iPhone developers abandoning app model for HTML5?

Lots of iPhone application developers are frustrated with the process to get new apps into your hands. It takes about three weeks lately for an app to get approved and into the iTunes store.

Lately I’ve noticed that some developers are avoiding building apps and, instead, are building custom web pages that are designed specifically for the iPhone. I’m not the only one, Marshall Kirkpatrick, over at ReadWriteWeb is seeing the same trend and yesterday featured several services that are building iPhone web experiences but not apps.

Examples you might be already using are Twitter’s mobile site, or Techmeme’s mobile site.

But yesterday another one came along from Nextstop, which is a cool new app for sharing cool things to do near you (great for travelers to check out) and they, too, decided on HTML5 instead of doing an iPhone app. So, I visited them in their San Francisco offices and learned why they made the choices they did, got a demo of the new mobile site they built using HTML5, and also talked about what their view of what’s happening in the larger mobile industry is.

Some reasons Nextstop likes HTML5:

1. Rapid iteration. If they code a new feature tonight, you get it tonight. No waiting three weeks for you to get their latest.
2. It prepares their systems for building a native app. Why? Because apps can include a Safari browser instance inside, so all of this work is reusable, even if they do a native app.
3. It’s easier to build and debug because you don’t need to do a lot of specialized coding to make the native app work properly.
4. It fits into the greater web easier for users. In an iPhone app it can be jarring to take users out to a web browser, but if they already are in the browser they are used to going to other pages and back again using Safari’s navigation.

Anyway, if you want to learn more about the latest thinking of iPhone app developers, this is a good video to watch.

Welcome to the age of consumer HD video

I LOVE my Canon 5D MK II. Check out this video I filmed with it last week at the LeWeb Conference. Make sure you watch it in HD (might buffer if you don’t have a good connection, it’s best if you open the video on its own URL and make sure the HD button is clicked).

This was filmed using nothing but the Canon with 17-40mm F4.0 lens. Total cost? About $3,800. No extra gadgets other than I use a $150 Bogen/Manfrotto monopod to steady the camera.

YouTube’s video quality is spectacular.

How big a deal is this? Well, Mike Arrington and I interviewed Chad Hurley, cofounder of YouTube, and at the end of the interview we talk about the impact that HD will have (you can see Mike Arrington’s Techcrunch post and video here). Here’s that interview (here’s the URL for that video, watch it on its own page for best quality):

The thing is, for “pro” quality now you only need a $4,000 system but you can get pretty damn good quality with a Kodak Zi8 or a FlipCam. The Kodak works great at 720p quality and OK at 1080p. But those cameras are only $200. The fact that you can do decent HD for $200 and distribute those videos for free is a revolution.

Welcome to the age of HD video. Where’s yours?

One problem with this HD age is you can really see when I haven’t done something technically well. For instance the Chad Hurley video is slightly not focused properly (the 5D isn’t easy to focus in video mode). But the fact that I can do this at all is incredible. Thanks, too, to LeWeb for putting in high speed lines so I could upload these two videos from the conference floor.

Challenge to Rackspace: enable 15-min $100 Twitter businesses

When Rob La Gesse, Graham Weston, and Lew Moorman hired me at Rackspace (the world’s largest web hosting company) they said they expected me to challenge them to do new things. I haven’t done enough of that, but last week sitting in the audience listening to Twitter’s API Chief Ryan Sarver got me excited and that’s what this post is about (I haven’t talked with anyone inside Rackspace about this yet, so this is NOT something Rackspace is officially doing — it’s just something I would love to see them do and, because Twitter is a public service I figured it’d be interesting to have a conversation about this idea out in public rather than try to keep it behind closed doors).

Twitter's API chief speaks to LeWeb

What did he do? He announced that Twitter was going to make the real time firehose available to everyone (you can watch video of his speech here). That was the biggest news at LeWeb, even though most people didn’t understand the impact.

What is the firehose feed? It’s what businesses like Seesmic, Tweetdeck, Peoplebrowsr, and FriendFeed get from Twitter: it is the full stream of Tweets (more than 10gigs a day). The problem is that to deal with it you need to be expert at dealing with large, changing databases, and if your business gets popular you must be able to build scalable databases that can serve out millions of queries per day. That’s beyond most developer’s skill sets, but that shows there’s opportunity for new kinds of businesses to build on top of Twitter. Which is why I wrote this note.

I’ve been watching a new kind of business evolve thanks to Twitter’s real time stream. One example is StockTwits. A few months back I interviewed Howard Lindzon, founder. The problem is that he had to hire developers, setup servers, and all that. It cost him a lot more to start that business than $100 and took a lot longer than 15 minutes.

Let’s say you have a brain fart in the middle of the night like I did last night. I’d love to start a micro business that tracks discussion of Half Moon Bay Restaurants. I’d love to watch for Tweets that are actually happening inside and around our few restaurants. But that kind of business isn’t that profitable, so I can’t afford to hire a developer and raise investments to make it happen.

But what if I could go to Rackspace Cloud, click “start a Twitter business” and start filling out a wizard. Something like:

Track Tweets from these locations: [ ] < -Import a list of restaurant locations, or hand enter them.
Track Tweets with these keywords: [ ] <-Import a list of restaurant names, like Pasta Moon, plus a few other keywords, like “restaurant” or “eating.”
Join these Tweets with APIs from these services [ ] <-Here’s how the business will make money, we’ll get people to reserve tables with OpenTable, which will get us a kickback.
Track sentiment using these phrases: [ ] <- Things like “service sucks” or “great meal” or “having fun” or other phrases you come up with.
Build page using this design [ ] <- Give me some choices of how the page will look, and give me some options for changing colors, background image, header images, etc.
Display on our directory [ ] <- Of course we’ll have a directory, wouldn’t we? Something like an app store where you can add other people’s Twitter apps to your page, with revenue sharing, of course!

I’m sure there’s lots of other details such a business will need to enter too, but this gives you a taste of what a new Twitter business could do and how easy it could be to build such a business.

Now what would Rackspace need to implement to make 15-minute $100 microbusinesses happen?

1. A clonable database of the Twitter firehose feed. After all, if you have a brainstorm about a new business you want to see results immediately upon starting up your business and you’d want to iterate it and see what the effects of changing various things are. In the example above, for instance, maybe if you are too strict with the geolocations you won’t get any results, so you’ll have to be looser about what your page will accept. You’ll need to see the results on a few months’ worth of data and you’ll need to see your changes in real time. If you have to wait a few days to see results you’ll lose interest and won’t finish building a micro business like this.

2. Needs to be “cloud computing” simple. If you go to the Rackspace Cloud you can start up a new server in minutes just by entering in your credit card data. It’s simple and anyone can do it. Same needs to be here.

3. Needs to have an upgrade path. If 100,000 of these simple businesses get created a few will get popular, like StockTwits has. That’s when you will need to hire real developers to add some other features and build out iPhone apps and all the rest of the things a modern business needs now.

4. Needs to have Rackspace’s famous service. Run into trouble, or need some help building something out, even at 2 a.m. on a Saturday? Gotta have the same business service Rackspace is famous for.

What kinds of things will Rackspace need from Twitter to make this happen (if it happens at all)?

1. A decent service agreement that will let Rackspace host Twitter’s firehose real time stream and clone it many, many times. Also, needs to have a way to keep a database of several months’ worth of Tweets (I’d prefer to have a database of all Tweets, but I understand that Twitter doesn’t want to enable shadow Twitters or real-time search engines).

2. Access to all the metadata around Tweets. The real value in Twitter is no longer just the Tweets themselves, but new businesses will need access to what lists people are on, how many times the tweet was retweeted, geolocation data, and more.

3. If Twitter comes out with a “supertweet” (a new display surface/metadata payload that gets included with each Tweet) then we’ll need access to that and we’ll need a clean revenue-sharing agreement for any ads or affiliate networks placed on this supertweet.

4. Need an easy to understand, and affordable, licensing agreement for the firehose feed.

Anyway, what do you think of this idea? Would you use it if it were built? What other kinds of things would you like to do with Twitter’s real-time firehose feed?

World-brand-building mistakes France's entrepreneurs make

Traveling Geeks

On Tuesday I joined up with the Traveling Geeks (a band of journalists/bloggers/influentials who visit startups around the world, picture of them above in a Paris subway station) in Paris and we saw a ton of startups. Some of them, like Stribe, were very good. But overall they just didn’t measure up. In fact, they even got me to be rude to them, which caught everyone off guard. I’ve been thinking about why they got me so angry ever since, and that’s what this post is about.

First, if you meet with journalists, influentials, and bloggers who are coming from outside your country I assume you want to build a world brand. After all, if you only want to be big in France then why waste your time meeting with USA journalists?

So, since you were meeting with us and since we’ve spent precious resources getting there and had sizeable opportunity costs, I figure entrepreneurs should be better prepared. In this case you get to learn from their mistakes.

1. Don’t be on Twitter. This was a HUGE mistake many French CEOs made.

Four CEOs told me their companies weren’t on Twitter and that they didn’t have enough time to join Twitter. That got me quite angry. Why? Because in the room were people with hundreds of thousands of followers (and not just me). If you aren’t on Twitter I can’t follow you, I can’t pimp you after the event, and I can’t follow up with questions. IT IS A MAJOR TURN OFF. But it’s worse than that. The world’s tech press is on Twitter, so if you say you don’t have time to join Twitter you are telling 500 tech journalists who ARE on Twitter that you don’t have time for them. Well, then they’ll say back they don’t have time for you. But worse than that, I have a list of 500 tech startups and a separate list of 400 older tech companies (I will soon be making a new list of startups, because Twitter limits us to 500 accounts per list and I already know of lots of other startups). These are companies you should be watching and partnering with. If you watch them you’ll get tips of how other companies are working with influentials and also creating buzz (and you’ll be first to see when other companies are getting news, so that helps you talk with journalists).

Luckily I’ve found 500 tech company founders who ARE clued in and found Twitter to be important. Why is Twitter important? Well, it might have to do with the 422 venture capitalists and angel investors who are on Twitter or the hundreds of tech company executives (these are your exit possibilities!!!) who also are on Twitter. If you know of people who should be on this list that I don’t know about, please leave a comment here. By the way, when I told off the entrepreneurs sitting next to me a CEO whispered in my ear “I agree.” Who was that CEO? Kamel Zeroual, CEO of Stribe. Who is Stribe? The French company that won best of show at LeWeb, the world’s biggest independent web conference. He and his company are one of the few that were on Twitter.

2. Make lame and anemic marketing materials. First of all, if you really want to look lame with a group of bleeding edge tech journalists, please use PowerPoint. It puts us to sleep.It was amazing how poorly some of the entrepreneurs did at this. But, if you need to share information with us, please use Google’s Docs. Do NOT send around Word Documents or PPTs. Why? Some of us don’t have Word loaded anymore and some of us have limited email space (I know tech journalists that already have filled up their Gmail account, for instance). Also, some of us do all of our journalism on mobile phones now and it’s better to have documentation available on the cloud. It also marks you as “with it.” It also is more likely to get through my spam filters for some reason. Finally, the documents should include a link to your Web site, a link to your key Twitter accounts (you ARE on Twitter, right?), a link to your Facebook Pages (you turning down interactions with 350 million people? What, are you NUTS?), screen shots of your best features, your company logo in many different sizes (so we can copy and paste it into blogs), and contact information for ALL of your top corporate executives.

2b. Don’t do a YouTube video of your product. Look at Appsfire Contest Winner Sketch Nation’s YouTube video. THAT HELPED IT WIN (I was one of the judges, here’s a list of all the winners and here’s a video of the awards’ announcements). If I didn’t have a video I would NEVER have gotten how cool this iPhone app is. (Note that Sketch Nation is on both Twitter and YouTube).

3. Don’t do a demo. One company talked to us about their robots, but didn’t bring one to show. I’m sorry, I do videos. Seeing a PowerPoint slide presentation is NOT acceptable in today’s age. Do a demo. Compare to what Pearltrees CEO (also a French company) did. Oh, and Pearltrees is on Twitter. So is its CEO. Is it any wonder that Pearltrees got on CNN today?

4. Don’t worry if your product is on an industry battlefront. If you read any tech blog, or tech news site, or better yet, follow Techmeme, you’ll see a common set of themes. I call them battlefronts, because if you land a great product on a battlefront you’ll get noticed. Some common battlefronts right now? Mobile. Real time. HD video. New payment systems. New identity systems. Etc. If your product doesn’t fit into a common battlefront you better explain why not and why the entire tech press should consider your company a new battlefront.

4b. Don’t worry about your competition, or even better, don’t have any at all. Listen to how Deezer’s CEO, Jonathan Benassay, took on Spotify (his competition) on stage at LeWeb in the Music Reborn panel I ran (Deezer knows its competition and positioned it well, any wonder why it already has 18 million unique visitors a month and isn’t well known in USA yet?) Anyone who says they don’t have any competiton immediately gets marked as a loser in my book (see point #4a). I heard that too often this week.

5. Don’t know anything about the hot app or news of the day. If I ask you what you think of Foursquare or Red Laser (#1 iPhone app) or Gowalla (they just got $8 million in funding) and you say “I don’t know” you instantly mark yourself as someone who doesn’t care about the industry and isn’t actively looking at new things to see if there are any good ideas inside. I kept hearing this from French Entrepreneurs, which is why I got so mad. Sorry, it’s 2009. If you aren’t on Twitter you are lame. Period. If you haven’t tried Foursquare and have a reasonable explanation of why you like it or don’t like it you are lame. Period.

6. Don’t pitch to specific people. If you are speaking to Mike Arrington, founder of Techcrunch, or Dana Oshiro, writer for ReadWriteWeb, don’t read their blogs for the past week. That seemed to be the approach some entrepreneurs take. Oh, and don’t pull them aside and make a custom pitch for their blogs. No, that never works, does it? (Seriously, ask Brian Solis how he does it. Or Jeremy Toeman, who helped many companies win best of show at CES and get companies like PogoPlug and Sonos tons of great PR. The best companies ALWAYS do a custom pitch).

7. Don’t bring business cards. Worse, don’t include your email and Twitter addresses on those cards. I guess they don’t think we might have some new questions to ask once we get back to our hotel rooms and try their products? Nah, no one will ever try their products, right? The best CEOs also give me their Skype and Google Talk addresses. It’s amazing how often I’ve needed something in the middle of the night. Even right now it’s 9 p.m. and if I were writing about your company I might need more info. Mike Arrington often calls execs at midnight to complete blog posts, by the way (I’ve seen him do this and it pays off with a better blog from him).

8. Don’t visit the United States and build relationships with a good cross-section of bloggers and journalists. How did I meet Patrice Lamothe, CEO of Pearltrees (a French company)? In San Francisco. How did that pay off? He’s on CNN today and we had a great fireside chat on stage at Leweb (watched by thousands in audience and tens of thousands online).

Anyway, these are the mistakes I noticed French Entrepreneurs making. Of course, if you said that not just the French make these mistakes, you would be right, but it’s their week because of the big LeWeb conference that just finished.

Of course, maybe the deck is stacked against French Enterpreneurs. When Deezer’s CEO pointed out on stage at LeWeb that he had 18 million unique visitors a month I asked “why have I never heard of you then?” He answered “because we’re French.”

I should have answered back “no, it’s because your Twitter feed is French.” :-)

Got any other mistakes that entrepreneurs make when trying to build a global brand? Leave a comment here.

He answered “because we’re French.”