Is 2011 like 1994 for Apple, Twitter, Facebook, and the Web?

Fact: In 1994 I thought Apple was going to own it all. By 1999 most magazines thought it was dead.
Fact: In 1992 Pointcast shipped. By 1999 it was dead.
Fact: In 1994 Microsoft was beta testing a system called “Blackbird.” They killed it before shipping it. It was designed to compete with Pointcast and AOL, both walled garden approaches.

What changed the course of all these technologies?

Developers and content producers.

I remember Pointcast well. I uninstalled it within weeks of trying it. It was seen back then in the same light as the iPad is today. “Cool.” “Revolutionary.” “Fun.” “Going to save publishing.”

Lots of people thought it was killed by lack of low-cost Internet (their business just didn’t work back then. Remember, back then we were paying to use CompuServe and Prodigy and AOL to connect to the Internet. Compare to now when I get free Internet from businesses I use. Just yesterday I was using wifi in an oil-change place in Silicon Valley).

No, what killed Pointcast was its lack of openness. At least that’s why I uninstalled it.

It was beautiful. Just like Time Magazine is on the iPad.

But it pissed me off. Everytime I’d read an article in it I’d try to tell someone else about it. I couldn’t. There weren’t any permalinks and the baaaahhhhssstttaaaarrrrdddddssss were so greedy that they made it impossible to copy and paste text from it.

Sure seems a lot like Time Magazine does on the iPad.

Guess what? I’ve already uninstalled that and the Wall Street Journal and New York Times apps are next. They suck. They suck the same way that Pointcast did. Greedy baaaahhhhssssttttaaaarrrrdddddsssss who don’t want me to tell anyone else about their awesome content. Well, it sure is pretty. Gag.

So why haven’t I returned my iPad if its major content partners behave just like Pointcast’s did? Because, well, the iPad does so much more and has a Web browser that hasn’t yet been limited like Pointcast’s content displays were (and Time’s and WSJs). My fight is not with the iPad, but with the old-school media publishers. Luckily there’s other ways to get their content (get the Skygrid app, it’s most excellent) too. So, they can look pretty and collect money from people who don’t realize just how limiting these apps are (Time did get my $5, but not anymore).

What did Pointcast in (content publisher greed) isn’t what did Apple in, though. No, that was all about the closed arrogant system that Apple had built. It turned off developers by the droves.

Not that Apple was all that wrong. They were trying to protect users from ugly apps. They saw the Macintosh as “art” while Bill Gates had no such delusions. Bill told developers “build” and even gave them a tool that looked like a modern Hypercard: Visual Basic. Apple in the meantime killed Hypercard because it enabled normal people to build really ugly and wacky apps.

What did Steve Jobs do yesterday? Told the normal people “you will NOT build apps on my beautiful machine.”

Now WHY would he do such a thing? Well, for one thing it might Steve trying to return the favor Adobe paid Apple when Adobe didn’t support OSX.

Nah. Steve has bigger visions than that. Here’s my theory: Steve knows that apps are lockin. They lock users into a platform. Heck, so far I’ve spent $200 on apps for my iPad. So, now, if a competitor comes along (say from Google) they have to convince me that their machine is worth more than $200 more to get me to switch.

But what apps are really getting people to buy? Well, Appsfire has been tracking the most popular iPhone apps and you’ll see that just a small number generate most of the revenue (and, more importantly, PR attention) for Apple.

So, what does Apple need? Is it more apps? No way. At 130,000 apps Apple already has enough apps to keep a sizeable lead for years over its competitors like Google’s Android OS.

No, what Apple needs is better quality apps. So, does Apple care about templated apps or ones developed in Flash or some other cross-device language/system? No way.

In fact, if anything, Apple does NOT want developers to develop apps for other hardware at all, or if it must, it wants the apps on other platforms to suck and suck visibly. Just like today. Tweetie (which was just purchased by Twitter, more on that in a second) is a LOT better than Seesmic or Twitroid on Android. Steve Jobs LOVES when that happens because it keeps you locked into the iPhone and iPad.

So, how does Steve Jobs make sure that the best developers work on iPhone and don’t work on building systems that make it easy to port apps from iPhone to Android or Microsoft’s new Windows Mobile 7, or to Nokia or to RIM’s Blackberry (which is VERY hard to develop for)?

Well, easy, make it against the rules!

This pisses everyone off, because they thought that they would be able to hire one development team to build for all platforms, but now they’ll have to build two development teams: one for the iPhone and one for everything else.

This guarantees that apps will suck on everything else, but will be fast and special on iPhone. Why? Because, well, if you hire a developer who can do Objective-C that developer is generally going to be a lot more talented than someone who can only do Flash. That developer will come up with some cool new features that the Flash or .NET versions won’t have (or, even worse, can’t have because those systems must compile to a lowest-common-denominator).

Steve Jobs wins this game. Why? Because he — unlike in 1994 — controls the developers.

Will that change? Only if enough of the world’s top developers vote against their own self interest and develop for other platforms. We already have an example of one: Joe Hewitt, who is the guy who wrote the Facebook app for iPhone. He said he isn’t building apps for the iPhone anymore. Already on the iPad there’s one HUGE app that isn’t there: Facebook’s.

Until at least 20 other of the top 100 iPad/iPhone developers join him this won’t matter and Steve Jobs has control. Will others join Joe?

ONTO TWITTER

So now Twitter is showing its own version of causing trouble with developers in order to move to the next level. What did Twitter do? In the past few days they’ve released a Blackberry client and bought iPhone developer Tweetie and said they intend to rerelease Tweetie for free under the Twitter brand.

This was like a bomb going off in the Twitter developer community as developers like Seesmic and Tweetdeck realized they had a new competitor: Twitter itself. How unplatform like!

But what really is going on is Twitter is about to unleash SuperTweets (well, OK, Twitter will probably call them something else, but the effect is the same). What are SuperTweets? A new metadata display surface that goes along with Tweets so a new form of advertising can be born.

This is why Twitter needed to do its own clients to ensure that SuperTweets would be seen by enough of its users to make them valuable and also to ensure that other client developers got on board. Tweetie is now a stick that Twitter can use to get everyone else in line, just like Mark Suster says Salesforce did after acquiring Koral: explain the new opportunities that SuperTweets (or whatever they will be called) will bring to all developers.

Now it’ll be interesting to see what Seesmic does in reaction to the beating they seem like they are taking (ala on Techcrunch too!).

Personally I see a great way for Seesmic to come out on top: add curation features. If Seesmic had that I’d switch to it instantly and start building exclusive content for its real time system that it could then push to its own clients and sell advertising for. That’s how it’ll dig out of its hole, but not sure that Loic is able to see this. He’s about to announce a new platform that gets VERY close, though, so it wouldn’t require much more work.

Seesmic has a major chance to make everyone else look like Pointcast. Dave Winer shines the light on the situation. I sure need curation features, will be interesting to see who delivers them first.

FACEBOOK WAITING IN THE WINGS

The question I’m hearing over and over as I visit entrepreneurs is “how open is Facebook going to get?”

I am hearing rumblings that Facebook is about to explode its own bomb at its F8 conference: one that makes everyone realize just how serious Facebook is about becoming the connective tissue of Web services and sites. I don’t think we’ll hear the real leaks until after Twitter’s Chirp conference is done (Twitter’s conference is this week, Facebook’s is next).

Anyway, all these words are about one thing: there’s a fight between closed systems and open systems going on right now, just like there was between Pointcast and Blackbird and AOL one one side in the 1990s and the Web on the other. We know now that the Web won.

Will it win again?

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

75 thoughts on “Is 2011 like 1994 for Apple, Twitter, Facebook, and the Web?

  1. It's not just that Adobe has been developing *primarily* on windows, it's that they didn't even bother to fix the Mac Flash runtime, despite YEARS of Apple telling them to get with the program and quit spinning in a loop calling WaitNextEvent(). Flash is far and away the #1 cause of app crashes on the Mac. Apple's not about to let them do that to the iPhone.

    If Adobe had shipped a decent Flash implementation on the Mac anytime in the last freaking decade, Flash would be something Apple would WANT on the iPhone. Adobe blew it. They have nobody to blame but themselves.

  2. Facebook has been trying to hire their first Cocoa Touch expert for quite a few months now. (Joe Hewitt is NOT one, the Facebook iPhone app was his first attempt, and it shows) The reason they haven't been able to to do so is that they refuse to understand what market they're shopping in. There's an iPhone/iPad gold rush going on, and people fresh out of a three-day developer camp can pull down $100/hour. Developers with a couple of years of solid Cocoa expertise are making $200 to $250/hour.

    Meanwhile, Facebook refuses to believe that they have to pay above their standard java-monkey rates, and there are are a hoarde of body-shoppers pinging everyone who ever posted to Cocoa-dev@list.apple.com hoping to find someone willing to work for Facebook for $50/hour or a $60K salary.

  3. I can't help feel for Adobe, but ultimately they've screwed themselves and it's biting them in the arse. Why? They chose Windows as there primary development environment. I like twitter and their Laissez-faire platform (even if they've just filled in the hole). If you're a company developing third party apps, don't expect to make any real money tho..

  4. Well I dont think.. while talkign about apple dont forget that japanese approach of business is totally opposite to american.. I hope they must are thinking for future 10 years to.. as we see in case of other products still are going far beyond from other.. just becoz of palning at the right time.. and giving the product when it was needed…. so hoping for best

  5. Mac / PC
    Iphone OS / android / RIM BB OS / Windows mobile
    Blogger / overblog …
    Twitter / FB…
    It's allways the same problem. Never how to help user and build better open systems, just how to make more monney.
    It's just…pathetic

  6. Seesmic could become a great publisher/curator platform with news sites fully based on Twitter lists and streams and and/or other news sources. What a fantastic network that could be. We alone would build hundreds of themed curated news sites.

  7. Thanks, Robert. Killer post. Openness has to win out. Every ecosystem has a survival instinct and openness is critical to the organic and long-term growth of the web. Those that seek to close it down will do so until their efforts threaten the system themselves and then they shall wither on their own vine. History will repeat itself and lessons will be re-learned.

    Simon

  8. I think many people miss the importance of the Apple as a business in this whole argument. Yes, Android has an open platform that allows for huge innovation, and per one of the comments above, maybe Android will even be in microwaves, cars, televisions, automation systems, etc. But nobody seems to take into account that Apple makes devices for both the average consumer, and for the power user that knows how to use the system. The iPad is undoubtedly made for the average consumer; I, for a fact, know about a dozen people who bought iPad that have never owned a computer in their life. And they don’t want to. But they can use iPad, get movies, books, music, pictures, and podcasts, and they’re set. Android is made for that power user. Like Macbook Pros and Mac Pros. Android has a huge set of features that the average consumer doesn’t care about. The iPad can’t do Flash; ok, but most of the Flash sites that the average consumer (which is a FAR bigger percentage of buyers than the power user) use, are either being redone in HTML5 or have apps in development. And those that resist the change; they’re going to be left in the dust. Because the numbers show that iPad is selling well, and it’s going to continue to.

    Bring this all back together, what you get with Apple is an experience. There are no Android retail stores. There are few places you can go to test Android products, have knowledgeable people answer questions, play with the products for as long as you want, and have someone walk you through, step-by-step, to set it up. And again, for this average consumer, this is a very important thing.

    Maybe you can’t share content from the Time Magazine app for iPad. But you know what…most people don’t care enough. They’re still going to buy it, they’re still going to read it, and eventually, the feature will come. Could 2011 be like 2004? Maybe. But if 2011 is going to be the futuristic 2011 we all thought of, then Apple needs to continue preventing half-assed applications and Flash based garbage from their platform, so it works in a futuristic manner. I love Hulu, but I’ll give it up on the iPad so I don’t have to deal with Flash killing my battery.

  9. I think many people miss the importance of the Apple as a business in this whole argument. Yes, Android has an open platform that allows for huge innovation, and per one of the comments above, maybe Android will even be in microwaves, cars, televisions, automation systems, etc. But nobody seems to take into account that Apple makes devices for both the average consumer, and for the power user that knows how to use the system. The iPad is undoubtedly made for the average consumer; I, for a fact, know about a dozen people who bought iPad that have never owned a computer in their life. And they don’t want to. But they can use iPad, get movies, books, music, pictures, and podcasts, and they’re set. Android is made for that power user. Like Macbook Pros and Mac Pros. Android has a huge set of features that the average consumer doesn’t care about. The iPad can’t do Flash; ok, but most of the Flash sites that the average consumer (which is a FAR bigger percentage of buyers than the power user) use, are either being redone in HTML5 or have apps in development. And those that resist the change; they’re going to be left in the dust. Because the numbers show that iPad is selling well, and it’s going to continue to.

    Bring this all back together, what you get with Apple is an experience. There are no Android retail stores. There are few places you can go to test Android products, have knowledgeable people answer questions, play with the products for as long as you want, and have someone walk you through, step-by-step, to set it up. And again, for this average consumer, this is a very important thing.

    Maybe you can’t share content from the Time Magazine app for iPad. But you know what…most people don’t care enough. They’re still going to buy it, they’re still going to read it, and eventually, the feature will come. Could 2011 be like 2004? Maybe. But if 2011 is going to be the futuristic 2011 we all thought of, then Apple needs to continue preventing half-assed applications and Flash based garbage from their platform, so it works in a futuristic manner. I love Hulu, but I’ll give it up on the iPad so I don’t have to deal with Flash killing my battery.

  10. Re: 1994… I'm glad you think the Time app is beautiful, Robert. I do, too. As to your assorted concerns that you can't share it or email it yet—yup. We know. I worked at Pathfinder in 1994, believe me. All the lovely Web 2.0 stuff you can imagine, subscriptions, etc. and more is coming. We're not that dumb.

    Our problem was we had all of 40 days to develop an app, and we thought it best to get out there with something—even if it's limited in its functionality—than waiting until we had a somewhat richer feature set. (at ever happened to launch first, than iterate like crazy?)

    That said, as far as outbound links, we deliberately eschewed them in the padgazine. Why? Well, the Pad has an excellent browser, called Safari, and Time has an excellent website, called time.com. Try those things together. You'll get a wonderful version of Time and plenty of links.

    But we believe that the padgazine is a wholly different experience than the web—we know, for instance, that people spend WAY WAY more time inside the mag than they do on websites. Different media require different approaches.

    Cheers.

    Josh Quittner
    Editor at Large, Time Magazine

  11. Andy – Sounds like you have made some amazing strides, awesome.

    Time is definitely a factor as is content as you mentioned.

    My favorite analogy is a twist on an old one: Brick by brick.

    Everything you do is some kind of brick that moves you upward. Every comment. Every post. Every conversation. Some bricks are tiny, a pebble. Others are big bricks like a big blogger picks up something of yours (which happens over time).

    Time is a major factor (as I'm still learning as well…since patience is not a big trait of mine)…but giving people the ability to share easily is so important. Maybe one person will share it or 1,000 but making sure it is easy. Just my few cents.

  12. David,

    Although I agree with your comment about the “share-ability” factor it's a little disheartening for me — because that must mean that I need better content. It's true, I think I can always get better content but I've had some amazing guests on my site.

    I'm guessing the other factor is time. I've only been seriously blogging for about one year and I've made incredible strides. I guess I just have to out-work the people like you and GV :)

    You made some great points and I look forward to checking out your site regularly.

Comments are closed.