Monthly Archives: September 2009

The post iPhone world

One fun thing I like asking representatives from Nokia, Microsoft, or Research in Motion is “what does the post iPhone world look like?”

It is my way of sensing whether they’ve done any creative thinking. So far I’ve gotten mostly blank stares.

It’s like Steve Jobs has convinced everyone in the industry that nothing possibly can replace the iPhone on the coolest device shelf.

Me? I’ve seen this play before. Remember Sony’s Walkman?

I like pretending we live in a post iPhone world.

How do we get there?

Well, what would happen if we lived in a Twitter world? One where every light switch, every device, every machine, had a Twitter account?

I asked a Microsoft executive recently why they haven’t released a .NET/Silverlight runtime that Tweets.

His answer surprised me “have you signed our NDA yet?”

That’s code for “we’re working on just that.”

After all, Microsoft probably doesn’t like it that IBM has ruled enterprise marketing with its “Smart Planet” meme.

So, why would Microsoft support a Twitter world? Because if Microsoft helped Twitter build a world where everything has a Twitter API then Microsoft would also get the keys to the post-iPhone world.

“Huh?”

Well, let’s assume that Microsoft had .NET runtimes on everything. Right now I’m staring at an IV machine in the hospital room where our next son will be born. Why couldn’t a doctor Tweet that machine? Using a message that looks something like this:

@sequoia_iv_0451 set level to 1 pt per hour

That would change the drip rate on her machine to 1 pint per hour.

That doesn’t seem that important, does it? But now what if EVERY device in the hospital had a runtime like this and could be queried through a Twitter language?

Wouldn’t that open up new application possibilities that don’t exist today? Absolutely!

Wouldn’t that encourage new kinds of devices to be built? Absolutely!

Wouldn’t that mean we’d need a replacement for the iPhone? Absolutely!

Why? Well, let’s put it this way. If you had tons of devices in your world that you wanted to interact with TweetDeck or SimplyTweet just wouldn’t cut it.

Now, what if Microsoft made such a Twitter system more reliable? After all, if a doctor is going to have a device that will talk to all sorts of machines during surgery there can’t be a possibility of a fail whale.

Once Microsoft got .NET runtimes out in enough things they could come in and build a shadow Twitter that’s more reliable than Twitter and that has some cool features.

Then once that’s done Microsoft could ship a post-iPhone world. Why? Because they would be able to build a device that would be optimized for this Twitter world.

Oh, OK, this is all science fiction. After all it’s preposterous to think that the iPhone won’t stay on the coolest device shelf forever.

Right?

Foursquare: will it be bigger than Twitter?

Go back three years ago. Twitter was being used by the same crowd that is playing with Foursquare today.

What is Foursquare? It’s a location game. When I visit somewhere, like Sequoia Hospital, where I’m hanging out with Maryam (we’re having a baby sometime in the next 24 hours) I check in on Foursquare.

What does that do? It gives me points and lets other people know where I am.

It sounds really lame, doesn’t it? But didn’t Twitter sound really lame to you when someone first told you about it?

It’s not lame.

Already I’ve met people because of the game and it’s weirdly fun.

The game gives you points for doing various checkins. If you do a lot of checkins everyday you get more points. You also get badges (which are sort of like achievements on Xbox games) for doing various things. For instance, I checked in so much at the Half Moon Bay Ritz that I became the Mayor of that location. It’s a lot of fun and great bragging rights.

Yeah, still sounds lame, huh?

But I think this lame little location game is going to be bigger than Twitter.

Why? Because eventually businesses will learn that this is an even better way to engage with customers than Twitter is.

Why? Because when you know your customers location the way this game is going to let you know you can really do some wild offers. Plus, I bet that they add in their own Twitter-style feature that will let people talk with each other.

I wonder if Twitter will build in its own version of Foursquare into Twitter? So far Twitter hasn’t built in any location-based services (other than to add in a new API which has yet to be turned on in any real way) so who knows?

Either way, this thing is growing remarkably quickly, just like Twitter did back in 2006. Now that Foursquare has funding, too, I expect to see more cities and more features turned on.

Why is Foursquare more useful than, say, Google’s Latitude? Well, you choose the moments and places you check into. With Latitude, if you leave it on and head to, say, an adult establishment, everyone will know. With Foursquare no one would know, unless you clicked checkin on your phone.

What about competitors, like Gowalla? I’ve been playing with Gowalla too and it doesn’t have the gameplay yet, which I’ve found is critical to getting me to use Foursquare. It also doesn’t have either the community (I already have about 1,000 early-adopter friends on Foursquare, but only a handful of friends on Gowalla) or the business listings that Foursquare has (every place I’ve visited today was easier to find on Foursquare than on Gowalla).

The really scary thing is how FourSquare could become a much better Yelp than Yelp. Or will know more about me than even Facebook. Think about what the stores and places you go says about you! Think about the advertising Starbucks could do with you if it knows you go into a competitor for coffee every morning at about 8 a.m.!

I see all sorts of things that can come out of this little “lame” game. Twitter better watch out. I give Foursquare 400 more days before it is on Oprah.

How about you?

Our online lives slowly leak away

I just looked at the baby photos of Milan being born. Back then we did something pretty cool with a service called “Twittergram.” We recorded his first cry. But now Twittergram seems to have gone away and with it, our baby’s first cry. That was only two years ago. You can see the link there, but it doesn’t work.

This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed things online disappearing over time. My first two years of blogging are gone. Some of that was backed up by the wayback machine.

I’ve seen other people’s blogs, or other online items go away too. Hey, quick, find some of your Tweets from just four months ago. They are all still online, but you probably can’t find them. Me neither.

Or, wait until you are hacked and don’t have a backup, like happened with me. I love the folks who say “you should have backed up.” How do you back up everything you do online? You can’t. Quick, back up all your Google Docs, your Tweets, your Flickr photos and all the metadata surrounding them (comments, tags, etc), your Facebook items, etc etc. You will die trying.

I know, I’ve been backing up like a crazy man lately since I got hacked. What’s funny is one of my brand new hard drives died. Luckily I had a backup of that. But what if I didn’t?

What if my house burned down tonight? I wouldn’t be able to save everything. Heck, I’d be worried about getting my family out and screw the hard drives.

So our online lives leak away.

It gets worse after you die.

You think your family will be able to save your Flickr photos? Not if you don’t give them your passwords. Here’s why: they won’t be able to find them.

I let my Flickr Pro account lapse cause I was too lazy to put in a new credit card. I couldn’t even find my old photos. Why? Because Flickr’s search only shows the last few photos and they turn off the calendar and all sorts of things if you stop paying for the pro account. Yowza.

Reminds me of an interview I had with Jeremy Toeman who built a new company called Legacy Locker. But now we need to put enough cash in there to keep Flickr accounts paid up so my sons will be able to see their photos after I die.

Some best practices I’ve learned:

1. If you care that it stays around, use services from big companies. Google will probably stick around for a while. Twittergram? Gone.

2. Put your stuff in multiple places. Why? Because maybe Yahoo will decide to turn off the Flickr service in 10 years. So, make sure your photos go to other services.

3. Back up what you can, but that won’t help long term. Quick, if your dad handed you a hard drive with 10,000 photos would you be able to find anything on there? What if you got that hard drive in 30 years? Would you be able to even look at what’s on it? Remember, when I was in college my entire life was on floppy disks. I can’t even read those now.

4. Print out stuff that you really want to save. I still have my trunk of photos from my childhood, but lots of my photos taken digitally over the years are gone or hard to find.

5. Use services like Legacy Locker to ensure that your kids at least will have your passwords and rights to your stuff and accounts.

Any other “best practices?”

Helping businesses get into the 2010 web

It’s been a while since I’ve talked much about building43. Heck, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged that much! But we’ve been busy over on building43 helping businesses get into the modern world.

It really pisses me off when I try to find a business on Google and they don’t even have a web site. That’s just not excusable anymore in today’s business world. But it also gets me sad when I see businesses that haven’t improved their sites beyond 1994. If your site was last updated with Microsoft FrontPage you aren’t keeping up.

Here’s some of the videos over on building43 and how they help businesses.

Zoho shows off their customer relationship management suite and talk about how they are going to eat away at Microsoft’s dominance, even as Microsoft releases Office 2010.

Brian Alvey, the geek who built Engadget’s back end, is now building a new content management system aimed at professional bloggers and publishing houses. He comes onto building43 to talk about the modern world of publishing and what he sees them need.

Yelp is getting millions of new users every month who are searching for businesses. So we took our cameras to Yelp to understand what’s going on there and how businesses should engage with users there.

Speaking of Yelp, we visited a new restaurant that’s just nine months old and already has almost 300 reviews on Yelp. So, we visited Phat Philly Cheesesteaks to understand how they did it. Tons of tips for businesses on how to handle angry customers and encourage love from the happy ones.

You’ve heard the hype behind Twitter (lots of it from me) so we head to Boulder, Colorado, to find out how a Sushi Restaurant, Hapa Sushi Grill and Sake Bar, is using Twitter to engage with customers.

We visited Facebook to find out how they view business using their service.

But there’s tons of other stuff including videos from Guy Kawasaki’s Revenue Bootcamp and these articles:

Too small to fail: startups can grow in recessions, by Jason Cohen.
Why social media … even if you don’t want to, by Jason Cohen.
ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick explains to Michelle Greer about managing social media.

And many others.

People often ask me how to help with building43 as we turn this into a real community of people who are helping other businesses get into the modern world. Just visit our contributor page where we explain how to get involved.

The unknown story behind CitySourced

Yesterday afternoon I visited a startup, CitySourced, that is so new that they haven’t even bought any chairs yet. So we sat on the floor. Me. Kurt Daradics, co-founder. And David Kralik.

You probably know that CitySourced almost won TC50 (they came in second and today Sarah Lacy called them out as one of the few companies she saw that was trying to change the world). You’ve probably seen the boatload of press that came from that.

You probably know that CitySourced was one of the few companies to actually bring a customer on stage (a councilman from San Jose, CA, one of the largest cities in California and centerspot in Silicon Valley).

You probably know that Kralik worked for Newt Gingrich on a bunch of eGovernment initiatives (I’ve interviewed him before for Fast Company).

But what didn’t you know?

I bet you didn’t know that their product didn’t exist five weeks ago.

I bet you didn’t know that they had less than $100,000 in investment.

I bet that you didn’t know that about a week ago they thought they had been turned down for TC50 and that they would have to decide whether to be in the Demo Pit.

It’s an amazing story and more will be told when we get the video up on building43 in a couple of weeks.

What did they make? Something very simple. It’s an iPhone app where you can report things that are wrong in your city. But there’s more to the story than that.

How big a company can they be? Well, let’s say they get even a few percent of Americans using the app. Imagine all the candidates who will want to advertise there, or study the data for new ways to win. Imagine a screen that says “so and so isn’t going to fix your potholes in your street, but I will.” I’d give that girl or guy my vote!

CitySourced is an amazing story that’s just getting started. Wait until you hear their tips for winning TC. I love stories of how a few people get together with very little investment and try to change the world. Anyone else?

Running the numbers: why Gist should have launched at TC50

Gist is one of my favorite new companies to launch its product for the first time this week. They decided not to launch at TC50, the big conference this week. That’s cool, they’ve actually had a great week and their servers are being pushed hard. Gist’s CTO Steve Newman bragged that he’s seeing 380,000 Twitter handles come through the service. Very nice. I don’t have 380,000 Twitter handles and I’ve been doing this a lot longer.

I know one PR guy who I won’t name who told me he advises clients to launch somewhere else. That’s probably why OpenTable and Aardvark all launched stuff this week, but not on stage at TC50.

Now in OpenTable and Aardvark’s case, they might not have been chosen because they were already shipping. But Gist hadn’t yet been shipping to the public and I’m pretty sure they could have made a case that they should be on stage. I’m pretty sure that if Gist had launched at TC50 that they would have been in the final five at least and possibly been the winner.

So, what did they turn down by not launching at TC50?

The $50,000 prize.
The free advertising giveaway.

Yeah, but those don’t really matter to a great company. Amazon and Google got where they are by not doing advertising at all, remember? At least in the early years. And the money? Won’t really matter in the long run, although it’s nice to pay six months of some engineer’s salary to help get to the next level.

What were the intangibles?

At one point when I was on stage I asked how many people in the audience (of more than 1,000 people) had more than 200 followers? A lot of hands went up. One guy came up to me afterward and said he had 25,000 followers and had gotten them all organically and that they were all great people, not bots or spammers.

On the video stream more than 30,000 people watched at least part of the first day. Since then MANY MANY more times that number have watched at least one of the sessions.

And every company was covered on TechCrunch. I’ve heard that at least 20 people read that blog. Seriously. How about millions of people? Note that they didn’t cover Gist’s launch this week, while other blogs like Mashable and VentureBeat did.

So, by not being at TC50 they turned down a LOT of free exposure. I think that’s a mistake. It’s an even worse mistake because next week the Demo Conference will be here and lots of mainstream press and VCs and influentials are in that audience.

But, I’m sure some PR team is slapping themselves on the back and congratulating themselves on a good launch. Congratulations.

The thing is, you could have had an extraordinary launch.

OK, let’s say you don’t like TechCrunch. Well, there are lots of other events coming where the audiences are very influential. Next week is the Twitter Conference, which should be named “geeks and celebrities talking about audience building in the modern web world.” Have you seen who will show up there? Wow.

Or look at my link of all sorts of tech events. Remember, even an event with 100 people, if they are of guys who have 25,000 followers, will get you a HUGE amount of coverage! Much bigger than if you just talk to a single blog.

Next month is Jeff Pulver’s 140 Characters conference. Yet another opportunity to launch. Or in December come to LeWeb.

OK, now tell me why I’m wrong and why Gist was right to stay off the stage at TC50 or Demo. Operators are standing by to handle the hate mail. :-)

UPDATE: One thing, this advice only holds if you have a company that is going to end up in the final five, the way I believe Gist would be. If you were going to be further down the list than that then maybe the PR people had a point. After all, I can remember the winners at TC50, but I have a hard time remembering anyone else. But in Gist’s case, they would have been one of those you would have talked about anyway so they should have gone and collected the check and gotten the exposure.