My week in Austin is winding down... I return to Seattle with some great advice from folks as well as a bit of new business. A great trip save for the fact that I both dislocated a finger and just about shattered a knuckle playing basketball. I'll spare you the graphic detail of what happened, but I did actually finish out the game. I actually hit a few shots. Maybe that should tell me something. :-)
Anyway, I'm told that I'm on the disabled list for a month or more... so none of Chris' favorite hobby in July. Thank God for the Wii Fit.
So typing is a bit of a chore for the time being. Lots of hunt & peck, which is infuriating since I typically type 100 wpm or more. I think I'll deliver the next few thoughts in podcast form & see what people think. I did it with internal messages at Microsoft and it was pretty well received. Maybe I'll ramble a little less.
Pardon the Captain Obvious moment... but a conversation with a colleague sparked a thought or two that I thought I'd share. We were sitting in my favorite coffee/gelato shop in Austin (much less the U.S.) talking adoption and growth of the major social networks: LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, etc.
Perhaps the most interesting phenomenon of social networks isn't the people who join. It's the people who don't. Think about it -- there is a large segment of people in our lives who we really want to see on social networks. Industry influencers, industry leaders, members of our families, close friends who are too busy to create a profile on a social network, etc. are often the very people we want to see there. All too often, they aren't available.
Those of us who enthusiastically adopt social networks really get bummed... even take offense... to the people who elect not to participate in the social networks where we spend time. We can't share details about our lives with each other passively when important people don't create accounts. We can't clue them in passively on a social network. We can't share photos (at least without Snapfish or some other evil "password-firewalled" system), we can't share mundane details of our lives, we can't share regular updates on our status. Hell, I get pissed off all the time at the fact that I have ~300 Facebook friends and ~300 LinkedIn contacts, yet only 25 people to follow on Twitter.
And why is it that people don't adopt the major social networks quickly? And why doesn't everyone jump in with two feet once they are there? I think everyone should jump in, interact, and make the most of the opportunity to interact with and find old friends. But we all approach social networks with different motivations. A different level of appreciation for new technology. And most importantly, a different perspective on the importance of "private" information and that which we're willing to share at the risk of discovery by others. To some extent, your personality dictates how enthusiastically you adopt social networking and how much you choose to share details on yourself with your friends (and those who pretend to be your friends). And nobody is right or wrong depending on how much they use the various services that are available.
But I don't think this is just a segmentation problem for social networks... it's a potential Achilles heel for growth and future adoption. For one, there is a clear segment of the customer base that doesn't see the value in creating a profile/account. It's a big segment that sticks out like a sore thumb more and more every day. Second (and perhaps more importantly), the range of applications that an entrepreneur can develop is permanently reduced if 10% of the people log in every day and 50% of them simply refuse to expose personal information online. This makes it *a lot* harder to build useful social apps -- something I've proclaimed as being inevitable in the future. The flip-side is also inevitable... it means that "fun" social networks (i.e. those that are designed to be fun & nothing more) won't ever be able to bridge the gap to truly become useful.
And if the "fun" social networks can't bridge the gap, can they really become anything more than what they are today? Sure they can add incremental users, but will people ultimately migrate away from Vampire chomping and Nation building and all the nonsense we do today when we're bored. Can we really be engaged for years and years with these apps? Can these apps continue to thrive if they are constantly replacing old users with new adopters?
I guess what I'm asking is: have "fun" social networks jumped the shark?
I look at something like LinkedIn, and I see something that has tremendous value for a variety of purposes: sales, networking, current & future business opportunity. Perhaps that is what Bain Capital thought when investing so heavily in the social network this past week. I think this was a great move. The biggest dollars flow when business needs are met... to illustrate that point, two things from my personal experience: 1) I used LinkedIn several times to hire people for roles within Microsoft in my last year there, 2) the biggest checks I've cashed in 3 months of my return to entrepreneurship have come from solving specific business problems. There are hundreds of applications that could be built to unleash the value of what LinkedIn currently has to offer. LinkedIn features an extremely large community of users with a common interest (maximizing career/business opportunities)... and nobody in the social networking business has a value proposition that comes remotely close.
LinkedIn could totally screw it up at this point... and I think they need to be careful for reasons I've stated before. But what is the lasting value of the "fun" social networks? After the fun is gone, what will people really do and where will they spend their time? My guess is that they'll do what they can to improve their personal outcome. And without a major change on the "fun" social networks, they won't be biting other chumps for long.
Since the launch of LinkedIn's developer platform in December 2007, it has been just about impossible to get an app built on LinkedIn.
I should know -- I have tried contacting LinkedIn on four occasions now with a proposal for an app that I think would make a ton of sense on their platform. I think the use of the term "platform" is pretty generous here. It is kinda like a secret society of sorts, and for whatever reason I don't yet know the handshake.
I can understand the motivation -- LinkedIn would rather control the types and sources of applications that are created than open a Pandora's Box of Zombies, Vampires, and "electronic hamburgers" that may be created if developers are unleashed. I think a lot of the fear is unfounded -- people go to Facebook and MySpace to screw around while people generally go to LinkedIn to do business. I don't think junk apps would succeed on LinkedIn like they have on Facebook. But I can't say I'd bet billions of dollars of valuation on that.
In any event, it should be easier for companies like ours to innovate on LinkedIn.
The risk, which I think has gone underreported, is that companies like ours who have problems will just take our ideas somewhere else, where we're welcome. But the reality is that it only takes one success to help convert an existing social media site like Facebook into a true competitor to LinkedIn. One killer business app built on Facebook would create a hole in LinkedIn's boat.
Look, I'd prefer working with LinkedIn. But I've contacted them for the last time. It shouldn't be this hard... and I simply won't wait around for them to respond to an e-mail. I'll move on. I suspect a lot of other startups will move on also. And if the community builds social business apps elsewhere, I think it will ultimately cause LinkedIn a set of problems that currently don't exist.
This one isn't a rhetorical question. I woke up in the middle of the night and of course I couldn't sleep. So for some unknown reason the topic of politics popped into my head.
Instead of counting sheep, I went through colleagues I've worked with and people I've met along the way in the tech startup world. It was just about impossible to come up with folks I know who are politically conservative.
True, our current President (and his neo-conservative approach to international politics) has made it really difficult for someone to try to publicly defend his Administration's policy decisions. And for all Joe Americana knows, W is a conservative even though he's far from it. So the conservative movement has taken a shot to the solar plexus and it's really out of style to be conservative today.
Maybe that has nothing to do with it -- perhaps most folks in the tech startup world are from the Bay Area or at least lived there a bit. If you live there long enough, it is just about impossible to emerge as anything but a militant liberal.
Maybe entrepreneurs are idealists who simply identify more with liberal politicians and their principles. Maybe Conservatives are quieter... it's easier to be quiet when your party has ruled for the last 28 years save the Clinton administration.
In any event, I ran through probably 50 names before I drifted back to sleep and it was almost unanimous in favor of the Left. I would have expected a few more Conservatives (or at least Libertarians, which I am).
So Big Brown is going for the Triple Crown today. Unlike just about all the pundits, not to mention everyone I know, I am going to be rooting hard for the Field. Why? Not just because I'm cranky and a contrarian. Big Brown's shot at history bugs me on a few levels:
I've never been able to pull for the prohibitive favorite. It always seemed lame to me to side with someone who was sure to win... at anything. And let's face it, Big Brown is about twice as big as any of the other horses.
I don't recognize horses as athletes. Sorry... they are animals. When ESPN recognized Secretariat as one of its Top 50 athletes ever, I think I went cold turkey on ESPN for a month. That is saying alot, save for the fact that it was July and nothing really happens in sports in July.
Big Brown isn't owned by a horse racing legend -- he's owned by a hedge fund. Though I'm a capitalist, I think the involvement of hedge funds in sports just can't be positive.
Big Brown's trainer seems like a real jerk. I really want him to eat his words.
So... enjoy the race today with a good Belmont Breeze or something. But don't drink the Belmont Breeze for the tradition... folks have enjoyed that drink at Belmont for a whole 10 years.
After much time, energy, and effort, we've released Beta 2 of our MinutesNotice Facebook application! MinutesNotice helps users tell friends on Facebook when they are free to do fun things -- have dinner, enjoy coffee, play games online, etc.
We've spent the last 4-6 weeks listening to feedback & prioritizing our next steps. The result is a series of important changes that we think will improve the usability of the application:
Private invitations -- now you can pick the friends you want to invite to join you in your free time. Alone in San Francisco? Let your friends there know when you are free. Want to go out with just the ladies for happy hour? You can do that now.
Let's face it... who you do something with is sometimes just as important as what you're doing. Now you have complete control over your free time.
Notifications -- this one is really exciting... we are now integrated with SMS & e-mail, and Facebook's notification system. What does that mean? Well, now MinutesNotice can send you an update using any of those systems to keep you updated on you & your friends' free time. It also means that your friends can be notified of when you are free as well! In the past, friends only found out about your free time if it showed up in the News Feed -- which doesn't always happen. One other point re: notifications... you can also use MinutesNotice to send you an appointment for your calendar if you want to block out your time in Outlook, iCal, or Google Calendar.
This really comes in handy if you aren't logged into your computer, but you need real-time updates. You can just use MinutesNotice to set when & where you'll be free, and we handle the rest. No matter where you are, we can let you know when people are free or if they want to join you. And now we also send you calendar updates in case you manage your social life through your calendar.
Subscriptions -- concerned about getting too many free time notifications? You can simply subscribe to the friends you want to hear from... so you'll can keep in touch with your closest friends while you receive private invitations from all your friends.
We know that nobody likes to be spammed. So we've given you some tools to help you manage who you receive free time notifications from.
Over and above the three major feature enhancements I mentioned above, we've also cleaned up a lot of the UI. We had some "annoyances" (i.e. not enabling 24 hour time selection, poor usability, only displaying first names in FreeTime, etc.) that we needed to fix. I suspect we are not quite finished with cleaning up all the UI annoyances just yet, but this version is a lot better than the last.
We know that all of this took us quite a while to put together... but we encountered a few really difficult scenarios that we needed to code around. We'll explain in a few days when our CTO Robert Starek shares some thoughts on Facebook development using ASP.NET.
In the meantime, we're still in a closed beta. If you'd like to be invited, please send me an e-mail. It is back in Beta, so expect an occasional issue here or there.
After another round or two of bug fixes, we will release the app to the general public.