Good Lord, All I Need Is Another Darn App In My Life…

I think I am like most other people.  I use a few apps daily… like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, the weather app, email, maps, texting, and some various other ones I can’t remember their names but I do remember what they look like and where they sit on my phone.

I flip through 6 or so “screens” of apps each day just to find the one I need. This is too much in my opinion.  It feels as if we are drowning in a sea of apps.

So do we really need more apps in our life?  And should you rest your company’s future on thinking people will want to download another one to their device?

Here are some stats:

  • The most used Android apps in the US are Google Maps, Gmail and Facebook, according to research from Nielsen.
  • More than 500,000 apps have been approved in the Apple App store.
  • Total App Store revenue before the break-down is almost $3.6 billion in aggregate.

There’s half a billion apps are available for me to download… and how many will actually end up on my device?  Very little.  And once some have made it to  my iPhone, will I even use it after the first time?  I fear not…

The message here is :

1) if you are a mobile phone user, you have to dig through so much clutter to find useful apps today.  This is inconvenient and it sucks, so we will remain with our “tried and true” apps and not venture to download many more.

2) if you are a business, maybe the app store approach is not such a good idea.  Fighting for shelf space is getting more difficult as they days go by because I think most people think similar to me.  Why put such barriers to everyday usage for your web service?  My opinion is if you are  solely depending on a app store positioning, the odds are you will get lost in the clutter.

Does anyone else have this problem?

If Facebook And Twitter Are Today, Is This Tomorrow?

Real time communications are increasingly seeping into our world and the era of ubiquitous web is upon us.  Twitter allows us to disseminate comments and links at the speed of bits, creating a whole new way of discovering information.  Facebook keeps friends and family updated with the latest thoughts and images from our life.  Yes, even the use of email is changing.   We still send emails and that will not change for a while, but how many times do you engage in an “instant email” conversation with a friend or co-worker.

This begs the question:  What will we be using tomorrow?  What new types of technologies will disrupt new industries to create unthought ways in which we will use the our devices?  Here is my quick thinking on four emerging ideas as I gaze into the web tonight.

Real Time Local Information Platform

Imagine a twitter like experience, including relevant informational updates from around your local city/town/village, from people and places you chose to stay connected to, delivered to your mobile device in real time.  This will happen sooner than you think…  Some might say “well Nick, that sounds a lot like Twitter, I don’t believe another platform will replace Twitter.”  Great, me neither.

I think Twitter will continue to grow and mature into a different set of protocols and essentially replace certain information hubs we still use today.  But Twitter cannot be ubiquitous worldwide and at the same time incredibly strong on a local level.  What I think will be different is exactly how the “local” community uses technology to disseminate information.  I am hedging my bet on it not being Twitter proper as we use it today.  I believe a new player will emerge with specific value propositions set for the local merchant/community/consumer.

Social Search and Discovery

I have written extensively on the concept of Social Search, you can find them here on Business Insider.  My main theory is around the fact that in the not-so-distant future we will discover and find relevant information not from a traditional Google search but from leveraging our network of contacts.  Think about how much information your network of twitter followers, Facebook friends, and linkedIn contacts interact with on a daily basis.  I believe new platforms will be built to collect, organize and disseminate this information to you exactly when you need it.  No more 10 links per page with 1,000,000 results crap.  If you think about it, why do  search engines even tell you about a million results anyway?  That doesn’t mean anything to us as users.  Whatever….  My point is the forefront of social search and discovery will come from some surpassing players, no doubt.

Mobile Commerce

In less than 5 years, there is no doubt your commercial experience – especially around your local community – will be tremendously different than it is today.  Paying with cash… gone.  Calling in an order on the phone… forget it, so last century.  Waiting in lines to be seated… a thing of the past.  Being called Sir or Madam from the restaurant owner…. probably not any more when they now can identify you.  With the use of new mobile commerce technologies, all this will be unified within a local commercial network, encompassing orders, payments, communications, social sharing opportunities, offers, marketing messages, etc… and all this will be personalized to the individual so no two people have the same experience.  It will be amazing and all driven through your mobile device of choice. Someone should be work on this…

Auto-web

What if cars could talk?  No, not to us… to each other.   Web enabled cars will fundamentally transform our world.  I am not referring to cars having internet screens in them, which some do today and will in the future as a standard feature. More specifically, Google is not too crazy to be working on a self driving car.  If an automobile is connected to the web and in constant communications with all the other “devices” on the grid, theoretically there shouldn’t be any more accidents or fatalities due to automobiles.  Each car would travel at a certain speed, maintain a certain distance from another, roll along on a set route and never veer from the predetermined destination.  It will be transportation 2.0.  I believe that day is not too far off the radar and would be a great time to invent or invest in this area.

These are just a few of the things I thought of tonight when I asked myself… man, if Facebook and Twitter are today, what is tomorrow?

@jnickhughes

You Know What’s Sexy? This Profitable Startup

Ya know, the web is an interesting place where anything seems possible and innovative new applications recreate the very world we live in.  Each day, entrepreneurs flock to it in hopes to create wealth akin to the 19th century American gold rush.  Understandably, it’s tempting to want to reach for the stars and invent a sexy, new, innovative web application.  Yet for every thousand or so businesses created, usually only one actually turns a profit.

It just so happens one of them is ResourceWebs, and anyone wanting to actually make money on the web might want to sit up in their chair and pay attention.  Class is now in session.

ResourceWebs is a network of targeted niche websites, each offering an education resource for its users – hence the name ResourceWebs.  As unique consumer properties they focus on a specific topic and are filled with a variety of high quality content, tools, and resources.  Some of their fastest growing and most popular properties include: railroad.net, solcomhouse.com, famousbirthdays.com, moonphases.info and mpgfacts.com.

Evan Britton, company President and a 12 year internet marketing veteran whom has worked within several successful entrepreneurial endeavors (and a Business Insider contributor as well), says focus and quality are the keys to a successful web content business. 

“On the web today many web properties spread themselves thin by focusing on everything.  We learned it’s about quality not quantity, as the properties which we invested and nurtured the most have become the most successful, while the smaller and more automated properties have slowly died off.

The world of content sites has flipped recently as Google Panda came out with 23 questions for webmasters to consider.  Google says that it looks for articles written by enthusiasts, that it wants articles related to the interests of the site’s visitors and that it more values websites which are a recognized authority on the topic.  Basically, it’s trying to clean up the web.

“This has been our vision all along, to focus on niches that we felt we could truly make an impact on, and not spread ourselves thin by trying to cover topics not directly related to our niche verticals.” 

Monetizing these sites has put ResourceWebs in an elite class – profitable web companies.  Putting to use highly targeted contextual ads ResourceWebs is able to generate significant monthly income organically from the more than 3 million visits and 10 million page views.  Britton wasn’t specific on revenue but did mention ResourceWebs monthly revenue is in the five figures with a goal to hit the low six figures soon.

Starting Small and Staying Lean

Contrast Britton’s approach with one of the latest web bombs – Color.  Color built a photo sharing app for a mobile device, raised $41m before even launching a product, was valued at over $100m pre-launch and created mass hysteria prior to any market traction.  All that unnecessary crap ultimately led to Color falling flat on its face.  Considering all the hysteria, Color never generated much traction or any revenue nor was it even clear how it would ever be a profitable company.   Maybe I shouldn’t be too harsh, they were valuable for at least one thing – teaching us how not to launch a company.

“Our goal with ResourceWebs has been to keep the business profitable throughout each stage of the company.  Doing this may have taken us longer to grow – but it assured that we were growing an endeavor which would indeed be profitable.” Britton maintains this might not be as sexy as other startups but is by far more dependable and sustainable.

I say dependability, sustainability and profitability are damn sexy!

Britton is keeping his options open but seems quite satisfied where they are as a business.  “Seeking outside funding is always an option, but right now we aren’t looking for any further acquisitions and we are able to invest in our properties each month as the business has low overhead and very solid monthly income.”

Know Where Your Startup Could Fail

Britton’s approach to ResourceWebs should be an example to all of us web entrepreneurs.  Below is a chart displaying the top 20 reasons startups fail from an article describing in detail the top reasons for startup failure found in post-mortem studies.   Whether Britton knows it or not, he took care of the top six right out of the gate.  Successful companies generally don’t pop up overnight, must focus on a finding and fitting a market need, listen and cater to their customers, find some sort of ability to generate revenue early on and should be grown and marketed organically so they can achieve a sustainable and profitable status.  Besides understanding green is the color of money, the guys at Color don’t seem to have a clue.  Maybe they should study this image.

Located in Santa Monica, CA, ResourceWebs is a small operation tightly ran by Evan.  The gatekeeper for each of the properties, Dr. Robert Amodeo, is the IT Manager who holds a doctorate in engineering from UCLA.  Prior to joining ResourceWebs, Robert worked as a programmer and IT manager in the UCLA math department.  North of that they have a team of writers who cover specific properties in which they have the most passion, something Britton notes to be a winning formula.  “All in all, we learned that you can find success through tackling a niche if you have passion, maintain focus, and create value.”

So my question is if ResourceWebs is attracting millions of visitors each month, minting millions of dollars each year, highly profitable and growing steadily, why are investors still flushing money down the drain on nebulous startups who can’t figure out what they are doing or how to generate any revenue?

ResourceWebs may not be as sexy as some of the new startups out there, but you know what is sexy?  That’s right, a profitable company.

Is TechCrunch Too Big? Or Is Quipster Too Small?

It’s tough to be a startup today.  It’s even more difficult to be a youngster looking to run with the giants.  I admire young startups like Quipster, who is dodging the giants right now.

Looking at Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Google we think they are indestructible.  It’s understandable.  It’s easy to be armchair critics, Monday morning quarterbacks or Negative Nancy’s when it comes to seeing a new startup attempting to play on their turf.  But the reality is a King’s reign does not last forever, and it’s usually replaced by the one we never expected.

Quipster recently launched to mild criticism, especially from one of the media Giants in the startup industry, TechCrunch.  I respect TC and their reporting, but not exactly their take on Chiding the Child.

“Do we really need another mobile check-in app? Newly launched startup Quipster seems to think so.”  They go on the provide a brief overview of how Quipster is really no different than all other checkin apps.

Is TechCrunch too big for Quipster?  My guess is yes, so big they didn’t even care to give the startup a fair shake.

The three paragraph post – which probably took 1o minutes to complete – does little justice in finding the pearl within the oyster that is Quipster.   If they would have looked a little closer they would have discovered Quipster came from three Thai engineers in Palo Alto led by CEO Krating Poonpol, who has always dreamed of being an entrepreneur and fought for seven months to gain an H1B visa just for the opportunity to build a company here in the US.   Krating – a former engineer at Google who became a bestselling author in Thailand for penning a book on his experiences at Google –  also won two medals in international mathematics competitions, taking home the gold for Thailand in physics.

Needless to say, these aren’t 3 frat dudes sitting around looking to get rich by riding the bubble of copycats. Even ReadWriteWeb does a better job reporting both the positives and the negatives of Quipster as well as questioning the tactics of TechCrunch.

By taking more time, TechCrunch would have also been able to share how Krating started Quipster to simplify and unify social check-ins, an category fragmented and ripe for simplification and a problem worth solving.  His goal: to be the driving force behind the next wave of geolocation.

According to Krating “Geolocation is not really about the check-in, it’s about sharing a context of what you’re doing as well as where you are with a single click and no typing.  He continues …we are creating a fun and fast way to share what your doing and what you like about certain places.”

The ” too many checkin apps ” reaction misses the point about Quipster.  Although check-ins apps are abundant, most lack any context.  Receiving a Foursquare update that reads “John Smith just checked in at Joe’s Bar” really doesn’t tell me anything, and leaves a lot to be desired.  Others are taking notice of the problem.

Krating, like any good innovator, is seeing an area where improvement is needed.  “we are seeing at least 5 or 6 responses resulting from each quip, giving a basis of interaction between users which goes farther than just a “here I am”.  This lowers the barrier of interaction among friends and strangers within a city and also gives users a chance to see what is hot in the city.”

I see apps like Quipster emerging with visions going way past the basic checkin feature and on towards making our everyday life easier and more enjoyable.  And for a possible business model, Krating did not to go into details, but he did say “Like Google – building out the interest graph, adding location and targeting meaningful marketing” seems like a good place to be.”

Am I saying Foursquare or Twitter won’t continue to reign in this space?  Not exactly, they are powerful horses for sure.  Do I think Quipster is the new Foursqare at this point?  No, I think they have a few obstacles to overcome.  But I am impressed with early startups looking to move the needle forward.

An Unfriendly Startup Trend

While I was doing my research to cover Quipster, I started to take notice of a new trend in tech media.  Coverage of young and emerging startups is falling behind at a frightening pace.  I am not the only one to notice.  Recent research found Ten companies now account for 30% of TechCrunch coverage.  The image below illustrates the heavily weighted coverage of late seed or large companies, increasing each year.  It is understandable why major outlets cover Apple, Facebok and Google more often, indeed they drive many more pageviews. But it begs the question: Is this raw startup journalism or have Techcrunch (and the like) really become the “New” Old Media?  Has it become all about more page views?

I am a long time Business Insider and TechCrunch reader, but these trends are cause for worry if you are an early stage founder.  Below are a few observations, straight from Guest contributor Mark Goldenson:

1.  Companies funded by a prominent investors get covered twice as much

2. TechCrunch writers do play favorites

3. TechCrunch’s long tail is now 14 times longer but the fat head is 24 times bigger

Guide The Child

My view of the purpose of media is to be a guiding light in helping emerging technologies and companies acheive top of mind with the general public.   Covering young startups with facetious mocking does not do those numbers any justice or help pull startups forward.  Media outlets such as TechCrunch (as well as this one, Business Insider) influence the general public more than they know, and covering a new company with a 3 paragraph Chide probably does more harm than good for an early stage startup.

TechCrunch, Business Insider and the entire startup community – pay attention to small startups like Quipster and remember Twttr was once is the same position.

The Future of Search: Why Humanoids Will Rein Over Androids

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search.  Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies.  No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks.  This is part II of the series, you can find part I here.

In my last post I briefly covered how the nature of the web is rapidly shifting toward social.  I also noted the future of search does not look bright for Google, who seems to constantly struggle connecting social dots.  I call this new category (formerly known as Q&A) Social Search and here’s why I think it is emerging as the future of the web.

Semil Shah, in a recent post suggested Google is Asking the Wrong Question With Social.  He seems to agree with my stance:

Before the Internet, most “search” was conducted through offline directories and by the time-honored evolutionary tradition of asking questions. “Where would you recommend I stay on my trip to Hawaii?” “What dish did you order at that new restaurant in the hotel?” “Where can I get the best deal on that hotel?” Google has elegantly stripped down these queries and trained us to, instead, enter the following text in a search box: “Hawaii + hotel deal” or “Hawaii + restaurant + popular dish.”

Now, that might be how some geeks actually ask questions in real life, but this is not how we are wired to search. We are most accustomed to asking questions as an extension of our own curiosities.  And while Google keyword search is incredibly efficient, the content it points us to is unfortunately declining in quality. The bottom line is that although it’s never been easier to search online, it’s getting harder and harder to find exactly what we’re looking for because there are perverse incentives to not only create, but also promote, keyword-optimized content.

Eloquently put: traditional online search goes against our biological inclination of gathering information – asking questions.  Naturally, humans tend to search for information through asking other people questions because we intuitively know everyone is an expert at something.  And as hard as Google tries it cannot create an algorithm as intelligent as a human being, let alone harness the quality of knowledge curated from many different people and perspectives.

So what’s the point of social Q&A and why is it merging into the next form of search?

I would postulate the original point of asking questions – even dating back to prehistoric times – was actually search.  It was how humans searched for information before Google, PageRank and keywords were available.  Cavemen conducted searches when they asked others where they made their last killing for the same reason we, in the 21st century, type “pizza” into a Google search bar; to find out where to have dinner.  Because most humans are now constantly connected, it feels more natural to use social tools to find information.  Notice how often we send out messages on Facebook or twitter asking our friends  this or that, if they have eaten at a certain Pizzeria or seen the latest Transformers movie.  It is not a coincidence social questions are increasing at a rapid rate.

As I was talking to a CEO the other day he made an interesting analogy I think fits well in this discussion.  During the first internet wave (mid 90′s), it was fascinating how you could sit in a coffee shop in Seattle and somehow find information, communicate and do business with another person in a place like Tokyo.  Borders became irrelevant as the web layered on a communication system that spanned the globe.  Never before in human history had we experienced this phenomenon and it certainly was socially and economically transformational.  But today, do we really care about what is available to us in Tokyo?  More than what’s available in Seattle?  Do we want 1,000 different options displayed on 100 pages to requiring time and attention to sift through?  No, the pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way.  We care about what is going on down the street, in our social circle and in our immediate local surroundings.  We want to be shown what is MOST relevant to us at the moment (and not have to see the rest).

It seems the cycle in Search has followed the same trajectory.  Google broke through because it discovered the very best way to 1) index and organize the web and 2) bring us information matching specific keywords when we searched.  But it’s a different web now.  The problem is there’s just too much information on the web today.  Like, waaaaaaaaay too much.  The major player(s) are struggling to instantly sift out 99.999% of the information in the world so they can provide us the most relevant and useful .001% – our answer.  What they lack is intuition.

For example I live in Seattle and right now I am hungry for pizza, in fact New York Style Pizza, so I choose to do a quick search on Google “New York Style Pizza” to find an viable option.  Observing the image above, it is clear Google is lacking in the contextual department.  Lil’ Frankies and Big Al’s are both pizza joints in New York City!  Amazingly, nothing on the page has anything to do with pizza here in Seattle.  This is not good.  I’m pretty sure my friends on Facebook or even growing local social search platforms such as CrowdBeacon or LOCQL would provide me a New York style pizza option closer than 2,400 miles.  I am aware Google has made strides in localization, but it is not apparent when I quickly use their main search tool.  This simple query illustrates how broken search is at the moment.

It is becoming clear to me, as more  and more information gets created each day, how important our network of social contacts are in bringing us information. More specifically, those two phenomenons are inversely related – as the amount of information grows, the tighter and more important my social contacts become. Why? Because as the amount of information increases we need context and location to help determine relevance. Context can help determine if I am searching for a pizza place in New York or if I am looking for New York style pizza. Location helps define if I am indeed looking for a New York style pizza joint here in Seattle.

Another noteworthy contextual observation is the innate difference between certain search decisions, for instance searching for a clothing retailer versus searching for a restaurant. I would be fine buying a shirt from a distant retailer in New York City. Ordering pizza…? Not so much. Google’s Android DNA doesn’t seem to understand humanoid nuances at all. I guarantee a social search application (powered by my friends) would intuitively understand the contextual and location nuances within my searches.

Understandably, this is freaking Google out and forcing them to push socially awkward applications onto their users at an increasing pace. Unfortunately this is not how social works, you simply cannot rush things on the first date or you will never have the opportunity for a second one. Google+ looks to be their best social offering as of yet, but only time will tell if they have finally aligned the social dots.

It is now clear why Google purchased Aardvark, one of the social search companies I highlighted in my last post. Just read this brief overview and think of how it could help us search:

Aardvark is a way to get quick, quality answers to questions from your extended social network. You can ask questions via an instant message buddy or email. The questions are then farmed out to your contacts (and their contacts) based on what they say they have knowledge of. If you ask taste related questions about music, books, movies, restaurants, etc., they’ll ask people who tend to show similar tastes as you in their profile.

It will be interesting to see how (and if) Google integrates Aardvark to help navigate this new search territory. Regardless of the outcome, I do not think Google will loose its shirt anytime soon. They have a stranglehold on the overall search market and most realize there are many different channels in search. I agree with Semil,”This type of search, or social discovery, will become important, but it won’t dominate search—it’s just one channel, and different social networks exist for different parts of our lives.” 

This is just the beginning of an incredible change in how we will find and use information and I cannot wait to see what emerges. In five years (2016)  we will not be looking at a white screen with blinking cursor begging us to type a few short words into the search vault so it can pull thousand’s of links for us to plow through.

In my next post I will go in-depth on the first of the four quadrants of social search, an area I believe has yet to fully experience this massive technological revolution.

$99,970,000,000 is The Difference Between These 3 Decisions

If MySpace would have just copied Facebook, it would have been FacebookSean Parker

That was Sean Parker’s answer to the question “what happened to MySpace?”  in a recent interview with Jimmy Fallon.  This got me thinking and was the needle prick I needed to start on a topic I have wanted to write about for some time.

If you can remember at one time MySpace was the social networking behemoth, holding the crown as the largest site on the web.  “Do you have a MySpace?” was the proverbial question between twenty-somethings.   They had over a hundred  million users worldwide, were driving revenue in the hundreds of millions of dollars and it looked as though we had an MTV 2.0 on our hands.  They made headlines with the acceptance of a $580 million acquisition from News Corp, validating Social Networking as a ligament startup business venture.   Little did we know they would turn out to be a joke, an afterthought on the web and a huge lesson to any young founder looking to build the next big company.

At right is a snapshot of the MySpace.com monthly unique users from earlier this year (courtesy of Techcrunch). As you can see (and probably already knew) usage has continued to plummet.  MySpace is literally a ghost town at the same time Facebook has grown to the largest site in the world, officially eclipsing 700 million users on their way to an inevitable 1 billion users and will soon IPO with a valuation of more than $100 billion!  This begs the question: What happened?

My take from Parker’s statement is MySpace had such a massive lead in users, media coverage as well as total mindshare in the social networking space it was their race to loose.  Quickly incorporating the features they saw Facebook releasing could have helped them stay atop the game.  Imagine what MySpace would be worth now if all they did was manage to keep it all together and ride out this new wave of social/mobile web.  Definitely more than the rumored $30 million News Corp is looking for to get them off their books.  What a sad ending to once dominant company.  To take Parker’s statement a bit further, I argue the biggest mistake MySpace made was sell out to the suits for a mere $580 million.  Here are three key differences that add up to a $99,970,000,000 difference between Facebook and MySpace.

Lack of vision and Leadership

The biggest difference between Facebook and MySpace is an intangible I have written about it extensively before.  Just as the difference between Apple and Microsoft was found in Leadership, so too was the difference between the social networking companies Facebook and MySpace.   (Get used to me writing about vision and leadership because I believe it is the number one reason companies succeed or fail.)  MySpace was early out of the gate and sprinted the first mile but did not foresee what could possible be on the horizon.  All they knew was people wanted a page to customize as their own and maybe a place find and connect with others.  But who was leading MySpace?  To put it bluntly, MySpace had no clue what they were doing and no clue who to look towards for leadership.  MySpace was not created by a visionary such as Mark Zuckerberg, who saw something in the web most did not.  They were driving solely on dollars and revenue, and the lack of vision and focus devastated MySpace’s growth in the end.

If Facebook was only a profile page where you can connect to your friends, MySpace would have won the race.  Facebook bet (and won) on a vision of the personalized web, integrating our friends in almost everything we do in the digital world.  Zuckerberg saw not only a web of information, but a web of people and set out to connect all those people into the web.  Execution on this vision required laser focus from a passionate founder.  MySpace ran the first mile faster but lost its way.  Facebook knew the course and won the marathon.

Message to entrepreneurs:  Have the intelligence to place a visionary leader at the heart of your company and let them guide the way.

Technically Inept

Myspace proved they were technically inept, lacking any engineering vision of how the web should work.  According to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek tell-all article, the company was constantly at odds with leadership on how/what/where to innovate.  “They were having to do all technical innovations to address the various panics that are happening. Basically their development cycle turned into one of crisis management, not one of innovation.”  Bottom line, MySpace lacked the vision as well as the technical edge necessary for a web company to maintain their dominant position.

More importantly, MySpace was not created as an innovative new platform built by forward thinking engineers. They were a company who decided to copy Friendster using sub-par technology but grew because they understood how to market their brand to the general public.  Choice quote from the article: “Using .NET is like Fred Flintstone building a database,” says David Siminoff, whose company owns the dating website JDate, which struggled with a similar platform issue. “The flexibility is minimal. It is hated by the developer community.”  Why did they choose to do this?  Driven by revenue pressures they chose to skimp on technical details and focus on more ads.

On the contrary, Facebook was intended from the beginning to be a socially transformational technology built by smart engineers.  Zuck made it a point that their engineers would determine the road ahead.  They aimed to redefine the web and understood this would require major investment.   As a non-technical executive, it was still obvious to me who was stronger in  engineering talent between the two companies.  Remember how refreshingly clean a Facebook profile felt vs the craziness that was a MySpace profile.  MySpace chose to skimp on the engine and polish the chrome.  Bad mistake.

In an interesting note, most close to Zuckerberg would admit the best decision he has ever made was to bring in a much senior and more businesslike Sheryl Sandberg as the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook.  It is said she is in more direct managerial oversight than Zuck, and who would want that?  Sandberg has been credited with building out Google’s ad business, helping create a multi-billion dollar search ad business.  I credit Mark for submitting his ego and filling holes with the right people, Facebook is better off for it.  Looking at MySpace and their recent history I cannot say the same.  Holes were not filled and egos were not subdued.

Message to entrepreneurs:  Know where you are good, understand where you need to be great, and find the right people to fill the gaps.

Poor Culture Fit with News Corp

“I think any time a startup is acquired, there’s always a certain amount of culture clash.” – Chris Dewolfe, MySpace Co-founder and one time CEO.

The worst decision for the future of MySpace was to sell the company to News Corp.  (Okay, the founders and initial investors made out fine, but the future of the company pretty much was set in stone.)  Time and time again I observe or read about another startup being acquired by a larger company and I think to myself  “well, there it goes…

The blazing, crazy, edgy, partying, sometimes innovative culture of MySpace was suffocated by the bureaucracy of corporate New Corp.  Do yourself a favor and think about your startup culture currently, and then think about the culture in a Microsoft, Google, Aol, or any other large corporation.  Ask Dennis Crowley.  Ask Evan Williams.  Ask Caterina Fake.   It usually doesn’t end well when you sell your booming startup to a large corporation.  Facebook fought off takeover bid after take over bid until everyone knew they just weren’t ever going to be for sale.  That’s ballsy, but its also what has to happen if you want to see your vision come together.

Message for entrepreneurs:  If you have a long term vision for your company, don’t sell – ever!  If you want to make some quick money, sell at the top of your hype – and walk away as early as you can.  The post-acquisition company will be nothing like the pre-acquisition company.

I am tired of seeing innovative startups being gobbled up by larger corporations only to disappear off the face of the earth – this is not how innovation changes the world.  It is actually how innovation is hindered.  I understand, as a founder you are double minded building your company.  You want to make a chunk of cheddar, and  there’s nothing wrong with that.  Isn’t that what going into business is all about?  I understand… and I would want to do the same thing in your position.

But before you sign those papers I would step back and determine what you really want and if it’s the best option.  If you really need to sell, truth is you did not build the company correctly.  If you want to cash in, great.  But understand, odds are the world will no longer be changed by your innovation.  If you really feel selling is the best option, think deep and hard about the culture inside your company as well as inside the potential acquirer because the marriage is going to be tough.  And if you feel deep down in your heart your company has a great future, don’t sell out.  Just think about how News Corp and the original MySpace founders feel about this outcome right now.

Image courtesy of Flickr user UltraRob.

This post was originally published on BusinessInsider.com.

I Just Asked My Friend About the Future of The Web, and Here is What They Said

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search.  Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies.  No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks.  This is part I of the series.

Traditional Question & Answer sites are old and antiquated.  You know the drill – go to a specific website, type a question into a search bar and a variety of indexed answers come back to you.  The answers vary in context, quality and relevancy.  This was fine in 2002 when the web was less mature, but the reality is with advancements in web technologies it simply does not work today.  The problem is these sites typically:

  • Don’t know your location

  • Don’t know who are your friends

  • Don’t understand the context of your query

  • Are typically of low quality and relevance

Answers tend to be more relevant and helpful when they include this information.  When the system lacks these inputs, the quality of answers remains very low and you are left with an inadequate solution .  In fact, so low in quality you might as well just pick up your phone and call a friend.

Enter a new category of applications emerging on the web.  Social search applications implicitly take into consideration your social network, your location, your demographics, previous search history and other key data sets to help provide you with the best answer possible at that time.  I will not refer to the Questions and Answers space anymore, since I think asking a question and waiting for an answer is quite limiting and the entire concept is antiquated.  I believe we are on the cusp of a new internet category where users leverage their social/local sphere to quickly find relevant information.  I am calling this space the “Social Search” category.  Note that currently I am not including Facebook – the largest social networking site – in this category.  This is a study of startups who are strictly focused on social searching technologies.

This space is heating up and I am starting to read more about emerging companies working to build out the next social/local search platform.  Traditional Q&A sites are starting to see the writing on the wall, with Answers.com just recently massively laying off employees and replacing their CEO and CTO.  In fact, I wrote about a few local Q&A startups a while back noting this space is a game changer on the web.

When evaluating this new space, Four categories/quadrants emerge to separate the players in social search.  I have diagrammed them based on their relation to the four categories.  (If you don’t see an application that might fit on here, please reach out to me)

Location Relevance

Locating a user when a query is submitted is fundamental to providing the BEST answer possible.  According to Bing, over 50% mobile device originated search queries are about a specific place.  Think about how often you need an answer and how often you quickly use your mobile device to find it.  Exactly.  Mobile search will define the next wave of the web.

LOCQL

LOCQL is a Seattle startup some refer to as “Foursquare Meets Quora”.  These guys smartly put together two basic premises; 1) everybody knows a little bit about something and 2) location specific information always make something more valuable.  Marry those together, involve some game mechanics and you have a living, breathing repository of location relevant information based upon where you currently find yourself.  They are still in beta but anyone can use the LOCQL application.

Others include:

CrowdBeacon

Loqly

Gootip

Hipster

Travellr

LocalUncle

Local Mind

Location Agnostic

Some social search applications do not integrate location technologies into their functionality.  These applications more or less originate around specific topics and knowledge bases, not so much around a specific location.   Although these applications are location agnostic, they still can be relevant to certain users and possibly large search companies.

Aardvark

Aardvark is a way to get quick, quality answers to questions from your extended social network. You can ask questions via an instant message buddy or email. The questions are then farmed out to your contacts (and their contacts) based on what they say they have knowledge of. If you ask taste related questions about music, books, movies, restaurants, etc., they’ll ask people who tend to show similar tastes as you in their profile.

Others include:

Formspring

StackOverflow

Quora

Yahoo Answers

Long Term Value

It is important to create a  repository of information so users have something to search, and if done correctly this can be a great competitive advantage – the largest collection of information generally provides the best and most accurate information to a user.  Most questions have a narrow answer and this information generally does not change much over time.

Quora

Quora, founded by former Facebook employees, is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.   They aim to build THE go to application for wisdom and knowledge.  The cool thing about Quora is you can follow well known people as they continue to add their knowledge to the site. Quora seems to be the emerging leader of these newly minted social Q&A sites.  Thus far they have maintained their focus on the relatively smaller web tech community of Silicon Valley.

Others include:

CrowdBeacon

Loqly

Gootip

Hipster

Travellr

LOCQL

LocalUncle

StackOverflow

Yahoo Answers

Real – Time Answers

Instant interaction technology (real time) has transformed the web from a static information repository to a live, interactive medium.  This single change gave birth to what we know today as the social web, including Facebook, Twitter and many other social interactive platforms.  Search technology is catching up as well, and when infused with social interaction things could get very interesting.  Understandably, this category is nascent.

LocalMind

Localmind allows you to send a question to any place in the world, and get an answer from someone at that location in real-time.  They connect you, temporarily and anonymously, to someone at the location you are interested in, allowing you to ask any question you want, and get an answer in real-time. You can find out how crowded it is at a bar, how long the line is at a club, or how many tables are open at the restaurant.

Others include:

Ask Around (Ask.com)

Aardvark

Formspring

Look for my next post as I investigate: what’s the point of Q&A anyway?  Why am I now calling it Social Search?