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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.


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

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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.

Tuesday Signal: Answer the Open Phone, Microsoft!

By - March 22, 2010

From my rant over at the FM Blog:

Now Microsoft is pushing to become a third major player. And to my mind, the company has a choice to make. No one – not even folks at Microsoft – will dispute the fact that Windows Phone 7, due out in the Fall, is a reboot of sorts, and a clear attempt at creating the kind of platform that Android and iPhone already enjoy. While the system is not yet out, the early buzz is good, but Microsoft stands at a crossroads. In essence, the choice comes down to this: Will Microsoft ape Apple’s approach, or will it take the path of Google?

I fervently hope it will do the second.

Why? Well, we’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we? It didn’t end well for Apple, in terms of market share, when it took a vertically integrated, precious approach to operating systems back in 1984. After Apple changed the computing market with the Mac, Microsoft took the best ideas in Apple’s OS, integrated them into Windows, opened it up for any hardware maker to use, and the rest is history. Apple sued Microsoft, but to no avail. (HTC, anyone?!)

Right now, Google is taking the same approach in phones – Microsoft’s approach! So imagine this observer’s dismay when early news leaked out that instead of out Microsofting Google, Microsoft instead was parroting Apple in its approach to the Windows Phone application store. As far as I can tell, Windows Phone 7 won’t support Flash, either– though the company is promising to fix that later….

The 2010 Web2 Summit Theme: Points of Control

By - March 21, 2010

web22010.pngEach year at the Web 2 Summit, Tim and I try to focus our program on an overarching theme that we believe best sums up the year ahead. This is never easy to do – the event is still eight months away. But this year I feel better than I ever have about our focus, because it’s a return to our roots, as it were.

If you know my work, you know I’m fascinated by the interplay between the entrepreneurial culture of our industry and the giants who have emerged from within it – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, to name a few – as well as those who have joined it from other industries – Comcast, GE, and Newscorp come to mind.

For 2010, Web 2 will focus on the chess game in which all of these companies are now engaged, a battle to gain the upper hand in crucial “points of control” across the Internet Economy. The idea sprang from Tim’s “War for the Web” post last Fall, but we’re taking that riff and broadening it, identifying chokepoints on an increasingly crowded chessboard.    

Fifteen years and two recessions into the commercial Internet, it’s clear that our industry has moved into a new competitive phase – a “middlegame” in the battle to dominate the Internet economy. To understand this shift, we’ll use the Summit’s program to map strategic inflection points across the Internet landscape, identifying key players who are battling to control the services and infrastructure of a websquared world.

The stakes are high. As the Web and the world intertwine through mobile and sensor platforms, the decisions we make – as leaders of this industry, as entrepreneurs, and as consumers – will determine the fundamental architecture of our society.

Will distribution, for example, be locked in, or left open? While the Web was once considered to be an open distribution platform, access to content is increasingly becoming a key point of control. The rise of iTunes and Hulu, the vertical integration of the iPhone and iPad, and the promise (or threat) of paid content have brought the model of free media into question.

Another battle is brewing for control of the social graph. While we’d argue that no one “owns” your social graph, Facebook may beg to differ, at least in practice, and Google has clearly laid down its own gauntlet in the form of Buzz and social search. Related, of course, is control of identity services – will Facebook become the one ring to rule them all? And is that a good thing?

Throughout the program, we’ll be talking to leaders, upstarts, and unexpected new players in these and many other key “points of control.” Payment systems, location services, voice recognition, hardware and mobile platforms, content management, data transport, commerce and advertising ecosystems: We’ll unpack them all.

We’ll look at the calculus behind entrenched platforms like Google, Facebook and Microsoft, of course, but we’ll also feature companies who are changing strategy and moving into new fields of battle. Apple as an advertising channel? Comcast as a content network? Cisco as a social network? Adobe as an online marketing company? And of course, as we do every year, we’ll feature the insurgent upstarts and disruptors who hope to replace them all.

I’m proud of the role that the Web 2 Summit plays, once each year, in gathering leaders of the Internet Economy to debate and determine business strategy. With this year’s program we’re redoubling our focus on this critical discussion. I hope you’ll all join Tim and me this November 15-17 in San Francisco – we look forward to the conversation. Early registration for those of you who have invitations can be done here. If you want to come, simply fill out a request here. See you there!

Web 2: Help Me Interview Tim Armstrong

By - October 14, 2009

web 2 09.png_@user_61011.jpg Tim Armstrong didn’t need the job, but he decided to accept Time Warner’s offer to become the CEO of AOL anyway. Why?

That’s the first question I have for Tim when he joins us at Web 2 next week. What do you want me to ask him?

As you most likely know, Tim came to AOL from Google, where he ran North American ad sales for years. Clearly, Tim relishes a challenge, and sees an opportunity. And, while Tim probably is too politic to discuss it, AOL will be spun out soon, and either go public or become an independent entity (unwinding the most disastrous new/old media merger in recent history).

So…what do you want to know from Tim? I’ve got my own list – which I’ve discussed with Tim already – but you all will have even better ideas, as usual…

Others we’ll be interviewing (and I’ve asked for your help):

Shantanu Narayen

Carly Fiorina

Jon Miller

Sheryl Sandberg

Qi Lu

Carol Bartz

Evan Williams

Brian Roberts

Jeff Immelt

To come: Aneesh Chopra, Austan Goolsbee, Paul Otellini, Tim Berners Lee, and more. An amazing lineup and less than one week away!

Also, remember to tweet your questions for any of the folks above with the #w2s hashtag for a chance to win a free Web 2 Summit pass – we’ll be picking three at random to win…

Web2: Help Me Interview Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen

By - October 11, 2009

web 2 09.png _@user_64196.jpg I met with Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe, ten days ago – one week before the annual Adobe developer’s conference. He told me there’d be a lot of news about Adobe coming, and the company certainly delivered – in particular around mobile and Flash platform development.

But while the list of product and platform releases is impressive, it was Adobe’s earlier announcement of its acquisition of Omniture that got folks buzzing. From my point of view, this is one more step in Adobe becoming a central platform company in the Internet ecosystem.

With 800mm installs of Flash, the acquisition of Omniture, and a multi-device strategy, Adobe aims to become the industry standard in how marketers and media companies deliver experiences to audiences and customers. And while many still view the company as the provider of end user tools like Photoshop, the reality is that Adobe is in fact Microsoft’s most significant web platform competitor, which in turn makes it a significant competitor to Google in some areas (though the companies collaborate on key initiatives, like the Open Screen Project, for example, which is clearly as anti-Microsoft as they come). The difference, Narayen told me, is that Adobe does not have (nor does it plan to have) a media business, so it doesn’t compete with its partners.

I’m looking forward to our conversation, and I’d love your input on what you’d like to hear from Narayen.

Others we’ll be interviewing (and I’ve asked for your help):

Carly Fiornia

Jon Miller

Sheryl Sandberg

Qi Lu

Carol Bartz

Evan Williams

Brian Roberts

Jeff Immelt

To come: Aneesh Chopra, Austan Goolsbee, Paul Otellini, Tim Armstrong, Tim Berners Lee, and more. An amazing lineup and less than ten days away!

Also, remember to tweet your questions for any of the folks above with the #w2s hashtag for a chance to win a free Web 2 Summit pass – we’ll be picking three at random to win…

Web 2: Help Me Interview Jon Miller

By - October 05, 2009

web 2 09.png_@user_61072.jpg Jon Miller has graced the Web 2 stage several times, most memorably when he was CEO of AOL, and both Google and Microsoft were competing for his company’s search deal (Google won, that deal is close to expiration, and now-CEO Tim Armstrong, who helped Google win the deal back then, will be discussing, at the Summit, who he might next partner with – Microsoft or Google – but I digress…for now).

Now Miller runs digital for none other than Rupert Murdoch. I’ve enjoyed my relationship with Jon over the years, he’s a straight shooter. He’s inherited a number of seemingly intractable problems – the digital model for news, for one, MySpace, for another. But when I spent an hour with him in New York a couple of weeks ago, he was unperturbed. He’s seen too much.

Since Jon agreed to submit to yet another Battelle-style interrogation, his newest report Owen Van Atta has also joined the lineup (it’s so recent that we don’t have him up yet on the speaker page). No matter, I’ll ask both Owen and Jon what the plan is for MySpace.

But let’s not forget that Newscorp is a lot bigger than MySpace. If you want to know how much bigger, pay attention to the Audience Network, a little known entity that just happens to be #2 in ad network reach after Google. Who owns it? Well, Miller and Murdoch.

This one is going to get interesting. Trust me.

So help me out, what do you want to hear from Jon Miller?

Others we’ll be interviewing (and I’ve asked for your help):

Sheryl Sandberg

Qi Lu

Carol Bartz

Evan Williams

Brian Roberts

Jeff Immelt

To come: Aneesh Chopra, Austan Goolsbee, Paul Otellini, Shantanu Narayen, Tim Armstrong, Tim Berners Lee, and more. Again, an amazing lineup.

If you want to come, I can still get you a Searchblog discount (for a few more days). Just ping me here.

Web 2: Help Me Interview Sheryl Sandberg

By - October 02, 2009

web 2 09.png_@user_61556.jpg As I mentioned a couple of days back, one of the folks I get to interview on stage later this month is Sheryl Sandberg, who I met with earlier this week (this post was one result of that meeting). Sheryl is Mark Zuckerberg’s key partner in building out Facebook, and while she won’t take credit publicly, I’d wager that Facebook’s recent declarations of profitability and top line revenue growth have a lot to do with her leadership and focus on Facebook’s online advertising platform, which is clearly starting to scale.

Recall that Sandberg came from Google, where she ran ad platforms, and she made the choice to move to Facebook for a reason. What did she see? Well, my own thoughts run to the trends I’ve been pointing out for the past year or so – the model of attention distribution is shifting in the web economy, and Facebook, along with Twitter and other social sites, are increasingly taking share from Google. Follow the referrals, so to speak. Search is still king, but it’s no longer a dictatorship.

So what do you want to hear from Sandberg?

Others we’ll be interviewing (and I’ve asked for your help):

Qi Lu

Carol Bartz

Evan Williams

Brian Roberts

Jeff Immelt

To come: Aneesh Chopra, Jon Miller, Austan Goolsbee, Paul Otellini, Shantanu Narayen, Tim Armstrong, Tim Berners Lee, and more. Again, an amazing lineup.

If you want to come, I can still get you a Searchblog discount (for about another week). Just ping me here.

Web 2: Help Me Interview Qi Lu

By -

web 2 09.png_@user_60805.jpg In the personality-driven world that is our industry, Qi Lu stands out for his relative lack of public profile. Widely respected as a technological leader while heading up search at Yahoo, Qi burst onto the industry scene when he defected to Microsoft last year and took the role of President of the Online Service division. In short, Qi is the man in charge of Microsoft’s online strategy.

Our interview later this month will mark Qi’s debut on the Web 2 stage. From all accounts, Qi is a very different character from his boss Steve Ballmer (who was a highlight of Web 2 two years ago). I’m looking forward to our interaction. Clearly we have a lot to discuss – the shifting sands of alliances (Facebook, Yahoo, Myspace, etc.), the rise (and fall?) of Bing, the Yahoo search deal, the future of MSN with regard to content, the role of ad exchanges and platforms (the Aquantive deal), and much more.

But I digress. What do *you* want to hear from Qi this year?

Others we’ll be interviewing (and I’ve asked for your help):

Carol Bartz

Evan Williams

Brian Roberts

Jeff Immelt

To come: Aneesh Chopra, Sheryl Sandberg, Jon Miller, Austan Goolsbee, Paul Otellini, Shantanu Narayen, Tim Armstrong, Tim Berners Lee, and more. Again, an amazing lineup.

If you want to come, I can still get you a Searchblog discount (for about another week). Just ping me here.