Opportunities in The Mobile Internet

I wrote previously about the four phases of the Internet, and how we’re approaching the Mobile (+ Location) Internet.  As a follow up to that post, I wanted to explore some specific areas and opportunities with this new paradigm.
Solving “Local”

Many companies have tried to solve local, applying technological solutions to the problems facing local business promotion and discovery.  Unfortunately, the local problem has proved to be extremely challenging. This is partly due to the businesses themselves, because they have enough day-to-day issues to worry about and aren’t very tech savvy. But the bigger reason is that selling to local business is very expensive. Even the tech IPO darling OpenTable has spent years and millions of dollars to get to 15,000 restaurants, and still has to fight to make a meager $2.6 million per quarter. The difference in the mobile + location internet age is that there is a potential to crowdsource the local business data (e.g. Yelp and Foursquare), and also make the onboarding process for local businesses much more seamless, potentially as simple as a smartphone app. Results may end up being as simple as geo-coupons, but I think we’ll see much more interesting things that that in this space.

Education, Books and Information
We are in the midst of what I hope will prove to be the most transformative time in education since the advent of the classroom at the start of the industrial revolution. Various new models are emerging in education, but the mobile Internet opens new doors by making an essentially infinite amount of data and information readily available.  As facts become increasingly available (just a quick google search away on your phone), education will shift to focus on concepts, methods, innovation, and synthesis, rather than the fact regurgitation so prevalent in today’s educational models. And of course, the trend will also serve to blow up the concept of a “book”, whether it merges with the Internet as O’Reilly predicts, or simply becomes disaggregated into more focused chapters or articles. Location in this case is less relevant, but mobile computing will permanently alter education and information sharing.
“Hard” Augmented Reality
One of the common threads with mobile based computing is augmented reality.  This phrase usually conjures images of superimposed information or animations on the existing world, whether through the eyes and screen of a smartphone (e.g. Layar), or eventually in more integrated means like retina displays. Google Maps and Streetview are providing the scaffolding for this type of information in the physical world, so you’ll be able to pull up information about a business or a building simply by pointing your phone at it.  Additionally, face recognition technology (e.g. Apple’s rumored acquisition of Polar Rose) will bring that type of functionality to people, perhaps pulling up their contact info and recent status posts when you greet them.

“Soft” Augmented Reality
But in addition to these map and 3D focused augmented reality, there are plenty of applications to improve day to day life that are really “augmented reality” but don’t appear to be.  A great example is Shazam, which lets you find out the name of a song you’re listening to, solving the incredibly annoying problem of not knowing what a song is when you’re listening to it. (I hate to admit it, but I recently tagged a Justin Bieber song.) Many other “soft augmented reality” applications will emerge to make daily life more interesting, fun, and pleasant, without being obtrusive. 
Gaming
I myself and not a gamer (and I’m not personally addicted to the various game mechanics of today’s location based services), but it would be silly to not talk about the Gaming component of the current internet age. An omnipresent, location aware computer (i.e. smartphone), provides an incredible device to integrate the real world with gaming. It’s the core thesis of SCVNGR. I certainly see mobile + location internet enabling the “gamification” of life, and we’ll see to what extent, hopefully we don’t end up amusing ourselves to death
These are just some of the trends and opportunities emerging with the mobile + location internet. And given that the stakes are higher, the user base bigger, and the technology easier than ever to adopt, there’s little doubt that the winners in this age will be even bigger than those in ages past.

The Four Internet Ages

The Four Internet Ages

Now that I’m between startups, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to work on next.  I like thinking in frameworks, which makes it easier to evaluate new opportunities and create my own theses around where technology and business is heading.  My previous analysis on the Product vs Distribution Framework focused on the core traits a company needs to ultimately succeed. This post looks instead at the macro trends of the Internet itself. 
Each phase of the Internet’s growth was enabled by key platforms, and had key successes that were able to level those platforms and other trends to create huge businesses.  Each phase also built on the previous phases, and would not have been possible without the foundation created before it. And because of this improving foundation and growing user base, each phase enables bigger opportunities that can be reached faster than before. 

The diagram below shows the four key phases of the Internet, as the platforms and successes in each, as well as the worldwide desktop and mobile Internet user base. Note that the timeline for each is a general approximation of that trait as the defining leading edge of the web, and there exists considerable overlap in the general use cases and impact of each.

1 – The Early Internet

The first Internet phase saw the early growth of users.  This growth (and perceived future growth) was so explosive that it led to the great Dot-com boom and bust. It was built on the proliferation of the web browser (Netscape and later Internet Explorer), increasing penetration of desktop computers with Internet access, and standardization of web protocols.  In the early days, there were not a lot of users or content, so the most logical way or organizing available content for a limited user base was simply an editorial listing of interesting content, thus the birth and proliferation of portals like Yahoo.
2 – The Searchable Web
The second phase of the Internet saw an explosion of content, which was built on the key enablers of the first age (desktops, browsers, web standards). Once the volume of content exploded beyond the early manageable levels, lists and portals were no longer sufficient to access this content. This led to search becoming the only feasible way to harness the incredibly expanding volume of content. 
Google emerged in this era as the key platform because of it’s simple, powerful, and fast search capabilities. This dominance led to a web that was organized through the principles of PageRank, and created the SEO and SEM industries. It also opened up a new world of long tail e-commerce, where small companies could have a much bigger footprint than ever before, and cheaply reach customers across the world.

3 – The Social Web
The third phase of the web was based on saturation of online penetration among the general population. A true social web can only existing once online penetration begins to saturate the population, reaching 70% adoption or more. Interestingly, most developed countries started reaching this penetration level around 2003-2005, coinciding with the birth and growth of social networks. This is in stark contrast to the Searchable Web, which is valuable to users even with low adoption rates as long as there is enough content to search. 
In this phase, Facebook has emerged as the defacto social platform. This platform has facilitated the creation and growth of two of the fastest companies ever to reach a $1B revenue run rate: Zynga and Groupon.  Both of them used the Facebook platform to grow faster and more cheaply than ever before due to the incredible low friction that social networks have to get new users. Zynga reached 100 million users faster than Facebook itself, mainly because most of the users were ALREADY on FAcebook, making them much easier to acquire.
4 – The Mobile Web
The fourth phase if the one we are just entering, which is being enabled by ubiquitous mobile computers (e.g. smartphones). Inherent to this phase is not just the mobile computer itself, but the fact that they are increasingly always with us, and are location aware (know where we are).  The combination of ever-present mobile computing, plus a rich location layer, seamlessly integrated with the social graph and the searchable web creates enormous opportunities. 
The key platforms in this space have are clearly iPhone and Android, but there is still room for winners on the customer side.  Foursquare appears to be one of the early companies to succeed while specifically leveraging mobile + location, but there will certainly be more. 

What does this mean?
What’s interesting about these trends as I pointed out earlier is that each phase gets progressively bigger than the one before, and leads to faster growth for companies that are well positioned.  You can bet that new companies will emerge will get to $1B in revenue faster than Groupon and Zynga. 

The Product vs Distribution Framework

The Product vs Distribution Framework

In the startup world there is an ongoing debate about the importance of having a very solid product versus having great distribution. A few weeks ago at a dinner hosted by David Skok and Antonio Rodriguez we had a very active and interesting debate about the merits of each. Antonio posed a question about which of the two we would prefer. Since then I’ve continued to think about this issue, and created a framework to help me think about it and evaluate the tradeoffs.  

The Product-Distribution Framework

Given that the product vs distribution debate is not just an either or, I wanted to create a framework to help me think and evaluate the tradeoffs of each, and take into account the strength of each. So I created a simple 2×2 matrix comparing weak and strong product vs weak and strong distribution, using a fun theme of plants to characterize the various types of companies (trust me, it’s much safer for work than the initial images).

The Oak Trees – Great distribution and product feed on each other to build great companies
At the top right are the truly great companies, that have created solid products and achieve successful distribution to reach enough people.  These great companies are household names, including Facebook, Apple, and Google.  There are various paths to get there, but most of these companies have a fanatical devotion to creating a solid product, coupled with a very smart, disciplined, and powerful distribution. Throughout the growth, these two strengths continually feed on each other creating a positive feedback loop. 
Example: Apple in 2010 – Apple is firing on all cylinders, led by Steve Jobs’ literally maniacal focus on creating a perfect product. But it’s easy to forget how strong the Apple marketing engine is, creating hundreds of millions of dollars of free publicity with every product launch. They have also created one of the world’s strongest brands, and use their huge profit margins to build a wildly successful retail distribution channel.
Example: Google – Google is the undisputed search leader with about 70% of the market (and holding strong). Early on they built a fundamentally superior search product, perfected it through continual execution and improvement, and leveraged the strength of the product to grow distribution. Now the two build on each other, with their market share in search enabling them to continue to improve their product through more data and more servers, and that continually improving product keeps people coming back to use their search engine.

The Weeds – Potentially profitable by eventually doomed
At the top left are companies that have created great distribution despite a weak product. Contrary to conventional wisdom, these companies can be very profitable despite the weak product because of various channels to reach customers and user habits.
Example: MySpace – MySpace leveraged huge email lists to spam users and build a large social network. They grew quickly and sold for $580 million, but continual lack of execution on the product led to their downfall and imminent irrelevance.
Example: Microsoft – A monopoly is about as strong a distribution strategy you can have, but even that is not enough to sustain a company that continues to make inferior products. Despite being wildly profitable, their stock has gone nowhere in 10 years, and their lack of product execution has put them in weak positions in the next computing wave (mobile and tablet).
Example: American auto makers – The analogy even applies outside consumer technology, as evident by the downfall of the American automotive industry, which for too long relied on patriotism, customer loyalty, and a saturated dealer network to distribute an inferior product. Eventually it caught up with them, and now even though they are building better products, decades of perception still linger with consumers and they face an uphill battle.  

The Desert Flowers – Potentially great but need some breaks
At the bottom right are companies that have created a truly interesting and innovative product, but have struggled to get it out to the people that care about it. Many companies founded by techies have a strong risk to go down this path, continuing to focus on building the perfect product and not spending enough time getting it out there. And make no mistake, Facebook was not one of these companies in the early days, aggressively crawling online groups to get initial profile pictures and emailing whomever they could.
Example: original Mac-only iPod – Given the rapid success of the iPod franchise, it’s easy to forget that it originally launched exclusively for the Mac as a way to drive Mac sales, and took almost 2 years to sell 1 millions units (vs. 74 days for the original iPad, 28 days for the iPad, and about 1 day for the iPhone 4). It was only when they began offering a PC version and leveraging their iTunes distribution platform that sales began really accelerating.

The Tumbleweeds – Also Rans – Lots of challenges, but could work in certain offline niches
In the lower left quadrant are the companies that don’t have a particular strength in either product or distribution, and are thus left facing many challenges. In certain commodity local businesses with limited competition, this may not be an issue (for example the only dry-cleaner in a neighborhood), but for online businesses this can be a killer.
Examples: Most clones that lack distribution – Clones often try and replicate a successful product but lack many of the soft traits and methodologies that made those products successful in the first place, and thus often create weak imitations. If those are coupled with distribution advantages, they can be profitable, but often they are mired in the bottom left quadrant to hang on and pray.

What this means on a practical level
Coming back to Antonio’s question from that dinner, if I had a choice of having either great distribution or great product, I would choose great distribution, turn that into profitability, and leverage that to build a great product. Practically speaking, however, those choices are rarely presented.  Therefore, when starting a new company, the important point is to clearly understand the tradeoffs as well as the strengths of the early team and company.  Then use that to built a great company, whether it means leveraging distribution to get to a great product, or building a great product and figuring out the distribution. 
And the truly great companies are constantly focused on both, like an oak seed going deep into the ground for a solid foundation (the product), and reaching for the skies to get sun and spread the branches (the distribution).
I’d love to hear other thoughts about this framework as well as other good examples. I’m also planning a follow up post about how to move between areas in the quadrant, and specific industry dynamics. 

Online Groups Suck – Email wins, with limits

I have written before about how email is still the killer app.  There are lots of new dedicated applications to serve specific needs, but often I find myself reverting back to the trusty email.  But one area that I have a love-hate relationship with is the massive email thread.

Email threads have their limitations
This annoyance has recently reached a new high as I have three of these massive email threads going at the same time, one for a local Boston/Cambridge tech geek pickup basketball and soccer, and two for soccer leagues I play on.  We use the email thread to announce game times, check who’s coming or not, coordinate rides, or make jokes. It’s convenient and annoying at the same time. 
Email threads are easy and comfortable
Email threads are great because they require no work or learning to use. It is an invisible “product” (use case really) that relies on a platform people are already using every day (email). You compose an email, fill out the addresses automatically, and hit send. And to reply, it’s one click or keyboard shortcut. No new usernames and passwords, no new places to check out, no new service to learn.
Online groups have too much friction and are not the solution
One common solution to this problem is online groups, but they have continually disappointed me as a replacement for the massive email thread. Yahoo Groups and Google groups are great for lots of collaboration, forums, or development projects, but for a simple email thread, they are terrible.
First off, they require people to register for the group before accessing it. No matter how tech savvy the group is, there will never be 100% participation, and in many cases people have to create new accounts for a new service (and nobody wants to create yet another account that they will soon forget). Second, they require a motivated and dedicated admin to create the group, manage members, and eventually possibly pass the group on to someone else. Third, they require people to either continue receiving all emails (thereby not saving the inbox), or remember yet another website to check out on a regular basis. And finally, they are not stick: I have never participated in an online group discussion that endured past the initial excitement of the first few weeks. 

What’s the solution?
Is there room for a Posterous for online groups and email chain management?  I hope so.

YouCastr – A Post-Mortem

Introduction: Why I’m writing this

There are many post-mortems from failed startups out there, mainly because there are a lot of failed startups, and the people that start them tend to be very introspective and public about their successes and failures. I’m no different.  This post-mortem will serve to get things off my chest, organize my thoughts, get the most out of the experience, and share my experience with others.

I’m also writing this to be able to point to a single, detailed, lengthy answer to the inevitable questions I’ll be getting from friends and colleagues about what happened with YouCastr. Now people can read to their heart’s content. 

As I write about my experiences, people who know startups will see many common themes.  Most of the conclusions here are consistent with Paul Graham’s analysis and understanding of startups, what’s challenging, and why they fail (if you’re planning on starting a company, especially in tech, read every single one of his essays). But no matter how many times you read or hear certain lessons, you have to do it yourself to really understand. Here are my specific and personal experiences to add color to that advice.

A Brief History

YouCastr is Born

The idea for YouCastr was hatched about three and a half years ago, during a car ride down from Jay Peak with my good friend Jeff Dwyer.  Throughout the entire ride we were throwing ideas back and forth about cool companies, fun ideas, and stuff that bothered us.  One in particular stuck with me, which was the idea of bringing Mystery Science Theater 3000 to the modern age, and let anyone provide their own comments.  After exploring this some more, I ended up settling on sports as the logical market. This would mean the commentary would have to be live, because otherwise it would have been just a podcast platform, which was not very interesting technologically.  A couple of days later I shared the idea with my soon to be co-founder Jeff Hebert, and we continued thinking about it.  Within a few months we put together a team of 4, created our initial plans, and began building an alpha version. 

Initial progress

As we were getting off the ground, three of the four founders (including myself) were mainly working on building the actual product, since we couldn’t do much of anything without that. We learned Ruby on Rails, did our own designing, worked nights and weekend on the startup as a complement to our management consulting day-jobs, and clawed our way to our initial alpha and private beta. 

Building the company

We then spent the next three years building the company, quitting our jobs, raising money,  opening our office, hiring people, firing people, going back to bootstrap mode, and finally, pulling the plug.  

Pivoting

Startups are all about pivoting. It’s like a word game where you start with HURT, change one letter at a time, then end with LOVE, with many other four-letter words along the way (btw, you really can do that in 6 moves). In our case, we started as a virtual sports bar where people could chime in audio commentary and ended up as a do-it-yourself pay-per-view video platform.  Seems like a radical change, but each pivot was the equivalent of changing one letter.

Our first pivot was to focus on live audio sports broadcasting of games that weren’t being televised (instead of adding commentary to nationally televised games), in response to what customers were doing. Then we added video broadcasting to that same market, focusing on broadcasting sports that weren’t covered (primarily high school and college).  And finally we expanded beyond sports, mainly by de-emphasizing the sports branding on our platform, and adding a few features more geared towards video producers than to schools and teams. All of these were natural pivots, not jumps.

Shutting Down – The Reasons and Need

1 – Ran out of cash

The single biggest reason we are closing down (a common one) is running out of cash. Despite putting the company in an EXTREMELY lean position, generating revenue, and holding out as long as we could, we didn’t have the cash to keep going. The next few reasons shed more light as to why we chose to shut down instead of finding more cash.

2 – The market was not there

The thesis of our current business model (startups are all about testing theses) was that there was a need for video producers and content owners to make money from their videos, and that they could do that by charging their audience. We found both sides of that equation didn’t really work. I validated this in my conversations with companies with more market reach than us, that had tried similar products (ppv video platform), but pulled the plug because they didn’t see the demand for it. 

Video producers are afraid of charging for content, because they don’t think people will pay. And they’re largely right. Consumers still don’t like paying for stuff, period. We did find some specific industry verticals where the model works (some high schools, some boxing and mixed martial arts events, some exclusive conferences), but not enough to warrant a large market and an independent company.

3 – The team was ready to move on

The core team of 5 of us has already made significant personal, financial, and emotional investment over the past three years. We have had our share of tough breaks, not to mention almost two years without salary.  

4 – No light at the end of the tunnel

Given the industry trends we were seeing, we just didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel worth surviving for.  This market may get slightly better, but it’s not going to be a big company.  

5 – We need to put a stake in the ground

We’re survivors. We hate giving up, and have tenaciously survived for a long time.  We survived the worst economic environment in generations (during which we also tried to raise money), and knew how not to die.  But it was time to shut down and move on. 

A Retrospective – Why we failed

In most of the following points I say we, but as CEO, many of the mistakes below can be placed directly on my shoulders, which I will take as a valuable experience as I move on.

Didn’t pivot fast enough

We did a pretty good job of pivoting, but we didn’t make the hard choices quickly enough. Our first pivot, towards broadcasting of original sports content, took us 6 months.  We had legacy users and web traffic that we were afraid of losing. We had a brand in one area. We had a story for investors, customers, and the community. All of that made it harder for us to quickly change our focus and apply all resources to the new area, which we knew was the long term future. We iterated our product quickly, but didn’t pivot fast enough

Didn’t love it
We started the company because we liked the idea and wanted to do something entrepreneurial. We weren’t in love with the idea or market we were going after, and weren’t core users of our product. We worked really hard getting it off the ground despite this, but it made it more difficult to sustain the energy and to understand the best product choices.

Made hiring mistakes

Hire slow, fire fast. That’s how the saying goes. We made a mistake when hiring. We hired too early (before product-market fit), and we rushed into it by foolishly setting an internal deadline to make the hiring decision, which drove us to ignore some gut reactions by some of the core team members. Eric Ries has a great overview of how not to make these mistakes in his Lean Hiring Tips post.

Spent too much time raising money

Almost immediately after our private beta we started trying to raise money, and saw many of the typical challenges when raising money for the first time.  This was late 2007 remember, when plenty of Web 2.0 companies were getting funded, and we got caught up in the spirit.  We spent 6 months raising our angel round, and finally closed it after launching our public beta in February 2008.  We raised less than we should have (Chris Dixon notes that the worst thing a seed-stage company can do is raise too little money and only reach part way to a milestone, which is great advice). We spent 3 months getting ready for raising our next round, then 6 months beating our head against a wall trying to raise money during the financial collapse. Finally we regrouped, but had serious short term cash issues that we had to resolve with additional investment from current investors and cutting of costs. We then focused on the product and made some solid progress, with the plan on giving it another go. By the time we got there, though, we realized we didn’t have the metrics we wanted, so pulled back our fundraising efforts and decided to go back to bootstrap mode. 

Never quite figured out customer acquisition

We never seriously figured out customer acquisition, and had trouble growing throughout our various pivots. Customer acquisition is hard and more expensive than most people realize when starting a company. There has been a lot of good analysis, including Andrew Chen’s overview of calculating cost per customer acquisition and David Skok’s warning about how it can be a startup killer, but it takes firsthand experience to understand that. 

Too many founders

We started the company with four co-founders. I believe Dharmesh Shah nailed it in his analysis of the optimal number of co-founders. In our case, the advantage of having 4 co-founders was that had more people and resources willing to work for sweat equity. But it also presented challenges, including slowing down decisions, as everyone naturally wants to chime in with their opinion.  As CEO, a lot of this falls on me, as I should have been stronger in making decisions. I tend to be a consensus builder, but in my next startup I will have to improve my ability to make bold unpopular decisions while still motivating everyone and building consensus after the decision is made.  On the plus side, the entire founding team was incredibly committed through the entire time, and we never had any of the fundamental founder issues that many people complain about become a major problem. 

Counted on big partnerships to close (when they didn’t) and to help more than they did

We initiated some very interesting high level partnership and business development discussions with large companies. We put some hope into these deals, but large companies move much slower than startups, and every deal took much longer than we needed. Marc Andreesen even draws a parallel that going after large partnerships is like chasing Moby Dick

We put too much stock and hope into closing some of these. And for the ones we did close, we expected more results than we got. It’s an interesting dilemma, because partners are often the best acquirers, but the downfalls can even lead people to suggest to NOT partner with big and powerful companies

What I Learned and some of the positives

I’m an optimist by nature, which you have to be to start a company given the odds and challenges. Given that, it’s good to look back and think about the positives of the entire experience. It’s incredibly satisfying to create a revenue-generating company that is flirting with cash-flow positive, especially having started with a crazy idea. The experience of building a company and tasting success was incredible, and though we didn’t quite get over the hump, we have tasted it, and it will only motivate me more to get there again, through all the hardships.

On a personal level, I’ve learned more about business, people, life, and myself over the past three years than I ever have. I have made life-long friends with whom I can share these experiences with. I have come closer to understanding how to reach my limits, which is one of my fundamentals goals in life.  Startups let you try and find those limits  in a way that most jobs wouldn’t, and I’ll keep pushing. And best of all, I have realized that my true passion is entrepreneurship. I have a very addictive personality, and therefore only do things where I am comfortable with the extreme case, like starting companies or running ultra-marathons

We built a great culture, including some great parties for the local tech-scene, competitive ping-pong matches, and late night coding sessions with house music blasting. We converted three lifelong PC people to Mac, all of whom are happier for it.  And most satisfying, we helped kick start two young and promising careers, those of our designer and community manager.

Moving Forward

My long term goal is to continue starting companies.  There’s no question I’m in a better position now to start another company than I was when I first started YouCastr.  It’s almost like thinking back at how much more fun high school would have been had you known what you knew when you graduated back when you started. Practically speaking, though, after having gone almost 2 years without a salary, I’m not in a financial position to bootstrap another company, which is the way I would really want to start a company.  

In the short term I’m working on various projects for my consulting company, Scenario4. We are working with some great people on some fun projects across the tech world.  I am also pursuing several side projects, including the recently launched BooksforBits, a non-profit company designed to help accelerate the transition to ebooks while getting books to communities in need.

It’s an incredibly exciting time in technology. We are on the cusp of the post-pc era, which includes a revolution in the mobile space, and in how we interact with and perceive computers. We are in a world where startups can be more capital efficient than ever before. And most interestingly for me, as a society we are going to be facing challenges unlike any we have ever seen. 

With every ending is a new beginning, and I’m excited about what lies ahead.  

Is Diaspora the next OpenSocial?

Remember about 2 and a half years ago, when the Facebook Platform was still new, and all the talk was about OpenSocial?  It was supposed to be a platform for all the “other” social networks (outside Facebook), where developers could easily create apps for all of them at once. Dave McClure wrote an interesting post about two and a half years ago talking about OpenSocial vs. Facebook Platform (before Connect). OpenSocial all but died, Facebook got stronger. 
Now there is a lot of talk about Diaspora, the “the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network.” The name is already ambitious and confusing enough.  They have been making some noise, getting some press, including a piece in the New York Times, and have raise over $177k from almost 5000 contributors. Jason Fried argues that they have too much money and no product

But I’d argue that they face much deeper challenges.
Market Adoption
For this to be significant, it has to see Facebook style viral growth. Facebook’s growth curve was a once in a generation thing, I don’t think we’ll see it replicated within the same decade.

Technical Challenges
Authentication has been a challenge online for a long time. Facebook Connect (now Graph) is making great progress on Single Sign on, but it hasn’t been easy, just look at OpenID’s failures.
Users Don’t Care
Most users don’t care about their privacy settings, and won’t care about a more open Facebook. And it’s hard enough to get people to change, even when they do care.

Trading One Master for Another
If Diaspora wins, then we’ll trade one master for another. Maybe with better default privacy settings and visibility, but with a governing body all the same.
Facebook Interoperability
I think it’s fair to say that any effort to create a new social graph will need to rely on Facebook’s existing social information (profile info, etc.) and social graph (friends), and possibly also the photos and other information on there. Forcing people to give all that up will be a challenge.

We’ll see two and a half years from now if Diaspora caught hold, or ended up like OpenSocial.  I’m rooting for a more open Facebook, and maybe Diaspora will help achieve that without ever launching a product. But they’ll have some serious challenges to create a truly viable alternative to Facebook.

Alternatives to an MBA

In my last post I wrote about the only 4 reasons to get an MBA. Now I wanted to follow up with some alternatives. 
Start a Company
The best alternative is to start a company. It will cost about the same (initial investment plus lost salary), but provides a MUCH better first-hand learning, creates a good opportunity to build a network (required for fundraising, finding co-foudners and partners, etc.), and forces you to be self sufficient.  Don’t get an MBA if you want to start a company, JFDI

Get a Masters in Engineering Management
If you know you want to stay on the technical side of management (and have a healthy disregard for MBA types), then get a Master of Engineering Management.  There is a growing number of schools offering the degree (including my alma matter, Dartmouth, and see a full list at Wikipedia). 
Specialize in something you love
The other option that is often looked over, is just to double down and study or do something you really love.  Get a Masters in Fine Art, or History, or anything else. The world needs plenty of specialists, and more often than not, you’ll be able to do much higher quality work if you really love it, and the rest will come (riches, fame, etc.).  

I’m sure there are plenty of others, but these three examples quickly jumped out at me.  

The ONLY 4 reasons to get an MBA

Before starting my own company, I thought very seriously about getting an MBA. Over the past three and a half years, I’ve gone from being pretty sure I would get one, to being pretty sure I won’t. What changed were my goals, situation, and skills, not my perception on the reasons to get an MBA.  
Over the past week I’ve come across two interesting blog posts on the question of whether to get an MBA. One is a post by Steve Blank that talks about the MBA as an entrepreneurial finishing school, and the other is a TechCrunch article about whether an MBA is a plus or minus in the startup world.  Both are interesting reads (and also both interestingly mention the Master in Engineering Management as an alternative to the MBA, which is a degree I do have).  
So here are the four reasons (the only four reasons) I feel anyone should get an MBA. 

1 – To Build a Strong(er) Network

In many people’s eyes, this is the biggest (and sometimes only) benefit of getting an MBA. I tend to agree. A solid network is extremely valuable in any business, be it a startup, a consulting firm, or a large corporation. However it’s also important to remember that the quality of the network is directly proportional to the quality of the school, the jobs the graduates take, and the long term prospects of classmates.

2 – To Change Career

If you’re stuck in a career that you don’t want to be in, and it has a traditional stigma that makes it difficult to easily change careers, then spending 2 years studying general business, meeting new people, and spending a lot of time learning about new industries can be a great way to get out of a rut.  For me personally, this was a very compelling reason after my initial start in the automotive industry, which was remedied by a move into strategy consulting then tech entrepreneurship.

3 – To Learn a NEW and Complementary Skill (that you want to use down the road)

An MBA can in face teach new skills, whether they are corporate finance, business organization, micro and macro economics, accounting, etc.  For people that have studied or have been working in fields that are not very business related (e.g. teaching, research, arts), then these skills are very new, and often challenging.  But it’s important that there is at least an initial plan to use these skills in a meaningful way.  Maybe you’re a high school teacher that wants to start a business.  
Many people who get MBAs are already fairly strong in the subject matter (i.e. business undergrads, strategy and management consultants, i-bankers), and thus the MBA degree has a perception of being relatively easy from a content perspective. This isn’t the case if all of the material is new to you.  It’s like learning a foreign language if you had been speaking it at home. 

4 – If it’s required for your desired career path

In some industries, an MBA is essentially a requirement to keep moving up, for example i-banking, consulting, or Fortune 500 high level executive.  In that case, if that’s the career path you really want, then you don’t have much choice. The good news is that in many of these industries, companies will either pay for or re-pay the cost of the MBA, so it helps soften the financial blow.
If you’re thinking of getting one for any other reason, think hard about it.
I’ll write a follow up post about alternatives to getting an MBA, depending on your goals.

HP Acquires Palm – Well Done

I’m excited to see that HP has made a move to acquire Palm.  As I wrote before, Palm has created a solid mobile OS, and someone needed to buy that to keep it going and continue to put pressure on iPhone and Android.  

It’s a great move for HP to become relevant again in the mobile space, which they haven’t done since the poor iPaq line of PDAs.  It also makes sense because HP has been pushing hard to put touch into their desktop computers and even their printers, and the WebOS is a much stronger and nicer looking foundation for all of those efforts. 

HP stepped up to the plate, where HTC backed down because of their Android relationships, and Nokia didn’t even consider it because they are still busy putting out shitty Symbian phones.  

So who will end up buying Palm

Just 2 weeks ago I wrote about how somebody needed to buy Palm, and lo and behold, now the company is putting itself up for sale.  

When I wrote, Palm was trading at 3.76, and I noticed a great buying opportunity.  Too bad I didn’t actually move to buy any stock, it’s almost doubled in just 2 weeks.  Ahhh, hindsight.  

Well, despite my frustration in not acting on what was a clear opportunity, I’m still hopeful for the industry that someone will pick up Palm and create a solid competitor for Android and iPhone.  
I’ve been writing a lot about technology recently, but promise some general life posts coming soon. 

iPad Opportunities – Clipboard Replacement

As I continue to organize thoughts around some general motivational posts, I’m still fascinated by technology and recently the iPad, the newest addition to my tech library. 

A lot has been written about the iPad, including a recent article about how iPad is computing’s middle ground, which got me thinking.  The author references an analogy of coaches using the iPad on the sideline, so I started thinking about what are other uses of the physical clipboard that the iPad could replace:

  • Coaches – even professional coaches use clipboards, often the mini-whiteboards with an outline of the field, imagine a simple app that you could draw plays on and pull up “template” plays to then expound on.  
  • Inventory Management – anything in a warehouse where people are on the go, but need to check back on orders and current stock levels.
  • Hospitals – A no-bariner, people are writing about the benefits for nurses and other healthcare professionals.
  • Club VIP Lists – Real time updated and easier to manage than the current print-out list with a checklist
  • Wedding Planner – We’ve all seen these, frantically checking off stuff and planning to make sure things go off smoothly.
  • Construction Management – Especially on-site, lots going on
I’d be really interested in seeing some quick studies about how and where clipboards are sold and used.  I’m sure Staples is sitting on a goldmine of data that would be really interesting for future iPad developers. 

Can you think of other clipboard uses that could be replaced by an iPad?

Somebody Please Buy Palm (cough, cough Nokia)

The Dawn of Smartphones (the iPhone)
Throughout all of this smartphone revolution of the past 3 years (starting with the iPhone, as smartphone before then were just pretenders), it has been interesting to see the battleground.  Once might players like Microsoft and Palm were relegated to the bench as new players emerged (Apple), and evolved (RIM).  
Palm creates an impressive smartphone OS
The only independent handset maker that has done an impressive job creating a new smartphone OS is Palm.  For all of their speed issues, the WebOS they created is visually elegant, easy to use, and cohesive, things you can’t say about any of Nokia’s Symbian phones. 

A year and a half ago I wrote about how RIM is the next Palm, about how RIM was over-hyped and due for the same fall that Palm faced a decade ago.  Now RIM is trading about about a third of what it was then, and it’s clear they have an uphill battle.  But for all of Palm’s faults and original fall from grace, they have done an amazing job on the platform, creating an enviable operating system and a solid initial portfolio of phones.  
A buying opportunity
But their stock has taken a beating, largely due to execution and market share issues.  They are currently trading at 3.76, for a market cap of $634M.  That is a pittance, close to a 7-year low (not far from the 2008 world meltdown low):

At that price, it would be a steal for a large company looking to re-establish their own brand and independence (away from the hegemony that Android could easily become).  
Who should buy Palm?
Nokia is the buyer with most to gain.  Their smartphone efforts have been dismal, stuck in their past.  Symbian is a terrible foundation for a next generation platform, and they should jettison that and start from scratch.  They also have the most to gain because of their market share and distribution channels.  And they need something drastic or they risk becoming irrelevant in the next generation of phones.

Let’s be honest
But realistically, Nokia will never buy Palm, they are too proud.  Hubris.  Even if they don’t, there are a host of others who would benefit greatly, including Motorola (hampered by their own success with the RAZR), Sony/Ericsson (hampered with their silly joint venture that prevents more Sony technology), and HTC (drying desperately to create their own brand under Android).
You can be the guys at Elevation Partners will be pushing like hell to make Palm work, given that it can make or break their current fund.  I hope they find a buyer for Palm and keep more independent smartphone makers out there.

Email – the original killer app and still a loyal dog

Email was the first killer app of the Internet age.  It is the single most commonly used online application (slightly edging out Search). It is the center of most people’s work and social lives. Yet it is continually under-appreciated, and out-shined by new applications from Facebook to Twitter to dedicated Web 2.0 apps. But it remains with us like a loyal dog.  This post is to email’s defense, how it can be the center of a workflow, and some cool new uses built on email.
I wrote a few days ago about how productivity is a corner stone of an ambitious life.  As a follow up, I thought I’d add some detail on my own workflow.  A lot of my workflow is centered around email.  I spend more time in Mac Mail application than any other single application.  I use it for quick notes (though Evernote is rapidly gaining on my note taking), for drafting blog posts, for staying in touch, for answering support emails for YouCastr, etc.  So it’s naturally evolved as my all purpose workflow. 

Inbox 47,000+
I don’t believe in Inbox Zero.  It’s a waste of time, and isn’t necessary.  My somewhat GTD inspired workflow makes sure that I have Inbox-Unread-Zero, but that once it’s read, things are fine.  With Mac Mail, I can search through the 47,000 emails I have in my inbox and be just a few seconds from getting what I need.  My Inbox essentially serves as my filing system. 
I use my Draft Replies as my workflow.  If I get an email that needs a response or action, I start drafting a reply. Even if the action is not just an email, it will most likely warrant an email anyway (letting someone know it’s done). So with a quick Command-R and save, I have a todo automatically created with the appropriate detail, and it’s automatically saved (with Gmail IMAP).  

Bringing functionality back to email
A couple of companies are now leveraging email as a natural hub for general use.  This makes sense, everyone knows how to use email, and it’s so pervasive in everyday use.  It helps lower the barrier to start using a product, and keeps people coming back because it’s one of the activities people already do all the time.
Posterous
Posterous has created the simplest blogging platform out there.  All you need to do is send an email to post@posterous.com and you’re done. It’s great.  When they launched about 2 years ago, who would have thought we needed a new blogging platform? With plenty of custom, open source, and micro-blogging sites out there. 

Followup.cc
Another great up and coming app is Followup.cc, the brainchild of a good friend Chris Keller.  Followup.cc lets you set reminders right from your email, by cc’ing an email with the desired reminder time. For example, you could email a potential client, then cc “2w@followup.cc” and it will send you a reminder email in 2 weeks with that email thread.  It’s brain-dead simple, you don’t have to sign up and manage something, you don’t need to open and login to something. It’s there when you need it, and using it is intuitive and takes about 5 seconds per email.  Hopefully Chris starts marketing the service more aggressively so more people start using it. I’m excited to start using it more in my email-based workflow.
The Social Inbox
I think a current and hopefully continuing innovation is to leverage the Inbox for social communication.  I like with Xobni is doing with the social integration (though unfortunately only with Outlook). Even stodgy Microsoft is getting into the fray with Outlook Social Connector (though it’s been called a poor man’s Xobni and has issues with LinkedIn contact synchronization). I’m really hoping Apple starts adding some social integration to the Mail application for both the desktop, iPhone and upcoming iPad versions.  I’d love to be able to view and respond to Facebook or LinkedIn messages right from my centralized messaging application.  

We’ll see how things progress, but I’m betting that email is not going away for a while, but will continue to get more powerful, more integrated with other communications mediums, more social, and more productive.

Thoughts on the upcoming Tablet or iSlate

In light of Apple’s finally confirmed event next week about their “new creation”, I wanted to capture my expectations. I got a little carried away on the details, but the headers will give you a good idea of what I’m thinking.

Aiming to Redefine Portable Computing

In general, I agree with John Gruber’s thoughtful post on the Tablet (well worth a read) and I don’t think this will be designed as a single focused device, e.g. an eReader or big iPhone. They are aiming to redefine laptops and portable computing, not to make a pretty interface for e-reading and movie browsing.

Thoughts on OS and Usability

Completely redefined Finder / File Browsing

Presumably on a computer of the rumored size and power there will be some more robust file structure than on an iPhone. Although file structure is fading away with cloud based services and Apple’s own push to make files meaningless in their iLife sweet, they are still here for now. However it’s easy to imagine what it could look like by using the CoverFlow viewer on the Mac Finder.

Full Screen Applications

Most people don’t understand the current paradigm of “Applications” and when you’re “in” an application. I think computing in general will move away from the floating windows to a full screen application. It’s hard to realize this until you have to explain to non-savvy users what an “Application” is, how to tell if they’re in one (“Mom, look up at the top left and what does it say, no the really top left). Every time I have to explain to

No iPhone App “Widgets”

Many people have been speculating that the Tablet will have the ability to either scale up iPhone apps, or enable them as widgets. I disagree because that would be the easy way out, and Apple doesn’t do that. They will make developers re-write their apps completely, to take advantage of the larger screen real estate, new gestures, background processing, and perhaps other goodies. The App Store has proven that developers are extremely willing to write new apps, and Apple will leverage this to make them create new versions and not give them the easy way out of letting exiting apps exist on the tablet.

Thoughts on the Steve’s Keynote

In typical Steve Jobs style, he will come on stage and make fun of current Tablet PCs including insults on usability (most require pens and have terrible UIs), aesthetics (I don’t need to elaborate), and usage cases (what do you do on them other than scribble illegible notes?). This will set the stage for him to focus on the usage cases that make the Tablet different. For Steve, it’s all about the product and how it’s used.

I can also see a similar type of introduction to Steve Jobs’ iPhone introduction, which they positioned as a “a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod, and a breakthrough Internet device.” Perhaps a world-class eReader, a full size media center, and a breakthrough tablet computer. It’s worth watching the original iPhone keynote, which was 3 years ago. Steve wasn’t too far off with his prognostication that the phone was 5 years ahead of others, it took Google and the entire industry to come up with the closest bet to the original iPhone – 3 years later.

Core Usage Cases and Product Features

Productivity – Touch-ready iWork

One thing that really excites me that hasn’t been talked about in all this hoopla is the ability for a truly innovative productivity suite. Microsoft Office has not changed its fundamental structure in 15 years, other than questionable UI changes (i.e. the “Ribbons”). But Apple can leverage their internal iWork (already a much better office suite, except for Numbers vs. Excel 2003 for Windows) to create a dedicated version that leverages the strengths of a tablet. Admittedly this is more relevant and exciting for Keynote, for creating, editing or reviewing presentations, but is also relevant for Pages and Numbers, though not for heavy lifting. I think there already exists a UI framework that would make sense, similar to iPhoto full screen editing, with an auto-hiding browser on top and auto-hiding tool bar on the bottom.

Hub of Digital Life – Touch-ready iLife

Another core software suite will be porting iLife as a touch-ready application. iPhoto would probably be the most useful, but there might be new applications.

Reading

Even though Steve Jobs said that “nobody reads anymore”, it’s impossible to ignore that reading on a laptop / computer is a major usage case, just not necessarily books, as he was referring to. When I’m reading blogs, PDFs, or newspapers online, I’d certainly prefer a tablet form factor. And if it was good enough, I’d much rather have that to view my magazines (Wired, The Week and Popular Science) instead of the paper version. I also imagine Apple will be working with publishers (newspapers, magazines, books) to make the buying experience easier and get them excited about eReaders, which are here to stay. Again, this won’t be a dedicated device, but I’d be surprised if this is not laid out as a core usage.

Full iChat including Video Chat

The Tablet would certainly have the horsepower, and a front mounted built in iSight would make video converations incredibly simple and elegant.

Video

As more and more video consumption moves online and onto computers, it makes sense for a device that will essentially be just a screen to have a core and elegant video viewing interface. Apple also has strategic reasons to continue to push to centralize how people purchase and watch video. Watching a movie on a 10” screen is certainly more doable than on a 3.5” screen.

Areas that will NOT be core usage cases

Games

Apple is allegedly not happy with the fact that the iPod Touch and iPhone have become such game centered devices, but I think it makes sense on a device that size. The entire device is a great controller that offers unique handheld gaming abilities. A 10” devices does not lend itself to that type of gaming, and if you’re going to need a controller, then you might as well have a game console. I disagree with AppleInsider on this one.

Music

Music, which has been the center of the iPod revolution and was a core feature on the iPhone, will play a primary role on this device. iPod market penetration is already near saturated, and people want music portability, which a 10” tablet won’t offer.

Price: $999

Apple doesn’t go low end, they are not trying to compete with netbooks directly, especially at launch. They will try to create the best tablet computer ever created, and then potentially have it move down market to compete with netbooks, but don’t hold your breath (I’ve been waiting for a $299-399 Mac Mini for years and full expected they would come that low, but instead the base price increased from $499 to $599). Even at that price, you better believe people will be lining up around the block to buy one when they come out. I myself will be one of them (I bought the original iPhone at $599).

Doubtful but feasible and would be cool

True Docking Ability

If you take the keyboard off of the MacBook Air, and fold the screen down onto it, you can imagine a pretty thin tablet style computer. Now add 2 years of technology innovation on top of that, and you can see a tablet that should be just as powerful as a MacBook Air. When you think that a MacBook Air can run a 30” monitor with its video card and support a full array of USB connections, it’s easy to envision a tablet with a dock that gives it power, USB, and a display connection, through either USB, MagSafe, and MiniDisplayPort, or an iPod like connector. This way, when you’re at home or the office, you simply dock it in and have your main computer there, with an external screen, keyboard and mouse for full desktop computing.

Either way, I’m excited to see what Apple and Steve Jobs unveil. My guess is this will be as significant as the original iPhone announcement three years ago. Can’t wait.

Innovation Near and Far . . . Really Far

Earlier today I read an interesting post from Venture Hacks about how disruptive innovation will continue in the near term. Their analogy was about how computers are evolving and accelerating. We all know the evolution from mainframes to personal computers to laptops. This is common knowledge.

The technically adept also are very well aware about how mobile phones are the next phase, and will replace personal computers in the near future. This analysis reminded me of a post by John Gruber of Daring Fireball, who a year ago wrote about how the iPhone has as much computer as the top of the line Desktop computer from just 10 years ago. This is really fascinating and eye opening, and really supports Naval’s point.

It gets even more interesting when you start thinking another 10 or 20 or 40 years from now, and look at that type of innovation and acceleration in technology. I had a couple of beers with Matt Hodgson and Moe Kelley this evening, and we got into some very interesting discussions about the future, and business, which builds on the previous points (but in all reality deserves its own post, but since I’m bad about blogging, I thought I’d just throw it all in here)

Our discussion ranged from general technological advancement, to the companies that will die as a result of that advancement (think book publishers, newspapers, and “value-add” content distributers that are really dumb pipes), to the long term implications of this technological advancement. And that’s where things got really interesting. So we thought about a framework to capture this evolution, which I’ll roughly lay out here.

Phase 1: Today’s Reality – The $200 Billion Technological Revolution

Let’s face it, as much as we’re all excited about the companies that are changing the world today (Google) and the companies that will change the world in the coming months or years (Facebook), a lot of it really comes down to the shift in dollars from traditional advertising (TV, print, radio) to Internet and new media advertising. Google has already shown how profitable this can be, and many others are well positioned to take advantage of the remaining advertising dollars that have not shifted to the Internet, but inevitably will (really, it’s inevitable, just a matter of time). Yet even as exciting as that is, it’s still just 3-5% of our economy.

Phase 2: Augmented Reality – The Next Technological Revolution

There is a lot of talk among technology circles about Augmented Reality. Simple and known versions of this are location based services that tell you where your friends are (e.g. Loopt), or great local deals through coupons. More advanced augmented reality includes the ability to layer on information into any real world setting (e.g. Layar), which nearly infinite uses and benefits. In terms of economic benefits, I find it difficult to quantify the impact. It’s probably broader than advertising (think services, transactions, shopping, etc.).

Phase 3: Parallel Reality – The $2 Trillion Technological Revolution

The real mind bender is when you start looking at “Parallel Reality” (which given by the dearth and inconsistency of the Google search results isn’t even a broad concept). I define “Parallel Reality” as the third stage, where the real world continues to exist, but a “parallel reality” exists along side it. This is Second Life taken to a whole new level of realism, where things try feel, smell, and seem real. In this world, you still live your normal life, but might plug in (or something else) to a parallel reality where you can enjoy things you might not otherwise be able to do. This could mean things you could not afford (luxurious trips), things you couldn’t physically accomplish (climbing Mt. Everest for the physically able but not quite fit, or going for a jog for the physically incapable), or things that would be physically impossible (being in Tokyo for breakfast and Paris for lunch) or difficult (walking around Mars).

The reason I call this a $2 Trillion revolution is that it has the potential to impact fundamental industries such as travel, tourism, entertainment, restaurants, alcohol, etc. Basically anything that costs money to do in order to provide a mental or even physical stimulation that can be replaced in a virtual world is no longer safe from disruption the way it currently is.

Phase 4: Post Reality – All Bets are Off

Finally, at some point of technological evolution, we move past the physical world and even the virtual portrayal of the physical world. Fans of Ray Kurzweil will realize I’m treading into his territory. But once we move into a “world” where the virtual is more real and satisfying than the real, all bets are off. Government, the economy, society, are all irrelevant as they are defined today. Even if we’re all digital, enjoying immortality in a utopian “Matrix”, how do we physically keep the power on for all of our virtual brains and selves? I can go on, but I mainly wanted to illustrate how irrelevant everything we know is once we cross that chasm.

Before you write this off as sheer lunacy or even too far in the future for you to worry about, consider how fast technology is improving:

By the year 2020, your $1,000 personal computer will have the processing power of the human brain-20 million billion calculations per second (100 billion neurons times 1,000 connections per neuron times 200 calculations per second per connection). By 2030, it will take a village of human brains to match a $1,000 computer. By 2050, $1,000 worth of computing will equal the processing power of all human brains on earth.
Source: http://www.rense.com/ufo6/live.htm

That excerpt is from an article by Ray Kurzweil, and is worth a full read if you’re interested. But it’s clear that the computational power will be able to recreate worlds, recreate human brains, and recreate intelligence in the foreseeable future.

Back to Real Reality

Now bringing this all back to earth, there are lots of real opportunities in the short, medium, long, and real long term. I’m excited about all of them, and will be continuing to think and work in all realms. But every now and then it’s really interesting to step back and think about what the current technology revolution really means beyond the business models. Even more interesting is to think about what the world will be like when I’m really old dying (or not).

Twitter and Facebook

There has been a lot of buzz recently about Twitter. Just a few months ago, it was a techie network that was difficult to explain to an existing user, let alone anyone that had never heard of it. Not, it’s a mainstream phenomenon that everyone is talking about. This came to head with all the ridiculous Ashton vs. CNN race to a million users (Ashton won), and Oprah’s first tweet. The explosive growth is a result of reaching a critical mass of users, getting celebrities started, and having a wide range of support tools (e.g. TweetDeck, Nambu).

As a result of this growth, Facebook has been reacting, or possibly over-reacting, as evidenced with their recent redesign. The controversial redesign is trying to focus more on status updates, and copied a lot of Twitter (and FriendFeed) features. Given the explosive growth, Facebook is certainly justified in their fears.

Lead Users

Facebook is worried about the Lead Users, the early adopters. Among my tech friends, we all are spending more time interacting with Twitter than we are with Facebook. I do this is mainly because it’s much easier to actually interact with Twitter (with the tools I referenced earlier, my favorite is Nambu). And on top of that, I’ve found that Twitter is more useful and relevant for what I need.

Chasing the Wrong Problem

Twitter is winning the status update wars. But that’s ok. Facebook is caught up in this because it thought that status messages were such an important part to it’s value proposition, right from it’s initial conception, inspired partly by AIM status messages. (On a side note, other sites need to get over the status update issue and stop trying to force users to update their status, yes I’m talking to you Plaxo and LinkedIn).

Facebook = Identity

Facebook right now is so much more than a fancy way to update your status message. It’s your IDENTITY. Facebook is trying to win back status messages and real time conversation. Instead, it should just realize it’s about identity, and focus on that. Facebook Connect is important, and if they neglect that, it won’t become what I hope it becomes.

Twitter = Communication

Twitter is leading in real time communication. Ironically, it’s also going back into the era of random user names that I was hoping Facebook has ended. That’s not as bad as it once was because there are more ways to map the random names to names that make sense to you, i.e. real names. But the implication of Twitter’s usernames is that it makes it much less likely to become a standard login protocol (as TechCrunch is implying).

Facebook’s use of real names and validation makes it well suited for a global identify management, and Twitter’s open standards make it well suited for real time public conversation. I don’t mind some overlap, as long as they each don’t lose focus on what makes them valuable.