While it is around 6 months old now, and still in beta, there has been a lot of noise about Social Networking Startup Ello. And rightly so. A decade or more deep into this social connection thing people are starting to realise, that corporations like Facebook and Twitter, are well, just corporations. They just have incredibly compelling and usable products, from which they’re motivated to deliver what all public corporations aim to do – increase shareholder wealth. Nothing new there. And while some of the founders may have had, and possibly even still have rather altruistic visions…
A more open and connected world
Change the world 140 characters at a time
… once any company becomes public, its DNA changes somewhat, it mutates and we end up with what we’ve always had. Profit centricity. This isn’t necessarily bad, profits are good, and only companies with great (or addictive) products ever turn one. It’s more about understanding things for what they actually are, or in this case, have become.
Ello, on the other hand believes there is a better way. And I agree. You can read their manifesto here. In short they promise never to sell ‘you’. What they don’t mention is that they’ve already accepted venture capital funding as part of their growth plan. Call me a cynic, but in general people who provide funds usually want some kind of monetary return at a later date.
If any social network wants to arrive and actually be, what Ello is positioning itself as, then it can never be a for profit corporation. It also probably should never be controlled by a limited number of people, or even an organisation. It needs instead to be a gift to humanity, a bit like the World Wide Web. It needs to be open source, and uncontrolled. A bit like a language really. One thing is for sure, it can never be about a financial return on investment.
Quora is quickly becoming my preferred social network to ‘invest’ time in. I like to think of it as the Yahoo answers for people who are interested in the interesting. Their weekly digest is something I’d recommend anyone to sign up for, it’s actually an email I like getting – rare indeed. There is some info about it here.
Recently there was a question which appealed to me and no doubt will you:
What are some of the most ridiculous startup ideas that eventually became successful. And the answers were total gold. They reminded me that anything can happen in the crazy world of startups and the worst thing we can do is try and predict the next winner. It’s almost impossible. Mind you – VC’s model is not based on picking winners either. It’s based on placing enough bets a big winner is amongst them. They are a bit like ‘the house’ in a casino. They always win – well, one of the casinos does. They win because their 10,000 times return pays for the previous 99 failures.
Anyway, here’s one great answer from that question above that just had to get a run right here on startup blog. Enjoy!
Ask yourself, if you were a venture capitalist pitched one of these ideas, what would your reaction have been?
- Facebook – the world needs yet another Myspace or Friendster except several years late. We’ll only open it up to a few thousand overworked, anti-social, Ivy Leaguers. Everyone else will then join since Harvard students are so cool.
- Dropbox – we are going to build a file sharing and syncing solution when the market has a dozen of them that no one uses, supported by big companies like Microsoft. It will only do one thing well, and you’ll have to move all of your content to use it.
- Amazon - we’ll sell books online, even though users are still scared to use credit cards on the web. Their shipping costs will eat up any money they save. They’ll do it for the convenience, even though they have to wait a week for the book.
- Virgin Atlantic – airlines are cool. Let’s start one. How hard could it be? We’ll differentiate with a funny safety video and by not being a**holes.
- Mint - give us all of your bank, brokerage, and credit card information. We’ll give it back to you with nice fonts. To make you feel richer, we’ll make them green.
- Palantir – we’ll build arcane analytics software, put the company in California, hire a bunch of new college grad engineers, many of them immigrants, hire no sales reps, and close giant deals with D.C.-based defense and intelligence agencies!
- Craigslist – it will be ugly. It will be free. Except for the hookers.
- iOS – a brand new operating system that doesn’t run a single one of the millions of applications that have been developed for Mac OS, Windows, or Linux. Only Apple can build apps for it. It won’t have cut and paste.
- Google – we are building the world’s 20th search engine at a time when most of the others have been abandoned as being commoditized money losers. We’ll strip out all of the ad-supported news and portal features so you won’t be distracted from using the free search stuff.
- Github – software engineers will pay monthly fees for the rest of their lives in order to create free software out of other free software!
- PayPal – people will use their insecure AOL and Yahoo email addresses to pay each other real money, backed by a non-bank with a cute name run by 20-somethings.
- Paperless Post – we are like Evite, except you pay us. All of your friends will know that you are an idiot.
- Instagram – filters! That’s right, we got filters!
- LinkedIn – how about a professional social network, aimed at busy 30- and 40-somethings. They will use it once every 5 years when they go job searching.
- Tesla – instead of just building batteries and selling them to Detroit, we are going to build our own cars from scratch plus own the distribution network. During a recession and a cleantech backlash.
- SpaceX – if NASA can do it, so can we! It ain’t rocket science.
- Firefox – we are going to build a better web browser, even though 90% of the world’s computers already have a free one built in. One guy will do most of the work.
- Twitter – it is like email, SMS, or RSS. Except it does a lot less. It will be used mostly by geeks at first, followed by Britney Spears and Charlie Sheen.
Like most people I recently joined Google plus. I went in and set up my account. I was reasonably impressed and it looked quite cool. It had a couple of nice ideas, including the circles of friends concept of segmenting conversations. After I set up the account, it has been on my list of things to do. That is, to go into it, have a play around, get used to the system and better understand it.
A few weeks later I still haven’t done it.
The interesting thing is that during this time I have still engaged with the social networks I already use. Including this blog and my twitter account. Turns out I still have time for social networks, just not that one. The only reason I will use Google plus is because I need to know about it, not because I need it. The fact that I need to invest time to ‘learn how to navigate and use it’, is also sub optimal.
If everyone ends up loving Google plus, I’m sure I’ll get on board. But my Google Plus problem is that currently I don’t have a social networking problem.
You may have heard of the Winklevoss Brothers. They’re two of the luckiest people on the planet. They received a reported $65 million in a settlement from Facebook for essentially having an ‘idea stolen’. Latest reports are that they unhappy with the settlement terms because Facebook has recently been valued as high as $50 billion.I’m calling it Winklevoss Syndrome.
Winklevoss Syndrome = the false belief that an idea is ownable and that the real value of a business is strongly linked to the idea. People who suffer from this syndrome believe that they have some kind of ownership rights to something because they thought of it.
Although Mark Zuckerberg may have taken their idea, but he’s the one who built, it, funded it, promoted it, resourced it and expanded it. I’ll go as far as saying that the Winklevoss brothers are delusional if they believe they had anything to do with the success of Facebook. The idea of a social network has nothing to do with the act of building and populating a social network. Ideas in isolation have no value, ideas once executed ‘may’ have value. It’s also worth remembering that every idea that any number of people could or did have, would always be executed very differently. I think the Winklevoss brothers are the luckiest entrepreneurs on the face of the planet. They received a $65 million dollar gift for an idea and some unfinished pieces of code. They got very lucky they ever met Zuckerberg.
Every fresh idea usually has thousands of entrepreneurs around the world toying with it or building it. Simply because they have foundations in common trends, insight and technology evolution. So next time you see your ‘idea’, being brought to life, remind yourself that you didn’t ‘do’ anything about it. And then resist the temptation to suffer from Winklevoss Syndrome. Instead we should go and build something and see how limited the value of the original idea is.
The internet is a bit like dogs. Life moves a bit more quickly. Which is why I still laugh whenever I hear that the latest hit website is going to be the dominate force forever in that that category. As Facebook is currently being touted to be, then I love to remind the pundit just a little bit about the history of the internet.
Yahoo was search. it was game set and match, then came Google.
Myspace was social networking – it had won, apparently…
Blackbery had stitched up the hand held internet enabled smart phone market…
Geocites was the way we’d all have our own websites… then came blogging
All of which remind us how things can change ever so quickly on the intenert. This wont change, because the barriers to entry are so low. $5 an hour in India for a coder, $9.99 for a domain, $Free internet access and a wifi enabled laptop for a few hundred dollars and you’re an internet entrepreneur. Unlike TV and tradtional media outlets, anyone can play. Creativity wins, not financial resources.
The insight is that the forums people hang out in will always change, like disco’s and pubs (the web is social) – it’s also kinda Punk. Our job isn’t to predict which is the next big thing, but to learn how to use them quickly so that we can participate in a timely manner.