Guest post on Mashable

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Here's my guest post from earlier today on Mashable.  Those of you who have read this blog for awhile know my position on it that we're VERY early in a game that will play out over the coming decade or so I suppose.  Lots can happen as major players figure out their strategies, startups build better offerings, and the market naturally evolves.

I'm personally excited about it & really enjoy working with our clients and folks in the technology industry.

I'll share more thoughts in a few days after I get some feedback on the article.

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Facebook’s new problem: social media fatigue

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Facebook's announcements at f8 were stunning in their breadth and vision.  By expanding their reach to the Internet as a whole, they've morphed overnight from a social network to a pervasive part of the Internet.  In so doing, they're making their competitors (e.g. Twitter and even Google) look awfully amateur while scaring the heck out of established startups like Digg who all of a sudden have a new competitor I'm sure they didn't even consider until a few months ago.

Even the location-based community wasn't spared, although Facebook's reliance on RFID seems a little 3.0 given what they perhaps could've announced re: location on Facebook Mobile, which has over 100 million users.

I shared my thoughts on ReadWriteWeb yesterday as it impacts the newspaper business.  I think it could potentially be huge.

But after sleeping on it another night, I can't help but think of a few experiences I've had recently that make me pause a bit.  All of them are indications of "social media fatigue" that I think will be an increasingly significant issue as social technologies become more pervasive.

For example:

  • In January, I spoke on a panel at the Texas A&M business school on the future of social media.  The panel was attended by students in the master's of marketing program.  Most were in their 20s — the ideal demographic for Facebook circa 2008.  So these were people that, as opposed to most of the newspaper industry people I talk with every day, are now social media veterans who have used Facebook and in some cases Twitter for as much as a few years.

I started getting a few questions from the group that indicated a latent dissatisfaction with Facebook.  So I finally asked for a show of hands for this question — "how many of you use Facebook less today than a year ago?"  Nearly everyone raised their hands.

  • Consider also the case of Twitter, which achieved stratospheric growth and usage as it become part of the pop culture vernacular.  However, some folks began to ask as early as January 2010 if Twitter had peaked.  In fact, if you check Twitter's site traffic at compete.com, you'll notice it's an awfully flat chart over the last 9 months or so (although admittedly that's a poor measure of Twitter as its data is today accessed through a variety of client & mobile apps as well.)
  • Also consider location-based services — and for this I'll inject my own data point that I'm sure other people have experienced.  I have up to 100 friends on the range of current LBS providers.  At first, most people tend to check in quite a bit.  But after awhile, something interesting happens — they stop doing it.  As of this morning, I have 6 friends who have updated their location in the last 24 hours on one service and less than a handful on all the others.  LBS products may have a lot of users, but I always wonder how many ACTIVE users they have because that is the important data point.  More on that later.

My point today is that social media fatigue is real, especially amongst the masses.  EVERYONE in the social media space has to have a strategy for dealing with it.

Facebook is dealing with it by attempting to become a pervasive force in the Web as a whole.  The skeptic in me just wonders if that will prove to be overkill, and the backlash that people are already reporting will become Facebook's biggest enemy.

While we're designed to be social creatures more or less, is there a point at which it is all too much? One thing is for sure – we're probably going to find out.

The Location-Based Backlash

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Well, that didn't take long.

SXSW Interactive 2010 brought the hype, people sobered up, and now the backlash is beginning.

Mark Hopkins kicked it off on March 31 and yesterday Dave McClure jumped in.  They've observed a few things, most notably:

  • Even the most successful LBS startups don't have a large enough audience to truly matter, especially for advertisers,
  • There is no evidence of a mainstream consumer phenomenon around these apps yet,
  • The only reality so far is that LBS apps are hot among the early adopter innovator crowd, and that crowd is serving more or less as an echo chamber and nothing more.

I don't have a problem with LBS startups.  In fact, I've talked with just about all of them in some capacity over the last year or so and there are good people in those companies.  But I do think as I've stated here before that I think the hype/reality ratio is way out of whack right now.  Valuations are in the stratosphere.  Yet, these folks have a lot of work to do to succeed in a way that justifies those numbers.

If you put me on the spot, I'd suspect that one or two will do very well but that there will be a lot of people left out as well.  Those will be the next iteration of a long line of over-invested, "next big thing", and hysterically overhyped companies like Webvan, eToys, DrKoop.com, Boo.com, and others whose biggest achievement was a massive fundraise.

Just my two cents… more to come on this topic that I just find way too fascinating.

It’s hype until we have a location-based services ecosystem

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Location-based services were certainly the craze at SXSW Interactive this year — there really *wasn't* another story told at the event.  Or maybe there were other stories, but you'd never know.

LBS 2.0

The funny thing is that we're really on LBS 2.0.  The first wave of location-based hysteria took place in 2008 as the first location-aware cell phones hit the market.  That wave resulted in the expected level of chaos — some LBS providers went straight to the deadpool, some are today "living dead", and others survived and are redefining themselves.

Foursquare, Gowalla, and to a lesser extent MyTown are driving LBS 2.0 and all the hype today.  I'm going to go out on a limb and call it all "hype" right now because the numbers don't suggest anything else.  Facebook has over 400 million users today.  Twitter has well over 75 million (although it's hard to say how many of those are legitimate).  MyTown claims the highest number of users at just over 1.5 million.  Foursquare has half that.  Who knows exactly how many users Gowalla has attracted?

Why are people so crazed about location-based services?  My guesses?  Growth rates, the potential of a virtuous cycle, and new features.  And as innovators, most folks attending a show like SXSW Interactive all want to be part of something that will become ubiquitous.  It's congruent with our personalities and our reputations.

Weaknesses

It certainly remains to be seen whether or not any of these services can achieve mainstream adoption — as defined by three things:  stickiness, adoption across early adopters/into an early majority, reaction by major tech companies.

  • Stickiness - Is the concept of "checking in" a fad or is it something we'll continue to do long enough for that action to be automated?  Are game mechanics a lasting means of collecting checkin data?  If not, can the act of checking in be effectively automated?  And will privacy concerns limit the geodata they're willing to expose about themselves?
  • Mainstream Adoption - Can growth continue and perhaps even accelerate so these relatively new services become interesting to mainstream users?  Will soccer moms use LBS?  How will LBS become valuable to a larger group of users?
  • Reaction by big tech – We've already see Yelp, Twitter, and now Facebook announce plans to integrate location data into their applications.  How will these affect major LBS players?  And what happens when Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, AOL, and Google jump in?

Characteristics of a Winner

If you think about it, there are many more questions than answers.  That said, I think that the hype can be made into reality if these LBS providers play their cards right.  Here are a few things I'd do if I were running an LBS provider:

  • Enhance the user experience — new features, new experiences, better connections, brand integration, etc.
  • Partner — seek large audiences and go get them as quickly as possible.  This is a race.
  • Open the platform — we know from crowdsourcing that the crowd typically has better ideas than any closed group of people.  Become a standard an open the platform to read & write access to make the platform more immersive.

I can understand concerns about allowing a ecosystem to grow up around a maturing product.  But that's what helps a product graduate into a true platform.  It's happened time and time again — those who keep their platforms closed ultimately lose because they can't innovate as fast or as effectively as the crowd.

All the while, there are a wide range of interesting products and services that can be built atop location-based services.  A world of innovation awaits, but is held back to some extent by the fact that popular location-based services are still effectively closed platforms.

At a certain point, a baby grows into an adolescent and into a young adult.  Parents have a tough time dealing with the transition, because the illusion known as control slips away.  Startup LBS services that have emerged over the last 12-18 months have grown into adolescents very fast.  They have the potential to become adults.  It will be interesting to see how and if this transition takes place over the coming year, and whether or not openness has a significant impact.  My guess is that it will.

Steven Tomlinson on the Life of Meaning

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I first met Steven Tomlinson at the McCombs School of Business — not as a teacher, professor, or lecturer but as a dynamic personality who put the students' individual needs and fulfillment ahead of his own preconceived notion of what business school should be.  In that sense, he was truly unique at McCombs.

Now he's at the Acton School of Business where he's teaching, mentoring, and helping the next round of entrepreneurs find their way.

In his latest blog post — his TEDxAustin 2010 talk, he tells us about his experience living life by one's own rules and not by the cookie-cutter of conventional wisdom that both organizes and constrains most of us.

I thought it was fantastic and I wish I'd been there to hear it.  True words of inspiration from one of Austin's treasures and thought leaders.

Enjoy.

SXSW Interactive Recap on Techdrawl

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Howdy everyone — I shared some thoughts on the SXSW Interactive 2010 conference at Techdrawl.com where I occasionally blog.  Check out the video blog post here.

Entrepreneur Traits

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I caught up this past weekend with an old friend who is most certainly *not* an entrepreneur.  This friend is a corporate guy through and through.  He's so corporate, he just doesn't understand the life of a startup person or why someone would forsake a promising corporate job in exchange for long hours, a small salary (if you're lucky), and the trouble of the early-stage routine.

Anyway, he asked me to share with him the traits of someone who would be a good entrepreneur.  I'm not sure if it was a curiosity thing for him or if he really wanted to understand.  Anyway, here are some key traits that I've seen (in bullet form):

  • An adventurous personality who is willing to look risk in the eye and not flinch,
  • A founder who is willing to do whatever it takes,
  • A person with a positive attitude and confidence about the vision,
  • A realist who can evolve to where the best application of a product/technology actually is,
  • A good communicator/evangelist for the business and its vision,
  • Someone with a real chip on his/her shoulder — i.e. a person who feels disrespected, neglected, ignored, or told that he/she can't do something one time too many,
  • Someone who has faced real adversity in his/her life and perhaps most importantly, managed to overcome it.  And no, by adversity I don't mean "couldn't vacation in Aspen in 2004" or "didn't get the iPhone on the day it was released"

Now on top of this, entrepreneurs must see opportunity often well before other people see it.  They need to pull it all together, and probably do so with less money/resources than he/she really needs to get it done.  You have to admit — it indeed does take a special type of person to do it.  Maybe my corporate friend is the smart one after all, and I'm just nuts. 😉

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