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Evan Williams at Web 2: What's In A Platform?

By - November 04, 2010

_@user_40285.jpgI met with Ev at Twitter headquarters yesterday, a prelude to our conversation in less than two weeks time at Web 2 (I also spoke with him last year). As usual he was in a thoughtful mood, though an unexpected visit from Biz added some levity to the proceedings.

Williams will be the final speaker at Web 2 this year, a program that begins with Eric Schmidt, continues with Robin Li, Ari Emmanuel, Shantanu Narayen, Jim Balsille, Mark Zuckerberg, Carol Bartz, and so many more.

So by the time we get to Ev’s session, something of a grand narrative should have unfolded, if I’ve done my job right. And it feels right to me to conclude with Twitter, because it is at once the growth story of the year, as well as the enigma – what, exactly, *is* Twitter, now that the service is pushing 200 million users and on the verge of a truly scaleable revenue model?

I found Ev’s thoughts refreshing. He recently handed the CEO title over to Dick Costolo (see my interview of him here), and is focusing on product. As we spoke, however, it strikes me that “product’ is a bit too pedestrian a term for the issues and opportunities that Ev is tackling. They have a tiger by the tail. But what, exactly, is the nature of this tiger?

Twitter is a service, most would say, one that, by its own definition, is “the best way to discover what’s new in your world.” But it’s also a network, one with important social overtones – Twitter has created a public attention and interest graph. And it’s a platform, on which many developers have created applications and services. And of course it’s an emerging standard, of sorts, not unlike email – a set of protocols for short messaging that has become a de facto standard across the web (including mobile, of course). And related: Twitter is beginning to challenge search in terms of driving referral traffic around the web.

But Twitter wants to be more than just a protocol, Ev tells me, and that leads to perhaps the most contentious debate around the company: Should it be centralized, or decentralized? Those who have invested their time or resources in the Twitter “ecosystem” are increasingly complaining that Twitter should stick to a decentralized service model, letting other companies create value at the point of usage – in essence, let the developers determine how best to use Twitter. After all, that was how the service started. But Twitter has made it clear that it has more robust plans. It’s not that the company doesn’t want developers adding value, Williams argues, it’s that the company wants developers to add value beyond what’s possible right now. And to do that, Twitter has work to do on its own platform.

We’ll be talking about this and much more when we convene in ten days. What do you want to hear about from Ev? Here are a few questions to get your thoughts started, please leave yours in comments.

- How is the “new Twitter” doing? What have you learned from how usage patterns have changed? Can you share any data on how Twitter is being used now that might give us new insights?

- Tell us about the transition from CEO to founder with product focus? How is that going?

- The ongoing grumbling over Twitter obviating developers’ businesses by adding new features and services. What is your philosophy there? What do you wish developers would create that they are not creating now? What work does Twitter have to do to help developers create more sustainable, long term value?

- How are the new ad programs going? Tell us about the tests with HootSuite (in stream promoted tweets). When might we expect this to roll out at scale?

- One of the chief complaints about Twitter is finding relevance and signal from all the tweets. Are you working on this and what might we expect in the future? Might we expect to see “relevance” in the timeline?

- What do you make of the whole “open vs. closed” debate – and the “Web is Dead” meme? Can we unpack the decentralized vs. centralized debate?

- There have been rumors of another big financing. Shall we put them to rest?

Let me know your thoughts in comments. And while you are at it, click on over to my posts for Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen, RIM’s Jim Balsillie,  DST’s Yuri Milner, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt and add your thoughts there as well.

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Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen at Web 2: Apple? Who Needs 'Em…

By - October 28, 2010

_@user_64196.jpgAdobe CEO Shantanu Narayen has come to Web 2 as many times as Mark Zuckerberg, and like the Facebook CEO, he’s had one heckuva year. From the fallout with Apple over Flash to the rumors of a Microsoft takeover (which he’s denied), Narayen has had more than his share of challenges this past 12 months. So it should be interesting to hear what he has to say in two weeks time. Tim had some interesting things to say about Adobe in our webcast yesterday, I’ll post a link once the video is live. Meanwhile, what do you want to hear from Narayen?

While you are at it, click on over to my posts for RIM’s Jim Balsillie,  DST’s Yuri Milner, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt and add your thoughts there as well.

Here are a few thought starters:

- Why do you think the stock market liked the idea of a Microsoft purchase so much? (The stock shot up on rumors earlier this month).

- What is the future of Flash? How might it play in a cloud computing world? Could you see “Flash in the cloud”?

- How is the integration of Omniture working out? How does it complement Adobe’s core offerings?

- Are you concerned about questions of privacy, as Flash cookies combined with Omniture are starting to get more notice?

- If Steve Jobs were with us on stage, what would you say to him?

- The criticisms of Flash around performance seem to never go away. What’s your response to them?

- What is Adobe’s position on the Chrome OS and Android?

Please add your thoughts in comments!

Web 2 Conversation: RIM's Jim Balsillie

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jim_balsillie.jpgContinuing my tour of selected speakers at Web 2 this year, I alight upon RIM’s Jim Balsillie, the man responsible for guiding the Blackberry brand through the Skylla of Apple and Kharybdis of Android – or is that the other way ’round?

In any case, RIM has long been the king of enterprise smart phones, but that grip is arguably slipping. However, a suite of new products and an invigorated approach to developers is showing promise. Also eagerly anticipated: The Playbook, RIM’s first tablet product.

Balsille hasn’t been shy when it comes to Apple, he was recently quoted thusly: “We think many customers are getting tired of being told what to think by Apple.”

Yep, I’m looking foward to speaking with Jim next month! What would you like to ask him? While you are at it, click on over to my posts for DST’s Yuri Milner, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt and add your thoughts there as well.

Here are a few thought starters for Balsille:

- What are your expectations for the Playbook? Can or will it cross over from business to consumer?

- RIM is behind when it comes to the developer support, at least perceptually. What are you doing to address that? Do you have a different strategy from Apple and Google?

- Related, what is RIM’s advertising strategy? You currently work with a number of networks, but is there a larger play coming?

- What do you make of Apple?

- Of Android, and HP/Palm? Windows 7?

- Would you ever make an Android-friendly Blackberry?

- What features do you wish RIM had now that we might anticipate?

- Blackberries are often called “the phones you get if you have to have a keyboard.” They are also seen as mainly enterprise phones. Is that fair?

- RIM has been the subject of takeover speculation – do you see that as a distraction?

- Do you see the carrier world shifting in any way?

Leave your questions in comments, and hope to see you at Web 2 this year!

Yuri Milner at Web 2: The Man Behind A Revolution in Finance?

By - October 26, 2010

_@user_95614.jpg.pngWho exactly is Yuri Milner? I’ve heard this question asked quite a bit over the past year, as the Russian financier and entrepreneur has amassed significant holdings in key US Internet players – from Groupon to Zynga to Facebook (where he now owns around 10% of outstanding shares). His company, DST, has more than a billion invested in these social media players. (IT also purchased ICQ from AOL).

I had a chance to sit down with Milner in my San Francisco office, and ask him a few questions about his philosophy of investing, his background, and his strategy going forward. I’m very pleased he will be joining us at the Web 2 Summit – his approach to investing has upended a lot of presumptions about how “mezzanine” deals are getting done. In short, he cares little for the complicated structures and protective rachets of traditional pre-IPO rounds. He’s forced Silicon Valley legends to sit up and take notice. Oh, and by the way, he also owns major stakes in Russia’s most important social networking and Internet companies.

So what would you ask Yuri Milner? Here are a few thought starters:

- What’s your thesis behind investing? What do you look for when you make an investment?

- Does coming from Russia help or hinder your work? What do you want the Valley to understand about Russia that perhaps we don’t?

- Why do you so fervently believe in Facebook? What keeps you up at night about this investment?

- You are actively involved in your investments. What advice do you give to the CEOs of Groupon, Zynga, and Facebook?

- How do your terms of investment differ from traditional mezzanine players?

- Who are your next targets? Why haven’t you invested in Twitter or Demand Media? Betfair? Are there “types” of companies you are not interested in?

- What is the plan with your Russian properties? Do they have properties that you might export to the US or other markets?

- What do you plan to do with ICQ?

What do you want to ask Yuri Milner? Please leave your thoughts in comments. And please do the same for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt.

Mark Zuckerberg at Web 2: Third Time's A Charm?

By - October 24, 2010

Next month will mark the third time that Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg will sit down with me for a Web 2 interview. (The first is above, the second can be found here). Last year Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg joined me, and she was great, but I’m eager to speak with Mark again, given all that has happened in the past year. If you watch his interview in 2007, then a year later, and then his recent appearances, you see a guy who’s really matured as a public figure (and yes, that has a lot of nuance when you run Facebook). Yes, he had a uncomfortable (and famously sweaty) conversation at D earlier this year, but lately I’ve noticed a confidence that I’m going to bet will be on display next month.

Not that we won’t have a few items to cover that will test Zuckerberg’s newfound stage presence, what with congressional inquiries, unflattering Hollywood portrayals, and platform outages to discuss. But if you’re CEO of a very public (though still financially private) company, dealing with these things comes with the territory.

So what would you ask Mark Zuckerberg? Leave your thoughts in comments, and please do the same for Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt. Next up will be Yuri Milner, CEO of DST and major investor in Facebook, Groupon, and many others.

Here are some thought starters for Zuckerberg:

- You recently stated that the company is run basically at break even, and that’s OK. Can you unpack that for us? Investors like DST expect a lot more than that at some point, no?

- While we won’t focus on the movie, it’s a hit, so what does he make of it?

- The question of privacy and in particular user controls. Is he satisfied Facebook has done all it should with the new dashboards?

-  Instrumentation – why didn’t “friend lists” take off? The new Groups. Is it working?

- Faecbook Open Graph. Will TripAdvisor type integrations become the norm?

- A Facebook ad network off domain. Is that coming, when?

- Google.me. Thoughts on this?

- Twitter…same. Is the Interest graph of interest?

- What is next for the Facebook product? Mark famously loves to work on the product. So what’s he working on?

Please leave your comments here, so Tim and I can do the best interview possible! Thanks.

Robin Li at Web 2: Bridging Valley and Chinese Business Cultures

By - October 22, 2010

Baidu stock.pngI’m particularly pleased to welcome Baidu CEO Robin Li to the Web 2 stage this year. Li is a familiar Valley startup success story – he left a promising career at search pioneer Infoseek to found a startup that has rocketed to multi-billion dollar valuations and global business fame. The big difference? Li did it in China.

A one year chart of Baidu’s stock, shown at left, certainly tells a story of success. I spoke to Li earlier in the Fall to prep for our conversation, and found him reserved, intelligent, and perhaps a bit apprehensive. After all, he’s speaking an hour or so after Eric Schmidt, and Baidu is often called “the Chinese Google.” Not to mention the company has profited from Google’s recent decision to, for all intents and purposes, to exit the Chinese market. And I wouldn’t blame him if he’s worried that the industry might call him out for bowing to Chinese policies regarding censorship. But as Li told me, “We’re based in China. We don’t have a choice on this issue.”

American educated, Valley smart, Chinese native, Li is a fascinating study in two cultures. That he’s willing to come and be part of our industry’s conversation says a lot about the man, and I think we’ll all learn from his visit.

Here are some of the things we’ll be discussing, please add your thoughts in comments, and please

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do the same for Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt. (Next up will be Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.)

- The Google comparison, and Google’s recent moves in China. Do you likebeing compared to Google? Do you agree with the company’s clear challenge of the Chinese Government?

- Baidu’s stock has been on an absolute tear. How do you keep this up? Can you?

- Baidu is not well understood by the US market as a technology and product company. What distinguishes its offerings in China?

- Search in China – what’s different, what’s the same?

- The Baidu founding story – it’s a classic. It even has a Andy Bechtolsheim-like check writing moment.

- His take, as a “bridge” figure, on the various battles around Points of Control – Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Are there any parallels in Chinese business culture?

- Will he expand into the US? Europe? Other regions?

Carol Bartz at Web 2: Everybody Is Sticking Everybody Else In The Eye

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(image) Continuing my journey through the highlights of our forthcoming Web 2 Summit (here’s my initial take on Eric Schmidt), today I ask for your help in interviewing Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. I am particularly pleased Bartz is coming, first because she’s very good in conversation (and yes, often salty), and second because she fell ill the day I was to talk with her last year on stage, and we all missed the chance to hear her then.

However, much has changed since then, although Yahoo shareholders might argue not enough – in particular, not Yahoo’s down-to-sideways stock price (for a comparison to Google’s yearlong performance, see this chart). Those arguments have fostered serious chatter that Bartz might once again miss her Web 2 date – and this time not due to illness.

Well, I predict she’ll show, and she’ll have plenty to say. When we last spoke, we discussed the Web 2 theme, and she summarized it this way: “Everybody is sticking everybody else in the eye.” I won’t take it as my job to instigate her famous sailor’s mouth, but I sense it may go off on its own. After all, we do have a few things to talk about that might make a gal want to cuss. Here are a few of the issues we’ll discuss. Please add your thoughts in comments….

- Any public response to the current rumors of a private equity led buyout of Yahoo, perhaps with an AOL twist? I can’t imagine Bartz will have anything to say about this, but we’ve gotta ask.

- The never ending question: What is Yahoo? Bartz and I spoke about this on the phone a month or so ago, and you may be surprised by her answer. There’s been some seesawing in Yahoo’s definition of itself – from a technology driven company to a media company – how does Yahoo bring the two together? Again, there’s an interesting story here as it relates to content.

- Talent. A lot of folks have left (and yes, many have come). Why? Why would a talented engineer want to go to Yahoo instead of, say, Facebook or a startup?

- Yahoo’s approach to social. The new Yahoo Connect seems directed at Facebook, yet deep integration of Facebook is one of Yahoo’s core strategies.

- Yahoo’s new approach to product and infrastructure (I’ve written about this here). There’s an interesting story to hear, and Carol tells it well.

- The Microsoft search deal. Now mostly integrated, will it/is it bearing fruit.

- Her view of Apple. This should be quite entertaining. As should her take on Google, which she told me “has to grow at least a Yahoo a year…”

- The advertising platform business. Yahoo is deep in it, competing in a trench war with Google and Microsoft. How does Yahoo differentiate?

- The concept of “content with a soul” and her response to the content-farm allegations around Associated Content.

- Local: Always a focus at Yahoo, what’s next?

Please give me your thoughts on what to as Carol in the comments. Thanks!

Eric Schmidt, Opening Coversation at Web 2: So Much To Discuss, So Little Time

By - October 21, 2010

goog map.png

(photo) As I do each year, I’ll be thinking out loud here about some of the key interviews I’ll be doing on stage at Web 2 next month. Opening the conference is Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. Given our theme of “Points of Control,” I can’t think of a better way to start – of all the major players in our industry, Google stands alone in both its ambition as well as its power. It’s also got a rather large target on its back – everyone, from Microsoft to Facebook, Apple to Hollywood, everyone competes with Google.   

Google’s ambition is breathtaking, as you can see from the image at left, taken from our interactive Points of Control map. From its base in search, Google has pushed into cloud computing, operating systems, television, mobile platforms (both OS and hardware), social media, content, and advertising. That’s not to mention its rather serious dabbling in energy, transportation, gaming, commerce, and just about everything else.

So there’s a lot to talk about with Dr. Schmidt when we take the stage Nov. 15th. Some key questions include:

- Where is Android going, and will Google see direct revenue streams from it? Will the company take a more central role in driving quality app experiences a la Apple?

- Apple. Thoughts on the company, the competition, and the history (Eric was on Apple’s board).

- Why develop both Chrome OS and Android?

- What exactly is Google.me, and will Google ever make peace with Facebook and start to share data?

- Google TV will be just a few weeks in market. How is it going, and will Hollywood really play ball?

- M&A: Google has purchased two dozen or so startups in the past year. What’s the philosophy and

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thesis here?

- I wrote Stop It, Google won’t buy Twitter. Was I wrong?

- China. Robin Li from Baidu is speaking the same day. How did Google come to the decision to retreat from the world’s largest market?

- Core search: Are we worried about Bing yet?

- Privacy and data control. We’re getting mixed signals from Google (and others) on how this issue will play out. What’s Google’s framework for data controls and how might it differ from, say, Facebook or Apple?

- Self driving cars?!

What else do you think I should ask Eric? And what’s the most important, given the limited time we have? Please leave comments or tweet your response, but make sure to put @johnbattelle in the post!

The Points of Control Map: Now an Acquisition Game – Check It Out

By - October 13, 2010

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 7.52.40 PM.pngAs you know, part of visualizing the them for this year’s Web 2 Summit included a map I dreamt up with a crew of possibly inebriated fellow travelers. I’ve been really pleased with the response to the maps’ first iteration – we’re closing in on nearly 100K unique visitors who have spent nearly six minutes each playing with the maps various features, which include two levels of detail, threaded location-specific commenting, and a cool visualization of key Internet players’ moves into competitive territories.

But when I brainstormed the map, I always wanted one feature that was a bit difficult to execute: Acquisition Mode. In the Internet Economy, there are there those who acquire, and those who dream of being acquired. This has always been so, but in the past few years it’s been less so. My sense is that is about to change.

To that end, we’ve added a layer to the map that allows anyone to suggest an acquisition, anywhere on the map – and it also allows us to vote for those ideas. My goal is a heat map of acquisitions, a collective intelligence layer, if you will, over the chess moves companies small and large are making in the battle to control key areas across the map.

So if you think it’s a good idea for Twitter to acquire, say, Foursquare, well, suggest it. And see who might vote for it. If you run a startup, hell, tell us who you want to be acquired by – and if you think you’re the acquirer, so much the better. Tell us that as well.

So far, folks think Amazon should acquire Netflix, Facebook should acquire Zynga, and eBay should acquire Yelp, among many others. Check it out, and suggest your own.

I love the web.

It's All The Web

By - September 03, 2010

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Fred points out apps and services that are “Mobile First Web Second.” I don’t like the distinction. To me, it’s all the web. It’s this kind of thinking that leads to Wired’s ill-considered proclamation that “the Web is dead.” (I debate that in the second half of this thread here).

What, after all, is the web, really? To me, it’s a set of standards that allow for interconnection, sharing of experience and data, navigation between experiences, and a level playing field for anyone to create value. If we continue to see mobile as “different” from the web, we may lose the magic the web has evoked – the free and open platform which has allowed thousands of startups to bloom, many of which have changed the world, and, I hope, will continue to do so.

For more on this, read the Economist piece: A virtual counter-revolution. (Image at left is from that piece).