Are location geeks at Where 2.0 off the path to real money?

Location Geeks

Walking around the hallways at the Where 2.0 Conference today I met tons of developers doing some very interesting things with location, but they seem to be stuck in a mode where they think where you are right now is all that matters. The photo here is of Where 2.0 organizer Brady Forrest (left) and Mike Pegg, who works on Google’s location API team.

Look at organizer Brady Forrest’s blog from today about what the big conversations are or look at NextWeb’s report about one of the coolest startups to come out of the geo space, SimpleGeo. Everyone is talking about how to better display data about what is happening right now. Or what happened yesterday.

Actually where I am right now is pretty damn boring stuff. I’m upstairs typing on my iMac. Does that help anyone have a good experience? No. Because it’s 1 a.m. and I can’t meet with you, so having a meeting right now isn’t gonna be a good outcome. I’m also home in Half Moon Bay and most of you are somewhere else. Is some business happy if I check in right now on Foursquare, Gowalla, Whrrl, or Brightkite? No. They are all closed so they can’t offer me anything to get me to visit them. Not that I would at 1 a.m. anyway.

Would seeing what I did yesterday (along with thousands of other people) be interesting, as new company SimpleGeo says it would be? I found it really isn’t. Nothing that happened yesterday is as interesting as what we’re going to do in the future. This is why I am such a big supporter of Plancast, which lets me plan out my major events.

But there is no Plancast for location and very few people are thinking about that, at least based on my discussions with Gowalla, Foursquare, Google, and other developers working on location-based features.

Opportunity lost all the way around. Here’s why:

What am I doing right now that you, brands, my family, my coworkers, etc all would be VERY interested in?

I’m planning a trip to Israel. Just bought our tickets. That was last night’s chore.

Tonight? Starting to think about what startups I want to see, what hotels I need to get, what touristy things I want to do. I have tons of events that have already been decided for me, too, like Yossi Vardi’s Kinnernet camp, or the Marker Conference, one of Israel’s tech conference, or a party at the Garage Geeks. They are all in Google Calendar.

But I keep looking around for a good way to plan my life around location. One that hooks two-way into Google Calendar. I haven’t found it yet.

First, let’s go to Google and see what’s out there. I type “trip planning” into Google and what comes up? Lots of trip planners, but they all are pretty sucky when compared to the UI goodness of Gowalla or the location utility of Foursquare (as much as I am beating on them in this post, they both are improving my life, just think of how interesting these would be to use if I could say “I plan to check in here in the future” and it could build a map and experiences for me.

There’s Rand McNally. Oh, it’s for a roadtrip. Israel? Plus, it forces you to work in the way IT wants you to work.

TripIt? I love TripIt, but it’s not for mapping out your trip to a foreign country. It’s good for sending your emails from flight carriers like United to, though, and it will tell you a bunch of stuff about your trip. Useful, but I want something that lets me plot my trip on a Map.

How about NextStop? NextStop is close. It has places, it has maps, it has interactivity. What doesn’t it have? A timeline and integration with Google Calendar. For instance, look at this guide to places to visit in Barcelona. That’s pretty cool, but I need to plan out my calendar and let you know that I’ll be in spot #4 at 2 p.m. on Sunday. No real way to do that here.

How about Dopplr? Dopplr is cool if you are a social media geek because you can see who else will be in Tel Aviv during a trip there, but it doesn’t hook into Google Calendar, so doesn’t help me keep my schedule.

How about Pageonce, which lets you see data from United Airlines and add your Google accounts? So far it’s not close to what would be useful.

So why am I rambling on?

Because of two apps, one of which I saw last night at SF’s iPhone App Showcase: Address Assistant. The other is Siri, which we’ve covered before, but has raised my expectations of what an app can and should do.

On the surface, Address Assistant is pretty lame. You add it to your Google Calendar (yes, you have to give them your Gmail password, I already yelled at them about that but I did it anyway).

Then it does something very simple: it adds contact information into my calendar. So, I did a Calendar item that said “visit Orli Yakuel” who lives in Tel Aviv and it put all her info into the calendar item.

Why is that important? Well, now let’s take it a step further. I also use Gist, which shows me all sorts of social data about Orli, like what is her Twitter address, how many times have I sent her email, what’s her Facebook address, and a ton of other things.

OK, now look at what the system knows.

1. Google Calendar knows I’m visiting her on May 4 and attending her Techonomy event.
2. Plancast knows I’ll be at that event, and even has a map and knows other attendees.
3. Gist knows all about Orli and if Orli put her physical address into that, it would know that too.
4. Plancast also knows that I’m going to TEDx in TelAviv and Yossi Vardi’s Kinnernet Camp.
5. United.com, TripIt, and Pageonce all know my flight information.
6. NextStop knows that I searched on TelAviv and clicked on several items to read them.
7. Google knows I searched on “Jerusalem tours” and other terms.

What don’t ANY of these systems do? They don’t let me see my schedule on a map.

Opportunity lost.

Now, what if I could say to a map system like Google Maps “map out April 26-May5?”

Already Google Calendar has tons of information about where I’ll be and at what times and using a technology like what Address Assistant or Gist is doing, it could get quite accurate information about addresses, dates, times. It could then ask me how granular I wanted to get.

Let’s say there was a time slider along the bottom of the map. So I could slide from Tuesday morning to Tuesday afternoon to Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning to Wednesday afternoon and so on and so forth.

Let’s say I saw that I laid out my schedule badly, because I had us traveling from one side of Tel Aviv to the next. Could I just drag my appointments around on the map and reorder their schedules? Could that tell Google Calendar “things have changed?”

What’s my business justification for doing such a system?

Well, I just spent thousands of dollars on flights (Rocky and I are both going) and I’m about to spend thousands of dollars on hotels for the 10 days I’ll be there.

Advertisers can influence my purchases RIGHT NOW for a trip that won’t happen for a month.

Can they do that on Foursquare or Gowalla? No way. Google Latitude? No way. Google Buzz? No way.

It’s amazing to me that the Google Mapping team hasn’t shipped this already. Think of the billions of dollars in unsatisfied intent they are leaving on the table.

Could Facebook ship this? I doubt it.

Twitter? I doubt it.

Could Foursquare or Gowalla do it? Absolutely, but the check-in gesture these two are stuck on isn’t really appropriate. It’s more of a “I want to check in here at a future date” gesture.

Could such a system be useful when I head around TelAviv with Foursquare or Gowalla? Absolutely. It could notice that I am checking in on time according to my pre-planned schedule and could give me a badge for that. Or it could notice that I’m way off of my plan, and offer to renegotiate my afternoon commitments (as happens, maybe someone like Yossi or Orli kept us too long at lunch, or maybe we got caught in unplanned traffic).

What else could it do, though?

Well, we could leave wildcard spots open. For instance, let’s look at my plan for tomorrow. I have to meet Eric Ries in San Francisco at 9 a.m. The system should know I have to drive from Half Moon Bay to San Francisco. Can I leave 15 minutes for a coffee stop? Can the system use Siri to negotiate with the APIs from those coffee shops as to what is going to be the cheapest cup of coffee I could get? Sure!

Or, when I leave Eric’s place I’ll have an hour free for lunch. Could it use Foursquare to see what location between Eric’s house and my house has the most friends right now? Sure! Could it use Yelp to find the best reviewed fast-food restaurant on the way home? Sure! Could it hook up with Waze to warn me that someone has reported a traffic accident on the way home? Sure!

All of these are ways for businesses to advertise, negotiate with you over terms (Yelp already does this with its offers from businesses near you and so does Foursquare, it’s just that both of those systems only know about my location right before I get there if they are relying on the “check in” gesture). But I already know I will be in San Francisco next Monday and I will be in Tel Aviv on April 27th. Why can’t those same restaurants be pitching me now?

The focus on “here we are now” (or worse, games, like all the leaders are using) is leading the location based service industry down a path away from the real money and away from real utility and that’s a damn shame.

Or, do you think I’m headed down the wrong path? Let’s talk about it. I’ll show up on Google Buzz, Facebook, or on my blog’s own comments to discuss the location industry further.

The Seven Needs of Real-Time Curators

I keep hearing people throw around the word “curation” at various conferences, most recently at SXSW. The thing is most of the time when I dig into what they are saying they usually have no clue about what curation really is or how it could be applied to the real-time world.

So, over the past few months I’ve been talking to tons of entrepreneurs about the tools that curators actually need and I’ve identified seven things. First, who does curation? Bloggers, of course, but blogging is curation for Web 1.0. Look at this post here, I can link to Tweets, and point out good ones, right? That’s curation. Or I can order my links in a particular order. That’s curation. Or I can add my thoughts to those links, just like Techcrunch or VentureBeat do. That’s curation. Or I can do a video like Leo Laporte does and talk about those links. That’s curation. Or I can forward those links to you via email. That’s curation. The editor who sits in a big building at New York Times or your local newspaper that chooses what content you’ll see in your newspaper is a curator. So is the page designer who decides what story is at the top of the page.

But NONE of the real time tools/systems like Google Buzz, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, give curators the tools that they need to do their work efficiently. That’s why I’m writing this post, to try to get the industry to see that there’s an unmet need that — if they were met — would mean all sorts of things from better scrapbooks for family photos and events to better news systems like what CNN or Huffington Post are trying to build on the Web. More on that after I get through the seven things.

As you read these things they were ordered (curated) in this order for a reason. If you give me #7 without giving me #1 first your tool will suck and you won’t be used by curators. If you give me #1 without #7, you’ll be way ahead of some tool that gives me #7 only.

This is a guide for how we can build “info molecules” that have a lot more value than the atomic world we live in now. First, what are info atoms? A tweet is an atom. A photo on Flickr is an atom. A conversation item on Google Buzz is an atom. A Facebook status message is an atom. A YouTube video is an atom.

Thousands of these atoms flow across our screens in tools like Seesmic, Google Reader, Tweetdeck, Tweetie, Simply Tweet, Twitroid, etc.

A curator is an information chemist. He or she mixes atoms together in a way to build an info-molecule. Then adds value to that molecule.

So, what are the seven needs of real time curators?

1. Real-time curators need to bundle. We need to be able to bundle certain tweets together. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s say a news event, like an earthquake, happens right now while I’m writing this post. Which are the best 10 tweets that describe that event? Can we bundle those together easily? Bloggers can bundle, but making Tweets look like Tweets is actually pretty difficult for normal people and even for geeks like me. Gotta take a screen shot of the tweet, upload that, then build an image tag in WordPress, then link that image up to the original tweet’s permalink. Whew. What a lot of work for something that should be simple. This could look like tagging, but calling it tagging is pretty limiting because tags won’t get you to full curation. One question: why can we bundle Flickr photos together by applying a tag to them, but we can’t bundle Tweets together by tagging Tweets? For instance, here’s two photos I shot at Techcrunch’s offices showing their new TV team. How did I bundle those together? Simply by tagging them with “Techcrunch TV” tag. Now, what if I could bundle in Tweets about Techcrunch TV? How about a YouTube video? How about other people’s Flickr photos? How about photos on other services like Smugmug or Picasa? How about Google Buzz items? Now you’re starting to understand why we need bundling cross-platform so we can start pulling valuable atoms out of the real-time streams.

2. Real-time curators need to reorder things. Look at just those two photos. One is more important than the other. Now, imagine a bundle with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of items. Why can’t curators put the most important ones at the top of the bundle, just like the New York Times front page editor puts the most important news at the top of the page? Or, even better, why can’t we organize them into sub bundles? During an earthquake, like the one in Haiti, some things happened on first day, other things happened on second day, etc. Why are they all in one flat stream? Or, look at Apple’s iPad launch. Some things are about the specs. Some things are about the people involved. Some things are about apps. Some things are about accessories. Why can’t we organize them all into sub bundles? All curated in order of importance?

3. Real-time curators need to distribute bundles. Let’s say I put together a report for my bosses at Rackspace about what is happening at YCombinator (they just had a launch this week of a new crop of companies). Let’s say I built a bundle of not just the Techcrunch article I just linked to, but the Tweets from the event as well as the reports from other tech journalists like those who work at GigaOm, who also had a report on that event. Now we need to distribute that bundle. Of course we’ll Tweet it. But that means a headline of less than 140 characters that must include a link to the permalink of the bundle. But what about Facebook? That can include a thumbnail. Google Buzz? That lets you upload items with longer headlines and multiple pictures. What about emailing this bundle around the way Chris Brogan emails his blog posts. Why can’t a curation tool be smart about distributing bundles and let you see and manipulate previews of how that bundle will distribute itself to the various places you need your bundles to go to get the right audience.

4. Real-time curators need to editorialize. So, now we have a bundle of Tweets, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, Google Buzz items, Facebook status messages, et al. We’ve seen a new pattern in the world and now we want to explain our view of that pattern. For instance, I was at the YCombinator event this week. What if I wanted to add my two cents into the patterns other people saw? I might want to blog like here. Or add a video of my own. Or a Cinchcast (audio recordings done on my iPhone). Or add a bunch of photos I shot, like this one of Paul Graham mentoring his startups at that event with what they did wrong and right. But why did I just need to click “img” and copy and paste a URL to do that? A curation tool would let me drag and drop on my new iPad that I’ll have next weekend.

5. Real-time curators need to update their bundles. When the Haiti earthquake happened, the news story changed over time. We had more information and many many more Tweets to bundle in, not to mention that the mainstream press started flowing stories into RSS and Twitter. If you can’t update a bundle then it will greatly limit the ability for us to communicate. Blogs are pretty bad at this. If I come back in two hours and update this post you probably won’t see the update. In fact, not only can I update this post, but everyone who leaves a comment underneath is really updating it too. Yet early readers won’t see the later comments. They are missing part of the story. Of course, once you update you need to redistribute. IE, let your Twitter and Facebook and Google Reader friends know that the story has changed and there is important new information on the bundle that you need to see.

6. Real-time curators need to add participation widgets. On some bundles you might want to ask your audience to take a poll. Some might want to add comments. Not everyone will. Seth Godin doesn’t have comments on his blog. Other bloggers might want to leave comments open for a few hours or a few days. Even here I’ve made it so you can only comment for 30 days on my blog posts. Why? Because of spammers and other bad actors. I can see a TON of widgets that would be available to get participation on widgets. These would be a great way for these systems to monetize, too. Would you pay $1 to add a poll to your bundle? I would.

7. Real-time curators need to track their audience. Look at this blog post. It has a TweetMeme button on it. That shows you how often this item has been retweeted. I would add such a button to every bundle I do. I’d also add Google Analytics and a few other things that would track where you’re coming from, what kind of engagement my items are getting, and even, how relevant you are based on your own participation in the system. Don’t think that’s already happening? Look at the curation system Spigit built for large enterprises. I met with them yesterday and their system does just that and is getting used by many of the world’s biggest companies like Wallmart and Starbucks.

Does such a curation system exist today? Yes, blogs, but blogs are HORRID for tracking this real time world. Just this post took me 30 minutes to bang out and that was after I had it in my head and I wrote it very quickly. Imagine I was talking about a real time event. The news is already 30 minutes old. We need a new system for real-time curation of what’s happening on my Twitter stream.

It’s interesting that no one has gotten close to even giving us the most basic curation tools. Why is that?

Why are companies ignoring our needs? In talking with CEOs at companies in the real-time space I’ve identified a few reasons:

1. Building-cross-platform tools is difficult. Each real-time feed has different APIs and isn’t set up to interoperate with other real-time systems. Twitter has no API to share its feeds with Flickr. Flickr’s tags don’t have any idea what YouTube’s tags are. WordPress is blind to all of it. Etc Etc.
2. Fear of platform vendors. No one builds these kinds of features because they are scared that Facebook or Google will build these kinds of APIs and kill their businesses. Not unfounded, either. Tweetdeck built lists into its product and then Twitter came along and added lists in a way that was far more useful than the ones Tweetdeck built. So, companies like Tweetdeck and Seesmic choose to work on things that Twitter will be unlikely to do.
3. Assumption that these features are only going to be used by “weirdos or professionals or both.” I hear this all the time “oh, Scoble, you need these features, but what about normal people.”

The first two I can’t do much about. I agree that these are features that would be best built in at a platform level and have told many of the players to do that. But the third is provably false if entrepreneurs would do some customer research (shocking, but many San Francisco area social networking companies do very little real customer research, which explains why they so often screw up around privacy and fail to find new features that dramatically improve our lives).

Let’s consider the mother who has a 1-year-old son. She invites 30 of her friends to a birthday party for her son. They take videos, do Foursquare checkins, one or two might blog about the party for their mommy blogs. Many take photos, but some of those photos end up on Facebook. Some on Flickr. Some on SmugMug. Some on Picasa. Lots of them Tweet about the event, or Facebook status messages, or put some Google Buzz items up, not to mention FriendFeed, Whrrl, Pip.io, or other systems where you can capture your life’s most interesting events.

Now, how does that mother build an online scrapbook of all the items that were poured into the system? Sure you can use a tool like Scrapblog but how do you get Tweets into that? It’s not a curation tool for the real-time web.

Let’s also take on what would happen once we move into such a molecular world:

1. Search would INSTANTLY improve. (I need a whole blog post on why this is so).
2. Trends would INSTANTLY improve. (You’d have real meta data about important events, look at just the ordering data that would be available to study).
3. Brands would be able to advertise on bundles. (CocaCola would love to advertise on bundles of movie feedback, for instance, especially on bundles curated by the best movie curators — they will never advertise on raw tweets because the risk is too high that their brand would be next to something nasty).
4. A new monetization strategy would INSTANTLY become available for platform vendors like Twitter and Google Buzz.
5. Location services like Gowalla and Foursquare would be able to add real value onto bundles (showing location trends would be a key part of bundles, where they have no real play in augmenting “atoms” like Tweets or Flickr photos).
6. A new form of relevancy, credibility, and authority data would be available for systems to automatically present the best news. Look at how Techmeme appeared after blogging did. Imagine all sorts of new displays of best bundles that would now be possible. Even Techmeme would be able to recommend the best curators on topics, which would greatly improve the real-time news available there.

Anyone feel the need for this kind of new curation tool? Join in, please curate this post and push it around your networks. Let’s see if we can find some companies who are working on providing this new kind of real-time curation system. I’d love to work with startups who are working on just this. +1-425-205-1921 or scobleizer@gmail.com or leave a comment here and let’s work together in public.

Malleable social graphs and mini-mobs: why Facebook could destroy Foursquare and Gowalla with one check in

I didn’t write about the big location war at SXSW (between location-based apps like Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, Brightkite, Whrrl, and others). Why not? Because, well, MG Siegler at Techcrunch has been. But I did participate, and took notes and now I’m looking at what’s next:

1. These apps are great for creating “mini mobs.” I saw several happen at SXSW, including a party in the lobby of my hotel at 3 a.m. (I watched that form, saw it was fun, and got out of bed to join it). Check out the video of these “mini-mobs” being created and destroyed at SXSW.
2. These apps will really show their form when malleable social graphs arrive. What are these? Well, right now social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google Buzz have very un-malleable social graphs. IE, they don’t change who they present to you based on the behavior of your friends. More on that in a second. First the mini-mob video at SXSW:

If Facebook understands these two new capabilities and makes their location features do them even partially well they will decimate the newbies. Why? Well, today I visited San Jose’s hottest new park. Thousands of people have visited in the 14-days since the park has opened (it just got a $72 million upgrade). On Gowalla and Whrrl only two geeks had checked in at the park. Here’s the park on Gowalla. Here’s the same park on Foursquare. This is in the center of Silicon Valley, home of all early-adopter bubbles. These new services have NOT gone mainstream here and have NOT gotten enough adoption. Aside: this park rocks for geeks who have young kids.

Facebook, if it does these two features right will bring its 400 million users (Foursquare only has 500,000 or so) and could take away all the oxygen from this new group of services that’s trying to follow Twitter’s path to success (Foursquare has reached 500,000 users faster than Twitter did and is only a year old).

So, this is a warning to all the VCs who are ready to throw big money at Foursquare: Facebook could mess up this whole party and even if it doesn’t this is VERY EARLY DAYS for location-based services and the services themselves have NOT explained to any of us what they are useful for (they are useful for social media networkers like me, but not for the normal person — yet).

First, a cautionary tale. Facebook will also have to face the very real location backlash. These two posts show that location-based services help stalkers, Michelle Greer says, and help thieves, Nick O’Neill reports.

These are anti-forces Twitter and Facebook never had to face and will, I predict, prove to be why these services WON’T follow Twitter into the path of mainstream hype and acceptance. That’s why I’m looking for all of these to go down a different path: the path to malleable social graphs and mini-mobs.

My son walking on a pig at Happy Hollow park in San Jose

The way I found this path is fun. It ended up today at the new Happy Hollow park in San Jose (just reopened with a $72 million upgrade). The pictures that you are seeing here are mine, shot with my iPhone and Gowalla today. The kid you see climbing on the pig is my son.

Malleable social graphs, what are they?

Well, right now, if you are looking to go to a Napa Winery, or three, and you go to Twitter or Facebook everyone looks the same to you. But, now, check in in Napa with Foursquare and all of a sudden you only see people near you. I have more than 7,000 friends and when I tried this last week (I was visiting a startup near there) I only saw four other people. So, now I was talking with four other people who were on my social graph and who actually were located near me. Now, I bet I could text each of those four and ask them where to go and I’d get very good answers.

That is a malleable social graph. IE, it changes based on conditions you set in motion.

What are some other examples?

1. Check into “24″ (the TV show). Why would you see anyone who also isn’t watching 24? Now, if some of them say that there’s a new cool video on YouTube that is interesting, are they more likely to match your tastes than the general population? Absolutely yes!

2. Check into a car wash. I did today on Gowalla and Foursquare (here’s my photos and details on Gowalla). Now look at your phone. What businesses did Gowalla bring to you? Mine brought me a lamp store across the street. Dumb. That is NOT a malleable social graph. Why would ANYONE checking into a car wash be interested in a lamp store? How about showing where the bathrooms are? How about showing where the closest junk food places are to grab a snack? If Gowalla did THAT then it would be demonstrating a malleable business graph. Right now Gowalla doesn’t have either a malleable social graph, nor does it have a malleable business graph. It’s dumb about this stuff, that is a major opening for Facebook. Foursquare isn’t much better, although it does better with the social graph stuff (at least I only saw people near my carwash, unlike in Gowalla).

3. Check into politics. I told Facebook that I’m a liberal Democrat. So why am I still seeing Republican crap in my news feed? Facebook hasn’t implemented malleable social graphs yet and, so, its newsfeed is still presenting information to me that I might not care about and, in some cases, might actually make me angry.

4. Check into a London pub. Gowalla has this really cool feature called “trips.” Here’s one for London pubs. Does my social graph change if I complete a tour around all the pubs to show me all the other boozers who have visited London? No. But what if it did? What would that let my social graph do? Well, for one, if you are expert on London Pubs, like my friend Hugh Macleod is (he took me on a tour of such pubs a few years back) well, I bet he’d also be pretty good at finding the best pubs in Texas where he now lives. Which he is. Why would I take advice on pubs from someone who has never been in a real London pub?

5. Check into sushi. One of my favorite sushi places in San Mateo, Yuzu, has a few negative reviews. Why is that? It’s called the “masses are asses” problem on Yelp. Here’s what happens: Yuzu is a place that is awesome for advanced sushi lovers. I’ve eaten sushi all over the world in places like Tokyo, Yokohama, New York, London, and other places. I love advanced sushi. I look for restaurants who do sushi well. But most people aren’t like me. Most people don’t even like sushi. So, if they get dragged to a place like this they try to order “Americanized” sushi like, um, California rolls. Or fried crap I can’t even pronounce. That is NOT sushi. Anyway, these people, er, newbies, get to Yuzu and find that all the other “non-sushi” stuff sucks. So they rate it low. Me? I could care less about all that other non-sushi stuff when I am looking for a sushi restaurant, which is why I rate this place five stars. Now, Yelp does NOT have a malleable social graph. We can’t filter out all the “sushi newbies” who don’t like sushi anyway. So, this is a major way that Facebook can take over. Alikelist does a lot better at this than anyone. At least so far (I did two videos with that company to understand their view of malleable social graphs. I came away wondering how long it would be before Facebook buys Alikelist).

6. Check into movies. If I say I like Avatar why would I care about what someone who doesn’t like Avatar think of other movies? Yet I see their reviews on all the review sites. Malleable social graphs are needed to reorder movie reviews. Lunch.com tries to do that by asking you to compare movies and then finds people like you. Lunch.com is working on malleable social graphs and is largely seen as one of the best-positioned companies to compete with Yelp.com and other movie review sites because of it.

Anyway, I could keep going. This just gives you a taste of what malleable social graphs could do. Now let’s talk about mini-mobs.

Mini-mobs and how they will improve your life.

I’ve been in a few mobs. I remember one time when the San Francisco 49ers won the Superbowl and I was downtown and got caught up in it. Very scary, the mob surrounded my car and shook it, breaking the mirrors off. Not an experience I wish to repeat.

As my history teacher in community college used to say “the masses are asses.” Yelp is seeing some of the masses are asses problem, as we discussed above. So are other review sites. But Facebook was supposed to save us from these “masses.” After all, we’d only friend or follow our personal friends and people we knew and that would solve all the world’s problems. Well, it didn’t.

Why not? Because our friends still form mobs that don’t really give us the best experiences.

Talking with Bill

Look at what happened at SXSW this year: the crowds got so big that the experiences that some of us had weren’t as good as previous years. Jolie O’Dell says she’s not going back. I, too, felt that there was less goodness this year. Mostly because you couldn’t escape from the masses. Masses are fun for a while, but the really extraordinary experiences I’ve had have been smaller. Far smaller.

Look at this chat I was a part of with Bill Gates. I’ll forever remember it. Partly because it was Bill Gates, but partly because it was small, intimate, and focused. The best parties at SXSW were that way too, which is why I woke up to go downstairs to join the Revolving Door Party.

So, if mobs are bad but small mobs are good, well, then we need to encourage the production of these new, mini-mobs.

Zappos did that by driving a bus around Austin at SXSW. The bus had its own checkin, so you could join up there.

But what do you really want? Well, first, you need malleable social graphs that will show you people who are probably more likely to get along with you. After all, if you hate wine why would you go and hang out with Gary Vaynerchuk? So if you are looking to start a minimob, like he does (he moved his party to a new venue after it got too crowded and the lines got too long to create minimobs) wouldn’t it be better if your Facebook showed you four people near you who were like you? After all, Facebook knows who your REAL friends are. You know, the ones that are like you and the ones you interact with. Those stalker kids might look like you but you don’t interact with them and Facebook knows the difference.

See where we’re going with this? What if Facebook only shared your political thoughts with people like you? What if it showed you sushi restaurants that sushi lovers like me cared about (and only showed you when sushi lovers like you are in the restaurant)? What if it matched your movie tastes to yours and only showed you friends who also liked Avatar?

Wouldn’t that help you build minimobs that match your style and interests? Yes!

So, now, where is Foursquare or Gowalla or the others going to find the oxygen to survive the Facebook onslaught?

Well, it needs both and it needs both quickly. And those companies better be praying every evening that Facebook doesn’t get this stuff for a year or more. If Facebook comes out with a competent location system in April at its sold-out F8 conference this little “check in” game will be over. Sorry, none of these services has enough users to survive a competent Facebook.

My bet? It’s on Facebook but I will use Gowalla and Foursquare all the way until we see how competent Facebook’s offerings are.

See you at the end of April.

Oh, and while we’re talking about mini-mobs, I’m creating one of my own. Next Friday night at the Apple store in Palo Alto on University Ave. Come by anytime in the evening, I’ll be there all night until the store opens and I can pick up my iPad. Plancast has a way to plan our mini-mob, join the fun!

Where oh where did the great startup launch go? (Startup events have killed it)

I keep thinking back on the launch of Bug Labs, which was about the best product launch I’ve seen in recent memory, at least from a startup you’ve never heard of. They ended up going on to win one of CNET’s best of show at the Consumer Electronics Show last year and have done very well since.

You might not have seen that launch, but that’s because they did something OTHER than launch at a big conference.

What did they do?

1. They got intimate. Had dinner with four people. (Seesmic, by the way, launched when the CEO brought a bottle of wine over my house and he forgot to tell me that it was off the record).
2. They told a story. “Why is gadget design so hard?”
3. They involved and listened. “What would you like to build if you had a widget that snapped together like a Lego kit?”
4. They shipped a product that was interesting and useful and reflected market feedback. (Many of the ideas we gave them are now shipping modules).

But contrast that with all the companies you’ll hear about over the next day or two thanks to the Demo conference.

Quick, can you name a single company from last year’s Demo? I can’t. Here’s the list. Are you using any? I looked through the list and can’t think of one except for Evri and Symantec, both companies that didn’t launch specifically at Demo.

So, what is the difference between a story and a launch?

Well, look at how Jeremy Toeman’s company, Stage Two Consulting, helped Bug Labs launch.

Did they throw a big press conference? No.

Did they send out a stupid press release? No. (Jeremy never sends out press releases that I can remember).

Did they pay $18,000 to the Demo conference to get on stage (every company you’ll hear about this week did that)? No.

Did they bug Mike Arrington until he’d write about their company in Techcrunch? No.

He invited a handful of people he liked, trusted, and knew would be interested in a new kind of gadget, and had dinner with us.

At the dinner did we see the product? No. The CEO, Peter Semmelhack, talked to us and showed us a few blocks of wood and told us a story. “What if you could build different electronics by snapping together pieces like legos?” I remember him asking.

I remember Dave Winer and Ryan Block being at that dinner. Then he asked the group of us “what would you like to do with such a widget?”

It was a product launch I hadn’t seen before or since.

What did that do?

1. It was intimate so we got to know Peter, the CEO, in such a way now that if I see him walking in SF I always stop and say hi. If he called me to tell me that a new version is coming out I’d take his call and his number is already programmed on my cell phone.
2. It let us know a story about how the product was developed. One that I am using years later here. Free PR. It all starts with stories.
3. It made us feel emotionally connected with the product in a way I don’t feel for many other products.

So why doesn’t that happen anymore? Well, look at the launch of Democrasoft which will happen tomorrow. The Demo folks told them not to talk with press until Sunday night and threatened that they would be kicked off the stage if word leaked. Luckily a friend was helping them with PR and got me in touch early enough so I could get a video done (I sat down with the CEO on Friday afternoon and I had to drive four hours to go and see them.

But do I have video of any of the other Demo companies? Nope. Do I care about any of the others? Will I try their products? Will you? Will you be watching at work tomorrow to pitch after pitch? I doubt it and even if you will you won’t get much beyond the pitch.

Look at the video I filmed with Democrasoft’s CEO. It is 17 minutes long. They didn’t pay me a thing to film it. They are paying $18,000 to give a six-minute pitch at Demo tomorrow. You really going to learn anything useful in six minutes? I don’t. I have spent hours with BugLabs’ CEO and company employees and even I know only a very small fraction of how to use their product that I should know.

So, how did the startup event business kill a great demo?

1. They tell PR people that they better not leak or suffer real consequences. It’s not only Demo that does this, by the way. So does Techcrunch and other events. That keeps them from talking.
2. Because of the “no leaks” policy you won’t be able to pre-tell bloggers and Twitterers and journalists anything real about your company.
3. Because of the “no leaks” policy you won’t be able to let same photograph or video your product.

What does that do?

1. It keeps a really good story from getting out. Why? Because I need a few days to do a “pro” video. Note that the one I’m including here is NOT a “pro” video. Compare the quality of it to the ones we do over on building43 with two cameras, pro microphones, tripods, and editing where we overlay demo video on top of the interview. For instance, look at this video with Clicker, an online TV guide.
2. It keeps us from comparing notes. This afternoon I called both Mike Arrington, founder of Techcrunch, and Louis Gray, guy who got me into FriendFeed and well-known tech blogger, just to see if anything coming out this week was on their radar screen. Neither was pre-briefed on companies coming out so we weren’t able to compare notes. That means a really great company won’t receive the hype it deserves and might even be ignored. Why? Because if you give an exclusive to another site I might decide that you already got enough coverage and since you don’t think I’m that important I’ll think you aren’t that important. It isn’t fair, but Techcrunch actually has institutionalized this policy and won’t cover companies if they aren’t given a fair shot at “first look” coverage. I agree with their stance.
3. It keeps you from letting us talk to customers or potential customers about you. Think about it. If you give us a week or two we’ll call up your potential customers and learn a lot more about how they like or dislike you. That makes for better blogs. In fact, some companies even are prepared inside the demo format to get around this. CitySourced, during its TC50 demo, brought a customer up on stage as part of its demo. I thought that was genius and it almost helped them win the entire contest.

Anyway, why don’t we have interesting product launches anymore? Blame the demo conferences. Good luck with that $18,000 spend. Oh, and if you want to launch your company you can do what Democrasoft did: call me. +1-425-205-1921 or see you at the YCombinator Launch Event on Tuesday.

Oh, and to the PR person who told Democrasoft that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut until the embargo ended at 9:01 p.m. tonight, here’s the proof you are wrong. Congrats Democrasoft and I’m looking forward to using your audience-feedback-and-collaboration tool on this blog in the future.

UPDATE: sure enough as of 9:22 p.m., 21 minutes after the embargo ended, only VentureBeat covered the companies (VentureBeat runs the Demo Conference). Techcrunch and Mashable (both more important blogs for startups) didn’t cover the companies.

UPDATE2: does this matter? Well, the Google Buzz team didn’t show their service to anyone outside of Google. That turned what should have been a good launch into a disaster. We could have warned them about some of the issues they faced in first week. But they didn’t ask. The PR advice they got was wrong and actually hurt them.

Adobe smacks back Apple over iPad, again

There’s a ton of chatter on Techmeme today regarding iPad and Flash and HTML 5. Again. In particular don’t miss posts from ReadWriteWeb regarding Flash vs. HTML 5 speed and PC World’s comparison of HP’s new Slate vs. the iPad and how the focus will be on Flash.

Yesterday I sat down with top execs from Adobe’s Flash team. I filmed two videos:

1. A video demo of a variety of things Adobe announced at the Mobile World Congress, including a new Flash player for Android and Palm Pre (I played with it yesterday, very nice).
2. A response to Apple about Flash’s appropriateness for including on iPhone and iPad.

Why won’t the iPad have Adobe Flash technology? Anup Murarka director of technology strategy and partner development for the Adobe Flash platform and Aaron Filner, group product manager of Flash platform, focusing on AIR, answer some of the reasons why Steve Jobs doesn’t put Adobe Flash onto the iPad in one of the videos I filmed yesterday when I visited Adobe’s offices in San Francisco. Things like:

1. It will chew up battery.
2. It will crash or be buggy.
3. It doesn’t work with touch interfaces.
4. It won’t perform well enough.

They take on each of these complaints about Adobe Flash and explain what has changed with the Flash 10.1 player.

My thoughts? I’m buying an iPad anyway (we’re even having a party at the Palo Alto store all night on the evening of April 2nd) and I have iPhones. My life would be better if Flash shipped on iPad, but it doesn’t look like that will happen. So, developers are going to be forced to build two versions of their web pages if they care about reaching me as a customer and one of those versions will need to have no Flash or Silverlight (Apple is also resisting including Microsoft’s Silverlight platform).

But Adobe is doing a pretty good job of keeping Flash developers’ skills relevant. You can build apps for iPhones or iPads in Flash and compile them using some new tools that Adobe has been showing off and will ship before July. Even Adobe’s own Photoshop app on the iPhone was built in Flash and compiled using these new tools. That’s a compelling story.

I have to admit, though, that I will be checking out other competitive devices from Google and others. I already have a Droid, which will use the new Flash 10.1 player just fine and I expect I’ll check out the new HP tablet and, especially, ones that will come with the Google Chrome OS later this year. Those, I expect, will support Flash and that could be a big deal in future device decisions.

How about you? Will you decide not to buy Apple products just because they won’t run Flash in Web pages?

The Revolution at Work (the industry reacts to Salesforce's moves)

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, has been using the bully pulpit over at Techcrunch to tell everyone that how we work together is about to radically change to be more like how we are able to share photos and fun things with each other over on Facebook. He’s right, but I’m not sure yet Salesforce is really going to be the one to lead us into this new world. He recently told me what Salesforce is trying to do with its entry into this space, Chatter, and I got a separate demo of Chatter’s newly shipped beta on video. You should watch both of those to get up to speed on what Salesforce is trying to do.

Other companies like Yammer, SocialText, Jive, SocialCast, and others have actually been doing the harder foundational work here of trying to convince us all to bring socially collaborative services into our workplaces. Yesterday I sat down with Yammer’s CEO, David Sacks, and talked about the industry and what Yammer is doing (Yammer was first to bring microblogging streams inside corporate firewalls and won TechCrunch 50 two years ago because of that).

I’ve been going around this enterprise world trying to understand it. I recently visited SocialCast and talked with CEO Tim Young about how he sees this revolution taking shape (and how he views Salesforce’s entry into it). In the interview you’ll hear Tim tout his advantages: that SocialCast is runable both on its servers, but can also be run on your own servers inside your firewall, or on your own infrastructure. Enterprises in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and banking will want to do this and won’t go with the Google or Salesforce model of “run it on our servers, they are safe, promise.”

I also talked last week with SocialText’s founder, Ross Mayfield. SocialText was the first company into this new “Enterprise 2.0″ space and they just shipped a new version that has a much broader range of applications than SocialCast or Salesforce has (spreadsheets and wikis, to name two) that are integrated deeply into its socially collaborative streams. Companies that want a complete set of applications should look at SocialText.

But, now, don’t miss what Google did last night (it turned on the Google Apps Marketplace). It’s big. But even more exciting and potentially revolutionary was the Gmail integrated contextual apps extensions. These let developers integrate all sorts of enterprise data right into Gmail. You can see where Google will go next, right? An enterprise version of Buzz with these widgets integrated into Buzz messages. Salesforce is actually ahead in integrating its partners’ data right into its feeds with Chatter, but it’s clear that window will close pretty quickly as Google keeps building its Enterprise Reef (my term for all the various projects that Google is stitching together). If you are interested in the enterprise space, I’d definitely watch the video presentations from last night. Salesforce has a few million users, Google has 25 million users, so you can see the relative strength of Google’s moves. Salesforce must articulate a strategy of how it will both partner with, and differentiate from, Google’s reef.

After the presentations last night I talked with executives from Zoho, Atlassian, and other companies. They agree with Benioff that a revolution at work is underway. They are seeing sizeable sales and adoption into enterprises as we all change how we work from a file-based and email-based system of working to a socially-collaborative feed way of working.

This is also why the most important panel at SXSW will be the Activity Streams panel. All of these companies need to adopt standards-based stream formats so that they can easily interoperate with each other and all the data sources that will need to shove data and reports into our work streams of the future. I’ll be there and will report more on Saturday as I understand more about the state of the art.

Are you feeling this revolution yet? Are you changing how you work with others? Or are you still only using email and Microsoft Sharepoint to collaborate with your coworkers? If you are, beware, your work life is about to change big time.

If you work at a company like Jive, SocialCast, SocialText, or Salesforce, what do you think? Are Marc Benioff’s moves important?

Check in on this: can location-based services get any hotter?

If you’ve been reading Techcrunch or Techmeme lately you know just how in love tech bloggers are with location-based services like Foursquare. Just yesterday Facebook announced its intention to check in on this hot market.

Even the major players, like Gowalla, know that they must innovate to stay relevant. Gowalla’s CEO, Josh Williams, told me yesterday in a video interview that everyone knows that the check-in gesture will be a commodity pretty quickly, if it isn’t already (even Yelp added the “check in” gesture).

Gowalla and Foursquare this morning checked in new iPhone apps, both of which make the experience of using these services a lot nicer. You can see Josh showing me Gowalla’s new iPhone app in the video here.

Why do these matter? Because of three reasons:

1. By letting the world know your location you can enable a new kind of search. Yelp will show you restaurants near you. Foursquare will show you tips near you. Gowalla will show you tours, or trips near you.
2. Several of these let you play various games, like collecting badges, or just collecting cool locations. You can show your friends all the places you checked in on your European vacation, for instance.
3. A rolodex of your friends organized by location is very powerful. I use this all the time to setup meetings near me with new execs I want to meet.

Gowalla and Foursquare aren’t the only ones trying to thrive in this space, though. Brightkite, Loopt, Whrrl, Lunch.com, and others are releasing new versions this week and are trying to find communities that will love them.

But for me the real fight this week is between Foursquare and Gowalla. I’m using both and neither has come out with a set of features that make me totally want to use one over the other.

The longer term fight (IE, between now and June) is whether any of these will be able to defend themselves against Facebook and Google.

Google’s Buzz should give some of these startups some hope. Before Buzz came out I expected it to be much more competitive with Twitter and Facebook. After it arrived we realized that Google isn’t as smart in the social arena and I thought they might be.

Already Foursquare’s co-founder is saying that Facebook is losing its “real friendness” when compared to these newer services and he does have a point, but it seems it’s way too early to poke the bear. Ask Mark Andreessen how that works out (he made Mozilla seem far more important than it actually turned out to be and woke up the Microsoft bear which proceeded to chase Mozilla off of its lawn).

Anyway, this space is white hot and the next week will decide which team or teams will get to do battle with Facebook and Google in the real test for this space.

Can this area get any hotter? Will something surprising that none of us are expecting come out at SXSW?

One thing I like is just how articulate Josh Williams of Gowalla is on this space. Anyone interested should definitely watch this video.

By the way, if you haven’t read the Google Buzz thread on this topic yet, you should. I lay out why I still like Foursquare the best there.