Loic Le Meur writes over on LinkedIn about his mistakes betting on Twitter with his company Seesmic. Seesmic was a company that produced a series of great Twitter clients for multiple platforms (Mobile, Web, Desktop etc). When Twitter started shutting down developers and releasing their own official clients Seesmic’s business was undermined and ultimately shuttered.
I’m not blaming Twitter for this strategic change – they did not know they would take that decision at the time when they were fully supporting their ecosystem. I blame myself entirely. I should have never dedicated all my team resources to build on one platform. That is a lesson learned the hard way along with many other developers. I was too excited and became blind.
Here are my two cents for entrepreneurs betting on someone else’s success: be careful that everything can change from one day to another and all the rules will change. I will never be that dependent on anyone anymore.
Loic is a wicked smart and very successful entrepreneur. He’s always smiling, generous and well liked by his peers. It’s a real shame that Twitter pivoted in the way that it did to undermine his business.
I’d like to refine Loic’s lessons learned a little here, though. In my opinion the problem was not betting on someone else’s platform but rather…
Twitter is not a platform, it’s a media company
Betting on one media company rather than multiple
Whenever a company makes money from Ads, it’s not a platform/technology company – it’s a media company. As a media company It needs to control the eyeballs so that it can control the ad impressions.
To be fair, though, Twitter’s ad revenue model wasn’t in place when Loic started betting on them. It was clear, however, that their revenue model was still in flux and that ads would play a role in order to keep the service free for end-users.
The reality is companies successfully rely on other platforms all the time. Amazon Web Services is a great example of this. There’s never a risk that AWS is going to start turning off or competing with its developers because it is a true platform.
Facebook, Twitter etc were never true technology platforms. They are distribution channels. They are data sources. They are social services. But they are not platforms.
Ironically this is still happening today. Major media companies and developers still spend enormous sums of money encouraging their users to participate on Twitter and Facebook as ‘outsourced engagement platforms’. Ironically Media companies who should understand the value of owning the audience and the ad impressions are happily outsourcing them to competing media companies (Facebook and Twitter). I write more about this over on the Echo blog.
The key, then, is not avoiding 3rd party platforms, but rather to understand the difference between platforms, products, services and media companies. It’s key to understand the incentives, revenue flows and business models so you can understand how to align your company and product with the value chain.
At the end of last year I wrote a post about the downside of Hyper Expectations and Ambitions (HEA). I guess living in silicon valley it’s easy to get jaded with the negative effects of our fast paced journey to change the world. It also didn’t help that I hadn’t had a holiday for 3 years.
Since then, however, I’ve visited my hometown in Brisbane Australia for 3 weeks. The truth is they live a very different lifestyle there. The government and other institutions help provide a powerful safety net for those who are sick or unable to find work, the environment is beautiful, warm and welcoming and the people expect (or in some cases demand) less from each other. Those that stand out or show off can even be shunned (a phenomenon we call Tall Poppy Syndrome).
The result is that things there are more laid back, the lifestyle is more comfortable and people suffer the downsides of HEA far more infrequently.
This can be a very fulfilling way to live and many people there are (rightly) happy and healthy.
It was, however, a cold splash in the face having just written about the negative aspects of our Silicon Valley ambition to be confronted with the opposite. It reminded me in stark ways how different our lives are and what some of the advantages to living with HEA are.
So in counterbalance to my previous post, let me try to summarize some of the advantages of HEA.
Fulfilling your potential
If there’s one thing that upsets me the most and keeps me up at night it’s the concern that I or someone I know is not living up to their potential. One of my defining characteristics is a thirst (some may some lust) for the potential in things. I am far more interested in what could be than what is. A great example of this, in fact, is my very poor relationship with times, dates, orders of magnitude or ‘rules’.
The great thing about HEA is that it vacuums out most of the reasons/excuses for someone to not live up to their potential. All of us here are insisting to ourselves and each other that we do the next great thing we know we can do; Or better yet, to do something that scares us.
Remove the roadblocks and put aside the excuses. We attempt to extract every last drop of potential and turn it into outcomes.
Extraordinary and Surreal Experiences
While there’s great value in routine and tradition, we with HEA are far more interested in doing things that are extra ordinary. I split those two words on purpose. Things that are outside the realm of an ordinary life.
Backstage at a concern. VIP at a party. Hanging with a personal hero. Writing a line of code that affects millions of people. Writing that blog post that might influence the influencers. Living in beautiful places. Meeting with smart people. Disrupting that tired business model. Changing the way people live.
There is no patience for the mundane here. Instead there’s a strong hunger and appreciation (and for me, real-time nostalgia) for doing things that are out of the ordinary.
These moments are priceless. And if you’re lucky, they happen often in Silicon Valley.
Changing the World
People with HEA get to change the world. With a line of code, a great piece of UI, a new business model or a conversation with the right person.
Through our skills, ambitions, ideas and access we have the smallest possible gap between our intention and their manifestation into reality and this is not only the ultimate super power (think Neo/Matrix) it’s also a precious gift. We use this super power to make a real dent in the universe (#namethatreference).
The heading here might be fairly grandiose but in many ways it’s true. In San Francisco this town has thrown out most notions of ‘right and wrong’ and embraced philosophies that are radically different than most of the rest of the world. From Gay Rights to massive temporary communities in the desert based on the sharing economy, we are forcing open the definition of what it means to live, love and be human.
Almost every day here I have conversations that vacillate from short term tactical business concerns to wide sweeping philosophical quandaries – and back again. Relationships here are just as likely ‘non traditional’ (open, polly, casual, gay, bi, whatever) as they are traditional.
These are all related attempts to leave dogma in the past and explore what the future might look like.
For some of us with HEA we’re not just trying to ship software or make millions of dollars, we are trying to better ourselves.
Leverage and scale.
Through all of the above, and much more, we get to live high leverage lives. In some ways our work is no harder or easier than the work of coal minors or brick layers (in other ways its obviously very different, but go with me here). We work long hours in back breaking postures and rarely see our families or have enough emotional capacity to invest in some of our relationships. We get to invest similar energy and sacrifices yet touch more lives than most and, for some, make a lasting impact. That’s the gift of leverage and scale.
So there we have it. Like with all things there are both upsides and downsides. The trick is moderation in all things (my mother taught me that – hi mom!).
Disclaimer: I’ve personally flirted with much of what I’ve written about below. This isn’t about anyone else, but rather about what I’ve seen in myself and how some of it could have played out if left unchecked. Thankfully I feel pretty happy and comfortable most of the time – but I find that it helps to write this stuff down to keep myself in check.
Silicon Valley is a place where people come to change the world. They seek it out and travel great distances to be in the place where entrepreneurial dreams come true.
Even those who first arrive looking for love or lifestyle soon realize that most of the people here have their sights set pretty high and it can be easy to catch the ‘change the world’ attitude through osmosis.
It’s easy to start feeling a sense of Hyper Expectations and Ambition (let’s call it HEA for short).
The challenge with HEA is that it can drive the ill-equipped, mad. By “ill-equipped” I mean those that lack a strong personal identity and emotional maturity. And aren’t we all guilty of that at various points in our lives?
The landscape here is dotted with people who have something to prove to their past tormentors, their personal ambitions, their peers or some vision of their future selves. If they are not careful, it leaves them no breathing room for cognitive or emotional rest. And as we discovered in Star Trek the Next Generation’s episode “Night Terrors” – without REM Sleep one can have all sorts of nasty outcomes (yes I’m a geek).
HEA is further exasperated by constant streams of social media updates that tend to vacillate from the trite motivational quote to the well curated highlight reel of best parts of ones life. These only serve to make us feel inferior to our friends who always seem to be having a better, easier time.
There are many symptoms of HEA – let me try to share some of them. You might recognize them in yourself or others around you.
FOMO – “Fear of Missing Out’
This is when people are maniacally trying to turn up to every party or meet every ‘right’ person in case this is the one that’s going to change their life or give them the next emotional high.
I’ve been to my share of parties – in fact most of the time I host or co-host them – but for me they are usually an opportunity to spend time with my core group of friends. For some, however, party hopping can become almost an addiction trying to chase the next surreal or successful moment.
The truth is this town is full of amazing moments all the time. They come and go on a daily and weekly basis. When I feel a little FOMO coming on, I try to remember the last scene from American Beauty.
“there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.”
FOMO is very real and can be exhausting on the body and the mind.
Because it seems like everyone around here is ‘doing something amazing’ it’s easy to develop or trigger an inferiority complex.
Once in that position, the next thing most people do is (consciously or subconsciously) overcompensate in one of two ways…
1. With overconfidence and bluster:
Puffing out one’s chest, speaking loudly and confidently about stuff that is ill-understood, constructing a success narrative and telling people only exaggerated versions of the truth – these are all examples of what I call Overconfidence and Bluster. The most obvious example of this is the Shirley Hornstein incident, but much more subtle and pervasive versions of this go on everyday in almost every conversation.
Some of the confidence and exaggeration is ok, of course. Speaking prospectively and helping people see your vision for how it could be vs. how it actually is, can help build momentum and positivity. But it can easily get out of control.
2. With drama:
In a disturbing number of cases, however, rather than a success narrative, some use drama to get and hold attention. They always have a story of who and how they were wronged by some other person or company.
The truth is getting anywhere will require countless hours and countless setbacks. This is the cost of doing business and part of the hard work of building something valuable. The more efficiently you process and learn from negative interactions (ideally within hours) the better off you are. Ideally you can optimize your own communication and work style to avoid negative interactions all together.
Being honest (and balanced) about this with yourself and others (without going to either extreme) is critical if you’re going to survive the marathon. Ultimately the only way to really succeed with your work and your personal life is to do the hard, slow and methodical work it takes to win a little ground every day.
Relationship musical chairs
As a natural extension of the first two symptoms, relationships (romantic or otherwise) often suffer. There’s a tendency to get into relationships with one or more of the following undermining thoughts playing in ones mind.
1. Is this the best I can do (FOMO)
2. Could this ruin my reputation (FOMO)
3. I want to focus on my career first (FOMO)
4. They better put in the effort I deserve (Overconfidence and bluster)
5. I need to figure out who I am first (Lack a strong personal identity and emotional maturity)
As I’ve written in the past, relationships are hard work. But if worked on with the right person they can create enormous value by laying a foundation that frees up so much emotional and cognitive baggage.
How? Well if root cause for all of these issues is a lack of strong identity or confidence, then relationships are the answer, not the problem. We are how we act consistently – and especially how we treat others we love and care about. There’s no better way to bolster your identity and confidence than to define and declare yourself as someone who treats others well, and demands the same in return.
In fact, the loving (and authentic) embrace of your ‘found family’ is perhaps the best cure to all of the issues discussed in this post.
Depression and Anxiety
As a natural extension to the first three symptoms listed above (and many more I’m sure) we can each experience depression and anxiety in ways that non-entrepreneurs might never be able to appreciate.
Even those of us who are lucky to have great jobs, great apartments and great friends and even while experiencing great joy can find ourselves feeling down.
I know that personally I’ve felt guilty or unproductive when that feeling of contentment creeps in. It freaks me out because I wonder if I’m content, then maybe I’m not aiming high enough. I feel like I need to be striving for something – moving from here to there – to be achieving my next highest potential.
The result of all this can be a battle with depression and/or anxiety. What’s worse, because one might be going through FOMO and Overconfidence facades, we often can’t share our battle with anyone else.
Unfortunately I don’t have any answers for all of this.
For myself I try to focus on building better, deeper relationships, attending only those parties and gatherings I find meaningful and remembering that contentment and happiness is part of the point (and reward) of having worked hard for the life I want.
This is, of course, easier said than done.
It’s hard, methodical work and discipline that I imagine will never end. It’s part of my routine just like brushing my teeth or having a shower.
One more thing…
I was going to end this post there, basically with ‘no answers’, however I now realize that somewhere in the middle I hit upon the most useful tool I’ve found this year…
In fact, the loving (and authentic) embrace of your ‘found family’ is perhaps the best cure to all of the issues discussed in this post.
Loving (despite flaws) and allowing one self to be loved (by revealing my flaws) has been my principle lesson of this year – it has made the year not just bearable, but successful.
Do you have any other examples of HEA or any other techniques for dealing with it? I’d love to hear your stories below in the comments.
Yesterday Robert Scoble once again declared that the Open Web was dead. His argument was that Apps and proprietary black holes like Facebook are absorbing all the light (read: users, attention, value, investment) and taking our beloved open platform right along with it. In his post, he kindly (but incorrectly) named me as the only person who really cares about the Open Web.
While that’s flattering, I think he’s wrong about me being the only one who cares.
But he is right about the Open Web. It’s in real danger. URLs are fading into the background, native Mobile apps are all the rage and Facebook threatens to engulf the web into a proprietary black hole.
But I think there’s a bigger problem going on right now. Not just with the web, but with silicon valley (as stewards of the web). We’ve lost sight of the things that matter. We’re obsessed with quick wins, easily digestible VC pitches, stock options and flipping for a Ferrari.
There’s more to this game than that. Let me touch on some of the things I see going on.
Lead not just cheerlead
In our obsession with being seen by our micro-audiences as ‘thought leaders’ or ‘futurists’ it’s always very tempting to watch which way the wind is blowing and shout loudly that THERE is the future. Like a weather vane, it’s easy to point the way the wind is blowing, but our biggest, best opportunity is not to declare a popular service ‘the next big thing’ just because a few visible people are hanging out there. Rather our collective and individual responsibility is to help articulate a direction we think moves the state of the art forward for both the web and for society at large. Something, as leaders of this field, we believe in. Just like VCs develop an investment thesis, we should all have a vision for where the web is going (and how it should get there) and actively seek out, support and promote quiet heros who are building something that moves the needle in the right direction.
Add to the web’s DNA
Almost every startup I see today is focused on building an ‘App’ and calling it a ‘Platform’. Too often (almost every time) though, these apps are nothing more than proprietary, incremental and niche attempts at making a quick buck. We need more companies to think deeper. Think longer term. What are you doing to change the fabric of the web’s DNA forever? How can you contribute to the very essence of the Internet the same way that TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML, JS and so many other technologies have done. Even proprietary technologies have provided valuable evolutions forward – things like Flash and yes, even FB. How are you going to live forever? This is why Facebook used to call itself a ‘Social Utility’ instead of a ‘Social Network’. Mark Zuckerberg was never content to be the next Myspace Tom. He wanted to be the next Alexander Graham Bell. And now he is.
Don’t just iterate, innovate
Of course, someone has to build Apps. We can’t all be working at the infrastructure layer. But too many of the Apps we chose to build (or champion) are incremental. As startup founders, investors and influencers it’s so easy to understand something that can be described as the ‘Flipboard of Monkeys’ instead of thinking really hard about how a completely new idea might fit into the future. Sure there are plenty of good business and marketing reasons why you shouldn’t stray too far from the beaten path, broadening it one incremental feature at a time, but the core essence of what you’re working on can’t be yet another turn of a very tired wheel. If you’re shouting ‘Me too’ then you’re probably not thinking big enough.
B2C, not Ego2C
Silicon valley is clearly a B2C town. We all love the sexy new app that our mother might eventually understand. Something we can get millions of users to use so we can show them lots of ads. Besides the fact that I think we should focus a little more on B2B, the problem is we’re not really a B2C town at all. We’re actually more focused on what I will call Ego2c. That is, we pick our favorite apps based on how famous the founding team is OR how easily we can use the app to build yet another niche audience for ourselves (and brands/marketers). It would be a tragedy if the social web revolution boils down to new methods of PR and marketing. But that’s what we seem to be obsessed with. As soon as any app from a famous founder gets released we give it tones of buzz while plenty of more deserving projects get barley a squeak. If the app gets a little traction (typically the ones that have Ego mechanics baked in) you see a million posts about how marketers can exploit it. Inevitably the app developers start to focus on how to ‘increase social coefficients’ instead of how to help human beings make a connection or find utility in their lives.
“Users don’t care”
Speaking more specifically about the Open vs. Closed debate, too often we hear the criticism ”Users don’t care about open”. This is absolutely true and the reason why most open efforts fail. Users don’t care about open. They care about utility and choice. This is why the only way to continue propagating the open web is to work with BUSINESS. B2B. Startups, Media Brands, The bigco Tech companies. They care about open because the proprietary winners are kicking the losers ass and that usually means there are at least 1 or more other guys who need a competitive advantage. They need to team up and build, deploy and popularize the open alternative. That’s why open always wins. There’s always plenty of losers around who are going to commoditize the popular closed thing. As technology leaders we’re paid to care about things users don’t care about. Things that shape the future. While users, in the short term, might not care, we should dare to think and dream a little bigger. As a case study look at Android vs. iOS. iOS is more profitable for a single company, but the other is now a force of nature.
Death is just a stage of life
Just because something is no longer interesting doesn’t mean it’s dead. Its spirit, and often times the actual technology, lives on, one layer below the surface. RSS is a great example of this. RSS’s spirit lives on in ActivityStreams and the general publish/subscribe model. It is powering almost every service-to-service interaction you currently enjoy. Is it dead, or has it simply become part of the DNA of the Internet? Could RSS (or something like it) be better exposed higher up in the stack, absolutely, but that will take some time, thoughtful execution and influencers who are willing to champion the cause. The same is true for OpenID and OAuth.
The Arc of the Universe Is long but It bends towards Open
The battle of Open vs. Closed is not a zero sum game. Both have their time. It’s a sin wave. First, closed, proprietary solutions come to define a new way of fulfilling a use case and doing business. They solve a problem simply and elegantly and blaze a path to market awareness, acceptance and commercialization. Open, however, always follows. Whether it’s a year, a decade or a century, Open. Always. Wins. The only question is how long, as an industry, are we going to keep our tail tucked between our legs in front of the the great giant proprietary platform of the moment or are we going to get our act together to ensure the “Time to Open” is as short as possible. It takes courage, co-ordination and vision, but we can all play our part to shorten the time frame between the invention of a proprietary app and the absorption of that value into the open web platform.
FB has won. It’s done. Just like Microsoft won the Desktop OS (in part handed to them by IBM), so too has FB won the Social OS (in part handed to them by Microsoft). For now. Acknowledging the truth is the first step to changing it. The only question now is how long we’re all willing to wait until we get our act together to turn the proprietary innovation of the ‘social graph’ into part of the open web’s core DNA. We need to recognize our power. They have ~1B users? The open web has more. Chances are that the major website or brand you work for has plenty of its own users as well. Are you going to send them to FB, or are you going to invest in your own .com. Trust me, I know it’s really, really easy to take what you’re given because you’re too busy putting out a million fires. But as technology leaders I challenge us all to build something better. We’re the only ones who can.
[Edit] Don’t kill Hollywood Did you catch the YC post calling for silicon valley to kill hollywood. Not only was this reckless and short sighted, it’s the exact opposite of what we should be doing. Instead of trying to kill or cannibalize media companies and content creators, how about we work with them to create the next generation of information technology. They have the audiences+information and we have the technology. Instead, most silicon valley companies, by virtue of their B2C focus, are too busy leaching off major media instead of finding ways to help transform it. Sure most of them move slowly – but move they are. Move they must. Helping them is very profitable. I write more about this on the Echo blog – calling it ‘Real-time Storytelling‘
[Edit] Today’s data portability problem When I started the DataPortability project the issue of the time was personal data portability. That’s not the case anymore. While user-centric data portability is still being done via proprietary mechanisms it’s a) actually possible and b) moving more towards open standards every day. The real issue right now is firehoses. Access to broad corpuses of data so that 3rd parties can innovate is only possible through firehoses (for now). To put it another way, the reason Google was possible was because the open web was crawl-able - for free – with no biz dev deal. The reason FB was possible was because the open web allowed any site to spring up and do what it wanted to do. Today, too much of our data is locked up in closed repositories that can and must be cracked open. Google’s moves to exclude other socnets (besides G+) from their search results until they had free and clear access to them might be inconvenient for users in the short term, but, as a strategic forcing function, is in the best interest of the open web long term.
Of course that isn’t really true. For one, any commenting system could force FB login. Two, users will troll with or without their name attached and, worse yet, many legitimate users won’t participate for any number of reasons if they can’t use a pseudonym. There are plenty of better ways to increase quality in your comments including participation from the content creators, game mechanics, community moderation and more.
The real debate, however, is about G+ trying to copy FB’s stance on Real Names. They are insisting all user accounts use them and are actively shutting down accounts that violate the policy. They are being so heavy handed about that even people who ARE using their real name are getting notices of violation – most notable Violet Blue.
I’m not really an expert on pseudonyms, shared contexts and anonymity so I’m going to stay out of this debate.
The real question for me, however, is what is Google’s strategic business reason for this policy. There must be a long term plan/reason for it otherwise they wouldn’t be insisting so hard.
My assumption is that it’s related to their intention to become a canonical people directory and identity provider on the internet to compete with FB in this space.
FB, after all, does not just get it’s power from news feeds and photo apps – it gets it from the deep roots it has laid down into the DNA of the internet as the provider of 1st class identity infrastructure and identity information.
In this sense, FB’s social contract has served them very well, and Google’s attempt to copy it is a hint that they understand FB is not just a .com feature set, but a powerful identity utility. They must (and in some cases seem to be) understand that strategy and it’s aggressiveness if they are to properly compete with the monopoly. My only hope, however, is that they are coming up with their own inspired counter strategy rather than just copying the moves they see on the surface – because that’s doomed to fail.
Real-time is no CDN or Cache latency. When there is new data in the database, it’s available to the end-user.
Real-time is not needing to hit the refresh button to see new information. It’s when information folds into the page while you’re reading it.
Real-time is a new volume and velocity of data. A lot of web data used to consist of ‘Blog Posts’ or ‘News Articles’. Documents. Real-time web data is about activities. Granular, human readable micro-stories about the activities that users make.
“I read this”, “I rated this”, “I commented on this”, “I shared this”, “I edited this” and so on. Why? Because capturing, surfacing and socializing real-time activity data is part of the core essence of the social web. The ability to see not just the result of actions by users, but the play-by-play stream of those actions along side faces, names and time/date stamps takes an experience from a static ‘snapshot’ into a living, breathing stream. Further, by enabling users to like, reply, flag, share and otherwise interact with these activities, sites are creating new opportunities for engagement, conversation and conversion.
Real-time is a presentation metaphor. It often (but not always) takes the form of a reverse chronological stream with nested comments and likes. It helps users understand the order of things and mixes content with conversation in a way that drives engagement and return visits.
Real-time means filters instead of facts. Let the user decide what they want to see – to craft an experience that makes sense for them, and their friends.
Now, what is ‘Real-time as a Service’?
If all the things above are true, then it changes everything we used to know about web infrastructure, databases, user interfaces and tools for moderation or curation.
APIs can no longer be request-response. Databases must now store far more data at far faster rates. User interfaces need to factor in names, faces and actions. Moderation and curation tools must leverage algorithms, crowd sourcing and real-time flows.
Real-time as a service, then, is cloud infrastructure that helps make this transition easier.
It is a database that can handle new magnitudes of scale – handling hundreds or thousands of write events per section. Not just to a flat table, but to a hierarchical tree of arbitrary activities.
It’s a database that can store all items permanently so that users can visit old streams at any time. Permanent storage that can also handle localized annotations. Localized annotations are the ability to modify the metadata of an activity – say a Tweet (Promote it, tag it, retarget it in the tree etc) – in such a way that that your view of a tweet is different from another customer’s view.
It’s a database that enables not just the ability to perform an SQL-like search query, but also continuously updates you when the data changes – so that you can modify the UI on the fly.
It’s a database that returns not just flat query results, but a hierarchical tree – allowing you to present the activity in context.
It’s a database that handles not just a few hundred users requesting (reading) data, but a few million users swarming to see the latest action in a sports game or a concert.
It’s a database that organically makes connections between items by understanding the relationships of URLs and #tags to make implicit links in the graph where and when they’re needed. For example a tweet mentioning acme.com should be attached to Acme.com in the tree.
And most importantly, it’s a database company that understands that the opportunity of the Real-time, Social Web is far too big and moves far too quickly to possibly be built by a single vendor. A company that, as a result of this understanding, chooses open standards over proprietary formats; Partnership with best-of-breed partners over trying to build mediocre versions of everything by itself.
Polls, Ratings, Comments, Live Blogging, Forums, Data Bridging, Data Enriching, Visualization, Moderation, Curation, Analytics Game Mechanics, Authentication… the list is endless. They are all transformed by the Real-time web. They must all be part of Real-time as a Service.
And finally, Real-time as a Service is about service. Enterprise grade support. Best in class uptime. White label.
This year, like many years before it, has been one of immense personal growth for me. I have continued 2009′s transition from one who is best known and suited for talking about ideas to one who focuses much more on turning ideas into product and business process at scale. I still have a lot to learn!
For that, I continue to thank my friends and colleagues at Echo for their patience, collaboration and wisdom.
In keeping with this transition, this year I have mainly been head down at Echo working on our product, marketing and business roadmap with the team. Much of our work has not yet seen the light of day and I can’t be more excited for it’s eventual release.
The result is I’ve missed a lot of parties or conferences I love to attend, but it has also given me a great opportunity to stay at home and get to know an amazing woman, Nichole. Meeting her has been surprising. And I am rarely surprised.
That being said, though, I feel like I’ve become closer to a core set of amazing people – friends – who continue to inspire, irritate and elevate me. Like all good friends should!
The industry too has gone through some amazing transitions.
Apple’s iOS, once thought invincible, has gone through the inevitable re-balancing against a more open alternative, Android. Facebook, once thought a fad by some, has solidified it’s place as the winner of the destination social networking space through a series of very smart decisions, a total lack of competition and free pass from all the tech media.
Twitter, on the other hand, seems to have continued to struggle to find its place. From simple SMS service, messaging bus of the web or media power house; this year they seemed to drop the ball on all fronts.
Wikileaks has forced us all to think about ultimate transparency and has shone a brilliant light on the media’s inability to understand its own role (particularly the 24 hour broadcast news networks). Transitional media thinking has truly failed us in this new century and will continue to fail as long as they cling to out-dated business models and false drama.
I’m glad that Jon Stewart has taken a more active (even serious) role in this message – however slightly.
Steve Gillmor often writes fantastic (and fantastically long) editorials on the landscape of the real-time web, but they are often very dense and sometimes fail to cover some key points. I thought I would take the liberty of translating and correcting his latest post with my own contributions.
Ever since FriendFeed was sold to Facebook, we’ve been told over and over again that the company and its community were toast. And as if to underline the fact, FriendFeed’s access to the Twitter firehose was terminated and vaguely replaced with a slow version that is currently delivering Twitter posts between 20 minutes and two hours after their appearance on Twitter. At the Realtime CrunchUp, Bret Taylor confirmed this was not a technical but rather a legal issue. Put simply, Twitter is choking FriendFeed to death.
Translation: The FriendFeed team were absorbed by way of acquisition. Twitter has terminated their priority access to Twitter data because FriendFeed is now owned by Twitter’s primary competitor.
Correction: Of course Twitter turned them off. Facebook is Twitter’s self-declared number one competitor. When you own the platform and the protocol you have every right to protect your own arse. In fact they have an obligation to their shareholders and investors.
What’s odd about this is that most observers consider FriendFeed a failure, too complicated and user-unfriendly to compete with Twitter or Facebook. If Twitter believed that to be the case, why would they endeavor to kill it? And if it were not a failure? Then Twitter is trying to kill it for a good reason. That reason: FriendFeed exposes the impossible task of owning all access to its user’s data. Does Microsoft or Google or IBM own your email? Does Gmail apply rate limiting to POP3 and IMAP?
Translation: Most commentators think that FriendFeed is dead because the founders have been bought by and buried inside Facebook. If FriendFeed is so dead why is Twitter trying to choke it.
Correction: FriendFeed is clearly dead. If you have ever worked for a startup and tried to ship a running product you know that focus is the only thing that will keep you alive. Facebook is a massive platform serving a scale of social interaction that has only been previously seen by distributed systems like email. The last thing Facebook wants is for its newly aquiried superstar team to waste time working on a platform that no longer matters to their commercial success or the bulk of their users (i.e. Friendfeed).
Twitter is choking FriendFeed for another reason – because it’s systems are now essentially just a proxy to Facebook. As stated above, Twitter can not give it’s number one competitor priority access to one of its major assets (i.e. timley access to the data).
The data that Microsoft and Google does not exercise hoarding tactics over (the examples Steve gave were IMAP and POP3) are open standards using open protocols.
I am never sure about Steve’s position on open standards, he often vacillates from championing the open cause through projects like the Attention Trust only then to claim things like APML and DataPortability are bullshit – maybe he just doesn’t like me (That can’t be right can it Steve?).
The fact is, however, that open standards and protocols are the basis for open systems which is why companies like Microsoft and Google do not control your email. Twitter and Facebook are not open systems.
So the reason Twitter is killing FriendFeed is because they think they can get away with it. And they will, as far as it goes, as long as the third party vendors orbiting Twitter validate the idea that Twitter owns the data. That, of course, means Facebook has to go along with it. Playing ball with Twitter command and control doesn’t make sense unless Facebook likes the idea of doing the same thing with “their” own stream. Well, maybe so. That leaves two obvious alternatives.
The first is Google Wave, which offers much of the realtime conversational technology FriendFeed rebooted around, minus a way of deploying this stream publicly. The Wave team seems to be somewhat adrift in the conversion of private Waves to public streams, running into scaling issues with Wave bots that don’t seem to effectively handle a publishing process (if I understood the recent briefing correctly.) But if Waves can gain traction around events and become integrated with Gmail as Paul Buchheit recently predicted, then an enterprising Wave developer might write a bot that captures Tweets as they are entered or received by Twitter and siphons them into the Wave repository in near realtime.
Translation: Twitter is killing FriendFeed because they think no one will notice or care enough to stop them – Twitter has more than enough momentum and support to continue along it’s current path. Facebook wont cry foul because they are doing the same hoarding technique with their own data.
Maybe Google Wave might save the day, but they seem to have lost their way.
Correction: Actually the only people who can call bullshit on Twitter and Facebook is us, the media. We are all media after all. Steve Gillmor in fact is one of the loudest voices – he should call bullshit on closed systems in general. Instead we all seem to be betting on one closed system to do better than another closed system.
We are like abused wives going back for more, each time pretending that our husbands love us. Guess what, they don’t love us. They love their IPO.
I was the first to support Google Wave very loudly and proudly. I met with the team and was among the first to get in and play with the preview. It is a revolution in collaboration and how to launch a new open system. It is not, however, a Twitter or Facebook competitor. Especially not in its current state. It is not even a replacement to email. It is simply the best damned wiki product ever created.
Waves are the 180′ opposite of FriendFeed and Facebook or even Twitter. They are open, flexible and lacking any structure whatsoever. Their current container, the Google Wave client, however, is totally sub-optimal for a messaging metaphor much less a many-to-many passive social platform. It is a document development platform. Nothing more.
The same could be true of Microsoft’s deal for the firehose, but here, as with Google, Twitter may not want to risk flaunting ownership of a stream that can so easily be cloned for its enterprise value. And as easily as you can say RSS is dead, Salesforce Chatter enters the picture. Here’s one player Twitter can’t just laugh off. First of all, it’s not Twitter but Facebook Benioff is cloning, and a future Facebook at that, one where the Everyone status will be built out as a (pardon the expression) public option. This free cross-Web Chatter stream will challenge Facebook’s transitional issues from private to public, given that Salesforce’s cloud can immediately scale up to the allegedly onerous task of providing personalized Track on demand.
Translation: Maybe the enterprise players – specifically Salesforces’ Chatter – will save the day.
Correction: Doubtful. This is just another closed system for a specific vertical. It’s long overdue. It is awesome. But it is not a Facebook or Twitter competitor much less an open alternative to the proprietary messaging systems we keep flocking to. It is simply a long overdue expansion of the simple changelog tracking feature on ERP assets. It’s a simple feature that was sponsored by a simple question. “Why doesn’t the asset changelog include more data – including social data?”. Duh. I was doing this in my own web based CRM at the start of the decade.
It’s likely this pressure can be turned to good use by Facebook, unencumbered as they are by any licensing deal with Twitter. Instead, a Chatter alliance with the Facebook Everyone cloud puts Salesforce in the interesting position of managing a public stream with Google Apps support, which eventually could mean Wave integration. Where this might break first is in media publishing, as Benioff noted at the CrunchUp. Twitter’s leverage over its third party developers could be diluted significantly once Salesforce offers monetization paths for its Force.com developers. So much so that this may call Twitter’s bluff with FriendFeed.
Translation: No idea
But FriendFeed has always been more of a tactical takedown of Twitter than an actual competitor, a stalking horse for just the kind of attack Twitter seems most afraid of. No wonder the speed with which Twitter is introducing metadata traps to lock down the IP before a significant cloud emerges to challenge its inevitability. Lists, retweets, location — they’re all based on raising the rate limiting hammer to discourage heading for the exits. It’s not that retweets reduce the functionality of the trail of overlapping social circles, it’s that they lock them behind the Wall.
Translation: Twitter is introducing more metadata into tweets to maintain its lock in through API limits etc.
Correction: On this point Steve is partially correct. This isn’t about rate limiting though – it’s about turning Twitter’s proprietary protocol into a real-time transport for all the data the web has to offer. It is not about API limits but rather cramming so much value into the pipe that the pipe becomes like water – you gotta drink from it or you’re going to die.
I don’t expect anyone from Twitter to answer the simple question of when will Twitter give FriendFeed the same access they provide other third party client vendors. For now, it’s frustrating to not see the flow of Twitter messages in realtime, but over time we’ll build tools on top of FriendFeed to take such embargoed messages private. Once inside FriendFeed, the realtime conversations that result are just the kind of high value threads Chatter will support, Wave will accelerate, and Silverlight will transport. Keep up the good work, Twitter.
Translation: I doubt Twitter will play nice with FriendFeed and give them equal access again because once items are inside FriendFeed they turn into rich conversations. Conversations that Chatter will support, Wave will accelerate and silverlight will transport.
Correction: Actually Twitter does not and has never given fair and equal access to its data. FriendFeed had a moment in the sun with first class access the likes of which almost no one else has seen before or since.
I have no idea how Chatter fits into the B2C picture – it is clearly an Enterprise play for Salesforce. Wave indeed will act as a great interface through which to participate in real-time threads. The threads themselves, however, will need to be generated or framed by much more rigid systems designed for public discussion.
Silverlight is great for rich web apps. It is Microsoft’s way of bringing the richness of the client into the browser. Just like .NET is to Java, Silverlight is to Flash. A way for Microsoft to leverage a key technology component without handing the crown to someone/something it doesn’t control. But I’m not sure if fits into this discussion.
In the end, the only real solution for all of this, of course, is a return to the way the web has always worked (well). Open systems. The transport should not be Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Wave or any other nonsense. It should be RSS and Atom (ActivityStrea.ms specifically) transported over PubSubHubBub and read by open standards aggregators. The namespaces should be OpenID based and adoptable by all.
The sooner the early adopter community realizes this, the commentators push for this and the developers code for this, the better off we will all be.
Disclosure: I work for JS-Kit, creators of Echo – one of the largest providers of Real-time streams. I also Tweet – trying to find an alternative though!