And Thus, the Widget Ecosystem Closes
Lost in the hype that is Facebook platform launch seems to be the immense implication of the platform on the evolution of the “widget” economy/ecosystem. In the past, widgets are mostly written once, and deploy everywhere applications. They are simple applications which does little data sharing with the host system . . . the integration is mostly at the user interface level (and also defined by the end user). What this architecture lacks in sophistication it makes up in its openness and simplicity which inturn drives it proliferation.
The Facebook platform (I refuse to call it an OS) is only similar to the last generation of widgets in spirit but not in practice. In fact, it is really an entirely different animal. (It has its own markup & query language! ). What facebook has built is a somewhat closed a platform. (Yes, it is more open than other websites in that anyone can get access to the facebook user base, but from a platform perspective no one has every called Windows “open” for let allowing developers to write an app without getting their permission) Developers must now choose to develop for facebook consciously and allocate resources accordingly. (Not disimilar to developers choosing windows over mac, and game developers choosing PS2 over gamecube). Given the lock-in Facebook will likely create, other social networking ( I mean “utility” :) ) sites will be forced to walk down a similar path and create proprietary API’s for deeply integrating platform specific widgets onto their own website. . . . and thus the ecosystem will likely become closed and the battle for platform lock-in begins.
You can certainly infer from my tone that I’m somewhat ambivalent about the the Facebook platform. Deep integration is certainly good thing. Proprietary is not. If I were Facebook, this is exactly the path I would have taken. Cisco, MSFT, and most recently, Apple all created huge businesses executing toward this strategy. (and ofcourse enabled many beneficial applications for the end user.) I have incredible admiration for the facebook platform from a technological AND business perspective. But as an end user and sometimes participant in the ecosystem, I’m highly aware of the long term cost of facebook’s eventual (inevitible?) domination.
Do I see somesort of redemption? Of course! I would love to see Facebook open source the api’s and create an inclusive standards body to manage the canonicalization of how widgets can be deployed and integrated into a host application. BUT, I’m not naive. To gain competitive advantages, each social network WILL create additional proprietary API’s to leverage the uniqueness of its platform as well as create differentiated user experience. For very good business reasons, I would not expect them to do anything but exactly that. And thus, forking and divergence will be inevitable . . .
Edit: Actually found someone that somewhat agrees with me! scott heiferman and Ash (who BTW made a hugely precient call on aQuantive + MSFT).
Invest In Personality
I have a huge suspicion through out the years that VC’s tends to invest in entrepreneurs with big personalities. Those that can withstand the glare of partner meetings and talk non-stop on the phone for hours with a VC they barely know.
Buried in a great profile of Michael Moritz by The Guardian is this priceless paragraph.
WOW . . . I actually only know one or two person in my whole life that I would consider capable of such a behavior. To have that many (atleast 3?) in the portfolio must mean that his selection criteria might bias his group toward that kinda of behavior.
In many cases, people with big personalities can become somewhat bi-polar. They angry easily and obsess endlessly. They are often emotionally unstable, and filled with self doubt. On the other side of the coin, their tirelessness and paranoia is perfect for the improbable world of startups.
I guess in the end, if you are looking for homeruns, you go with a home run hitter who hits 50 HR a year but has a .230 batting average than go with a 5' 7? shortstop who slap singles all day. The strike outs on a slider in the dirt are built into the business model . .