Author Archives: pmarca

Suicide by strike

From the New York Times:

A strike by Hollywood writers began in New York just after midnight Monday…

[M]ore than 12,000 screenwriters represented by the Writer Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East in the early morning hours in New York began the first industry-wide strike since writers walked out in 1988. That strike lasted five months…

Throughout the weekend, guild leaders held orientation meetings for strike captains, who would supervise picketing teams, and otherwise prepared for an effort to shut down as much movie and television production as possible…

The sides have been at odds over, among other things, writers’ demands for a large increase in pay for movies and television shows released on DVD, and for a bigger share of the revenue from such work delivered over the Internet.

So imagine you’re a major media mogul, a captain of the film and television business, a shaper of global culture, one of the anointed few who can green-light major entertainment projects.

You’re faced with a massive, once-in-a-lifetime shift in mainstream consumer behavior from traditional mass media, including film and television, to new activities that you do not control: the Internet, social networking, user-generated content, mobile services, video games. It’s been snowballing since the mid 90’s, for like 12 years — 12 years of denial and obfuscation — but it’s really rolling fast now.

Many of your current lifeblood properties are not growing anymore or are in outright decline, and you don’t own enough of the vital new properties to offset that, nor are you certain how you would make money with the new properties even if you did own them. And the consumers you rely upon for revenue are so frustrated with your company’s inability to supply them with what they want, when they want it, that digital piracy of your content has become mainstream and socially acceptable behavior practically overnight, and all of your efforts to stop it seem to only make it worse.

And your company’s culture is not prepared to deal with the shift. Your company was founded 50 or 80 or 100 or 150 years ago by different people in a different time, and the overwhelming majority of your people now — smart and well-meaning managers and bureaucrats, but still managers and bureaucrats — have to be retrained and reoriented toward entrepreneurial thinking in a viciously dynamic and startlingly fast-changing world not of your, or their, creation.

Is this really the right time to pick a fight with the writers over royalties from DVD and Internet sales, leading to an industry-wide shutdown and massive economic pain for all sides in the world of traditional scripted film and television content?

Really?

If you’re a mogul, the key question has to be, what would the founders of my industry have done in this situation? Really, what would they have done? Thomas Edison, Darryl Zanuck, Jack Warner, Irving Thalberg, Adolph Zukor, David Selznick, Louis Mayer, David Sarnoff, Bill Paley, Walt Disney… presented with such a period of profound change and global market expansion, would they have declared war on the writers of all people or blamed Apple of all companies for their problems, or would they be charging ahead and developing new businesses, new forms of entertainment, new markets, and new sources of revenue?

In a nutshell, would they have crawled into a hole of protecting the status quo or would they be forging a new, exciting, optimistic future through force of will and creativity?

Why aren’t you doing what they would be doing?

If you, like me, are just a normal and normally happy consumer of TV shows and movies — at least when you’re not equally happily playing video games, surfing the Internet, networking socially, blogging, or kicking it with your IPod — then one day your grandchildren are likely to ask you, “Hey, old man, I learned in school today that there used to be these companies called ‘studios’, and they would actually spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars making scripted entertainment, and you would actually sit still, in a chair, and watch it — whatever happened to that?”

And you’ll get to say, “Well, it’s complicated, but let me tell you a little story about the writers’ strike of 2007…”

Ning is now live with Open Social

[For background on Open Social, please see these three prior posts: Open Social overviewscreenshots and screencast; and a report from the Open Social launch.]

Ning has gone live with full Open Social beta support as of this afternoon.

First, a warning and disclaimer: as I’ve previously mentioned, the Open Social API is not yet stabilized and will still change. The API is officially on version 0.5 and I expect it to go through at least a few more revs before it goes to 1.0, although that should presumably happen pretty quickly. So everything I’m describing here, and everything we’re doing with Open Social live on Ning, should be considered very beta/sandbox-y — and not just “oh yeah, all this Web 2.0 stuff is beta” kind of beta, but real good-old-fashioned will-probably-break kind of beta!

How is Open Social live on Ning?

We have added Open Social functionality to all social networks on Ning, except for those that have modified their underlying source code. Which is to say, if you have gone to Ning and created a social network in the past, or if you go to Ning right now and create a new social network, you now have the option of turning on Open Social in your network. So, most of the 115,000+ networks on Ning today have the option of turning on Open Social.

Turning on Open Social is a decision that each Network Creator gets to make. By default it’s turned off — so if you just go to Ning and look at a network and the Network Creator hasn’t turned on Open Social, you won’t see anything different. But if a Network Creator goes into the management UI and turns on Open Social, then bingo, it’ll be on.

This gives each Network Creator the option of either experimenting with Open Social today, or not. In time, as the API stabilizes, we will turn it on across the board, and also provide Network Creators with even more control over how it applies to their individual networks.

So what happens when a Network Creator chooses to turn on Open Social for her social network on Ning?

First, the Network Creator — the person who created and/or owns the network — can add Open Social gadgets/apps to the network’s home page. All users will see and interact with those gadgets/apps.

Second, each member of the network can go to her personal profile page within the network and add Open Social gadgets/apps to her profile page. All other users will see and interact with those Open Social gadgets/apps when they visit that profile page.

How should this be used today?

Not to sound like a broken record, but the main way this should be used today is to experiment with the Open Social API and with Open Social gadgets/apps. In fact, we that recommend anyone who is running a network today and wants to play with Open Social should create a new demo network for that purpose.

That said, if you want to turn on Open Social on your production network, go crazy — but expect the underlying Open Social API to continue to change and for gadgets/apps that run today to possibly not run in the future!

What about a directory of Open Social gadgets that I can play with?

Just click here for a gallery of Open Social gadgets/apps that you can start playing with.

If you have an Open Social gadget/app that you’d like us to add to our gallery, please read this.

How about a screencast?

Sure!

 

How about screenshots?

Here’s a personal profile page with an embedded Open Social gadget/app (in this case, iLike):

Here’s how a Network Creator adds Open Social capability to her network:

Here’s the gallery of Open Social gadgets/apps:

Here’s what happens, for the moment, when a user says she wants to add a gadget/app — this will get better:

Documentation?

Early developer documentation for creating Open Social gadgets and using them on Ning is here.

Also of course see the main Google documentation for the Open Social API.

More information?

See here for the official Ning blog post announcing this support.

How do I send feedback?

We’d love to hear what you think and learn about how you want to use Open Social on Ning and elsewhere — just go here.

Also, if you do something cool, send me email at pmarcablog (at) gmail (dot) com!

Have fun!

Report from the front: Tonight’s launch of Open Social

Tonight, a small group of entrepreneurs, technologists, executives, bloggers, press, and professional campfire tenders gathered in Mountain View below the official Google tyrannosaurus rex and formally launched Open Social into the world.

As I write this, Google is about half an hour away from officially putting the Open Social spec and code on the Internet for general consumption. At that same time, the video from the launch event should be going live. Keep hitting this currently nonworking link until you get satisfaction! [Correction — the official site is up at that location! Also, here’s the video of the launch event with all the demos.]

 

So how’d it go?

Great! In addition to speakers from Google, the launch event included demos from a wide swath of the “coalition of the willing” assembled in support of Open Social — including the newest member and Open Social supporter, MySpace.

All of the demos were — to my knowledge — live running code. And they worked.

The T rex not only did not eat us, but did not fall over on us.

They had smores.

What’s not to like?

So what else happened today?

Well, I may have mentioned that MySpace joined the OpenSocial coalition! Along with Six Apart, Bebo, and most likely a few other new partners whose names I’m forgetting in my post-smore sugar haze.

The total aggregate user base of the Open Social partners is now in excess of 200 million people.

What a world we live in. Developers of Open Social apps will have distribution to 200 million users. I’m sorry, I know I’m supposed to be cynical about this stuff, but that’s astonishing.

What’s the smartest thing anyone has said today about Open Social?

That would have to be Anil Dash:

In 1995, Microsoft believed that its proprietary development tool, codenamed “Blackbird”, would be the dominant platform for creating rich online experiences. While it would eventually evolve into a tool that created reasonably standard HTML, Blackbird’s ability to make attractive and pleasing aesthetic experiences for MSN was considered a no-brainer to replace regular HTML for anything that needed to seem polished. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption at a time when most browsers were showing ugly text on a plain grey background with almost no advanced layout or design.

In 1999, AOL believed that its proprietary development tool, called RAINMAN (Remote Automated INformation MANager) would be the dominant platform for creating rich online experiences. While it would eventually be replaced by tools that created reasonably standard HTML, Rainman’s ability to make attractive and pleasing aesthetic experiences that integrated seamlessly into the AOL client was an effective replacement for HTML for tens of millions of users who wanted a polished and social first experience on the Net in the late 90s as they first got online. This wasn’t an unreasonable constraint to impose on the experience at a time when having a rich interactive experience meant downloading complicated browser plugins for video, or configuring temperamental client software just to read email.

AOL was always secretive about Rainman, and remains so to this day, even though Rainman has been largely retired in favor of standard HTML, which has let AOL open up much of its proprietary content to the public web. But Microsoft really wanted to get the word out about Blackbird. There were even conferences for developers, to promote Blackbird for their applications…

It’s not true to say that Facebook is the new AOL, and it’s oversimplification to say that Facebook’s API is the new Blackbird, or the new Rainman. But Facebook is part of the web. Think of the web, of the Internet itself, as water. Proprietary platforms based on the web are ice cubes. They can, for a time, suspend themselves above the web at large. But over time, they only ever melt into the water. And maybe they make it better when they do.

As Anil said, comparing Facebook to AOL is not an accurate analogy — for one thing, Facebook was a web site from day one and AOL was not; for another thing, Facebook has opened up a platform, even if it is proprietary, and AOL never opened up any kind of platform.

However, there is a larger point that I’d like to make based on this history. And it is this:

Freedom wins, and openness wins. You can hold it back for some period of time, but in the long run, freedom always wins because freedom and openness let people all over the world be fully creative and innovative in every way they want. And the creativity and innovation that freedom and openness enable will always swamp anyone’s attempt to wall off a proprietary world with tight controls and sharp limitations.

In the mid-1990’s, people told me all the time, “AOL has all the users; why would you think this web thing is ever going to amount to anything?” And it was true — AOLdid have all the users. In the beginning, AOL had tens of millions of users when the Internet had low single digit millions at best. Everyone was scrambling to do deals with AOL to get access to that huge user base, and every media company we met with (there were no Internet companies yet) laughed at the idea of regular people ever using the web.

We saw how that turned out. It turned out that people — regular people, normal people — embraced the web at flank speed precisely because it gave them the ability to create, and to experience, millions of web sites that reflected their interests, desires, and identities. Now, as that happened, AOL also became hugely successful by being one of the easiest on-ramps to the Internet — but once broadband hit and consumers no longer needed a dialup ISP to get on the Internet, AOL went into a tailspin from which it has never recovered, swamped by the power of the decentralized, open, free web.

The world is filled with people who have great ideas — big and small — and the approach that lets the most people express their ideas tends to win.

I am not predicting the death of Facebook. I think the Facebook people are brilliant and are going to do very well over the next several years, have an excellent chance of building a huge and enduring franchise, and have an enormous amount to gain by all of this, including Open Social. But the idea that you hear from time to time that “all the users are on Facebook” and “the game is over; the Facebook platform has won” is silly, as you can see every time you use a web site that doesn’t end in “aol.com”.

And remember! One of the great things about Open Social is that it’s not an either/or choice for app developers. It’s quite easy to develop for both Open Social and Facebook, and in practice that’s what I’ll bet most serious app developers will be doing for the next few years, at least.

What’s the dumbest thing anyone has said today about Open Social?

Obviously:

“I think [Open Social is] pie in the sky,” said Ray Valdes, an analyst at Gartner.

And to think that some people wonder how it is that Gartner still has any clients!

What’s next for Open Social?

All of the partners finalizing and releasing all of the initial OpenSocial container and application implementations, of course. I know frenzied work is happening at all companies involved right now. Everyone can just smell the opportunity, and people are going to drive to ship as quickly as possible.

There may even be some surprises coming on this front…

The other thing that needs to happen, of course, is formalization of the process by which Open Social gets maintained and evolved. The obvious thing is some kind of lightweight working group and standards process, perhaps similar to the IETF working group model. Keep your eyes peeled for progress on that front as well!

What happens after Open Social?

Why, the great social advertising network wars of 2008, of course. More on that soon!

 

Join the Ning team!

We at Ning are on a mission to build the ultimate platform for people to create their own social networks and social experiences on the Internet for anything — to unlock all of the great ideas of people all over the world for using this amazing medium in their lives.

At this point the underlying platform is built and we are scaling rapidly — now over 115,000 user-created networks, and approximately 10% weekly page view growth. We are well funded, we have one of the most amazing teams I have ever worked with, and we are actively participating in critical industry initiatives like Open Social. And we have a full load of really interesting new features and technical projects in the pipeline.

We are actively looking for great engineers and designers to join the team — both on the application side (DHTML, Javascript, Ajax, PHP, web services) and the platform side (Java, Oracle, clustering, scaling). Our Jobs page has full information on open positions. Please take a look and if you think you have what it takes, drop us a note at jobs (at) ning (dot) com.

Open Social: screencast and screenshots

In yesterday’s post, I described the new Open Social API, sponsored by Google and supported by a wide range of Internet companies including my company Ning.

In this post, I present a screencast and a series of screenshots that show Open Social in action.

First, the screencast:

 

Next, the screenshots:

As you are probably aware, Ning is a system that lets you create your own social network for anything — your family, your school, your church, your sports team, your business, your nonprofit, whatever you want.

To illustrate Open Social in action, our screenshots are based on three networks out of the 113,000+ networks currently running on Ning: Dub Pages, a network of car customization enthusiasts; Tu Diabetes, a network of people touched by diabetes; and Ask A Ninja, a network of fans of the popular online video series Ask A Ninja.

Because Open Social is not quite ready for production launch, the screenshots below show modified versions of these networks that we have used internally to develop and demonstrate Ning’s support of Open Social. Thanks to these network creators for letting us play with their networks like this!

These examples feature the use of the Open Social API to embed applications from two other Internet companies: iLike, an online music sharing service; and Flixster, an online social movie ranking and rating service — both of whom have announced support for Open Social. These examples are all based on the idea of embedding either iLike or Flixster applications within the three Ning social networks via Open Social.

To start, here’s the home page of the Dub Pages network with the embedded iLike application:

You can see in that screenshot that the iLike application is completely integrated into this network’s home page. The musical selections within the iLike application are chosen by the network creator/owner; everyone who comes to the network gets to see them and listen to them.

If you’re a member of the Dub Pages social network, you have your own personal profile page; here’s what that page looks like, including the iLike application embedded via Open Social:

Since that’s your page, you get to control the music selections within the iLike app; you can choose whatever music you want, and next time you come back to your profile page, that’s the music you’ll see — the Open Social API includes a storage API that lets apps store arbitrary information across sessions.

Here’s another screenshot of your personal profile page, this time showing the iLike app in action — here the user is displaying more information about the song “The way I are” by Timbaland; the information has opened up right inside the iLike app right there in the profile page:

Embedded Open Social apps can resize themselves whenever they want to incorporate whatever functionality the user triggers — so as an app creator, you get a lot of power to let users do things right inside their personal pages.

Shifting from iLike to Flixster as the embedded application, here’s the home page of the Tu Diabetes social network with the embedded Flixster app:

Same concept — the owner of the network gets to determine what movies show up within the Flixster app on the network home page.

Here’s the profile page for an individual user:

Just like a Facebook app, an Open Social app can allow the user to click on a link within the embedded version of the app and expand into a “canvas page” that lets the embedded app show much more information in the page, but still inside the social network. Here the user on Tu Diabetes has clicked on a link in her profile page; this is the resulting canvas page that the Flixster app gets to control:

And here the user has clicked on a link on that first canvas page, which generates a second canvas page:

Finally, to prove the point, let’s see that same Flixster app embedded in a different network — the Ask A Ninja network:

And a profile page within Ask A Ninja:

And a canvas page within Ask A Ninja:

You’ll notice in those Ask A Ninja examples that the Flixster app is not as visually integrated as in the other examples. In a real production system, the Flixster app will pick up the styles of the parent page. We left it the way you see it in these examples so you can clearly see the difference between the embedded app and the rest of the page in each example.

One more note: these examples are a little light on social functionality — they don’t do a lot yet with the user’s friends information, or the user’s activities feed, etc. The Open Social API supports a lot of those capabilities, and the app developers are now busy at work developing the full version of their Open Social apps that will do a lot more social stuff. I will post more screenshots over the next few weeks/months as those apps get more and more socially sophisticated.

And then one final note: these screenshots were not Photoshopped; this is all live running code!

Open Social: a new universe of social applications all over the web

My company, Ning, is participating in this week’s launch of a new open web APIcalled Open Social, which is being spearheaded by Google and joined by a wide range of partners including Google’s own Orkut, LinkedIn, Hi5, Friendster, Salesforce.com, Oracle, iLike, Flixster, RockYou, and Slide.

In a nutshell, Open Social is an open web API that can be supported by two kinds of developers:

     

  • “Containers” — social networking systems like Ning, Orkut, LinkedIn, Hi5, and Friendster, and…
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  • “Apps” — applications that want to be embedded within containers — for example, the kinds of applications built by iLike, Flixster, Rockyou, and Slide.
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This is the exact same concept as the Facebook platform, with two huge differences:

     

  • With the Facebook platform, only Facebook itself can be a “container” — “apps” can only run within Facebook itself. In contrast, with Open Social, anysocial network can be an Open Social container and allow Open Social apps to run within it.
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  • With the Facebook platform, app developers build to Facebook-proprietary languages and APIs such as FBML (Facebook Markup Language) and FQL (Facebook Query Language) — those languages and APIs don’t work anywhere other than Facebook — and then the apps can only run within Facebook. In contrast, with Open Social, app developers can build tostandard HTML and Javascript, and their apps can then run in any Open Social container.
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If you recall how I previously described the Facebook platform as “a dramatic leap forward for the Internet industry”, you’ll understand why I think Open Social is thenext big leap forward!

Open Social takes the Facebook platform concept and provides an open standard approach that can be used by the entire web. Open Social is an open way for everyone to do what Facebook has done…

…including Facebook itself, potentially — more on that below.

Technically, Open Social is implemented as what I call a “plug-in API”, or a “Level 2 platform”. In other words, it’s not a web services API — rather, it’s a way for external applications to “plug into” a host environment (or “container”). And then, in addition to literally showing up inside the pages of a container, the external app can make Javascript calls to retrieve all kinds of useful information from the container and perform all kinds of useful functions within the container, such as “give me a list of all of this user’s friends” or “inject this event into this user’s activity feed”.

Open Social basically standardizes the concept of a plug-in API in such a way that neither host social networking environments (containers) nor external applications will ever have to invent another plug-in API, or have to choose between multiple competing proprietary plug-in APIs.

Open Social’s API is based entirely on Javascript. If you know HTML and Javascript today, you will be able to immediately use Open Social to turn your web applications and web sites into Open Social apps. You can also use standard web development tools to build Open Social apps. This is obviously a much better way to operate than having to learn a proprietary marketup language or query language.

Finally, although Open Social provides standard API calls to do many of the things you’ll want to do as an Open Social app, nothing will prevent containers from implementing additional Javascript or web services APIs to provide additional functionality to developers. Open Social app developers can therefore choose to stay “onroad” and have their apps run in any Open Social container, or go “offroad”for one or more specific containers to do special things. Open Social standardizes common functionality but doesn’t prohibit innovation. More on that below.

Open Social is very practical. Many standards die an early death because they are too complicated and hard to implement. Open Social is what you want in a standard — it’s expansive enough to do useful things, but limited enough to be very easy to implement, both for containers and for apps.

At this Thursday’s launch event, you will see Open Social already running in a variety of containers, including Ning, Orkut, Hi5, and LinkedIn, and across a variety of apps, including iLike, Flixster, and Slide. I’m talking about working code. At Ning, it took us only a few days for us to add support for Open Social as a container — because we already had all the necessarily underlying APIs and mostly just had to map to them — and the app developers in the launch created Open Social versions of their apps even more quickly. We also have live running examples, such as iLike, of the same app running in multiple containers — Ning, Orkut, and Hi5 — proving the interoperability that the Open Social specification promises.

Now, all that said, Open Social is not quite ready to go live on Ning and the other partners. The API has to stabilize a bit, and containers have to finish testing and validating their implementations. But public production systems aren’t far off — Ning, for one, will go live as soon as we possibly can, probably just as soon as Google finalizes the API.

What does this mean for today’s Facebook app developers?

Today’s Facebook app developers just got very good news — they will be able to take all of the work they did to build their Facebook apps and create Open Social versions of their apps very easily… and by so doing, get access to a huge new pool of users — as many as 100 million users just via the initial Open Social partners, more than twice as many users as Facebook has today.

As an app developer, there’s no real reason to choose between Facebook and Open Social. It’s easy to do both. You’ve already put in most of the effort — creating a new set of front-end HTML and Javascript pages is almost trivial, and that’s all you need to do to have your app “port” to Open Social and work within Open Social containers like Ning, Orkut, Hi5, and LinkedIn.

What does this mean to web sites that aren’t Facebook apps?

If you have a web site today, and you want to turn your web site into an Open Social app, that’s perhaps even easier than “porting” a Facebook app. Just take your current HTML and Javascript front-end pages and create a version of those pages that use the Open Social API. QED.

Are people really going to maintain multiple sets of front-end pages for their web sites for Facebook, Open Social, etc.?

I think so, yes. I think any web site going forward that wants maximum distribution across the largest number of users will have a single back-end, and then multiple sets of front-end pages:

     

  • One set of standard HTML and Javascript pages for consumption by normal web browser.
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  • Another set of HTML and Javascript pages that use the Open Social API’s Javascript calls for consumption with Open Social containers/social networks.
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  • A third set of pages in FBML (Facebook Markup Language) that use Facebook’s proprietary APIs for consumption within Facebook as a Facebook app.
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  • Perhaps a fourth set of pages adapted for the Apple iPhone and/or other mobile devices.
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The overwhelming good news here is that these pages can all be served and serviced by the same back end code — and of course, 95%+ (and usually 99%+) of the effort involved in building any web app consists of building the back end. Having already built the back end, it’s a very small amount of effort to create any of these front end pages.

What does this mean for Facebook?

Well, to venture a few opinions…

Facebook did an absolutely outstanding job kick-starting this whole approach with their proprietary Facebook platform. That plus their very large walled garden user base generated a rush of app development and adoption on Facebook that has performed very well for them over the last five months.

Open Social — by making this exact same kind of opportunity available to any other social network or container and every app developer and site on the web, in an open and compatible way — will prevent Facebook from having any kind of long-term proprietary developer lock-in. Developers will easily write to both Facebook and Open Social, and have every reason to do so — in fact, 100+ million reasons to do so.

If you’re Facebook, you’d probably prefer to have that proprietary lock-in, and so this announcement may not make you that happy. However, all is not bad for Facebook, because a big part of what’s happening today is market expansion, and Open Social will definitely help fuel market expansion, which is in everyone’s interest, including Facebook’s.

Look at it this way: most users on the Internet (1.3+ billion, with 100 million joining every year) are not yet using any social networking service. The more compelling social networking becomes, the more users who will discover and start using social networking, and the bigger the pie gets for everyone, including Facebook.

Meanwhile, most software developers in the world are not yet building apps for social networks — Facebook or otherwise. The more developers who build social networking apps — Facebook or otherwise — the more apps there will be on social networks, and the bigger the pie gets for everyone, including Facebook.

It’s hard to see Facebook losing in a world of a billion or more social network users, and hundreds of thousands or millions of social network apps. And it’s also easy to see how a lot of other people — containers, and app developers — will win, as well.

In fact, if rumors of a Facebook web-wide ad network are true, then this could be great for Facebook in another way — such a Facebook-run ad network could be an outstanding ad network for all of these new Open Social web applications!

Finally, note that Facebook can easily support Open Social any time they want. They probably won’t do so right away, but in the long run, it will probably be a no-brainer for them, because then they will pick up whatever Open Social app developers who aren’t also Facebook developers.

Is this good for the web?

This is very, very good for the web. Open Social is the kind of standard that web developers love, and can easily use. I think it will become a standard part of many developers’ toolkits. It builds on HTML and Javascript, many people can support it, and it will be interoperable — I know that because it already is interoperable for the partners in this week’s launch. It’s all good.

How will Ning support Open Social?

We will aggressively support Open Social in every conceivable way, including but not limited to:

     

  • Being an outstanding container. Open Social apps will be able to run easily and reliably inside Ning social networks — all 113,000+ of them. Ning Network Creators will be able to quickly and easily add Open Social apps to their networks, and Ning users will be able to quickly and easily add Open Social apps to their profile pages.
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  • Being an app publisher. Ning already automatically produces Facebook apps for every Ning network — specifically, video, photo, and music players — using the Facebook proprietary platform approach. We will do the exact same thing for Open Social — we will automatically produce Open Social apps for every Ning network.
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  • Being an outstanding environment within which you can build new Open Social apps. More on that a bit later!
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Where’s MySpace?

Beats me.

Where’s Yahoo?

Beats me.

You mentioned that Open Social containers can implement additional Javascript or web services APIs — won’t that break compatibility?

No, I don’t think so. Think of it this way. As an app developer, you have three options:

     

  • You can write purely to the Open Social API. If you do this cleanly enough, your app will run unchanged in any compliant Open Social container. (Google is actually not making this claim — they’re calling Open Social “learn once, write anywhere”, which is not the same as “write once, run anywhere”. But in practice, the API is simple enough that “write once, run anywhere” should work just fine.)
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  • You can write an app that is specific to one container. For example, there may be some apps that make sense only in LinkedIn — business-related apps, say. There may be other apps that make sense only in Ning — apps that presume that users are creating their own social networks, say. And there may be yet other apps that only make sense in Salesforce.com, which will also be an Open Social container. In those cases, you are targeting your app to one specific container, and so using whatever additional APIs that particular container provides, in addition to the Open Social APIs, is a no-brainer.
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  • Finally, you can write an app that behaves differently depending on which of several containers it’s running in. Your app just discovers which container it’s running in, and then does whatever it wants on a per-container basis.
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No standard can possibly anticipate all of the different use cases and scenarios people will think up. Standards that try to anticipate all of the different use cases fail, because they are too complex and generally impossible to implement.Standards that standardize behavior that is clearly standard, while leaving open the ability to innovate on top, succeed. The history of this kind of thing is quite clear, and Open Social is on the right side.

Closing thought?

Congratulations to Google — the crew at Google has been outstanding in conceiving of, implementing, and evangelizing Open Social to the initial set of partners — and now, to the world. Thanks!

Silicon Valley Social Ventures

The San Jose Business Journal just ran a great story on the nonprofit organization my wife started almost 10 years ago: Silicon Valley Social Ventures, or SV2.

Over the last 10 years, SV2 — which applies many of the concepts used to run for-profit venture capital firms to philanthropy — has helped fund and develop many wonderful nonprofit organizations in the Silicon Valley region, and has also helped scores of area enterpreneurs and executives become active in philanthropy for the first time.

And on to the story!

It’s the typical venture capital story: A great idea is born in a coffee shop, a long incubation period ensues and eventually, with a lot of nurturing from well-heeled supporters, the endeavor takes flight. Only this time, the product is not technology, it’s philanthropy — Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2), formed in 1998 by Stanford graduate student Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen at the age of 28.

After a decade in incubation as a donor advised fund at Community Foundation Silicon Valley, SV2 will become its own separate entity under a new organization called the Individual Philanthropy Institute.

SV2 has evolved into partnership of investors, many of them lawyers, doctors, technology entrepreneurs, professors, stay-at-home parents and others who are willing to contribute a minimum of $3,000 a year as well as their time, passion and expertise to help nonprofits learn and thrive. And those partners expand their own philanthropic horizons. SV2 became a donor-advised fund housed at what was then called the Community Foundation Silicon Valley. It has grown to 140 donor partners and awarded more than $2.5 million in grants.

It will now become a program of a new organization called the Individual Philanthropy Institute. But that organization is still very young and is being developed, says Arrillaga-Andreessen. It is awaiting its 501(c)3 status form the Internal Revenue Service and when that’s granted, the institute should be more developed.

But SV2’s model will remain the same, she assures. Two types of grants are made: One is strength grants, which in 2007 began focusing on education. Organizations get $150,000 over three years and SV2 partners work with the organization to deploy the money.

Then there are affinity groups consisting of at least five SV2 partners who have chosen a focus area to learn more about, share their knowledge of and work on in the community. These groups get authority to distribute $50,000 annually.

Peter Hero, former president of Community Foundation Silicon Valley, was also in that coffee shop when SV2 was born. Hero says the Community Foundation had been looking at how to tap into business networking as a tool for increasing philanthropic giving but it was Arrillaga-Andreessen who came up with the model.

He says the idea has spread nationally and has inspired about a dozen others around the country.

He recalls that local philanthropist Jeff Skoll called SV2 “training wheels for donors.” That’s true, Hero chuckles, but he adds that SV2 is also a good mix of veterans and new donors who are learning from each other.

“People bring to it their own experience, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. It’s very Silicon Valley,” he says.

“I would say it’s exceeded all of my expectations, which were high to begin with,” says Hero, who will join the board of SV2.

It’s a natural progression, says Arrillaga-Andreessen.

“When I brought this vision to Peter Hero I was still a graduate student with no track record in the field of philanthropy and it was Peter’s belief in me and my vision and the support he gave me through community foundation that made SV2 initially possible,” she says.

 

If any of this piques your curiosity, please feel free to contact SV2 — or me, at pmarcablog (at) gmail (dot) com — for more information.

As a side note, all revenue generated by this blog (to date, primarily Amazon affiliate fees!) is being donated to SV2.

Serial entrepreneurs and today’s Silicon Valley

Several days ago, Gary Rivlin of the New York Times called me about a story he was writing about the brilliant Max Levchin of Paypal and Slide, and the general topic of serial entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. The story came out yesterday; below are the notes I prepared for my conversation with Gary.

In a nutshell, Gary’s question to me was: what makes serial entrepreneurs tick? Why do people like Max keep going and start new companies when they could just park it on a beach and suck down mai tais?

First, in my experience, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are all over the map when it comes to personality and motivation. Some are purely mercenary — one hit and they’re out. Others just love the technology, and the business is a side effect. Still others are like Chauncey Gardiner in Being There. And some just love starting and building companies.

Second, there were serial entrepreneurs in the past, but there are certainly more now than ever before. There are many factors that lead to this — here are the big ones:

     

  • There are simply more entrepreneurs now — due to the amazing surge in venture capital and the culture of startups over the last 10-15 years — so you’d expect more serial entrepreneurs just based on that.
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  • A lot of new companies simply develop faster these days than they did in the past. Microsoft and Oracle, for example, both put in 10 years of incredibly hard work before going public (both founded in ’76, IPO in ’86), and they only had a few hundred employees each when they went public — and those were the two biggest software successes of their era.

     

    Versus these days, when many companies are founded, built, scaled up, and sold (or, yes, taken public!) in a few years.

     

    The process can happen so fast that people are freed up much faster; therefore, upon being freed up they are younger and tend to have more raw energy than people who in the past would have spent 10 or 20 or 30 years building a single company — and by the time they freed up, they maybe didn’t want to put that level of effort into something again.

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  • Also because of the faster cycle time, when you start company #2 you can assume that it won’t necessarily consume the next 10-20-30 years of your life — you can probably build something successful over say 5 years, maybe 8 years max, and so you’re not committing the rest of your life.

     

    This makes it easier for people to say, OK, hey, it worked once, I’ll try it again.

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  • The culture of startups in the Valley is clicking on all cylinders — everything from fundraising to hiring to building out a management team to signing up lawyers and accountants and bankers is simply easier than ever before. I’m talking in a macro sense — over the last 10 years, versus prior decades, even considering the early 2000’s bust.

     

    So it’s just easier to start the next company that it was the past — the “pain in the ass” factor is lower.

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  • In terms of exit, there are some IPO’s, but the big thing is that M&A is a widely accepted and viable exit. Big companies in and related to the Valley have actually become quite good, in general, at acquiring small companies — not perfect, but quite good. They do it frequently, in order to build out their product families or grow market share. This of course inspires more companies to be started and tends to compress the time cycles further.
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Third, all that said, it is striking how many of the truly revolutionary companies are started, at least in part, by people who haven’t done it before. Google (Brin and Page), Yahoo (Yang and Filo), Facebook (Zuckerberg), Apple (Jobs and Wozniak), etc.

When you see one of those really revolutionary companies and there’s some young kid with the idea, of course, they often are linked up with one or more seasoned, experienced people — Google (Schmidt, Doerr, Moritz), Yahoo (Moritz, Koogle), Facebook (Thiel, Breyer), Apple (Markkula). So even there you see a kind of a serial entrepreneur (or VC or executive) effect which is another form of what you’re talking about.

Fourth, drilling deeper into the motivations of the great serial entrepreneurs I know, the dominant themes are:

     

  • Desire to prove oneself — either “I can do it again — it wasn’t a fluke the first time”, or “I was the junior partner last time, now I’ll be the senior partner”, or “I got fired from my last company, I’ll show those f****** VCs”, or something like that.
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  • Desire to continue working and being productive — “I’m 26 or 30 or 34, I have a lot of energy, I have to keep moving, and I’m certainly not going to go to work for some boring big company or be another hack VC… obviously I need to start another company”.
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  • In love with the technology or a new idea — there’s more of this than cynical people think.
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  • A feeling that we’re in a unique time and place where it’s possible for us to start, build, and be successful with multiple companies — it’d be a shame to walk away from the opportunity to continue to be a part of such a magical time and place. This is a big motivator for me, by the way. Growing up, I would have never dreamed that an industry like this would exist or that I would get to be a part of it. I pinch myself every day.
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  • Money, but not just “I can buy a fancier cashmere car cover” kind of thing (although there is some of that) — just as often I think it’s money as a way to keep score (often in the form of something like, “I can’t believe Mark Cuban is a billionaire and I’m not; I can do that too”), or money as a way to have an impact on the world philanthropically — the more you make, the more you can give away. That last one is certainly becoming a bigger and bigger motivator for me.
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With any given serial entrepreneur, it’s probably a mix of these.

Fifth, a sharply related topic to all of this is that the opportunities are bigger than ever before. It’s not an accident that companies like Google or Facebook or Paypal just get huge, and apparently overnight.

For the first time in history, you have a global market of 1+ billion people, all connected over an interactive network where they’re all a click away from you. That’s amazing.

And 100 million new people are being added to that count every year, and that will continue for the next 30 years.

A huge and growing market makes all kinds of magical things possible, and I think that’s what we’re seeing now.