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Thinking about Apple’s Game Center

March 12th, 2015

I’ve always been annoyed by the “undeletable” apps on my iphone that I don’t use: stocks, newsstand, reminders, passbook, and game center.

I’ve recently been thinking about Game Center, and now I realize it is bit of mixed mag. It actually serves game developers reasonably well, even if few users launch the app. I’d like to share a few thoughts that I posted in tweet storm that may be of interest to others.

  • It’s a good matchmaker for games.
  • An invisible backend for games to store data & power notifications. Going to app itself isn’t important
  • Big problem: “Every leaderboard has maxed-out scores. It’s as easy as changing a value in a file.”
  • It’s ios-only. “Compatibility across multiple platforms.” Android. Facebook. Twitter. Email. They matter.
  • Gold standard for integration: “Letterpress”, (find it in the app store)
  • Missing from @iosgamecenter “compete with only other gamers who are of similar skills,” e.g., newbies vs newbies, experts vs experts
  • Broken in @iosgamecenter. App discovery. Sucks Algorthim is “in need of serious revamp” & “years behind industry standards.

Insights mostly summarizing research from this great reddit conversation and this venturebeat article.

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Four Things That Truckers Can Teach Silicon Valley about Innovation and Politics

October 11th, 2013

Yesterday, TechCrunch ran a piece on why innovation has no place in fixing problems in our democracy, like the shutdown. I say, if 3,000 independent big rig truckers with a Facebook page can organize to gridlock Washington DC–literally!– to protest the shutdown, are we really going to just throw our hands up? Thousands of profiles on AngelList include “democratization”, and we can’t do anything to democratize democracy?

In Silicon Valley, where others see pain, we see opportunity. Think of all the amazing example how we harness the adoption of new communication technologies to empower consumers. Google organizes the worlds information at our finger tips. Amazon and eBay let us conveniently buy anything from anywhere with the click of a mouse. Facebook and Twitter let us exchange photos and updates with a swipe on our iPhones. Politics may lag, but it is not different in kind.

So, how can citizens harness technology to impact their government?

  1. Make informed voting decisions. Politicians respond to electoral pressure. The best way to ensure that politicians make decisions that are informed is to make sure that the electorate is informed. Where do the candidates stand on the issues? Technological innovation can ensure that there is no excuse for not knowing!

  2. Make their voices heard. Extremist voices are dominating the conversation in Washington. That can only be counteracted if the voice of the moderate middle express their opinions too. Technology can help politicians hear from the majority, not just the radical fringe.

  3. Understand different points of view. Much of the polarization comes from the fact that we are increasingly living in echo chambers of our own devising, from customized feeds to hyper-targeted media. Technology helped create this problem, but technology can also help solve it, by creating spaces that prioritize exchanging diverse viewpoints, rather than reinforcing existing ones.

  4. Take action. As the big rig truckers show, technology can be an incredibly effective tool for organizing grassroots action. Developing tools that allow more people to catalyze and take part in such actions means less power for well funded fringe groups and more power for the people.

Technology can make all these tasks of a good citizen easier and more effective. This government shutdown should be a wakeup call, not a free pass. The opportunity is enormous, so what are you doing to help innovate our democracy?

Disclosure: I am a founder and trustee of e-thePeople.org, a non-partisan, non-profit whose mission is to leverage new communication technologies to make it easier to be a good citizen.

1. technology, 2. politics

Add a Tip or Skip widget to your site!

December 14th, 2012

You can play my tips (ie, Tips.by/mike) right here is this blog post:

If you want something like this on your site, just modify a width/height (gotcha: they appear in two places in the code) and replace the user=mike with your tips.by/username. Grab the code and go!

<iframe width='600px' height='450px' frameborder='0' style='border:0' scrolling='no' src='http://embed.tiporskip.com/plugin.php?width=600&height=450&user=mike'>

Next up, I’m going to try to integrate the widget into my site more permanently. Enjoy!

1. technology, 3. et cetera , , , , ,

Ballmer: Why should developers make apps for the Surface???

October 25th, 2012

Balmer Microsoft SurfaceRobert Gray, a reporter at Fox News, asked my thoughts about Microsoft’s new tablet, the Surface. He sent me this email:

Great seeing you and Nat at Glimpse [ie Glimpse conference in NYC and the twitter chatter about #glimpsenyc].

Hope you are well. Are you publishing for Windows 8.0 and/or Surface?

I am covering the big unveils tomorrow and the dearth of Apps is striking.
I’m trying to find out why there aren’t more, and would appreciate any insight from a developer’s perspective.

Is it the architecture, low expectations for adoption, or difficulty working with Microsoft vs other tablet and software folks?

Also is there one thing you’d love to know from Ballmer?

I am covering the event and interviewing him in the morning.

Can you remind me which platforms you are publishing on?

Thanks for any thoughts you can share on the record or for background.

As an app developer, we have a strong, informed opinion on the subject. In a nutshell, it’s distribution, distribution, distribution. Technical capabilities of the phone also matter a bit, as does monetization potential. Of course, Apple has the best of these qualities as well. And with HTML5, Tip or Skip is available on almost all platforms by supporting just one code base. (BTW, can anyone go to www.tiporskip.com and see if works on the Surface?) Here’s my elaboration on these points:

By far, the most important consideration for a platform is distribution. The platforms that reach 100MM folks with significant growth are golden, for example Facebook and ios for developers.

The secondary considerations are technical capabilities and monetization opportunities. It is hard to beat ipads and iphones in terms of capabilities. Retina displays, fast cpus, lots of memory & storage, GPS, accelerometers, batteries with long life, high quality camera , push notifications, fast internet — there isn’t much missing on iphones and ipads. And Apple has more credit cards on file than Amazon, and the app store is proven payment platform for digital goods.

The ease of development is a relatively minor issue. Apple is actually a hard platform to develop for, using a previously obscure language called Objective C. But is well worth it.

As for us, we develop for HTML5-first. Almost all devices (mobile and desktop) support it, and we can provide a near-native experience with a single code base. I bet that you can play Tip or Skip quite nicely on a surface through their web browser. You can play Tip or Skip this way on mobile Safari, android devices, modern blackberries, and desktop browsers.

As a user, you do miss some features in the HTML5 app. First, you can’t make photo tips (although Apple is opening up that up). Second, our app uses a lot more battery power in mobile safari than as a native app. Third, you can only get notifications if you have the native app. Fourth, although you can add web apps to the home screen, it is more natural to add apps to your home screen through the app store.

I think the most interesting question to ask him is: What can you do on the Surface that you *can’t* do on an iPad? Presumably, he will talk about how much better microsoft software will run on it (like Word, Excel, etc). An interesting follow up is: Will Surface sales canabilize office & window sales — how big a factor was canablization in causing Microsoft to enter the tablet market so late?

But of course, you should definitely ask him “why *should* apps (like Tip or Skip ;) develop for the surface?”

I’ll be interested to see what Steve Ballmer has to say. Why should Tip or Skip develop an app for the Surface?

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Why did Facebook kill all the Social Readers?

May 8th, 2012

It’s boom and bust for social readers! Just weeks ago, they were gaining tens of millions of readers. Now usage of them is massively declining. Is it because users are revolting against “frictionless sharing”?

Josh Constatine at TechCrunch does not think so. He guesses that Facebook’s new aggregration as “trending” is the new culprit. His main piece is argument is the precipitous decline inconsistent with a mass exodus. But in fact, such declines, aka “jumping the shark“, are highly common in low engagement but viral apps.

But if Facebook was seeing such tremendous click through rates from friends of social reader users, why would they shut the social readers down? Facebook must have seen something else very troubling in their data: mass uninstalling from sharers. I believe that they are trying to protect users from over-sharing, in order to preserve the dream of frictionless sharing.

No doubt their actions to limit the exposure has increased the decline of traffic, but the root cause must undoubtable be based on high install rates. And no doubt developers must understand that Facebook will open and shut viral channels to balance the interests of both sharers and their friends.

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Stop SOPA & PIPA

January 18th, 2012

We must stop SOPA and PIPA, two proposed pieces of legislation that would serious undermine our freedom of expression.

If these laws pass, essentially anyone would have the right to shut down my companies web site, www.tips.by, merely because it hosts shared content on an overseas web site. I am part of a tech community that is innovating and creating new jobs.

As a father of four children, I oppose this legislation that further criminalizes sharing. I am pro-sharing.

As a founder of e-thePeople, I think that sharing of information is the cornerstone of democracy. It’s called the first amendment, because it is the fundamental right that protects all others.

Sign Google’s petition here: https://www.google.com/landing/takeaction/

Spread the word on Facebook & Twitter. Black out your profile image too before the government does.

1. technology, 2. politics, 3. et cetera , ,

Mobile-first development

December 13th, 2011

Kleiner Perkin’s iFund really has the criteria for mobile success nailed. For the quick hits, here are what they call the “10 Criteria for iFund Success”:

1. Inherently mobile use cases
2. Context ver content
3. Real-time, immediate utility
4. Simplicity
5. Frequent usage
6. Inherently viral
7. Massive scale possibility
8. Natural business model
9. Cross-platform with mobile integral
10. Take full advantage of iphone platform

There is a ~8min portion that is definitely worth watching starting at about 14 minutes into this lecture at Stanford on iTunes U. Enjoy!

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What’s the benefit of merging your online lives?

July 25th, 2011

John Ason, one of our investors at SocialFeet, forwarded me this interesting link about the presentation that spawned Google+. In the post, Paul Adams explains the problem of how facebook’s social graph works. On Facebook, you have one pooled set of friends, regardless of what your relationship is with each person (shown on the left). In real life, you have separate circles of friends based on common interests, geography or life stage. Here’s the graphical depiction of it:

A lot of the innovative “circles” for groups on Google+ stem from this concept. Based on interest, geography and life stage, you have different circles of friends that you want to exchange different information with. Fair enough.

But embedded into Google+ is the notion that you want to have all of these circles on a single platform. But if this diagram is to be believed, each of these circles has little or no overlap. So what’s the benefit of merging your online lives?

In contrast, there are lots of costs associated with a single platform. Complex privacy. Harder to innovate in each specialized social network space. Greater exposure to the risk of privacy violations. In other words, I think that the very analysis done to spark Google+ has the data to show that multiple platforms will serve people better than one unified platform.

[Hat tip to Rebecca Tadikonda for the inspiration for the title of this post.]

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Google+: Does it have a shot at being successful?

July 5th, 2011

No doubt, Google+ is pretty slick, from a tech/UI perspective. It combines good elements from both Facebook and twitter, with a spartan google feel. It is powerfully integrated into google’s suite of products, like picassa and gmail. It is a major improvement over buzz. Google plus should get more interesting as more people use it.

Still, I think it may be too ambitious though, which will eventually cause it have unworkable privacy issues. They want to provide a master social network, which requires a complex, granular privacy model. They have created such a privacy model with the “circles” implementation of groups.

However, my thesis is that consumers will opt to belong to have 6-12 specialized social networks each for a specific content or activity vertical. For example, FB for photos, twitter for interests, linkedin for resumes, zynga for games, SocialFeet for commerce [disclaimer:I am a founder], etc. Each of these networks will have appropriate (but highly differentiated) privacy models, and users will basically adopt the default privacy model for each in a binary yes/no decision. As Fred Wilson blogs:

You either want to be totally public or totally private, but never sort of private and sort of public. It’s just too complicated to be semi-private. That middle ground is treacherous.

Could it be the one social network to rule them all? Fairly unlikely. My guess of what happens to google plus: it gets co-opted by some geography (like urkut) or vertical segment and becomes a niche social network of some sort that survives. So far, the most interesting segment is about google itself (like Sergey Brin’s kite boarding pics from Alaska) and the twitter-like public discussions.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out, especially as Google continues to experiment with social at such a large scale.

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How to engineer “a liquidity event from God”

March 30th, 2011

One of my heroes, Steve Blank, has just given a terrific interview over at Giga Om. Here’s the money section that starts almost exactly at the 14 min mark:

What is that I want to do in this bubble? As I said, in this one, the valuations are not going to be based on concepts. I think they are going to be based on either large networks of 10s or 100s of millions of users, or they’ll be be based on high revenue growth, or maybe a combination thereof. I would use the money to buy scale as quickly as possible. I would use the money to buy visible as quickly as possible. Not for BS, but to promote the first two items. And that’s an opportunity that can easily be squandered if you don’t think about it strategically. The goal in this bubble is to be the largest possible business, not to become boo.com. Boy if you are smart entrepreneur with a big pile of cash, I believe you can engineer a liquidity event from God.

Here’s the entire video, cued to the right spot. Enjoy!

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How Facebook can attack Google’s Ad Words castle

March 25th, 2011

Bill Gurley has posted a great piece about Google’s business strategy that has turned into today’s “must read” post. In it, he accurately describes Google’s ad words as its “castle” and its open source strategy as its “moat.” Simply put, Google creates, supports and gives away platforms like Firefox and Android that enable Internet access in order to ensure its lead position as the default search engine everywhere.

As Bill rightly points out, direct assaults on Google by land look pretty hopeless. It looks pretty dark for direct competitors like Bing. It also creates collateral damage by destroying any business that wants to make money building a phone operating system or browser. But does that mean the castle is perfectly defended?

I believe that Google has a massive vulnerability, but it isn’t from a direct search competitor. Essentially, Facebook is substitute for search, not a direct competitor. As people discover products and services socially, they will go directly from intent to purchase–bypassing search entirely. This threat is not theoretical; indeed, one of customers at SocialFeet has truly zeroed its SEM budget in 2011. While dramatic, I think this move is a leading indicator of where smart merchants are moving. If so, this is very bad news for Google’s adwords castle.

This dynamic is an air attack, and Google’s castle, despite its incredible land moat, looks entirely defenseless against it.

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Will Facebook dominate Social Commerce?

February 13th, 2011

Facebook is a monster of a company, no doubt. It seems that world domination is its ambition, and it is well on its way towards that goal. But will it dominate social commerce, as it has so many other areas?

It turns out that social networks like Facebook “are not structurally well-suited to be networks of sellers,” according to a fascinating study done at Columbia (download pdf). The problem? Social networks like Facebook and Twitter end up being too clustered. When I click on a high school classmate from Hunter, I inevitably find that we have 60+ friends in common.

Why is this a problem? If you start traversing the social graph from my profile, you’ll likely to get stuck in a Hunter cul-de-sac. I love my classmates, but after a while, it’s a deadend that eventually gets boring. And empirically data from a social shopping site in France support this explanation.

The solution is to foster a network that looks more like a web than a cluster. More links are better, but you want to make sure that they take to different places. In my opinion, this structure can be induced through proper incentives, but it does not occur naturally. Herein lies the opportunity.

But it is likely to be tricky, because such “strategic attempts to alter a social network’s structure can lead to unintended consequences.” Unfortunately, the researchers don’t provide much detail into what alternative incentives are worth trying or what consequences they are concerned about.

Since the opportunity involves creating a new network, it seems to me that it is not only large but defensible. A difficult problem, perhaps, but what a nut if you can crack it! Given how different it is than building a global social network, I think it is one that Facebook is unlikely to crack by itself.

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What entrepreneurs can learn from Christopher Columbus

October 11th, 2010

I think Christopher Columbus day is really a celebration of discovery. I also believe that the goal of entrepreneurs is to discover a repeatable business. So, what can entrepreneurs learn from Christopher Columbus?

1. The most transformational ideas are crazy. I mean, reach the far east by going *west*?
2. The funding for most grand discoveries often comes from angels, who do so for commercial reasons principally
3. You will probably discover something different than what you originally set out to find (and it may take awhile before you figure out what it is that you’ve discovered!)
4. Even when you find something amazing, you won’t necessarily end up rich

Draw your own conclusions!

1. technology, 3. et cetera , , ,

Cliff Notes for the Facebook Effect

October 7th, 2010

I just finished reading The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick. I enjoyed it a lot. It is very thorough, both on the inside scoop but also in terms of analysis. Since not everyone may be as interested in every last detail about Facebook as I am, i thought that I’d post a brief summary of the highlights. Cliff notes, if you will.

– scalability was perhaps the central concern in the early days. Zuckerberg clearly understood the lesson of friendster
– Zuckerberg was very explicit about having profiles represent real people. Identity warranting is a key value of Facebook today IMO
– the launch of the photos application within Facebook is fascinating. Two core features of photo sites were — and still are — left out: high res versions and the ability to order prints.
Zuckerberg bet that social photos with tags were what people really wanted and he was right. More photos are viewed on Facebook thten all other sites combined. Photos are truly the killer app.
– the newsfeed was incredibly controversial. Zuckerberg bravely stuck to his guns because he saw the site engagement skyrocket even as 10% of the site protested the new feature!!
– Zuckerberg is supremely confident. He is not swayed but money — he turned away a $10mm offer only 4 months after founding Facebook at age 20 and has since turned down multi-billion offers. He marches to his own beat, and has control of the board of Facebook.
– Zuckerberg is ambivalent about ads and it shows. The second half of the book is blah, because Facebook has neither been wildly successful nor a complete failure at making money. This story remains unfinished IMO.

I am immensely impressed by Mark Zuckerberg. He has gone ‘all in’ perhaps 3 times with innovative and controversial features that have revolutionized the web and society. He has executed extremely well where many others tried and failed.

I eagerly await the next chapter as it unfolds! As well as the movie soon to be released, ‘the social Network’, with its fictionalized account of the human drama behind Facebook. UPDATE: It sounds that the movie is a start contrast to the book. The movie is entertaining but totally misses any of the real points of Facebook.

1. technology , , ,

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