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

By - October 21, 2010

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(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!

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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).

Web 2 Summit Points of Control: The Map

By - August 29, 2010

(Cross posted from the Web 2 Summit Blog…)summit_map_8-17-10-01.png

As themes for conferences go, Points of Control is one of our favorites. Our industry over the past year has been driven by increasingly direct conflicts between its major players: Apple has emerged as a major force in mobile and advertising platforms; Google is fighting off Microsoft in search, Apple in mobile and Facebook in social; and Facebook itself finds itself on the defensive against Twitter and scores of location startups like Foursquare.

Nor are the Internet’s biggest players the only ones in the game – the rise of tablet computing has revived nearly every major hardware and handset manufacturer, and the inevitable march of online payment and commerce has roused the financial services giants as well. You know we’re in interesting times when American Express is considered an insurgent in its own industry.

The narrative is so rich, it struck us that it lends itself to a visualization – a map outlining these points of control, replete with incumbents and insurgents – those companies who hold great swaths of strategic territory, and those who are attempting to gain ground, whether they be startups or large companies moving into new ground. Inspired in part by board games like Riskor Stratego, and in part by the fantastic and fictional lands of authors like Tolkien and Swift, we set out to create at least an approximation of our industry’s vibrant economy. (And yes, we give a hat tip to the many maps out there in our own industry, like this one for social networks.)

*Ed note, I am also indebted to the late night jam session I had with a bunch of pals in my garage…you know who you are…*

The result of our initial efforts is pictured above, you can go to the complete map here. We very much consider this to be “for your consideration,” an initial sketch of sorts, a conversation piece that we hope will garner a bit of your cognitive surplus. In other words, we designed the map so you can give it input and make it better. Over time, we plan to revise the visualization, adding various layers of companies and trends.

(click here for the map, here for the rest of the narrative …)

Demand Media Files To Go Public, First Impressions from the S-1

By - August 06, 2010

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It’s the dog days of August, and a Friday to boot, and I certainly didn’t expect this to land in my mail box this morning: The Demand Media Inc. S1. But I had set an alert for the company – and several others like LinkedIn and Facebook – because I consider Demand to be one of the most important digital media companies to “take the next step” in several years.

The information revealed in the filing explains why. While Demand has been at the center of a months-long debate around whether or not “content farming” is a defensible practice, the facts are the facts: This model is working, and not just in a one-dimensional fashion.

The question remains if Demand will be seen by investors as more than a secondary search arbitrage play – it is dependent on Google for a large portion of its revenues, at least for now. But CEO Richard Rosenblatt, who for the record I count as a friend and colleague (he shares an investor, Oak, with my company FM), has steered the company higher up the content food chain – creating and purchasing brands such as eHow, Livestrong.com, and others, and fostering content partnerships with respected brands like USA Today and Hearst.

Revenue for 2009 was nearly $200 million, and seems on track to grow past $250mm or more this year. I’ll have more on the company during the weekend, once I’ve had time to really grok the filings.

Is The iPad A Disappointment? Depends When You Sold Your AOL Stock.

By - May 31, 2010

iPadresponseJan2010.pngToday’s news that the iPad sold 2 million units in its first two months – coming as it does right before Steve Jobs takes the stage at his only public conference appearance in years outside carefully scripted Apple launch events – led me to reflect on my prediction, in January of this year, that the “iPad would disappoint” (that’d be #5, scroll down).   

In that prediction, which was not without its failures, I wrote:

Sorry Apple fanboys, but the use case is missing, even if the thing is gorgeous and kicks ass for so many other reasons. Until the computing UI includes culturally integrated voice recognition and a new approach to browsing (see #4), the “iTablet” is just Newton 2.0. Of course, the Newton was just the iPhone, ten years early and without the phone bit….and the Mac was just Windows, ten years before Windows really took hold, and Next was just ….oh never mind.

In essence, what I was saying is that the nexus of first wave computing (Windows OS) and second wave computing (the web) had not caught up to Jobs’ vision of the third wave – mobile, multi-touch web-enabled interfaces. I was also hinting at my own bias that voice will become an important part of our interface to machines. Another bias: the assumption that Apple’s tablet would actually attempt to connect the first two waves of computing meaningfully to the third.

I think my prediction was right in the short term (when the iPad was announced, nearly everyone was disappointed at what it wasn’t, see the headlines from January, above), and I was totally wrong in the medium term (the thing has sold two million plus and probably has a shot at being Time magazine’s “man of the year” for 2010). However I still believe I’ll be entirely correct in the long term, in particular if Apple doesn’t change its tune on how the iPad interacts with the web.

Allow me to unpack that last statement.  

What I missed, at least in my initial prediction, was how entirely hermetic and “un-weblike” the iPad would end up being. Like many others, I was surprised at how complete Apple’s disdain is for traditional computing models – including its own Macintosh. The iPad would not be an open development environment – instead it adopted the iPhone model of command and control. The iPad would not allow you to run Mac applications – only iPad/iPhone specific apps approved by Apple would work, and that meant no Microsoft Office, thank you very little. The iPad wouldn’t even let you cut and paste – an innovation Apple pioneered – and worst of all, it seemed, the iPad wouldn’t use Flash – a proxy, as it were, for “the rest of the web that Steve Jobs didn’t quite like very much.”

So initially, anyway, the hue and cry about the iPad amongst the tech elite was decidedly disappointed. The iPad wasn’t a computer! The iPad was just a big iPhone – but without the phone, or even the camera! It’s an overgrown iPod Touch! It breaks the web!

Then it came out, and wow, was it purty. Apple has done it again, we all marveled – the iPad’s genius, it seemed, was that it didn’t try to be a computer – instead, it was a gorgeous device for consumption of media and interaction with apps. And sure, those apps could be web enabled – on the back end – as long as the web was channeled into structured, Apple approved fashion (no third party data sharing, natch). And sure, you could surf the the “real web,” but only if you went through the Apple approved browser, which finds Flash unworthy of rendering.

No matter. The fact is, the iPad is a revelation for millions and counting, because, like Steve Case before him, Steve Jobs has managed to render the noise of the world wide web into a pure, easily consumed signal.

The problem, of course, is that Case’s AOL, while wildly successful for a while, ultimately failed as a model. Why? Because a better one emerged – one that let consumers of information also be creators of information. And the single most important product of that interaction? The link. It was the link that killed AOL – and gave birth to Google.

It was the link that made the web what it is today, and it’s the link – reinterpreted in various new strains – that drives innovation on the web still. The link is the synapse between you, me, and a billion other humans – and the signal (dare I say, a signal one might consider third party data) which allows a million ideas to flourish.

So let me ask you one question, right now: Can you link to an app on your iPad? And I don’t mean a link to download the app on iTunes, folks. I mean, can you create an ecosystem of links, deep into your iPad application(s), links that connect your particular activity stream inside that app with other streams, other links, and other intentions across the web? In ways that create new values, both predictable and unpredicted?

The answer is no. Anymore than you could link to pages deep inside AOL, back when it was a walled garden.

Sure, AOL eventually figured out the web would win, but by then, it was too late.

Next week, Apple will make any number of announcements at its WWDC. I’m hoping the company will announce that it is tacking away from its walled garden approach with the iPad, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Apple makes gorgeous products, but ultimately, I think any product which rejects the web’s core value of connection will simply disappoint. But more likely than not, it’ll be a year or two before that becomes apparent.

PS – If you want a deeper dive on Apple and the web, read this: Will Apple Embrace the Web?  No.

Google to Apple: The Web Is the Platform; iTunes, Not So Much

By - May 19, 2010

Screen shot 2010-05-19 at 1.44.35 PM.pngGoogle has fired a broadside across Apple’s bow by announcing the Google Chrome Web Store, a great idea which, to my mind, has a mediocre name – one consistent with Google’s ongoing struggles with branding in general. If I’m a typical consumer, I might be a bit confused by a name that 1. has “chrome” in it 2. has the word “store” but sells only apps and 3. has the word web in it – does that mean I can buy things on the web through it? Given Google’s lackluster performance with Checkout and its recent closure of its Nexus One store, I’m guessing the store might get a brand makeover before it launches later this year.

Nevertheless, I’m guessing Google called it a “Web” store to highlight the difference between the web as a platform for applications, compared to the term
“App,” which is almost universally intertwingled with Apple’s brand.

But the concept is quite clever – Google is reminding us all that “apps” can and should run on the open web, and not just in closed, vertically integrated and controlled environments like the iPhone/Pad/Touch.

I for one hope that this new app store will flourish. Game on.

An Open Letter to Apple Regarding The Company’s Approach to Conversation with Its Peers and Its Community

By - April 17, 2010

cover5_06.gifDear Apple:

We miss you.

Once upon a time, back before you got real popular, you used to take part in the public square. You may have been less forthcoming than most, but at least your employees would speak at industry events, have unscripted conversations with journalists, and engage in the world a bit here and there.

But over the past few years, things seem to have changed. You pulled out of MacWorld and began hosting your own strictly scripted events. You forbid any of your executives from speaking at any public conferences (save one victory lap with Bill Gates a few years ago). Employees blogging, posting to social networks, or offering academic papers for public comment is actively discouraged. In the words of an employee of your one of your former partners : Apple essentially bans “things that we at companies with an open culture take for granted.”

Your relationship to the press is famously combative, those who do get access start their articles with phrases like “we fanboys are pathetic, I readily confess.” Not exactly the kind of press that pushes boundaries or keeps a company honest. And that makes us honestly nervous – we’ve seen what happens when large American corporations create cultures that worship secrecy and refuse to answer to the press. It’s not pretty. (Possibly to your credit, your CEO does seem to randomly respond to emails , but so far no one at Apple will actually verify his responses. Very clever, that!)

Despite the gorgeous products and services you’ve created, we worry that you’re headed down a road that may lead to your own demise. Apple is no longer the underdog living in the shadow of a Microsoft monopoly. Increasingly, Apple is a dominant player in any number of critical network services and points of control – from mobile devices to media access, payment systems to Internet browsing and advertising platforms. In short, we believe Apple is far too important to continue its role as the Howard Hughes of our industry.

So we’d like to publicly invite you to step into the light, and join us on stage at this year’s Web 2.0 Summit. The theme –“Points of Control”- is quite topical, we believe.

Yes, this invitation is certainly self-serving, but let’s just say we’re in good company when it comes to that particular instinct, and our primary goal is to serve our industry and our conference attendees.

Over the past seven years, Web 2 has become an important platform where the Internet industry has had critical, open exchanges of conversation that move the economy forward. It’s where AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts have faced their critics and countered charges of network discrimination. It’s where senior leaders at Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter debated their battle plans around real time and social search. It’s where Newscorp CEO Rupert Murdoch defended his acquisition of the Wall Street Journal, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained his approach to user privacy.

In short, Web 2 is a place where the leaders of the most vibrant industry in the world interact with 1,200 or so of their most important partners, critics, and supporters, in a forum that is open to blogging, tweeting, conversation, and debate. This debate informs and enlightens our industry, moving it forward and keeping all parties honest in the process.

Won’t you join us?

We eagerly await your response.

Sincerely,

John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly, Program Chairs and founders, Web 2.0 Summit

A Note to Twitter Developers: Alas, It Was Ever So: Now, Add Value, Post Haste

By - April 11, 2010

chirp.pngSeveral moves by Twitter in the past week have Twitter developers understandably nervous about their future. Many of them have labored for months, if not years, to create applications on top of the open Twitter ecosystem, and they’ve created a lot of value in doing so. They have “filled holes” in Twitter’s often bare bone service, creating Twitter-reading clients, Twitter application stores, Twitter filtering tools of all stripes, even Twitter analytics tools. The explosion of Twitter apps has been a boon to the service, driving rapid adoption and a strong allegiance in the developer community toward the young company.

Much of that has been called into question after the company indicated it would start building its own device-specific clients, as it did last week with Blackberry. It followed that news with the acquisition of a popular iPhone client. And, in a case of what appears to be independently poor timing, Twitter investor Fred Wilson penned a thoughtful but inflammatory post about the role of developers which led many to conclude that their efforts may well be subsumed by Twitter’s own internal efforts.   

For background on all of this, read the NYT’s Sunday piece. You know the old school media world cares when the Times gives Twitter main billing in the Sunday Business section.

But in the main, I have to agree with Fred’s points. Like Facebook, or the Microsoft OS, or the iPhone, there will be “core” features that the platform will develop, and these features will continue to evolve over time. But for every core asset integrated into Twitter’s ecosystem, there are probably 1,000 opportunities that developers can address. Add in the Facebook, LinkedIn, Buzz, and other firehoses, and the possibilities start to go exponential.

The point is this: Two years ago, adding value to the Twitter ecosystem meant building a good reader, or a good aggregator. But the game changes over time, and if you don’t keep moving, you will become irrelevant. Value now is not value then. That’s the life of the startup world. If you run a startup that feeds off the oxygen of a growing platform, your job is to add value in a way that continues to redefine what’s possible on that platform. Keeping running ahead, and figure out a way to get paid along the way. That’s what FM does, to be honest – we’re a Twitter developer too. And what we do now can’t be what we did last year. It just doesn’t cut it anymore.

It should be very interesting to see how this all evolves at the Chirp conference this week – Twitter’s first ever developer confab. I’m “MC” for the first day, and I look forward to hearing from Ev, Biz, Dick, and various Twitter partners and developers. It should be quite a conversation.

The iPad Needs The Web, but the Web Does Not Need the iPad

By - March 29, 2010

Dale and others have made some good points on what would make the iPad a better development environment, in particular, Dale recalls HyperCard, which was Apple’s version of a weblike development environment, before the Web existed. I covered HyperCard for MacWeek back in the late 80s and early 90s, and I also covered the CDROM market (remember that?).

Both are dead now, and the Web is king.

Dale writes:

What’s missing today is HyperCard, or an equivalent tool that can be used to create a new wave of applications for the iPad….. Making it easy to create content and increasing the number of people who can create applications for the iPad could be very important to its long-term success. The web has made producers of us all. If the iPad is just another consumer platform for consuming and not creating content, then it will just be another way to watch TV or listen to music or download information…

There’s a very easy way for the iPad to do what Dale suggests, and it doesn’t involve creating another HyperCard. It just involves the iPad becoming a world class Internet client. So far, from all I’ve heard, it sounds like it won’t be, and if you want to make anything that works great on the iPad, you have to make it in Apple’s proprietary authoring environment – just as you did for the iPhone. I think that’s a classic Apple mistake.

Don’t bet against the web. You’ll lose.