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What does it mean that digital technologies are increasingly a part of...
Roger Cohen, The Quest to Belong
Next year’s Thanksgiving grace.
Here’s the closing paragraphs of my weekly update at GigaOM Research. I started by looking at recent news about Zygna, Accenture, and Intel, who are all being whipsawed by the shift away from the PC and the rise of proximal devices (smartphones, tablets, and other ‘mobile’ devices). I finish with Microsoft:
Last fall, Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, outlined his new vision for Microsoft in a letter to shareholders, and rumor has it that this week he will be announcing a major reorganization of the company to try to make that vision a reality. Bottom line: I think much of that reorganization will fail because he is still gambling on Windows and Surface to break through, and they won’t.
But what might emerge from the ashes of that house on fire could be a credible player in the very different world of enterprise IT coming down the pike. Let me characterize it:
100% Cloud — We are continuing to hear reasons why companies cannot move everything into the cloud, but in the final analysis they are quibbles disguised as prudence. Ultimately, anything that can be done on premise will be possible in the cloud, with the exception of physical on-site security (which is like pretending that your money is safer in the cookie jar under your bed than in a bank).
100% Proximal — There will be functionally zero stationary computing devices in just a few years, and people will be always on, wherever they are.
100% IT-less — The downturn in Accenture’s fortunes is the start of a collapse in enterprise IT consulting, and that will rapidly cascade across the industry. Why? The use of cloud-based enterprise software and proximal hardware cuts a huge hole out of the middle of what those consultants configure for their clients. Note that this won’t stop with outsourced IT staff: it means the end of IT internally, too. (Yes, companies will still own computing devices — on the factory floor, and in the hands of retail clerks. But increasingly they will be communicating with back office software running in the cloud.)
I am going to get a lot of flack for zooming ahead five years based on these trends, but I will stand by the prediction.
This is the deep background on the future of enterprise software in general, and specifically the form factor of future cowork (collaborative and cooperative) tools.
The enterprise software companies that will weather this sea change will be the ones that drop their efforts to stop the tide. They will have to make the change that Krzanich is making at Intel, betting on the future instead of fighting it.
One last prediction: Ballmer’s reorg this week — if it comes as expected — will be a hedge. The reorg that will indicate that Microsoft has turned the corner will be when Ballmer leaves the company, and a new CEO joins, shuts down the company’s hardware efforts, and deadpools Windows. I give Ballmer another year, at most, before the shareholders demand his head.
Tricia Duryee, Zynga Marketing Chief Jeff Karp Steps Down
Jeff Karp, Zynga’s chief marketing and revenue officer, is resigning from the social games company.
Karp is the latest in a string of executives who have left the company in what is becoming a widespread restructuring.
Actually, it’s irrelevant who specifically is leaving Zygna, which looks like a dog with fleas, these days. What is important is that an entire cadre of management is either being pushed out or running away from the imploding social games company.
The only real question is who at Zygna will stay and turn things around, if that is even possible. Last month, Mark Pincus, Zygna’s CEO, issued new stock options to full-time staff in an effort to get them to stay. Given the hunger for talent in Silicon Valley, options in a company trading at $2.82 just won’t have the sizzle they did in March, when Zygna was trading at almost $16 per share.
As goes Zynga, so goes Facebook?
Weak second-quarter financial results for Zynga — and worse expectations for the rest of the year — sent its already faltering stock down in after-hours trading Wednesday by more than a third, David Streitfeld and Jenna Wortham report in Thursday’s New York Times.
The unexpected news was seen as boding ill for Facebook, which is closely tied to Zynga and will issue its first earnings report as a public company on Thursday. Facebook shares were down 5.4 percent in premarket trading.
For Zynga, a Silicon Valley darling whose public offering last December seemed to herald a wave of tech success, just about everything went wrong at once.
A brief list: Facebook made changes to its gaming platform that hampered Zynga regulars. A critical new game, the Ville, was delayed. Another new game, Mafia Wars II, just was not very good, executives conceded. The heavily hyped Draw Something, acquired in March, proved more fad than enduring classic. Some old standbys also lost some appeal.
Like I said recently, in three years Facebook is going to feel like riding in a buggy.
Social networks do best when they tap into one of the seven deadly sins. Facebook is ego. Zynga is sloth. LinkedIn is greed.
Doesn’t include Twitter, which is envy? Pride? Lust?
Starting to remind me of Microsoft a decade ago, when they were trying to win on seven or eight fronts — PC O/S, IM, email, mobile phones, game systems, corporate IT, office apps, etc. — and meanwhile the web came along and screwed everything up, and gave serious advantages to others.
Now Facebook is fighting on seven fronts on so, and something is coming to upend their position at the center of today’s web: social O/S. Watch out, Zuck.
Turns out that the exploding game industry isn’t all sunshine and flowers: after all, billions in revenue is at stake and that tends to not bring out the best in people.
It seems that Mark Pincus’ Zygna is a hotbed of idea theft, stealing ideas from competitors, and crushing them with the company’s reach. Just like Elvis Presley knocking off all the old ‘Race Music’ and repackaging it as rock’n’roll.
But Zygna may be reaching the end of that streak. Pincus has apparently been telling his employees to forget about innovation, and simply appropriate competitor’s game ideas:
Peter Jamison, FarmVillains
As the former senior employee who listened to Pincus rant against innovation recalls, workers at Zynga were fond of joking (albeit half-seriously) that their firm’s unofficial motto was an inversion of Google’s famous “Don’t Be Evil.”
“Zynga’s motto is ‘Do Evil,’” he says. “I would venture to say it is one of the most evil places I’ve run into, from a culture perspective and in its business approach. I’ve tried my best to make sure that friends don’t let friends work at Zynga.”
The derivative nature of Zynga’s high-grossing games isn’t just an ethical liability. While the company has recently enjoyed a spate of bullish mainstream media coverage, some industry experts say that its star could soon be on the wane. The audience for its signature application, FarmVille, has collapsed by 26 percent from its high of 84 million monthly users. As a new generation of social gamers demands more sophistication in online entertainment, some observers — including at least one of Zynga’s founders — question whether the company can adapt.
“You can’t make the cheap little viral games like you used to,” says Tom Bollich, an early Zynga investor and former lead engineer who owned more than 400,000 shares of the company in 2008, and who has now divested completely. “These games, it’s like pouring water into a bucket with holes in it. You can get a lot of people, but they don’t stick around.”
We’ll have to see if Zygna has reached some limit in its growth, but I doubt that its business practices are known to users, or that it would make any difference if they did know.
Umair Haque twittered today ‘I don’t know what these guys are so upset about. That’s what business is all about.’ with regard to this story. After all, stealing the best ideas is Silicon Valley lore, isn’t it? But maybe there are still lines that can be crossed, even when unbridled capitalism is held up as a societal good.
Jason Calcanis says he spoke with Steve Jobs about the Facebook flare-up. Whether he did or not, what he posted in his email newsletter is dead-on:
Anyway, here is what Steve Jobs is thinking during the keynote:
Now, certainly you’ve heard about Apple’s huge data center in North Carolina. You know, the one that reportedly cost one *billion* dollars. Experts say that Apple’s data center cost roughly double what Google and Facebook spent on similar facilities.
Apple’s massive, cash-generating successes have come from soup-to-nuts services like iTunes and the iPod, the App Store and the iPhone. It’s a logical conclusion that Apple would want to take on the social and search layers next.
PING is not music service; it’s a social network precursor.
Game Center is not a game matching service; it’s a social network precursor.
The largest and most-loved Apple product line—to the tune of over 275 million units sold—is the iPod. Their second biggest revenue success is the iPhone, of course. In order to use it, you need to put in a credit card.
Facebook and Twitter have users. Apple has customers.
The difference? Customers give you their credit card number.
Jason goes on to suggest that Jobs should acquire Twitter and Zygna: maybe so. He doesn’t mention Netflix, which I think is more central to his long term goal: the battle for the living room (see Social TV: The Future Of TV Is Social).
But it is clear that billions of iPod, iPhones, Mac, and iPads form an awfully large base of users to start with, if you are launching a new social network.
I remember trying to convince Adobe to roll out an instant messaging product in the late ’90s, since Adobe’s free player was on 98% of computers. They told me they didn’t want to be in that business.
Jobs clearly wants to be in the social network business, and with one giant step he has gotten pretty close to the front of the pack.