Facebook Apps and More, Valley Favoritism?

29 06 2007

It’s been an interesting day contemplating and observing the choices and politics that go into the ultra-competitive startup world these days.

Valleywag publishes an eye-opening letter from a Facebook Platform Developer documenting subtle changes that are slowly removing the “multi-million users in days” hype surrounding F8. In effect, early applications on the Facebook Platform got the benefit of viral effects of unlimited viral distribution and placement. Recent developments have limited the number of friend invites to 10 per day, plus allowing for opt-out of placements within a user’s profile and news feed.

The hype surrounding the Facebook platform reeked from the beginning. This is with fully disclosing that I saw Facebook’s platform strategy as unequivocally brilliant the moment I heard about it. Steering of the company like this will eventually lead to Facebook to the stratosphere of the $10 billion+ club.

The “Facebook as the next Internet” was a juicy story for the Valley and Tech. Many correctly state that Facebook had the right to re-enforce the hype for its game-changing initiative by inflating and encouraging these huge application user numbers. Where the Facebook developer takes issue is the lack of an even playing field or transparency would-be developers are receiving.

It’s pretty much well understood that the first movers on the Facebook platform would get a disproportionate amount of the attention. It now seems that the drop off is steeper than first realized.

In this case, I understand the frustrations. When all you ask for is a level playing field, I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.

Unfortunately, this is a case of where you need to understand what you’re getting yourself into. Facebook is not a walled garden, in fact it tries to position itself as exactly the opposite. However, it is a Facebook-controlled environment. No matter how forward looking Facebook is compared with MySpace, it has to be understood that placing all your bets on a system controlled by another entity with different interests than your own carries its own risks. Hopefully, we can all go back to understanding that Facebook will just be among the development choices one has – it’s really up to Facebook as to where the choice ranks among the hierarchy of different choices a developer has these days.

Was favoritism at play? Yes, certain applications got head starts that seemed a little unfair. However, if you jumped at the right time with the right application, you could have been in the million-plus user club regardless of who you are.

Meanwhile, over at TechCrunch here and here, a swapping site called Swaptree is getting a disproportionate amount of link love and some TC readers and swapping startups are pissed off. Many accused Michael Arrington of taking money for the post. More believe that dedicating two links to declare the re-emergence of Swaptree to be a waste of space particularly in a subscription-based RSS reader.

I take issue with certain elements of swap/barter compared to the liquidity of commerce (buy/sell) and rental (borrow/lend) things. Commerce is clearly the driver of our economy. Barter is largely a less sophisticated version of commerce. Rental is something most of us regular folk do on a regular basis as well. It fills an entirely different need of experiencing any item from DVDs to clothing to cars to homes that you can’t or don’t want to own outright.

Swaptree has managed to integrate a new twist with multi-way trades so I don’t agree the posts are fully without merit. You can read the comments here that I participated in if you’re interested.

If you’re going to call wolf, you’d better come up with the goods. It’s all you can control is the sentimental answer. More than that, the world is simply different than ever. Startups built to get “Crunched” are destined to fail. Those that get “Crunched” as a result of being something truly useful deserve to be there, so they would’ve succeeded anyway.

In coverage and in life, you can’t get it right every time and by trying to be right all the time, you are destined to miss a lot of good stuff. More than ever, the world is a democratic place and the good stuff eventually bubbles up.

Furthermore, I do not believe that either of these entities, Facebook or TechCrunch, have anything but the best intentions for the tech community at large.

So no matter the challenges and politics, times are good for Internet entrepreneurs these days.

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Welcome The Superficial (the blog)

23 06 2007

Blogging (when I should be surfing) from 70 degree weather from superficial Southern California…

Paul Kedrosky blogs about his panel at Supernova this week. Unlike his fellow big hitting, tech-centric panelists, he rejoiced at the number of mentions of Paris Hilton because it signaled the arrival of the web as mass media. I, too, have heard the blog TMZ over and over and over now in the mainstream press. TMZ has become the new Drudge report for celebrity worship and following. The traffic numbers prove this out.

It’s pretty hard not to find the fascination with celebrities disconcerting. I’m still at a loss as to exactly who it is that is hero worshipping Paris Hilton. However, everyone’s talking about it, even if it’s largely to simply lambaste the heiress and watch the symbol of selfishness and excessiveness fall hard. I had a five minute debate over whether it was fair to tear Paris Hilton down or whether she deserves at least some remorse for serving some jail time and already felt bad for wasting that much time on the subject.

It highlights the interesting tension between techies/hippies/realness versus superficiality. Now the superficial pleasures (of which, celebrity following is the worse kind) have found their way into the inner sanctum of the web that was once dominated by techies.

As a techie, you certainly don’t have to sell out to this and I certainly commend those that don’t. Just understand that sometimes the simplest, most superficial pleasures will become those that will ultimately find the biggest audiences on the web. And sometimes promoting some fun, superficial elements on your web property isn’t always a bad thing.