Ways of screaming, “LOOK AT ME!”

June 17, 2008 at 11:21 pm Leave a comment

What do the following companies have in common? Ebay, Facebook, Myspace and Microsoft (please suggest others in comments).

Answer – they’ve all launched an ‘open’ platform for developers in the hope of stimulating or rejuvenating their core business. It seems that in the web world, once a company hits a certain size/maturity level that throttles and chokes the development of new ideas, the trend is to throw out an element to the developer space in the hope that something better will come from it. But is that always necessarily the case? They could just sell stuff.

Let’s compare that notion to Amazon who launched S3 and their suite of web services with an immediate openness so that it would be embraced from the word ‘go’ by developers as a strong yet flexible tool. Granted it’s in a different arena, but is there something to be said here about having an open strategy from the beginning of a business’ operations?

As well as opening up another chunk of their site, Ebay have partnered with a Vietnamese startup. This type of behaviour is not new from Ebay who, quite sensibly, have in the past collaborated or acquired national/local level auction sites in Asia to gain the specialisation of language and culture. One wonders if they’d adapt their structure in the future to take the trading down to a much more local level in Craigslist style, or if they’d look to go social by pushing their own messaging systems and allow greater in-site sharing on top of their current activities loading Ebay widgets into every other social network on the web.

When putting my face on the Zuckspace, my concerns lie primarily in what the media and authorities tell me about privacy, and then my experience as a consumer begins to become tiresome with the constant nagging of a thousand different invitations to join up to some virally marketed application with zero useful functionality. Imagine a parallel world where from day 1, Mark had opened doors on thefacebook to the developer community and attracted business through being 100% public about changes to services, rather than the ‘by-the-way we added this’ approach. Myspace wouldn’t have stood a chance, and maybe we’d have a half decent set of apps that are useful for our daily routines. It sickens me how much VC money goes into widgets and such, with no real revenue coming back out.

I think openness is something that business analysts should start to use to gauge the level of maturity or desperation of a company. Perhaps in some instances it’s just something of a gimmick in which case the company in question should be exposed as a surfer of the trend wave. Opening a developer platform or a part of your product is a huge move, and any company taking steps down that path should learn to walk before they start to run. I look forward to a time when VCs and angels see in potential investments the strength of an idea that embraces community, social and open concepts in a sensible and straight-forward blend. As the last couple of years have seen the web turn social, it is certain that the immediate future holds for someone the opportunity to make a big win by finding the perfect business model and in my opinion that will find its roots in the beekeeper open source example.

Openness for the purpose of having some hope to clutch on to as your firm levels off isn’t something anyone should push for, so instead we should ask these maturing companies to get smart and openly talk to each other. The future lies in good communication and the portability of services. EA Maxis have released their new game Spore which is the perfect example for what I’m trying to illustrate – there’s a real market out there for products that make sharing information simple and that blur the boundaries between our online and offline experience. The ability to make YouTube videos of game play and add them in-game is incredible, and I hope that GameVee take note of where games like Spore are going, and try to get some good partnerships in motion with game makers.

The directions that companies in the general tech but especially web2.0 fields need to be looking at are vertical (online and offline – helped already by Google Gears and Yahoo! Browser Plus), horizontal (desktop, laptop, giant plasma screen, UMPC or cell/mobile/smart phone – lets have a seamless experience wherever) and everything else in between which I’m naming ‘diagonally’ for want of a better word (integrating and cooperating with services provided by others that could make for sensible partnering and sharing). We’re all still waiting on total perfection in the ‘horizontal’ direction: I’m talking about mobile browsing and the recognised unfulfilled potential.

The latest developer craze is surely all about Apple’s shiny new iPhone (or not). VC activity is bound to go off the scale as startups show the world how you really make use of a platform. I’m praying that mobile platforms generally, whether Android or LiMo or iPhone, find productive and helpful apps housed, and that they don’t spin out of control like social network platforms have all seemed to. I’d love to be able to take ‘digital nomad’ really mobile… or rather, on my mobile. Currently that project is, for me, simply limited to getting all my operations inside a browser.

Firefox 3 has been officially released today, and hopefully now that’s out of the way Mozilla can take a step back and analyse their next moves on mobile platforms. Being a browser maker, they certainly sit in a favourable position, one in which they could stand to soak up an even greater number of users should they adapt products for ‘touchy’ devices.

Unsurprisingly RIM’s Blackberry line up contains a touch phone, and the phrase ‘line up’ is the exact reason that they’re going to keep making money despite just how great the new iPhone might be – there’s so much more choice for consumers. Besides, let’s not forget the business users that swear by them and their hardcore functionality.

Now that Windows 7 is in motion and we have days of staring at our grubby finger prints to look forward to, I think it’s high time that Windows Mobile caught up with Apple’s shiny software. I make no apology for using the word ‘shiny’ twice next to ‘Apple’ – I’m no Mac Fanboy, I just think they deserve credit for making flashy (even though, laughably, Adobe Flash STILL isn’t on the iPhone) gizmos that everyone else can copy and make more practical. Microsoft need to push and push their speed at rolling out products and services because I don’t think it’ll be long now before their competitors gain enough market share and publicity to make everyone locked into their brand able to see the shiny stuff and lust after it.

Talking about the Big 3 (and AOL) is unavoidable in this blog post, and I’m not sorry about that. I’ve been avidly following this drama for months and have watched Microsoft’s obsession with joining the online advertising business grow. I strongly agree with Henry Blodget’s latest comment that this isn’t what Microsoft needs, it should focus on corporate business and make its core products so strong that they keep hold of their oligopoly.

I ca(h)n’t take this (bad pun? I don’t care) obnoxious muscling in on affairs and trying to force a sale just as much as I can’t believe how resilient (perhaps arrogant) Jerry has proven to be. He’s frozen the hiring, offered up a package to his quitting employees, and signed the deal with Google. Most incredible of all is just how severed any ties are with Microsoft and how badly this is reflecting on stock, as raised by NYT’s Joe Nocera. So what’s next?

I was so convinced at one stage that Microhoo would happen, and now it hasn’t I’m keeping my lips sealed. Others have not, and think that whilst Yahoo! would do well from acquiring AOL, it’s not going to happen because Microsoft will continually inject an offer that’s higher than Jerry’s, both out of spite for that poison pill and to feed the ad obsession.

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