Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hey Hey..Oh My?

I had a spirited conversation with Elad Baron, CEO of Bitwine, yesterday about the effect of real-time search, coupled with proprietary data stores (Facebook + Twitter come to mind). Bitwine, Elad, and his members live in the 'now' and soon to be 'now' world, so he follows this closely.

The conversation was spurred by Google's announced partnerships with Facebook, MySpace and Twitter for real-time updates to their search results. So, the real-time web has naturally spawned real-time search which unlocks another avenue to mine demographic/profiling information with intent. Probably a good thing for advertisers, definitely a positive for shareholders, and if advertisers get great results, it will accelerate the downward pricing trend for purchased 'bytes' (e.g. software, music, information).

But isn't it revealing that, in an era where billions of dollars are being spent on SEO and buying keywords to 'direct' traffic, Google (and MSFT's Bing) need to ink deals with vendors for access to data within their built proprietary applications? It's the inverse of the 'norm' where companies, beg, borrow, or steal (yes, that is SEO) search engine mind share. The world's gone upside down...or perhaps, reverting back to the status quo.

On one hand, it's great to see so much timely information available and innovators building oodles of shareholder value by adding utility for many in the value chain. On the other hand, we need to think about emerging from an era of proprietary applications, with attended vendor 'account control' to an era of proprietary data prisons, again with vendor 'account control'. We ought not only to be wary of the effect of data prisons, but also the impact on exposing so much data, often from quite young folk. For example, Facebook's recent 'update' of their privacy settings brought an outcry of protest from the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others.

It seems as if Twitter's yet to be announced advertising plan just may be the tipping point for a data vs access battle royale. Crawlers vs content. Unlike the traditional content business, however, in this case the content, or personal profiles/links are really proprietary, at least for awhile, to the content sites. Till recently, FB members could control who has access to their profiles, on the other hand, Twitter was far more 'open', enabling people to mine profiles of unrelated 'followers'. Postings to FB had a more intimate feel, Twitter for more universal content. Each building an ecosystem that balances breadth with depth, united in their interest to mine user data. These ecosystems are linking with each other, perhaps leading to a cacophony of time slicing for viewers, and maybe a lessening of the emerging power of the closed data systems.

John Battelle takes a look at the implications of an element of the strategic battle looming between FB and Google, as it pertains to the exposing of member data. So, it's fair to say that MSFT, GOOG, FB, Twitter, et al are preparing to, as Tiger reportedly said 'go ghetto' on access to the data which members entrust to their repositories. I would not be surprised if one of the scorned players, and surely there will be scorned players, raises a new front on the 'fair use' debate, broadening it from bandwidth, to data.

It's unclear if 'there's more to the pictures than meets the eye'

Friday, December 11, 2009

Time, again and again

In the past couple of weeks, while having a number of meetings with bankers and financial folk discussing the environment for Company exits, Fund fundraising, and valuation dynamics, I have also committed to a new investment in the commerce arena (more about this in a later post). Of course, the tenor of these meetings is quite different, but a common thread runs through them 'what's the prospects for future company performance' and its close sibling, 'what's the dynamics within the industry segment'?

The software and internet industries are known for shifting paradigms, false prophets and explosive adoption that create wonderful opportunities that, when they hit, truly are globe changing.

Marking a new decade is an arbitrary reference to the passage of ten consecutive years, with little significance beyond noting ten years passage from the previous arbitrary point in time. Yet, there is a perspective gained by the look back, if nothing else as My smart friend Larry says 'pattern recognition is one of the important things a VC brings to the table'. He's right.

Ten years ago, billions of dollars were (mis)spent around the Year 2000 'bug', Microsoft was touting Window 2000, the U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ordered Microsoft to be split in two, Apple was pushing iTools and iCards, and AOL was skewered by reviewers for it's latest 'upgrade'...'AOL: You've got bugs'. While we were busy debating all these issues, from nowhere came Facebook, Google, the iPod/phone, and the Wii. Disruptive Black Swans all.

Courtesy of the Internet Archive, here's a number of links, taken from Year 2000, that highlight the shifting sands that make our industry so 'interesting':

Apple's home page

AOL's home page

Amazon's home page

Computerworld's top 100 Companies to watch

Here's my favorite

All welcome to add your favorites too.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Just get us behind the wheel

In an important area, the internet has failed me and it took my son to put it into perspective. After too many years in my vehicle it's now time to pony up and get a new car. Following a time worn path, my son and I trekked to the dealer where our objective was to compare the handling of two interested models. It took us nearly 90 minutes to get into a car. Here's what happened:

1. we were first ignored;
2. then deemed unworthy for taking up the time with a 'Senior Consultant';
3. pawned off to a junior salesperson as the person we were speaking with was expecting an appointment to arrive soon;
4. told that it's too bad we are looking to buy a car this month ("last month we had much better deals")
5. explained that, despite purchasing 2 cars from this dealer, we were not 'loyal' customers because none were now being financed
6. asked to cut short a test drive (5 minutes into it) as the dealer was going to close soon and paperwork had to be done

My son put it best...'dad, these cars are great, if I were a salesperson, I would do everything I could to get someone behind the wheel and let the product sell itself'. Sadly, the salespeople we saw were unnecessary friction in this process.

This brings me to the disappointing internet experience that's exasperated the turkey stuffing left in me. Vowing to 'get respect' I configured a car at the manufacturer site and, using a link, sent the configuration to the closest dealer for a quote. Unfortunately, the dealer was not interested in reciprocating electronically and wants me to visit prior to talking turkey. Grrrrr.

Enter 'the Club'. I am biased; I love shopping at Costco as it's a brand I really trust. Value, quality, discovery, it's all there. But not with cars. I filled out their forms, knowing my shopping was done and now hoping for a clean buying experience. Instead, I am barraged by emails with the subect "Hi, Please contact me' or 'your VIP number is enclosed'.....Grrrrr.

AAA is no better. The no hassle, no negotiation promise, from the dealer AAA directs you to is only for vehicles in stock. You want a configuration they don't have on the lot and the gloves come off.

Perhaps, the Zipcar experience is my salvation. In any event, it's unfortunate that too many organizations let their business processes get in the way of exposing a great product to their perspective customers.