SNAP Summit, Facebook Apps and the Open Web

27 03 2008

This last Tuesday, I attended SNAP Summit which was a pleasantly surprising and meaty collection of interesting insights into the art, science and business of creating social applications.

Facebook launched its developer platform in May 2007. The glow is off, but now big players have settled down to make the social application ecosystem work.

As a financing and exit strategy panelist, VC Jeremy Liew pointed out that the social app exits are small-ish. Mid single digit millions are the maximum exits to date, and usually in a combination of cash and private stock. They pointed out the inherent issues that the potential exits are not big enough to justify the still low chance of a home run and high opportunity cost of not participating in other areas. The same panel continued to point out that patience is the only thing that will solve this. It’s only been 10 months since the launch of FB platform, and Open Social is only slowly becoming something.

Jeremy Liew also pointed out (possibly bad paraphrase) that to many Facebook, social applications, and Open Social will be viewed as another distribution channel. It’s very important to note that it still happens to be a highly effective and potentially viral distribution channel hence it’s popularity among developers, even if you believe that the best time is past.

BJ Fogg, a Stanford research professor who co-taught the Facebook app class at Stanford, talked about Mass Interpersonal Persuasion. Probably the most eloquent way I’ve heard of why Facebook opening its platform up means some powerful things. A critical, organized mass like the one that’s developing around social networks means that masses of people can be moved like never before.

Dave Morin, platform manager at Facebook, believes that you’ll see more interesting applications leveraging the Facebook API to access the social graph off of Facebook. He has admitted earlier that the progress has been slow in this area. Off-Facebook leveraging of the social graph has not been explored because it’s much easier to get distribution when staying in the Facebook sandbox. But as people look to add value, some of most valuable uses of Facebook’s social graph will be on the open web. You’ll be able to utilize the flexibility of the open web combined with leveraging the value of that social graph.

What was revolutionary about Facebook was that it became the biggest Internet network to ever open proprietary and valuable data, allowing developers to leverage this data to create compelling applications through its easy-to-use (fun for developers!) API. It would be as if Google opened it’s search algorithm and gave you immediate access to many (not all) of the calculations that go into brewing up a search or data discovery system.

Now that the dust has settled, I agree that you’ll see integrated development and marketing strategies that include Facebook and other social platforms moving forward. That’s the obvious observation.

But as with everything around the Valley, be aware that the longer horizon of maybe five years out is where you’ll see the really interesting stuff when people really dig in and focus on building out compelling applications and uses. False hype be damned.



19 03 2008

There are many things that have been said about Senator Barack Obama’s speech on race in America yesterday. And like many, I struggle to attempt to avoid political viewpoints on a largely business-related blog. Senator Obama’s speech is too good not to say something, and it’s more than just oratory. It was brave in many ways.

I see politics and campaigns as two separate arguments: the idealized, “what is right” version and the reality of getting elected. I think this is a watershed moment as some pundits say, quite honestly telling one everything you need to know about Senator Obama. It’s quite possible that we will look back at this moment as a turning point. Whether this was a smart speech for getting elected only remains to be seen, but I hope it was.

Why this is a great speech from a leader who I think can be this country’s great leader (some of which many, many have echoed):

  • He is smart. This is an intellectual, analytical speech.
  • He speaks to us, the public, as adults instead of children incapable of forming their own thoughts and conclusions for their own.
  • He is a living, breathing human being, with weaknesses. As Marc Andressen starts in his endorsement post of Obama, he is a normal guy.
  • He embraces weakness in others and does not condemn them. He does not embrace or excuse hatred or ignorance that may manifest itself from this weakness, but does not condemn the person whose shoes you can never, ever truly understand.
  • He embraces the notion of change, but has no illusion that there is no disillusion everywhere: black, white, Asian, Latino, man or woman.
  • He speaks the common words of kindness and understanding instead of from hypocritical talking points for advantage, such as “do unto others”.
  • He does not avoid the hard issues or the hard words. While sweeping under the rug may be the politically prudent thing to do, it is not the right thing to do for this country.
  • He is willing to say what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

I am a Barack Obama supporter for specifically these reasons because he is a leader in the truest sense of word, something we should aspire to but also want for ourselves, to lead this great country. This is leadership.

Metaphor of the Day: Caught in the Rain

14 03 2008

On the way home today, I was caught in the rain. It was a sunny day, with a 30% chance of rain. However, the sky did not hint much that rain was too much of a possibility.

How quickly the rains change. Now, you can always carry an umbrella which may not be a bad idea. But sometimes, you consciously chance it or you don’t even realize the rain that’s right around the corner. Sometimes you’re a nervous wreck if you try too hard to never get rained on.

There’s not much you can do but dry off once the rains pass. You’ll survive getting caught in the rain. But if you keep getting soaked, there might be something wrong.

A great post on what they don’t tell you about being an entrepreneur (via 37Signals), quoting Marc Andressen:

First, and most importantly, realize that a startup puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced.

You will flip rapidly from a day in which you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again.

Over and over and over.

And I’m talking about what happens to stable entrepreneurs.

So true. The fact that this happens to successful, mentally healthy entrepreneurs means entrepreneurship will make you crazy. Kind of like getting caught in the rain, except with acid rains mixed in.  And you have no clue when the acid rains will come. No umbrella protects you.

I highly recommend entrepreneurship, but it’s never without its caveats.  And don’t worry… I’m dry now.

Startups That Win

8 03 2008

There was a big uproar over Jason Calacanis’ post on how to save money as a startup (rebuttal here). The statement that invokes the ire of bloggers everywhere is “fire people who are not workaholics”.

And there are plenty of responses. I read TechCrunch’s Duncan Riley and Michael Arrington‘s responses. David’s 37Signals response takes the polar opposite “fire the workaholics”. If you are so passionate about your work that you’d rather do that work than watch TV or hike, then that’s what most people key in on as the core of the people you want for your startup.

Summation: Love what you do, work like hell, treat it like the game that it is, have fun, play to win (and contact me for a job ;-)).