Dear Advertiser: Please Do Better

This post was originally published on BusinessInsider.com.

 

Dear Advertiser,

We haven’t formally met but we have had an ongoing relationship for quite some time.  I am a consumer; you are an advertiser trying to sell me something.  Our Love/Hate relationship goes something like this: I love to use my internet but hate to be interrupted by you.  I know you are the one I should actually thank for my ‘free’ usage of all the websites and applications on the web, but deep down in my heart I am finding it hard to thank you.  You see, I just want to go about my day and easily use the mobile apps I enjoy, listen to my favorite music on Pandora, search on the topics I need to know about and read interesting articles.

But here is what I don’t think you fully understand.  You make my life worse.  You interrupt me in every possible way you can think of and believe just because you “got  in front of my eyeballs”, I will make a purchase.  The thing is, I cannot easily use my mobile apps, since you jump right in as I load it up and steal another 5 or 10 seconds of my time.  I hate this!  When I listen to Pandora, between every 2 or 3 songs you shout something I don’t ever pay attention to, so you are wasting your money.  I bet you didn’t know that as I listen to Pandora when drive I turn the radio off or the volume down for about 10 to 15 seconds so I don’t have to hear you freaking annoying voice for the 10th time this hour.  You are just an annoyance and I despise you more and more as this goes on.  When I search on Google, there you are… trying your hardest to sell me something I don’t want.  Even though when I search I type in a keyword, most of the time I am looking to be informed on a topic not buy it.  And what makes me the most frustrated is when you cover the screen the instant I hit a website like Forbes, basically witholding me from my very intent.

Do you realize how rude this is?  I don’t walk up to your desk as you are working and put my hand right in front of your screen, and hold it there for 15 seconds – smiling like I am doing something nice for you.  If I did, you would probably hit me.

I understand it is you who underwrites our “free” access to information so I am not blindly telling you to go away.  All I ask is please make my life better, not worse.

Know my preferences.  Better yet, let me tell you what I like and what I don’t like. 

All the spying, cookies and social data mining in the world will not come nearly as close to knowing me as good as I know myself.  Please allow me to tell you what I like and what I don’t like so when you do step in to talk to me I am actually interested in what you are saying.  (Would someone out there build a platform where I can input my 15 category interest and allow only those advertisers to reach me on every interactive media in the world?  Come to think of it, I just might.  If you are interested in helping, give me a shout.)

Know when I want to interact.  Never interrupt me.

Interrupting is one of the rudest forms of communication in the human race.  Maybe this is your problem: since you are not human you don’t realize you are committing one of the biggest faux pas out there.  If you were to start your strategic alignment with more of a human perspective you would better position yourself for me to receive your message.

Make my life better.  Add value to me and my life

Hindering my internet viewing, making me wait to watch a video or jumping in the middle of a conversation does no make my life better.  It only creates frustration.  Correct me if I am wrong, but I assume you want to create value for the brand or company you are representing?  Okay, if that is the case… I will value any company who makes my life better.  And since we naturally associate the Brand of the company with the mode of advertising … any Brand who rudely interrupts me is instantly placed in the LAME bucket.  Sorry, that is the truth.  On the contrary, any Brand who slides naturally into a position to add value to me and make my life better –  pure GOLD.  Loyal.  They got me for life.

Look, I know this is going to be a life long marriage so can you please start to see things from my side of the bed for once?  If you do, I guarantee you will get more than you ever imagined.

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This Get’s the Creative Juices Flowing

Trendwatching.com sends out a monthly briefing on emerging trends.  It’s awesome.  Here’s the latest mini-consumer trends they highlight in their latest edition, “Innovation Extravaganza” .  Read the briefing to get the details.

The both scary and celebratory part? Wherever you live, whatever it is you do, you have absolutely no excuse to be unaware of innovations originating in Australia, in the Netherlands, in the US, in Argentina, in Turkey, in Singapore, in South Africa … It’s all out there, reported 24/7 by numerous sources dedicated to trends and new business ideas.

Prediction: There Will Be No Bubble

Update: This was republished on BusinessInsider.com.

You do realize it’s us, with our words, who actually create the Bubbles we will then loathe.   Yes – you, me, all of us… we create the hysteria and the irrational exuberance necessary for a “bubble” to actually form.  If we can just refrain from the word this time, maybe better things will happen.  Plain and simple.  I know the conspiracy theorists out there will indeed flame up the comments with a variety of criticism – and that’s fine, commentary is a good thing.  But I argue we are not going to see a bubble since we just entered the Golden Ages of the Internet.  Don’t want to take my word for it?  Let’s go ahead and use some logic backed by historical analysis to peel this onion a bit.  We’ll see what can come of it since I think it’s better than just running around yelling BUBBLE every time a round of funding is raised or a new company rings the opening bell.

In my recent article, The Evolution of the Tech Bubble, I referred to the book Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital by Carlota Perez.  I have to say again, quite an amazing book.  On a surface level I described the general phases of each cycle (Irruption, Frenzy, Synergy, Maturity) and laid out a nice framework to grasp the magnitudes and movements of the cycle.  I will now go deeper in an effort to bust this silly Bubble talk.

As you can see, our economy has gone through 5 major cycles since the late 1700’s.

1) 1770s through the 1820s – water power and introduced factories and canals, primarily in Britain.

2) 1820s to the 1870s – the age of steam, coal, iron, and railways.

3) 1870’s through about 1910 – steel and heavy engineering.

4) 1910 through 1980 –  the rise of the automobile, petroleum-based materials, the assembly line, and the motion picture and television.

5) Our current cycle began around 1970 – based on silicon: the integrated circuit, the digital computer, globaltelecommunications and the Internet.

These are not my opinions, Perez illustrates through factual analysis each cycle lasted roughly 60 or 70 years.  I argued we have just entered the Synergy phase of the fifth cycle, probably sometime in the mid 2000’s.  Like it or not, this means the core paradigm (the internet) is about to spread into every corner of your life.  This period is pleasantly referred to as a Golden Age.  The image to the right provides a view of the Synergy and maturity phases, which together last 20 or 30 years.  There’s the internet, going into everything around you.  One thing to note here, the financial recession we just experienced is not directly correlated to these cycles.  I am not passing off the idea that sometimes things rise and fall unexpectedly.  It happened, and will happen again.  The image used in my previous post illustrates the  rate of diffusion of a technology into a society, not the rise in markets or a bubble, per se.

Here is what I think will happen next and why it will be mind blowing.

Fred Wilson recently stated at TechCrunch Disrupt we will very soon experience an incredible cultural revolution on a level we might not realize yet.  Many things will be created to challenge the establishment (think Egypt) and new applications will change your life in very profound ways.

How do I know?  Take a look at what happened the last time we were sitting in this position.

 The car was at the heart of the last technology surge, based on mass production, which started in 1908 with Henry Ford’s Model T. The installation phase was about increasing car ownership and building road networks. The crash came quite early, and the deployment phase was delayed by depression and war. But the deployment phase was the period in which the suburbs evolved and supermarkets became the dominant mode of food distribution and retail.

Looking back, we realize it was because of the automobile (transportation) we now have suburbs, supermarkets and shopping malls.  Now think of the Interstate network, and how important it was to connecting our country.  Thankfully, this is how you can easily have food on your table…  which you bought from the supermarket… which you drove to in your automobile.

Yes, it is amazing.  And it’s all small potatoes compared to what is going to happen next.

Applying that perspective to today’s environment you can now start to grasp the notion we just entered the Golden Age.  Mass adoption of the internet, real time communications and real time data will create adjacent industries we haven’t even thought of yet.  Just ask Reid Hoffman what he thinks about this subject.  For the first time in human civilization 2 billion, maybe even 3 billion people will all be connected on one platform.  Almost a third of our world population is online or using some sort of connected device.  This is even more moving: in the emerging markets of China, India, Brazil, Russia, and dozens of smaller developing nations, a billion people will soon enter the expanding global middle class.

Do you even realize the magnitude of what this will do to our global society? Place communication technologies on that platform.  Include a way to exchange currency and do commerce.  Find a way to locate a mobile device, right down to a 10 foot radius.  Now imagine three billion people using this each day!  Not everything will be rosy, but I argue it will be golden.  For a little economic context, in the year 2000 the AOL/Time warner merger was at the time valued at $350 billion with AOL having roughly 30 million subscribers.

If you look back at the previous 4 cycles, it’s important to keep in mind how little of role communication technologies played.  This is not something to overlook.  Until the fourth phase (early 20th century) people were isolated on their own continents, lest they endured a few months boat ride to a new world.  They were also confined to their local flea market if they couldn’t snag a horse ride.  And information was short supply, limited to neighborhood gossip and a letter which mostly arrived too little too late.

Today, only 1oo short years later, I am theoretically one finger swipe away from anyone in the world (or 2 billion at least).  I can video chat with someone in remote Africa, literally seeing them as we talk while they are on another continent.  I can learn about an earthquake that hit another part of the world less than one minute after it happened.  If you are reading this on your mobile and wanted to buy Perez’s book right now from a random person on the East Coast, an Amazon transaction will take you less than 30 seconds and you will be back reading this next sentence before you know it.

Take a step back and juxtapose those last 2 paragraphs.  This is why I recently quit my job and finally got serious about building something.  I am pretty excited to see what this synergy phase will bring out from within us.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t pretend to know the future. But I am using solid facts from the past to help me gauge where things might be going.  If you are not serious about doing something amazing, now might be the time to reconsider.

Referencing my last article on the Bubble subject, the Frenzy period was characterized by individualism, excessive investment and miraculous manipulation of wealth.  These ridiculous actions create Bubbles.   Since the foundation of the web is already in place, this Synergy period is a time of Production.  It is because economies of scale, maturation of the core technology and a new understanding of our global network we will not see a bubble burst.

I will leave you with a thought from Perez:

Whatever time it takes to set up the framework to overcome the recession, the beginning of Deployment is usually characterized by synergistic growth, extension of markets and increasing employment.

Bubble schmuble…  can we just stop saying that word?  I suggest we start using the words Internet Golden Age.

Image courtesy of Flickr user timtom.ch

A Public Thank You to John Battelle

Disclosure: no one knows I am writing this, not even John.  It is not a stunt for attention, but a genuine thank you.

This morning, as I was glancing through FM Signal it occurred to me how much value John Battelle brings to this industry (and to my life).  It also occurs to me how hard he works.  Amazingly, he touches numerous industries – marketing, advertising, technology, the web, early stage startups, blogging, journalism, music and many others.  Even better, he is at the cusp of bringing together and connecting those industries, a skill I don’t see in many others.  I look forward to each day as he curates information just for my unique education.  And, boy do I still need it.  You should take note just some of the ways he adds value to our lives:

Federated Media

Started by John in a garage in 2005, FM was intended to create a business model for the best independent publishers.  I have always been impressed with FM and look for great things from them in the near future.  From their site:

FM develops programs and products that help brands engage in those conversations and host their own dialogues with current and potential customers. As we’ve grown to have offices across North America and represent a larger number of partners, that basic principle continues to describe our business.

Web 2.0 Summit

Each year in the late fall, the tech world convenes for one of the great rituals of the industry –  The Web 2.0 Summit.  Years ago, this was one of the first events to have a tremendous impact on me and the direction in my life.  Did I attend?  No.  But I did always download the audio files of the talks, burn them onto a CD and drive around listening to them on my way to work (it beats radio commercials).   Together, John and Tim O’rielly really helped a guy like me further my knowledge and get up to speed on things.  This year’s, called The Data Frame, should be more of the same great stuff.  I hope I can attend.

The CM Summit

The Conversational Marketing Summit is another event put on by Federated Media, focused on the intersection of Marketing and technology.  Arguably, marketing people need John more than we tech people do.  They need someone who can communicate in both languages – marketing speak and tech speak – to help nudge them towards more effective concepts.   The next one is June 6th in NYC.   Go here for all things CM Summit.

FM Signal

Each morning I am greeted with a collection of 8 to 10 links to very informative and educational articles.  I make sure I start my mornings with a review of the latest in the industry, so this is one of the first emails I open each day.  Coffee, check.  Music, check. Signal, Check.  Man, good stuff.  If you want an edge in this industry, you must get the Signal.  Go to the upper right hand corner on this page to sign up.

Influential Blogger and Author

In addition to FM Signal, John blogs at John Battlelle’s Searchblog.  He always has unique insights to a variety of topics, mostly around the web, technology, and conversational marketing.  Also very useful has been the book The Search, an in-depth look at how Google and search in general has transformed our world.

If you are in any of the above mentioned industries, use these resources from John.  They have no doubt changed my life.  Thank you John.

You Talkin to Me?

Update: The post was republished on BusinessInsider.com

As a youngster growing up I did not know I wanted to be an “entrepreneur”.  In fact I didn’t even know what one was.  It’s kind of a weird, unintuitive word.  But even as small children I think we can tell the difference between a Pirate and a peon.  Early on I just  knew I wanted to do something different, something bigger.  I knew it the first time I saw Tony Montana scorch the earth building an empire in the movie Scarface.  If you are reading this as an entrepreneur, you probably remember your early entrepreneurial feelings as well.

@ev, @jack, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Reid Hoffman, Larry and Sergey, Marc Andreessen and many others – I have incredible respect for you.  Not many will do what you have done and maybe one day we can connect, hopefully some of that can rub off on me.  But I ain’t talkin to you.

I’m talking to the rest of y’all – the other 98%.   You at your desk hoping your boss doesn’t catch you reading Business Insider at work… again.   No need to close the tab, he probably hasn’t seen yet.  And you, reading this on your phone at the restaurant as you wait for your significant other to come back from the bathroom.  Go ahead and finish reading, I assure you they’ll be glad you’re reading a tech blog and not secretly texting someone else.  And yes, you laying in bed reading this on your ipad, you are just trying to squeeze in one last article before you go to bed.

How do I know you are all doing this?  Cause I am one of you.  I’ve done all those things and more.   I have wanted it so bad I couldn’t sleep at night.  Like you I have also put years into my own vision only to come up short on the latest attempt.  Like you I lived a double life, straddling the fence of trying to successfully launch a side project and lacking the cajones to let go of stability in a day job.  Somewhere along the line I found myself living a lie – vicariously living as an entrepreneur but not actually acting and doing like real entrepreneurs should.   That life sucks and I am done with it.

Yes, it’s a great time to be an entrepreneur and things once again seem to be bubbling.  Venture investments are up.  Valuations are rising.  IPO’s are starting to pop again.   With all this talk of Bubbles, IPO’s, Frothiness, and “it’s different this time”, I just have one question for you: What you gonna do now?

Because here is the truth for most of us:

1) We’ve never launched a successful product. We only wished we had.

2) We’ve never succeeded in raising venture capital, because of number 1.

3) Even though things are frothy, this will not change the numbers game.  Our odds of launching a successful product and raising VC are still going to be slim to none.

Well Tony would say eff the odds.  Tony said eff to everything and everybody.  He knew where he was going and nobody was going to stop him.  Regardless how you feel about the word (my apologies), I think it’s a great perspective.  Tony was the quintessential entrepreneur – purposeful, driven, headstrong and at times ruthless.  When he set his mind to something, you pretty much knew he was going to get it.  Great entrepreneurs look odds straight in the face, laugh, and then get back to work.

But what about Captain Jack?

I don’t care if you’re a billionaire. If you haven’t started a company, really gambled your resume and your money and maybe even your marriage to just go crazy and try something on your own, you’re no pirate and you aren’t in the club.

I about jumped out of my skin when I read those words written by Michael Arrington on Techcrunch a few months back.  It chilled me to the bone and was pure poetic justice at a time when I was really needing to hear it.   I wish I would have cut it out, put it in my pocket and showed it to anyone who asked why I was leaving my “stable and dependable” job.  Most people just don’t get how exotic and intoxicating being an entrepreneur really is.  I think Tony Montana would second Michael’s statement as well.

Although I agree with Arrington and his version of Captain Jack Sparrow, I feel Tony is a better depiction of a pure entrepreneur.  Strip away the guns, drugs and violence and you have a great example in Tony Montana.  He has the dedication.  He has the attitude.  He has the street smarts.  He has the charm.  He has the willingness to risk.  In him you have someone so committed to his vision he was willing to die for it.  Love him or hate him, we need more leaders as committed as Tony.

So here’s what we need to do:

Realize you are – YOU.   The best way to beat the numbers game is to be unique.  You cannot be the next Mark Zuckerberg, Ried Hoffman or Steve Jobs.  You were given your own unique vision.  Execute it.  Zuck was given the vision of a world wide social network.  That’s great for him (and for us to use).  But go do something different.  I think of Zaarly or Square.  Andrew Mason figured out how to make daily coupons cool again.  Awesome, think of something farther ahead like what LOCQL, a start up here in Seattle is doing.  Who knows, maybe back when Zuck, Hoffman, and Jobs were getting started they secretly wanted to be the next Bill Gates, Andy Grove or Thomas Edison.   But of course, they couldn’t and didn’t.  So they became the best versions of themselves and subsequently created the world you now live in.  Read that last sentence again…

Channel your inner Tony Montana.  One of the most interesting aspects of the movie Scarface is how it touches on both the light and dark sides of humanity, capitalism and wealth.  Most people who watch the movie see the obvious flaws in Tony.  But more subtle is the notion that we all have the capacity to think and act in this way.  You too have a little bit of Tony fire in your belly.  You also have the choice to use your competitive edge for the better of humanity, not the worse.  Channeling your drive, determination and what-ever-it-takes attitude will lead you to make a positive dent in the universe.  This is more important that you might think.  Although I have yet to raise a round of VC, I am pretty sure investors would rather have someone walk in their office with a Tony-esk chip on their shoulder talking about taking over the world than see (another!?) demo of a new twist on a social application which also shares groupons.   Mark Suster is so right – “There are so many big inefficiencies in this country that need tackling. I feel quite comfortable that our bars & restaurant industry will be just fine.” 

Find something you are willing to die for.  No, I don’t mean head out the door with machine gun in hand ready to do battle with anyone who criticizes your next idea.  But I am suggesting you find something so grand in vision you will spend the rest of your life making it come true.   In my humble opinion, this is the key to being successful – a driving purpose.  Simon Sinek taught me to Start With Why.  Read this book and you will discover true greatness is not about copying the next social sharing feature.  It’s about inspiring society to move forward with truly crazy ideas that have a larger purpose.  Trust me – Bezos, Jobs, Edison, Larry and Sergey… these guys would tell you the same thing.

It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur.  Shall we not let this time in history be remembered only as the “Social Bubble”.  I think there’s more within all of us.

Yeah I am talking to you…. you with me?



The Crest of Web 3.0 is Upon Us

I recently authored a post on Businessinsider.com titled The Evolution of The Tech Bubble.  In fact, it was a re-post of the article here on So Entrepreneurial titled Bubbles and Golden Ages.  My main goal was to take a larger glance as what we call Bubbles, and to provide some context to the inevitability of a technological paradigm and its lifecycle.  It was indeed a birds eye view, and with each phase the possibility remains where one could dive further into the details.  Thankfully, that was done for me.

Jasephase, a commenter on the Business Insider piece, has provided us longer perspective on current times using the Bubble framework I provided earlier.  Jasephase lays out a more in-depth perspective, postulating we are on the crest of Web 3.0.  My takeaway: “The trick is to look past the crest into the subtler currents to extract the themes of Web3.0 and make the Google or Facebook that will in effect become the next Web3.0 Titan.”  Well said.

jasephase on May 27, 7:17 AM said:

I realize this is incredibly long – it’s what happens when a little free time in otherwise very busy days mixes with the first coffee in months…

I have been working, by that I mean visualizing the future, through goggles strikingly similar to these for the last five years.

I agree with the author in that we are, in large part, in the synergy phase. I lose him when he reaches his ‘Maturity’ argument, in effect dismissing maturity as not occurring in the present time but 60 years in the future. I believe the paradigm he is employing here, ‘the internet’, is far too broad a subject to practically inform our thinking and actions now. But the pattern is useful.

As I see it, ‘the internet’ as a whole is, yes, in the synergy phase right now. But we can very easily break the internet up into its own phases: Web 1.0, which I would say came into focus with Google and had its own ‘bubble’.  Then, Web 2.0, the poster child of which is Facebook and social in general, which is bubbling now and may or may not burst as much as peter out. And then finally the predestined semweb, the first faces of which we are seeing now in products that bridge the gap between old and new media, between 1.0, 2.0, and even the early stages of 3.0, between social and local, between social and knowledge, between social and professional, between social and commerce, e.g., Foursquare, Quora, LinkedIn, Twitter, GroupOn, Yelp!, Square…

Thus, I would say that Web 2.0 is in its synergistic phase now, whereas everything Web 1.0 is already quite snug in its maturation phase. Hence Google’s plateau or incremental improvements (which I would argue point to long-term decline and an inevitable dropping stock price (not due just to a changing of the guard and internal restructuring)). Of course some 1.0 companies are making the shift, like Amazon, but others, like eBay, are not. Bezos can pivot and drive for the hoop at the same time.

Still, Amazon and Google are primarily single-value, long-tail companies with a lot of features and secondary products. But if you remove their core value proposition: eCommerce and search, they are dead in the water, networks without a hub. While they are polymaths, they are limited. Apple on the other hand consistently creates entirely new markets for itself to swim through, but that’s a whole other chapter…

Anyway, back to synergy and maturation. I think that this article’s graph of the internet’s growth resembles the period of a Y=sinX curve from x=0 to x=pi/2, but that a Y=X+sinX wavy step function would be much more indicative of a Web1.0, Web2.0, and semweb reality (it’s been a while so my math might be off…). Or better yet, instead of one line, envision the constructive/destructive interference patterns of three or more curves plotted to represent their respective perspectives. In such a system I think we will find that Web1.0 is in maturation, Web2.0 is in synergy, and Web3.0 is in its earliest stage (perhaps situated within the synergy phase of the internet as a whole – but that is a bigger claim than I would make or justify – history and evolution are slippery).

Furthermore, as each 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 wave is interconnected and evidence for maturation and growth are present even in the synergistic crest, we tend to focus only on the crests (on the valuations and IPOs of LinkedIn, GroupOn, Facebook, etc…) while the subtler, smaller stories, such as the maturation of 1.0 and the growth of 3.0 waves, are obscured. Still, if we look past the bubble at the larger picture, we can reasonably foresee or feel-out a timeframe in which 3.0 will start to grow. I would argue that the catalyst for that is the 2.0 crest we are experiencing right now.

Let me expand on that. I believe that the boom of Web1.0 was the activation energy required to begin a Web2.0 phase transition, and that the current boom of Web2.0 will supply the energy necessary to get Web3.0 started. Yet we will not see the accelerated growth of Web3.0 until Web2.0’s growth decelerates. Causation is funny, chicken or the egg. Which comes first: the development of Web3.0 currents or the dissolution of Web2.0 energies? Does Web2.0 by its very nature sew the seeds for its own destruction…? Again, I would argue that it is the dissolution of relative power and of the investment of new capital and of manpower in the 1.0 companies that provides the opportunity for such drastic Web2.0 growth now. Furthermore, if we were to integrate the heights of the inflection point (entrance to maturation) of Web1.0 we get the incredibly steeply-sloped pace of growth for Web2.0. Been a long time since math…

Anyway, evidence for this: read through the lists of every Y Combinator and TechCrunch Disrupt startup – not a single one is doing anything revolutionary or interestingly new. They are all competing to build the best nifty/gimmicky features of Web2.0. They are all trying to ride the same wave. Without forcing these trends into some value-system, this is a ‘good’ thing, a necessary step for evolution of Web3.0. The higher Web2.0 goes and the faster it tips, the sooner and faster Web3.0 will be born. It will be the collective weight of all these startups, the investment of VC, and the mass of incremental innovations they bring to the table that will bring Web2.0 to its crest quickly and eventually take the wind out its sails. So I’m redunant.

Just as no VC is going to fund the next big search engine, neither will the next big social site or deals site find funding. The forces that be effectively crowd out the competition. A startup’s fate in this atmosphere is inevitable (read planned) obsolescence or assimilation into one of the borgs (Google or Facebook…). Thus innovation will peter out, which will lead to the maturation phase of Web2.0, the shifting sights (sites) of VC and entrepreneur alike, and the emergence of the 3.0 startup, to whom the current titans will appear as old media to be disrupted. Google is the dinosaur now, playing at arguably the same game as Microsoft – dead in the water, searching for a board to hang onto so as not to sink.

Seeing all this is the easy part. Making a successful startup in today’s environment, then, is even that much easier, just network, just game the system (like trading in Diablo II, or convincing our old landlord to let us rent the house). The trick is to look past the crest into the subtler currents to extract the themes of Web3.0 and make the Google or Facebook that will in effect become the next Web3.0 Titan.

What will that look like? Who is in that space now? How will it articulate with current industry? What old media will be disrupted? One thing I can tell for sure is that Google is a Sisyphus to keep on chasing a social dream. Likewise, while Facebook’s capitalization on the social graph and social search is still in its infancy and there’s no real telling how far its synergy phase will go, it is still just following the dreams of Web2.0. As of yet there is no competition (glances over my shoulder to see if Apple is listening) in the Web3.0 space, everyone is focused completely on Web2.0. Opportunity?!

The LOCQL Landscape

Man, what an exciting time we are living in right now. We are starting to see another aspect if the web explode with innovation – the local landscape. Local web applications are infiltrating almost every aspect of our daily lives – searching, shopping, taking pictures, and now Questions and Answers. Question and Answer sites (Q&A as they are referred to) have been around for quite some time, but only recently have entrepreneurs started innovating on the core concept: You ask a question, someone answers it. Startups such as Quora, Hipster, Travellr, localuncle, and many others are recreating the Q&A space for the era of social connectivity.

Quora

Quora, for example, founded by former Facebook employees, aims 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. Questions remain (pun intended) if Quora can uphold their quality of answers as they grow in quantity of questions.

Hipster

Then there’s Hipster. Quite frankly, no one really knows what this little Q&A startup is doing. If you go to their homepage you are greeted with a prompt to search questions and answers about SXSW, a conference held in Austin, TX every March. Isn’t it almost June? One thing is for sure, they know how to generate PR and attention. I guess we’ll just have to keep an eye on this one.

But what if you added your specific location to asking a question and receiving an answer? Location based Q&A opens doors we only dreamed of just a few short years ago. “What if I could send into the ether a specific question about the city I just landed in and BAM, one minute later I receive an answer from someone I don’t even know who lives here?”

LOCQL

Enter LOCQL, 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 information always make something more valuable. Marry those together and (at scale) you have a living, breathing repository of location relevant information based upon where you currently find yourself. Isn’t that the basis of mobile search? When I use my iphone for search, I am generally looking for a restaraunt, coffee shops, a retail store, an address, directions, and many other location based information. Additionally, what if someone infused a solid Q&A application with mobile commerce capabilities? Mark my words, I believe this space will yield a big hit.

I caught up with LOCQL co-founder Robert Mao recently and asked him a few questions about his company and where it’s going.

Describe and explain LOCQL in a few sentences.

“LOCQL is a location based question and answer site that helps people find answers to places.
LOCQL uses game mechanics to enable social power to find the missing links between the user’s queries and the places in the local landscape they are searching for. Hopefully will be able to bring the local search and location based search to a higher level”

How did you come up with the idea behind LOCQL?

“The idea for LOCQL came from our life experiences, as International travelers, we traveled to many different places, relocated our home’s several times in different countries. There are so many ‘best kept secrets’ only local people know about, those who’ve been there just know it. Unfortunately, without a service like LOCQL, you won’t be able to find it from the web, nor you can find it through search engines. We realized people are increasingly looking for answers about places, according to Bing, over 50% mobile device originated search queries are about a specific place. Google’s Marissa Mayer recently mentioned 20% of all Internet search is about places! In those queries, only around 30% can be solved with today’s information retrieval based search technology. A big pie is missing! We are aiming on make this better.”

Yahoo Q&A has been around for a while. Why attempt a new Q&A site?

“Q&A has been around for a long time, even before search engine become popular. Q&A is one of the most natural modes of communication for human beings and we believe there are still plenty of space to make it even better. As you can see, Yahoo Answer has been there for such a long time, Stackoverflow.com become the most trusted source for the developer community, and the recent rising of Quora.com illustrates how a better designed Q&A can be incredibly attractive and useful. When we began work on LOCQL, none of the Q&A site were specifically for location related questions, or most of them just treat location a name or a category. In our point of view, location answered questions are very important and since they are increasing in frequency they deserve special attention.”

With a lot of competition, besides the location aspect how do you differentiate yourself?

“We do it quite differently, we deeply believe in “Less is more” principle. We do less, so we will be able to provide a better user experiences, especially when designed for the location/place related Q&A. We try to only solve a smaller set of problems than most of the existing players, so we can be much more focused. Another very interesting angel we try to solve the problem is gamification. “Be fun” is another principle when we design our product. If you try LOCQL you will find we have many social game elements build in, in fact some part of the service are purely enjoyable games for you and your friends. No matter if you want to travel, you want to move your home, or find more interesting things around your local community, it’s FUN! We try to make the service fun, playful, and at mean time, so it can capture some value and be useful at the same time.”

What is LOCQL’s current status, and what are your immediate next steps?

“We just opened up to a wider beta. In the first phase, we only let in around 150 test users in order to verify a few of our assumptions and help us understand this space better. We are now more confident and are accepting a wider group of users to try our product, also we released our gaming mechanic in this new phase, so LOCQL will be the most enjoyable Q&A site out there. It’s not just boring questions and answers.”
Image courtesy of of Flickr user Alexanderdrachmann.