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A Report Card on Web 2 and the App Economy

By - March 18, 2011

As I noted earlier in the week, I had the opportunity to speak at a GM conference today. I was asked to peer into the future of the “app world,” and deliver any divinations I might discover.

I like a challenge like this, as it forces me to weave any number of slender threads of my current thinking into a more robust and compact narrative.

Below is an updated version of a slide I presented today. As I thought through why I have a negative gut reaction to the world of apps as they currently stand, I realized it’s because they violate most of the original principles of what makes the web so great. And when I thought about what those principles are, I realized that a list already existed – in the opening presentation Tim O’Reilly and I gave at the first ever Web 2 Summit, in 2004.

Tim codified those principles in his seminal paper “What Is Web 2,” first published in 2005. For my GM speech, I extracted the core values which comprise the underpinnings of Web 2, then graded them in two categories: The Web, and The App Economy. For each I have a check or an X, depending on progress made since we originally outlined those principles seven years ago. A check means that, in essence, our industry has solidified its commitment to the principle, in particular as it relates to the most important party: The person using the web or the app. An X means we’re not there yet (and perhaps we won’t ever get there).

I think the results speak for themselves. After the image (and a quick break), I’ll offer some thoughts on each.   

web 2 report card.png

* The Web Is A Platform. There is no doubt that this is true on the open web (by this I mean the legacy HTML web). Anyone can put up a site, without approval by anyone else. This is simply not true in the Apple app world, though it’s more true for Android. I could write further pages on what it means to be a platform – certainly iOS and Android are platforms – but what we meant by “The Web Is A Platform” went deeper than the idea of a closed ecosystem controlled by one company. The beauty of the Web was that anyone could innovate on top of it, without permission. This is simply not true in the App World, for now.

* You Control Your Own Data. I have a very long post in me about this, and I spoke about it at length today at GM. But suffice to say, I don’t think either the web or app world have checked this box. But I see it as coming, very soon, projects like The Locker Project and others are hastening it. It’s my belief that soon consumers will demand value from their data, and that the web will be a place where that demand is met. Apps? I’m not so sure they’ll lead here. But they will have to follow.

* Harness Collective Intelligence. I believe the web has delivered on this concept, in spades. But I believe App World creates islands of disconnected experiences, most of which fail to share APIs, data structures, or insights.

* Data Is the New Intel Inside. I agree with this concept, which is truly Tim’s innovation. But I don’t believe either the Web or App World have delivered this power to us as consumers. As with “You Control Your Own Data”, I think the Web will lead, and Apps will follow.

* End of the Software Release Cycle. The Web has totally checked this box – when was the last you checked what version of Google you were using? Meanwhile, we still have to update our apps….

* Lightweight Programming. The web has excelled here. Apps, not so much. I have a lot of hope for Telehash, however.

* Software Above Level of A Single Device. When was the last time you wondered whether the web worked on a particular device? Oh yeah, when you tried to use Flash on an Apple product….enough said.

* Rich User Experiences. This is where apps kick the Web’s ass. And man, it’s a compelling ass kicking, so compelling we may be willing to give up all the other principles of Web 2 just to have a great experience. But I believe, in the end, we don’t have to compromise. We can have our App chocolate, and get our Web peanut butter to boot.

What do you think?

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Signal Austin Conversation: Best Buy CTO and Geek Squad Founder Robert Stephens

By - March 16, 2011

It was fun to open last week’s event with Robert Stephens, who has grown Geek Squad from 2 people to more than 20,000 in the past 15 years. Highlights include his view of advertising (“a tax for poor products”) and his confirmation that yes, every Best Buy employee will, in fact, get a tablet sometime soon.

Signal Austin Conversation: Matt Mullenweg

By - March 15, 2011

I posted earlier about my conversation with Matt, from that post:

When WordPress.com was split off into the for-profit company, many were concerned it would quickly become clogged with ads, but Mullenweg and his partners have been extremely careful in how they’ve introduced marketing into the community. Experiments include FoodPress, EcoPressed, and others in partnership with my company, Federated Media, as well as one-off sponsorships with Microsoft around IE9, and some clever use of Google’s AdWords and other ad networks. Clearly media is a business WordPress will get into more, especially with the traffic and uniques it attracts (see chart at bottom).

Instead of advertising, so far WordPress has focused on tools – including a “freemium” model for key plug ins such as backup, polling, and spam protection. But as the platform has grown, it has taken a considerable amount of investment capital, and those investors will at some point demand a significant return. Furthermore, WordPress has earned the dubious honor of being large enough to become a target for hackers with less than honorable intentions (not to mention ongoing battles with black hat spammers).


Below is the conversation I had with Matt at Signal Austin.



Signal and SXSW: What Should I Ask WordPress Founder Matt Mullenweg?

By - March 08, 2011

Screen shot 2011-03-08 at 6.34.10 PM.pngOn Thursday at Signal Austin, and then again on Friday at SXSWi, I’ll be having an onstage conversation with WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, who continues to be the driver of the WordPress community. WordPress is a unique platform – Matt works for Automattic, a for profit company that owns the rights to the hosted version of WordPress, at wordpress.com. There’s also WordPress.org, which is an open source, not-for-profit foundation that boasts a vibrant community of developers and hackers who merrily create hacks, plugins, and any number of patches to the WordPress code.

When WordPress.com was split off into the for-profit company, many were concerned it would quickly become clogged with ads, but Mullenweg and his partners have been extremely careful in how they’ve introduced marketing into the community. Experiments include FoodPress, EcoPressed, and others in partnership with my company, Federated Media, as well as one-off sponsorships with Microsoft around IE9, and some clever use of Google’s AdWords and other ad networks. Clearly media is a business WordPress will get into more, especially with the traffic and uniques it attracts (see chart at bottom).

Instead of advertising, so far WordPress has focused on tools – including a “freemium” model for key plug ins such as backup, polling, and spam protection. But as the platform has grown, it has taken a considerable amount of investment capital, and those investors will at some point demand a significant return. Furthermore, WordPress has earned the dubious honor of being large enough to become a target for hackers with less than honorable intentions (not to mention ongoing battles with black hat spammers).

I could go on and on – I am fascinated by WordPress, as well as by the publishing platform space it inhabits. The same habitat is populated by a clutch of super interesting companies, including Tumblr, which recently surpassed WordPress in pure number of pageviews (though not engaged uniques) and of course Twitter. It’s my sense these three companies are due to run into each other in the marketplace over time, in particular as the independent web matures into a real media play (more on that another time).

But rather than have me ramble on about WordPress and Automattic, instead let me put the question to you: What would you have me ask Matt at Signal and SXSW? Please leave your questions in comments, or tweet them to me at @johnbattelle with the tag #FMSignal or #SXSW. Thanks!   

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Austin Signal: The Program

By - March 07, 2011

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(cross posted from the FM Blog) In just a few days I’ll be welcoming 200 or so digital marketers to Signal Austin, the second edition of FM’s Signal conference series – regional, “mini” versions of our highly-acclaimed annual New York event. Our first Signal – based in LA – focused on content marketing. I’m proud to say it was both oversold and very well received.

This week’s Signal in Austin will focus on the impact of location in marketing. Given that Austin – home to the legendary SXSW conference – is where Twitter, Foursquare, and Gowalla all broke out, I’m expecting quite a program. To that end, I wanted to give readers a bit of a “curtain raiser” on what to expect for the day. As with all our shows, the conference is limited in attendance (we thought we’d cap it at 150, but nearly 200 are already registered) but we’ll be livestreaming it and putting the audio online as well.

Signal Austin will open with our a trademark one-on-one conversation. These are my favorite part of the show, perhaps because it gives me a chance to interview such interesting characters. You never really know what’s going to happen on stage (who knew that will.i.am was going to go meta?), but I prepare quite a bit in any case.

The first conversation will be with Robert Stephens, CTO of Best Buy and founder of the Geek Squad. I love opening with Robert because one of the themes I believe is critical to marketing in the digital age is a deep understanding of the role technology plays in how a company speaks with its customer base. You simply can’t execute “customer aware marketing” without shifting how your company understands and leverages information and information technology. Robert understands this innately. And of course, nothing’s more “local” than feet on the street, literally, who touch customers in store and in their homes.

After Robert, Brady Forrest, curator of the seminal Where 2.0 location conference, will introduce the concept of “Startup Ignite”, a special version of his Ignite format that he’s bringing to Signal. Throughout the day, we’ll be hearing from early stage location-driven startups hand-picked by Brady.

Following Brady, we’ll hear about the big news from Foursquare and American Express. It was supposed to break at our show, but someone leaked it to the Journal already. Sigh. Stuff happens.

Signal will be focused mostly on case studies, so after an Ignite we’ll hear from the CEO of Loopt, with a case study around the company’s work with Virgin America. We’ll then hear news from another hot location startup, Whrrl.

Next comes our second conversation of the day, with WordPress and Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg. I’ve come to know Matt a fair bit over the past couple years and really like his point of view on things. WordPress, as most know, is the most successful and feature rich blogging platform on the market. He’ll talk about his point of view on local, as well as what’s ahead for his platform and his company.

After a break we’ll come back to hear from the CEO of GoWalla, the founder of JiWire, and the COO of SCVNGR – a murderer’s row of location-based startups, all of whom are doing real work and real marketing revenue. After another Ignite, we’ll hear a case study from Levi’s, and a unique POV on B2B from Spiceworks.

Once lunch is over, we’ll return to a conversation with Sean Finnegan, a senior marketing executive who recently took the helm as CEO of Geomentum, IPG’s hyperlocal agency with more than $2 billion in media billings a year. After Sean, we’ll hear from Microsoft, which has made local a key focus of its Bing search engine.

Andy Lark, a senior marketer from Dell, will then bend our concept of what “local” means with a case study around enterprise marketing. We’ll hear another Ignite, and then hear from the founder of SimpleGeo, another key location startup. After that we’ll hear from American Eagle, Yelp, and Archrival, which will present youth-focused research.

As we head toward the home stretch, we’ll hear from sponsor HP, which has made location a key part of not only its marketing, but its product strategy as well. After HP we’ll hear from Pepsi, then our final Ignite. Marc Ruxin, a pal and key man at Universal McCann, will lament the “death of touch”, and we’ll round out the day with a conversation with Marissa Mayer, who heads up location for Google.

Not bad for one day!

If you can’t make it to Signal Austin, make sure to visit the event page this Thursday. We’ll post the live link there for you.

A special thanks to all the staff and sponsors who make Signal possible. It’s really amazing to work with you all….

Live blogging Eric Schmidt at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting

By - February 27, 2011

eric-schmidt-web-20.jpgI’m one of the four hosts of this year’s IAB conference, and kicking off the event is a keynote from Google’s Eric Schmidt. I’ll be updating this post as he speaks, so stay tuned….

Eric is wearing a vneck sweater and looks quite dapper. Executive Chairmanship agrees with him (not that I know anything about that…).

Eric starts by hitting “Morning Joe” who said that computers are “cold companions.” Eric says he’s wrong. “Computers do what computers do best, humans do what humans do best.” A “net win for humanity.”

Cites “Speak to Tweet” wrt Egypt, Ushahidi as examples.

Turns attention to advertising. Avg. American spends about a third of their media time online. Kids will be always online. Media will mean digital media. Smart phones surpassed PCs two weeks ago. “Mobile first.” Build first for them, then worry about web.

(So far, this is stuff we’ve heard from Eric before…)

Here’s something new: Mobile searches spiked 200% for Chrysler during Sbowl, only 48% on PCs. Interesting. Union of mobile devices and advertising is big…”especially display.” Current size ad market $26billion, 9 of which is online display (US). Eric says he thinks display can be $200bb globally.

It’s too complicated to get a campaign up, that’s limiting growth to that $200bb number…we can automate this.

Need to address measurement (no sh*t!) and give more choice/control to all parties (indeed)

Three bets: 1. Everything is changing. Our intuition about future is linear, but IT grows exponentially. The new online advertising model is real time, iterative, not press the button and see what happens in the week, it occurs live.

He notes Chrome is growing as fast as Twitter, and Android has beaten iPhone “and it looks like that will continue.”

Eric is now promoting ad networks (adsense) as good for publishers. And onepass, payment for content…

We’ve never fundamentally solved the problem of “mass engagement” in this medium. Need to … does not go into really how.

Now talking about hyperlocal…phones and tablets are perfect for this. Ex: RadioShack does this with mobile…pushing NFC as solution for closed loop. Agree this is a big deal.

Now Eric is pretty much talking “The Gap Scenario” … we’ve spent 20 years getting there and we’re nearly there now…

Eric is now talking near future world scenario: Computers are very good at remembering things, they remember you don’t…you’re never lost. You can predict where you might want to go. And with statistical translation, it’s good for the world.

“The computer can help me.” You’re never lonely, you’re never bored….computers can connect you to others….you’re never out of ideas, always something new to learn…

“What I like most about this future is the biz of information has always been the biz of elites….but our vision covers everyone…”

End of main speech, now to Q&A

QA time. Martin N. of NYT asks about “native apps” closed v. open – Eric does not like “closed apps” (IE Apple..) No kidding…Closed has worked because it’s simple, works well, easier to work with. But ultimately the world wants more choice and more openness. Ultimately scale wins. Apps should be able to know what container they are in and then optimize to that container…sounds like Java then Flash, no?!

Question about DSPs which I admit I missed….but had to do with Google’s position as both a DSP and an ad exchange/network. Eric said he was not going to become a monopoly.

Question: From Dave M. Simulmedia: What about TV? What about TV? Eric talks about ads product (tvads) and Google TV, which he said is “controversial”. Said that TV industry is mad that Google is taking “dumb TV and making it smart”. Indeed….

Q: privacy…”industry has to get our act together fast.” Goog working on this. Concerned abt early govt. reg. b4 innov. plays out

Q: M&A: We have been acquiring a lot of small companies very quickly.

Q: How long till we get to $200bb in display online? Eric says it’s going to be faster than we think…5-10 years

And he’s off…

will.i.am at Signal LA

By - February 10, 2011

I’ve interviewed will.i.am before, but this conversation at Signal LA earlier in the week was my favorite of the day. will.i.am is a remarkable thinker and as you can see from our conversation, he’s much, much more than “just a musician.”

File Under: Metaservices, The Rise Of

By - February 04, 2011

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I’m beta testing a new service called Memolane, which collects the breadcrumbs we drop around the web (from Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, RSS, etc) and visualizes them as a timeline. It’s not fair for me to review the service at this point – I’ll save that for later. Rather, I’m interested in what it augurs: The rise of metaservices.

The problem/opportunity addressed by metaservices has been worked to death by folks far smarter than I – in particular by well-intentioned developers looking to create better standards for services to share data. But so far solutions have failed to address the market opportunity. I think this is going to change, in the main, because we’ll demand it does.

Let me step back and describe the problem. In short, heavy users of the web depend on scores – sometimes hundreds – of services, all of which work wonderfully for their particular purpose (eBay for auctions, Google for search, OpenTable for restaurant reservations, etc). But these services simply don’t communicate with each other, nor collaborate in a fashion that creates a robust or evolving ecosystem.

The rise of the app economy exacerbates the problem – most apps live in their own closed world, sharing data sparingly, if at all. And while many have suggested that Facebook’s open social graph can help untangle the problem, in fact it only makes it worse, as Fred put it in a recent post (which sparked this Thinking Out Loud session for me):

The people I want to follow on Etsy are not the same people I want to follow on Twitter. The people I want to follow on Svpply are not my Facebook friends. I don’t want to sharemy Foursquare checkins with everyone on Twitter and Facebook.

Like nearly all of us, Fred’s got a social graph instrumentation problem and a service data-sharing problem. Here’s what he suggests:

I would like to be able to run these people through all my social graphs on other services (not just Facebook and Twitter) and also my phone contacts and my emails to help me filter them and quickly add those people if I think they would make the social experience on the specific service useful to me.

When you break it down, what Fred is asking is this:

1. That each service he uses will make the data that he creates available to any other service with which he wishes to share.

2. That each service he uses be capable of leveraging that data.

For that to happen, every app, every site, and every service needs to be more than just an application or a content directory. It needs to be a platform, capable of negotiating ongoing relationships with other platforms on behalf of its customers in real time. This, of course, is what Facebook does already. Soon, I believe, every single service of scale will work in a similar fashion.

When you think about a world in which this idea comes true, all sorts of new services become possible: Metaservices, services which couldn’t exist unless they had the oxygen of other services’ datastreams to consume. At present, I can’t really think of any such services that are currently at scale. (I can think of some promising stuff in early stages – Memolane and Percolate come to mind.)

Sure, tons of services use Facebook connect to leverage our social graph. But that’s a half step. So is authorizing or logging into a site via Twitter. Solves a simple problem, but doesn’t add much value beyond that.

But I’ve noticed a trend of late. While a year ago I’d only see a “service connection” happen between an app and Facebook or Twitter, lately I’ve noticed such connections happening all over the place – with LinkedIn, Google, Foursquare, and many others. I think it’s only a matter of time – and not much of it – before we have a “metaservice” hit on our hands – an entirely new and delightful service that curates our digital lives and adds value above the level of a single site.

Perhaps it’s already out there. What have you seen that qualifies as a metaservice today?