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Social media meets the desktop May 30, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in browsers, desktop apps, Internet, social media, start-up, startups, web 2.0.

Allison Randal put up an interesting contrarian post on the O’Reilly Radar blog yesterday where she says:

The trend of moving traditional desktop applications to massively networked, Web 2.0 online applications like Google Docs is well-known. The problem is, a web browser is a terribly limited platform for application development, and JavaScript is a less-than-fully-featured language. There are inherent limitations to the kinds of applications you can develop and the kinds of user experiences you can offer in a web browser… Add in the fact that the nirvana of 100% connectivity at all times is far from a reality, even in the most technologically advanced parts of the world. This is a significant usability problem for the pure web browser applications, as anyone who has experienced the frequent forced coffee breaks by a Google Spreadsheet “waiting to connect” can confirm.

The wave of the future is not web browser applications. Instead we’re coming full circle back to desktop applications, but this time we’ve broken the old idea of single user silo applications with no connection to the outside world. The wave of the future is lightweight desktop applications with the same massively networked, Web 2.0 behavior we’ve come to expect from browser applications.

She goes on to give several examples, including iTunes and Songbird.

Its an insightful comment. We’ve tended to think of “Web 2.0” as encompassing both rich web applications (vs. desktop applications) and social media, but there is no reason why these two things have to be intertwined. We’ve seen a number of non-social websites embrace rich web applications, and so its no surprise that we’re also seeing desktop apps (or plug-ins to desktop apps) also embrace social aspects. These are apps that work well for a lone user, but even better when the user joins a network.

Om Malik recently covered one of our portfolio companies, WeFi, that takes a similar approach. Just as Songbird’s primary functionality is as a desktop music player, but social aspects can improve the experience, so too WeFi‘s primary functionality is as a better WiFi connectivity manager (and against Win XP, that isn’t a high hurdle!), but social aspects can improve the experience. A lone user gets an easier and quicker experience for identifying and signing onto any hotspot, as well as better management control over hotspots that they own. As he joins a network, he gets to roam on other private hotspots, as well as the ability to find both his friends, and wifi hotspots on a map, relative to his location.

Another company enriching desktop apps with social functionality is Me.dium. Me.dium is a browser plugin that helps a lone user to see websites related to the current website being viewed. But when that user joins a network, she gets to see what sites her friends are browsing in real time, and how they are moving from site to site, adding a social dimension to relevance.

I’d be interested to hear from readers about other desktop apps that are taking a social approach.

It’s All About the Team March 5, 2007

Posted by John Vrionis in advertising, browsers, Consumer internet, Digital Media, Ecommerce, Entrepreneur, Infrastructure, Internet, Security, Semiconductor, social networks, start-up, startups, Storage, Uncategorized.

As a venture capitalist, I often get the question, ‘Is it people or market?’

My answer is ‘Yes.’

There’s no doubt that great markets facilitate the building of great companies. But as we saw during the bubble, great markets can facilitate the development of some not-so-great companies as well. When talking with aspiring entrepreneurs I try to emphasize that finding the big idea or the big market shouldn’t be their first priority.

Building the right founding team should be.

In a recent Fortune interview with Jim Collins, author of “Built to Last” and “Good to Great,” he commented:

“Our research shows a somewhat negative correlation between pioneering a great idea and building a great company. Many of the greatest [companies] started with either no great idea or even failed ideas. Sony started with a failed rice cooker. Marriott started as a single root beer stand. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard’s great idea was simply to work together – two best friends who trusted each other – while their first four product failed to get the company out of the garage. They followed the ‘first who’ approach to entrepreneurship: First figure out your partners, then figure out what ideas to pursue. The most important thing isn’t the market you target, the product you develop, or the financing, but the founding team. Starting a company is like scaling an unclimbed face – you don’t know what the mountain will throw at you, so you must pick the right partners, who share your values, on whom you can depend, and who can adapt.”

A great team in a bad market can still build a successful company, perhaps at small scale. More often, like Sony, Marriott and HP, a great team will change course as they learn that their initial market is a difficult one, and they will find their way to a bigger and better opportunity.

A second rate team can also build a successful company in a great market. But they will find themselves facing increasing competition and the company may not stay successful for long.

There’s no substitute for being part of a great team. Resist the temptation to settle for second rate co-founders or employees, or for divergent visions. The extra time to find the right people to work with is always worthwhile. I firmly believe that teams of great people, firmly bound together by shared ethics, vision and values, will always find a way to be successful.

Failure IS an option January 24, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in browsers, Consumer internet, Digital Media, Search, startups, Venture Capital, video, web 2.0, widgets.

There have been a lot of posts on startups laying people off, losing founders or closing down in the last couple of months, part of the natural cycle in the valley. But what has disturbed me has been some of the mean spirited things that have been left in the comments to some of those postings. Often anonymously. It really bothers me. People can (and do!) reasonably disagree about a company’s business plan and prospects, but some of this stuff is just over the top.

The great thing about Silicon Valley has been the entrepreneurial culture, and the acceptance that working for a failed startup is not necessarily a judgement on your character or your ability. But recently there seems to have been a change in attitudes at least amongst some people (trolls?) who are taking joy in the misfortune of others. When a startup closes down, founder’s dreams die. Employees find themselves looking for work, and at least for a period, worrying about paying their bills and supporting their families. This should never be a cause for celebration.

I don’t personally know the teams at Backfence or Peerflix or FilmLoop, or Bitpass, or Findory, or Browster or many of the other companies that have recently entered Techcrunch’s deadpool recently, but I think that they are to be applauded for their willingness to take a chance on starting a company, not condemned because that particular company wasn’t successful.

Companies die, founders and employees learn from the experience and move on, and hopefully start more companies. I for one would love to see the second acts from the teams that are newly freed up.

Update: Hot or Not founder James Hong has a good related post.

Safari for Windows, and the power of the default January 14, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in browsers, Consumer internet.

Download Squad reports on a rumor that Safari might be released for Windows, citing Mary Jo Foley who found the speculation on Mozilla’s Firefox 3 requirements wiki. (The speculation has since been removed form the Mozilla wiki.)

The comments discussion largely focuses on how Safari’s features stack up against those of IE and Firefox. I think one other important factor comes into play, the power of the default.

Like many other’s in the tech industry, I have a weakness for overthinking features. But my experience as a former General Manager of Netscape taught me that feature comparison is not how the general public makes its consumer technology selections. Very often, the general public will go with the default technology choice, only looking for an alternative if the default is obviously inadequate in some way.

The best example is the story of how IE won the first browser wars against Netscape. Microsoft worked with the PC OEMs to ensure that IE was the only browser shipping on new PCs and that eventually caused market share to tilt overwhelmingly in IE’s favor. (Microsoft eventually settled the anti-trust case with AOL for $750m.)

When Firefox came along, IE was starting to show obvious signs of inadequacy in the security arena. Even the general press was reporting on virus outbreaks and other security threats, and they were blaming IE. This was raising the level of attention of the general public – it helped Firefox grab and hold the “IE Alternative” mindshare in the US. Interestingly enough, this is geography dependent, with Maxthon holding 30% market share in China, and Opera strong in some countries in Europe.

At Netscape we found it very hard to create a “third alternative” in the minds of the general public. It seemed as though there was only one slot available in people’s minds as the alternative to the default. Although I haven’t tracked browser market share by geography much recently, I suspect that this may also be true in Asia and Europe, and that there is still a strong power law to market share distributions among browser vendors in each continent. Our primary mode of distribution was through our own portal, where we had the “default” position.

Safari is the most popular browser on Macs because it is the default. But I suspect that it will run into the same problem that we did if it is released for Windows. There is really only room for one “default alternative” and so they will find themselves fighting with Firefox instead of fighting with IE in the minds of possible users.