April 25th & 26th
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Abstract Submission Deadline: January 19th
What does it mean that digital technologies are increasingly a part of...
Microsoft completely missed the rise of social networks, but amazingly so did AOL, who had AIM as a great starting point.
I wrote about possibly building something cool on top of AIM based on the Buddygopher experiment, way back in 2006, and I was contacted by people reporting to Jim Bankoff, a VP at AOL. We set up a project to build what would have been a very cool app: project name Nerdvana. My partner, Greg Narain, and I were pushing at content curation through a stream-based, open follower architecture leveraging the 400M+ AIM accounts then in use.
Alas, Jim Bankoff, now CEO of SB Nation, left AOL after Randy Falco joined AOL. The project petered out without serious sponsorship, the budget pulled away to other AIM related projects. We never even got to build the prototype.
But Microsoft and Yahoo also failed to try to make the transition from disconnected buddylists to a unified social network. Likewise my client Jabber, who opted to not build a social network solution on top of its distributed protocol, and is now a part of Cisco.
You can say that these ideas were too early, but these are companies that had all the motivation in the world to experiment ahead of the wavefront.
Perhaps this failure to attempt to design speculatively is another proof of Ven Rao’s Manufactured Normalcy Field: the sense that the present will last a good while into the future, instead of the continuous creative destruction mindset, where the present is being relentlessly consumed by the future, which is only a few weeks, days, or minutes from now. But the bigger the company, the more likely they are to act as if the present is eternal, and the future is retreating as fast as they amble forward.
That’s why Microsoft has fallen so far, to the point where Apple’s revenues from the iPhone alone are more than Microsoft’s entire top line. That’s why AOL has fallen like a meteorite, vaporizing on a death trajectory toward the center of the Earth. That’s why Yahoo has lost its mojo. They stopped speculating, and tried to treat the future as the back porch of the present.
Marco Arment doesn’t actually say that Microsoft Surface or Windows 8 smartphones are doomed, but he cuts to the chase pretty fast: Microsoft is in real trouble because they are starting with next to zero apps, and app developers — like Marco — have migrated off Windows onto Mac:
Marco Arment via Marco.org
By 2005 or so, most of those developers were working on web apps. The web was the platform for that kind of work for most of that decade.2
And during that decade, almost every such developer I knew switched to the Mac if they weren’t already there, partly because it was better for developing web apps.3
That’s one of the biggest reasons there was so much pent-up developer interest in the iPhone before the App Store opened: these consumer-product developers were all using Macs already. As the dominant consumer platform shifted from the web to apps over the last four years, most talented consumer-product developers built products for their app platform of choice during that time: the Apple ecosystem.
Many Windows developers were upset that iOS development had to be done on a Mac, but it didn’t hurt Apple: the most important developers for iOS apps were already using Macs.
But the success of Windows 8 and Windows Phone in the consumer space requires many of those consumer-product developers, now entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, to care so much about Windows development that they want to use Windows to develop for it.
How likely is that?
Anything’s possible, but that’s going to be an uphill battle.
Actually, I don’t think that anything’s possible. But Microsoft might be able sway some developers by subsidizing development of critical apps, as reported by Bijan Sabet. I don’t think that will be enough.
I feel like Elmer-Dewitt is writing an alternate reality scifi novel in this piece, where he makes it sound like Microsoft is still the worldbeater company of the last century, and Apple is the tiny upstart:
Phillip Elmer-Dewitt via Fortune
With Apple (AAPL) expected to introduce a new iPhone in conjunction with the scheduled release of iOS 6 this fall, the stage is set for a holiday face-off between these two long-time rivals in the battle for second place after Google’s (GOOG) market-leading Android smartphones.
Once again, Microsoft will be trying to stretch its lead on the desktop by taking a version of Windows into the mobile device marketplace. Apple, meanwhile, will be playing into its strength in devices that operate smoothly together in an easy-to-use software ecosphere.
Let’s clarify things:
I don’t really see what Elmer-Dewitt is up to, but Apple is the clear market leader in the high profit laptop >$1000 sector. Who cares if Dell or no name manufacturers are selling bazillions of $450 laptops with $15 of profits?
Apple has the money and vision to create amazing products, and that’s not from selling badly designed, low-cost phones, laptops, or tablets.
And I am sure that Microsoft would love to perceived as going head-to-head with Apple. I think Windows 8 — what I have seen of it — looks cool, and might develop into a viable platform. But the characterization of Microsoft and Apple as side by side in the starting blocks for a race against Android is simply fiction, not analysis.
- Hamish McKenzie, The Great Replacement: Microsoft, Yammer, and a New World in Enterprise Computing via PandoDaily
Hamish inteprets Microsoft’s eagerness to acquire the work media company, Yammer, as something greater than the value of the business — even given its solid team, momentum, and product — but instead as part of a strategic vision of a ‘great replacement’ of the current generation of enterprise software. This transition may take a decade or more, but we will witness the slow dismantling of server-based software running onsite, and the migration to cloud-based solutions, like Yammer.
Hamish also points out that Microsoft has deep expertise in running massive cloud solutions, like HotMail, which they acquired in 1997.
I agree that players like Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle are not going to let themselves be squeezed out of the market by upstarts: they will buy a seat at the table, and cut the cards.
Yammer has agreed to a $1.2B acquisition by Microsoft, as was rumored yesterday.
The work media, or enterprise social networks, marketplace is exploding. In December, Forester forecasted that work media will grow at a compound annual rate of 61% through 2016, reaching a market size of $6.4 billion, compared to $600 million in 2011. And with its current offerings — not withstanding the dominance of Sharepoint as a document repository, and the company’s numerous other enterprise software products — Microsoft did not have a horse in the race.
Yammer raised $85 million in February in a round valuing the company at more than $600 million, and has raised $142 million in all. So the investors would like to see a successful IPO, or a sale of $1B at sometime in the not too distant future. However, the recent Facebook IPO has somewhat dimmed the prospect of an IPO for tech companies in the near term.
My bet is that Microsoft has been dancing with Yammer for some time, trying to fill the empty spot in their enterprise jig saw puzzle, and all the while Yammer has been fending them off, biding their time. But the stars came into alignment: Yammer perhaps saw the IPO options fading somewhat and Microsoft finally piled enough cash on the table to sweeten the deal.
Yammer might have seen offers from a number of other companies in recent years, as other enterprise players were rolling up competitors, like the SalesForce buy of Socialcast, and the recent Citrix acquisition of Podio. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that Oracle is on the hunt, and SAP has made a dramatic splash in this market in the past few months, albeit without making an acquisition, yet. Yammer might have looked at the rapid consolidation in the market by multibillion-sized competitors and deemed acquisition by Microsoft as one of the least-risky paths to potential market dominance. A Yammer/Sharepoint integration is a potential killer app for the market today, with hundreds of millions of seats to be sold.
And — incidentally — the Enterprise 2.0 conference is next week, which is the cornerstone event for the work media market, and someone mentioned to me (I haven’t substantiated it) that the Yammer and Microsoft booths are located side by side in the trade show hall. Is that coincidence?
Demo of Microsoft Xbox Smart Glass second screen application. Very cool, although this piece didn’t demonstrate any social features. With 70M sold, Microsoft would be in a good place to launch a second screen social capability, and build a social network.
As Casey Chan at Gizmodo said
As expected, Microsoft just announced something called SmartGlass at E3. Less expected? Just how awesome SmartGlass turned out to be.
When will it run on my iPhone?
A lot of buzz on the interwebs today about Facebook’s apparent third effort to build their own smart phone, and people trying to dissect the reasoning behind it.
For Facebook, the motivation is clear; as a newly public company, it must find new sources of revenue, and it fears being left behind in mobile, one of the most promising areas for growth.
“Mark is worried that if he doesn’t create a mobile phone in the near future that Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms,” a Facebook employee said.
Facebook is going to great lengths to keep the phone project a secret, specifically not posting job listings on the company’s job Web site, but instead going door-to-door to find the right talent for the project.
But can a company that is wired as a social network learn how to build hardware? Mixing the cultures of hardware and software designers is akin to mixing oil and water. With the rare exception of Apple, other phone makers aren’t very good at this.
The biggest names in consumer electronics have struggled with phone hardware. Hewlett-Packard tried and failed. So did Dell. Sony has never done very well making phones.
“Building isn’t something you can just jump into,” explained Hugo Fiennes, a former Apple hardware manager for the first four iPhones who has since left Apple and is starting a new hardware company, Electric Imp. “You change the smallest thing on a smartphone and you can completely change how all the antennas work. You don’t learn this unless you’ve been doing it for a while.”
He added, “Going into the phone business is incredibly complex.”
Bilton suggests that Facebook could simply buy RIM or HTC as a shortcut on the hardware side.
Connor Simpson, Do We Really Need A Facebook Phone?
do we really need a Facebook phone? From Facebook’s perspective, the parts are there, and so is the demand. You’d be hard pressed to find a young person who doesn’t have the native Facebook app, Instragram, and Facebook Messenger already on their phones. It makes sense that they’d want to put something in the market that comes preloaded with all of those apps anyway, along with further Facebook integration. Plus, a Facebook phone probably may not help solve their current mobile problem. Facebook isn’t making any money from their mobile efforts. All of the Facebook apps are free, and they’re still trying to figure out ways to generate any significant income from their mobile efforts. They wrote in their S-1 filing that if users increasingly started to use Facebook on their mobile devices, they have no way to generate any meaningful revenue from those users. Charging upfront for a Facebook phone would generate revenue, but the real question is whether the cost to get a Facebook phone out would be too expensive to make it worth it.
There is a saying, generals spend a lot of time planning how to fight the last war and are therefore surprised by the new one when it occurs. In this case, Bilton and Simpson are focused on the current smartphone marketplace, the one dominated by Apple and Google, where social has largely been an afterthought, and where social capabilities have been provided by apps, like Facebook in a browser. (Leaving aside Apple’s partial integration of Twitter into iOS.)
The next war will be won by the players that build the best social experience into the guts of next generation smartphones. Social capabilities will be wired into the device at a foundational level, not at the application level. And this is why Facebook must develop its own operating system and mobile devices that run it. It must square off with Apple, Google, and, yes, Microsoft still has a chance, here.
What is amazing to me is that this goes largely unconsidered in these articles: the authors don’t really focus on what a social operating system means.
Smart mobile devices have unique handles for their owners — the phone number, email, and social signifiers (like @stoweboyd) — so, in the not too distant social future I could opt to follow a friend, like @gregarious, independently of applications. By doing so, my social smart phone would receive all sorts of updates from @gregarious — status updates, calendar posts, geolocal information, blog links — and my social O/S would attempt to handle this stream using whatever apps I might have associated with the various flavors of updates. But the fundamental follow would be managed in the O/S, natively.
Note that this could also work across different operating systems: @gregarious might be following me from a Google Android device, a Windows phone, or a Facebook phone. Each O/S might have different sorts of capabilities — Google might have Circles and Huddles, Facebook might have Pages, iOS might be based on Twitter esthetics — but the core functionality of receiving status updates and direct messaging would likely become universals.
At any rate, this battle is just over the horizon, and Facebook needs to build its offering as fast as it can, because Google, Apple, and even Microsoft have a huge head start.
(PS I still don’t understand why Apple doesn’t acquire Twitter, and really bake it into iOS.)
Update 1:03pm — Mathew Ingram weighs in, but never discusses the operating system battlefield.
Update 1:05pm Henry Blodget thinks a Facebook phone is a horrible idea, and after a long list of reasons — mostly saying hardware is harder than software — he closes:
Perhaps Facebook doesn’t really have any intention of building a full-fledged phone—perhaps it just wants to partner with someone like HTC or Samsung. But even then, all the same challenges apply.
Facebook already has an “operating system” for mobile—it’s called the social graph.
So instead of building a phone, which seems like a desperate move, Facebook should partner with every operating system and carrier and hardware maker it can to try to embed this social platform within every mobile platform. And it should build great apps to float on top of these systems. (And if Apple keeps giving it the brush-off, it should probably start by cozying up to Samsung, which is the only company giving Apple a run for its money).
Yes, everyone wants to be Apple.
But there’s only one Apple right now.
And Facebook’s chance of becoming the next Apple seems even smaller than Apple’s chance to become Apple was.
The fact that Facebook is even thinking of going into the hardware business is a bad sign. If Facebook actually does go into the hardware business, it will be a really bad sign.
For the sake of my pal Valdis Krebs, I am collating a list of posts I’ve made in recent years on the idea of a social operating system. The basic notion:
Stowe Boyd, Rockmelt: Why The Social Browser Won’t Matter
The next generation of operating systems will be social at the core.We won’t be fooling with files and folders. We will be connecting with others, reading streams from our friends, and tossing observations and hopes and insights into the wake we leave behind, spreading out to all that think we matter.
So here’s some links to pieces I’ve written mentioning the idea:
Please send along any references to other people writing on the subject.
Microsoft settles some patent disputes with Barnes & Noble’s Nook division by investing $300M into the company. The market cheers. Am I missing something?
Microsoft’s Nook Deal, Aiming at Amazon, Sets Up Battle in E-Books - Michael De La Merced and Julie Bosman via NYTimes.com
Microsoft agreed to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Barnes & Noble’s Nook division on Monday, giving the bookstore chain stronger footing in the hotly contested electronic book market and creating an alliance that could intensify the fight over the future of digital reading.
The deal, which gives Microsoft a 17.6 percent stake, values the Nook unit at $1.7 billion — roughly double Barnes & Noble’s entire market value as of last Friday — and bolsters the bookseller’s efforts to make its digital business the linchpin of its future growth.
The announcement was the latest surprise in an unpredictable and rapidly shifting e-book market, which is crowded with technology giants trying to chip away at Amazon.com’s dominance. Amazon once had close to 90 percent of the e-book market, but since then, a handful of players, including Apple, Google and now Microsoft, have edged in.
So, B & N is a bookseller, with hundreds of stores. Remember when Borders went bankrupt? And Tower Records? The days of blazing a new trail in retail by undifferentiated sales are done.
Stowe Boyd via stoweboyd.com
Successful retail in the US is falling into two categories: companies selling their own products, like Apple, and focused specialty providers, like Trader Joe’s and Uniqlo. Otherwise: a wasteland. And soon we will be dismantling all the big box stores.
So, this is a bail out. B & N needs big cash to compete against Kindle, because Amazon is underpricing the device to hold onto the market in the face of growing market penetration of iPad and iPhone as better mobile reading devices. Microsoft, who completely missed the ereader market and who is fighting Apple and Google in the smart device marketplace, hope that a strategic partnership with B & N around the Nook can help, but how?
Unmentioned is the idea that some soon-to-market version of the Nook will be a Windows 8 device, instead of running Nook’s proprietary OS. And a spin-out of the Nook division into a new company, called Nook, with even more cash from Microsoft. Otherwise the whole thing makes no sense.
Nokia’s declining fortunes lead to it’s bonds being rated as junk, after falling to No 2 mobile phone maker, behind Samsung:
S.&P. Downgrades Nokia’s Bonds to Junk - Brian X Chen via NYTimes.com
S.& P.’s announcement came as Samsung dethroned Nokia as the world’s No. 1 maker of mobile phones, which includes traditional cellphones and smartphones. Samsung sold 92 million phones over the last quarter, and Nokia sold 83 million, according to estimates by IHS iSuppli, the research firm. It is the first time since 1998 that Nokia is not the No. 1 phone maker in the world.
In the smartphone category, Nokia slips to third place behind Apple, the leader with 35 million phones shipped, and Samsung, with 32 million devices, according to iSuppli. In that category, Nokia is slipping faster than Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry. The smartphone segment is the only part of the handset market that is showing any growth.
Nokia’s long-term rating was dropped to a noninvestment rating, BB+, from the investment-grade rating BBB–, with a negative outlook, S.& P. said. Its short-term rating dropped to B from A-3, S.& P. said.
Nokia has been struggling to reverse its declining fortunes with its Lumia smartphones, which include Microsoft’s newer operating system, Windows Phone 7. In the United States, AT&T and Nokia have been aggressively promoting the Lumia 900, a $100 smartphone that has been a strong seller on Amazon.com.
Trying to be the world’s leading maker of Windows mobile phones is like being the world’s tallest midget.