Saturday, April 24, 2010

How the Web 2.0 crowd tore the internet a new one

I hate the term web 2.0, but I didn't realize why until I heard the mid-level corporate drones' (they grouplearn these things together at conferences) formulaic explanation of it: "social." They couldn't be more wrong.

The motivation for seeing it as social is a combination of bubble poster children Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. What they neglected to look at is the beginning of the trend with Google. Expand that list a little and you'll get Google, YouTube, Flickr, Digg,, and Pandora. Yes, some of them have thriving communities, but at the same time, some have downright toxic communities. What they actually have in common isn't "social," it's a focus on user experience and a blatant disregard for profits. That's it. What made Google so great was that it wasn't Yahoo's bloated, traffic-driven portal; it did one thing and it did it well.

The key is that none of the ideas were particularly new: personal home pages, search engines, and streaming media all existed in the late 90s, only now, a combination of dedicated engineers, improved technologies, a focus on usability, and someone else's money made it possible for some flavor of these to enter the public conscious.

So what's an established company to do? The conference you're overpaying for keeps claiming the future is in "social." Unfortunately, I'm answerless, here. A bit like Mp3s, Web 2.0 opened a Pandora's box of consumer expectations. People have come to expect a quality experience with few ads, and this simply isn't something most companies can afford to offer. The good news is that most of the obvious changes are already done and most of the displaced web 1.0 products are already deprecated. That said, this newfound focus on the user is fundamentally a disruptive market force, and while simply slapping a tag cloud or user accounts (with avatars!) on your product will make you more "social," it won't change the nature of the product.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pastiche of Success

This is the first part of a two part series, but don't think of them so much as sequential, but as loosely related observations, or maybe corollaries.

I don't think I ever said this directly (it seemed so obvious only an executive would appreciate it): build a product people actually want. This is an anonymized snapshot of a company that successfully failed to do just that--though not quite.

It supposedly started out with a focus on its product, though in hindsight, that might just be a generous interpretation of the good old days. It soon found its business model to be less than profitable, and rather than simply folding, it entered survival mode...and never left it. It found profit, but at the expense of becoming aimless and fragmented, pursuing any random, but profitable, quasi-relevant venture it came across, and clearly a market follower without the focus or resources to follow through.

This is really a no-man's land for a small company. One on side, it's competing with large companies and their massive resources, while on the other, its competing with the new ideas and revolutionary spirit of startups. There are really just a few directions for the company to go: down the same path, happy to take a profit in anything too dirty for other companies. It could rally around its core product, though it's probably a futile market. Or it could try to move into something different.

I doubt that the management will do anything particularly interesting; there's more talk of markets, profits, and exits, rather than, as I said before, making a product people actually like. In short, it's essentially a pastiche of success--a corporate wallflower; it shows up--to almost everything--but doesn't bother to actually dance.