Embarrassment of Riches

When I did early demos of Teqlo I was pretty limited in the number of widgets we could “hook up” so I invariably ended up doing a Google Map mashup. I started to get self conscious about it to the point that I started to make a joke out of it, “I’m gonna demo a Gmap mashup because we all know the world needs yet another one!”. Half serious, half hoping to just deflect the issue in the event that it came up.

While we are fortunate to have more widgets now, I still like the Gmap ones for a couple of reasons.

1) Google Maps is a drop dead simple API compared to the other Google services. It’s reliable and fast, and it makes a great demo to explain the concept.

2) The reason why Google Maps mashups became so popular (up to half of the public mashups are Gmap) is because maps make a great visualization paradigm for spatial data. Do you need a tutorial to understand data on a map? No, it’s simple and it communicates the appropriate data very effectively.

3) Prior to Google releasing the map API, doing anything with maps was an expensive proposition that required purchasing a license for complicated mapping software and likely installing software on the client side as well. What Google did was eliminate barriers to entry for new entrants to create map based interfaces that reached consumer grade mass market audiences. For that Google should be complimented because it would have been reflexive to fall back and charge a fee of some level for access to this kind of service.

Map mashups are just the low hanging fruit in the mashup space, and far from losing their luster they are accelerating in adoption (SAP even has a Gmap mashup to their Real Estate solution).

Google Maps (and its mapping brethren) remains the most generally useful, accessible, open, and viral visualization platform for creating mashups. There aren’t an awful lot of other places to stick data and have it look like anything other than just another web app. When it goes on a blog we call it a widget instead. You could imagine tomorrow if google created an open tree map visualization platform that was as accessible as its mapping API all of a sudden there would be a ton of tree map mashup visualizations floating around.

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Of all the companies I saw at the Under the Radar Office 2.0 event last week, the one that really blew me away was Smartsheet. This is one really impressive service.

UPDATE: I was thinking about this some more and I think the question everyone has when they see something like this is “why can’t Microsoft do something like this?” With all of the product assets they have and the army of developers, why can’t Excel turn into something like this? I suspect it could but it will end up involving a new product that I have to buy (shades of Sharepoint), run only on Vista Server (which I don’t have), and be buried in a bunch of other “features” (that I don’t give a crap about).


Scaling From Free to .01 Cent

The truth is, scaling from $5 to $50 million is not the toughest part of a new venture – it’s getting your users to pay you anything at all. The biggest gap in any venture is that between a service that is free and one that costs a penny. I can’t think of a single premium service that has achieved truly viral distribution. Can you?

Josh Kopelman pretty much sums up the dilemma that many web 2.0 startups have, including Teqlo for that matter. People will pay for these services but they have to have some persistent utility in order to cross that threshold, but the persistent utility is what is challenging.

Here’s the other reality I am finding, free services are typically unable to develop the kind of invested relationship with users that paid services are. The value of a free service is the lead generation that it enables, it’s just another way to feed a sales process.

Viral? I’m sure there are some examples of successful companies built entirely on viral but I would be hard pressed to name a paid service that relies exclusively on viral. Free services have to rely on viral because the economics of incuring a cost of sales for something you are giving away just doesn’t make sense.

Converting free users into paying users is only challenging if you don’t ask them to pay. Premium feature sets is one way to do this, PBWiki being a good example, while increasing consumption thresholds being another. DabbleDB gives you more users for each pricing tier, other companies give you the ability to create more files, etc. Basically, the latter is what I prefer because it gives new users the opportunity to appreciate all the features while at the same time putting a limit on how much they can consume.

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Twitter and Self-Reinforcing Fads

I wrote about Twitter back in July of last year after Ross started using it. Now MSNBC is picking up on the thing that everyone, it seems, is talking about it these days.

Over the past two weeks, Twitter has attracted the sort of hyperbole the Valley reserves for its next internet darling – though such self-reinforcing adulationalso led to dotcom mania.

Of course, they also quote Ross in the piece. Honest to God, I think he alone is responsible for generating 57% of the buzz.

In the article Ross is quoted “I don’t think it will be the next YouTube – but I do think it will gain wide adoption,” and I’m going to go to the other end of the spectrum and flatly say that by this time next year Twitter will still be an inside the Valley thing with it’s darling shine tarnished with age. Right now it’s the “talk of the town” because everyone is talking about it, but there comes a time when actual utility has to be derived and I just don’t see that happening broadly. There are many things that Twitter could be that would be quite interesting, but the problem is that the preponderance of banality that is twitter today obscures those applications.

Talking is not the same thing as communicating. I don’t think the many smart people that are touting this service are wrong to do so, but I do think that A-list early adopters have a higher degree of forgiveness for things that are ultimately time wasters, a lot more than the mass market does.

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