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Friday, July 20, 2007

Get serious about Mashups "Foo Foo sh*t for college kids"

As part of my job, I get to meet and talk to many talented individuals and a wide variety of customers, ranging from the garage startup that just opened up in Palo Alto to scowly-faced old hodges sitting in dark brown leather chairs who have 3 levels of secretaries you need to weed through for a meeting.

The great part about this is that I get a learn a lot and hear opinions from all sides.

A very good friend of mine recently commented that “talk in his town” about those who kept talking about mashups mean those people are “college kids” doing “foo foo sh*t”. Another good friend of mine in Boston recently commented “Oh, a mashup. Yes, we did one too. They are just toys”.

And I can’t say that I completely disagree with these opinions, even though I personally think there is huge promise in the “core concept” of a mash-up. Everytime anyone mentions “mashup” and “making money”, half the audience in a room inevitably chuckle (about the making money part).

So I compiled a top ten list of how I think mashups should be marketed to cut the hype and get serious:

  1. Give a break to ‘user generated applications’. There is no evil in ‘service provider hosted applications’ – Mashups are not just great tools for the average joe to slap a great service together. They are equally important for ‘walled-garden’ providers to reduce their own time to market for new services and increase their ‘service attractiveness’

  2. Cut the acronym jargon and talk about core concepts. Mashups is not about “AJAX, Web 2.0, SAAS, DOJO, YUI, GWT”. You don’t need to put them all in one sentence for people to assume you ‘get it’. At the core of ‘mashups’ lie a distributed architecture, based on Web standards, which allow for creating hybrid applications.

  3. Give a break to YouTube, HousingMaps and GoogleMaps. A vast majority of services ‘out there’ are demonstrations on how you can scrape youtube for a filtered playlist, or place markers of some sort on google maps, with HousingMaps constantly being sighted as the “poster boy”. Mashups are equally useful in services that have nothing to do with maps or user videos. For example, how about using a mashup to integrate presence into conferencing (presence enabled auto-dialout of participants)?

  4. Goooooooogle Advertising. I am tired of hearing the eyeballs to revenue story. Think of innovative ways in which you can charge for a service that goes beyond ‘offering it free’ and hoping to make money from advertising. Why can’t you think of a differentiated service plan for accessing some ‘premium’ features of what the mashup provides ? And if you think people will not pay for it, why continue to talk about mashups as a viable business model ? For example, recently, Jeff Pulver’s FWD moved to a split model of free calls and paid for services. Now if Jeff were to add presence based dialing out to premium callers, that would be a valid business model, wouldn’t it ?

  5. Not just the browser. People keep touting that Mashups and browsers have an exclusive license to speak. Not true. A mashup can be rendered on any ‘User Agent’ that is compatible with the web standards required for the mashup. And this can also be local thick applications ! Every time someone mentions ‘browsers’ I see the entire mobile value chain of ISVs and OEMs cringe.

  6. Stop talking about ‘Web 2.0izing’ your world. What the bleeding hell does that mean anyway? Think about what value you are trying to bring using a mashup. Are you trying to create a platform where 3rd party video/voice/content can be integrated, say, using a common template language (like Google Mashup Editor for instance) for quicker development of services ? Say so. Are you trying to re-use other platforms and use their data to create your own service without the need to host the other data you are accessing? Say so. Any of this is better than saying “I am Web 2.0izing”

  7. Read about licenses before you talk about building “commercial” applications using ‘free’ platforms. I’ve seen many cases of eager engineers make great pitches about how he thinks he could create a service using Google or Yahoo platforms (pipes, gme etc.) without ensuring that these platforms allow for ‘free commercial usage’ (they sure allow free personal usage). Not understanding the legal limitations on 3rd party tools is embarrassing.

  8. The ‘bridge’ approach is better than the ‘build a new planet’ approach. If you are a firm believer in the Internet and mashup model, you don’t need to be a hater of all things legacy. People don’t ‘over-haul’ their lives, nor user experience expectations. People prefer to ‘change them incrementally’ for the better. So think of ways in which your mashup can make an experience better for an existing service that the user may be using (a bridge to a better way) as opposed to ‘throw your $30 phone away and buy a $499 iphone so you can run my mashup on their safari browser’)

  9. AJAX and mashups are not the same thing. AJAX is “one” technology (suite of). Mashup is an architectural concept. Besides AJAX there are other technologies such as Flash which a better suited for several environments (including mobile applications, including streaming related mashups). So don’t continue to needlessly bundle them together in concept and ‘market talk’ unless your product is doing that (special note to analysts here, who talk about the market)

  10. Patience. Build it. Business plan. Build it.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

EBAY and Trust

don't claim to be a heavy eBAY user. But, I do buy and sell stuff occasionally and my recent experience selling stuff on eBAY could be a good indicator of what is probably worrying the execs of EBAY: Managing scale.For the past month or so, I've been trying to sell a laptop on eBAY. I've listed the items two times already and here is what happened both times:

1. Within hours of listing, I get sent messages of two categories: People who want to cheat the sytem and barter offline and scammers with manufactured or stolen eBAY identities who want the "usual" information. I spend valuable time dutifully forwarding it to the security folks at eBAY.

2. During the weeklong listing, I spend even more time responding to form responses from eBAY and handling email discussions with CallCenter agents who plainly have no expertise in managing security.

3. During the last day or two of the auction, I will have three or four genuine buyers who I communicate with and keep engaged.

4. During the last minutes, I see bidding begin and notice my genuine buyers being beaten by scammers with stolen identities win the auction with outrageous bidding. I cannot do anything. Things move at the speed of the Internet!

5. I then get a "Congrats" email followed by a "sorry, the scammers beat us" email and to protect the integrity of the network (read: eBAY probably doesn't want this information getting public) the entire listing is removed.

This got me thinking and I've come to the following conclusions that you might or might not agree with:

- E-Commerce is now no different than regular commerce. An Internet business will initially probably have advantages due to the network effect, but in the end they will end up just like the other utilities: they will struggle to manage scale and offer a compelling service. My eBAY experience was no different than calling my telephone or cable company: Form responses, casual processes to address core business competencies, and frustrating customer service.

- Internet establishments will progressively develop a tiered system. The big customers will get all the attention and the small/occasional customers will not be able to take any advantage of the benefits the network provides. It won't be egalitarian like it used to.

- Secure E-Commerce is elusive. Internet businesses who depend on earning money through customers they trust will struggle to keep their infrastructure secure. There is a constant struggle between expanding the user base and offering a secure environment. There has to be a better way than the best computer scientists being routinely defeated by the dolts with a phone and a laptop from the most "backward" regions of the world.

eBAY is probably the most innovative of Internet businesses. Their annual report proudly states:

Our purpose is to pioneer new communities around the world built on commerce, sustained by trust and inspired by opportunity.

If eBAY is struggling to sustain trust, I shudder to think what the industry is going through. I am sure there is a venture opportunity in all of this! Know of any?