Posts about open-source

Riff raff

Well, Riffs, the new review-anything site, does one thing right that Amazon should have done from the first: You go to Riffs and write a review and it lets you get an RSS feed, which you can put on your own blog.

Still, I agree with Mike Arrington: “Do we need Riffs when everyone seems very happy writing reviews directly on their blogs?”

Fred Wilson tries out Riffs. But he has long pointed out that Gotham Gal has all kinds of reviews already on her blog. The question is: How do I find what she’s writing and find what other people are writing about the same topic so I can compare? How can I look for new restaurants in New York and find the ones she has found?

The service I’ll pay attention to is the one that lets me find the riffs and reviews (and recipes and whatever else) that people put on their own blogs. That can be a search engine or an aggregator or both that gets people to swarm around tags so they know their stuff will be found. It works inside Flickr and Del.icio.us. It can work outside, in the distributed web.

If I were a VC, I’d be investing in a company that tries to use tags and microformats and social interaction to link together the topics and opinions and information people care about on that distributed web. For that’s the company that won’t waste effort and expense trying to get people to change their behavior and reverse the natural flow of the web out to the edges — ‘come to us and give us your good stuff’ — but instead takes advantage of the essence of the web and leaves control out at those edges by saying: ‘We know you have good stuff and we’re going to help people find it.’ The consumer proposition is then clear: This is how you find the good stuff. This will be the real successor to and competitor against Google. Oh, Google could do it, too, but judging by Base, they’re not doing that. They’re taking control rather than giving it.

Remember Jarvis’ First Law: Give people control and we will use it.

: Fred Wilson and I get into a discussion starting in the comments below and continuing on his blog here.

: And Michael Arrington retorts.

Google Base v. microformats

I’ve read the little background material on Google’s Base and still can’t see whether the material you put there can be found by other search engines. I also cannot find evidence of an API that shares any standards for tags and structure. Is Base open or closed? So far, closed.

What we need instead is a means of letting you tag and structure your data so it can be found reliably by any search engine no matter where it is on the internet. That would stay true to the distributed internet Google has so masterfully exploited.

I wish I were hearing more noise from the microformats guys to act as competitors — or at least as pressure on Google for openness and standards.

Imagine if you could go to a page that lets you put in your resume or house ad or job ad and it spits out tagged XML you could put on the web anywhere to be found by anyone.

Or imagine putting tags on restaurant reviews you post on your blog so anyone could aggregate or search for, say, all the cuisine=mexican restaurants in location=chicago. Well, you don’t really have to imagine that. If you aggreed on the tags, you could start doing that today via Del.icio.us and Technorati.

And imagine if you could go to Google or other services — e.g., Indeed and SimplyHired for jobs or Baristanet for three Jersey towns — and see the tags they use so you can swarm around those tags and find and be found. That’s the openness we need. If Google spearheads that with a truly open API that can be adapted by the community, then great. That is our distributed marketplace. But if not, then Google is only trying to recreate the centralized marketplaces of old — otherwise known as newspapers. That worked for newspapers when they had monopolies. They don’t anymore. Does Google think it has a monopoly?

: Mark Pincus hopes Google is not trying to recreate Walmart. It’s a heartfelt, practically tear-wrenching ode to what Google coulda shoulda been:

my other big question is whether google is opening this service to the same crawling it has benefitted from to the tune of $108 billion? …

my take is google has chosen between two paths. one which i thought they were on was to be a platform to enable great things on the web. google could have powered everything with its search engine, ad infrastructure, massive crawling and computing power. it could have been a democratizing force, enabling small services to flourish in being found and in serving them a platform on which to innovate.

instead google has chosen to be merely another big corporate titan. like microsoft, it’s choosing to go for the gold, enriching their shareholders rather than enabling industries….

like msft, google is now going after every other oppty around it, taking advantage of its trojan horse position. suddenly every company is at risk. companies as far away as walmart have to have a ‘google strategy’. today, vc’s ask every new startup how they will compete with google. (at least we dont have to answer the msft question any more.) …

in fact, google feels a like walmart today. once the excitement over trying out their latest release wears off we are left with the realization that they are going to ultimately put the corner grocer (being craigslist) out of business, and suck value out of an economy not add back. …

one last thought to all those ‘web 2.0’ers’ listening. WHEN ARE WE ALL GOING TO WAKE UP AND REALIZE THAT NONE OF US COMPETE WITH EACH OTHER? WE ALL COMPETE WITH GOOGLE, MSFT AND YAHOO. the only chance we have of enabling an independent industry is to come together, leverage s resources, create and protect a level playing field. otherwise, we are all in the business of creating great products in the hope we can sell to them before they build it. how fucking boring is that?

Right. That is precisely why some of us are working on figuring out open ad marketplaces and why I wish the microformats guys were getting more ink pixels.

The answer to any monopoly — water to wicked witches everywhere — is openness.

: I’ve been meaning to link to this PC4Media post on microformats for months; now I have the excuse and the memory to do it:

MicroFormats Enable Distributed Applications!

Exactly. Microformats could be as big an innovation as databases were.

If databases let us store information. Microformats let us access the world’s databases. Potentially!

Yes, APIs do this too. But, microformats make the database (or data store) distributed. Not controlled by one entity.

This could be as big as “http”.

If you don’t get how microformats can change your business, prepare to be outdone.

: See also Fred Wilson on base.

: And see Umair Haque:

There’s only one question that matters, strategically: is Base the AOL-style walled garden of the 00s?

That is, are returns to info owned by Google going to be lower than decentralized info? …

What that means is that Google keeps indexing the world’s information, albeit at increasingly costly factor prices; while superior returns begin flowing to reconstructors and smart aggregators. This scenario devalues centralized mechanisms/walled gardens, like Base – because they’re not part of the attention ecosystem; they’re part of GoogleWorld (we really do need a name for all the info Google owns)….

But I think what it does do is begin to point to a growing vital point competitors can strike….

Then there’s Amazon, eBay, VCs, and media – all attention economy players, who seem totally intent on missing the tectonic shifts right under their feet, which are eroding all their returns.

The key question for any company today is: How do you play in the distributed world? How do you stop the 1.0 insistence of having to control and own and how do you instead make money by enabling others? That was where Google’s own gigantic growth was. But sometimes it’s hardest to learn the lessons you yourself teach.

Umair adds:

Another, marginally related point – it also points to the uncooling of Google. I mean, Base? Can you get more Orwellian, lame, sinister, connected to all the wrong stuff?

EG: Al Qaeda means “the Base”.

See also: base instincts.

: SEE ALSO: The comments. Good notes there from ROR and SimpyHired.

Measure this

The means of measurement used by advertisers for every other medium — newspaper, magazine, radio, TV, and no online — will not — will never — work in the world of citizens and distributed media. That is why we must create our own measurement standards.

To get apples-to-apples numbers for those other, older, major media, advertisers rely on allegedly representative samples.

But you can never get a sample big enough to deal with the mass of niches.

Hell, the samples aren’t big enough to deal with local online newspaper sites. The Online Publishers Association just released a study that found various means of measuring those sites disagree drastically:

Differences arose between the two primary methodologies, surveys and panels….

The paper analyzes data from five services. Firms conducting panel research include comScore Media Metrix and Nielsen//NetRatings-MegaView Local. Firms measuring local audience through a combination of online, phone and postal mail surveys include Nielsen//NetRatings @Plan (online); Scarborough Research (phone and mail); and The Media Audit (phone).

When data from the two forms of collection were analyzed, survey-based methodologies, on average, reported 70 percent higher visitor numbers than panel-based research.

An example cited in the study looked at the number of visitors to LATimes.com. Visitor data differed by one million between two services.

When I was at Advance, we found that these sampling methodologies would find no audience in some markets that we knew from our server stats were actually much bigger than other markets they did measure. They simply didn’t have enough people in Alabama.

Well, they’ll never get enough knitters to measure the knitting bloggers. They can measure a few of the biggest bloggers. But that’s not what this medium is all about. It is about, as someone said at my Web 2.0 ad panel, the “big butt” attached to the fabled long tail of passionate niches that add up to a mass far bigger than the biggest bloggers. So we need to be able to add them up.

This is why it is doubly important for us in this world to create and use our own means of measurement. I’m talking with some folks who are better at getting things done than I am — and working with Burst Media‘s coincidentally named Jarvis Coffin to set up a trade group — to work on open-source collection and reporting.

This isn’t just about collecting and verifying audience and pageview numbers — and demographics and behavior — though all that is important.

This is also about collecting data that can be collected only in this medium of the people and gives us unique value: authority, influence, conversation-starting, relationships, loyalty, engagement.

And this is about additional data that cuts across sites — from the likes of Technorati, Icerocket, Blogpulse — and how all this data will be munged together by various parties doing their own analytics.

So, in the end, when an advertiser wants to reach top food influencers they’ll be able to do so through influential food bloggers … and those bloggers will be able to recognize their value as well.

But it won’t happen through the survey or panel research that have become advertisers’ crutch.

The value of networks of trust

The most valuable and necessary networks of the next economy will be built around trust.

I just had lunch with my VC friend Ed Sim and I was boring him with my view of the future of advertising. The days of one-stop shopping for a mass of “consumers” will soon be over and advertisers will be faced with the opportunity and challenge of putting together smaller, more targeted, more efficient networks: the mass market replaced by the mass of niches. The opportunity is greater value. But the challenge is far greater effort and cost: It’s not going to be easy to put together and manage these small and ad hoc networks.

So I have been arguing that a good way to do this — once the infrastructure is in place — is to rely on human networks of trust: The advertiser or its agency can’t go and find and manage every damned little site (aka audience aggregator, aka community), so they choose a starting point: They trust me and my site (let’s say it’s a big-media site with a sales staff), and I trust you and your site (let’s say you’re a popular blogger), and we trust perhaps one more degree of separation out (let’s say those are your friends who write about the same things in more specialized but related ways). But if your friend messes up and you don’t fix it, then I don’t trust you anymore and I’ll find a new friend to trust — or else the advertiser won’t trust me anymore.

This way, we get to scale while distributing the work and the benefit with the trust. So in the end, the advertisers benefit by putting together the best networks at the lowest cost and effort and risk. And the participants of the networks benefit by attaching themselves, like atoms to molecules, to the highest value buys. (Oh, how I wish this blog had a whiteboard.)

We need some such way to operate in the age when small is the new big.

Then Ed and I were talking about similar challenges for investors and entrepreneurs in the small-is-the-new-big age: Today, it’s much, much easier to start a new company on far, far less capital than it used to be. But this also means that it’s easier for someone else to start a competitor. So speed is more important than ever: You have to develop your business as quickly and nimbly as possible to build your product and then perfect it after it’s out so you quickly establish your value. This means that the VCs need to be able to act just as nimbly to invest as quickly as possible. The good news is that the investments are smaller and the risk is thus less. But the bad news, of course, is that it costs more effort and attention to manage many more smaller investments and it’s hard to act quickly at scale. Early bird, worm, and all that.

So I wonder whether a network of trust is a solution here, too: The VC with the money trusts you to bring in deals and you trust someone else to bring in more deals and whoever brings in the most value gains the most value and grows biggest fastest. The work, risk, and benefit are all distributed.

In a way, I wonder whether that’s what VCs are doing by blogging: They’re going open-source, sort of, to state their interests and bring in more of the right deals more efficiently. But it’s still not efficient enough for a world of companies that need six figures instead of eight to succeed. And there needs to be a means to share benefit with the trust.

I think it can work in news, too: If I trust Sally’s reports on my school board more than Joe, I’ll send traffic her way and she’ll make more money on advertising from the newspaper (see Pincus’ world, below) and maybe she’ll send traffic my way for my reports on the town council if she trusts mine, too.

Where else?

: All of this is my clumsy, imprecise, philosphy-not-math-major’s re-expression of the discussion about Reed’s Law vs. Metcalfe’s Law vs. Oren’s Doubts vs. Evslin’s Postulate, none of which I understand above a kindergarten level. I was just trying to get my head around Reed’s Law, which Evslin explained to me on a napkin, when suddenly he and Wilson and Oren are abandoning it. (Cue Tom Lehrer’s New Math.)

I’ll try to summarize this badly: Metcalfe’s Law says the value of a network increases as more nodes are added to it (i.e., one fax machine is worthless, two fax machines are each work a lot more, a large network of fax machines is truly valuable). Reed says (I think) that if a network includes social sub-groups, it grows exponentially faster. All the wise gentlemen listed above are now debating whether the math works and I leave that to them.

But to me, the humanities guy with the damned liberal arts degree, it’s obvious: A network built on trust is clearly more valuable than a network built on technology.

Repeat after me, after Butterfield, after Mayfield, after Soylent Green: Web 2.0 — It’s made of people. It’s not about controlling scarce assets in a post-scarcity world. It’s about trust.

And it’s hard to chart trust. It’s hard to give it a metric. It’s hard to give it a market value. But it’s damned easy to lose.

: UPDATE: Here’s what Ed took from lunch (besides the check…).

And here’s Tim O’Reilly on both.

We take over the zoo

Bob Garfield writes another magnum opus for Ad Age. The last was on his chaos scenario for advertising. This is on the open-source revolution. Great lead:

Hear that?

In the distance? It’s a crowd forming — a crowd of what you used to call your “audience.” They’re still an audience, but they aren’t necessarily listening to you. They’re listening to each other talk about you. And they’re using your products, your brand names, your iconography, your slogans, your trademarks, your designs, your goodwill, all of it as if it belonged to them — which, in a way, it all does, because, after all, haven’t you spent decades, and trillions, to convince them of just that?

Congratulations. It worked. The Great Consumer Society believes deeply that it has a proprietary stake in you. And like stakeholders everywhere, they are letting their voices be heard.

Why? Because the information society is reversing flow. What began as an experiment among a few software nerds has, thanks to the Internet, expanded into other disciplines, notably media and law. But it won’t stop there. Advertising. Branding. Distribution. Consumer research. Product development. Manufacturing. They will all be turned upside down as the despotism of the executive suite gives way to the will, and wisdom, of the masses in a new commercial and cultural epoch, namely: The Open Source Revolution.

Here’s the Ad Age link, though that won’t work without blood tests and security clearances. Don’t tell anybody, but a blogger put the piece up here. Open-source revolution, indeed.