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Intel's Visual Life Contest

By - March 20, 2011

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I’ve agreed to be a judge in Intel’s Visual Life contest, the details of which can be found here. Intel has been a partner and supporter of both my work as well as Federated’s for as long as I can remember, and I was honored to join my former partner Chas Edwards, among many others, as a judge of the content.

The contest invites folks to upload visuals of their life – either photos or videos – and will have HP prizes in multiple countries for four different categories. I’m looking forward to reviewing them all. The full rules can be found here. I’m a bit late to the game, entries are due in just a few days, so get on it!

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?

The Obama Valley Dinner: POTUS Got the Seating Chart Wrong

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This one has bugged me for some time, but I’ve not had the time to write it. Now that I’m on a plane for the next four hours, and it has Wifi, I can finally get around to bitching out loud about the photo below:

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Now this photo was widely discussed when it was released by the White House, a few weeks ago. Folks speculated on who the people were that we couldn’t see (the woman with her back to us? The guy next to Zuckerberg?!), and while I may know who those folks are, that’s not my point.

Although my point *is* about the seating chart.

Because if you don’t think a team of protocol and political experts didn’t plan out who sat where in relation to POTUS, well, you’re just not very familiar with how Washington DC does dinner parties. Who sits where, and why, is more than discussed. It’s debated, it’s determined, and it sends a clear message to all concerned. And when a photo like this is released by the White House, it declares to the public a definitive and particular pecking order.

So, with that in mind, is it any surprise that the two leaders who received the privilege of sitting next to President Obama were Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg?

After all, they do rank very high in the Valley – probably in the top three, if not top two, though Eric Schmidt might take issue with that (and Lord knows Larry Ellison will too, but come on).

But what matters here is not who the Valley thinks are the most important folks in the realm. What matters is what Washington, and in particular the White House, believes, and in particular what message, if any, it wants to send through a photo like this.

And I am, quite frankly, disappointed with the seating chart.

Why? Well, because this administration is supposedly all about openness. It’s got the Open Government Initiative, after all, with a conference focusing on samesaid this very week. At the top of its Valley policy agenda is privacy, again with a focus on transparency. Not to mention how the adminsitration has stood up time and again for the open Internet in foreign policy matters.

So why are the CEOs of the two companies with the most closed and controlling data ecosystems – Facebook and Apple – sitting right next to the President?

I’d argue the White House missed an opportunity to send a subtle message – one favoring open platforms, open data exchange, and transparency about data use. Had those been factored into the seating chart, I’d wager that Schmidt and Costolo would have been sitting next to Obama, and Zuckerberg and Jobs would have languished a bit nearer toward the ends of the table. Sure, neither Twitter nor Google are innocent when it comes to how they disclose use of data, but both are clear champions of openness in computing ecosystems, as well as active agents of change in foreign policy issues. I mean, check out this tweet from Dick, and this post from Google, just for starters. And that’s just China….

Just thinking out loud here. End of rant.

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

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

Signal Austin Conversation: Matt Mullenweg

By - March 15, 2011

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

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

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


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



Signal Austin Conversation: Marissa Mayer

By - March 14, 2011

Google announced deals and checkin incentives last week in Austin, I was the first to speak to Marissa live on stage. Here’s the interview:

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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