My New Video Project

So here’s one of the main reasons I haven’t been blogging lately – the release of the next episode of “A Startup A Week”!   ASAW is an online reality show where we challenge a team of developers to build a startup in just one week.  For episode two, we’re trying something a little different by bringing together “A Startup A Week” with an event called “Incubation Week”.  Instead of working with just one team, Incubation Week brings together multiple teams of entrepreneurs for a caffeine-fueled week of coding, all leading up to a final presentation in front of a panel of experienced angel investors. 

For this video, I flew out to Boston to check out the initial Incubation Week event.  We definitely had a great time, check out the video to see if the teams were able to complete their apps in time for their presentations to the investors.

Are Amazon Web Services Doomed to Fail?

Rough Type had an interesting post on how Amazon’s web service platform evolved from their own need to build infrastructure for the Amazon online store.  Nicholas argues that Amazon is in a good position to succeed in this first phase of the fledgling utility computing space.  I’m a huge fan of AWS, and I absolutely agree with him on this point.  However, I’d argue that while Amazon web services have a solid first-mover advantage in this valuable space, I’m not sure that Amazon will win in the long run.  Why?  Because at it’s core, Amazon is an e-commerce company, not a platform company. 

Who cares more about gaining web API share on the web, Amazon or Google?  Who cares more about gaining database share on the web, Amazon or Oracle?  Who cares more about gaining server share on the web, Amazon or Sun?  Who cares more about gaining developer mind share on the web, Amazon or Microsoft?

While web services are a great high-margin business for now, as these other large companies build out their could computing strategies, the competition will drive margins lower and lower.  What’s more, these existing platform companies can afford to offer these services at or below cost, in exchange for a greater share in their respective categories.  As these services become commoditized and the price drops lower and lower, at what point does Amazon’s web service strategy stop making good financial sense for them? 

Three Killer "Pants-Based Computing" Applications

Erica at The Unofficial Apple Weblog introduced me to my new favorite phrase: pants-based computing.  Come one, which would you rather carry around?  A mobile phone (think Zack Morris) or a pants-based computing device? 

Anyway, the point of the article is that the combination of a GPS-enabled iPhone along with a seamless way to download 3rd party apps (AppStore), a new development trend is about to begin:

The iPhone is a platform that lives in your pocket. So you can pull it out, check your options and make some decisions without all the overhead associated with laptop use. It’s this fundamental difference in the way we use the iPhone with “pants-based computing,” with a device that travels with us and knows where we are, that powers this paradigm shift. We’re sitting at the edge of a location-based computing revolution, and the iPhone is pulling us there. From our pockets.

So in honor of the forthcoming revolution and in homage to my previous blogging contributions, here are some ideas for three killer PBC apps.

          1. – A Temporary Social Network for Stadiums 

For people who are all gathered together in one very large venue (sporting events, concerts, etc..), is an app that would allow you to network with other people at the event and get extra add-on information about that event (for a baseball game, think detailed player stats for the specific batter at the plate, mini-games such as trivia or mini fantasy baseball games, etc..).  You could also chat with other fans in real-time about the event, or see a map of the stadium with little pins showing where each user was sitting.  The beauty of an app like this is you get around the whole chicken-and-egg problem inherent with most mobile..err, PBC-based social networks (need users, but users won’t use the service until other users are there).  You could simply buy out an ad at the beginning of the game to flash the info needed for people to get signed onto the app, and you’d instantly have enough users with the same basic interests who are in the same general geographic area to make the service immediately interesting and useful.

          2. TravelWithMe – A Portable Travel Blogging Tool

For travelers who are looking to capture more than just a few grainy photos of their overseas adventures, TravelWithMe offers an easy-to-use set of tools to share your travel with your friends and family back home.  Instead of relying on long blog posts or cumbersomely uploading a set of photos to a website, TravelWithMe would offer a Twitter-like ability to very quickly share thoughts, pictures and short videos.  Each time travelers share something, it is automatically tagged by time and by location, and uploaded to a website.  The site would display a dot on a map for each item that was uploaded, and based on the time the item was uploaded, lines would show the daily progress of the traveler.  Users who are following along on the website could post comments on each item, and the travelers could be notified of the new comments either directly through the app or via SMS alerts.

          3. BluLight – Distributed “Woot” for PBC

For stores that are looking to attract nearby customers and users who are looking for deals, BluLight is a woot-like system that allows retailers to advertise limited-time-only in-store deals.  Retailers could log into the BluLight system and post a deal, which would then be broadcast to all BluLight users who are currently within one mile of the store.  One advantage this system offers retailers is the scenario when customer traffic in the store is temporarily low, retailers could quickly post a deal to the system and use it to generate foot traffic on-demand to maximize their efficiency.  For customers, this would be a fun way to spontaneously get notified of amazing deals, which would create almost a real-life game-like buzz around the product.

Facebook Does Not Heart Developers

Mark Hendrickson just posted about a seemingly minor but incredibly important aspect of the new Facebook developer platform.  From TechCrunch:

Starting July 15 (and perhaps coinciding with the rollout of Facebook’s new site design), users will no longer see an installation screen (see below) when they access an application for the first time. Rather, they will see a new “login” screen that simply asks them whether they want to permit the application access to their information. This simply grants the application temporary access to your data so it can operate, without establishing any real footprint on your Facebook experience.

All I can say is wow.  With all of the recent changes to reduce the spamminess of Facebook apps, it’s been harder and harder for independent developers to get access to the same viral “magic formula” that launched so many of the early apps and created the gold rush mentality around the platform.  Now, not only are they greatly reducing yet another viral channel for app developers, they are also grandfathering in existing applications, which means the big guys will keep getting bigger, and the little guys are at a serious disadvantage. 

As someone who works on the breadth developer strategy at Microsoft, I know firsthand the importance of creating a healthy developer ecosystem with a good mix of the new, smaller software companies and larger, established ones.  With this move, Facebook is essentially cutting off the oxygen supply to the broad base of developers.  This will likely not make an immediate impact to the platform, but once they start to see the erosion taking place, their bread-and-butter breadth developers will have moved on to a platform that gives them a better shot at making some real revenue.

Imagine if the NBA suddenly decided that the rookies in the league were causing too many problems, so to fix the problem, they stopped the draft.  The short term impact would be minor.  But long term?  Disastrous. 

Of course, maybe Facebook simply decided that their core product is good enough without the add-on apps, and this is one way to slowly cut their losses and move towards an even more closed down system.  Or maybe they just don’t really understand the ripple effect that could happen to their developer ecosystem as a result of all these changes.  Hopefully these guys know what they’re doing, ’cause I’m a huge fan of the FB platform and really would hate to see it die a slow and painful death.

Update: Check out the uproar on the official FB dev forums…obviously I’m not the only one who thinks this is a bad idea…

My New Start Page

OK, so despite the fact I work for Microsoft, I couldn’t help but get way excited about this site.  Props to Mashable for posting this.  Now, if only someone could make a…

Is Web 2.0 Heading for Bubble 2.0?

That’s the question that Don Dodge is discussing over at the excellent “The Next Big Thing” blog.  It’s a great overview of some of the most important questions out on the Web 2.0-o-sphere right now.  One of the more interesting points is around privacy:

One panelist said “Privacy doesn’t matter anymore. If it did, Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube wouldn’t exist. This is the “Full Monty” generation.” The trend is certainly in that direction, but the Facebook Beacon experience suggests we aren’t there yet.

Two very good points – so why would someone (like me) post many personal details out on the web but that same person (me again) be completely turned off by Beacon?  I’d argue that it all comes back to a simple question: what’s in it for me

When I post my personal email here on my blog (, I’m sacrificing a tiny bit of my privacy for the chance that someone interesting will find my email and send me a nice note.  Same goes for the reasoning behind posting my favorite movie on my MySpace profile.  I love the movie Wayne’s World!  Do you?  Great, we have something in common, let’s talk!

However, when I used the CBS NCAA college football pool app on Facebook and clicked over to watch one of the games that was in progress, I got a Beacon message asking if I wanted to broadcast to my friends that I was watching a basketball game.  So why didn’t I want that to appear in my Facebook feed?  Because it was a Thursday afternoon and I probably should have been working!  :)  I have lots of work contacts listed as friends on Facebook, and while they probably wouldn’t really care if I watched a few minutes of a game during a break between emails, it probably isn’t the best signal to send.  The “what’s in it for me” coefficient suddenly went negative, and I’ve turned off all future Beacon notifications ever since.

Everything I Know About Twitter I Learned on Prom Night

Scoble highlighted a great comment by the CTO of a microblogging service called Grazr.  I’d encourage you to read the full comment, but can basically be summed up with this sentence:

The truth is, we like to talk about scaling, but without steady growth and something people find compelling, all the scaling in the world won’t help you.

Don’t ask me why, but after reading this comment, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to a typical high school prom.  Not sure how things operated when you were (or still are) in school, but for me, the prom queen was much more likely to be physically attractive as opposed to being just regular-looking with an amazing personality.  If the web held a prom, who do you think would be crowned the queen, Twitter or Grazr?

Don’t worry, Grazr.  I’ll save a spot next to me at the next math club meeting.