As Mike Arrington wrote back in April, it can sometimes feel like certain photo-sharing websites have more of a hostage-taking approach to their business models than a “lets-please-the-customer” model. The photo-sharing experience then effectively becomes synonymous with platform lock-in — if you try to leave, you may not be able to take your images with you. Or, if you do, you’ll have to pay the price, Budnick. (But, wait, whose photos are they again? Oh, right.)
It’s for this reason that Jaisen Mathai is building a service called OpenPhoto. At the end of May, Mathai quit his job at Yahoo (like so many before him), where he had served in various engineering roles since 2007. Because of the frustration of having to watch Yahoo let an awesome startup like Flickr fizzle, (“I was extremely frustrated by the lack of product vision”, he says) and having years of experience building applications — and even building his own photo apps) — Mathai took to Kickstarter.
Unfortunately for him, however, there are already more photo-sharing applications than there are humans on the planet, and photo apps (for how much we seem to write about them), was one of the demographics to receive the least amount of venture funding over the last year.
This is part of the reason why Mathai has taken to Kickstarter instead of chasing down VCs and angels. It’s also because, to use a tired phrase, Kickstarter is a site designed for the people, with funding by (and for) the people. And Mathai says, knowing it may sound trite, that he’s trying to do the same thing with OpenPhoto — not only that, but he’s trying to avoid the mistakes that Yahoo made with Flickr.
The motive: Mathai says that he believes, plain and simply, that the photos one uploads and shares on the Web belong to that person and that person alone and should, therefore, be portable. If one decides to switch to a different service, then they should be able to easily move all of their photos, tags, and comments to the other service. It’s a no hostage policy; the U.N. is going to love it.
With OpenPhoto, Mathai is transparently attempting to put the user back in control of where their photos are stored, so the service will allow users to freely select which cloud storage and database services meet their needs, based on whichever selling point matters to them — price, security, and trust. If a new service comes along, users can take their photos to that service without losing a single photo, tag or comment.
For example, OpenPhoto users can select Amazon S3, Rackspace Cloudfiles, Dropbox or any other service with a file storage API to store their photos. (This also applies to databases such as Amazon SimpleDb or MongoHQ for their tags and comments.)
In turn, Mathai wants to build two versions of OpenPhoto — one installable, and one hosted — yet both are free and allow photos to be easily uploaded and searched via email, Facebook, Twitter and more. Mathai also said, via his “Kickstarter Deliverables” that he wants to “document the crap out of” the design and coding process so that others can take advantage of the API and build their own OpenPhoto apps.
The open source, installable version will of course be available on Github. Mathai also has some other features he’d like to see be part of the service, like mobile apps for iOS and Android and a marketplace for designers to create their own themes, but he has to get to the $25,000 goal first. And he’s got a long way to go.
If you’d like to see this crazy idealist in the fury of coding, you’re likely to find him at the Hacker Dojo, throwing darts at Instagram pictures.
Back in March, Google officially started rolling out the +1 Button in its search results, allowing users to vote up the pages they found most useful. Two months later, on June 1, it launched a widget that lets website owners integrate the button into their pages, just like they do with Facebook’s ‘Like’ and Twitter’s ‘Tweet’ buttons.
But, err, it wasn’t really clear what the point was. People kept clicking the button, but the effect — better search results for our friends — isn’t really tangible. And it isn’t really clear to site owners how much of an impact the button’s having, either.
Today, that changes: Google has just announced that +1 data will be displayed in Google’s Webmaster tools, allowing site owners to see exactly how much of an effect +1 is having. You’ll now be able to see how many +1 a page has in total, and what impact that has on Clickthrough Rates.
And Google has another trick up its sleeves too — it’s going to also give you analytics on any other social widget you have installed, like Facebook’s Like Button.
Here’s how Google breaks down the new features for social widgets:
- The Social Engagement report lets you see how site behavior changes for visits that include clicks on +1 buttons or other social actions. This allows you to determine, for example, whether people who +1 your pages during a visit are likely to spend more time on your site than people who don’t.
- The Social Actions report lets you track the number of social actions (+1 clicks, Tweets, etc) taken on your site, all in one place.
- The Social Pages report allows you to compare the pages on your site to see which are driving the highest the number of social actions.
The value of +1 for users as opposed to site owners will likely come not just from improved search results, but also from integration in Google+, the social network that it launched yesterday. That’s assuming, of course, that people keep using it once it launches to everyone (I’m liking it so far).
Andreessen Horowitz is announcing today that economist, former US Treasury Secretary and former President of Harvard Larry Summers is joining the firm as a special advisor.
Beyond his well known academic and political credentials, Marc Andreessen was quick to point out that Summers has nerd cred too: He was admitted at MIT at the age of 16 to study physics.
Summers will be part time, acting in an advisory role exclusive to the firm. Specifically, he’ll be helping startups think through economic and pricing models as they strive to disrupt large industries, not only in the United States but in the turbulent and ever-changing global economy.
Although Andreessen Horowitz is one of the only big name Silicon Valley firms not investing in emerging markets directly, all of its companies are seeking to tap into them and many like Jawbone, ShoeDazzle and Lytro are made possible by the flattened, global economy.
The inspiration for the role comes from Hal Varian, a top economist who played a pivotal role in helping Google rethink the ad market, laying the foundation for several of the key algorithms that went into the paid search model, Andreessen says.
Not surprisingly, the conduit for Summers and Andreessen’s relationship was Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, an early protege of Summers at Harvard who also worked with him at the World Bank and the Treasury. Andreessen is on Facebook’s board, and several months ago Sandberg insisted the two meet. As a side note, Sandberg is only the second person I’ve ever heard Andreessen describe as “a human router”– the first being, you guessed it, Ron Conway.
The big question is whether this is just one of those glitzy big name announcements venture firms like to make that we never hear about again– ala Bono, Al Gore, and Colin Powell – or whether Larry Summers will actually make a meaningful impact on Andreessen Horowitz’s portfolio companies. “I’m not sure what has gone well or not at other firms, but I know what we’re going to do and several of our entrepreneurs have already starting meeting with him,” Andreessen says.
According to Summers, the firm isn’t being shy with requests. “I go to bed most nights with emails from Marc and wake up most mornings with more emails from Marc,” he says. “I’m not going to be solving the problems in their routing systems, but I’ll be a sounding board giving my insights on the global economy and the feasibility and attractiveness of different pricing schemes.”
Of course I couldn’t let a world-famous economist entering the Silicon Valley investing fray off the phone without answering another question: Are we in a tech bubble? He noted that economists never give yes or no answers, and added that given the breadth of the Web, the scale of the market, and the revenues associated with the ruling tech startups rendered any comparisons to the late 1990s “too facile.” But as a good economist, he hedged all that saying one always had to be wary when euphoria is building. I asked if this was a period of euphoria now and he demurred, saying he was sticking to the intentionally vague answer above. In other words, I got a solid “not now but maybe later.”
Let’s hope Mr. Summers has clearer answers for Andreessen Horowitz’s portfolio. If his depiction in The Social Network was remotely accurate (a big if considering the film in question) he’ll win points among many entrepreneurs. He was the voice of reason advising the Winklevoss twins to “come up with a new project” and telling them their whining wasn’t “worthy of Harvard.” Amen to that.
So it was high time someone came up with concepts of the next generation iPhone.Â Industrial designer Michal Bonikowski has done just that by creating a concept of what the new iPhone may look like, which seems to be inspired by iPhone 4 and iPad 2.
Yanko Design reports:
What are you predictions for the iPhone 5? I heard someplace that a curved display was in the making and attention was being given to the antenna issues. Designer Michal Bonikowski feels that the new version will be safe and predictable, simply because Apple can’t afford another failed version. In his conceptual version Michal converts glass enclosure into proven aluminum; steel frame remains as a reference to the previous version and directly to the iPad 2. Also, the key functions is converted from mechanical to sensory.
You know what’s isn’t cool? $35 million isn’t cool … So in a move that makes truth stranger than fiction, Justin Timberlake, who played Facebook president Sean Parker in a movie called The Social Network, has taken an ownership stake in a real life social network as part of the Myspace sale.
Outgoing Myspace CEO Mike Jones just tweeted a congrats to Timberlake on the deal. My verdict? This is super weird, especially consider the guy who Timberlake played in the film gave a lengthy explanation of why the social network failed, in an interview last week.
The fact that HP is considering licensing webOS isn’t exactly news — HP head honcho Leo Apotheker said as much in an interview weeks ago.
What is news, however, is that such licensing deals might already be in their early stages. At least, that’s what we’re gathering from this Bloomberg piece, where Apotheker is quoted as saying HP is already in talks with “a number of companies” regarding putting webOS on their devices.
My only question: Why the heck would anyone want to?
Now, don’t get me wrong: I loves me some webOS. I’ve been rooting for the little-platform-that-couldn’t since the early days, and have always given it more attention on this site then was probably warranted. Even as someone who very much digs everything webOS set out to do, however, I can’t figure out why anyone would license it today.
Picking up a new platform isn’t just a matter of signing some papers, crafting up some pretty gadgets, and executing the “INSTALL WEBOS!” command. Your team needs to know the platform almost as well as its creators do — to be able to craft drivers, massage the platform onto a new device, and work out all the kinks requires an almost exhaustive knowledge. It’s a huge commitment, in both time and money.
The most glaring issue: the platform has had two years to prove viable. It hasn’t. That’s in the hands of its makers. The people who should know this platform in and out have been unable to make a compelling device — and, in cases like the Pixi and Pixi Plus, have resorted to churning out devices that don’t even work worth a damn.
Second: a devastatingly large chunk of the core team has left. Take their user experience team, for example — the guys who crafted webOS into what it is, and birthed so many of its finest ideas. Matias Duarte, Senior Director of UX? Left for Google. Wes Yun, Creative Director? He’s at Motorola now. Senior Manager Daniel Shiplacoff? Google. This type of bleeding went down throughout the company, from in-house development to developer relations to the PR team. The team behind webOS today is not the same team that was behind webOS when HP bought Palm.
Third: The apps. The number of apps your platform has isn’t everything, but it’s definitely a big something — but webOS’ app selection is … pretty terrible. While iOS and Android battle it out with their hundreds-of-thousands of apps each, webOS passed 5,000 apps in December of last year and has yet to hit even 7,000 a whole six months later. webOS is primarily built off of web technologies, with the option to develop in native code for those who chose to do so. Developing for it — even if you’re almost brand new to mobile development — is meant to be a breeze. And yet, even after Palm threw a few million dollars at developers in their big “Hot Apps” contest, developers just don’t seem to care.
The list goes on and on. We could touch on the fact that neither Palm or HP have proven themselves able to build software updates in any reasonable time frame (and that’s with just a handful of devices on the market, all of which they made.) We could bring up how painfully slow webOS updates have been to ship across carriers. We could go on and on about how the company doesn’t even seem to know what it wants internally, as HP CTO Phil McKinney just went on record this week saying that they need to “control the experience end to end”, and that the “ability to control both the hardware platform and OS is absolutely critical” — which, to us, sounds pretty contradictory to “Hey guys! Who wants to license some webOS?!”.
But we won’t.
According to the initial report, Bloomberg has “three people with knowledge of the discussions” claiming Samsung is, or has been, in talks with HP regarding putting webOS on their devices. No big surprise there, really; Samsung releases a new device (or two) nearly every week, and tends to experiment with new platforms regularly. Getting excited about Samsung testing the waters with your platform is akin to getting excited that your parents came to your 8th Birthday party. If they didn’t, it probably means something is wrong.
If Samsung is still in talks regarding webOS — that is, if the cited talks haven’t already blown over — it’s almost undoubtedly not the saving grace that webOS fans (not to mention HP) would hope for. Samsung is already going full force with Android; they’re not about to pivot any substantial resources into an unproven (or, more accurately, nearly-failed) platform without good reason. Bloomberg suggests that they may be considering it because of some shady restrictions that Google has in place limiting modifications of the platform… even though Google is incredibly clear about any restrictions they have, and has openly denied that any other behind-the-scenes restrictions exist. As anyone who has touched the Samsung Sidekick 4G (or the monstrosity that was the Behold II) could tell you, Samsung has been free to make plenty of changes to Android.
If HP really wanted webOS to succeed in the mobile world (that is, if they bought Palm for more than just their ridiculous patent portfolio), they need to be the ones courting the manufacturers, not the other way around. They need to be going out to the LGs, the HTCs, the Samsungs — especially the Samsungs, given their flexibility, ability to scale production, and the fact that Samsung builds nearly all of their own components — and doing everything they can to convince them to build them a superphone. They need to give them webOS (with little or no licensing fees involved), in exchange for one amazing, jaw-dropping webOS phone. No keyboards with edges that destroy your thumbs (Pre 1), no crappy hinges (Pre 1, 2), no paltry outdated specs (every webOS device ever). Get that phone, launch a massive marketing campaign to clean up any tainted perception of webOS consumers may have, then consider trying to leverage licensing as if you’ve got cards worth playing.
If you build it (well), they will come.