Like many of you reading this blog, I too have the attention span of your average hummingbird. The funny part my ADD-ness has become more acute over the last year or two, and I’ve discovered an odd side effect to it. Rather than sit in a zen state just thinking for an extended period of time, I tend to think in a packet-like state. That is, I tend to process information, then come back to it later and pick up where I left off last whenever I have a spare moment. This happens over and over again until I have completed “processing”, which is usually where I begin blogging. Like Susan Wu at CRV, I’m pretty bad about opening up my thought process and I usually blog about fully baked thinking, but I’m going to step out of my comfort zone here.
So, I’ve been mulling a confession for the past 2-3 months. Here it is: like Fred Wilson, I’ve grown restless with Web 2.0 startups. Now, Fred is a smart fellow with a high signal to noise ratio, but he’s bored for a different reason than I. He basically wants to change the world and feels Web 2.0 is not world changing. you can’t blame him, considering Supernova and TED have been all about energy and microfinance of late. I’m with you Fredster, but I’m bored because I believe the web is world changing but I’m not seeing jaw dropping innovation (or revenue for that matter). But this isn’t about Fred – his posts tend to spawn more than a few copycat blog posts anyway. Nor is this about me. It’s about what’s next in connecting us all.
Case in point (and one of two catalysts for this post): Yammer wins the TechCrunch 50 competition. Now, we’ve been using Yammer internally for our company with some success, but frankly Yammer is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Most of us are still using Twitter and email primarily and no adoption methodology is in place. This isn’t a hate fest on Yammer, by the way, which is a good product with a real business model (where for art thou Twitter??). But the Yammer nod seems a bit of smarmy protest vote for the oft-errorprone microblog default Twitter, who’s been giving us the big fail whale far less of late. Also, Twhirl, the social software front end client, now supports any laconi.ca installation. In plain English, this means that any company can set up their own microblog and allow employees to send messages in one interface to the public Twitter and the private company microblog (Loic LeMeur, you are one uber-smart Frenchman). Let’s put this in big-picture-principle perspective: will Yammer earn even a footnote in a historian’s texts 100 years from now?
I mentioned there were two catalysts for this post. The second was my chat with James, biz development dude for BigWorld games, who has developed a platform for massive multiplayer online games (MMOs) development. They’re doing some cool things with gaming performance which I won’t delve into here, but one of the things I will mention is they’ve extended the mashups idea into the virtual worlds space. Consider a gaming character interacting with an e-commerce site within a virtual world (sort of a virtual mall)..
Now consider a mashup with micro finance site Kiva, allowing small business owners in Bangladesh give investors in New York a virtual tour of their operation. Last stop: an in-world Kiva website where would-be investors can sign up. Another application: video gamers can get involved with each other via the web within a virtual world – and voila, instant e-commerce among players. Remember the old wild west days of Yahoo storefronts selling everything from lawn gnomes to dog biscuits? Lifting the poor out of poverty is going to be easier with virtual items – there’s virtually zero capital costs other than time involved, which the poorest unemployed have plenty of.
Where We Need to Go From Here
We need to start talking about measurable impact.
Not some hypothetical “ideas are currency” talk, but real quantifiable results. Once we do, we’ll start seeing Web 2.0 copycats merge just like the American automobile industry went from about 10 players to 3 from 1910 to 1940, since the network effect requires will natrually shrink the number of platforms out there. One great example of putting social tools to work to product measurable impact is Carticipate, which is pragmatic and location-aware way to combat high gas prices. Nothing sexy, fun, or lofty here. Just people reducing gas costs and carbon emissions to boot. Impact: less traffic, less money thrown at ExxonMobile, and more money socked away for Christmas gifts.
If you’re not sure where to begin, here’s a few questions to get started:
- “How can social interactions lift the poor out of poverty? The Chinese have been turning World of Warcraft items into real dollars for years now. How do others in poverty enter the market without introducing so much competition that incomes collapse (ie supply far outweighs demand)?”
- “How can microblog-accelerated serendipity create revenue-driving partnerships between entrepreneurs in 3rd world regions with otherwise poor connectivity?” (related thought by Marc Hustved here).
- “How can we create a revenue stream from creating synergy between traditionally unrelated markets?” An example: Wall Street discovered a while back that engineers’ heat diffusion equations are surprisingly good formulas for stock option pricing. That’s what created the options trading market we have today.
That’s just for starters. Yes, I’m working on one of the above. No, I’m not dropping any hints here, but I might leak some of it if you and I strike up an interesting chat here.