This statement rings true to me, and applies not just to search, but to other markets online governed by network effects, such as peer marketplaces, social networks, and ad networks.
I’ve been reading more books lately. Mainly fiction. The Stanza ebook reader on the iPhone is a gamechanger for me. It makes reading so much more convienent.
But, I find myself distracted by the plot of fiction written before the widespread adoption of the Internet and mobile phones. So many plot devices rely on characters not being able to properly communicate with each other or information delivery problems that simply don’t exist in today’s world. It’s distracting to see characters fall victim to the consequences of obsolete problems.
Even modern fiction and movies stick characters in predicaments where I often wonder why the character doesn’t just pull out their mobile phone and ask for help. Sometimes shows like 24 will use shots to show the audience that the protagonist doesn’t have cell reception. But, even then, it feels like a cop-out… like writers are trying to return to the glory days of not having to deal with cell phones.
I like fiction that is willing to embrace new technology and find new plot devices that fit with modern capabilities. I think this is why I end up reading a bunch of sci-fi.
I’ve had a pet peeve with Twitter for awhile, and I know it can be fixed via an app that implements the Twitter API. So, I’m going to outline the app here in hopes that one of you all out there gets inspired (or is bored enough) to write it. But, if no one steps up, then I’m sure I’ll get around to hacking it together myself.
Whenever I receive a Direct Message (DM) email notification from Twitter, I want to be able to hit “reply” and respond to the DM right there. But, currently Twitter doesn’t support that… you have to click-through a link to send a DM back on Twitter’s site.
Here’s the spec: poll Twitter fairly regularly (say, once an hour) to see if you have any DMs. If you do, then generate an email to the owner of the Twitter account with the content of the DM using a unique email address (just like Disqus comment emails). The recipient can then respond to the email, and the response will be DM’d back via Twitter. Also, users of this service should tell Twitter to stop sending emails with their DMs to them so they don’t get two emails about the same DM.
It would require a cronjob, some light hacking on an email server, and a few lines of scripting to send/receive emails and talk to Twitter. Did someone already build this? If not, go to it Internetizens.
Jonathan Zittrain pointed out in a TED talk recently that of the the properties of the Internet that made it such a hotbed for emergent innovation was that it was never constrained into profiteering; instead, the Internet was free to grow as a network baked by a culture of collaboration. Zittrain said:
“The internet has no business plan - never did - no CEO, no single firm responsible for building it. Instead it’s folks getting together to do something for fun, rather than because they were told to or because they were expecting to make money from it,” he said.
That ethos, he suggested, had led to a network architecture that was completely unique. (via BBC)
This culture of collaboration that underlies network architectures is really exceptional. And, it doesn’t just apply to computers interconnected around the world, but also to people. Charlie O’Donnell describes a similar ethos in his own interactions with other startups. Charlie isn’t giving startup advice because it’s his job (it isn’t) or because he’s paid to do so (he’s not)… to me, his enjoyment and genuine interest mentoring jumps off the page. It’s not a coincidence that Charlie’s culture of collaboration and peer mentoring sounds so similar to Zittrain’s description of the motivation of Internet supporters and guardians. They’re both the foundations of networks, which require this kind of altruism, practically by definition.
I completely agree with Google that App Stores are not the future of the application layer on mobile phones. Mobile application develop was hindered for years by the reticence of Carriers, until Apple cracked open the doors to developers with the App Store. But, after a year of activity, developers are slowly realizing that they just traded in one Gatekeeper for another.
The solution is the same solution we’ve always had on the internet: the browser. The browser doesn’t require lengthy approval processes, 17+ mature content warnings, or limitations on promo codes. As a general rule of thumb, if you have to ask permission of another company to launch or iterate on your startup, you’re doing it wrong.
But, Apple did so many things very right with the App Store. Most importantly, they significantly reduced the cognitive barriers around paying for applications (the App Store is the closest solution to Josh’s Penny Gap problem I’ve ever seen). Also, the sandbox design of the App Store is great because it encourages users to experiment, knowing that all the apps are somewhat insulated from the rest of the phone and have passed some minimum inspection by Apple.
So, I’d love to see someone build a company that takes the best parts of the App Store, but delivers them via the browser in a more open/community-oriented way. Two key priorities of this new company should be developing a set of open source libraries around the next generation of mobile browsers, and then creating a consumer-friendly app store of browser-based applications to aggregate consumer demand. It would be ideal if someone who already had your payment data could do this (such as Amazon) so they could enable a 1-click payment solution, but I think an app store startup that implemented a wide variety of payment solutions (CCs, Amazon, Paypal, mobile billing, etc…) could viably compete.
As Apple, Google, Nokia and other smartphone developers create more browser-accessible hooks into the phones’ unique features via HTML5 (such as Location or the Accelorometer), browser apps will be nearly as rich as native, platform-specific apps. And, browser-based apps won’t have the Gatekeeper problem that native, platform-specific apps have today.
Need an idea for your next startup? Take this one because I’d really like to see it happen.
According to FMyLife (not the most reliable of sources, but certainly entertaining) a guy proposed marriage to his girlfriend via Zynga’s Mafia Wars. While this certainly isn’t the first MMOG marriage proposal, I’m guessing that’s a “first” for Zynga. Here’s what the ring looks like in-game for those who are curious. From the FML posting:
Today, I received a “diamond ring” in Mafia Wars (a facebook app) from my boyfriend of 3 years. Along with the ring came a message. It read, “Will you marry me?” He was serious. FML
Yikes! I sure hope not :)
Joking aside, If VC firms have to start registering with the SEC, I’m sure we’ll see a new industry of service providers that will help manage that process, just like all the 409a consultants or SarBox compliance firms that are around today.
A few years ago I got a call from a friend at a large media company (name withheld to protect the innocent) who asked for some ideas/feedback regarding web syndication of the content his company owned. He saw all his content being bittorrented, remixed on YouTube, and posted in snippets on blogs. He understood that this was interesting user engagement and valuable viral marketing that should be fostered, but all of these use cases were illegal and unmonetized, so he had to do something.
He asked me if I had examples of successful web syndication of high-value video content for free… he was constructing a business case to the board and wanted to propose that they open up their archives of content, with monetization through ads attached, to be embedded anywhere, but he wanted some evidence, such as positive case studies to backup his proposal.
I didn’t know what to tell him. I certainly wanted to see his proposal adopted because I thought it was a great, daring idea, and it felt net-native. And, as a consumer of content, I thought they could build a terrific product out of free access to their archives. But, when I think of successful distribution of premium content on the web, I think of MLB.TV, WSJ, Netflix Watch Instantly, FT… I haven’t seen a *Big Win* by a media company that gave everything away for free and relied only on embedded ads for monetization.
I was pleased to read Bill Gurley’s take on the Free meme floating around the web because his opinions are in sync with my hesitation. Bill wrote:
Even though the marginal cost may be zero, if you have highly differentiated content, there is no reason to adopt a free business model… HBO’s hit shows should not be free. The NFL has no need to offer free access to all games. The Wall Street Journal is doing the exact right thing, and I find it peculiar that the New York Times is not executing the same strategy. I would also suggest that over the next two years you will see the majority of high-quality video content move behind a subscription wall, even at sites like Hulu.
So, in short, I still feel like I wish I could have been more helpful to my big media friend, but it wasn’t clear to me that free access to their content was the right solution for them, and I still haven’t figured it out today.
I just read about YAYCC (Yet-Another-YCombinator-Clone), and although I’m unsure how I feel about the cloning phenomenon, I think blogging is a good way to nourish my thought process, so here goes nothing.
To start, I think YCombinator is terrific. Paul Graham has a remarkable eye for net-native hackers that can build a lot of value with very little capital. I’m consistently impressed by every class YC generates. Bravo; I’m a huge fan.
Since YCombinator’s initial success, many YC-clones have emerged. Here’s a quick pros/cons list regarding the clones:PROS:
- Many of them also have a terrific eye for tech talent (much like YC), and so I’m glad to see the high quality companies that emerge from those programs.
- I agree with Albert that there’s not enough seed capital in the world today, and anything that increases the amount of seed capital available to startups is a good thing.
- I really like the culture of mentorship that these programs foster. It’s great to see experience entrepreneurs and investors helping the next generation get going, and (like YC itself) the YC clones appear to kickstart and magnify a communal culture of educating each other.
- I think the real value that these programs provide is validation, not capital. Sure, money is nice, but the amount of capital that these YC-clones (and YC too) provides is trivial, and I suspect for most founders their decision to participate is not motivated by money. Instead, they’re working with one of these YC-clones because it gives them the confidence and validation that their startup idea is valuable and worth pursuing. The more confidence we can instill in young entrepreneurs, the better.
- The specific implementation details that these YC clones employ are often too directly derivative. I can’t imagine that Paul nailed the formula perfectly in his implementation of YC, so I’d love to see more innovation around the structure of these programs. Pretty much all of them are some direct derivative of ~$6k/founder for 3 months of runway, with guest speakers along the way and a demo day at the end. I wish some of the clones would be more imaginative with these parameters and introduce more unique elements that create more personalization.
- I don’t think geography is a point of differentiation in these programs. For example, in Heyzap, from the YC class of Winter ‘09, the two founders were from the UK. Those guys flew over probably ~7 YC-clones on their way to Silicon Valley to pitch Paul Graham. So, any YC-clone that tries to claim geography as a differentiation from YC is still competing with YC for the best hacker talent in the world and is likely losing that battle.
- Thought leadership is hard to win when you’re defined as a clone of something else. For example, within 48 hours of being funded by Union Square Ventures, a number of del.icio.us clones emerged with feature sets similar (if not better) than del.icio.us. But, none of them took off the way del.icio.us did because they all were all seen as del.icio.us clones and not authentic. YC-clones by definition have similar issues.
I see this pattern play out over-and-over again on the web. Revenue-generating for-pay competitors see a new Free entrant in the space as a source of distribution via advertising, and in the process, seal their doom by legitimizing/supporting the Free competitor until the Free version builds a network and exploits a more net-native business model.
I just finished a brief stint on Jury Duty. I was placed on a jury for a criminal trial (had to do with dealing weed and gun violence in upper Manhattan), but when the trial started, the defendent plead out and we all went home. Pretty painless in terms of time commitment.
Despite being so short, the process was very interesting. Some notable experiences:
1. Every law school in the country should require a class on cognitive psychology. During Voir Dire (the process where the lawyers ask potential jury members questions), both lawyers intentionally asked questions that they didn’t care about the answers to… the purpose of the questions was to “prime” the jury. Priming is a classic technique in psychology testing, by making people think of happy thoughts or sad thoughts before performing an unrelated task, the experimenter can affect the outcome of the task. I suspect some of the best lawyers are ones that have mastered this technique and many other techniques in a cognitive psychology playbook.
2. The first question that the Assistant District Attorney asked the jury was, “who here has seen The Wire.” She didn’t ask about any other entertainment media, not Law & Order, CSI, The Closer, etc… The ADA’s question tells me something about The Wire, but I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps the show is as realistic as it looks, perhaps the show would setup unrealistic expectations in jurors minds, or perhaps the show’s portrayal of law enforcement and/or drug trafficking is too unflattering. Whatever the reason is, The Wire was the only show that the ADA cared enough to ask about. Of course, the details of the case sounded like it could have come straight out of an episode of The Wire. I, along with only 5 other people raised my hand to that question. I guess The Wire was never all that popular.
3. I was pulled randomly from the general jury pool into the courtroom along with 50 other people. After Voir Dire ended, of those 50 people 2 were chosen to be jurors and 4 were chosen as alternate jurors (the rest of the jury had previously been selected). I have no idea how I was chosen to be one of the 2 jurors out of the 50 potential jurors. I disclosed very quickly and early in the Voir Dire process that my sister works in the DA’s office, the same office that was prosecuting the Defendant! I told the court that I thought I could be objective and unbiased despite this fact, but how could the Defense possibly want me on the jury? It seems crazy to me. Perhaps they knew all along that jury didn’t matter because they were going to plead out once the trial started.
All in all, it was an interesting (albeit brief) insight into our legal system.