Email And Cellphone Contacts Are The Real Social Graph

Scott echoes a point I made just a few days ago in my predictions post… email is the ultimate social network but the lack of contact granularity makes it problematic as a social network. I also think that just trying to mimic Facebook feeds through an email UI introduces more problems than benefits. By way of background on this, here’s an interesting post that goes into some detail about what is happening to Gmail.

Not everyone I get email from or send to is a “friend”.

I don’t want more email to inform me of what my email friends are doing.

Email is one-to-one or one-to-many, does making it many-to-many break it?

Google has been quietly rolling out social features across all of its services based on Gmail contacts. While Google still has to overcome some of its social tone-deafness (e.g. automatically adding contacts without asking), this move makes perfect sense. For people over 30 (and probably even over 25) email IS the social graph.

[From Email And Cellphone Contacts Are The Real Social Graph – Publishing 2.0]

Tigers Gone Wild

I’ve been watching the tragic case of the tiger attack at the SF zoo on Christmas day with a lot of interest. My son loves the zoo and in particular the big cats. Having said that I don’t think we’ll ever go back to this zoo unless the director is replaced, the exhibits meet minimum national standards, they demonstrate renewed interest in better emergency planning, and lastly, they make an apology to the victim’s family.

Zoo Director Manuel Mollinedo, equally tight-lipped at the briefing, announced that the zoo will reopen Thursday. “That will allow us to get everything back in order” so the zoo can once again “provide a wonderful experience” for visitors, he said. [From Police, fire logs in S.F. tiger mauling show scene of chaos, delay]

There’s a lot of blame to go around, but zoo director Mollinedo is living in a fantasy world if he thinks that that opening the zoo is going to get everything back to normal. My first thought after reading this quote was “dude, you just had 3 people attacked, 1 fatally, by a TIGER… getting everything back in order is the least of your worries”. To his comment about “a wonderful experience”, my snarky side came out as I thought “gee, you mean the not-getting-eaten-by-a-TIGER kind of experience?”.

The family of the young man who was killed by this tiger has demonstrated grace and dignity in the face of the ultimate tragedy that parents can face. This is all the more notable considering the zoo’s leadership first suggested the tiger could not have escaped on it’s own because the surrounding the enclosure was 18 feet tall, which we now know it was not, then later suggesting the tiger was provoked by the victims, which we don’t know but should not matter under any circumstances because the enclosure should have been built to protect visitors under any circumstances.

If there is one certainty in all of this, it is that the zoo is ultimately responsible for the safety of visitors and that they had a sub-standard tiger enclosure, no security cameras, a security staff that was in disarray, poor communications, and lastly, seemed more interested in securing the tiger than preventing additional fatalities.

At this point, given the facts that have emerged, it is clear that the victim’s family has a winnable legal case, which is little consolation for losing a son but the only recourse they have available to them. The zoo should cut through the bullshit and just come out and say they are sorry for what happened, what they will be doing to make sure this never happens again, and then come to a quick financial settlement with the family.

After what happened last year with this same tiger, elephant deaths and many other issues, this zoo’s credibility is shot (no pun intended). Now is not the time for incremental measures, at least not if they have any hope of getting families, like my own, to come back.

From Mollinedo’s statements it does not appear that he grasps the gravity of what has happened and that institutions such as the zoo are dependent on a broad base of public support not just for attendance but also for fundraising and necessary political support, but then again I would be very surprised if the SF Zoo does not end up with a new director before this latest episode fades from the news. Indeed, the Board of Directors of the Zoological Society has, at this point, an obligation to act.

Lastly, and it is lost in much of the coverage of this event, but the zoo also has an obligation, moral and legal, to ensure the safety of the tiger. The Siberian tiger is highly endangered, with more living in captivity than in the wild, it’s a tragedy that a young tiger such as this one had to be killed. I do not question the actions of the police, this animal had to be shot and killed in order to prevent additional human injury or death, but the zoo is ultimately responsible for allowing the conditions to exist that enabled the tiger to escape it’s enclosure, therefore the zoo is responsible for the death of the tiger as a result of the inadequacies of it’s enclosure.

It’s What Is INSIDE the Machine that Counts

Mossberg says that Dell’s XPS One has the right stuff… still needs to be decrapified.

In my tests, I found the XPS One to be much better designed and equipped than Gateway’s iMac competitor, also called the One. In fact, the Dell XPS One is the first Windows all-in-one desktop I’ve tested that I believe matches or exceeds the iMac in hardware design. That’s no small feat, especially coming from Dell. [From Dell’s All-in-One PC Has the Guts, Design to Compete With iMac | Walt Mossberg | Personal Technology | AllThingsD]

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2008 Predictions

I told my friend Kevin that I wasn’t going to write the boilerplate predictions post, but here I am writing a post titled 2008 Predictions! In thinking about it, this is less about what I think is going to happen in 2008 and more about the themes and memes that I find interesting.

1) A lot of websites are going to figure out that advertising is not a revenue strategy for them. After a knee-jerk shift to premium subscription many of these sites will either shut down or redefine who their economic customer is. I realize this is somewhat of a vague statement, but it falls within my interest area of business models that don’t rely on an end user to pay for the service.

2) Relationship and privacy granularity become an integral capability within social networks. To date these services have dumbed down what it means to be a “friend” in that it’s binary, in other words, if you are in my contact database you are by definition a “friend”. Inserting relationship and privacy tools within these networks to better control sharing will become important and more people come online with these services and the shortcomings become more glaring.

2a) We will definitely see a major data security lapse in one of these networks next year. Despite being opt-in private (meaning by default everything is public) doesn’t mean that people have no regard for their own privacy. As someone notable once said, the more you have to conserve the more conservative you become… I’ll adapt this to privacy to suggest that as more of our lives becomes public, the more concern we have for ensuring the parts we want to remain private stay that way.

3) The march to a new media model will continue as print publications increasingly decouple the discrete operations of actual printing and distribution from writing operations. More journalists will make the jump into the blogosphere to augment their brand. It’s not enough to acknowledge that media itself is undergoing tectonic change without also looking at the changing consumer dynamic. We are not just going online for news, we are shifting from media sites as destination to aggregators and portals as where we surround ourselves with the media that interests us.

4) Very much related to #3 above is the topic of relevance and discovery of content. Search engines only go so far in helping me to discover new content, while they will get better they will also only get incrementally better. I am witnessing the development of an entirely new category of content tools that do what expensive proprietary services, like Lexis-Nexus, have had a lock on, help me discover new content that is related to what I have demonstrated an interest in. We are seeing this in full force in the RSS business right now, with companies like AideRSS and doing something more than delivering content, and sites like DailyMe and Orglex offering powerful personal publishing.

5) Email is the most powerful social network in existence. Somebody (please) will come out with a kick ass address book service that integrates with third party sites. Google could easily do this with Gmail contacts, in fact many sites today can import Gmail contacts. However, Gmail contacts offers limited options for contact details and is not extensible, for example, where do I add a field for Twitter profiles? The only solution is a generic “custom” field. I had high hopes for Windows Live Contacts when they released their API, but I find the entire Live experience to be frustrating… at some point Microsoft’s dogma got stuck in all the wrong places.

6) Speaking of Twitter, this service becomes the most habitual of all the social networks I use. It will be really interesting to watch how the service evolves in relation to the number of users that make it part of their routine.

7) Also interesting to me is Second Life, but for a reason that will likely seem very abstract. I was talking with Greg about video conferencing and how the real value isn’t that I can see him but rather I can judge his signals (which are obviously connected). I can see when he thinks something is funny or interesting or boring, all of which I cannot do very well over IM or the telephone. SL has the remarkable ability to insert social signaling in the context of a virtual reality, and this reminded me, of all things, the Tamagotchi. The trivial digital pet that is now over a decade old introduced something very significant to electronic devices, feedback and the expectation of attention. SL is kind of like this in that if I don’t stimulate my avatar (in the non-kinky sense) it is apparent to everyone else in the virtual space. I flip back and forth between thinking that SL is amazing to it’s digital pet rock, but it’s clear that there is something meaningful going on there.

That’s it for now. If you have read my blog for even just a short period of time you will know that I am eclectic in what I find interesting. I don’t consider myself to be a truly original thinker, I tend to piece bits and pieces together from people who are original thinkers and make connections that are not entirely obvious. One thing that should be very obvious today is that the last couple of years have been transformative for the tech industry on many levels, and where we find ourselves today is in a place that would have defied prediction a few years ago.

I don’t think it’s a matter of being right or wrong with regard to these things, but picking what is meaningful for you and applying that to new problems and opportunities. We’re all in the common pursuit of context.

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Trends: You People Are Buying A Lot Of Champagne

There is speculations that Americans are starting to drink champagne just because they like it, and not necessarily because they have something to celebrate. [From Trends: You People Are Buying A Lot Of Champagne]

We’ve been drinking sparkling wine on a regular basis for years, it’s nice before a meal instead of wine. Also, flutes are smaller than wine glasses so having a glass of sparkling means you end up consuming less alcohol assuming you keep it at one. I’m not much of a fan of the dry brut style champagnes, much prefer the blanc de blancs or blanc de noirs, and very much enjoy Italian prosecco.

Some favorites that are always available at our house are the Domain Carneros Le Reve, J Vineyard’s Brut Rosé (which despite being a brut is fruit forward and soft), Mumm Napa’s Blanc de Noirs and DVX.

Skills Shortage

Ben wrote a post about the H-1B visa program and included comments I made about that in previous writings. This reminded me to write something about what I’m seeing with increasing frequency over the last year, a serious skills shortage. Before moving on to that topic, I will say that in reading the comments to Ben’s post that I am surprised that people equate H-1B visas to indentured servitude. I know from previous companies and my involvement in hiring these visa holders, that economics were certainly not the driving issue. Furthermore, when you take into account the legal fees that companies incur as a consequence of hiring these employees, the economics don’t get any better.

I don’t know of one company right now that would not hire a senior J2EE software engineer if he/she became available. Now if you read that last sentence very carefully you will notice that I insert the assumption that all good J2EE engineers are already working… and that is the case, unless otherwise by choice! The supply of developers is seriously constrained on both the quality and the quantity axis.

I’m not using this as a platform to call for relaxing of visa regulations, I am suggesting that computer science departments across the country need to step up their recruiting of students as a start. A paper published by NAIT in 2001 painted a bleak picture of what was happening with industrial technology enrollment, a trend that has since not reversed. This data is somewhat old, but illustrates a trend nonetheless.

Lastly, fine education institutions like Harvard and Stanford should be putting their formidable endowments to work in order to expand the number of students they are able to accommodate and to hold the line on tuitions. Harvard’s $35 billion endowment borders on obscene, it kind of makes me wonder why alumni continue to contribute to it… To give credit where credit is due, it has been reported that Stanford is considering expanding the number of students by 10,000, which would be welcome news.

The UK is Insane

I read news from the UK and shake my head at how far off the rails that country has gone. Take this example of the latest nanny state initiative, equating using a cell phone while driving with driving while intoxicated. Actually, it’s considered worse than DUI because drinking and driving is not illegal, as in the U.S. it becomes illegal when your blood alcohol level exceeds a threshold, but under these new rules, any use of a cell phone while driving would be illegal.

[UPDATE to clarify, when I read this post I realized I made a mistake in presenting my logic. I said “is considered worse than DUI” but what I should have said is that is “worse than drinking and driving” because DUI is always a criminal offense. Drinking and driving is not criminal, the subset of people who drive after drinking enough to be legally intoxicated are breaking the law.]

I would challenge anyone to consider the facts first, while mobile phone usage has skyrocketed over the last decade, highway fatality statistics have been flat since 1986, well actually they rose slightly in 2006 but that was due to pedestrian and motorcycle fatalities increasing. While proponents of these laws will say any number above zero is unacceptable, it is unreasonable to believe that zero is actually achievable and elevating inherently non-dangerous behavior to criminal, as is the situation in the UK where cell phone use while driving is more prosecutable than drinking and driving, devalues the efforts to curtail behaviors that are dangerous and criminal.

It is a good suggestion, and in many cases the law, to use a handsfree device while driving and this is a reasonable public safety measure. I have a bluetooth setup in my car and couldn’t imagine not using it, not only does it free my hands to focus on driving, but it’s more convenient to use than a handset. To criminalize any cell phone use while driving is just insane.

Motorists caught using a hand-held mobile phone while driving could be jailed for two years under tough new guidelines issued today by prosecutors. [From Drivers who use mobile phones face jail – Telegraph]

Dude, Where’s My Market?

First and foremost, props to Jevon MacDonald for inspiring the title of this post, indeed I may just have poached the title of something he is working on.

The Irregulars had a thread over the last day that has been moderately commented on, but nonetheless serves as a catalyst for something I didn’t realize I was thinking about. Maybe it’s time to jettison the “2.0” labels and made up market definitions, or at least acknowledge them for what they are, marketing terms. While I am certainly not the first to dislike the web 2.0 term, nor will I be the last, I do want to zero in on a subset that is near and dear to me, enterprise 2.0.

Enterprise 2.0, like all the 2.0 memes, does not describe a market, it describes a set of principles or truths underlying a belief system. The belief system is that technology leads to greater efficiency and specialization of function that brings, and specific to web/enterprise 2.0, that increasing scale fuels a social dimension that enables capabilities the exceed in value anything possible in a standalone, non-networked application.

The principles of enterprise 2.0 are as follows:

  1. User centric. The problems being solved are user problems, not IT or C level problems. In other words, an order entry system solves a CFO’s problem, while a CRM system principally solves a salesperson’s problem. The fact that delivered a solid end user application is what led them to 1 million users, not selling a million seats to C-level executives on the promise of better forecasting and pipeline management. SFdC isn’t thought of as
  2. Web-based. Well duh, but I’m including this to raise a point that is often lost today, that being web-based has degrees of meaning. SAP is a web-based application, so is Google and Facebook, but do we think of SAP as being web-based? No. So what does it mean to be web-based anymore, and the answer is that I’m not sure. With web applications increasingly gaining offline capabilities, integrating with desktop applications, and delivering through mobile clients, well it’s getting kinda hard to pin this down. I think in the end what we are referring to is something in between the lightweight (but scalable) architecture that most web-based apps feature, the strong product management and discipline that enterprise apps typically have, and the cost advantages that open source delivers. What Amazon is doing with AWS absolutely redefines “the stack” and I’m convinced that we have yet to see what their approach is truly capable of.
  3. On premise capability. Okay, so I just contradicted my point #2 above, it would appear… but I have not. Being web-based behind a firewall or on the public internet are not that dissimilar. There are enterprise 2.0 apps that depend on a network effect or a market that is strongly aligned to on-demand hosted, but the fact remains that many companies and many markets still want on-premise capabilities. This is one point that Oracle and SAP both nailed, rather than chasing the multi-tenant hosted trend they listened to their customers, who by and large simply weren’t asking for it. You see it in the results both of these companies have put up over the last year, just a few days ago ORCL released their Q2 numbers an in that quarter alone they generated more profit than will do in total revenue for the full year, and on a margin basis both SAP and Oracle (not to mention Microsoft) are far more profitable than any on-demand business application company.
  4. Low touch sales process. For enterprise 2.0 apps specifically, it’s difficult to make any money with the roll up the bus full of account execs and presales folks on every deal. By targeting departmental users, these companies are simply obligated to get good at a low touch selling process that combines effective web-based channeling of leads and prospects to inside sales and channel partners as opportunities grow in size and reach. There is another post in this one point alone about the merits of efficiently targeting a very narrow application solution vs. a broader “platform play” that can morph into many application needs. Atlassian and Socialtext both do a good job of channeling users to their respective websites, getting a downloadable
  5. Self-service support. Given the price points and the requirement to resign your customers each month, assuming you are on a subscription model, it’s imperative to deliver an app that requires little up front implementation support and ongoing maintenance. When support is required, a well stocked community of active users can self-support and that not only improves the overall support experience but also reduces the costs of delivering it. We’ll never get rid of vendor support, and indeed, too many companies have erred on the side of understaffing here, but there is a new middle ground emerging.
  6. The social aspect. Because what we are talking about here is enabling people to work together more efficiently, there is an assumption that enterprise 2.0 fundamentals include a social dimension. What that include is to be determined by the application, and more importantly, the people using it, but it’s omnipresent nonetheless.

There are more underlying principles that can be added to my list, and I hope you will add your own in the comments, but this is a good starting point at moving beyond the term alone.

I do want to address the “dude, where’s my market?” title of this post as it relates to the topic at hand. Enterprise 2.0 is not a market, so what is. Well going back to business 101, a market is an addressable group of individuals or companies with an identifiable pain point and a willingness to pay something to solve it. In economics a market is more abstractly defined as a means of discovering and evaluating information which then enables the pricing and voluntary exchange of products or services between buyers and sellers. Academics aside, I like my definition in this context better.

Coincidentally, yesterday I stopped by Echosign’s offices to wish my friend Jason Lemkin a merry Christmas and later that day I received his annual report to “friends of Echosign”. This company is growing not because they have a trendy set of buzzwords they use consistently, but because they solve a real problem that spans a significant number of prospect buyers, understand how to target and sell it at the price points they do, and manage their costs by taking advantage of efficiencies that technology enables and eliminating potential expenses by having discipline about the product management and development cycles. Jason’s company is a true enterprise 2.0 play, but you won’t hear them referring to it that way, Echosign is a web-based document service for signing, tracking, and storing contracts and other signed documents.

Lastly, I am reminded of a scene in the movie The Hunt for Red October when national security advisor Pelt says to Jack Ryan “Dr. Ryan, I’m a politician, which means when I’m not kissing babies I’m stealing their lollipops.” I have used the terms enterprise 2.0 and web 2.0 prodigiously over the last couple of years, indeed used them as weapons of change when my needs required them, but if you look at my written record on this you will find that my position hasn’t really changed.

In a post I wrote in August 2006 on this brewing enterprise 2.0 thingey:

The answer to this is more involved than just pointing to one buzzword or meme, the answer is that Enterprise 2.0 is the convergence of SOA (something that’s been in the works for a few years), open source, SaaS, and the underlying economic models of all of the above. I could, and should, also throw in collaborative applications and user-centric computing, but I think it’s fair to say that these things could stand independent of the other pieces very easily.

Which gives me yet another opportunity to quote from the previously referred to movie:

Captain Ramius: And the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home. Christopher Columbus.

Jack Ryan: Welcome to the New World, Captain.