December 28, 2007

Hugh is still calling this TV 2.0

A lot of people are hating on "2.0" names now have always hated on "2.0" names, so I'm not sure I'd be pushing it the way Hugh is. But I don't care one way or the other about "2.0", I can usually negotiate whatever terminology other people want to use.

However, I really don't like the idea of calling this "TV".

Like I said before, for me "TV" is all about "broadcast" ie. DRM, intrusive advertising, big-media dinosaurs etc. And, unless they turn out to be surprisingly clever and agile I don't think this is going to be about them.

Yes, 2008 may be the year that the big, cheap LCD in your living room is assimilated into the device swarm. But there'll also be little screens (Chumbies, portable gaming machines, mobile phones and video players), and non-screens (Nabaztags, Orbs)
Yep, Dave's done it again.

Update : And, of course, if Dave's FlickrFan takes off. It really won't be hard at all to upgrade it to do video, and then river of checkbox news.

For the BBC or NBC or Fox or CNN, now would be a great time to start paying attention and trying to get into this.

If I was Apple, I'd be dropping the price of the MacMini to take advantage of this launch : "Buy a MacMini NOW for only $400 before end of January and get Flickrfan preinstalled". OTOH, if I was Microsoft I'd assign a couple of people on helping port this application to Windows PDQ.

And if I was Flickr ... you know, I'd at least mention it on my blog.

Update 2 : Now, I wonder if this kind of newsmap would work well on a big screen.

Update 3 : Bonus Link. Remember this? :
Winer has nothing like the resources of Apple, but look, he's created the same shape of platform : he's got the content, he's got the nice reader, he's got the flow going through his middleware. And now he can start innovating on top of that.

December 27, 2007

Good end of year round-up from Marc Canter.

... we believe within one year they’ll be LOTS of social media features being plopped into existing productivity software, Intranets and legacy apps, etc.

Meanwhile Dave launches his photos from Flickr over RSS to your TV thing.
Dennis Howlett's wishlist for 2008
Hugh Macleod still musing on, (talking himself into more business with) Microsoft.

I'm a) answering both one ugly bit of sophistry that came up in the comments :

2. The US Government's paradox is that, while monopolies might be illegal, for Microsoft, as a publicly traded company to act in any way other than it has would also be deemed illegal.

This is clearly wrong. No company has a legal obligation to its shareholders to do illegal things. And even if they did have a legal obligation to do *wrong* things, anyone with any integrity would avoid them like the plague.

If you stop to consider the same argument being applied to, say, bribing foreign governments or abusing human rights, that should become obvious.

And then b) addressing the wider question.

I can understand that there's a genuinely interesting challenge to try to make Microsoft relevant and exciting again.

But I don't, honestly see how that can happen *yet* - they haven't been nearly humbled enough and still in transition between Gates / Ballmer and whatever is coming next.

Yes, they need a new idea. But chasing any new technological trend can't be it.

Microsoft's big idea, which has sustained them for 30 years, and really was visionary when Bill Gates was promoting it in the 70s, was that, with the right intellectual property laws, you could build a "pure software" company, selling directly to the end-users rather than be part of, or a supplier to, a hardware company. And as a pure software company you could get your product onto everyone else's hardware in every office, in every home.

I see Microsoft as the best-case scenario for a proprietory software company. But that turns out not to be good enough. We need more and more powerful software on a more complex ecosystem than anyone, even Microsoft, can keep under control. And the only way we can have that is through open platforms and protocols, free (open-source) software, "peer-production" and software-as-a-service. All of these are deeply inimical to Microsoft's core DNA of wanting to "own" software platforms.

If MS is to have a future, its "next big idea" can't be one type of device or another. (There's going to be a multiplicity of different types of devices. More than Microsoft can produce or even write drivers for.) It can't be "advertising" because advertising itself is under huge transformative pressures.

No, the big idea has to come after MS have exorcised the notion of "software as product" and started with a clean slate.

December 24, 2007

Hugh Macleod thinks Microsoft is going for TV 2.0

Well, it's not really surprising. Both MS and Apple have been trying to get there for .. well ... ever. However, "TV" for me means "broadcast" with all the bad things that implies : DRM, intrusive advertising, platform owners who want to dictate the conversation.

The question is, how much of this "broadcast" platform survive? And how closely do Microsoft and Apple want to tie themselves to it? As the computer explodes into a swarm of connected, "smart" objects and appliances scattered around our lives. (Nabaztags, Chumbies, Robosapiens and their various offspring) I wonder if the focus really should be on "TV"

December 16, 2007

Quick note : Blahsploitation is no more ... long live "Composing"

December 15, 2007

James Governor gets stuff.

Hmmmm ... M&A becomes about merging and pruning social graphs?

Nick Carr has a good follow up ... noting the importance of Excel

It's all vibing off everything Sig says.

I wonder if anyone remembers John Seely Brown going round a couple of years ago saying social software was for "exception handling" in the enterprise?

Final thought ... enterprise software will be "sexy" when it can do graphs like GapMinder.

December 13, 2007

Bebo (which is already aligned with OpenSocial) decide to clone the Facebook API too so Facebook apps will run on it.

Dave Winer says that FB supporting this effort is the "end" of OpenSocial.

He may be right, and that's a bad thing.

You can see an allegorical image of Facebook with a devil on one shoulder and and angel on the other, whispering advice in its ear. Facebook could choose to be "good" or choose to be "evil". Opening its API was good, Beacon is evil.

"Good Facebook" would be competing as infrastructure for social applications, providing more ways to let applications writers help you benefit from your social network. "Evil Facebook" thinks applications are merely a complement. It competes on "owning your social network" and reselling it for its own benefit.

While it's not actually evil to allow Bebo to clone the API. Being too blasé may demonstrates that FB are only really thinking about the dark-side strategy. Same problem is true of OpenSocial. If social-application hosting is seen as a commodity, YASNS have to compete on exploitation of your social data.

December 06, 2007

Umair brilliant today :

The original purpose of the corporation - and of business - was to make everyone involved in trade better off.

Stop and think about that for a second - everyone.

Somewhere along the way, in the annals of corporate history - we lost that purpose.

And the firm became what the commenter's describing: a value-shifting machine, not a value-creating machine.

So: the fact that people can even think that such a design makes economic sense - businesses exist solely to maximize profits, at the expense of consumers - speaks volumes about what's really wrong with th larger economy today.

November 30, 2007

Interesting analysis of the fragility of SemWeb meta-data. Calls for explicit human viewable and "auditable" meta-data.

Of course, it's hilarious that the SemWeb people haven't yet managed to solve the problem of how to "address" things with URIs. :-) After all, people have been addressing things successfully with URLs for years.

What is apparently difficult is being clear exactly *what* is being addressed. Because SemWeb promises we can be unambiguous about that, but then seems to have problem distinguishing whether we're talking about the "sense" or the "reference".

In contrast URLs have no problems refering because we're not too fussy about what they refer to.

Could there be some kind of "uncertainty principle" here? One which says you can know "what" a thing is or "where" it is, but not both at the same time?

November 29, 2007

Robot wars

(Frankly Xeno looks way too "Chucky" to me.)
Now this is the way to run a cool enterprise software company.

November 28, 2007

I wonder why Google don't merge Orkut and Blogger.

November 27, 2007

Marc Andreesen thinks the entertainment could become more like the tech. industry.

November 20, 2007

Apple vs. Amazon

Personally, I think some kudos should go to Amazon for even raising this possibility.
Can't blame Amazon for borrowing the iPod strategy wholesale. It worked spectacularly for Apple. Why change anything?

November 16, 2007

Why I'm a Dave Winer fan.

Dave on his new Chumby :

6. It would be nice to have a USGS earthquake widget. It could be two-way since the Chumby has motion detectors.

November 15, 2007

November 14, 2007

November 13, 2007

My word!

This is bloody aggressive.

I'm going to have to start talking about Google's November Blitzkrieg, a sudden, vicious attack on three fronts : against Microsoft, Sun and Facebook (with MySpace rapidly surrendering and getting with the program).

The article makes a convincing case that this is a decisive blow against Sun's mobile platform aspirations. What is likely to happen is that they'll either sue for peace by falling into line with Google, and accepting the effective merger of Java and Dalvik now under Google's leadership and fully open source. Or they'll fight on, but without any real chance of success.

November 09, 2007

I'm right behind Umair on the mind-boggling evil dumbness of Facebook's advertising play.

I was a fan of Facebook, of both their intelligence and ambition, but no more. The problem is that Facebook really had something, a potential, that I believe few other commentators understood. It seemed like Mark Zuckerberg had grasped something that eluded the minds of some of the smartest observers around. Now it looks like he didn't really "get it" either. Maybe he was just lucky? Because the new FB advertising platform is going to abuse the enormous power it has. Whether it breaks apart as millions of users flee the deluge of spam or just congeals into a large glob of sticky gunk around the consumtariat, Facebook is blown.

Huh? Confused? Let me put it this way ....

Hey! Kids! Make Pepsi your friend and win FREE Ringtones!!!

Or whatever ... brands have a myriad of incentives to get someone in your social network to sign them up as a friend. Think they won't do it? Think again ...

Think the kids you know will have integrity enough to resist? Maybe the price has to be a bit higher. But you get the idea. If friendships have value to predatory brands then they'll be scheming to get them.

What all this reminds me of is those sites, back in the day, that used to require you to give your credit-card details in return for a short-term trial; and would then kept charging you a bit every month, in the hope that you either didn't notice, or found it too much trouble to jump through the hoops of cancellation.

Brands are going to sign up your friends in a burst of naive enthusiasm or by using shameless bribery, and will then send out a slurry of low-level spam, keeping it just low-profile enough (compared to everyone else's spam) to not irritate people into actively cutting their connections. (Although the best thing from the brand's point of view, would be to get their hooks into highly connected people, and then drive drive them away from Facebook altogether, leaving their accounts as little zombie beacons, broadcasting nothing on the newsfeed but the brand's message.)

Update : Bonus evil

Update 2 : BTW, there's only one brand I "love" enough to pimp for free to my social network. And it's intimately connected with the Caps-Lock key ... ;-)

November 07, 2007

Oh all right, Umair wins. Facebook are evil and stupid. Doh!
Don Dodge gets it.

What if? - OK, what if I am a friend of someone on MySpace. Cool, my name and picture appears on their friends list and anyone can see it. But what if this MySpace friend joins a PornSpace social network site and wants to import his friends list to that site? Now my name and picture shows up on his PornSpace page as a friend of his? Hey, wait a minute, I didn't agree to that. How do I control where my name and picture go once I become a friend of someone? Will there be guilt by association?
It's coming up to Slashdot's 10th anniversary. So here's an interview with Cmdr Taco

He sounds happy enough, but I can't help thinking Slashdot as a brand which was / is really under-exploited. Malder sounds positively over-conservative when he talks about not wanting to change a working formula. I stopped reading Slashdot regularly years ago. Although I still "respect" it, and if it managed to excite me, I'd go back there.

But it just keeps on doing the same thing. Compare /. with, say, O'Reilly . Slashdot had the technical reputation and audience that could have made it a serious competitor to O'Reilly in the whole publishing geek-books, organizing conferences and inventing new memes game. Why didn't it?

(Of course, Tim O'Reilly is very, very clever and uses his publishing company brilliantly. (The only people who seem to have managed to generate any similar excitement in this area are the Rubyistas in Pragmatic Programmers / 37 Signals.) )

And it's strangely defensive to say that Slashdot isn't trying to be Digg or Reddit etc. The point is, these guys used to be innovators (Everything 2?) why aren't they playing with new ideas? Why no Slashdot social network, or publishing company, or cool use of social software on Sourceforge? (They're buying their wiki from someone else.) Why no code-search like Koders? Why does ThinkGeek seem to be selling a lot of tat novelties when it could have been experimenting with user-contributed T-shirts like Threadless or promoting serious hobbyist electronics the way O'Reilly does with Make?

Someone with some attitude could still do something dramatic and exciting with Slashdot / Sourceforge. I'd like to see it.
Interesting ... neither Dave Winer nor Umair Haque share my opinion on Facebook advertising. Winer thinks it's a real challenge to Google, not a "sustaining innovation" that Google can copy. Haque thinks that advertising is the big thing for YASNS but thinks MySpace are well ahead because of their openness.

Hmmm ... well, they're both smart, I'm pausing to reconsider this a bit further, but I'm still more persuaded by my previous analysis than theirs.

Haque's probably right that if anyone can make a big success in the YASN-as-advertising-platform game, it's MySpace. (And I guess that means Google just handed them the game by creating OpenSocial)

But I still don't think that this is what YASNS are really (should really be?) about.

November 06, 2007

Hmmm ... lots of people want it, but I think Facebook's new advertising platform is likely to be a mis-step. A social-utility is NOT a media company. Nor is it an Ad-market.

Of course, Facebook still have to figure out how to get paid, but advertising is going to drive them into thinking that they are one of these preceding categories.

But no succesful web company has succeeded by thinking it's a media company. That's what destroyed AOL and has Yahoo in deep trouble.

Google showed that you can be phenomenally successful as an Ad-Market. But too many companies (particularly Microsoft it seems) took the wrong lesson. The lesson of Google is not that "Adverts are a great business to be in". The lesson is that "disrupting big inefficient value-chains by the clever marshalling of new technologies and new ideas, is a great business to be in".

(Aside : Umair is good on a parallel theme.)

Now, I still think that the opportunity for Facebook (or similar social platform) is to grab a large piece of the market for modelling organizational structure and "wiring people together" which is currently scattered through all kinds of large, inelegant, enterprisey dinosaurs that cost billions to buy and maintain. That's a disruption on a grand scale with commensurate rewards.

OTOH, if Facebook thinks it's going up against Google and Microsoft as an Ad-market, or MySpace and YouTube as a media company, then it's picked the wrong battle; one where it has little disruptive capacity. Any sustaining innovation it can offer in these fields (more relevant adverts through deeper demographic knowledge) can be quickly copied by Google (who are, anyway, pushing to commoditize the whole sector of social networks qua media markets)

Google playing catch-up with Facebook as widget hosting is not a threat to Facebook. Facebook trying to play catch-up with Google as an ad-network is possibly a self-inflicted defeat.
Ahem ... like I've been saying. There's nothing really wrong with the OpenSocial or openness or even common APIs for social applications. It's just that in practice it's pretty much impossible to square the conflicting privacy concerns, and requirements for user's control over their own data, with widgets except in a walled garden owned by one trusted platform owner.

You'd need an entirely new security model.

Currently ...

Security issues are the main problem. “At the moment security is up to the container,” Marks said. “It’s clearly something we need to work better on, authenticating between sites.”

OpenSocial could potentially have functions, such as add friend, and bridge between social networks, but security gaps get in the way. “It comes down to the permission model from Unix. It treats applications as agents of users. The model needs a bit of refinement–you don’t want to delegate read/write access permission to others.”

How much flexibility to build into the APIs is a concern. “If you delegate back to the container, a gadget can send mail. It’s different than a gadget asking to send mail itself. It’s a fine line to walk. If you protect it too much, you are making it unusable and people will walk around it,” Marks said.

OpenSocial could hook into an instant messaging buddy list, but it could allow invasive scenarios such as clicking on a friend and seeing the friends full buddy list.

ZDNet are taking apart "Android"

- threatens the PC

- a Java alliance?

- FUD?

November 05, 2007

Google really are deluging us with announcements and new platforms at the moment.

A good reminder that standards made by committees tend to be doomed.


Well, first the committee can have conflicting agendas and be trying to push the standard in inconsistent directions (eg. both small and comprehensive)

Second, the committee is going to tend to be meeting and discussing away from the individual participant's urgent day-to-day requirements. A company will keep its real requirements private and try to solve them internally, rather than sharing them with (potential) rivals on the committee. So the committee will be working with inadequate information about the real application of the standard.

Third, some people will be attracted to committees because they are abstraction astronauts who like considering things at the very generic level but may not have a good grasp of detailed requirements.

Fourth, committee members may believe they should look to the future and can ignore short-term failings of their standard because "obviously" in a few years potential users won't need to be backwardly compatible with today's kludges or will have got the message that there is a better way to do things.

Fifth, some organizations will be on the committee not because they have a real requirement from the standard but because they feel the need to be seen there or to be part of the standard-setting or to try to find out what other people are up to, or even to sabotage the standard.
This is definitely worth a read and keeping an eye on.

GMail's support for IMAP (the mail protocol that supports synchronization of folder-structure between mail clients and servers) Ultimately may push other email clients towards supporting GMail's "tagging" rather thant "foldering" model of email management.

And, once you have a generic "tagged" message synchronizing and managing architecture, why stop at email? What about other docs? The proliferation of other messaging protocols and streams (eg. Twitter, RSS, Jaiku, River of News etc.)?

Because of the way IMAP supports the nesting of folders, supporting IMAP meant that Google had to figure out a way to hierarchically nest labels. So, along with the introduction of IMAP support, Google has introduced the slash (”/”) as a means of telling GMail that one label is a parent to another. For example, in GMail, the parent-label “Northeast” could have child-labels as in “Northeast/Massachusetts” and “Northeast/Connecticut”. On the client side, such a hierarchical taxonomy would be reflected in parent and child folders with no limit to nesting depth.

The introduction of hierarchical tagging begged two more globally directed questions for Google; First, will the hierarchical tagging be made available in other Google services (ie: Google Reader, Google Docs, etc.). Second, when will (note, not “if”, but “when”) Google’s customers be able to unify their taxonomy across those other applications so that users can see everything that’s tagged with the same label (eg: “Northeast/Massachusetts”) regardless of what service it comes from.

Hierarchical tags ... that's like square circles. Except in this case it might be a felicitacious synthesis.
Yahoo Kickstart ... FacedIn / LinkBook from Yahoo?

November 02, 2007

So Facebook doesn't need to start worrying yet ...

OpenSocial People does not support queries.

If I read it right (after 5 mins, I admit) the API supports getting one friend by id or all friends. But no query that filters friends by link-type. Which, if you think about it, means that there really aren't any social applications that you can build which don't need to go beyond the scope of the API ... which means that all the interesting social applications are still gonna have to be platform specific or modified on a YASN by YASN basis.
Damn! Haven't even had a chance to look at OpenSocial yet ... IRL getting in the way.

Dare Obasanjo fun

Although I don't think this (has to be) true yet

November 01, 2007

Here we go ...

TechCrunch both right and wrong .... OpenSocial can't claim victory until the users turn up.

But wrong ... because they still think it's all about squirting one chunk of HTML / Flash / Javascript into another.

And if their OpenSocial apps start to gain more traction because they have more functionality, they may just start to put those Facebook projects on the back burner. (With OpenSocial, for instance, full applications can run on members’ profile pages, whereas on Facebook there are substantial restrictions on what developers can do on those profile pages).

OpenSocial apps aren't going to have "more functionality" in any meaningful way. Because social applications are not like desktop or browser applications. The only functionality which is important to social widgets is "social functionality" and that is dependent on the richness of access to, and the sophistication of manipulating, the social graph itself.

OpenSocial is extremely unlikely to be able to offer as rich a functionality in this sense as Facebook (or, indeed, any particular YASN) can, because it's got to be a least-common denominator between a number of very different philosophies of what a YASN is and is for.

Having said that, this is a very cute thought :

Joining OpenSocial could actually be a brilliant move for Facebook, especially if it can become the advertising network of choice for social apps. If Facebook can make it easy for Facebook developers to port their apps elsewhere and power those apps with Facebook ads, why wouldn’t it do so? Checkmate, indeed.
More rolling thoughts ...

will the OpenSocial API trickle down to all the community management type programs and service eg. Wild Apricot etc?
Bebo now join OpenSocial ...

so big question ... what about Microsoft?

There's also a funny question : what about Facebook?

What, in practice, would it mean for Facebook to join OpenSocial? If your app. takes advantage of FB specific features that don't exist in the OpenSocial API you aren't likely to downgrade it. If it doesn't ... well ...

actually, hold that thought ...

Is OpenSocial going to provide a common catalogue of applications, so as long as you register your app. it automatically appears in the directory of all participating YASNS? Or do you have to register each separately?

What if you widget actually has code to take advantage of features specific to Orkut or LinkedIn? Will it be visible in their catalogues but not Ning's and Bebo's?

C'mon Google let's see ...
YASN-world rapidly self-organizing itself into major power-blocks :

MySpace joins OpenSocial ...
Two thoughts :

- if OpenSocial takes off, will MS just have to buy Facebook?

- where the hell are AOL in all this? How hard would it be for them to buy a little YASN, make sure it fits the OpenSocial spec, and give all their users accounts? Have they just totally given up?

October 31, 2007

Don't get me wrong. I think OpenSocial is a great idea, I want to play with it and support it.

But I want to sell a vision of what I think the real potential of a yasn-as-platform is. Which is giving people and third party developers the ability to build and manipulate their own social graphs.

Until the specs come out, I don't know if OpenSocial will encompass that vision. I think the paradox is that if it fully does, it relegates actual YASN companies to mere implementors of the spec. - effectively commodity hosting providers. (Something similar used to happen when Microsoft defined hardware standards - lots of cheap commodity hardware appeared, which was good for users but not for people trying to innovate new hardware devices.)

Of course, Google may be trying to play the same game with the YASNS.

OTOH, I'd guess the standard won't encompass what I'm thinking of - so in that sense it still leaves plenty of opportunity to individual YASNS to innovate and distinguish themselves. It's just that the application makers will have to handle each differently.

Like Folknology and some others, I'm reminded of Java. I always thought that Sun's "write once, run anywhere" was pretty bogus. Most of what's interesting with software is how it touches the things outside itself. Screens, keyboards, mice, network sockets, sound-cards etc. Operating systems can make managing those more civilized but a programming language can't hide their existence or lack-thereof. (And if you write a program that doesn't need much in the way of peripherals then C is pretty much write once, (compile and) run anywhere too.)

Anyway, what determines the awesomeness of your game's graphics (apart from your talent) is the video-card, screen-size and resolution - not the difficulty of abstracting away the difference between Mac and Windows low-level graphics APIs. That's why Sun kept trying to produce a decent abstraction layer over the Mac / Windows / Gnome GUIs and no-one ever really cared. (The web-browser OTOH provided a genuinely better, as in easier, way to build GUIs and people flocked to it.)

There's something analogous here. What's interesting with social widgets is how they touch the resources of the social network, not how they inject themselves into the user's home-page. But, just as factors such as screen-resolution or number of mouse-buttons was outside the control of the JVM, so the resources of the YASNS, factors such as "community tolerance of hot-potatoes", "willingness to accept strangers as 'friends'" or "ability to distinguish ex-girlfriends from ex-bosses" are likely to be outside the scope of the OpenSocial APIs.

Applications that want to take advantage of the special resources of particular social networks are going to have to get down and deal with the specifics of each. LinkedIn's recommendations from colleagues, or statistics about how many questions have been answered don't necessarily have a counter-part on Ning. But Ning's photo-gallery doesn't exist on LinkedIn. So will OpenSocial try to fake them with library code of its own? Will it demand that everyone who signs up to the spec. guarantees these features as a minimum? Or will it, basically ignore all this for now.

Hence I can imagine the OpenSocial API always running behind the wavefront of real innovations on the yasn-as-platforms. Just as Java has never managed to keep up with Windows and the Mac. Really interesting widgets will be written for a particular platform, to take advantage of its strengths, and only copied over to others as and when the advanced features become available there too. And then, again, long before those advanced features have made it into the common API itself.

Not saying it's bad or not useful. But ...
Mark Andreesen weighs in with his explanation of OpenSocial.

Basically sounds like you can register a callback with the YASNS which pulls HTML / javascript from your server. Sounds very good and simple as a way of embedding your application into their pages. Great! But not much of a clue what it means for whether your application can get access to the social network itself. Or to what extent.

What he does say is that apps. can (are likely to) test which YASN they're in and run differently in each. So, er, yeah ... OpenSocial doesn't prevent apps. taking advantage of YASN-specific stuff.

So it's kind of what I expected ... but let's see ...

(Drumming his fingers impatiently ...)
Google leading a consortium of YASNS for a common application API is, of course, a fantastic idea.

I can run my app. on Ning, Orkut (which, if you live in this part of the world is a big deal), SalesForce (!!!) and LinkedIn? I am there, baby! (Or at least, just as soon as my FB application is done, I'll be porting it there. ;-)

Will it work to overthrow Facebook? Who knows?

One question is, what resources of access to the users the API will offer developers? This is where the cultural component of the YASNS becomes tricky.

The "killer" part of the YASN-as-platform is what it lets you do with people. And that varies with the culture and privacy policies of the YASN.

The crucial test here will be not "do these networks all provide the same API call to place a chunk of HTML on the user's home-page?". That's pretty boring and not what YASNS-as-platforms are about. (Aside : in fact, a good high-level language ought to be able to abstract away from those differences. ;-)

No, the crucial test is "will their query language (equivalent to Facebook's FQL) allow the same kind of searches to be done on the social network?"

The paradox is, that if the answer to that question is "yes" then all these social networks have just turned themselves into commodity web-hosting. In fact, it's worse than that. They'll neither be able to compete with each other on applications - everyone will have the same - nor on what I call "link-management" (ie. relationship-management) - because that's exactly what a common query language will standardize. So the only thing they have left to differentiate themselves is ownership of your social-network data.

Listen up : if the "common API" includes a common query language and set of relation-types and query permissions, then this is a big incentive for the YASNS to more jealously try to defend their "ownership" of your social network and will disincentivate them from sharing it or allowing "cross-network queries".

However, I don't expect that that's what's going to happen. YASNS-as-platforms have got to realize that they are offering a platform for relationship-management and they'll try to compete by offering different link-management features. So on LinkedIn you'll be able to filter and segment and query your social-network by different criteria from those available on Orkut. And the kind of things you can do with relationships will be the reason you choose LinkedIn rather than Orkut (or vice-versa).

And, if I'm right, and YASNS do see that their strategy is competing on link-management services, then any common query language defined within the consortium is necessarily a lowest-common denominator. And developers will be focused on taking advantage of the more comprehensive and sophisticated relationship management facilities which are only available on a particular YASN. So in practice the number of really interesting widgets and applications which can run across the different YASNS is going to be trivial.

ps : shame I didn't see Tribe on the list of consortium members. That could at least keep them in the game if these applications run on it.

October 28, 2007

Note criticism of Facebook's failure to protect privacy. This is far more damaging to Facebook's platform aspirations than criticisms of its lack of openness.
FriendFeed is presumably the "open" version of the Facebook news-feed.

It is not a substitute for the things I was talking about.

October 27, 2007

Gulp! Faceforce!!!

Interview with Clara Shih.

Five years from now, no enterprise app — CRM, HR, ERP — won’t be integrated with the social graph.
To-ing and fro-ing about whether Facebook / Microsoft are a threat to Google.

Some good comments, especially this one : everyone thinks the MS deal is about getting Facebook customers to use MS search technology.

But what if it's the other way round? Bringing FB technology to MS customers? For example, what about a deeper integration of Facebook into Internet Explorer? Or Windows? That point about Facebook needing no UI "metaphor" is telling. Why shouldn't a computer desktop be organized by a Facebook (or similar) social-network metaphor?

October 21, 2007

Quick Note : Read Danah Boyd!
I'm keeping an open mind on the new round of hoopla over "semantic" applications.

I'm a known SemWeb sceptic and I still don't believe in the premise - which I take to be that we should define ontologies (or the semantics of URIs) up-front, independent of applications, and then applications will magically communicate together later because they'll all understand what each other are talking about.

But it may be that the "SemWeb" people have changed their tune and these new players are really only talking about a SynWeb with more meta-data and more smart programs guessing what it means.

Of course, I'm a bit of a pedant and I understand subtle distinctions that maybe the average tech. journalist doesn't. And personally I'm going to find it fucking annoying if we do get a SynWeb and then all the SemWeb people go round claiming that they were right, and this is what they meant all along. But I rather fear that that's exactly what is going to happen, and I'll just have to suck it up and adopt their mendatious terminology in order to be able to communicate at all.

Wittgenstein, bah! :-(
GoogleNews becomes a Facebook widget.

Remember that

a) Google have a lot of smart autonomous people inside. Even if some of them get up and say "there is no platform war" no reason others can't be out there fighting it. And nothing to say platform vendor can't also be application vendor. See Microsoft on Mac etc.

b) Maybe Google has too many good ideas and allowing them to be FB widgets is the solution. :-)

October 19, 2007

Apple / Google ... together ...

In fact, this is a very interesting and plausible idea in a lot of ways. Apple are now great at producing attractive, user-side appliances. Google make some great server-side hosted software (eg. Gmail) and are trying hard in other areas (eg. Google spread-sheet) And obviously their core search / advertising platform is very impressive.

But let's run this through my yasns-and-widgets / Hagel-unbundling framework as a filter. The question it raises : who is doing what in customer-relationships / product innovation / infrastructure?

At first glance it looks like Apple are the customer-facers, while Google do the back-end infrastructure. In which case, who's doing product innovation?

And that surely isn't quite right - are Apple really customer relations people? In some ways, their creative / design-oriented approach is more product innovation. While some of their treatment of customers betrays a less than customer-focussed attitude.

But it sure isn't Google who are doing the CRM ... unless we see it in their planned revamp of Orkut + Gadgets. And, in fact, it looks like Google are also doing product innovation in software.

Or is the whole Hegel model wrong? And Apple and Google can happily work out a partnership while sliding easily backwards and forwards from one role to another?

Update : Cringely comments and suggests personalities are going to play a much bigger role; Jobs wants it all.

October 18, 2007

Platform wars are over

Yeah, right. ;-)
Sun playing catch up with Adobe?

They gotta be scared now that AIR is getting lots of love ... ;-)
I wonder why EBay is in such trouble?

Then again, I wonder why we never hear anything interesting at all from them in terms of new technology ideas?
Very Important statement (actually essay / braindump) on my thoughts on widgets and YASNS over on my personal blog.

October 17, 2007

Tim O'Reilly on the social network operating system. Some good points on the importance of identity and interop of addresses to people.

However, all this talk of YASN-as-address-book is missing the rest of the picture. YASN-as-platforms are not just a convenient way to manage your contact information. They are *also* a way for you to manage social-networks ... which means controlling access.

Not just, as O'Reilly says, allowing your YASN to see into your company directory and see that a potential contact works for you, but to create a company by inviting someone to be your employee in the YASN - with the social-network-operating-system handling all the financial, HR and legal issues that that entails.
SkyPal / MySpace deal
10 Challenges of Enterprise Mashups

October 15, 2007

Interview with LinkedIn chief

Yep Facebook, LinkedIn have it right ... the opportunity for these YASNS is relationship-management platforms not open-access communication platforms. That's why openness is less of a virtue than discretion and control.

October 09, 2007

October 05, 2007

Of course, I like the idea of Guerrilla SOA.
Dave enumerates the ecosystem.
Urgent advice to Microsoft. Buy Humanized and fold Enso into the next Service Pack for Vista.

October 03, 2007

Here's a left-field thought. I wonder if Enso has the capability to wrap the GUI, the browser (and therefore web-based services), the way Windows originally wrapped DOS?

It is, after all, closer to the user than all these things.

Kind of an old-skool platform strategy ... but may yet work. Especially if you can write "widgets" for it (or at least Python scripts)

October 02, 2007

Further clarification : here's a comment I tried to leave on Joshua's post (mentioned below)

Strange that you say that UI standardization isn't an issue on the web. What about the Jakob Nielsen "users spend more time on other people's sites than yours" school of usability design?

Actually, the world of Facebook apps. and widgets is the first time I've started to see that an old-style platform strategy may be possible. Here the basis is something which which is a hybrid of technology, namespace and social convention. Of which Facebook's "news-feed" is the archetypal example. Facebook's news-feed is not merely technological : which is why other generic data-sharing feeds like RSS or Twitter aren't equivalent. It's also a social convention within a particular namespace and community: I'm willing to look at data that an application writes on my friend's feed, even though I haven't installed the application or explicitly subscribed to it. This is different from the open web - I wouldn't welcome an ordinary web-application that my friend used, randomly spamming my email. (Similarly, if too many bots started writing to Twitter, that would kill that particular community pretty damned quickly, it's not part of its culture either.)

Facebook's platform power ultimately rests on their ownership of this complex but delicate socio-technical hybrid. If they can nurture and grow it, such as giving both users and applications, more and subtler ways to manage it, more nuanced types of relationships between people, with more fine grained privacy control and applications that access these both through the APIs and patterns of software behaviour, then I think they have something that's very hard to escape from or reproduce elsewhere.

This is no longer about just data, or arguments about open access to it. It's data + social data + social conventions.
Joshua Allen responds to Marc Andreesen's types of platform.

He says the new platforms are about "data". That's rather like Tim OReilly's "Data Inside" aspect of his web 2.0 definition.

But a) it's not the whole story. And b) it leads to demands for "opening" the platform by making the data migratable.

It's not the whole story because, in addition to data the's user, her social connections and social conventions are the platform. When you think about it, this is true even with Windows, which is why UI consistency is such an important part of a platform.

On social platforms, the lock-in comes not from just having the data walled up in your silo. It also comes from your network being the place where people tend to do X. And if, on somebody else's platform, people don't tend to do X, then they won't shift the X-related applications over.

Because of his "open-data" perspective, Allen, I think, under-estimates the importance of the hosting issue, although he understands it perfectly well.

It's obvious what benefit a Ning or would get from keeping your data and code on their servers; it's less obvious what the benefit to you is. There are only two real reasons such an arrangement would be a benefit for you :

If your data, aggregated with data from lots of other customers of the provider, can provide some additional intelligence.

If the provider gets dramatic economies of scale beyond what you could get on your own. In the case of a Ning or a, this one is dubious. There are only a handful of companies who buy electricity and bandwidth in enough volume to offer hosting cheaper than Amazon. Companies like Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft.

This is the same debate that's had around Software-as-a-service. It's that "additional intelligence" which is the killer thing that social platforms can offer : doing stuff with social data that cuts across users and across applications. That's why Amazon's database is so much more valuable than everyone hosting their own "I bought and like this book". It can figure out the most popular or "readers who bought X also bought Y".

Yes, theoretically, "scutter" applications can run around a widely distributed microformats, but my bet is that the difference in efficiency and difference in privacy control is actually so great, quantitatively, that it can lead to qualitative differences of application.

October 01, 2007

Me commenting on Umair's criticism of Facebook.

This is an important step in my thinking about widgets, SaaS and YASNs-as-platforms that I'm trying to write something more comprehensive and coherent about. Meanwhile, there's a lot of the ideas in that comment.

September 18, 2007

Marc Andreesen has a great blog-post that starts with an attempt at defining what a platform is.

He breaks it down into 3 levels :

Level 1 platforms provide an API for external applications to call their services.

Level 2 platforms (eg. Facebook) help the external application present themselves by incorporating the applications within their UI. I'd say that we're really talking about platforms which provide a "callback" to the application.

Level 3 platforms host and execute the application themselves. With the benefit that the platform can broker richer integration between the applications. This is obviously what Salesforce's Force does. And, of course, Ning - the best part of this email is that it signal that Andreeson is trying to promote the "development environment" idea of Ning which was the exciting idea that kind of got lost when they rebranded it as "just another social network". (Asde : In fact, does Ning have what it takes to become a budget Force / AppExchange rival?)

He goes on to make a very good point :

Second, beware overfocusing on the apps of the past when thinking about the platforms of the future.

Lots of people got confused by the idea of apps running in the browser because when they thought of apps, they thought of the apps they used already on their PCs -- Word, Excel, Powerpoint -- and not the apps that would get built on the web -- eBay, Amazon, Now, it turns out in the fullness of time that word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation apps are also moving into the web -- as Google is demonstrating. But way before that happened, the web led people to create lots of new kinds of applications that were not possible on the PC.

A new platform typically enables a new set of applications that were not previously possible. Why else would there be a need for a new platform?

Umair keep up the Facebook scepticism.

Worth thinking about.

September 17, 2007

Force launched ... come back soon when I've had some time to look into it.

September 15, 2007

September 14, 2007

Salesforce's new open / social / online application platform..

This is massive. As the culmination and synthesis of several of the most important trends going on at the moment. This is going to blow up the enterprise software market the way the microcomputer blew up the mainframe market.

- any company can "rent" - as a service - an enterprise-class database-backed infrastructure from Salesforce.

- any programmer, or small company, can write applications for it.

- the applications will talk to each other via Salesforce's protocols.

- developers don't have to *sell* their application through the usual "sell big expensive software for humungous amounts of money, with lots of free lunches, kick-backs, professional sales-teams and special companies owned by the son of the procurador" channels; instead you just make your app available for companies to rent at ... erm "a flat $25/month/user".

(In fact, if Salesforce go the viral method - currently raging in Facebook - where you can encourage your friends (or in the case of business, your suppliers and customers) to install the application, then your app. can spread like wildfire *without* having to market it at all.)

Effectively, large suites break up into a swarm of widgets and mini-apps sitting on top of open, and standard, protocols and storage.

August 17, 2007

Adobe vs. Microsoft
Hmmm. I'm pretty slow discovering Inside Facebook which is a mine of information about the fast evolving Facebook platform for both developers and about software companies who make Facebook apps.

August 04, 2007

Fascinating discussion by James Hong about Reinventing HotOrNot (part1, part2, part3)

"PEOPLE are the killer app" is probably attained the status of a truism in the social software world. But it's still worth keeping in mind as a "guiding star".

As an intriguing aside. HotOrNot is now smothered with adverts for illicit dating sites. Hadn't really looked at or thought about this before (honest!) but when you start to consider it, internet dating really is bringing a hell of a lot more liquidity and plasticity to what you might call the "sex market".

And in the process, the incumbent institutions (eg. marriage) are getting pulverised. In the UK, the Tories are currently banging the drum for marriage. But look how the internet is a) revealing the degree of dissatisfaction within it, and b) helping people route-around the restrictions it places on their erotic lives.

Is online dating creating a more efficient sex market? And if so, does that mean that more people are now getting more sex? Is that turning up in any other social statistics or having further knock-on societal effects? Are we happier? More at risk from STDs? More dissatisfied?
Hmmm ... I wonder why people are setting up groups on Ning when they didn't on Tribe?

The functionality looks to me to be pretty similar.

August 03, 2007

Read/Write Web Netvibes Launches Facebook Widget

(Platform Wars reference nothing to do with me ... call it synchronicity)

Update : Umair pitches in and calls it an "anti-platform war" in that suppliers aren't trying to lock-in the users to their system against others, but are desperately trying to be as open as possible (and co-operative / inter-operable with other players).

July 25, 2007

Overview of mashup tools
Interesting interview with one of the founders of Facebook. Sensible points : continuing to look at Facebook as a platform and as as tool to enrich existing social relationships rather than create new ones (that makes it more like LinkedIn than Tribe)

June 25, 2007

LinkedIn going the platform route in response to Facebook?

I think they're going to have to change the perception of what LinkedIn is quite dramatically to get away with this. LinkedIn isn't an online place the way that Facebook or Tribe or MySpace are. It's organized around part of your life which is offline : namely your CV, your job, the company you work for and your (ex) colleagues. Its strength is letting you keep track of these things, while otherwise staying out of sight and out of mind.

Simply opening up the LinkedIn API isn't really going to do much unless someone can dream up some widgets that somehow engage this offline life.

June 17, 2007

Marc Andreessen (remember that Ning is now a social networking service building platform?) looks at Facebook's platform.

Veterans of the software industry have, hardcoded into their DNA, the assumption that in any fight between a platform and an application, the platform will always win.


what Facebook is now doing is a lot more sophisticated than simply MySpace-style embedding: Facebook is providing a full suite of APIs -- including a network protocol, a database query language, and a text markup language -- that allow third party applications to integrate tightly with the Facebook user experience and database of user and activity information.

And then, on top of that, Facebook is providing a highly viral distribution engine for applications that plug into its platform. As a user, you get notified when your friends start using an application; you can then start using that same application with one click. At which point, all of your friends become aware that you have started using that application, and the cycle continues. The result is that a successful application on Facebook can grow to a million users or more within a couple of weeks of creation.

Finally, Facebook is promising economic freedom -- third-party applications can run ads and sell goods and services to their hearts' content.

Meanwhile, some people seem to be doing well on it.

June 01, 2007

Robert Cringely has a fun article about Google and its policy of letting internal geniuses work on their own projects.

He says :

First there are those thousands of ideas and technologies that are being developed by Google employees in the 20 percent of their week devoted specifically for that purpose. That number of new ideas is far too high to be practical and too high even to be considered safe.

Say the Google Geniuses come up with 4,000 business ideas or technologies per year, which is probably around the current number. Let's guess that one percent of these ideas are truly great -- boffo ideas that one could easily build a company around. That's 40 world-beating ideas. And after the 40 absolutely top ideas, let's say there are another 360 ideas that are pretty darned good -- certainly good enough to pitch to the venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road. The remaining 3,600 ideas are, of course, crap, and can be forgotten by everyone except their inventors, whom I'll get back to in a minute.

Assuming Google executives have the insight to know which of their 4,000 proffered ideas are world-class, they then have to decide which 40 to pursue. Such an assumption is giving even Google too much credit, believe me. No matter how smart they are, issues of loyalty, prejudice, and the odd hangover will result in some less-good ideas making it through but mainly great ideas being eliminated. But this doesn't really matter because the larger question is: How many good ideas can Google pursue vigorously per year? The number isn't 40. It isn't even 20. The number of ideas that a company the size of Google can throw all its weight behind per year is about 10, of which five will probably not be the right ones.

I'm not so sure ... "too many good ideas" looks like the kind of problem that Google ought to know how to turn into an opportunity. (Maybe someone's already is using their 20% time in this direction?)

Firstly, "sort the good stuff from the rest" is Google's raison d’être. There must be dozens of variations on internal prediction markets / social routing networks / ranking algorithms which Google's internal community could use to discover the great ideas.

Second, Cringely's "the number of ideas that a company the size of Google can throw all its weight behind per year is about 10" smells suspiciously like "hit" based, rather than long-tail, thinking. This is a company that specializes in a) having smart, entrepreneurial people inside, and b) supporting large, liquid markets for micro-businesses (via AdSense, Google Checkout etc.) Why, having encouraged 4000 flowers to bloom, would it force them through a vicious filtering to become an official Google product? The answer to the problem of everyone has a product they want to launch ought to be "launch them all", with various degrees of Google official endorsement for those which the company wants to promote.
Google Gears allows web-apps. to run offline.

May 30, 2007

In general Dave Winer isn't too enthused about Facebook-as-a-platform. But here's a throw-away, but wise comment : "For extra credit, relationship-defining should be part of Facebook's open architecture."

May 08, 2007

As predicted :

The new SkyPal 3.2 beta :

What's new in this version?

Send Money with PayPal
Send money to friends and family direct from Skype.

May 04, 2007

May 03, 2007

Personally, I gotta agree with Mark Pilgrim.

In pure platform-warring terms, Silverlight is an almost smart move by Microsoft, although I still think they should have directly tried to get their hands on and embrace and extend Flash / Apollo rather than make their own competitor.

The crucial question for them is how much they are willing for the VM to float freely vs. whether they'll tie it into Windows Vista.Seems like it's planned for MacOS, but not Linux. Will they encourage the Mono guys to clone it? Is this actually a sneaky attempt to wrap MacOS in their own VM?

If I was, say, YouTube, why would I switch from Flash to Silverlight? (Actually, now I'm owned by Google, of course, I wouldn't. Full stop.)

Maybe there are two ways of looking at this.

On the one hand, Silverlight is going up against two strong incumbents : Flash and QuickTime. Both are going to fight back hard, and Flash can position itself as the "already platform independent" platform, because it has no Operating System to peddle (Nevertheless it may acquire a powerful strategic ally in GoogTube.) Clearly MS, rightly, understand that Apollo is a serious and bold attack on their ownership of the desktop (everything that Java tried to do but with a better programming language, a huge existing user-base and cuter graphics). At the same time there's Apple taking over the home entertainment zone with QuickTunes.

Can MS make something so compellingly better that it makes much headway here? Can it be so much better that Adobe or Apple couldn't match it?

On the other hand, maybe the best way to look at this is as MS trying to unbundle some of the multimedia functionality of Windows Vista and give it a more independent life, creating value in other contexts, such as a downloadable component for XP and MacOS.

Or maybe MS will be unable to resist tying in with Vista in the long run to try to sustain their monopoly.

May 01, 2007

I suppose I ought to be reading Invisible Engines, oughtn't I?

JP Rangaswami liked it.

April 26, 2007

Joel on Excel VBA and on how MS losing it's "backward compatibility" religion is totally screwing itself.

April 18, 2007

Google vs. Salesforce
John Hagel on the "end of web 2.0 innocence" meme.

For the large Internet API platform providers, there is also an important caution. Sustaining a straddle between a platform business and an end-user business may become increasingly challenging. If you become too greedy in terms of expanding into the end-user businesses of companies using your API platform, you may find that your platform business becomes less attractive. Before you start eating the young that are nourished by your APIs, you might want to be sure there are no other food sources to sustain you.

I suspect that sustaining the right balance in the Web 2.0 ecosystem over time will hinge on a new development – charging relatively nominal fees for API use. This will put increasing pressure on API users to come up with viable business models and reduce the incentive for API providers to compete with their API users.

April 17, 2007

TCP/IP vs the Dollar (part 3)

CEOs of open source software companies aren't rich because there's less money to be made in open source.

That doesn't mean open source is less significant or isn't a threat to proprietory software. It just means it's not playing in the same game, and the indices of success don't line up. Remember, trying to measure the information / attention / netocratic economy in dollars is like trying to figure out the worth of Microsoft by the number of acres it occupies.

April 15, 2007

Accman points out that Microsoft is pushing Office as the client for enterprise software.

April 10, 2007

Phil Wainewright : What flavour is your ecosystem?
Paul Graham thinks Microsoft is Dead. Dave Winer disagrees. Sort of.

The caveats don't matter. Graham's greater point is compelling. Microsoft don't really seem to be making it as an Internet Playa. They've neither come up with any really compelling or exciting software on the web-as-a-platform in the last seven years nor have they bought any of the interesting new web 2.0 companies. In fact, the last interesting thing MS did was buy Hotmail which was about 10 years ago.

10 years??? !!!!



In the meantime, it more or less looks like they've bet everything on Vista and lost, big time. The desktop operating system is a commodity. There's no (and will be no) interesting software that really needs Vista. Web served applications can run as easily on Unix. Office and Photoshop will run as easily on Macintosh. And browser-based software will run anywhere.

Microsoft may still have platforms that matter - though it's not easy to imagine where : ASP.NET essential to web-based apps? XBox beating Wii or PS3? Ray Ozzie, their great hope, seems to be missing in action, last seen a year ago speculating about his clipboard while Yahoo has Pipes up and running.

Graham's suggestions for restoring Microsoft's relevance aren't nearly as interesting as mine.

Now, of course, the funny thing is in my day job I use nothing but Microsoft software. I basically live in Windows and (and this may reflect my new status as a project managery kind of guy) Excel.

In fact, this is something I'm trying to think about more. Excel is a truly great piece of software; it's Microsoft's masterpiece. Word is an OK Word Processor. Access is A.N.Other database. Powerpoint is ... well frankly let's not go there.

But Excel is wonderful. It's the universal, "Swiss Army" desktop solution with dozens of little functional "blades". Want a "to-do" list? Excel. Want a status report? Excel? Want to do some calculations? Excel. Want to do some basic string processing? I write VBA macros for the same kinds of simple data crunching that I'd use Perl for in Unix. Want to make a couple of graphs and charts? Excel. Want to mock up some forms? Want to make tables of data and sort and filter them? You guessed it ...

And not only does Excel does all this, it makes it all pretty intuitive. Have a look at how they do Pivot Tables for an example of something pretty slick.

No-one else is even close. Not Google's online spreadsheet. Not Open Office's attempts at catching up. Not WikiCalc. Microsoft's advantage with Excel is undisputed. It's all theirs to throw away.

And what sucks most about Excel? The fact that people are always mailing spreadsheets around to each other and they have trouble keeping a single, up-to-date copy between them. What they need is Excel socialized. And where's socialized Excel? Caught up in turf-wars and lost behind a bunch of vague, confusing products like "SharePoint" and technologies like Excel Services.

Now, if I ran Microsoft, and I was worried about Microsoft being dead, I'd be making the most I could of Excel : pumping money and smart people and advertising into it, setting up skunk-works, hiring clever explainers to get simple messages out, as loudly and clearly as possible.

In particular I'd have :

  • Excel Studio : a complete development environment for people to build new applications on top of the Excel engine or to compile spreadsheet-based prototypes into other pieces of software.

  • A Social Excel : the Excel client would allow many people to work on a shared spreadsheet either via a central web-server, LAN server, or simply sync. multiple users together over P2P (imagine something like a Skype call working on one spreadsheet.)

  • Excel Live : a free, central web-based server to set up groups sharing the same spreadsheet with (obviously) Wiki-like (WikiCalc-like) hyper-linking between spreadsheets

  • Excel Express : a completely free-as-in-beer cut-down version of Excel that anyone could download and use to work on a shared spreadsheet. I'd want Excel Express to be as easily available and viral as Skype or Pando.

99% of the world's "semi-structured" data is not in Microformats but in tables in spreadsheets. And, Microsoft pretty much own that. But there's a huge demand (and opportunity) to put it all on the internet. Like I say, this is Microsoft's platform to lose.

March 13, 2007

March 03, 2007

Hmmm. Social Networking news ...

Cisco buying Tribe's tech. People are confused.

Meanwhile Ning seems to have decided to reinvent itself as ... erm ... Tribe : a generic build-your-own-social-network site.

Me, I'm confused too. And more than that, I'm disappointed by the Ning change. Taking a quick look at the site, it seems to have utterly disowned the previous "social development environment" incarnation of Ning, handing over that mantle to Yahoo Pipes.

OK, I half understand : maybe the business model wasn't working. Not everyone is, or wants to be, a programmer, and Ning didn't get the kind of traction of a MySpace or YouTube. Nor was it likely to.

Faced with that predicament, my suggestion to Ning might have been to pitch it as a white-label development tool for third-party resellers : small agencies who are creating web-sites or intranets for other companies. Or maybe something to do work on enterprise intranets. However they clearly wanted something else.

Now what we've got looks suspiciously like Tribe given a makeover by 37 Signals.

Which is mysterious. I'm a member of Tribe, and I like it very much. But it's widely considered to be a "failure" in the YASN market. What makes Ning think that the business model is viable? Or that they can make it work?

One thing that occurs to me, maybe this is really the old Ning in disguise. Perhaps a lot of social development stuff is there behind the scenes, and this is simply wrapping it in something that looks more familiar to the general public. That would make some sense, use "make your own tribe" to draw in people who wouldn't have dared go near the old Ning, but then just happen to have a bunch of Ning-apps. sitting around which can be add to these networks. And which the more curious users could learn to customize and share.

However, having gone to play around a bit, that doesn't seem to be the case with the new Ning. Contrariwise, it looks like history has been ruthlessly rewritten; Ning was allegedly founded in October 2004 to give everyone the opportunity to create social networks. The old Ning was full of "HotOrNot" style comparison games and mashups with Google Maps. But while the new Ning allows you to add discussion forums, photos and videos to your tribe social network, hotornots and mashups are conspicuously absent.

Maybe the developers' docs will cast more light on things. You can still program stuff, but there's no hint of users sharing their code with each other, which was the really interesting part of the old system.

So why does Cisco want Tribe's code? Beats me. Speculating wildly, maybe there's something to do with convergence in the home between television, internet, entertainment etc. And maybe the next step beyond BitTorrent peer-sharing and You Tube is some kind of private P2P video sharing within social networks, so that tribes become an organizing principle for video, rivaling television channels.

But that's speculating wildly ...

Anyway. I'm a member of several YASNs but only two mean anything to me : Tribe and Linked-In. I joined Linked-In years ago, and pretty much forgot about it. It's a pretty inert sort of service. I wouldn't think about it or visit the site at all except that people I know keep joining it and linking to me. I've started to come to the conclusion that there's something rather interesting about this extremely slow social network. Most importantly, it's all about the world outside the web and outside web-time. You don't go there, don't do anything with it. But slowly and surely the network keeps accreting more ex-colleagues at the glacial pace of 4 or 5 a year.

That's all it does. But it's more succesful at that than anything else. I tried to recruit my IRL friends to Tribe. But only a couple of the more web-oriented ones bothered to join. Yet people who have no time or inclination to be on the web keep turning up on Linked-In. Whereas Tribe is great for meeting new people and having valuable conversations, Linked-In turns out to be great for reconnecting and tracking "old" people. I guess it's the combination of seriousness and undemandingness; people join it who have no time for web-culture and who are scared to become involved in the more active YASNs.

February 26, 2007

Umair on Edge Leverage
Dave Winer : If I had one wish, it would be that everyone who reads this blog would listen to the talk I gave to the NPR people last Thursday

February 22, 2007

Dave Winer on his ideal podcast player

3. Must be a platform, that is, people other than the manufacturer can add apps.

An intriguingly succinct definition of "platform". You can see how it works. A platform must be something that multiple agents (manufacturers) have to collaborate (and sometimes compete) around. If not, there is no real platform war possible. Platform Wars are competitions for the hearts and minds of developers.

February 21, 2007

Anil Dash on Yahoo Pipes

Points out what a good IDE it is (and analogy with Ning)

February 09, 2007

The other platform I'm going to be watching is, of course, Yahoo Pipes.

By weird synchronicity, yesterday I wrote an email to someone where I was talking about ideas that intrigued me, and I was thinking of examples where you'd want a fluent dynamic gestural device like, say, a pen-mouse or a Wii controller for real-time programming.

And, looking for an example, I went into a crazy rant, inspired by Seb Paquet's Algebra of Feeds.

Here's what I wrote :

Or maybe you can create software "in real-time" by, for example, routing and mixing RSS feeds. Eg. you'd have feed-traffic-controllers, pulling together, mashing up and mixing the outputs of different web-services, maybe by dragging and dropping, or sketching pipelines with a pen or Wii-like controller. 10 years ago, Philip Greenspun needed his own server and to be a serious programmer to make the Bill Gates Wealth Clock. 4-5 years ago, smart people were mashing up Google maps with other services with little bits of glue script. Now we have reblogging services that help automate the process of getting a feed from one place and pushing it elsewhere. And Ning which is a sort of platform for creating mash-ups and reusing other people's code.

Jump forward 5 more years. You can imagine feeds of "objects" (data + encapsulated behaviour) being published. And enterprising people noticing that objects from feed 1 have input signatures of this format, and objects of feed 2 have output signatures of that format and it only needs them to be wired together in the right way, for us to have this useful combination. So how to define the wiring? Why not just draw something like a patch diagram in a virtual modular synth? A diagram of Unix-like pipes. How frequently does this need to be done? As data gets more dynamic, you might want to have people updating the wiring diagrams daily. Why make it hard work? Why not just let them draw it with a pen, or Wii controller.

And now, to quote, Tim OReilly :

Yahoo!'s new Pipes service is a milestone in the history of the internet. It's a service that generalizes the idea of the mashup, providing a drag and drop editor that allows you to connect internet data sources, process them, and redirect the output. Yahoo! describes it as "an interactive feed aggregator and manipulator" that allows you to "create feeds that are more powerful, useful and relevant." While it's still a bit rough around the edges, it has enormous promise in turning the web into a programmable environment for everyone.

These are very interesting times.

February 08, 2007

Yesterday I downloaded Skype 3.0. There are now some interesting plug-ins. There's a cool, shared white-board for collaborative drawing over your Skype call, and a Chinese checkers, a game I used to play a lot with my parents.

What's also cool, of course, is that these plug-ins are viral. Before you can use the whiteboard with other people, they also have to download them. I imagine that makes Skype quite an exiting place to develop software for, right now. A chance for your apps. to take off ... very, very quickly.

There seems to be a torrent-style file-sharing software. Hope it's better than Skype's relay. If it is, and it really is like BitTorrent, it could be very useful.

There also seem to be a couple of plug-ins for finding people and asking for live advice. This is really significant ... Skype could end up really running the "live" web. Especially if they get live people searching. Essentially anyone will be able to set themselves up to sell live phone services without having to work for a call-centre, a phone-sex company or the Mechanical Turk.

What I find strange, though, is that Skype still don't seem to have sorted out some kind of PayPal integration that would allow people to pay for services directly over their call. I don't see a plug-in for that, but it seems obvious. And an obvious revenue stream for Skype. Skype don't charge for the calls themselves but at least skimming something off pay-by-the-minute services should be possible, if they get involved in the payment part. And as both Skype and PayPal are owned by EBay ...

Not sure whether this is actually already going on and I just missed it; or if Skype have a blind-spot about this; or if it's going to be announced next week; or if there's some glaring technical or legal impediment I'm too dumb to notice.

Any ideas from the readers?

February 06, 2007

Steve Jobs says Apple are willing to give up DRM.

It's a plausible story. I imagine Robert X. Cringely won't take it at face value though.

February 02, 2007

I, Cringely:

Mobile phone carriers are eager for video to succeed on their 3G and 4G platforms because it represents a major new source of revenue. Apple's iPhone is the best handset yet for displaying that video. But Apple isn't going to allow this to happen without Cupertino gaining a substantial piece of the action. I'm sure discussions are taking place right now with Cingular where Apple is arguing that the carrier should make its video service iTunes-compatible.

January 31, 2007

I have better things to spend my money on than a computer that can run Vista.

Vista has already failed. You know the game is pretty much over when its most (allegedly) innovative software can be faked in Ajax in the browser. And Microsoft really should have noticed that if people needed more 3D graphics in their lives, VRML would have taken off and the web would have been full of virtual environments a decade ago.

The web-as-platform has decisively beaten both Apple and Microsoft as the platform for building useful software applications. And both Apple and MS are now reduced to fighting over who'll be putting the prettiest packaging around good-old-fashioned music, photography and home-movies. They've effectively succumbed to the worst tendency of the games industry : zero innovation (in fact boring rehashes of the same formulae, dumbed down) smothered in lashings of eye-candy that demand ever-more absurd hardware specs. in order to run; all in a desperate attempt to titilate the jaded palettes of the customers one more time.

It's the WaterWorld theory of software-making.

Really, really hard to see how Microsoft are going to make back their investment in Vista. Sure, they'll tax new PCs for a while yet. But, frankly, they could have done that anyway with a 10th of the effort. We know where they're headed; we've seen it with IBM : monolithic, unfocussed, and ultimately unprofitable, until someone finally breaks them up and lets a few of the pieces fly off in their separate ways.

ps : Remember if I ran Microsoft?

pps : Yes, Platform Wars is back with a new look - thanks to Google finally giving a minimal upgrade to Blogger. I approve. It's not ambitious, but it is nicely incremental, and feels a bit less clunky to use.