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The Colorful Bill Nguyen: The Market Will Come

By - May 30, 2011

Bill_Nguyen_headshot_png_100x100_sharpen_q100.jpgIn preparation for our short onstage discussion at CM Summit next week, I recently hopped on the phone with Color founder and CEO Bill Nguyen. Color, ostensibly a social-photo app, is backed by big money and saddled with huge expectations. It launched with great fanfare in March. I wrote glowingly of its potential here. I got a fair amount of sh*t for being too rosy in my estimation of the service’s potential. By April, Color had been written off as a failed effort by much of the blogosphere, and folks moved on to the next shiny object.

None of this seems to bother Nguyen, who’s been around the block a few times more than your average startup bear. He sees a wave rising in the distance, and he’s building Color to ride it. Whether or not others see the wave is not particularly interesting to him. As far as he’s concerned, it’s coming. Folks will get on board when the time is right.

So what is the wave? It’s a pivot in the fundamental organizing principle of how social networks work. He wants to move social past the friend network. Nguyen is certain that Facebook, for all its power, is stuck in a limited model – a poorly instrumented friend graph that you set up once, then run forever. I’ve called this the “instrumentation problem” of Facebook – it simply does not allow the nuance of true social interaction.

To Nguyen’s mind, the next wave of social will be driven by proximity. By that, he means by people who are near other people. If you’ve ever seen that famous video of a festival flash dance, you know how quickly human beings can create social groups. Color is meant to be an app that understands this essential human nature, “appify it”, and add value to it in various ways. His first choice was photos, but that’s really just a proxy for any number of things folks might want to share and relate to as a group (and as members of that group even when not together). Over time, these shared social group objects become intermingled with physical locations, and all sorts of goodness ensues.

However, if you’re going to make an essentially social service, as Color is, you can’t ignore Facebook. Color 1.0 did just that. I expect the next version will not. Facebook is the oxygen in today’s social web. Unless you plan on beating Facebook head to head, it’s best to beat it by joining it.

Nguyen’s goals for Color are very, very big, and getting there will require a lot of work, a lot of capital, and a lot of assumptions that will have to prove out over time. One of them is that Facebook won’t add Color-like features to its service. But while Nguyen told me adding proximity features to Facebook should be “mission critical,” he doesn’t see the social networking giant focusing on it in the near term. He’s probably right.

So why have Color and Nguyen at a conference about digital marketing? Because I see one of our jobs at FM as pushing all of us to think about how the world of human relationships might look three to five years out. Remember, five years ago, Facebook was a curiosity. It pays to pay attention to very smart folks building tools they don’t expect will be fully scaled till the year 2015 or so. Nguyen is one of those folks.

Oh, and at scale, Color would be one hell of a marketing channel. Bill’s got a few thoughts about that as well.

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The CM Summit is just one week away….so register today before we sell out.

Special thanks to our sponsors: Blackberry, AT&T, Google, Quantcast, Demand Media, Facebook, Outbrain, Pandora, Pixazza, R2integrated, Slideshare, Yahoo!, AOL, American Express OPEN, Balloon, BriefLogic, Evidon, Marketing Evolution/Telmar, Mobile Roadie, Spiceworks, and Ustream. And a shout out to our partners at IAB, Mashable, paidContent, ReadWriteWeb, SMAC, and TechZulu.

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Taking Twitter to the Next Level: President of Global Revenue Adam Bain

By - May 25, 2011

adam-bain.jpgTwitter. It’s our favorite conundrum here in Internet Media Land, isn’t it? On the one hand it’s changing the world and growing like crazy, with more than 200 million users who generate 155 million tweets a day. The services handles tens of billions of search queries a month, putting it on scale with some of the most elite platforms in the world. However, only a fraction of its users are also active creators of content; most are readers and followers – and that’s where Twitter can be confusing*. If Twitter is to truly scale, it needs to become a more compelling media experience. Further, Twitter’s initial foray into advertising products, its “Promoted Suite” of services, are garnering some mixed reviews, mainly for a lack of scale, though the company tells me it engages with 600+ advertisers who have run 6,000+ campaigns to date.

The company is openly self critical of its shortcomings, and knows it has work to do to make its service less opaque and more valuable to both marketers and users (not to mention developers, who have been scratching their collective heads of late, wondering how best to create value in the Twitter ecosystem). In March the company welcomed co-founder Jack Dorsey back into an active product role, and just this week it acquired TweetDeck, a respected third-party developer which had created a custom interface for advanced Twitter consumers.

And perhaps no question has dogged the company more than this one: When and how can Twitter make money? The issue is further freighted by staggering valuations in the private secondary market, which have wrapped a multi-billion dollar valuation albatross around Twitter’s still slender neck. The successful IPO of industry bretheren LinkedIn and Yandex, and the expected success of Pandora only heighten expectations for the young company.

Perhaps, given all this, Twitter doesn’t need to be profitable to have a successful initial public offering, but it certainly has to show numbers that prove the company is on its way. The man responsible for that job, Adam Bain, will be sitting down with me on day one of the sixth annual CM Summit in two short weeks.

Early revenue estimates are encouraging – eMarketer estimates $45 million in 2010, and more than triple that this year. But it’s expensive to maintain the infrastructure – and staff – needed to keep Twitter running. At least Bain has experience in both. He came to Twitter from Fox Interactive, where, among many other things, he helped lead the acquisition of MySpace and build out a scaled revenue platform across all of Fox’s online properties.

So it’s fair to say we’ll be having a robust conversation at the Summit. I’ll be asking about all this and more, and I’d love your input as well. If you have a question you’d like me to ask Adam, leave a comment here or join the conversation on the #CMSummit hashtag. See you in New York!

Oh, and PS – Register today before we sell out. It’s getting close!

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*I’ll be writing a longer post on this soon, for one take, check VentureBeat.

Special thanks to our sponsors: Blackberry, AT&T, Google, Quantcast, Demand Media, Facebook, Outbrain, Pandora, Pixazza, R2integrated, Slideshare, Yahoo!, AOL, American Express OPEN, Balloon, BriefLogic, Evidon, Marketing Evolution/Telmar, Mobile Roadie, Spiceworks, and Ustream. And a shout out to our partners at IAB, Mashable, paidContent, ReadWriteWeb, SMAC, and TechZulu.

Set The Data Free, And Value Will Follow

By - April 28, 2011

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(NB: Much has been written and said on this topic, and this post is in no way complete. We’ll be exploring this issue and many others related to data at the Web 2 Summit this Fall).

Perhaps the largest problem blocking our industry today is the retardation of consumer-driven data sharing. We’re all familiar with the three-year standoff between Google and Facebook over crawling and social graph data. Given the rise of valuable mobile data streams (and subsequent and rather blinkered hand wringing about samesaid) this issue is getting far worse.

Every major (and even every minor) player realizes that “data is the next Intel inside,” and has, for the most part, taken a hoarder’s approach to the stuff. Apple, for example, ain’t letting data out of the iUniverse to third parties except in very limited circumstances. Same for Facebook and even Google, which has made hay claiming its open philosophy over the years.

And this trend is not limited to the large players. I currently have 302 photos locked up in a service called Twitpic. I’d very much like to export them into my iPhoto library, so I can mange them as part of the rest of my photo library. But the only way to do that is to “right click” on each and every one of those photos, copying them to my desktop. That’s several hours of work that most folks simply won’t do. When an enterprising coder wrote an automated script that exported photos from Twitpic to another service called Posterous, Twitpic blocked the program. That was about the time I stopped using Twitpic.

This trend, I predict, will become the petard upon which our industry will hoist itself over the next couple of years. Very well intentioned projects like DataPortability.org and others are working on this issue, but it’s largely hidden from public view and debate, because that debate has been framed as “Us versus Them”, where the “Them” are presumably evil and profit-driven companies who want to leverage our data for their own gain. (See the entire WSJ series as exhibit A in this debate).

So far, the approach companies seem to be taking boils down to this: The data we have is too valuable to let our customers understand it, manage it, and ultimately, do whatever they want with it. We’ll say soothing things, and we’ll let our users take some actions with their data – Facebook will let you authenticate using Facebook Connect on third party sites, for example – but we won’t let you take the data you’ve created on our services, put it in your own pocket (so to speak), and hand it over to other services and platforms such that those platforms can add value to your daily life.

In other words, if information is truly currency in today’s economy, so far the coins in your pocket are all from different countries, and there’s no global exchange mechanism. They’re only worth something in the nation in which they’ve been minted.

For example, you can’t pass your Facebook identity to a third party site so as to enable that site to serve you a better advertising experience. While Facebook insists that your Facebook data is, in fact, *yours*, it turns out it’s not yours if you want to use it to help a third party make money. In other words, it’s not really yours if it has true value to a third party. Which, in essence, means it’s only yours if it’s not valuable to anyone but you. But value is most often a social concept – something has value because a third person values it.

If the true value of the economy we are building is to be unlocked, that value has to flow unchecked from one party to another. Were this to be true, differentiation of services would migrate to a higher level of the stack, so to speak. Services would be considered valuable for what they did with data given to them by consumers, rather than by their ability to lock consumer’s data into their proprietary platform. New models would emerge to reward those services for adding that value, and those models would be both more robust, and far larger than the “one ring to rule them all” model currently at play.

As things stand today, our industry’s practices are gaining the attention of dead-serious regulators, spurred to potentially early lock down of how data is used based on an incomplete understanding of how value will flow through future economic models yet to be invented. (More on this in another post).

A generation from now our industry’s approach to data collection and control will seem outdated and laughable. The most valuable digital services and companies will be rewarded for what they do with openly shareable data, not by how much data they hoard and control.

Now, I live in the real world, and I understand why companies are doing what they are doing at the moment. Facebook doesn’t want third party services creating advertising networks that leverage Facebook’s social graph – that’s clearly on Facebook’s roadmap to create in the coming year or so (Twitter has taken essentially the same approach). But if you are a publisher (and caveat, I am), I want the right to interpret a data token handed to me by my reader in any way I chose. If my interpretation is poor, that reader will leave. If it adds value, the reader stays, perhaps for a bit longer, and value is created for all. If that token comes from Facebook, Facebook also gets value.

Imagine, for example, if back in the early search days, Google decided to hoard search refer data – the information that tells a site what the search term was which led a visitor to click on a particular URL. Think of how that would have retarded the web’s growth over the past decade.

Scores of new services are emerging that hope to enable a consumer-driven ecosystem of data. Let’s not lock down data early. Let’s trust that what we’re best at doing is adding value, not hoarding it.   

More on this in my 2007 post The Data Bill of Rights, not to be confused with the “Commercial Data Privacy Bill of Rights,” introduced last week. While well intentioned, this bill does not consider data ownership and portability.

Announcing Web 2 Summit 2011: The Data Frame

By - April 25, 2011

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If you’ve been reading my musings these past few months, you may have noticed an increasing fascination with data. Who owns it (the creator, the service, both? Who has access to it – ISPs? Device makers? Marketers? The government? And how are we as an industry leveraging data to create entirely new classes of services?

Well, expect a lot more musing here, because (finally!) we’re ready to announce the theme for the Web 2 Summit, 2011, and it’s this: The Data Frame. From my overview, just posted on the site:

For Summit 2010, we noted that the Web ecosystem had shifted into something of a battlefield, with both major players and upstarts jockeying for lead positions around key “Points of Control.” Looking back at our theme one year later, it’s clear the game is still in its early phases – most of the major players have held their ground and continue to press into new territory. Meanwhile, the cycle of startup creation has intensified and compressed.

Given all this, we’re tempted to simply declare 2011 “Points of Control, The Sequel.” But we’ve noticed a constant uniting nearly all the battles around these strategic regions. That constant? How companies (and their customers) leverage data.

In our original Web 2.0 opening talk, as well as in Tim’s subsequent paper “What is Web 2.0,” we outlined our short list of key elements defining the emergent web economy. Smack in the middle of that list is this statement: “Data Is the Next Intel Inside.” At the time, most of us only vaguely understood the importance of this concept. Three years ago we noted the role of data when “Web Meets World,” and two years ago, we enlarged upon it with “WebSquared.”

This year, data has taken center stage in the networked economy. We live in a world clothed in data, and as we interact with it, we create more – data is not only the web’s core resource, it is at once both renewable and infinite. No longer tethered to the PC, each of us bathes in a continuous stream of data, in real time, nearly everywhere we go.

In the decade since search redefined how we consume information, we have learned to make the world a game and the game our world, to ask and answer “what’s happening,” “what’s on your mind,” and “where are you?” Each purchase, search, status update, and check-in layers our world with data. Billions of times each day, we pattern a world collectively created by Twitter, Zynga, Facebook, Tencent, Foursquare, Google, Tumblr, Baidu, and thousands of other services. The Database of Intentions is scaling to nearly incomprehensible size and power.

Of course, this fact raises serious issues of consumer privacy, corporate trust, and our governments’ approach to balancing the two. As we learn to leverage this ever-shifting platform called the Internet, we are at once renegotiating our social, economic, and cultural relationships – and we’re doing it in real time. How we interact with each other, how we engage with our government, how we conduct business, and even how we understand our place in the world – all has changed in the short two decades since the dawn of the commercial Internet. And all of this is described through a matrix of data, the power of which our culture is only beginning to recognize.

At the Web 2 Summit 2011, we’ll use data as a framing device to understand the state of the web. We know that those who best leverage data will win. So who’s winning, and how? Who’s behind? In each of our key points of control such as location, mobile platforms, gaming, content, social – who is innovating, and where are the opportunities? What new classes of services and platforms are emerging, and what difficult policy questions loom? And what of the consumer – will users become their own “point of control,” and start to understand the power of their own data?

These are some of the questions we’ll be asking and answering at the 8th annual Web 2 Summit. We look forward to exploring them together.

Web 2 Summit 2011

The Palace Hotel San Francisco

Oct. 17-19, 2011

Registration is now open, and an early line up of speakers will be announced shortly (we already have ten amazing names, but I’m holding off till we have at least a baker’s dozen). Stay tuned, and join the conversation.

* And yes, we’ll be updating our “Points of Control” Map with a new layer – the Data layer, naturally.

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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.   

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* 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?

Pandora's Facebook Box

By - March 16, 2011

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(image) I flew to Detroit today, and thankfully Delta had wifi. Since I’ll be speaking at a GM conference later in the week, and the fine folks from Pandora will be there, among others, I went and checked in on the site, which I’ll admit I haven’t visited in some time (I still consume music the old fashioned way – I buy CDs and rip them to iTunes). Now, the theme of GM’s internal conference is all about “the app economy” and fortunately, lately I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this samesaid phenomenon. Given that, allow me to digress. As usual, I have no idea where this is going, but at least I know where it’s going to start: With my first visit to Pandora in some time.

Here’s what happened. Pandora has done a “deep integration” with Facebook since my last visit (yeah it’s been a while), meaning that when I showed up (and was logged into Facebook already), Pandora went ahead and filled out my profile using Facebook data. To the site’s credit (and I hope based on some terms of service from Facebook), the service notified me of this, and asked me if using my Facebook profile was OK.

Now, you may recall the kitty-with-a-ball-of-yarn that is my Facebook account. In short, it’s a tangled mess, and I’m at a loss around what to do about it. Short version: I said yes to the first 5000 folks who asked to be my “friend” and found myself with a pretty useless “social graph.” I’ve tried a few times to remedy the situation, but Facebook ain’t making it easy. The service wants you to be who you already are, not who you might want to become, that much is obvious. And who I already am on Facebook is a not-so-hot mess.

So…now I’m faced with importing this samesaid mess into Pandora, a place I was hoping to craft in the image of my own musical tastes. Do I click “OK”, or do I do the sensible thing, ditch the Facebook integration, and start from scratch? I mean, I have no idea how Pandora was *actually* going to use the data it got from Facebook, did I? Obviously the sensible thing was to be cautious, and click No F’in Way.

Of course I clicked Go Ahead, Use the Mess. Because, in the end, all I wanted to do was get to the music, consequences be dammed. Sure, I had no idea how or what Pandora was really going to do with my Facebook data, but honestly, I kind of didn’t care. I figured if it sucked, I’d find a way out. Right? (Actually, yes, you can undo the connection in settings.)

But connecting to Facebook got me thinking. First off, I wondered if Pandora even knew what do to with my “social graph” – given it has no rhyme or reason, and with 5000 or so connections, should Pandora really want to Go Deep, it’d probably melt a few CPUs down at the Music Genome project. And second, it made me wonder whether, had I chosen instead to do the work at Pandora, building my own profile from scratch…well had I done that, I’ll tell you this: I’d sure as hell like to import THAT profile into Facebook, and make THAT profile who I am up in ZuckerLand. Because it sure would reflect my identity a heckuva lot better than Facebook does at the current moment.

Hmmm. Now there’s an idea. What if I could take all that declaration of who I am that I do out on the “rest of the web”, and somehow drive that back INTO Facebook, in such a way as to shift Facebook’s understanding of who I am in a way that I controlled? And what if I could do that over and over, creating all sorts of different identities, ones I could mix and match on a whim, or a mood, or a social instance? Wouldn’t that be cool? I mean, if I could start all over, from scratch, I think I’d like to start at a place like Pandora, build a profile of who I am, and then import that profile (sort of like a piece of digital clothing) into a place like Facebook. Starting at Facebook, in a way, seems backassward. I’m not who I say I am, or who I say my friends are, one time on one platform built just for declaring my identity.

I’m what I do, in context, and that context shifts based on any number of axes – who I’m sharing with, social frame (professional? personal? familial? commercial? intimate? public? etc.), hell, it even shifts with my mood. And it sure as heck shifts over time. (I think this is what Eric was referring to when he joked that we should all have the right to get a new identity after college).

Increasingly, I’m frustrated with a world that wants me to be one thing – one profile, one easily structured dataset, one ring to rule them all. This just ain’t the way the real world works. It’s what I was getting at when I penned “Identity and the Independent Web” last year, and it’s a piece of yarn I’ll continue to pull at, mess be dammed. I want to be able to push data back into Facebook, such that Facebook changes who it thinks I am, and I want to be in control of that process.

In other words, I’d love to be able to tell Facebook, I’m feeling Pandorish right about now…show me what you got for me now?

And I predict that day will come. If not with Facebook, then with a platform that understands me better, one I’ll be more than happy to inhabit.

Am I crazy, or just too early? Tell me what you think.

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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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?   

Remember Googlezon?

By - January 25, 2011

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Lately I’ve become a bit obsessed with predicting the future. Not the present future, as in one year from now – I do that every year, after all. But the long-ish future, as in ten to twenty years out. That kind of a time horizon is tantalizing, because it’s within the reach of our reason – if only we play the right trends out, and anticipate new ones that could defensibly emerge.

I’ve often found that predicting the future is a waste of time, but reporting the future is a worthy endeavor. More on that in another post, but I learned this distinction from my mentors an co-founders at Wired back in the early 1990s.

Late last year the Economist asked me to predict what the world might be like in 2036. When they asked, I of course said yes, because heck, it’s very rare for anyone to get a byline in the Economist (most pieces run without credit). I think my predictions were OK, but I have to say I can’t defend them with any kind of rigorous framework.

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Over the past week or so, however, an idea has grown inside my mind, and I can’t shake it. I spend a lot of time thinking about where this Internet Economy is going, and I’ve grown tired of the short view. I’m itching for a wider vista, for a time frame that spans years, if not decades. Most of the blogs, news outlets, and pundits I read day-to-day are stuck in the short now. I want to think more about the long future.

So I’ve started looking for predictions that spanned at least a decade. And of course the first one that came to mind was EPIC 2014. I remember covering this short film in 2004, when it first came out. It caused quite a stir back then, because the scenario it painted seemed so…possible. And given that it was predicting events an entire decade later, it had a certain whiff of science fiction to it. We want to believe in science fiction – after all, it’s nothing more than proof that the future is already here, just unevenly distributed.

EPIC 2014 focused on one thread of our ever-changing Internet Economy – our relationship to media. Some six-plus years of heady change later, I wondered, how does it hold up? And what can we learn from watching it now, just a few years from its predictive date of 2014?

Well, depending on how you grade it, it’s either an utter failure, or pretty smart, given the constraints of the time.

Remember, after all, that in late 2004, Facebook didn’t really exist. Certainly the idea of the “social graph” was years from cultural currency. Twitter was utterly foreign. EPIC 2014 is interesting for the assumptions it makes, and what it got right, and what it got wrong. Here are few choice ones:

- The New York Times “goes offline.” This seemed vaguely possible only a year ago. Now, the Times seems quite a bit more healthy, and it’s certainly not going anywhere soon. In fact, most news outlets look to the Times as forging a new model for news, one that just might work.

- Google buys Tivo. Nope, but damn, I bet many wish they had. This assumes Google wants to be a really good interface to TV. Apparently, no one at Google got that memo, yet. Because all I have heard about Google TV is that the interface is way, way too hard to understand.

- Microsoft responds to Google by buying Friendster and creating “social news.” If only! That might have saved Friendster, if only for a year or two. But the thinking that social news would be really important was prescient. Microsoft would create this social news service by 2007, EPIC predicted. Well, the company did a major deal with Digg in early 08. How did *that* work out, eh?!

- Google will create a service called “Google Grid” – a smart prediction of cloud computing; with “subscriptions” to “editors” who add value to the grid. This presages Twitter and Tumblr, or the rise of social editors and supernodes, as I’ve written previously.

- Google and Amazon would join forces, with Amazon lending its recommendation smarts, and Google lending its grid computing. Oddly, Amazon is now the leader in cloud, with Google a close second. And so far, Google and Amazon haven’t become real partners, in fact, if anything they are poised to be mortal enemies given the fight over media distribution coming with Kindle, Android, Google TV, and Amazon’s streaming media ambitions.

Overall, what I find fascinating about EPIC is how it got the overarching trends right, in the main, but the timeline and the details, while supporting a compelling narrative, were utterly wrong. Yes, the cloud is coming, but man, it ain’t gonna take over the world in a mere five or six years! Yes, social news and social editing will be critical, but NO, the winners of the current day – Google, Amazon, and Microsoft – would NOT rule that world. Totally new and unpredictable startups – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr – own that space now. And in the meantime, a shooting star – Digg – came, flamed, and went!

All in all, I love EPIC 2014 just for the fact that it was made. Here and below is a link, again, to the video, this time on YouTube, which, of course, didn’t exist when EPIC was made.

I love the Internet.

The InterDependent Web

By - January 23, 2011

When I wrote Identity and The Independent Web last Fall, I was sketching out the beginnings of what I sense was an important distinction in how we consume the web. This distinction turned on one simple concept: Dependency.

Of course, the post itself was nearly 2500 words in length and wandered into all sorts of poorly lit alleys, so one could be forgiven for not easily drawing that conclusion. But since that Thinking Out Loud session, I’ve continued to ponder this distinction, and I’ve found it’s become a quite useful framing tool for understanding the web.

So here’s another attempt at defining one corner of the “Independent Web,” as distinct from the “Dependent Web.” In my original piece, I state:

The Dependent Web is dominated by companies that deliver services, content and advertising based on who that service believes you to be: What you see on these sites “depends” on their proprietary model of your identity, including what you’ve done in the past, what you’re doing right now, what “cohorts” you might fall into based on third- or first-party data and algorithms, and any number of other robust signals.

The Independent Web, for the most part, does not shift its content or services based on who you are.

Yahoo, for example, will show you one of a possible 38,000 home pages, depending on who Yahoo believes you to be. Yahoo Mail (or any other mail, for that matter), is an utterly dependent service: it will only show you your mail (we hope). Facebook, of course, creates an entirely different experience for you than it does for me, because what Facebook shows us depends on who Facebook thinks we are. And search, in general, is a dependent service – what you see as results depends both on what you input as a query, as well as who the search service believes you are (personalized search).

And while I believe this idea of a dependent service being defined as “one that changes depending on its profile of you” is important, this isn’t the only feature that distinguishes Independent sites from Dependent ones.

Another way to understand the distinction is that Dependent sites tend to be ones we, well, depend on for some basic service in our lives. You might depend on Yahoo or Google for mail. We depend on Facebook for our social graph, and Twitter for our “interest graph.” Of course we depend on Google (or Bing) for search. And I’m starting to depend on StumbleUpon to surface sites I might like.

In fact, most of us “depend” on Dependent-web services to discover independent sites – a fact we may as well call “the interdependence of the independent and dependent web.”

Whew. We employ both kinds of sites, and each type depends on the other for value. What would Google be without the billion points of independent light out the rest of the web?

Not much, to my mind, and I think that’s essentially the point of both Fred’s call out today (see his piece on The Independent Web) as well as his partner Albert’s advice to Larry Page.

The funny thing is, Dependent web sites crave the dollars that big marketers spend on branding, but their services don’t complement brands, in the main. Yet up until recently, brands haven’t have many other places to spend their dollars online (brands love scale), so they’ve spent them at large dependent web services, and, in the main, bemoaned their comparative weakness to television. Yahoo Mail is a famously terrible place to put brand advertising. Google is a direct marketing machine, but it’s not a great environment for brands. Brands love Twitter and Facebook, but are still trying to figure out how to leverage those services at scale – Facebook’s “engagement ads” are not exactly brand friendly, though they can serve as great distribution for a branded story somewhere else (same for Twitter’s promoted services).

So where does that brand story live? My answer: On the Independent web.

Consider the sub-category of “content” on the web. It’s a very large part of what makes the web, the web – millions of “content sites,” ranging from the smallest blog to ESPN.com. Most of these sites don’t change what they show us depending on who they think we are. So does the “independent/dependent/interdependent” framework help us distinguish anything interesting here?

I think it does. To me, an independent content site is one driven by a sense of shared passion around a subject or a voice, one that a consumer independently chooses to visit and engage with.

Publishers pay close attention to what visitors choose to do independently on our sites – we covet “repeat visitors,” “high engagement,” and “low bounce rates.” Do visitors come back independently, or do we, as publishers, depend on acquiring one-time traffic from SEO, SMO, or other “tricks”? Once visitors come via a dependent service like search or social or StumbleUpon, do they independently elect to consume more than just the one page they’ve landed on?

When it comes to “engagement”, dependent sites tend to have more of it, at least if you are measuring in user minutes. Folks stay on Facebook for a long, long time. Twitter users go back over and over again, especially power users. The average Google user goes back again and again. Most of Yahoo’s engagement is in mail – take mail out of Yahoo, and Yahoo would lose a huge chunk of its user minutes.

But there’s a big difference between engagement on a dependent site, and engagement on an independent site. And in a word, that difference is what makes a brand.

When we engage with content, we engage with a shared narrative – a new story is told, an old story is retold or re-interpreted. And that shared narrative shifts what we believe and how we see the world. We are in the space of shared symbols – brands – and it is in this space that marketers can tell their stories and shift our perceptions.

I’m fascinated by how brands can leverage Dependent services in conjunction with the Independent web, and if there’s one conclusion I’ve come to, it’s this: Brands must be robust actors in the Independent web, underwriting its ecosystem and participating in its ongoing creation and curation. It’s not enough to “have a presence in Facebook” or “do an upfront with Yahoo and Google.” Brands must also engage where ideas and narratives are born and shaped – and learn to join the Independent web.

Sure, that idea is self-serving – FM’s tagline is “powering the best of the Independent web, at scale.” But that doesn’t mean we don’t love us some Dependent web services. We’ve been pioneers in working with all kinds of great services, from Digg in 2006 to Facebook Platform in 2007; Twitter in 2008 to Foursquare in 2010. If you’re going to succeed as a publisher or a brand on the web, you need to work with both. They’re interdependent, and wonderfully so.

Some might argue that you never need to leave a particular service or domain – that you can “get all you need” in one place. I certainly hope not. That sounds like a movie we’ve seen before, and don’t need to watch again.