Fred’s 10 Golden Web-App Rules

This past weekend i watched this video from Fred Wilson about what are the 10 Golden Principles of a Web application. Fred has been an investor for over 20 years and is on the board of some of this decade’s premier companies such as Twitter, FourSquare, Tumblr, Etsy, Delicous, and more.

The 10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps from Carsonified on Vimeo.

  1. Speed.  Fred sees speed more than a feature. Speed is the most important feature and he argues that this is more important with mainstream users an early-adopters who are more forgiving.  Everyday users have no tolerance for slugish apps.  I heard the same thing from Google when they presented at Techstars.  They measure everything and if it’s slow, they fix it.  Fred mentioned pingom as something they use to measure every portfolio company.
  2. Instant Utility.  If a user has to spend too long to configure the service – it won’t catch on.  YouTube is a great example of how it won by providing instant feedback rather than delaying the gratification.
  3. Voice.  Consumer software is media today.  Consumers approach in the same way the approach magazines, tv shows, etc.. Software has to have a personality and if it has no attitude, then it won’t catch on.
  4. Simplicity.  Just one main feature at launch.  Fred points to Delicious as a perfect example of this.  Make the app super simple and then go from there.  There are lots of good posts on how to focus on this.
  5. Programmability.   Make your app accessible from other developers.  This means read+write API’s and if’s not “write” it’s not an API and might as well be RSS.   Allow other developers to add energy, data and richness.  In Fred’s mind this is absolutely essential and he’s hesitant to invest in anything that isn’t programmable.
  6. Personalizable.  You want make your app infused with your user’s energy.
  7. REST URLs.  Make your app easy to navigate – give everything a URL. This also makes is discoverable from Google.
  8. Discoverable.  There are millions of web pages and web applications.   This point means SEO but it also means that your app itself should be self-promoting.  This means social media and branding.
  9. Clean.  This is UI requirement.  You need to be able to come to the page and be able to immediately determine what to do and what’s going on.   It has to be inviting and simple.
  10. Playful.  An app should be fun to use and it’s use should encourage future use.  Weigh Watchers is a good example as it establishes points and goals and getting the points and acheiving goals is something that should be embedded in each application

There one more interesting point he spits out at the end about the name and brand of a company.  He talks about how important it is to him that the company purchases the actual name of the company.  For example, Foursquare was and they insisted that they change.  He also insisted that become

The 10 principles are interesting to think about and a good checklist for any startup to have.  I’ve definitely been guilty of ignoring some of these in my past work.   Interesting stuff

iLike & Myspace – it doesn’t make sense

myspaceilikeiLIke was purchased by MySpace this week for $20 million.  Hearing this annoucement, i couldn’t help think that something was off.  Something just doesn’t make sense.

Some facts: iLike has 50 million registered users.  That’s a huge number.  They are definitely one of the most popular applications on Facebook and one of the best applications anywhere for concerts. They have built some things that are quite hard to build such as:

  • A mp3 download store (link)
  • A music activity feed crawling millions of artists and millions of users
  • A ticketing system integrated with Ticketmaster
  • A self-serve advertising system

They have raised $16 million bucks and claim to be profitable.  Both Facebook and Amazon were interested in the deal.   If both of these are true why would they sell for $20 million? Selling for $20 means that the investors get their money back and then then $4 million gets spread around to shareholders.  Basically nobody makes any money that they are happy about.

To compare, Facebook just bought FriendFeed for $20 million and they have 1 million monthly uniques.  iLike has at least 3x that on the web and 50x total and they are growing.

Also, I can’t imagine why a dynamic, fast moving company would want to go work at MySpace instead of Facebook or Amazon.

  • MySpace vs. Facebook. One is doing a fantastic job of innovating and developing new innovative software (FB).  The other is bleeding users, bleeding cash (MySpace Music) and restructuring.  iLike has also actively been courting Facebook for the past 3 years. They’ve thrown Facebook / iLike parties and done everything possible to try to get a FB acquisition.  Going with MySpace is strange
  • MySpace vs. Amazon. One (Amazon) is in iLike’s backyard in Seattle and the other is down in LA.  One is making good inroads into providing a viable music store to iTunes.  The other (MySpace) started as a primary space for music but is now controlled by the labels and is getting worse and worse as they try to cut costs.

Both of those don’t make sense so then you have to conclude that they are just doing this for the money.  But if (a) they are profitable and (b) it’s only $20 million on $16m raised then that doesn’t make sense either.

My conclusion from all this non-sense:

  • iLike was not profitable and were running out of money.  They needed to either raise more money or sell.
  • Fatigue.  Working in the digital music industry and having success at it is exhausting.   Your main content source (music) brings with it tons of headaches.  The labels are working against you every step of the way
  • Facebook had no interest in getting into the music business.  I think they see content area as something for partners and although iLike probably asked them repeatedly, they backed away from the deal.  There is no better content company that is more integrated into Facebook than iLike.  If FB didn’t want them, they’re not going to get anyone.
  • MySpace paid more than $20 million.  They won’t disclose the terms but my guess is that there is some kicker in there that made the deal very attractive to the shareholders.  Too bad we don’t know what it is.

At least one or more of these have to be true.  What are your thoughts?

Spying on Myself and LifeTracker

Picture 3Fred Wilson had a post this weekend about MyWare and his love of it. I couldn’t agree more as i’m a huge proponent of tracking my own activity. For instance,

Fred wrote that he likes to keep this data because, “I am interested in this sector of implicit behavior data. I believe that publishing the things I do on the web will allow web services to get smarter about me and give me better experiences.” I keep track for different reasons.  I actually like to keep data about myself. I find it interesting and i use to remember events of my life.

But i see it going even further.  What i wrote was:

When i look at the web, i see people trying to capture experiences. They capture photos on flickr, videos on youtube, and notes with people on email. Their life is being tracked but not in a comprehensive way.

I could imagine a site – call it “” which tracks all the things you do. You plug in, gmail (or other email), google voice, flickr/picassa, twitter, credit card (mint), youtube and other web services. I then matches 3 things: the data, the contacts, and the time. It creates a timeline for you and marks who you’ve been interacting with and when. There’s an API so each new web service you start using you can plug into it.

There are several benefits: (1) as you mentioned, you can give this data to services for recommendations; (2) you can search your life. If google is web search, twitter is real-time search, this would be “me search”; (3) just like we don’t remember phone numbers anymore b/c we put them into our phone to retrieve any time we want, we can start throwing information into lifetracker such as meeting notes, audio recordings of phone calls, etc. so we don’t have to write stuff down and remember it. Use the cloud as a memory storage instead of your brain

I see this coming and it’s really exciting to think about it.

I do think it will happen.  What do you think?

Fred Wilson's Take on Twitter

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There’s a good video by Fred Wilson about Twitter and what he, as an investor in it, thinks about it.  What he boils it down to is three points:

  1. “the single most important is that twitter from day 1 is a platform that others can build upon”
  2. “it is very one-dimensional…it doesn’t do anything that is not in the timeline….It’s power comes from that – it’s straightforward”
  3. “Twitter is the news feed for the web” as people embed links in their tweets and it’s now an alerting system

What else is interesting is that Twitter wasn’t pitched to Fred but rather he was an early user of it and he pitched to them to try to get them to take money from Union Square Ventures.  This is why i think Fred is one of the best VC’s in the business because he uses the products.  The web is all about product.  It’s not like the industrial revolution, it is a consumer facing which means that the usability is extremely important.  He is an early adopter and gets into the weeds. I have a hard time imagining other VC’s using Twitter when it was still a part of Odeo.


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Obama poster drama


I heard a great podcast yesterday on NPR about the iconic Obama poster (seen above). The poster is done by a fascinating artist named Shepherd Fairey.  It’s a little known fact that Fairey is also responsible for the Andre The Giant “OBEY” sketches that i remember from the 90’s.  He really gets around.

In this case, Fairey took a photo he found on Google and then altered the neck, the eyes and the colors (and cropped out George Clooney) to make a poster than came to symbolize the campaign.  Shepherd always claimed that he made the poster from an Associated Press photo and about a month ago, it was finally determined which photo he used and who the photographer was. It was a photo of Obama sitting at a press event in Darfur with George Clooney.


All this would be nice and peachy except that because the photo was an AP photo, the AP came to Fairey and threatened to sue if he didn’t dish out a percentage of revenue he made from the poster. Fairey acknowledged that he’s willing to pay the standard license fee and attribute the photo to the original photographer but he won’t be bullied into paying.  So, instead he sued the AP in an attempt to discourage companies from punishing artists for creating art.

While his argument stands on fair use, to me the real issue is about people making derivative works. It’s the 21st century and lots of people take lots of images and transforming them into art. If each is penalized into paying a bounty for the original source we’re limiting and hurting society.

In this day and age, users are both consumers and creators of content.  So many YouTube videos have copyrighted works in them.  Last week there was a huge fiasco around Facebook’s Terms of Service when they claimed they owned all user uploaded material.  Thankfully, they backed off.  But the backlash from the users illustrates that ownership of property, attribution, and sharing is really important to the web.

If anything this just leads me more and more into believing in Creative Commons. It’s truly the only mechanism that let’s people properly manage their rights

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Real-Time Search

I got quite inspired when reading this post by John Borthwick.  First of all, the YouTube data really surprised me in that YouTube is now the 2nd largest search site online, bigger than Yahoo! at over 3 billion searches a month.

Second and more importantly, i started thinking about real-time search.  Finding out what is happening right now on the web is really cool and going to becoming increasingly important and interesting.  As real-time events happen such as earthquakes, sporting events, meetups, etc. we’ll want to search the web and find out what people are thinking.  This is a fascinating new arena that comes with real-time messaging.  We’ve always has AIM and Facebook‘s status messages, but we’ve never had a way to search through them and get a snapshot of what’s happening.  Until now.  Go to Twitter’s search at and type in something and you’ll immediately see what people are thinking and doing on the web.  It’s incredible


I’m still getting my head around what this means and how it’ll play out but i have to imagine that real time information will be quite valuable.

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Google Latitude

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A new feature was released today from Google called Google Latitude.  It’s allows you to post your location onto Google Maps and to see your friends’ locations.  It’s done using GPS and other technologies (Gears, etc.) and works really well.  Here are some thoughts i have on it

First, I like the way it looks and works. The interface is extremely simple.  Entering in info is done inline and the interface is definitely not cluttered with too many bells and whistles.  Adding and viewing friends is also braindead simple.  Overall, it’s a snap to use

It’s a social app but it’s different than a social network. For instance it’s (a) only really useful for people you know, (b) more interesting for people you live close to, and (c) limited to only location information. It’s only a map.  Again, very simple


Not everything is great though. One thing i don’t understand is why they force you to access it (on the web) through iGoogle.  I have a homepage already and see no other reason to go to iGoogle.  That’s annoying and i wish it had it’s own site like Google’s Calendar, Reader, Maps, Mail, etc.  Also, I also wish it would use my profile from other Google products. It seems now that i have a different profile for Gmail, Calendar, Orkut, FriendConnect and Reader.  Why can’t there be just one?

Since i’ve had a iPhone, i’ve become much more aware of the usefulness of my location.  When this information is layered onto web services, those services can become much more useful.  I like this new app because it shows that there’s a whole other layer (location) that is just starting to be explored. I can imagine many applications starting to layer in location and serve information based on this.  Ad targeting, ticketing, messaging, groups all change when this is added.

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Why did Flickr stop innovating?

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Why aren’t you better?

I’ve been a big flickr fan for years.  I take a lot of photos and that’s always been my favorite spot to put them.  Flickr‘s been great at pioneering the 2.0 photo experience. They were the first to have a photostream view – not just albums. And they were the first to have tags which allow you to organize your photos in a better way.  However, they haven’t done much lately.  Sure, they added videos which is GREAT but that’s about it.  The look hasn’t changed, there aren’t many new features and i feel that they are getting out developed by facebook’s photo experience and Google‘s Picasa.   Sure those sites have different goals for their photo experience but at least they are moving forward. What’s Flickr done for me lately? Nothing.

Both Facebok and Picasa allow you to specifically name who is in each photo. Facebook does this by “tagging” a photo with a user and Picasa does this by analyzing the faces in the photos.  Both are brain dead simple to use and are really slick.  I’ve always used Flickr’s tags to do this with thier photos but i’d like to more specifically associate a photo with a user.

I also think that Flickr could make the “editing” of photo metadata easier.  The order a picture shows up in your photostream is effectively the date you took it – but if you upload a photo much later, you have to go back and manually adjust the dates so it appears in the right spot. Flickr has always made title and description editing amazingly simply by keeping it in-line but adjusting the date and privacy of a photo still takes you to another page.  Why can’t they make that easier? Same thing with setting a group of photos to a later date. This is too hard to do.

The bottom line is that i still love Flickr but i feel that it’s getting stagnant.  i’m starting to think that Flickr has officially become a Yahoo company and not a nimble startup.  And i don’t want to hitch my wagon to something that is in maintenance mode.  I knew this day would come and i think the day might finally be here. I think i could say the same about delicious too.  That site could have been much bigger than it is.

I’m wondering now – where should my photos go? What’s going to be be even better.  I don’t like how Picasa is only albums but i do like how they are at least getting better and better.  Is there a 3.0 photo experience that i can use?

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Twitter thoughts

I read this article by Tim O’Reilly called “Why I Love Twitter” and it has some good points. Specifically:

  1. “Following” instead of “Friending” – in my opinion, only true/proper social networks that are primarily about social interactions (like Facebook or MySpace) should use 2-way friending.  The rest should allow for 1-way following.
  2. “Ambient intimacy” is about deepening people relationships via short messages and thoughts.  Similar to how you get to know someone who’s desk is right next to yours because of offhand comments, you can do the same via twitter
  3. Cooperating with others – Twitter allows others, even competitors, to utiilze them.  And it seems to only strengthen twitter.
  4. A true mobile app – for me this is the first mobile application that works better on mobile than the web.  It has truly changed how i think about working on a mobile device

Twitter is an interesting beast because it’s still niche but gaining steam.  People also love to bitch about how it doesn’t have a business model.  This is true, it doesn’t but neither did email for a long time and now it’s one of the biggest driver of pageviews and engagement on the web.

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Netflix's Napoleon Dynatime Problem

The company Netflix has a very sophisticated and accurate recommendation system.  They also have $1 million prize for anyone who can make it better.  One interesting thing is that apparently the movie Napoleon Dynamite is screwing up the Netflix’s rating system.  There’s a good article in The NY Times called “If You Liked This, You’re Sure to Love That” that discusses this, saying:

The reason is that “Napoleon Dynamite” is very weird and very polarizing. It contains a lot of arch, ironic humor, including a famously kooky dance performed by the titular teenage character to help his hapless friend win a student-council election. It’s the type of quirky entertainment that tends to be either loved or despised. The movie has been rated more than two million times in the Netflix database, and the ratings are disproportionately one or five stars.

Worse, close friends who normally share similar film aesthetics often heatedly disagree about whether “Napoleon Dynamite” is a masterpiece or an annoying bit of hipster self-indulgence.

It’s funny that movie can be so widely loved or hated.  I think it’s probably a generational thing with the younger you get the more you’re apt to like it.  Clearly, you either “get it” or you don’t

Other movies mentioned in the article that are causing the Netflix system problems and are equally hard to classify and polarizing are:

It’s an interesting list and to think about other movies that i’ve found to be divisive.  I can think of Grindhouse and Serenity.  What else?

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