Elsewhere

Apple Should Buy Twitter

Rumors are flying around about Apple investing strategically in Twitter.

Apple Is Said to Discuss an Investment in Twitter - Evelyn Rusli and Nick Bilton via NYTimes.com

Apple doesn’t have to own a social network,” Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said at a recent technology conference. “But does Apple need to be social? Yes.”

Twitter and Apple have already been working together. Recently, Apple has tightly sewn Twitter features into its software for phones, tablets and computers, while, behind the scenes, Twitter has put more resources into managing its relationship with Apple.

Though an investment in Twitter would not be a big financial move for Apple by any stretch — it has $117 billion in liquid investments, and it quietly agreed to buy a mobile security company for $356 million on Friday — it would be one of Mr. Cook’s most important strategic decisions as chief executive. And it would be an uncommon arrangement for Apple, which tends to buy small start-ups that are then absorbed into the company.

But such a deal would give Apple more access to Twitter’s deep understanding of the social Web, and pave the way for closer Twitter integration into Apple’s products.

Twitter has grown quickly, amassing more than 140 million monthly active users who generate a vast stream of short messages about their lives, the news and everything else. An Apple investment would give it the glow of a close relationship with a technology icon, and would instantly bolster its valuation, which, like that of other start-ups, has languished in the wake of Facebook’s lackluster market debut. In fact, word of the talks comes at a time when some are asking whether expectations for the potential of social media companies have gotten out of hand, and shares of Facebook, Zynga and other companies have wilted.

Apple should take $20B and buy Twitter.

Twitter otherwise could spiral off into being a media company, pouring its energies into competing with HuffPo and Mayer’s Yahoo. Or worse, being acquired by Yahoo, AOL, or Microsoft.

Apple needs to bake social into a future version of all its OSs, before Google does.

Facebook Entering The Next Social Battlefield: Social Operating Systems

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.

Nick Bilton, Facebook Might Have a Smartphone in Its Future - NYTimes.com

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.

The Social Operating System: A Reader

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.

Apple, Twitter, And The Social OS

Mathew Ingram wonders — apparently based on some thoughts by Barry Ritholtz — whether Apple should spend $10B and buy Twitter:

Mathew Ingram, Should Apple buy Twitter?

Apple’s best effort by far at adding those kinds of social elements came when the company integrated Twitter at a deep — and for Apple, a fairly radical — level into the operating system on the iPhone and iPad (and even into its new desktop OS, OS-X Mountain Lion). Never before had Apple built support for a third-party service into its devices and software in such a fundamental way. This helped fuel rumors about an Apple acquisition, just as Ritholtz and others have used it to justify such a deal: if Apple wants to integrate Twitter so deeply, why not just acquire it so that it has full control?

The fact that Apple likes to control things from end-to-end is well known, which is just one of the reasons why the deep Twitter integration was a bit of a surprise. But does it really need to own Twitter in order to get the benefits of that integration? I don’t think so. It can get all the positive aspects of Twitter support without having to own the company — and it doesn’t have to worry about the hassle of maintaining a third-party service that is used for a wide variety of different purposes that Apple has no real interest in.

Not only that, but buying Twitter could actually harm Apple’s attempts to integrate more social aspects into its devices, because it would make it even less likely that the company would ever strike a similar deal with Facebook — something it has tried to do a number of times. It could be that Facebook has no intention of ever partnering with Apple, and the two may wind up becoming adversaries as their interests converge, but acquiring Twitter would likely remove any chance of the two ever working together in even a small way.

So, Mathew comes down pretty strongly on the negative side of a possible acquisition, but omits the long-range view: the next generation of operating systems will be social at the core.

Most of today’s operating systems are still based on 1990 thinking. They are based on WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointer). They don’t know about the Web, so users have to move back and forth from their local store of docs and files to the cloud, a thousand times a day. And the biggest surprise of the Web has been the rise of social, which is supported on our computers through apps.

All of these limitations will be attacked in new operating systems, which will be web-aware, post-WIMP, and inherently social.

Apple is headed into a battle with Google, Facebook, and maybe Microsoft (Windows 8 looks pretty good), and one of the primary areas of contention will be building social primitives into the operating environment.

Google will build its social architecture in Android. Facebook will become more than just an app platform: it will become a mobile OS. Windows 9 or some future version will incorporate some approach to social. And iOS and Mac OS X have started to move this way by including Twitter in the mix, as a fundamental social protocol.

Apple should pay the $10B for Twitter, and make it into the social layer of its OSs, and as the social framework of its apps. For example, Ping in iTunes could be rewired to rely on Twitter, fixing its design as Barry Ritholz points out, and future social TV and second screen apps could be based on Twitter, as well, which makes sense because Twitter is the leading second screen app today. The coming battle for social TV will be hugely important, and Twitter really positions Apple in that space.

So, Mathew is being too conservative, because he thinks Apple may want to ‘work with’ Facebook in the future. But that can’t be where Apple is headed.

MyZone: A Next-Generation Online Social Network

http://arxiv.org/abs/1110.5371

Alireza Mahdian, John Black, Richard Han, Shivakant Mishra (Submitted on 24 Oct 2011)

This technical report considers the design of a social network that would address the shortcomings of the current ones, and identifies user privacy, security, and service availability as strong motivations that push the architecture of the proposed design to be distributed. We describe our design in detail and identify the property of resiliency as a key objective for the overall design philosophy.

We define the system goals, threat model, and trust model as part of the system model, and discuss the challenges in adapting such distributed frameworks to become highly available and highly resilient in potentially hostile environments. We propose a distributed solution to address these challenges based on a trust-based friendship model for replicating user profiles and disseminating messages, and examine how this approach builds upon prior work in distributed Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks.

This is exactly the form that social operating systems will take: a distributed model (mediated by server-side replication) for peer-to-peer social relationships and messaging.

Facebook's iPad App Works Kind of Like an Operating System - Technology - The Atlantic Wire

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2011/10/facebook-new-ipad-app-works-like-operating-system/43507/

Adam Clark Estes

It took months of waiting, a couple of false starts and a whole lot of speculation, but Facebook has finally launched an iPad app. However, the upgrade is much more than a tablet-friendly version of the website. Facebook is also carrying over its developer platform to mobile. This means that all of the slick new class of Facebook apps that Mark Zuckerberg announced a couple of weeks ago at the f8 developers conference will be more integrated into the mobile experience. The specific details are a little bit confusing at first as Facebook is spoon-feeding the functionality to users, but we can already tell: Facebook is starting to function like an independent mobile operating system.

[…]

As [Facebook’s Luke] Shepard explains [here], Facebook apps will now be fully integrated into the mobile experience as their own apps within the Facebook app. If you receive a notification or request from a friend in a compatible app, tapping the update will switch to the mobile app if you have it on your phone or take you to Apple’s app store to download it. Shepard uses Words with Friends as an example. Let’s say your pal plays the word “quixotic”—a high scorer, by the way—you’ll receive a notification and tapping it will take your straight to the app to make your move. Facebook is also extending Credits to the mobile apps so you can also buy things within their framework. Again, it’s like its own little operating system within Apple’s iOS.

Facebook is headed toward a direct confrontation with Apple and Google (and Amazon and Microsoft) for the future of computing: the social operating system.

Apple certainly shouldn’t let Facebook create an independent app store.

When is Facebook going to develop its own tablet?

Daring Fireball: All His Life Has He Looked Away, to the Future, to the Horizon. Never His Mind on Where He Was. What He Was Doing.

http://daringfireball.net/2011/09/to_the_future

Gruber responds to a Windows 8 fan boy, Paul Thurrott, who twittered ‘Hello, Windows 8? This is iPad. You win.’ after seeing a demo on a Samsung-produced tablet:

John Gruber via Daring Fireball

What did Microsoft show, though? They showed a Metro-style touchscreen tablet user interface that is, without argument, original. No accusations of ripping off the iPad here. Microsoft is admirably blazing its own trail.

But the OS reportedly isn’t coming out for at least a year. The demo tablet hardware from Samsung they’re showing it on (and giving to Build attendees) is a Core i5 Intel-based PC replete with a fan. Spec-wise these units are much more like MacBook Airs than iPads. Presumably actual shipping iPad-competing Windows 8 tablets will use low-power mobile CPUs — be they ARM, Atom, whatever, just so long as they get iPad-caliber long battery life and low temperatures.

How will Windows 8 run on such hardware? When will they actually ship? How many as-yet-unannounced iPad 3s will Apple have sold by the time the first Windows 8 tablet hits stores? (Not to mention the many tens of millions of iPad 2s Apple will sell in just the next quarter alone.)

It’s all in the future. All potential, nothing actual. Think about how different Apple’s and Microsoft’s approaches are. Apple unveiled the iPad to the public only when it was a completely finished product, two months before it hit stores. The demo units we in the press had access to that day were exactly like the mass-produced iPads that shipped to customers two months later. Can you imagine Apple doing with the iPad what Microsoft is doing with Windows 8? Say, showing a prototype iPad at WWDC in June 2009, running on MacBook Pro-caliber Intel hardware? Letting the public and the press play with the OS in half-finished alpha state on prototype hardware? Impossible even to imagine. (There were no hands-on demos, let alone take-home prototypes or developer downloads, when Apple showed a “sneak preview” of Mac OS X Lion at last year’s “Back to the Mac” event.)

I’m not passing judgment here — at least not yet — regarding which strategy is superior. I simply wish to direct your attention at how utterly different the two companies are.

Gruber seems to be making a corporate culture argument, but I think this is also a case of Microsoft playing catch-up, from way back in the pack.They hope to stall some buyers from buying an iPad, thinking that some razzamatazz might hypnotize them.

But iPad is clearly dominating the tablet space, and I don’t think Microsoft has a chance.

I am still betting on a Microsoft/Facebook social OS alliance. I wonder how closely integrated Facebook will be in Windows 8, when it launches.

Learning From The Google+ Experiment: Operating System, Platform, Apps

As part of the chorus singing about Google+ (see Armano’s insightful The Social Layer: Six Thoughts On Where Google Plus Is Going as just the most recent example), let me make a few observations:

It’s very hard to separate foundational concepts of Google+ from what might considered features or apps. Foundational elements would include identity, following, streams, and sparks. But Circles, Hangouts, and Huddle are best considered apps, in the broadest sense. So apps are a foundational element of the Google+ architecture, and they can closely integrate into the user experience of Google+, like Circles does.

But we are moving toward a world where most of the foundational elements of Google+ will be part of a next generation version of Android, and the things that feel like apps on Google+ will be, in fact, apps running on that future social OS.

This means that I could drop Circles, and use some other app as a mechanism for organizing my sociality. Imagine an imaginary app, called Groupings, that works very differently than Circles, but does build on the foundational elements of identity, following, streams and sparks.

But I would want to follow people not just on the Google+ enhanced version of Android, but the Twitter-enhanced, social versions of iOS and OS X, as well. So long as these two operating systems provide similar social foundations, Groupings could run on my OS X laptop and on my pal’s Android smartphone.

In this model, the operating systems become the platform, and apps like Circles or Groupings could run on either, or on a future, social Windows 9 (once Facebook acquires the phone parts of Microsoft). 

I could opt to follow someone, with a globally unique identity provided by the operating system of choice: in my case, let’s say by OS X, and the person I want to follow, David Armano, by Android. We would also be able to use those identities on any device.

Once I opt to follow, the basics are provided: I will get what he drops in his public stream, and it will appear in my ‘upstream’ — the unfiltered collation of all those I follow. What I post or repost falls into my ‘downstream’ which would be directed to everyone who is following me.

Obviously, the various operating systems have to support the fundamental protocols for this social messaging to work, and we will see this in due course, although it’s likely that we will see several contending models that don’t interoperate, and closed worlds built by the various operating systems providers.

We need the social operating system equivalent of http and email protocols to arise, so that an open social web can emerge.

We need the social operating system equivalent of http and email protocols to arise, so that an open social web can emerge.

So one thing we can learn from the Google+ experiment is this: I shouldn’t have to login to Google+, and use Circles, to follow David Armano’s writing over there. The works of those I follow should find me no matter what applications or operating systems I use. I don’t have to have Outlook running to read Armano’s email, and I don’t have to browse his website with Chrome, just because those are the tools he uses. 

And the developers of these applications, platforms, and operating systems need to be pushing aggressively in that direction, because in the meantime we are dividing the space for social discourse online into a maze of contending, non-interoperable models that don’t harmonize yet.

As Deal With Twitter Expires, Google Realtime Search Goes Offline

http://searchengineland.com/as-deal-with-twitter-expires-google-realtime-search-goes-offline-84175

Danny Sullivan via

Yesterday, we reported that Google Realtime Search had mysteriously disappeared. Today comes the reason why: Google’s agreement with Twitter to carry its results has expired, taking with it much of the content that was in the service with it.

The details are interesting, but the lines are being drawn: Google+ is a direct competitor to Twitter, and so the orientation of Google as a whole to the streaming service will change.

It is starting here, in Google’s real-time search offering, but that’s just an initial foray, with Google decreasing the central role that Twitter plays in the real-time communication space, and trying to elbow Google+ into parity.

More important in the long run will be the nature of Twitter’s relationship with Apple, because the long-term battle is the social operating system war between Apple’s iOS/OS X and Google’s Android, with very different and potentially incompatible social worlds built in.

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