We (Maryam, Patrick, and I) had a wonderful breakfast with Chandu Thota. He’s a developer lead on
Virtual Earth Microsoft’s Windows Live Local service. You know, Microsoft’s Mapping Service (why can’t they name things simply at Microsoft? If I could figure that one out I’d probably be running marketing). On his “20% time” nights and weekends he also does the very cool FeedMap which lets bloggers find other bloggers near them.
Anyway, at one point while we were munching food at the Brown Bag Cafe in Redmond (our favorite breakfast place) we got in a creative mood and we started throwing around ideas of things we’d like.
That’s not the important thing I took away from this conversation, but listening to how a developer thinks when in a creative conversation is very interesting. One idea he threw out was that he wanted to crawl all the blogs, look for commonalities, then spit them back to a box that I’d put on my blog. Something like Amazon’s “you may be interested in these items” feature, but for blogs.
Note the developer’s impulse, especially from someone who is adept at building Web Services. He wants to put a bunch of data into a database in the cloud, analyze it, add value to that analysis, and spit it back out to bloggers everywhere.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this pattern. At BARcamp, MindCamp, FooCamp, and at Dave Winer’s house, I’ve heard this same pattern over and over again.
Yeah, the details vary. Some developers want to study weather info. Some want to mash up ticket selling services and find you better ticket prices. Some want to take real estate data, mash it up with mapping data, and spit it back at you. Etc. Etc. Etc. Just watch TechCrunch to see daily examples of this.
But, what are the common things these developers all need:
1) They need a freaking fast distribution platform. Er, a set of server farms around the world. Why? Well if that little Internet component that Chandu’s thinking of slows down my blog I’m going to get rid of it. And so will every other user around the world. Delivery speed is job #1 in this new world. It better work in London, Chennai, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Cape Town, the same way it does in San Francisco.
2) They need a shitload of storage space. Yes, that’s a technical term. You try crawling 100 million blogs and see what kind of index it builds for you. Let’s just round up to “a terabyte.” Can you afford to buy a terabyte in storage space to scratch your developer itch? Chandu can’t.
3) They need an API. Something simple to spit data in, and suck data out. REST seems to be the one of choice lately.
4) It needs to be cheap. Um, free if possible. At least if you want Chandu to be able to build it, deploy it, and have it survive its first exposure on DIGG. If Chandu starts making revenue then you can get him to give you a cut, but the startup costs need to be near zero so that the developer “itch” can be scratched. Guys like Chandu (and most of the other geeks I know) don’t have much money to buy access to services.
What was Chandu’s first impulse at breakfast? To use Amazon’s S3 service.
But, that made me wonder why Microsoft isn’t seizing this opportunity now. Microsoft has been stunningly successful by simply catering to developer’s needs.
The fact that one of its own engineers is feeling an impulse that can’t be satisfied on Microsoft’s own server farms is telling. And should be keeping Microsoft’s executives awake at night.
We talked about the fact that only big companies will be able to deliver #1 and #4. #2 is actually pretty easy to do for a small company, but if you want your app to be distributed around the world it takes some resources and to both of us that will mean developers will be attracted to Google/Microsoft/Amazon/Yahoo/eBay.
So, let’s go through the players one-by-one.
Google. Google has some daunting advantages in the coming developer wars. First, nearly EVERY developer I know uses Google. Most use Gmail. Most use Firefox (which really is a Google-friendly browser). A large percentage use Google Maps. The fact that Microsoft has ceded the influential geeks over to Google is going to pay off big time for Google. I’ll bet this is why Vic Gundotra decided to go over to Google (he still hasn’t told me what he’s gonna do at Google or why he left Microsoft, but I can read the tea leaves).
Yahoo. Yahoo has the social software world, which will be its key card that it can use to stay in the game. Whenever I meet a developer I ask him or her about the services they use. Invariably the names Flickr and Del.icio.us come up. If Yahoo can figure out how to use these two developer touch points to get developers to come over and build things on its system, it’ll see wins. That said, I’ve been doing a lot of surveying of user behavior lately. When I hang out with developers they use Google as their search engine. When I hang out in places that have more “normal” users, they are heavier Yahoo and MSN and AOL users. So, Yahoo isn’t seen as “geeky” as Google, which might hurt their position. Yahoo will need to bring something dramatic to the table to get geeks to pay attention. If they just match Google’s offerings, the geeks will just stay with Google.
Microsoft. Microsoft has a huge number of developers but those developers are skilled at building Visual Basic apps for businesses. They don’t think a lot about the Web. The ones who’ve decided to spread their wings generally switch over to a Google mindset instead of switching over to a Microsoft mindset. But, Microsoft can always get back in the game. They are investing big time in both marketing initiatives (Mix, Channel 9, On10.net) and have some really interesting stuff coming. While at breakfast Scott Guthrie, general manager inside Microsoft’s developer division came over (I’m going to miss living in the Redmond area) and said he wanted to show me some cool new Web developer initiatives they will soon launch. Not so secret weapons? Ray Ozzie. Scott Isaacs. Google should have hired Scott when it had the chance. Scott has some stuff cooking that’ll keep Larry and Sergey (and MarkL and VicG) up at night.
Amazon. Amazon is out in the lead right now with S3. Will the rest let them keep that position for long? No. Some other advantages Amazon has? Great community, loyal — and buying — customers who’ll buy other new things offered on Amazon’s site. A great affiliate model and system (bloggers get paid everytime they send customers to Amazon).
eBay. They have Lenn Pryor. Seriously what they have is the largest buying and selling community out there. And they have Skype, which hasn’t made sense yet. But, Skype built a great P2P system. What’s the hardest thing for developers to do? Get huge amounts of data around the world without paying for it. Hmmmm, if the dev team that did Skype could do something innovative here that would absolutely rock. But, let’s assume that the Skype team isn’t gonna do anything. Well, eBay still has learned a TON about keeping its Web system up and running. That wouldn’t be hard to turn into a set of services that developers could use for other purposes.
My money? It’s on Google. Why? Cause I go back to the developers. Right now they are more likely to use Google’s stuff than any other — you should see how developers and geeks talk about all these companies. So, unless Google does something evil to piss developers off, or don’t deliver the long-rumored GDrive soon, it’s their game to lose.
That said, don’t bet out the other players. They are all trying to figure out where the value will come in this chain.
Anything I haven’t thought about? How do you see the coming Internet Developer Wars playing out?
Update: Nik Cubrilovic stands up for smaller companies (like the one he started, Omnidrive) that are doing the same thing, but are shipping now.