Why The Two-Horse Race Never Emerges with a Winner
Foursquare vs. Gowalla. Scribd vs. Docstoc. Tumblr vs. Posterous. In their respective ‘bubbling’ spaces, these are mostly seen as the two leading horses, out of which the future is supposedly going to reward only one of them — the one that gets ahead and makes it across the finish line.
Now think about every successful Internet company ever — the ones that ‘made it’. I’ll list a few: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Google. Barring very few acceptions, none of them actually came out of a two-horse race. Google made it because it was better than every search engine out there, Twitter because it was such a unique and transforming idea, YouTube because it was the first to do online video well.
Even when I try, I can’t think of a single successful Internet company or product that has emerged out of, or stayed successfully in, a two-horse race (you could say MySpace vs. Facebook, but then again you could argue they don’t actually fit into the traditional ‘two-horse’ category because they didn’t originate and compete side by side like the ones mentioned above; one actively took over the other). In the general market, though, that’s far from the truth. Apple/Microsoft, Nike/Adidas, Pepsi/Coke, AMD/Intel, ATI/NVidia, to name a few, have all had a long-lasting rivalry.
I think it has a lot to do with the fact that consumers act differently on the Internet than anywhere else. You go where your friends and everybody else goes. If your friends use Facebook, you do too. If you hear, all of a sudden, that YouTube is the place to find awesome videos, that’s where you start going and uploading. If you hear Google is the best search engine ever, so be it. On the other hand, in other spaces, it’s not about what your friends or everybody else think, or at least, use. The world has a divided opinion and it’s your choice. Windows or Mac? Pepsi or Coke? Nike or Adidas? Both are equal parts to a yin/yang. Put simply, your experience with those kind of products and companies don’t have any impact by your friends’ and the rest of the world, as perhaps your presence on Facebook, or use of YouTube, or Twitter, or Google, do.
So, who’s going to emerge the winner out of Foursquare and Gowalla? Something tells me nobody. It may be a third, or perhaps one of the bigger ones will eat up their market, or perhaps their market itself will fail to go big, but this two-horse race seems to be heading in the haze. If you’re willing to bet on the market, this is one of the rare cases where even hedging won’t help.
I’m always baffled by people’s insecurities with their privacy when it comes to giving big companies like Facebook and Google access to their data. Seriously, what is a billion dollar company going to do with it than millions of people around the world are freaked out? Use it in a Dr. Evil-like way to make everyone’s data public at once? Worse, make YOUR data public to everyone else? I’m sorry to say, but nobody is that special — not even the millions of Google users — to receive that kind of attention from Dr. Evil.
To me, it’s not about “who do I trust with MY data?” — I don’t have a one-on-one relationship with Google or Facebook, so posing such a question makes me sound idiotic when I’m considering corporate entities. It’s more about “which type of technology could perhaps not be secure enough that a person in my life with bad intentions could get access to my data?”. Note: in this question, the focus is never on a particular company and their evil intentions with it. Google will NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, do something bad with the data they have, and I can promise you that as a non-Google employee. Worrying about what Google does with “my” data is like worrying about getting struck with lightning.
What you should worry about more are the people in your life and possible causes/chances/opportunities they might have to invade your privacy in some way, should they have the intentions to do so. And most likely, you don’t have bad people in your life. Even more likely, the technology you use is secure enough that it is normal-people-in-my-life-hacker proof (now, the Russians? That’s another story.)
So here’s a few words to people worrying about their privacy being invaded by billion dollar entities: don’t. Keep your passwords secure, change them once in a while, don’t be stupid, and live happily.
…(Foursquare/Gowalla) should be more about “doing things with your location” than “broadcasting your location”. There is almost no usefulness in letting the 400 strangers who follow you on Twitter know where you are, unless they are all immediate friends or you’re doing something you specifically want to let them know, which happens rarely.
Instead, by keying in a location, it’s much more useful/fun/interesting to see who was there before you/who is there now, things in and around it, if your friends are nearby, and general information (for example, seeing a restaurant’s menu, or movies playing, or shop’s catalogue.) In that way, services which offer augmented reality may go further than the hyped “check-in” services which will stop seeing much activity in the next couple of months as user notice little usefulness.
Put simply, “location sharing” is unintuitive and useless. Locations aren’t meant to be shared, at least not to the people other than the 5 - 15 of your closest friends, unless you’re a Twitter megastar who likes to meet people everywhere and invest in location services, which there are very few of. “Location surfing”, on the other hand, is where the future is.
It seems to me there are 2 ways to go about solving the “a lost next-gen iPhone is found and it could be the biggest scoop of your life” dilemma, and either is equally right/wrong.
EITHER you are Engadget, you have a super-strong sense of ethics, and reject the guy willing to sell it to you in the name of not tampering with stolen goods/rights to a company’s privacy/potential legal trouble (note: none of the reasons should include any suckupness to Apple or that it may impact your relationship with the company.)
OR you are Gizmodo and you go ahead with the story and every cost because you have a right to your readers and ‘getting the scoop’ and staying at the cutting edge of all technology news and because you’ve come across something that is truly worth letting everyone know about. (But more importantly, once the news is out, you’ve got to do the rest: return the iPhone to its rightful owner, and let everyone know EXACTLY how it went about, without twisting the truth.)
In both cases, the blogs are doing something ethically and journalistically true to their beliefs, and most probably, won’t take a hit on their long-term brand value nor would they become the best publication ever.
The way to NOT go about this, though, is to let the impact of your relationship with the company involved influence your decision. I can’t conclusively assert anything, but I believe had the iPhone landed in the hands of a Pogue or Mossberg, there’s not a lot to say they might have done differently. And that wouldn’t have been good for anybody. That would’ve meant their actions were controlled by their (future) paychecks and access to billion dollar company’s products. Engadget missed out on a lot of short-term profits if they indeed refrained from purchasing it like they claim, but they did it out of reason. Gizmodo may miss out lots of long-term profits because it will undoubtedly hurt their relationship with Apple, but then they did what they did out of their own reasons.
In the end, it’s about doing what you think is right over what pleases or could potentially hurt someone else.
I’ve recently become a huge fan of Fora.TV and try to check it out once in a while. In doing so, I came across two fantastic talks recently those who appreciate the design process might enjoy.
The first is about the creation of a typical Wired cover by their creative director, Scott Dadich. I had no idea so much effort goes into doing this stuff, and now that I think about it, it’s rightly so, because a magazine cover to a magazine is like a homepage to a website — and even more vital, because it’s the only factor that directly and consistently impacts sales.
The second is about the creation of title sequences of films in general by Danny Yount. While not as important as magazine covers to films, they do play a vital part in setting you up for an experience and having you walk out with an experience. He’s created some of my favorite title sequences, like Iron Man, Six Feet Under, RocknRolla, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and it’s just amazing to see how the process works and shapes up over time. What I also like about doing title sequences is that the creator gets a free license to work on ‘cool shots’ without having to worry about a storyline or plot. If I worked in Hollywood, I’d have loved to be a Title Designer.
Reading the iPadreviews, something struck me: in technology, reviews basically don’t matter. Sure, they might for some of the smaller devices on which potential consumers need a convincing or two to go with it, but for something like the iPod or iPhone or iPad, they don’t. It’s the public that gets to decide the fate of a product. When we accept it, they become cultural icons. When we don’t, they become the Newtons and Lisa’s. Nobody will remember Mossberg’s review of the iPad in the coming years; they’ll just know whether it changed their life, changed the world, sold a few million copies, made the need for a tablet worthwhile, signalled the demise of Apple, etc.
Contrast this to movies. For the big ones, reviews don’t matter, either — but with a big clause: only initially. In the long-term, the critical reception of a film is almost always what decides its fate in the long-term. Transformers 2 bombs with the critics, but makes a few hundred million? Doesn’t matter. In the public’s eye, it will always remain a really bad movie that exploited America’s love for blow-everything-up summer blockbusters. Avatar got decent reviews, but became the highest grossing film of all time? Great — it passes the public’s test for a classic (despite not all agreeing that it is one, or even a good movie). What’s funny is that both movies made a ton of money at the box office and got millions of people to “buy” their product, but one was bad and another was good, the reviews said it, and that’s the way it is.
I guess it comes down to the usage of the two kinds of products. One may only watch a movie two-to-three times in its lifespan, but use a product everyday for years. In technology, people have only their opinion to go by in terms of evaluating the product, so it’s all about how it affected our lives. If it does, we love it, if it doesn’t, we don’t remember it. Movies affect people’s lives all the time, too, of course, but it’s something immeasurable. The average consumer probably isn’t as well familiarized with the product as to make their opinion count, even in their own minds, so they just go with the vocal of the lot — the critics. It doesn’t matter if they immensely loved Transformers the first time they saw it. The critics panned it, and that’s how history went.
As for the iPad? Yeah, the reviews basically don’t help a bit. I will, like everyone else, judge it only when I use it, and use it only when a good majority of people use it and validate it. After that, the iPad’s fate is in my hands.