“Web” Category

Larry Summers, Truth Teller

Larry Summers, on the Winklevoss twins:

“One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o’clock, there are two possibilities. One is that they’re looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an a**hole. This was the latter case.”

Beautiful.

July 21st, 2011

Your Playlists Define You

Spotify’s founder believes we don’t need to own our music:

If Spotify gets what it wants, your records will no longer define you. Your playlists will. To know whether Spotify will make it in America, you need only ask yourself: Do you still need your collection?

Ek, naturally, believes you do not. “Spotify has 13 million songs,” he says. Nod. “By any measurement, that’s huge.” Nod. “The problem is that this doesn’t mean anything to you. You were saying, mmm hmm, like there’s nothing amazing about it, and I agree. … But if I told you that we have your library, with all the songs you love, that you put effort into, your playlists, your honeymoon playlists, your friend’s wedding playlist, or 20, 30 years from now, this is my Sweden playlist from when I visited this wacky Daniel character.

“The promise is this,” he continues. “Once you’ve invested in building that library, that’s value.” It’s also, he believes, what people ultimately are prepared to pay for.

I’ve been using Spotify since yesterday, and my initial impression is that it’s good—songs plays instantly, sound good, and the selection is decently wide-ranging.

But I can’t accept subscribing to my music, rather than owning it. $10 a month (how much it costs to listen to ad-free music from Spotify on your desktop and iPhone) is a significant sum. Sure, you get access to a very complete library of music, but that only lasts as long as you keep paying your monthly fee.

That’s disquieting. What if Spotify folds, loses their licensing deal with a label that owns the rights to my favorite band, or I just decide that I don’t want to shell out another $120 a year for the right to listen to music? Those are all possibilities, and if any of those things occur, the money I’ve already spent is gone and I have nothing to show for it except for the time spent listening to music in the past.

I’m generally okay with that for movies or TV shows, because with few exceptions, once I’ve watched them, I don’t want to watch them a second time. Music, though, is different. I wrote in 2008:

Most things follow the rule that the more consumed of it, the less value it gives—but there is something magical about good music. It is incredible and relevant every time it is listened to, no matter how much it is played. Good music is timeless.

That’s why I don’t buy that collections don’t matter anymore. Perhaps they aren’t what “define” us, but music isn’t as timeless when you don’t own it, when you cease to be able to listen to it the second your subscription ends.

I love Spotify’s convenience. I love that I can check out a new band and listen to their full album. But I can’t give up owning my music for that convenience.

July 18th, 2011

“Netflix Dumps the Floppy Drive”

Matt Drance comments on Netflix separating streaming and DVD renting plans:

The overwhelming majority says Netflix is squeezing customers for money. I say Netflix is dumping the floppy drive.

Dead on.

It isn’t like Netflix has been unfair about this. They offered a plan that gave us access to a huge library of movies and TV shows, and DVD rentals, for $10 a month. Think about the costs involved in building the infrastructure to stream that much video, the licensing fees, and the costs of sending, receiving and processing DVDs. They’re huge. That plan was a bargain.

And now that Netflix’s licensing costs are about to increase dramatically, there’s no way they can afford to offer plans that cheap. They could while studios thought Netflix was a sort of amusing business they could use to make a quick $15 million by giving them temporary rights to their libraries, but now that studios realize Netflix is a new distribution channel that scares cable operators, they’re charging commensurate amounts for their libraries.

Sending discs through the mail isn’t the business Netflix wants to be in. They only continue offering it because their streaming library isn’t good enough yet and a lot of their customers still depend on it. This isn’t about trying to squeeze a few more dollars out of their customers every month. This is about affording their very-real licensing costs and moving their users toward the business Netflix wants to be.

July 14th, 2011

The iPad and Google+

There’s a lot to learn from the iPad and Google+.

Google built and released Google+ because they felt that Facebook, and the social-ification of the web it represents, is a mortal threat to the company’s future. Google+ is a defensive move to try to re-adjust the company to new realities, realities that exist now. They did not decide to make Google a “social” company to strategically position Google and provide it a competitive advantage its competitors cannot match. They built it so they can survive.

Apple built the iPad because they believe we are at a junction between PCs and “post-PCs,” and that they can make their vision for post-PCs reality. The iPad gives Apple a huge strategic advantage over their competitors, because not only is the hardware and software still much better than competing devices, but it means that Apple is defining the new post-PC market. This is offensive; Apple is defining the new market and setting the rules in its favor.

Releasing Google+ is inherently a defensive move. Whereas Apple has completely changed the nature of their business in just five years1—they re-positioned themselves for the next decade—Google is re-thinking their entire business just to survive.

That doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision for Google; it was the right move. But it is instructive for us because it’s precisely the kind of decision you never want to make if you’re running a business. If you need to completely re-think your business just to survive, it means you missed a major shift in the market. It means your perception of your business and its realities are wrong, and you need to fix that as soon as possible.

You should recognize these trends and shifts in the market before they happen, because if you do, you can shift your business to take advantage of them.

You can release an iPad.

And if you can do that, you’re positioning yourself for the future, rather than the past.

  1. Let that sink in for a second: in December 2006, Apple’s primary business was personal computers and portable media players. Five years later, their primary business is mobile computers. That’s a dramatic shift for a company Apple’s size and reflects just how big of a bet they made on post-PCs. []
July 14th, 2011

Mind Your MeTweets

Mike Davidson:

You know how when someone compliments you, the first thing you do is e-mail everyone you know to tell them about the compliment?

No, you probably don’t, because you have the good sense not to do something like that.

Why then do so many people feel no shame in rampantly retweeting compliments they receive on Twitter?

July 14th, 2011

A RIM Employee’s Letter to Management

A high-level employee at RIM apparently wrote an open letter to RIM’s management team where he argues for significant changes. I suggest you read the entire thing, as it’s incredibly astute and insightful, but here’s one excerpt that’s particularly good:

There is a serious need to consolidate our focus to just a handful of projects. Period.

We need to be disciplined here. We can’t afford any more initiatives based on carrier requests to squeeze out slightly more volume. Again, back to point #1, focus on the end users. They are the ones making both consumer & enterprise purchase decisions.

Strategy is often in the things you decide not to do.

That’s precisely right. RIM’s problem is they have no strategy. The PlayBook is symptomatic of this—rather than release a complete product, they released a tablet that needed to tether to a Blackberry phone to view email, contacts or calendar, and they had no concerted message for developers. They didn’t have a primary development environment for developers; instead, they opened it to Android applications.

This isn’t what a company that has a plan does. This is what a company that believes it’s on the brink of death does: it flails around in one last convulsion.

RIM needs to concede that it failed to recognize the strategic threat from iOS and Android, and instead of attempting to quickly adopt their current products to the new market realities, they should effectively do what Apple did when Steve Jobs returned. They should think through their new strategy, something aggressive that will set the company up for the next decade, and then bet the entire company on it. Slash the company’s current projects to just a few gems based on the new strategy, take the time to make them great, and then execute on it.

They may still fail following this path. In fact, they probably will, because things have gotten so bad. But here’s what’s absolute: if they continue doing what they are doing, it is almost certain they will fail. So they need to take the chance.

July 1st, 2011

Apture Hotspots

Apture just released Hotspots to connect the web’s information together.

Basically, what it does is make talked about topics clickable on web pages, so you can pull up more information about it without leaving the page. Say, for example, you’re reading about Syria, and the article mentions Hezbollah—but you don’t know much about them. If enough people are highlighting it, or if it’s being discussed across the web, “Hezbollah” would automatically be turned into a link. If you click on it, a little window will pop up that aggregates information from across the web, so you can learn about it without leaving the page.

This has been done before, and it’s often annoying, but what’s really unique about their approach is (1) it dynamically links certain words or phrases depending on what’s relevant at the time, and (2) the pop-up window isn’t annoying. Go and play with it on their blog post. It doesn’t get in your way, it provides actually useful information, and it’s easy to dismiss when you’re done.

The big-picture idea here is to connect the web’s information together into a cohesive whole. Where we should be going is a future where data and information are not just available for us to find on the web, but can instantly be pulled from their sources so we can use them. That way, we won’t have to search for the right information—it will just appear when we need it.

While Hotspots is a relatively small step toward doing that, I’m excited there’s people working on doing it.

June 29th, 2011

MG Siegler’s Overview of Google+

Google just announced their new social service, Google+. Here’s MG Siegler’s overview of the service.

It looks quite nice—I especially love that grouping your contacts is built into it from the very beginning. Whereas Facebook has felt heavy, convoluted and messy for years to me, this looks clean and well-designed. I’d much rather use this than Facebook, my misgivings about social networks aside.

I’m pulling for Google on this one, if only to be a counterweight to Facebook.

June 29th, 2011

Nokia N9

Nokia just announced the Meego-powered N9, and it looks quite nice.

Nonetheless, I don’t understand releasing a phone running Meego when they’re planning on releasing Windows Phone 7 devices. Sounds like they needed a phone out to sell in the interim, but that’s going to hurt in the long-term. Selling two different platforms makes no sense at all.

June 21st, 2011

Project Spartan and Commoditizing iOS

MG Siegler says that Facebook is working on an HTML5-based mobile platform, and are targeting Apple:

Imagine loading up the mobile web version of Facebook and finding a drop-down for a new type of app. Clicking on one of the apps loads it (from whatever server it’s on depending on the app-maker), and immediately a Facebook wrapper is brought in to surround the app. This wrapper will give the app some basic Facebook functionality, as well as the ability to use key Facebook elements — like Credits.

One thing the App Store has nailed is an easy payment system. Facebook has been attempting to build the same thing with Credits, but so far hasn’t done much in the mobile space. With Project Spartan, they intend to have Credits built-in to alloy developers to sell apps and offer in-app purchases. This will be vital for a partner like Zynga, for example.

Siegler’s sources say that Facebook’s intention is to disrupt Apple’s control over application distribution on iOS. If they can pull it off, it’s rather brilliant.

Up until now, if you’ve wanted to make money through mobile applications, you had two choices: native applications for iOS and Android. These were your only two real choices because (1) they’re the two largest platforms, and (2) their app stores allow for mass-market distribution (which is helpful if you’re using advertising) and especially on iOS, make purchasing applications or in-app purchases ridiculously easy.

The reason we haven’t seen a successful web-based app distribution scheme yet is for those same two reasons: they don’t make mass-market distribution easy and there’s no built-in way of making payments. If this is what Facebook is building, they’d change that completely.

Facebook has hundreds of millions of users, so it has the distribution part covered, and because their system would be web-based, it could conceivably work on almost any mobile platform. And if they can make credits a widespread thing, they’ll have payments covered, too.

The right way to think about this is that Facebook is attempting to commoditize Apple’s platform. At the moment, people buy iOS devices so they can use applications from the App Store. That’s good for Apple because they control both parts—the devices people purchase and the App Store they purchase the devices for. Not only can Apple make money on both the hardware and software sales, but their customers are also tied-in to their platform; native iOS applications only work on Apple devices, and thus once someone purchases a number of applications, they are much less likely to leave the platform for another one.

If web-based applications become popular, though, that won’t matter. The physical device will only be the screen you view the application on. If all of your applications are from Facebook, you could switch to Android today and you wouldn’t notice much difference—all of your applications could still be used. Apple, then, would become just another hardware manufacturer, like Samsung or HTC. Facebook would be the platform that matters.

And that’s what Facebook desperately wants. They not only want to be the most important social network on the web. They want to be the web. Look at what they’re doing: they want a person’s identity to be stored in Facebook, so when people log in to other services, they use their Facebook account; they want to be where games and other applications go for social integration; and now they want to be an application platform that spans across all mobile devices.

That’s what Facebook is trying to do. Apple might be building a walled garden, as some have decried, but if Facebook succeeds, there’ll be no need for a wall. You won’t be able to leave even if you want to.

June 17th, 2011

We’re all mathematicians

Tim Van Damme:

If art is about talking and expressing yourself, interface design is about listening and disappearing into the background. You listen to the content and its context, and take it from there, one step at a time.

June 16th, 2011

Ideas Are Lasting

Kyle Neath:

The easiest way to build something incredible is to base your business around an idea. Products are just the manifestation of the idea.

One other way to say this is that you should know what you’re trying to do, both with an individual product and in the overarching, long-term sense. Unless you have a goal you’re trying to accomplish, some primary motivation besides having a successful product, you’ll have no direction.

June 15th, 2011

Patrick Rhone On iCloud

Patrick Rhone thinks we may be on the verge of great change in computing:

When the device does not matter, when it’s always as you left it, if it opens where you need it, and it is always backed up, we can concentrate on making, creating, doing, being.

June 10th, 2011

2007 and 2011

I hesitated when I wrote the title, because comparing a new product announcement to 2007′s iPhone introduction runs a big risk of being hyperbolic. I think, though, that iCloud will end up being as important a product for the evolution of computers as the original iPhone.

In April, I argued that Apple isn’t attempting to make computers mobile. Instead, they are trying to make the technology behind these devices so transparent that users will forget they are even using a computer, and only see whatever it is they are doing. If you are reading a book, all you see is the book; if you are writing, all you see is your text; if you are watching a movie, all you see is the movie. In effect, the device becomes whatever application is being used at the moment, and the technology behind it is only there to make it work. You don’t need to think about the technology. You just use it.

That’s the evolution in computers that is important. Apple’s perspective is that whether we are moving toward all web applications and thin clients isn’t really the point—those are technical considerations. For how we use computers, this is the shift that matters. “Cloud-based” isn’t the story. That’s just the technical implementation that makes the vision reality.

The iPhone’s touch interface eliminated the PC’s layers of abstractions between the user and their content. Before, users worked through the mouse, keyboard and application interface elements to manipulate their content; now, they just touch it, like physical objects.

iCloud’s intent is to eliminate another point of confusion on the PC—the file system.

The file system still exists, of course. But what iCloud does is make the file system almost completely something developers, not users, worry about. Instead of keeping their files organized and in the right place, users just need to use the application for whatever content they want. There is no need to worry about whether you have that document or presentation or song with you. It is always there, in the appropriate application, because iCloud does the work for you.

Let’s step back and remember what using PCs is like. If you are building a presentation, you create it in PowerPoint or Keynote, and you make sure you are saving it as you go along, so you don’t lose your progress. If you need to work on it from another computer, you save the file, locate it in your computer’s file system, and either email it or stick it on a flash drive to bring with you. And you need to do the same thing whenever you need to work on a different computer, which for a lot of people is quite often.

iCloud means you don’t do any of that. There is no saving, because it saves as you work. There is no looking through your file system for the file, because iCloud handles storage for you. And there is no moving files back and forth between devices, sending emails and carrying flash drives, because that presentation will be on whatever device you use.

That is Apple’s vision: don’t think about the technology, just think about what you’re trying to do. There is a lot I could say about Lion, iOS 5 and iCloud—some of it critical—but those are all details to a much more important story, which is that Apple’s creating the future of computing before our eyes.

June 9th, 2011

Why So Serious?

Marcus Zarra:

There is no reason to hate other development efforts. It does not matter if that developer is better or worse than you. It does not matter what that developer wrote. There is plenty of room for all of us.

Be excited by his or her success. His or her spotlight does not put you in darkness.

June 4th, 2011