Product & Startup Builder

How Apple might compete with Google on Search

Added on by Chris Saad.

Thought experiment.

Yesterday I tweeted lamenting the fact that a report shows we now search more within Apps than Google/Web Search...

Well....

  1. Notice that on iOS 'Search' is branded 'Spotlight Search'.
  2. Notice the new 'Continuity' Features on iOS 8 and OSX Yosemite that involve lots of cross iOS/OSX interactions
  3. Notice the SMS Syncing between iMessage and Desktop
  4. Notice deep spotlight search on the OSX - showing content within an App in the search results (like recent documents etc)
  5. Apple has clearly shown they want to disintermediate Google by turning every search box on an Apple device (iOS or OSX alike) into a branded search experience "Spotlight" that a) they control b) mixes both web and native/app content.


Imagine taking this further in a series of incremental steps that would eventually lead the app developer community along towards a powerful end goal...

  1. Introduce 'Deep App Search' on iOS. An API that App Developers can use to allow spotlight to index their contents so they can appear in iOS search results and/or Siri or more often
  2. Introduce 'Continuity' for Search Results... When I get a result on OSX Spotlight, why can't I 'launch' it on my iOS Device and vice versa.
  3. Introduce Search Sync so that OSX Spotlight can return results from my iOS devices/Apps (and vice versa). Content that can only be seen on my phone will only allow that option in the search results
  4. All of this would presumably be via iCloud... 
  5. Apple could provide a WEB Interface to all this.. say at Spotlight.com
  6. BOOM! Apple would now have a differentiated Web Search Interface that rivals Google using...
  • A well known search brand (Spotlight)
  • Bing for Web (at least until they decided to build their own)
  • Deep/personalized results from your iOS app data. They might even be able to reach into FB if FB played along with the FB iOS App.

The challenge of developing Open Standards

Added on by Chris Saad.

A lifetime ago I created something called the DataPortability Project and, separately, proposed my own standard called APML. I also co-authored the Backplane standard. The first two were not very successful in achieving their mission. The latter is currently enjoying a medium amount of success.

During these experiences, and while observing other standards efforts (particularly in the social media and web space), I've come to be quite jaded about the Standards process

I still believe deeply in the vision of Open Standards. A world where independent parties can interoperate with each other without prior negotiation means that there's free and rapid iteration for the benefit of everyone.

Most of life as we know it is enabled by standards of one kind or another. From which side of the road you drive on to the shape and power coming out of your wall socket. The Internet itself is a miracle of technical standardization - from TCP/IP to HTML5.

The reality, however, is often times far messier and more frustrating than one would expect and hope. It's caused me to rethink some of my earlier, perhaps naive, points of view.

So, despite my love and admiration for the work and many of the individuals, I'd like to indulge in a post about the frustrations with standards and the standards community...

  1. The standards writing community tends to be mired in politics divided along minutia like HOW to organize yourself and WHICH technical approach is the most elegant and WHO is running what clique. You have to approach it in exactly the right way or risk offending someone (this post likely wont help).
  2. The community tends to be fairly academic resulting in commercial applications and/or ease-of-use taking a back seat.
  3. If any commercialization does happen, only the 'losers' in the market tend to participate so it never becomes dominant or particularly useful at solving the end goal (which is not openness, but interoperability). Even when big players participate they tend to send people who do not have the political capital at their company to adopt what's been developed in any meaningful way.
  4. For some reason engineers/implementers would rather create a proprietary format or protocol over an open standard just because the latter sounds like more work. Unfortunately often times they're right.
  5. it's easy to write a technical spec and propose it as a standard. The problem is getting consensus amongst the technical community and adoption by companies that matter. Unfortunately most standards efforts get stuck on the first part and never even begin to tackle the second and most important part. Adoption is far more important than getting every technical detail correct.
  6. As a result the standards often die on the vine or shortly thereafter.

As far as I can tell real standards tend to emerge only after proprietary innovation is created and commercialized by a first mover who wins big. Part of their competitive advantage is they get to control the implementation and iterate on it quickly. This forces competitors to fast-follow (read: copy) the conventions and models of that market leader.

This results in a kind of rough, market led convention that, while not open and interoperable, lasts for pretty much the entire cycle in which the particular technology is relevant, interesting or rapidly changing. This can take many, many years. Decades even.

Once that layer/component in the technology stack becomes conventional (read:boring) and the battle (read:unique value prop and lock-in) has moved up the stack, then standards groups can get together, figure out the common cases (which have now stabilized and been fully figured out), sand the edges and create true interoperability.

Said another way... you can't standardized the innovation before it's played out in the market and had a chance to run its course. Then you can retroactively write down what happened.

Let the hate mail begin :)

Confessions of a Startup Founder trying to get Press...

Added on by Chris Saad.

I just read a great post by Bekah Grant about the pain and suffering that tech bloggers go through dealing with the continuous onslaught of startup founders trying to get press for their startups.

I thought it might be fun to give the startup founder point of view so we can each understand each other's world a little better.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER

First let me say that many of my close friends are tech journalists/bloggers both past and present. I know (second hand) many of the frustrations they go through every day trying to do their best to stay on top of the stream of news, balancing priorities and serving the page view master. This post is not meant to be an attack on anyone - just a fun counter-balance to Bekah's post.

The hungry, hungry employees

As founders of startups we have asked other people to risk their livelihood (wives, employees, families, investors and so on) on our crazy idea. Not only are we desperate to see this idea succeed so we can make our own little dent on the universe, but there's also the constant fear of letting those who've bet on us down and having them and their families go hungry!

In any given day you're dealing with product development, business development, fundraising, marketing, family issues, competitors, personal grievances between various stakeholders and the worst enemy of all - time.

You don’t have any visibility

It's hard to explain the sheer terror one feels after you've poured your blood, sweat, tears and money into a project, that, on launch day, it wont get covered... or... just as bad... it will get covered and no one will care.

The reality is, of course, that even with coverage, launch day is often not the big 'build it and they will come' miracle moment most green entrepreneurs think it will be.

In any case, get covered they must and trying to walk that fine line of diligent follow-ups without being annoying with a blogger who is spread too thin to give you a clear response is a nightmarish process.

One would think it would be easier if you're friends with the blogger (as I sometimes am) but in truth it's even harder because you don't want it to ever seem like you're leaning on your friendship to get something written (because that is, of course, NOT the point of your friendship) and you don't want to upset your friend for some announcement.

Bad Perspective

Another mistake that's easy to make as an Entrepreneur is that you are so intimately aware of every facet of your product and all of the underlaying assumptions and market dynamics that it's very, very easy to screw up your pitch.

After being so close to something its often difficult to see the forrest from the trees in terms of the high level message or newsworthy angle.

Getting outside advice and pitching it to friends first is often a good idea to help with this.

Worse than a lack of personal perspective, though, is the difficulty in knowing what the journalist will actually care about or resonate with. Even if you research what they've written about before there's no guarantee that they still care about that space on the day of the pitch. They may have written about it once as a favor, or written about it endlessly and they are now sick to death of it such that they feel like your 'related app' is just a 'me too' copy. On the other hand If you come in with something fresh it might appear as outside their beat or simply too offbeat.

There's obviously no excuse for pitching a B2B story to a B2C Gaming blogger though!

PR People

Again I am very fortunate to work and play with many in the blogger community so I don't need PR people to 'get introductions', but many green entrepreneurs can be utterly lost as to how to get attention for their precious startup.

PR firms, like many other firms in the ecosystem, can often come promising a panacea solution to startup troubles and, more often than not, fail to deliver on lofty goals - particularly if you don't have real money and a strong guiding vision over the process from in-house people.

I definitely feel like reaching out and telling your own story is the best possible approach if you can do it, but often times first time entrepreneurs simply don't have a choice - and it's very easy to find bad service providers.

Commenters are Jerks

I agree most comments are garbage and unfortunately it's pretty clear that female tech bloggers have it much worse than male bloggers. I could write a whole book about this though so let me move on.

Entrepreneurs are people too

Relationships in Silicon Valley, in general, can feel very one sided. Everyone is so busy and moving so fast that it's easy for people to ask for what they need and then forget to reciprocate or touch base at other times.

I've felt this in all kinds of relationships though - not just between Entrepreneurs and Bloggers.

It can also often times feel unfair that bloggers get to pass judgement on your startup or project when they themselves have not been an operator. I've seen this kind of resentment fester - particularly when the coverage is unfavorable. 

At the end of the day, though, we're all people, and we're all trying our best to do our jobs to the best of our ability.

We need to remember that each of us is carrying our own personal burdens (both professionally and personally) and each of us is striving to be the hero of our own story.

We should also remember that we're some of the luckiest people on the planet because we get to complain about all this abundance while many are struggling just to survive.

I love all my Entrepreneur and Blogger friends!

With Waze, Google has all the pieces to win the next cycle.

Added on by Chris Saad.

Google is close to ending the speculation and buying Waze for $1.3 billion, according to Israeli media.

If Google buys Waze it's got nothing to do with either. It's about blocking Facebook and Apple from finishing their suite.

Only Google has all the key assets in place to dominate the next cycle. The Mobile OS (Android), The Productivity Apps (Gmail, Drive, Maps, Docs), Next gen interfaces (Google Now, Google Voice Actions), Content (Google Play), PaaS (Google AppEngine and other Cloud Services) and G+ as an emerging social layer. Even Google Glass is playing a role by reinvigorating the brand as an innovator and a haven for geek fantasy and invention.

Before Larry Page took the reins as CEO and G+ launched, Google was a confused mess with little hope to regain ground against Facebook and Apple.

Since Larry's return and a series of clear and crisp moves, though, it's been obvious there is now a great vision, strategic product consolidation and effective execution. It's exciting to watch.

In a time where Facebook has been derailed by a botched IPO and lackluster monetization efforts and Apple has been slowed by a collapsing reality distortion field, Google is coalescing its products into a thoughtful tapestry. It's not perfect but it's heading in the right direction.

Of all the tech giants, Google is the one that most resonates with me philosophically and architecturally - I'm excited to see what happens next.

On Twitter, Privacy, PRISM & Bandwagons

Added on by Chris Saad.

The whole Internet is on fire about PRISM right now. Apparently the NSA is wholesale tracking data from 9 major internet companies. Putting aside for a second if this is true or not, or what it really means, I want to address a related story about Twitter's NON-participation in this list.

 

prism-slide-5.jpg

The site Quartz is claiming that it's somehow a big show of strength that Twitter is not listed as a provider of data to the PRISM program. It goes on to explain that this will bolster their IPO as they potentially go on to become bigger than many other tech giants.

This seems to be a really popular post right now that's getting lots of retweets.

I'd like to rain on this parade. 

  1. Twitter's data is predominantly public. Many companies have the Firehose and/or use their public APIs. It's difficult for a company who provides public data to protect very much privacy.

  2. Twitter is not (or should not) be on track to rival any of the companies listed in the PRISM program. Don't get me wrong, it's a great, fun service with lots of disruptive implications - but it's not Google or even Facebook in terms of its utility. It missed the boat on that.

Let's just keep the irrational exuberance in check, shall we? 

Building in someone else's yard

Added on by Chris Saad.

Loic Le Meur writes over on LinkedIn about his mistakes betting on Twitter with his company Seesmic. Seesmic was a company that produced a series of great Twitter clients for multiple platforms (Mobile, Web, Desktop etc). When Twitter started shutting down developers and releasing their own official clients Seesmic's business was undermined and ultimately shuttered.

I'm not blaming Twitter for this strategic change – they did not know they would take that decision at the time when they were fully supporting their ecosystem. I blame myself entirely. I should have never dedicated all my team resources to build on one platform. That is a lesson learned the hard way along with many other developers. I was too excited and became blind.
...
Here are my two cents for entrepreneurs betting on someone else's success: be careful that everything can change from one day to another and all the rules will change. I will never be that dependent on anyone anymore.

 

Loic is a wicked smart and very successful entrepreneur. He's always smiling, generous and well liked by his peers. It's a real shame that Twitter pivoted in the way that it did to undermine his business.

I'd like to refine Loic's lessons learned a little here, though. In my opinion the problem was not betting on someone else's platform but rather...

  1. Twitter is not a platform, it's a media company
  2. Betting on one media company rather than multiple

Whenever a company makes money from Ads, it's not a platform/technology company - it's a media company. As a media company It needs to control the eyeballs so that it can control the ad impressions.

To be fair, though, Twitter's ad revenue model wasn't in place when Loic started betting on them. It was clear, however, that their revenue model was still in flux and that ads would play a role in order to keep the service free for end-users.

The reality is companies successfully rely on other platforms all the time. Amazon Web Services is a great example of this. There's never a risk that AWS is going to start turning off or competing with its developers because it is a true platform.

Like AWS, Echo is a true platform. We make our money by encouraging developers to build world class apps on our platform and we even help them sell those apps to major customers.

Facebook, Twitter etc were never true technology platforms. They are distribution channels. They are data sources. They are social services. But they are not platforms.

Ironically this is still happening today. Major media companies and developers still spend enormous sums of money encouraging their users to participate on Twitter and Facebook as 'outsourced engagement platforms'. Ironically Media companies who should understand the value of owning the audience and the ad impressions are happily outsourcing them to competing media companies (Facebook and Twitter). I write more about this over on the Echo blog.

The key, then, is not avoiding 3rd party platforms, but rather to understand the difference between platforms, products, services and media companies. It's key to understand the incentives, revenue flows and business models so you can understand how to align your company and product with the value chain.

 

Dark Social and Facebook+

Added on by Chris Saad.

Working with large brands at Echo is thrilling. They have the content, products and reach that matter in everyday people’s lives. This means that even small improvements in their Realtime, Social strategy results in big impacts on large groups of people. One of the prevailing misconceptions we find when we first get started with a new customer, however, is that Facebook is Social. Facebook comments, Facebook Likes, Facebook Fan Pages are often seen as the beginning and the end of the social ‘strategy’.

For as long as I can remember, my career has been about helping others to remember that Facebook (or Myspace or AOL etc) can only ever be one part of the larger web and Internet landscape. The percentage fluctuates of course but it is never 100%.

A new article in The Atlantic this week, however, reminds us that not only is Facebook only a fraction of the overall web (in terms of traffic referrers and participation) but also that its not even the biggest fraction. It also reminds us that while modern social networking has introduced many powerful novelties, being social on the internet is far from a new phenomenon. In fact, it has been a pervasive part of internet interactions since the beginning - think Email and Instant Messaging for example. These ‘old’ tools continue to have a huge (in fact the largest) impact on your referrer traffic and engagement.

This engagement, however, is under measured and not well understood. The Atlantic postulates that it appears in web analytics as unknown referrers to non home page or section front pages - assuming that direct traffic to deep links can only come from people sharing links to one another using tools that don’t leave referrer signatures. So the Atlantic has taken to calling this class of traffic ‘Dark Social’.

Below is a chart of their referral traffic as measured by ChartBeat. Most notably they have shown and labeled the appropriate traffic as 'Dark Social' on the chart.

This chart clearly shows that, for The Atlantic, Dark Social, and non Facebook ‘Standard Social’ together, accounts for almost 80% of all referral traffic.

In this light it is obvious that what’s needed is a ‘Facebook+’ strategy. Or better put, a strategy that puts your website at the center, with Mobile + Desktops + Facebook + Twitter + Reddit + Digg + StumbleUpon + Dark Social + many others as link distribution pipes.

This means that for maximum coverage and distribution, every login, sharing, commenting, following, notification, trending surface can’t just be a Facebook widget. You need white label Social Software Infrastructure that connects your audience to your site using the tools, technologies and distribution opportunities of the entire web.

The web has always been, and will always continue to be the platform. Social or otherwise.

The Open Web Is Dead - Long live the Open Web

Added on by Chris Saad.

Yesterday Robert Scoble once again declared that the Open Web was dead. His argument was that Apps and proprietary black holes like Facebook are absorbing all the light (read: users, attention, value, investment) and taking our beloved open platform right along with it. In his post, he kindly (but incorrectly) named me as the only person who really cares about the Open Web. While that's flattering, I think he's wrong about me being the only one who cares.

But he is right about the Open Web. It's in real danger. URLs are fading into the background,  native Mobile apps are all the rage and Facebook threatens to engulf the web into a proprietary black hole.

But I think there's a bigger problem going on right now. Not just with the web, but with silicon valley (as stewards of the web). We've lost sight of the things that matter. We're obsessed with quick wins, easily digestible VC pitches, stock options and flipping for a Ferrari.

There's more to this game than that. Let me touch on some of the things I see going on.

  1. Lead not just cheerlead In our obsession with being seen by our micro-audiences as 'thought leaders' or 'futurists' it's always very tempting to watch which way the wind is blowing and shout loudly that THERE is the future. Like a weather vane, it's easy to point the way the wind is blowing, but our biggest, best opportunity is not to declare a popular service 'the next big thing' just because a few visible people are hanging out there. Rather our collective and individual responsibility is to help articulate a direction we think moves the state of the art forward for both the web and for society at large. Something, as leaders of this field, we believe in. Just like VCs develop an investment thesis, we should all have a vision for where the web is going (and how it should get there) and actively seek out, support and promote quiet heros who are building something that moves the needle in the right direction.
  2. Add to the web's DNA Almost every startup I see today is focused on building an 'App' and calling it a 'Platform'. Too often (almost every time) though, these apps are nothing more than proprietary, incremental and niche attempts at making a quick buck. We need more companies to think deeper. Think longer term. What are you doing to change the fabric of the web's DNA forever? How can you contribute to the very essence of the Internet the same way that TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML, JS and so many other technologies have done. Even proprietary technologies have provided valuable evolutions forward - things like Flash and yes, even FB. How are you going to live forever? This is why Facebook used to call itself a 'Social Utility' instead of a 'Social Network'. Mark Zuckerberg was never content to be the next Myspace Tom. He wanted to be the next Alexander Graham Bell. And now he is.
  3. Don't just iterate, innovate Of course, someone has to build Apps. We can't all be working at the infrastructure layer. But too many of the Apps we chose to build (or champion) are incremental. As startup founders, investors and influencers it's so easy to understand something that can be described as the 'Flipboard of Monkeys' instead of thinking really hard about how a completely new idea might fit into the future. Sure there are plenty of good business and marketing reasons why you shouldn't stray too far from the beaten path, broadening it one incremental feature at a time, but the core essence of what you're working on can't be yet another turn of a very tired wheel. If you're shouting 'Me too' then you're probably not thinking big enough.
  4. B2C, not Ego2C Silicon valley is clearly a B2C town. We all love the sexy new app that our mother might eventually understand. Something we can get millions of users to use so we can show them lots of ads. Besides the fact that I think we should focus a little more on B2B, the problem is we're not really a B2C town at all. We're actually more focused on what I will call Ego2c. That is, we pick our favorite apps based on how famous the founding team is OR how easily we can use the app to build yet another niche audience for ourselves (and brands/marketers). It would be a tragedy if the social web revolution boils down to new methods of PR and marketing. But that's what we seem to be obsessed with. As soon as any app from a famous founder gets released we give it tones of buzz while plenty of more deserving projects get barley a squeak. If the app gets a little traction (typically the ones that have Ego mechanics baked in) you see a million posts about how marketers can exploit it. Inevitably the app developers start to focus on how to 'increase social coefficients' instead of how to help human beings make a connection or find utility in their lives.
  5. "Users don't care" Speaking more specifically about the Open vs. Closed debate, too often we hear the criticism "Users don't care about open". This is absolutely true and the reason why most open efforts fail. Users don't care about open. They care about utility and choice. This is why the only way to continue propagating the open web is to work with BUSINESS. B2B. Startups, Media Brands, The bigco Tech companies. They care about open because the proprietary winners are kicking the losers ass and that usually means there are at least 1 or more other guys who need a competitive advantage. They need to team up and build, deploy and popularize the open alternative.  That's why open always wins. There's always plenty of losers around who are going to commoditize the popular closed thing. As technology leaders we're paid to care about things users don't care about. Things that shape the future. While users, in the short term, might not care, we should dare to think and dream a little bigger. As a case study look at Android vs. iOS. iOS is more profitable for a single company, but the other is now a force of nature.
  6. Death is just a stage of life Just because something is no longer interesting doesn't mean it's dead. Its spirit, and often times the actual technology, lives on, one layer below the surface. RSS is a great example of this. RSS's spirit lives on in ActivityStreams and the general publish/subscribe model. It is powering almost every service-to-service interaction you currently enjoy. Is it dead, or has it simply become part of the DNA of the Internet? Could RSS (or something like it) be better exposed higher up in the stack, absolutely, but that will take some time, thoughtful execution and influencers who are willing to champion the cause. The same is true for OpenID and OAuth.
  7. The Arc of the Universe Is long but It bends towards Open The battle of Open vs. Closed is not a zero sum game. Both have their time. It's a sin wave. First, closed, proprietary solutions come to define a new way of fulfilling a use case and doing business. They solve a problem simply and elegantly and blaze a path to market awareness, acceptance and commercialization. Open, however, always follows. Whether it's a year, a decade or a century, Open. Always. Wins. The only question is how long, as an industry, are we going to keep our tail tucked between our legs in front of the the great giant proprietary platform of the moment or are we going to get our act together to ensure the "Time to Open" is as short as possible. It takes courage, co-ordination and vision, but we can all play our part to shorten the time frame between the invention of a proprietary app and the absorption of that value into the open web platform.
  8. Acknowledge reality FB has won. It's done. Just like Microsoft won the Desktop OS (in part handed to them by IBM), so too has FB won the Social OS (in part handed to them by Microsoft). For now. Acknowledging the truth is the first step to changing it. The only question now is how long we're all willing to wait until we get our act together to turn the proprietary innovation of the 'social graph' into part of the open web's core DNA. We need to recognize our power. They have ~1B users? The open web has more. Chances are that the major website or brand you work for has plenty of its own users as well. Are you going to send them to FB, or are you going to invest in your own .com. Trust me, I know it's really, really easy to take what you're given because you're too busy putting out a million fires. But as technology leaders I challenge us all to build something better. We're the only ones who can.
  9. [Edit] Don't kill Hollywood Did you catch the YC post  calling for silicon valley to kill hollywood. Not only was this reckless and short sighted, it's the exact opposite of what we should be doing. Instead of trying to kill or cannibalize media companies and content creators, how about we work with them to create the next generation of information technology. They have the audiences+information and we have the technology. Instead, most silicon valley companies, by virtue of their B2C focus, are too busy leaching off major media instead of finding ways to help transform it. Sure most of them move slowly - but move they are. Move they must. Helping them is very profitable. I write more about this on the Echo blog - calling it 'Real-time Storytelling'
  10. [Edit] Today's data portability problem When I started the DataPortability project the issue of the time was personal data portability. That's not the case anymore. While user-centric data portability is still being done via proprietary mechanisms it's a) actually possible and b) moving more towards open standards every day. The real issue right now is firehoses. Access to broad corpuses of data so that 3rd parties can innovate is only possible through firehoses (for now). To put it another way, the reason Google was possible was because the open web was crawl-able - for free - with no biz dev deal. The reason FB was possible was because the open web allowed any site to spring up and do what it wanted to do. Today, too much of our data is locked up in closed repositories that can and must be cracked open. Google's moves to exclude other socnets (besides G+) from their search results until they had free and clear access to them might be inconvenient for users in the short term, but, as a strategic forcing function, is in the best interest of the open web long term.

End of rant.

Analysis of F8, Timeline, Ticker and Open Graph

Added on by Chris Saad.

So at F8 last week Facebook announced Ticker, Timeline and extensions to the Open Graph API to allow for new verbs and nouns. Here's what really happened.

  • They split their single 'News Feed' into 3 levels of filtering. Now (Ticker), Relevant (News Feed), Historical (Timeline). (Side note, we've had a 'Ticker' style product at Echo that we called 'Community Stream' for a long time now - and most of our customers and partners said to us 'why would we want to show all that data it's just noisy'. Maybe now they will take a second look.). Question: Will G+, Twitter and the REST of the web adopt the same model? They should.
  • This allows FB to collect more 'noise' (also known as synaptic firings or Attention data) which, in turn, allows them to find more signal (also known as synaptic inferences or attention management). I've long said that the answer to information overload is not LESS information - it's MORE. The more information you have the more ability you have to find patterns and surface them in relevant places (I said it so long ago I can't even find the link). Question: Will independent websites think to collect their OWN Attention data BEFORE sending it to FB so they can leverage for their own purposes. The value of this data is incalculable.
  • Having these new presentation metaphors in place, they then created a mechanism to collect more data in the form of expanded Verbs and Nouns in the Open Graph API. With this new API, user's are now expected to abandon explicit gestures of sharing and instead, accept that every action they take is auto-shared to their friends. Question: When will the first horror stories start coming out about engagement ring purchases, personal health issues and sexual orientations being inappropriately revealed due to auto-sharing?
  • Using all the bling of the Timeline, along with new messaging and a simple little opt in toggle of 'Add to my timeline' they managed to re-launch 'Beacon' without anyone noticing (none of the tech blogs I saw even mentioned it). Question: Why did none of the tech media cover that angle of the story?

I continue to be in awe of Facebook's scale, seriousness, ambition and momentum. There has never been anything like it before.

They have created an Attention Management Platform that rivals Google Search and easily out classes many of my best ideas about Attention Management and Personal Relevancy back when I was thinking about the problem.

It's breathtaking.

And since it is all done with hard links to a single proprietary hub, it is eating the web like a cancer.

Before F8 it was clear that Google+ was a 1 or 2 years behind FB. Now they are 3 or 4.

Only time will tell who, how and why more open systems will begin to reassert themselves in the ecosystem. My bet is that it wont come from a b2c copy-cat, though. It will come from a well organized, commercially incentivized b2b play.

The part that still confuses me, though, is why ANY serious media company would want their news to load in a 'FB canvas app' instead of their own website. It makes zero sense. None of this changes the reality that you need to own your own data and your own point source. I made a little comparison table earlier in the week that explains why.

WSJ Outsources its business to Facebook

Added on by Chris Saad.

Today WSJ announced that it has built a news publishing platform that lives inside Facebook - effectively outsourcing their core website to the Social Networking Giant. The number of reasons this is a bad idea is staggering. I've tried to summarize them in a spreadsheet comparing a FB approach verses an Open Web approach.

Please feel free to contribute

Real Names getting Real Attention

Added on by Chris Saad.

There's a lot of fury on the web right now about 'Real Names'. FB is trying to use it as a unique feature of their comments system claiming it reduces trolling and low value comments. Of course that isn't really true. For one, any commenting system could force FB login. Two, users will troll with or without their name attached and, worse yet, many legitimate users won't participate for any number of reasons if they can't use a pseudonym. There are plenty of better ways to increase quality in your comments including participation from the content creators, game mechanics, community moderation and more.

The real debate, however, is about G+ trying to copy FB's stance on Real Names. They are insisting all user accounts use them and are actively shutting down accounts that violate the policy. They are being so heavy handed about that even people who ARE using their real name are getting notices of violation - most notable Violet Blue.

I'm not really an expert on pseudonyms, shared contexts and anonymity so I'm going to stay out of this debate.

The real question for me, however, is what is Google's strategic business reason for this policy. There must be a long term plan/reason for it otherwise they wouldn't be insisting so hard.

My assumption is that it's related to their intention to become a canonical people directory and identity provider on the internet to compete with FB in this space.

FB, after all, does not just get it's power from news feeds and photo apps - it gets it from the deep roots it has laid down into the DNA of the internet as the provider of 1st class identity infrastructure and identity information.

In this sense, FB's social contract has served them very well, and Google's attempt to copy it is a hint that they understand FB is not just a .com feature set, but a powerful identity utility. They must (and in some cases seem to be) understand that strategy and it's aggressiveness if they are to properly compete with the monopoly. My only hope, however, is that they are coming up with their own inspired counter strategy rather than just copying the moves they see on the surface - because that's doomed to fail.

What is 'Real-time as a Service'?

Added on by Chris Saad.

First, to define 'Real-time' Real-time is no CDN or Cache latency. When there is new data in the database, it's available to the end-user.

Real-time is not needing to hit the refresh button to see new information. It's when information folds into the page while you're reading it.

Real-time is a new volume and velocity of data. A lot of web data used to consist of 'Blog Posts' or 'News Articles'. Documents. Real-time web data is about activities. Granular, human readable micro-stories about the activities that users make.

"I read this", "I rated this", "I commented on this", "I shared this", "I edited this" and so on. Why? Because capturing, surfacing and socializing real-time activity data is part of the core essence of the social web. The ability to see not just the result of actions by users, but the play-by-play stream of those actions along side faces, names and time/date stamps takes an experience from a static 'snapshot' into a living, breathing stream. Further, by enabling users to like, reply, flag, share and otherwise interact with these activities, sites are creating new opportunities for engagement, conversation and conversion.

Real-time is a presentation metaphor. It often (but not always) takes the form of a reverse chronological stream with nested comments and likes. It helps users understand the order of things and mixes content with conversation in a way that drives engagement and return visits.

Real-time means filters instead of facts. Let the user decide what they want to see - to craft an experience that makes sense for them, and their friends.

Now, what is 'Real-time as a Service'?

If all the things above are true, then it changes everything we used to know about web infrastructure, databases, user interfaces and tools for moderation or curation.

APIs can no longer be request-response. Databases must now store far more data at far faster rates. User interfaces need to factor in names, faces and actions. Moderation and curation tools must leverage algorithms, crowd sourcing and real-time flows.

Real-time as a service, then, is cloud infrastructure that helps make this transition easier.

It is a database that can handle new magnitudes of scale - handling hundreds or thousands of write events per section. Not just to a flat table, but to a hierarchical tree of arbitrary activities.

Site -> Section -> Article -> Rating -> Comment -> Reply -> Like.

It's a database that can store all items permanently so that users can visit old streams at any time. Permanent storage that can also handle localized annotations. Localized annotations are the ability to modify the metadata of an activity - say a Tweet (Promote it, tag it, retarget it in the tree etc) - in such a way that that your view of a tweet is different from another customer's view.

It's a database that enables not just the ability to perform an SQL-like search query, but also continuously updates you when the data changes - so that you can modify the UI on the fly.

It's a database that returns not just flat query results, but a hierarchical tree - allowing you to present the activity in context.

It's a database that handles not just a few hundred users requesting (reading) data, but a few million users swarming to see the latest action in a sports game or a concert.

It's a database that organically makes connections between items by understanding the relationships of URLs and #tags to make implicit links in the graph where and when they're needed. For example a tweet mentioning acme.com should be attached to Acme.com in the tree.

And most importantly, it's a database company that understands that the opportunity of the Real-time, Social Web is far too big and moves far too quickly to possibly be built by a single vendor. A company that, as a result of this understanding, chooses open standards over proprietary formats; Partnership with best-of-breed partners over trying to build mediocre versions of everything by itself.

Polls, Ratings, Comments, Live Blogging, Forums, Data Bridging, Data Enriching, Visualization, Moderation, Curation, Analytics Game Mechanics, Authentication... the list is endless. They are all transformed by the Real-time web. They must all be part of Real-time as a Service.

And finally, Real-time as a Service is about service. Enterprise grade support. Best in class uptime. White label.

That's Real-time as a Service.

Further Reading

Initial quick thoughts on Google+

Added on by Chris Saad.

It's certainly very slick, but it's a few years behind FB. I mean that not just in timing and network effects, but in the much more strategic sense of platform ambition. FB.com was the FB strategy 4 years ago. FB is now going for the rest of the web. It's reach and role as an identity provider and social infrastructure player makes it much more important (and harder to beat) than launching a cool new service. So hopefully the Google+ team is thinking WAY beyond this as a destination site when they are thinking Google Social Strategy.

So far the broad ranging announcements from the +1 button to Google Analytics adding Social bode well for this being a company wide, product wide refresh. The key to success will be in thinking about the need to compete with FB beyond the walls and products of Google.

The key to that, of course, will be to get deep adoption by major sites.

Update: Upon thinking about it a little more. Google has once again missed an opportunity to play to their strengths. With the document web they played the role of aggregator and algorithmic signal detection system. With the social web, their ideal strategy would be to build the ultimate social inbox. A place where I can navigate, consume AND interact with Facebook + Twitter + Foursquare + Quora +++ in one place.

Instead they created yet another content source.

NYT Paywall, Huffpo Lawsuit - Symptoms of the same misconception

Added on by Chris Saad.

Over the last few days I have been debating the NYT pay wall on a private email thread of friends. I didn't feel the need to post it on my blog because I thought that pay walls were so obviously a losing strategy that it was a waste of time to comment.

But combined with the recent law suit against the Huffingon Post and Arianna Huffington's eqloquent response yesterday, I felt it was worth while to re-publish my thoughts here. Most of them are based on thinking and writing that I did many years ago around Attention. Most of that old writing has been lost in the blog shuffle. Hopefully one day I will dig it up and re-post it in a safe place.

On to the issue...

The price of content

I believe that people have historically paid for the medium not the content.

They pay for 'Cable' not for 'CNN News'. They pay for 'The Paper' not for the content in the newspaper. They pay for 'CDs' not for the music on the album.

Also they paid a lot because the medium was perceived to be scarce (scarce materials, scarce shelf space, scarce advertising dollars), scarce talented people.

Consumers are not stupid, they understand (if only somewhere at the back of their mind) that the COST of creating and distributing things has been deflated by a growing list of converging trends.

We live in a world of abundance (in the area of digital content anyway). Shelf space is infinite (database entries), any kid in a basement can make content and there is no physical media anymore so cost of distribution has disappeared as well.

The scarcity now is on the consumption side - Attention is the scarce resource. Value is derived from scarcity.

That's why on the Internet, Attention allocation systems (Google Search, FB News Feed etc) are attracting traffic, engagement and ultimately profit.

In this new world, the price of content must be reduced significantly as shakeouts and rebalancing occurs - because the cost of producing it is approaching zero.

The more the Music, TV and News industry fight this, the more they leave themselves open to disruption by Google, FB, Twitter and the rest of silicon valley.

This is not even to mention that everyone is producing content now. Tweets, Photos, Videos - it's abundant. Of course most of it isn't very 'good' by J school standards - but that's irrelevant. The world has never rewarded good with any consistency.

Also just because content is not good, doesn't mean it isn't personally meaningful.

For example, I care more what my child (theoretical child of course) posts to FB than the most important journalist in all the world says on CNN.

But please don't confuse my dispassionate assessment of the issue as pleasure or happiness at the demise of mainstream media though.

I am simply stating the facts because without understanding those we can't begin to change them (if that's what the media world decided to do).

In terms of making a judgement of those facts, I think that curators who weave and summarize a broader narrative in the form of 'reporting' are critical for an informed citizenship and a functional democracy. I believe in it so much that I have dedicate my life to helping mainstream media companies staying relevant and co-writing things like this: http://aboutecho.com/2010/08/18/essay-real-time-storytelling/

But I also believe that mainstream mass media broke an ancient (and by ancient, I mean as old as rudimentary human communication) pattern of people telling each other personal stories vs. getting all their stories/news from editorialized mass broadcasts.

The Internet may just be restoring the balance. The result is some massive restructuring of inflated budgets, processes, offices, costs etc. While we're in the middle of that restructuring, it looks like a media apocalypse. Until it settles down and a new equilibrium is found.

Here's what Arianna wrote on the subject:

The key point that the lawsuit completely ignores (or perhaps fails to understand) is how new media, new technologies, and the linked economy have changed the game, enabling millions of people to shift their focus from passive observation to active participation -- from couch potato to self-expression. Writing blogs, sending tweets, updating your Facebook page, editing photos, uploading videos, and making music are options made possible by new technologies.

The same people who never question why someone would sit on a couch and watch TV for eight hours straight can't understand why someone would find it rewarding to weigh in on the issues -- great and small -- that interest them. For free. They don't understand the people who contribute to Wikipedia for free, who maintain their own blogs for free, who tweet for free, who constantly refresh and update their Facebook pages for free, and who want to help tell the stories of what is happening in their lives and in their communities... for free.

Free content -- shared by people who want to connect, share their passions, and have their opinions heard -- fuels much of what appears on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Yelp, Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Flickr, and YouTube. As John Hrvatska, a commenter on the New York Timeswrote of the Tasini suit, "So, does this mean when YouTube was sold to Google that all the people who posted videos on YouTube should have been compensated?" (And Mr. Hrvatska no doubt contributed that original and well-reasoned thought without any expectation he'd be paid for it. He just wanted to weigh in.)

Read more on her post

Update

And here's a bit of 'Free Content' - A conversation I had on Twitter wish someone who disagreed with this post.

What is Echo StreamServer?

Added on by Chris Saad.

Yesterday we announced a new Echo product called StreamServer. There is very little more I can say that Khris Loux has not already said so eloquently on stage at the #e2 launch event

When you work so hard and long on something (depending on how you look at it, StreamServer was either 15, 2.5 or 1 year in the making) its hard to sum it all up in one, 1 hour event.

But that's what we tried to do.

We tried to thread the needle between a contemporary story about activity data, the existential change (read: opportunity or threat) occurring on the web as traffic and monetization flows to proprietary social networking platforms, the opportunity for every major node on the web to be just as powerful and innovative, the need for open standards and powerful cloud services as the basis of the the rebuttal and our deep desire to make this an industry wide effort. We tried to communicate the important role of aggregation and the pivotal job of mainstream media, e-commerce, entertainment, startup and agencies play in curating activity information for the masses.

We also tried to communicate that this was not just a pipe dream, but rather a commercial reality for major customers. A solution running at scale. A new distribution and monetization opportunity for 3rd party devs and a future ready piece of infrastructure for media companies.

I think we did the best job possible at threading all these stories, and doing it with a human, authentic voice through the lens of customer and partner experiences.

I'm proud of the work we've done so far, and the tireless efforts of the Echo team and our customer/partner devs.

And all of that being said, though, we are only at the beginning. We have just planted the first seed and I look forward to helping it grow.

So what is StreamServer in my words?

It is the real-time, social scale database that Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Foursquare and others built, delivered as an ec2 style cloud service. Turn it on, and forget about managing the data or scaling the infrastructure.

It is the first of its kind and it will hopefully form the basis of many new companies as they deliver many new, novel and innovative experiences to customers and end users everywhere.

And it's a bet on the future of open standards, developer ecosystems, a heterogeneous web made up of first class social nodes.

It's Real-time as a Service.

New Twitter. Feature comparison

Added on by Chris Saad.

Jeremiah and I wrote an analysis of the New Twitter vs. Current Facebook. Here's a snippet:

Situation: Twitter’s new redesign advances their user experience

Twitter has announced a new redesign today, yet by looking at the news, there hasn’t been a detailed breakdown of these two leading social networks.  Overall, Twitters new features start to resemble some features of a traditional social network, beyond their simple messaging heritage.  We took the key features from both social website and did a comparison and voted on the stronger player?

[Great Detailed Graph goes here - See it on Jeremiah's blog]

Our Verdict: Facebook Features Lead Over Twitter’s New Redesign

Facebook’s features offer a more robust user experience, and they have a longer history of developing the right relationships with media, developers, and their users. Twitter, a rapidly growing social network has launched a series of new features (described by the founder as “smooth like butter”) that provide users with a snappy experience and enhanced features.

We tallied the important features of this launch and to their overall expansion strategy and have concluded that Facebook’s features continue to hold dominance over Twitter, despite the noticeable improvements. While we don’t expect that Twitter wants to become ‘another Facebook’ they should play to their strengths and remaining nimble and lightweight yet allowing for developers and content producer to better integrate into their system.

Check out the full results over on his blog.

Guest Post: Facebook's world view

Added on by Chris Saad.

Just wanted to share with you here that I wrote a guest post on Mashable last week about Facebook's world view. Be sure to check it out here.

Are these blunders a series of accidental missteps (a combination of ambition, scale and hubris) or a calculated risk to force their world view on unsuspecting users (easier to ask for forgiveness)? Only the executives at Facebook can ever truly answer this question.

What’s clear, though, is that their platform is tightly coupled with countless other websites and applications across the web, and their financial success is aligned with many influential investors and actors. At this stage, and at this rate, their continued success is all but assured.

But so is the success of the rest of the web. Countless social applications emerge every day and the rest of the web is, and always will be, bigger than any proprietary platform. Through its action and inaction, Facebook offers opportunities for us all. And in the dance between their moves and the rest of the web’s, innovation can be found.

The only thing that can truly hurt the web is a monopoly on ideas, and the only ones who can let that happen are web users themselves.