count and if you cut the data by number of friends then the same picture emerges.

The one surprising thing for me here is the percentage of people who use the web.

The data is from Twitstat.

In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?

By | Enterprise2.0, Innovation, Strategy | 3 Comments

Us Now is ‘A film project about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet’, and this is the question they pose at the top of their site.  It is a great question too – ‘information is power’ is an old cliche, but in the web era information is everywhere, and hence ‘power’ must work differently.  I think this transforms the way leadership works and the qualities that go to make up a great leader – both in government and the private sector.

This video from the site explores this issue a little on the public sector side, and asks the question ‘can we all govern’ and talks about re-constituting what is government.

You can, of course, only go so far with these ideas, at the end of the day someone needs to be in charge.  This is particularly true in the private sector where the interests of employees are not wholly aligned with their shareholders.

Nonetheless if information is everywhere you have the basis for much greater empowerment of workers, and we are starting to see the impact of this already – the notion of continuous development that I talked about yesterday is a good example in software companies.

From a leadership perspective the declining importance of information probably means that being good at company politics becomes less important and having good judgement (especially on people) and being trusted and respected come to the fore.

Research – readers will pay for online news

By | Content, News | 5 Comments

I’m always a bit wary about research like this as so much depends upon the questions asked, but nonetheless this makes good reading for those in the news industry:

Some good news today for publishers now considering a paidcontent strategy – consumers have a willingness of 62 percent on paying for general news online, according to a PwC study with World Association of Newspapers.


Specifically, respondents said they would pay the equivalent of between €16 and €32 a month for news on paper, and between €6 and €12 for news online or on mobile. In fact, those aged under 50 are more likely to pay than elder people.