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What Means This, To "Go Google"!?

By - July 21, 2010

GoogFortuneBackPageJuly2010.png

I thought it meant to search! Apparently, in this context, it means “to drop Microsoft Office and use our software!”

I almost feel like a relic pointing out the obvious, but when I got my latest paper-based Fortune magazine (yes, I do subscribe to a few still), I found the image at left on the back cover.

Long ago, while writing the book, I predicted that Google, long proud of the fact it never had to market its brand, would have to start marketing like a “normal” company. Why? Because while search “markets itself”, applications like Picasa won’t.

And so it has been, and so it continues. In January of this year, when my attention turns to predictions, I said that Google will have to decide to promise more as a brand than “search.” In May, I pointed out that this concept was progressing.

Not that big a deal, I suppose, given that the years have come and gone, and we’ve turned our attention to other Internet meteors like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. Except…I still find it significant that the king of the Web has purchased the back page of an analog magazine. If for no other reason that this entry in the database of intentions – this blog post – may be discovered by some anthropologist in centuries yet to come, as proof of some point yet unmade.

Or something.

Still and all, I am fascinated by what it means that Google, the verb that means “to search”, is being used by Google, the company, to mean something entirely different.

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What Would You Ask Fred Wilson?

By - July 20, 2010

bio_fred.jpgTomorrow I will be at the Geo Loco conference in SF, interviewing Fred Wilson, partner at Union Square Ventures, investor in Twitter, Zynga, Etsy, Tumblr, Foursquare, and many others, and general good guy.

Fred is great on stage, and we have a lot to talk about, given our mutual interests. But as I was preparing for the discussion, I pinged Fred and asked if he thought it’d be a good idea if I asked all of you for input. Of course he said yes.

So, what do you want to hear from Fred? What should I ask him?

The Facebook App Economy: Revival Time?

By - July 19, 2010

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Who remembers the utter gold rush that was the Facebook Platform back in 2007, back when everyone, and honestly, really, EVERYONE, in the industry was busy answering the question “What’s Your Facebook Platform strategy?”

Well I sure do. At FM, we had meetings to address this question, meetings driven by me, by my staff and my senior executives, and of course, by our investors, who were asking the same question of every portfolio company they had. (And…do you believe…when Facebook launched Platform, it only had 20mm users?!)

Fortunately, our “Facebook strategy” was to not drop everything and start developing apps for the new environment. Despite the extraordinary hype, we took a measured approach, working with a few clear winners (like Graffiti), and waiting to see how it might all play out.

Fast forward a few years, and it’s clear that a very small set of important companies have managed to lever the original Facebook Platform into real value – Zynga, Slide come to mind – but I’m not certain the amount of energy put into the Platform ever netted out a gross ROI for all who threw themselves into the race.

Now, three months after all the Open Graph announcements at this year’s f8, I find myself wondering – where are all the web-based Facebook applications and services? It seems to me that Facebook has won, big time, in terms of getting folks to adopt “Likes.” But where are the developers and the awesome new ideas? Am I missing something? Is Facebook going to go toe to toe with Google, Apple, and Microsoft for the hearts and wallets of the developer?

From what I can tell, Facebook’s privacy tempest has delayed the formation of what I expected to be another goldrush. And no, I’m not talking about publishers who have incorporated “Likes”. I’m talking about entirely new or re-formulated web and mobile services that leverage unique data feeds from Facebook so as to bring entirely new value into the world. We’ve seen a fair amount of this from the Twitter ecosystem (though still and all, not as much as we might see soon). In the case of Facebook, however, I expected that by now we’d have seen a bunch of super cool services. But so far, none.

Again, am I missing something? What are you planning to do with the Facebook APIs? And what do you wish you could do, but so far, can’t, despite the announcements at f8 last April?

(Image above is from the Web 2 Summit, where Mark Zuckerberg will again grace the stage and converse with me).

On Math, iPhones, Android, and the 100K Phone Gap

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The media really, really, really loves to write about Apple and the iPhone these days. It reminds me of Google in 2004, when the media fell in love with the concept of search.

Besides the antennae story, which I find hopelessly over reported, the latest iPhone rhapsody has been how many iPhone 4s Apple has sold – apparently, 3 million as of last Friday. Friday was July 16th. The iPhone 4 launched on June 24, so that’d be 23 days to reach the 3 million mark.

3 million phones in 23 days – that’s a pretty strong clip, the fastest sales of an Apple phone to date, Mashable reports. If I do the math, that’s more than 130,000 phones a day.

But did anyone in the press notice Google’s little announcement, the day before Apple launched its iPhone 4? This one? The one where Google said, and I quote:

“Every day 160,000 Android-powered devices are activated — that’s nearly two devices every second.”

iphone4logo.png

Yep, that’d be 30K MORE phones a day than Apple. And my guess is that Android’s pace is accelerating, while the iPhone 4 is probably sliding downward, given how many folks bought it at launch (Mashable reports that 1.7 million were sold in first three days, so 1.3 million the next 20 days). In fact, if you do THAT math, and divide 1.3 million by 20 days, you get 65,000 iPhone 4s sold each day, which is nearly 100,000 less, PER DAY, than Android phones.

Is that story anywhere in the press? Not that I see.

As far as I can tell, Android-based phones will far outnumber any other smart phone by year’s end. Apple, meet your new Windows. It’s name is Android.

We Are Capable of Many States

By - July 16, 2010

In this overwraught essay, a novelist yearns for a time before addiction to technology slowly drained us of our humanity.

I don’t buy it.

We can both be connected and be fulfilled. We can stop, disconnect, read a book, make love without checking our devices for updates. And we can also be connected, while still being human. In fact, being human is being connected. We’ll figure out the instrumentation that works for us.

Can we misuse it? Yes. Will we? Yes. Do I believe that we’ll figure out the right balance, even as we redefine what it means to be human, thanks to our ability to connect in new ways? Of course.

If you want to go upstate and read a book, by all means go do it. But read this review – in the same issue of the NYT – of “Hamlet’s Blackberry” while you’re at it. We’ll evolve. Just, perhaps, not into who you want to be. Which is fine. Stay gold, Ponyboy.

Search, Foursquare, and Checking Into States of Mind

By - July 14, 2010

Screen shot 2010-07-14 at 1.06.43 PM.pngI’ve written before about my relationship with Foursquare, and I’m sure I will again. I’ve tweeted my complaint that the “friend” mechanism is poorly instrumented (in various ways), and I should note that this is certainly not just a Foursquare problem (more on “Friendstrimentation” shortly).

But today I wanted to build on my earlier post, “My Location Is a Box of Cereal,” and Think Out Loud a bit about what I’d really like to do on Foursquare: I’d like to check into a state of mind.

What do I mean by that?

Well, imagine that instead of checking into a physical location, as Foursquare is mostly constrained today, I check into the state of mind I might call “In the market for a car.” Or perhaps I check into “playing a great game of poker with my friends.” Or maybe I check into “pretty bummed out about the death of my cat.”

I think you get the point. The check in is, as I’ve argued elsewhere, more than a declaration of where I am. It’s also a declaration of my state of mind, as well as my openness to a response from someone who might provide me with value.

In short, the checkin is a search, waiting for a response. And there’s no reason to constrain that search query to location.

What matters is that as users of this particular brand of search, we get good results. And the jury is well out on that concept, at least to date.

Here’s what I’d like to have happen when I check in to the state of mind I’ll call “In the market for a car.” This is a commercial checkin, of course, and I’d be well aware of that when I checked in. So what might I expect?

First, the ecosystem of businesses eager to sell me a car become aware of my status, and are prepared to respond in an instrumented fashion. I use the word “instrumented” very directly here – the last thing I want is a bunch of spam results – pointless, irrelevant come ons for brands or models in which I most likely have no interest. If that’s what I wanted, I’d just use a search engine. After all, most of search is instrumented, for the most part, against my query, and my query alone. On a service like Foursquare, I’d expect the response to be far more nuanced.

How? Well, I’ve given Foursquare permission to use my Facebook social graph, for one, and my Twitter interest graph, for another. So when I check into Foursquare, I’d expect a response that understands who I am, who I know, what my interests are, and how I compare, as a cohort, to others like me, who may have also in the past checked into a similar “state of mind.”

Add even more social and interest data to the mix, and you can see how this starts to get pretty interesting.

I’d expect a response that 1. knows who I am is personalized in a meaningful way, 2. surprises or delights me with an offer of value to my search, and 3. respects the fact that I might not be ready to act, at least not yet.

Organizing all this data and response isn’t an easy task. But then again, neither was building out the infrastructure we currently understand to be search. Once the checkin is loosed from the chains of pure location, the potential for connecting to customers in conversation at scale, and at an intimate level, is far too great for this use case to not exist.

A final thought on Foursquare, since I’m on about it. I really wish it was easier to create temporary or unique “venues” or states of mind. For example, last night about 125 folks came to the Web 2 dinner at a local SF restaurant. Many of them “checked into” the actual restaurant, but wouldn’t it have been a lot more fun if, when they came and fired up Foursquare, they saw a new “venue” that had been created, perhaps by the first person there, or perhaps by the organizer, called “The Web 2 Premiere Dinner”? And further, wouldn’t it be cool if the organizer, sponsor, or anyone else involved in the dinner could attach some kind of value to folks who might check in?

Now sure, I know you can create a new venue on the fly, and many do (I saw a pal who checked into “The Dog House” a while back, because he did something that upset his wife. I loved that). But the process to do so is awkward and difficult at best. Foursquare can and should encourage such behavior, and provide resources for us to intelligently curate the results.

Doing so would be a big step toward an ecosystem of search that was driven by the equivalent of a “social query” driven by a state of mind as much a location. And when the two connect, well, so much the better (read The Gap Scenario for more on that.)

OK, back to work, all.

Recent Signals

By - July 11, 2010

For all 185K of you RSS readers out there, here are the past week or so of Signals:

Monday Signal: Finally, a Slow Weekend. Sort Of.

Friday Signal: Who Needs Basketball? We Have Signal.

Thursday Signal: Mogul Mania

Weds. Signal: More Noise, Same Signal

Tuesday Signal: A Fourth of News

Thanks for reading, all of you. I’m still stunned at the growth of my RSS feed, from 130K or so to 185K in just a few months. I don’t deserve it, given how sparse my postings have been.

On Facebook, Google, and Our Evolving Social Mores Online

By - July 10, 2010

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(image ) I just reviewed this presentation from Paul Adams, research lead for social at Google (embedded below). He works on Buzz and YouTube, and presumably, whatever is next from Google, including the rumored “Google Me.”

His presentation is good, and worthy of your time if you are interested in the impact of social media on culture and business. Note, however, that it’s clearly biased against Facebook, coming as it does from Google. It’s in Google’s interest to deconstruct Facebook as a service, finding faults along the way, which this presentation does in spades.

In essence, Adams points out that Facebook lacks what I’ve come to call instrumentation. On Facebook we cannot manage our social relationships with any of the nuance that we do in real life. We don’t have the instrumentation, neither the tools nor the mores (more on that in a bit).

On Facebook, Adams points out, we have one big group of “friends.” Clearly, that’s not true in our lives. We have groups of friends, some of them with strong ties, some weak, some temporary, and many not friends at all, but colleagues, or family members, or members of a club or hobby.

Adams suggests we, as architects of what I like to call the conversation economy, should design for how we really interact with people, and I completely agree. However, it’s not that simple (Adams makes this point in his talk, but I’m going to take it a bit further here).

Certainly Adams – and his employer Google – see a significant opportunity in creating a better social networking mousetrap. But as he points out, it’s not just about making a better Facebook (though I’ve heard that “Google Me” is, in essence, attempting to be just that.) It’s about a wholesale shift in how we experience the Internet – the same shift many folks have mislabeled* as “the semantic web” – a shift toward designing the web around people, rather than pages, content, or even search.

The problem is, while I agree with the idea of designing around people, the truth is that we haven’t quite figured out what this design looks like. It’s rather like attempting to design an industrialized city while living in 1200 AD. Not only has the technology not evolved (power grids, modern plumbing, automobiles, communications networks etc.), but equally importantly, the social mores have not developed as well.

As I often say in talks to agencies and brands (just did four of them last week), we are in the midst of a significant shift in our cultural history, one similar as our move, as a species, from a largely agrarian culture to one based on the modern city. That shift took roughly 1000 years to occur. And as it did, we renegotiated nearly every aspect of our social mores – the values that we hold as community standards. You need a new set of shared and respected rules to move from a village of 150 or so farmers, who knew each other very well, to a city of 1.5 million inhabitants, most of whom don’t know each other, but live packed together in multi-story apartment buildings.

And we certainly did develop a new set of mores. In the western world, this culminated is what many call “Victorian” society, with elaborate principles of etiquette and relationships. In the US anyway, we’re still deeply effected by Victorian culture.

As we move online, we’re once again making a great migration of social mores, and this time it’s one not entirely tethered to physicality, location, or regional constraints. And this shift is happening far more quickly than the last one. Adams does a good job of outlining some of the new interactions that occur online – temporary ties to people we’ll most likely never interact with again, but who might have commented on our online review, or liked our picture on Facebook, or answered our product registration question via IM, text, or phone call.

This is uncharted territory, and we’re very early in the instrumentation process. We’re not certain, in advance of a given interaction, what’s right and what’s wrong, but we seem to know it when we see it. Adams’ advice is to design for how humans interact with each other, and at some core level I agree. But I also think we’re not always certain how we might end up behaving in this new world. So I wouldn’t want it limited to the mores we currently evince. That would be like designing Victorian London with the mores of a farming village.

Formation of new cultures like cities, or online communities, require that a process be, in the phrase of Kevin Kelly, a bit out of control. Attempting to design the future is usually fruitless. Instead, as designers (and developers, architects, publishers, brands…), we must pay close attention to shifting behaviors, listen and participate deeply, and design as fast followers to where this culture leads us. Sometimes, as with the original Facebook, we end up creating something that strikes a deep nerve for connection. When that happens, we are catapulted into a position of leadership, but we shouldn’t assume that adoption equates with finality. It’s way too early for that, and and I think this really is Adams’ core thesis.

What remains to be seen is if a company like Google is capable of this kind of design, or whether it comes from somewhere entirely outside our current field of vision. My guess is a bit of both. I am quite certain, however, that Facebook is already paying attention to this instrumentation problem. I expect many of Adams’ critiques will be addressed, and quickly, in future revisions of the Facebook service.

It’s certainly an exciting time to be in this industry, and in this society. They’re increasingly one and the same thing.

The Real Life Social Network v2

View more documents from Paul Adams.
*(The mislabel, to my mind, is that the semantic web is understood to be designed around machine readability, not people).

Is Yahoo Dead? I Don't Think So. Who Else With This Scale Can Be Neutral?

By - July 07, 2010

I’m sure you’ve noticed, but there’s a major battle underway for the hearts and minds of what we, in this industry, broadly call “developers.” Often the term is used quite strictly, to mean actual coders who build actual software-driven applications, services, or websites. Other times the term is more loosely applied, meaning “companies that build stuff” or “partners of platform X or service Y.”

However you define them, every major player on the Internet – and that includes predominately mobile players – wants developers to create value on their platform. All the top players here in the US – Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft – are driven by the value created by their developer base. The same is (or will be) true for Nokia internationally, and HP with its Palm acquisition.

At the moment, it seems to me, the game is utterly open.

Now, those of you who are Apple evangelists may disagree with that statement, but then again, I pretty much expect that. For the rest of you, a few thoughts on what it means to be a “developer,” at this moment, and why I believe there’s an opening for one unexpected company – Yahoo – to potentially emerge as a winner here.

Yeah, I said Yahoo. goofy-yahoo-logo.gif

Why? Well, I can’t speak to whether or not the company has the right lineup of talent, either management or engineers. Nor can I claim to have any inside knowledge of its core strategy, other than that which I have been told by folks I’ve recently met with there. But after those meetings, I did come away with a sense that Yahoo has a chance to be something none of the other major companies on the web can be: Truly neutral. Coupled with a very large audience base and a brand folks generally want to trust, there’s most certainly a there there.

Stay with me for a bit (as I’m pretty much thinking out loud here, and I’m not entirely sure where this is going to go.)

Last week I met with Blake Irving, Yahoo’s new EVP and Chief Product Officer, as well as Cody Simms, Yahoo’s Senior Director of Product Management (he also is responsible for developer relations). We had a pretty wide ranging and wide open conversation about the company, including a very frank discussion about its loss of luster over the past few years.

But these guys are not dumb, and as Blake pointed out in his blog post explaining why he came out of retirement (he was at Microsoft for 15 years) to run product at Yahoo, the company has a very large base of engaged users and some serious infrastructure and services in its arsenal. The question is, how do you continue to engage those users with great services in a world where nearly everyone else is looking to steal them away?

Something Blake explained to me, which echoed a meeting I had a year ago with CEO Carol Bartz, made a light bulb go off in my head. Last year Bartz vented to me about Yahoo’s infrastructure problems – the company, she explained, was a compilation of fundamentally disconnected vertical silos, each with its own P&L, codebase, infrastructure, and culture. It was nearly impossible to roll out products that cut across, say, Mail, Homepage, Finance, IM, Search, and Flickr, because each instance required custom integration and coding. Yahoo was literally broken underneath, even as it looked consistent at the UI layer. Add in the issues of internationalization, and you went from nearly impossible to “not even worth considering.” That mean stagnation, and on more than one axis. For one, it means it’s very hard to find leverage between your internal resources, or to roll out new products that build on more than one stack. For another, it means it’s next to impossible to open your company’s resources up to third party developers (there’s that word) who might want to add value to the ecosystem you’ve created.

I noted Bartz’s exasperation but didn’t think that much of it. At that time, she had a lot bigger issues to deal with – the Microsoft deal, for one, investor rancor, for another, and a major talent drain, for a third. She ended up getting sick, and not participating in last year’s Web 2. (She’s back this year, however…)

Then I met with Blake and Cody, and as the discussion progressed, Blake in particular brought up infrastructure again and again. He was thrilled, he told me, with what Yahoo had done over the past year to integrate most of its core services on one massive Hadoop instance. For the first time, Yahoo could roll new products across a shared infrastructure. It’s a major milestone in the company’s history.

Now, I haven’t vetted whether Blake’s enthusiasm is more hope than reality, nor have I (or can I) compare Yahoo’s infrastructure to, say, that of Google or Microsoft. But a few points of fact: One, before he left, Blake ran Microsoft’s initial foray into cloud infrastructure – the Live project. He understands the importance of those platforms.

So here is Yahoo’s challenge: To be the company developers want to plug into. And how does Yahoo lure them? By delivering engaged audiences, a clear economic proposition, and a neutral point of view.

That neutrality is key. I’ll explore that concept (along with others) in the next post. It’s late, and I’ve got a lot of clients to see in the morning. Let me know what you think so far, and I’ll be back at it as soon as I can.

Last Few Signals…

By - June 30, 2010

….for those of you reading Searchblog in RSS and not watching ze Tweets….here are the Signals that I do over at FM’s site.

Weds. Signal: It’s a Good Day to Read The News

Tuesday Signal: Location, Location, Location

Monday Signal: Welcome to Summer, Now Get to Work

You can sign up to get the Signal email, a daily roundup of what I’m reading and why, on the main page of Signal here (box in the right hand corner).