Web 2.0 and The Letter “e”: The Interview

Ever wonder why Flickr, Frappr, Soonr, Zooomr and a host of other companies are spelled the way they are? Link to the full interview here..

After hitting it big during the dot-com boom of the 90’s, the tech world’s best-known letter comes out of seclusion for a rare conversation.

Bidnessweekparodysmall_1The flurry of activity in “Web 2.0” has unleashed a number of rising stars. Perhaps the best known is photo-sharing site Flickr, but others such as 37Signals and del.icio.us have also ascended to prominence over the past eighteen months. However, the darling of the dot-com bubble — the letter “e” — is conspicuously missing and has decided to take a wait and see attitude this time around.

In an exclusive e-mail exchange with our editors, the reclusive vowel talks about what he’s been doing since the year 2000, his investment strategy, and his thoughts on whether we’ve entered a new technology bubble. He joins us from his yacht just outside of Antibes on the French Riviera (recently purchased from legendary venture capitalist Tom Perkins).”

Link to the full interview here.

Time For Perspective…Or Maybe The Other Way Around

June262002kevwithpolarandgrizzlyDoc is stranded with the kid in Dulles.

His story triggered a memory a few years old. A while back, I took a trip with the male offspring, and we were traveling in the dead of winter from Whitefish, Montana back to the Bay Area. He was about 2 1/2 at the time, and we ended up stranded in the Missoula airport after a similar connection debacle. The whole trip, end-to-end, was about thirteen hours.

It was, for all intents and purposes*, effortless.

The big “a-ha” for me was that, from his perspective, he hadn’t yet formed the abstract concept of being “late.” Everything he was doing was in the moment…from running around the airport to looking at planes to playing games to staring at the mangy stuffed grizzly in the lobby. It was just another day of adventure, which they all are at that age.

Thanks again for that, little guy. You taught me a lot that day about perspective.

* – which is neither “intensive purposes” nor “intensive porpoises,” which I’ve also heard. gah.

(photo credit: johnny jet)

MOTD

“I really believe that in our increasingly global economy, the more a business aspires to be a successful globally integrated enterprise, the more local and personal the customer relationships must be. Products and services might be commodities, but you never, ever want your customers to feel like they, too, are just commodities. A successful business will make each of its clients feel special by understanding and addressing their unique requirements, and quickly solving problems when they come up. This is really hard, which is why it may very well be most important way for a business to stand out from its competitors.” — Irving Wladawsky-Berger

(via Nellie Lide and Francois)

I Want To Be A Commodity (sing it to the tune of Green Day’s “Minority,” it works, trust me)

Based a tip from Jake, I just checked out the new Walmart “social network” for the back-to-school season. At first, it looks like a MySpace clone, but then one realizes immediately that it is, in fact, simply a “create your own page” site, similar in some ways to this year’s Chevy Tahoe campaign.

So, ripping a page out of the book of my favorite investigative journalist, I decided to sign up.

Walmart4_1The signup form is extremely intrusive (first asking for my date-of birth, and then my phone number, father’s middle name, address, gender, huh?). After filling out the form with spoofed information and being informed that I’d been registered, I attempted to make my page.

At this point, I’m informed that I’m “not eligible for the contest,” and am stonewalled. I went back to look at the onerous terms-and-conditions page, and realize that the only people who can create pages are those who are 13-18 years old.

Ok, I guess I’ll be a 17-year old girl, then.

I signed up using a different email address, was granted access to the system, and was immediately informed that I “now was a member of one of the coolest cliques on the net!” (::giggle:: lol, thatz gr8!!!) Apparently, all it takes to be a member of one of the coolest cliques on the net is a fake email address.

(My, how standards have fallen. Why, back in my day, you really had to work at it to be in a clique.)

Walmart5Proceeding forward, I’m finally invited to create my page, primarily by choosing things from the pull-downs and highly-restrictive menus that are given on the page. (Click the thumbnail image on the right for your dose of daily irony.) Although one is able to upload pictures and videos, these appear to go through an “approval” process back at the Walmart mothership before they are posted live.

So, unfortunately, this is a campaign that hits all the Walmart stereotypes, and mirrors the conventional wisdom on their corporate culture. Restrictive. Controlling. Inauthentic. Commoditizing. Here, let’s check out a couple of quotes from one of the pages on the site (belonging to “Courtney,” who lists her tagline as “Don’t let prices stop you from buying!”):

“I will School My Way this fall by looking preppy chic. With a twist of sk8r and lots of skulls!!! YEAH!”

Now, Seth says:

“Just because some folks will look at it and sneer doesn’t mean it won’t work. Some people want a clean, well-lit, orderly environment, even online. Wal-Mart has thrived by trying to sell mass to the masses. It’s okay with them that we can’t find an adapter for our new Treo there. Or a copy of the latest edgy magazine.

The early adopters out there will push, and often push hard, for you to market to them. Sometimes that’s a great idea (after all, they’re listening!). But as Wal-Mart has successfully demonstrated, the middle of the market is a very profitable place as well.”

Yes, I’m sneering. And, frankly, I don’t care if it “works.” Here’s a point that seems to be lost: THERE’S ONLY ONE WALMART. And one MySpace. And one YouTube. So, Seth’s advice rings hollow on two fronts:

#1: If you’re interested in “marketing to the masses,” chances are, you already lost. There will be one, or two, or maybe three big winners in whatever commodity you’re marketing. There also will be a blood-strewn trail of “me too!” organizations wondering why they didn’t hit it big. Where’s your “purple cow” there, eh?

#2: If your business plan is built around “selling mass to the masses,” then you’re forced to sand off all the rough edges. You’re forced to take away any iota of create-ive intent. (Please be sure your soul is securely stowed in the overhead compartment before takeoff.)

The bottom line now has multiple sub-totals. Running a business is a blast, and to run a business one needs to ensure that the endeavor is economically viable and successful. But profit is just one aspect of the calculus.

Update: More from AdAge and Shel Holtz.

Update 2, 4Oct2006: Pete Cashmore reports The Hub has gone the way of the dodo.

Tending

There are a huge number of parallels that are constantly being drawn between systems design and architecture. In particular, danah boyd goes down this path in “from architecture to urban planning: technology development in a networked age.” danah writes:

“I’m reminded of a book by Stewart Brand – How Building Learn. In it, Brand talks about how buildings evolve over time based on their use and the aging that takes place. A building is not just the end-result of the designer, but co-constructed by the designer, nature, and the inhabitant over time. When i started thinking about technology as architecture, i realized the significance of that book. We cannot think about technologies as finalized products, but as evolving architectures. This should affect the design process at the getgo, but it also highlights the differences between physical and digital architectures. What would it mean if 92 million people were living in the house simultaneously with different expectations for what colors the walls should be painted? What would it mean if the architect was living inside the house and fighting with the family about the intention of the mantel?

The networked nature of web technologies brings the architect into the living room of the house, but the question still remains: what is the responsibility of a live-in architect? Coming in as an authority on the house does no good – in that way, the architect should still be dead. But should the architect just be a glorified fixer-upper/plumber/electrician? Should the architect support the aging of the house to allow it to become eccentric?”

I think in a co-created world, the role of the tender-of-the-system is a bit different even from what danah alludes to in the last paragraph above. With millions of individuals interacting with a system, it would be impossible to “architect” where the system should go once the system begins to interact with its environment. And the tender-of-the-system certainly should not be locked into the role of the glorified fixer-upper/plumber/electrician. Not only is it not fulfilling, it also eventually dooms a system to stagnancy.

When there are millions of forces acting on a system, isn’t it necessary for that system to become more biological in nature, to absorb and react to the various forces acting on it? And if so, shouldn’t the role of the system’s steward be more like that of a gardener — watering over here, providing a trellis for support over there, and even pruning where it is required in order to ensure the vibrancy of the whole system, while still allowing it to grow and interact and exhibit emergent properties that could never have been forseen?