The writing’s on the wall. Mobile is the future, and it requires different skill than the web. Entrepreneurship is more fetishized than ever, making standard hiring tough. The result is days like today where Yahoo, Twitter, Salesforce, and Box all bought startups, and Facebook and Microsoft were reported to be in talks for major acquisitions. Big is a scary thing to be right now.
The tech giant story goes something like this. You start as a visionary founder with a crazy dream. You recruit your friends to give it a shot. Suddenly there’s a breakthrough or some traction, and everyone wants to work for you. You’re small and nimble. Employees are trusted to make quick decisions, and the whole company can pivot on a dime to pursue a new opportunity.
But to beat competitors to the punch with the muscle to accomplish your dreams, you have to get bigger. Bureaucracy sets in and decisions take longer. You have too much momentum to shift directions. Allocating resources to chase a hunch gets tougher. You’re no longer the startup; you’re the giant. Despite your perks and hefty paychecks, no one wants to work for the giant. They want an adventure. The adventure you already had.
Then some punk kids come out of nowhere with the company you would have founded if you started five years later. You could try to build it now, but that’s too slow and they’re already winning. Or you could try to partner with them or someone else, but that’s messy and unreliable. You end up with a choice: They either eat your lunch or you buy their lunch. They disrupt you, or you acquire them.
So you buy them. Then you either keep their product running and reap the benefits while knowing they’re not a real danger to you anymore like Facebook did with Instagram. Or you shut down their product, fold their team in, and have them keep your core products relevant and evolving, like Box did today buying Adobe Acrobat-killer Crocodoc.
This same story has played out over and over again throughout the lifespan of Silicon Valley. But there are new factors putting even more pressure on the big guys to swallow up the little guys.
On the web, you threw everything at the wall, and anything that stuck even a little got left in the product. With plenty of screen real estate and instant rollouts of changes, you could afford to do too much. But mobile is minimalist. People want one app to nail one use case. It has to work in bite-size sessions. Bloat is painfully apparent.
You need not just mobile designers, or even mobile-first designers. You need mobile-best designers. The advent of the web happened slowly, and several generations of startups were built on it. A star product lead from a few years ago could work magic again. But mobile came on fast. Not necessarily in the advances in technology, but in adoption. Even just a year ago, mobile was thought of as an option. Now some giants like Facebook have more users on mobile than the web. You either “get” mobile, or you’re doomed. If you can’t build it, and you can’t hire it, you’re pretty much forced to buy it. Yahoo didn’t buy GoPollGo to concentrate on polling. It did it because the startup was mobile in its heart.
Blame it on the finance sector’s collapse, the seed funding explosion, Y Combinator, Instagram, and tech blogs like us. Chalk it up to an entitled generation where everyone wants to be their own boss, not a loyal soldier. Or say it’s mobile and the cloud’s fault for making it so easy to get a business to market. But whatever the cause, great tech talent is fragmenting. People are willing to gamble on the chance of having a huge impact on the world and getting rich at the same time. The people you want to hire aren’t applying and interviewing, they’re running their own companies.
Meanwhile for VCs, everyone wants to be the toast of the town by being the seed investor in a hot startup. That means anyone with a good idea, or some combination of an okay idea and a good track record/connections/academic pedigree can raise money and take a swing. And why not? Best-case scenario: You change the world, grow into one of the new power-players of Silicon Valley, and maybe sell or IPO for a boat-load of money. Worst-case scenario: You fail and lose (mostly) someone else’s money. You end up with a fundamental learning experience that will build character, maybe make you a better person, and quiet your professional wanderlust forever.
Plus now, thanks to the old giants’ scrambling to stay young, there’s a mediocre-case scenario: You sell while you’re still small, take a cushy job at a big company, work on something making a difference, and learn skills while you bide your time for your “next adventure.”
You could argue that all these acquisitions and acqui-hires are kneecapping innovation. That they’re preventing potential giants from ever hitting their stride. But few people are fighting for the abstract cause of “Innnovation” with a capital I.
Thanks to disruption insurance through acquisitions, it could be hard to truly kill Yahoo — a company many thought was marked for death years ago. Mark Zuckerberg disrupted Myspace in a blink of the Internet’s eye. But if he keeps buying talented teams and phenonema like Instagram rather than letting them mature into real threats, it could take a lot longer to displace Facebook.
Giants want to keep their dreams alive. Founders want to chase them. Acquisitions make both less likely to wake up to a nightmare.
Excerpt from: As Tech Giants Scramble For Talent, It’s Buy Or Die
BeTheDancer is Alex Greenburg’s name and handle on Instagram. He’s a good friend and a brilliant photographer, but because Instagram doesn’t require real names, I had a lot trouble using the app’s new tagging feature to point him out in my photos. Right now, Instagram’s 100 million users are discovering that while pseudoanonymity can be fun, it’s not always functional.
On Facebook, you’re told to use your real name, and most do. That makes it very easy to search for and friend people. Mark Zuckerberg knew the social graph depended on you being you, and saw how Myspace’s lack of real name policy made it a haven for impersonators and unaccountability.
When Kevin Systrom and Mike Kreiger started Instagram, it wasn’t meant to be your meatspace social graph or the online copy of your personality. It was just for smartphonetography. You entered your handle and your “name”. Neither had to be your real name.
Some people still use their birth name or a shortening of it as their username. I’m joshsc, for example. And many do put in their actual first and last name. But many others don’t add their real name and just go by a pseudoanonymous handle. Thanks to Facebook’s Find Friends feature it hasn’t been so hard to follow them, though.
But today Instagram launched photo tagging, where you have to tap someone’s real name or handle into a typeahead to say they’re in an image. That gets a lot tougher if they don’t have their real name attached to their account. I didn’t think to search for Be The Dancer when I wanted to tag my buddy Alex in a portrait I shot of him a year ago.
Over the next few days, Instagram users are going to be
annoyed inundated with frequent notifications that they’ve been tagged in photos. But I’d bet those who go solely by pseudonyms will get a lot less. Tacking true identity onto a two-plus year-old social network doesn’t come easy. It could even steal a bit of the carefree atmosphere that’s made Instagram such a refreshing alternative to Facebook.
But one thing photo tagging will certainly do is strengthen Instagram’s social graph. After going to name a few friends in my photos, I realized I wasn’t following many of them. I opened the Facebook Find Friends feature and found hundreds of chums had joined Instagram since I last checked. I followed a ton of them, because Instagram isn’t just about photos anymore. It’s about the photographers, and the subjects who inspire them.
See the original post here: The Trouble With Identity’s Late Arrival On Instagram
Twitter is great if you’re famous. But Jawbone’s founding CEO Alexander Asseily thinks everyone deserves a powerful voice online, so today he’s launching State, a structured opinion-sharing network where people don’t need to follow you see your posts. You can get an early State invite now and start contributing to an opinion graph where what matters is what you believe, not who follows you.
Let’s be honest. Twitter seemed like it would host a global conversation, but it’s evolved into a one-to-many broadcast network. In fact, Twitter’s about page touts “You don’t have to tweet to get value from Twitter.” Or, let experts, artists, comedians, and celebrities tweet, you just sit back and take it. And in practice, you don’t have much of a choice. Unless you have some special way to gain followers, your audience will remain some subset of your friends on Twitter. Barring the rare tweet that goes viral in a big way, the average user’s voice doesn’t travel very far.
That doesn’t mean Twitter doesn’t have it’s place. As a journalist it’s a vital tool, but there’s a need for a more egalitarian way to share publicly. That’s what State could be. The service launched today at TechCrunch’s Disrupt NY conference, and you can see State’s loud and proud launch video here.
State co-founder Alexander Asseily explains to me, “The Internet would be better if it was organized around what people think instead of who they are, or where they shop, or what they browse. All the intelligence that’s gathered online today is gathered by following people. It’s not very empowering to people, and it’s not a precise way of getting insights about what people think.” Luckily, Alexander and his brother Mark, who was formerly head of product at VOIP startup Rebtel and is now State’s CEO, have $14 million in seed funding to reorganize the web.
Organization is actually one of State’s key differentiators. Rather than start with an open text field, when you “State” an opinion, you use type-ahead boxes to pick a topic or paste in a link and choose several words that describe it. For example you could pick the portable stereo Big Jambox and call it “Amazing” and “Loud”, Bitcoin and describe it as “fad” or “misunderstood”, actor Christian Bale as “talented” or “deteriorating”, or TechCrunch’s article “Google Now Launches On iOS” and call it “overdue” or “inferior”.
This typeahead system makes it extremely quick to share an opinion. Alexander tells me “The objective is to make it accessible in practice to everyone ,which means making it so easy that you can use it for both serious and frivolous opinions.” If you want to leave more complex thoughts, you can always tack on a longer text description.
Instead of these posts going just to your followers, State surfaces them to anyone interested in the topic you’re talking about. The homepage shows popular topics and sentiments you can respond to. State also focuses on showing them to people the minute you publish, so there’s a feeling of real-time feedback and community. That’s why State’s structured data is so important. It creates a precise, interconnected graph of thoughts, while other social networks are more scattershot. There’s still some interface quirks that could cause confusion, and you can’t seem to delete posts just yet, but the publishing system is strong for version 1.
State also shows you what the world thinks about a certain topic with a slick word-cloud visualization, as well as where you stand compared to everyone else. Structure begets aggregation, which reveals insights.
And beyond what you do on State, Alexander wants its data to be valuable elsewhere. Along with its bookmarklet for importing and posting about websites, State wants to eventually serve as a replacement or supplement to blog comments. It could replace swarms of trolls drowning out sane ideas with a structured view of what people thought about the article’s content. This could also draw more traffic to publishers because it exposes their articles to the State network alongside opinions.
Finally, Alexander hopes to release a State API that gives open access to its structured data. For example a politics site could employ State data to show off a synopsis of perceptions of different politicians or legislation. Alexander says “we could potentially monetize that somehow.” API apps and publisher integrations could also solve State with its biggest problem.
Proving its unique value and gaining traction will be the real challenge for State. If you asked most people where they share their opinions, they’d tell you Twitter or Facebook. It’s no easy task explaining why structured data and nerdy aggregations are reasons to add another web service to their lives. But State hopes to wake the world up to what they’re missing. If it succeeds, there’s a second-order benefit for us all. Alexander concludes, “The ultimate goal is much self-awareness in society — products that are built with the opinions of the market in mind, or political and cultural decisions made in the same way.”
Visit State to get an early invite
People won’t stop talking about Google Glass, and rightfully so. Ever since the epic parachute-hangout demo, the Valley has been buzzing about the future coming of what is arguably one of the biggest potential advancements in computer interfaces since the iPhone. Lately, the buzz has been bubbling as Google employees, early adopters (Scoble just posted his detailed review), tech bloggers, and contest winners have started to receive their glasses, combined with heavy, consumer-focused advertising, a dedicated fund pairing Google’s own venture arm with two of Sand Hill’s most storied venture capital firms. It’s gotten so much ink that new monikers have emerged, such as “Glasshole,” and the phenomenon was hilariously lambasted in the latest installment of “Jesus Christ, Silicon Valley,” a Tumblr devoted to over-the-top yet oftentimes valid tech-focused satire.
There’s so much to investigate with respect to Glass, so in this week’s “Iterations” column, I’m just going to focus on the early-stage investment side. There’s no shortage of opinions here. My two cents is while Google is investing lots of dollars into a consumer-focused campaign, Glass will not initially be a device that the majority people will want, need, or be able to afford (unlike a cell phone), even when the price comes down. It will also be a very different type of interface. That said, it’s no matter, because the commercial applications for Glass are boundless: Imagine a bunch of kids on a school trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, able to press on Glass and learn more about the sea life they see in the tanks. Well, I don’t even know if that’s possible on a watery service, but regardless…instead, I emailed a handful of experienced technology investors I know well to briefly weigh on how they think of Glass as an interface to invest in and around. Below is a collection of the answers I received, edited briefly:
I’m skeptical that GG will get mass adoption. As someone that grew up with glasses, I couldn’t wait until I got LASIK/corrective eye surgery. I just can’t see myself wearing glasses again voluntarily (no disrespect to fashion icon NBA basketball players such as Lebron James wearing hipster glasses). While I don’t think there will be mass adoption, I do see several niche markets springing up. For example, people that really need glasses (elderly, jewelers, surgeons, etc.) should derive tremendous benefit from GG applications. I haven’t seen any GG pitches yet, but I expect to see several this year. As with all investments, I’d put more emphasis on finding the right team than needing to be the first in the space. If GG takes off, there should be ample room for a great team to innovate even if they aren’t first. – Bill Lee
In five years, it’s not about Google Glass per se, which is a brave but still early evolutionary step, but how dependent everyday people will become on certain types of ubiquitous but non-intrusive tech. Specifically, tech that has to be amazingly powerful and sophisticated to achieve that very non-intrusiveness in the first place. A great example – and I think, the more interesting story — is speech recognition, which of necessity is a big part of Glass. Whether it’s in every car via a service arrangement with Apple and Google competing with each other to be the backend, or in lightweight smart earphones that can be left in for one or more days, or in Google Glass-like glasses, always-on listening with deep, smart taxonomies will be a fact of life – i.e., near total adoption by the middle classes of the G7 and beyond.
As an investor, I am looking for companies that presume the success of this kind of technology, then look at how they can apply equally profound compute and algorithmic innovations to transform different industries. For example, what do certain medical practices look like when the EMR/EHR platform is listening in on doctors and nurses, and has something like IBM Watson behind it, watching for missed diagnoses (e.g., sepsis in a hospital), mis-medication, or even malpractice? What does CRM look like when a salesperson’s or customer service rep’s efficacy can be analyzed in real-time from their conversation with a customer? If the video appurtenance to GG’s “speech recognition delivery platform” (my own biased view) turns out to be important, then machine vision becomes the next huge ubiquitous technology (where Google already has an early lead), and we ask questions like “what does the advertising targeting chain look like when every product in a store is lit up under live video scrutiny by the analog of Google Goggles?” I’m indifferent to whether other hardware makers develop their own products, but a) I think they have to, if they want to be part of the “always listening” value chain, whether or not there is a screen attached (the GG incarnation) and b) I want them to, so that a “thousand flowers bloom” and there is innovation and consumer choice that drives rapid adoption. – Matt Ocko
While I was a student at Carnegie Mellon, there was a lot of work on “wearable computing” back then. For instance, check out VuMan from 1997 and Navigator. I cite these to show that the concept of Google Glass as a wearable computer is nothing new. It’s been around for well over a decade. What has changed is that now the technology has become advanced enough to make it a *lot* smaller, *somewhat* less dorky, and by means of being connected, hugely more information-rich.
I believe that Google Glass will be a long-term platform. The initial consumer adoption will be by early adopters — by a lot of us Silicon Valley geek-types who want to play with the tech. However, I suspect that the real adoption will come from more commercial applications — people who need to work with their hands and can benefit from instant access to information. Police cars are equipped with computers to provide cops with access to information on the road. You can imagine a Google Glass app designed specifically for police, fire, EMS etc. Likewise in construction, maintenance, inspection, lots of tasks become orders of magnitude more efficient, when imagined with Glass as the underlying platform.
As you know, I’ve been spending a lot of time on computer vision, cameras, etc. Glass presents the first really usable Augmented Reality platform, because it’s the first time that you can get a true overlay on reality, without having to be walking with your phone/tablet in front of your face! I’ve already had conversation with some companies who are doing advance computer vision and augmented reality work where they could potentially do interesting things with Google Glass. However, since it’s been in such limited distribution so far, it won’t be until they get their hands on it and can evaluate what it’s capable of, before we can really talk more concretely about it. In other words, I’m very curious to see the potential of Glass as a platform for new products/companies, but don’t have enough information to act on it just yet. – Manu Kumar
I am quite optimistic about the long term potential of augmented reality. But I question whether now is the right time for a top down adoption strategy with a polished consumer product. It seems to me that we are at the hacker and early adopter stage instead. By going with an immediate mass market strategy and embracing celebrities I think Google is taking a very big gamble. Let’s keep in mind that the iPhone was far from the first smart phone. A lot of software and application tinkering had happened on Blackberries and other predecessors most of which had niche use cases. I often find myself saying to entrepreneurs that you “can’t push on a string.” It may be a tired cliche but it seems highly relevant for consumer products. If people aren’t ready for it, no amount of hype or spending will make the product stick. The people who are ready now are the hackers and tinkerers. So why not embrace them instead? (reproduced from Albert’s blog, with permission). -Albert Wenger
Seeing a device from your childhood science fiction novels become reality is one of the most exciting moments for any of us who work in tech. However, the commercial success of Google Glass relies on three crucial parts. First, consumers must love the hardware. The product has to be intuitive and function seamlessly with everyday activities. Second, Google must develop a high-quality API that allows developers the freedom to create top-notch software and fully leverage Glass’ capabilities. Third, Google has to ensure that the best applications are discovered by users. All three of these areas are non-trivial and will take more time, and users should be prepared for the day when hype meets reality. Google Glass is an entirely new form factor, and thus there will be a longer uptake time than we have just saw the past two years with tablets. Given that dynamic, we are going to look for simple but effective applications that can can go mainstream as adoption of the Glass product increases with Google’s future iterations of the product. -Hemant Taneja
As an investor, the most exciting possibility about Google Glass is the behavior change it might produce. If Glass or other devices begin to connect and share meaningful information about consumers and their digitized presence, it opens up a massive new arena for applications. Another possibility is that Glass becomes the hub for multiple devices (FitBits, bloodchem sensors, watches, etc.) and becomes an additional app platform connected to but independent of smartphones/tablets. I don’t know if consumers will adopt it, that’s the biggest “if” — not the technology or the devices. There’s plenty of time for investing in a post-Glass reality if adoption happens. I haven’t seen any pitches yet but also haven’t been looking yet, as I’m much more interested in the behavior change it induces and provokes. -Rohit Sharma
Anytime there’s a lull in our outrage over the public nature of social media, a new site shows up to again demonstrate its dangers. Like clockwork, the latest to play on users’ fears is FireMe!, a website that tracks when people are saying inappropriate things about their jobs on Twitter, including their hatred for their boss, their desire to murder said bosses or co-workers, and even those making comments about “sexual intercourse,” in relation to their jobs.
Like some previous attempts at scaring the pants off social media users, the FireMe! site offers a tool that allows you to “check yourself” to see what your firing potential is, based on your own inappropriate tweets. (Apparently, I love my job – my FireMeter score is zero.)
And of course, like any good, creepy social media exposure tool should, the FireMeter allows you to enter in anyone’s Twitter username, so you can check on what Rita in Accounting really thinks, for instance.
The website creators explain that the goal of FireMe! is to raise awareness. Project participant Dr. Eelco Herder even told the WSJ (yes, the WS-effin-J thinks this is news) in an interview that “privacy is a serious issue on the social web.”
“We all know the stories about people getting divorced because of a Facebook status message or getting fired,” Herder told the paper, “and we wanted to investigate what kind of people actually post that kind of message.”
The site’s mastermind, Ricardo Kawase, a Brazilian Ph.D student at the LS3 Research Center, worked with Herder, Bernardo Pereira Nunes, Prof. Marco Antonio Casanova, and institute head Prof. Wolfgang Nejdl, to develop FireMe! into the site it is today. He says he was inspired by a seminar he attended last year, where a lawyer spoke to the crowd about the “dangers and consequences of people being reckless online,” and how “the web is influencing the work environment,” as he explains it to me.
Since yesterday, when the first major news article about FireMe! appeared, Kawase says that some 50,000 visitors have checked out the website.
That’s a lot of attention for a little, research project-y effort.
Kawase even admits he’s a little worried that someone will be fired because of his web application. “I truly hope no one gets fired because of FireMe! I hope people get responsible,” he says. “I am particularly concerned that at some point, someone will blame us.”
Well, I wouldn’t worry.
Though the FireMe! site lists a good number of news articles where people have been fired for posts on social media, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, it’s never been because of some online “gotcha” tool like FireMe.
Instead, employees whose errant posts have led to dismissal are usually too inflammatory to fly under the radar, a breach of contract is involved, are cases where the victim is a high-profile individual like a politician or celeb, someone whose job title involves actually managing social media accounts for other brands, and so on.
It’s rare that a person actually posts, “I wish I could get fired,” and then get their wish. When that happens, it’s news. In the real world, these “job hating” posts tend to just lead to office gossip, awkward situations among co-workers, or a stern talking-to from someone in charge.
Apologies for being human tend to follow.
And even when someone’s post is exposed, there’s still that question of how did the boss see it in the first place, if they’re not friends with the poster online? Like in pre-Internet times, there’s usually a tipster involved – a co-worker, perhaps, who’s been sick of that person’s attitude already and was just waiting for a reason to strike.
The various websites’ efforts to expose users’ bad or misguided social media behavior – like FireMe! – are shocking when they launch, but then seem to fizzle and die.
For example, we never heard a story where someone’s home was robbed because of Please Rob Me, a site which exposes people’s location-based check-ins. Explains one of the site’s creators Boy van Amstel, that site got so much media attention that the original message they wanted to express was eventually lost.
“Some people actually thought the site itself was evil, and that we had cars driving around neighborhoods to spy on people, I kid you not,” he says. “So we removed the tweets.” The site today continues to offer a way to see if your Twitter account publicly shows check-ins, but that will die when Twitter deprecates its v. 1.0 API later this spring.
Please Rob Me still gets around 10,000 hits per month, and has seen 2.5 million visitors to date. It’s one of the larger awareness raising efforts out there, in the grand scheme of things.
But while it may have gotten tons of attention via media reports, it never seemed to have caused harm itself.
“We haven’t heard of any people who were impacted directly related to the exposure of the website,” says van Amstel.
Similarly, we never heard of people being followed, harassed or harmed because of I Can Stalk U (now defunct), which revealed people’s locations from geo-tagged photos. And nothing seems to become of Openbook, which showed how much public information Facebook exposed, after the social network “adjusted” users’ complex and confusing privacy controls years ago.
But if you have a moment of poor judgement or, god forbid, humanity, on Twitter or Facebook, and it then blows up in your face, it’s more likely there’s a person or persons involved in your outing, too. (Or you’re just really, really stupid.)
Either way, you can’t blame some creepy website on the Internet for the exposure.