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June, 2007:

iPhone leads to RSS homogeneity recognition

How can you tell? When over 90% of your first 100 items in your reader are discussing nothing but the iPhone. I’m been reviewing my RSS collection as of late simply because I noticed that there is a lot of discussions taking place around the same topics. Much of that, I believe, is that we travel in the circles we know and I developed my list from the blogrolls of some of the top technology and VC blogs out there. I’ve been extending into various niches now as well.

Anyway, to all those who waited in line and got your iPhone, congratulations. I’m going with Fred Wilson’s choice this time around and taking up the Blackberry Curve. I’m sure I will be switching to an iPhone in the future (perhaps second gen.) but for now, I need something with 100% reliability for corporate email and enterprise reliability.

Facebook and AOL

A couple of days ago, I read a post by Jeff Pulver entitled Facebook: Evolving beyond being “Just a Social Network”. His comparison of Facebook and AOL, calling Facebook potentially the “new” AOL, immediately struck a contemplative cord with me. What strikes me
as so fascinating how similar the two stories are.

In the late 90’s, AOL was still a darling of the web. But its strategic issues really were showing themselves with their “walled garden” approach while the “open” web was growing, thriving and becoming a true disruption to their destination business. One could say that having everyone come to AOL was a large factor in the difficulties they ran into.

So here we are in 2007, Facebook is all the rage and creating for themselves a “new” garden. Are we heading into a scenario where much of social web experiences are found in the Facebook environment. I find it very interesting that at a high level, Facebook is in fact doing exactly what
AOL did in the past.  Now, granted, an open API architecture where developers are consciously tying their solutions and services onto the Facebook platform is quite different. In fact, I am not criticizing their solution in any way, I think their strategic move to “open up” could be a brilliant one and really changes the playing field particularly for vertically-oriented social networks.

But the premise remains the same, you can go to the web (or in this case the “social” web) but you need to come to Facebook first. Perhaps Jeff was on to something with his question, “Is Facebook the “new” AOL?”, indeed.

Natural Language Search & Powerset

PowersetThere has been a lot of pre-coverage of Powerset, starting with the TechCrunch post back in February. Many claim that they have something in development, to be released for public view in September that can change the tide of the search marketplace. And they will do it with natural language search.

I have to say that I will believe it when I see it, that is my stance right now. Not that I don’t believe a company can develop a category leading application or service even when the market “seems” closed out. I made that mistake once before in 1998 when someone first introduced me to a company called G-O-O-G-L-E, and Yahoo! seemed like that had the search market monopolized.

My curiosity around Powerset is more around the paradigm of natural language search than the company itself. Any time you ask people to switch their behaviors and usage habits, you are setting up another barrier for yourself. People are used to typing a few words or even advance queries into the “little white box”. Will they shift to typing in “Who won an academy award in 2001?” like discussed in VentureBeat earlier today. Time will tell but right now most would type “academy award 2001”. It will be critical in how they overcome that challenge.

I, for one, am very interested to get a peak into what they have developing and signed up for Powerlabs today. Bringing the early adopters and users into the process of testing out various elements in a fantastic way to get early feedback, hone the engine on obvious user tasks, gain early market momentum and build word-of-mouth. Smart move (if the engine provides a satisfactory experience and doesn’t not turn users away), users rarely come back if the first experience is a bad one. And in the case of Powerset, the experience is going to have to be better than Google on the first pass, otherwise users will go with what they know.

To close, let me use an example.  On the Powerset blog,  they use the example query “Who proved Fermat’s last theorem? in a post.  Their results set are impressive providing the instant answer.  Just for validation, I searched “Fermat’s last theorem” at Google and a Wikipedia page came up as the first hit.  The answer “Andrew Wiles” was found in the sixth sentence.  Great example of two things.  First, showing Powerset as an answer finder, and second, raises the question if search engine switching costs are low enough that a little less legwork to find the answer is going to win the hearts of users.

Good Article on Steve Jobs

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been spending some time using Movable Type (3.2 version) to set up an internal blog for our business unit.  It’s been an interesting experience working with the templates from scratch, much different than using a hosted solution, at least I know what I will be in for if I go self-hosted with this one.

Anyway, I wanted to note a really good article I read about Steve Jobs yesterday.  It is entitled Steve Jobs in a Box, written by John Heilemann.  Really gives you some perspective on not only Jobs himself but how far Apple has come since his taking the CEO helm back in 1997.   Quick thanks to Fred Wilson over at A VC for pointing out the article in his post.

Demise of Books? Not for a while.

This morning I read the piece, Opinion/Analysis: Books? What Books?, by Zach Simms at Rev2.org, regarding the impending demise of books. While I don’t disagree that the web and our always connected paradigm has changed the book business forever, I’m not calling for the “end of the book” quite yet. The web has changed how people consume information. People are going to web more than ever and as Zach points out, new innovative offerings are even moving book content to digital devices like the Sony Reader.

And, here’s the thing, people still love to read. If the demise of books was so upon us, would we still not see a thriving bricks-n-morter book industry? Okay, thriving may be a strong word, but there are still a ton of book stores. As an example, according to Answers.com, Borders has about 1,200 stores, Waldenbooks has 560 stores, Barnes & Noble has 700 and B. Dalton has 100. That is a lot of outlets pushing a product that is on its way out of style. And that is in the wake of continued pressure from online bookstores like Amazon (whose success also sheds light on the demand for books).

In addition, even in a world of connectivity and digital solutions, many still love the opportunity to stick their nose in a book. As much as I am online, I also enjoy to sit down and read a book. Unfortunately, I only find time to get 20 or 30 pages in at a time; I’m currently reading The Ten Faces of Innovation which I reference in a recent post. Come to think of it, this post reminds me that I need to spend more time online to update my Shelfari bookshelf to ensure it has all the books on my shelf or that I’m currently reading. Happy reading.