Monthly Archive for January, 2011

Platform growth over user privacy

Facebook announced that data about yourself (like your phone number) would now be shared with applications. Since the announcement, they’ve backed down (and good work to ReadWriteWeb for raising awareness of this).

I’ve been quoted in RWW and other places as saying the following:

“Users should have the ability to decide upfront what data they permit, not after the handshake has been made where both Facebook and the app developer take advantage of the fact most users don’t know how to manage application privacy or revoke individual permissions,” Bizannes told the website. “Data Portability is about privacy-respecting interoperability and Facebook has failed in this regard.”

Let me explain what I mean by that:

This first screenshot is what users can do with applications. Facebook offers you the ability to manage your privacy, where you even have the ability to revoke individual data authorisations that are not considered necessary. Not as granular as I’d like it (my “basic information” is not something I share equally with “everyone”, such as apps who can show that data outside of Facebook where “everyone” actually is “everyone”), but it’s a nice start.

http:__www.facebook.com_settings_?tab=applications

This second screenshot, is what it looks like when you initiate the relationship with the application. Again, it’s great because of the disclosure and communicates a lot very simply.
Request for Permission

But what the problem is, is that the first screenshot should be what you see in place of the second screenshot. While Facebook is giving you the ability to manage your privacy, it is actually paying lipservice to it. Not many people are aware that they can manage their application privacy, as it’s buried in a part of the site people seldom use.

The reason why Facebook doesn’t offer this ability upfront is for a very simple reason: people wouldn’t accept apps. When given a yes or no option, users think “screw it” and hit yes. But what if they did this handshake, they were able to tick off what data they allowed or didn’t allow? Why are all these permissions required upfront, when I can later deactivate certain permissions?

Don’t worry, its not that hard to answer. User privacy doesn’t help with revenue revenue growth in as much as application growth which creates engagement. Being a company, I can’t blame Facebook for pursuing this approach. But I do blame them when they pay lipservice to the world and they rightfully should be called out for it.

Quora will give stock options to celebrities, reject a Google acquisition

It’s a private company so we may never know. But one thing that’s clear, is that the circumstances surrounding its growth are mimicking things we’ve seen in the last few years. The below are some specific thoughts on where I see Quora heading in 2011 and beyond.

1) Its growth will be driven by celebrities
A year ago, I asked if Twitter gave stock options to celebrities, which would explain the bizarre trend that had celebrities embrace the service. I’m willing to bet money they did.

Steve Case, the billionaire founder of AOL, recently has been actively answering questions on Quora, and it is awesome to see the responses. Now imagine if this domain knowledge in tech was expanded to people asking questions about celebrities? Let’s not forget Twitter started as a tech industry thing (I was told in May 2007, when I first started networking in the Sydney scene, that it was the ‘thing’ I had to have to have credibility) — it was a way to network in tech and track interesting people. Thinking back, it was transformative because successful people in tech were now accessible to new upstarts like me. In the years to follow, we saw Ashton Kutcher’s CNN race for one million followers combined with the Oprah moment, that suddenly saw it become mainstream, transformed into a way to track your favourite celebrities which is what drives its growth now.

So imagine if Quora gave stock options to all the interesting people of the world and they started answering questions? Imagine it being a direct way to interact with elected officials? Keep reading, this is not the first time we’ve seen this.

2)It will break news and information
Quora did something interesting a few months ago: it helped unravel some big news in the industry. It will do this again.

Its recognition in the mainstream (give it 2 years at least) will be if two things can occur: a massive tragedy occurs that uses Quora as a form of distributing reporting and citizen journalism; and the 2012 presidential candidates use it as a way to engage with voters. Who knows, maybe 2012 is too soon but like Twitter, it will be those two kinds of events that will make it mainstream. (For context on this, read my post from two years ago which explains the origins and rise of social media.) The service is perfectly setup to cater for both situations in a way that exceeds both the ability of Facebook and Twitter, its cousins in the social media world that is driving this broader trend in the world.

3) Google will try to buy them
Quora’s “social” competency complements Google’s lack in that area. Which ironically, is because both founders were early and senior employees of Facebook…the same reason I believe the Obama campaign led to him becoming the first social media president (as another early employee and “co-founder” of Facebook, Chris Hughes, was responsible for Obama’s Internet strategy).

Google is trying really hard to catchup on social, an area Facebook dominates and what will lead to Google losing its leadership in the industry. Despite all the rumours of its internal social networking initiatives, the numerous products launched so far have all been ordinary. And it’s for good reason: Google doesn’t get social. It can’t, it’s not in its DNA.

Google has an engineering culture where decisions are made based on data. Google’s former top designer quit because of “a design philosophy that lives or dies strictly by the sword of data”. Rather than trust the talent of its designers, it instead would over-rule decisions based on user metrics — which in a conversion business, makes sense. But the thing about user experience, its about shaping new behaviours rather than relying on existing patterns.

Which interestingly, is what Quora is excelling at: its user experience is inspiring the entire industry (like the Angel List crew, who in turn are inspiring an entire industry). That’s an impressive thing to do as a startup, and shows innovation in an area that is key to engagement — engagement that Google can’t seem to get.

4) They will decline a Google acquisition and do a licensing deal instead
Quora has very rich content, the stuff that make Google searches a lot more interesting. Google validated it is interested in the social search area with the $50 million acquisition of Aardvark. Quora in my eyes, would be a perfect fit for the same goal Google has but due to a different approach.

Google makes its money on specific types of searches, which are transactional searches — when you are looking to buy something (say a flight) as opposed to informational (like what’s the capital of Australia). But it’s always been the informational searches that drive usage of the Google search engine, as Google is a one-stop-shop for answers. Quora is like the structured blogging equivalent of Wikipedia, which is gold in the eyes of Google.

Which is why I believe they will go down the path of Twitter, which successfully played off both Google and Bing (Microsoft) with a licensing agreement to show Tweets in searches, a functionality that allowed the search engines to claim they were now “real time”. They will want to do this with Quora, because the questions on Quora mimic searches people make and the answers offer a treasure trove of curated answered by real people.

Conclusion
I could be wrong. Regardless, even if it doesn’t succeed like how I think it will, expect the startup to make a lot more noise in 2011 beyond the current cries of people saying this last week has seen a tipping point. The big blogs will continue to talk about it, and new journalists are now discovering it, only to compound my original complaint of lazy journalism.

That’s impressive and which will guarantee the noise through to 2011. That’s because all communication innovations tend to do so, and Quora is the new kid on the block that will drive that disruption.

Scouting Angel List

I’ve become an Angel List scout.

What’s Angel List? It’s a service that my good friend Naval Ravikant launched in February 2010 with the Venture Hacks crew, which is dramatically improving the process that is the tech fundraising model. Need high quality investors for a startup? All you need to do now is pitch it via a form.

What’s an Angel List scout? Someone that the Angels on Angel List can trust, who will help filter and provide social proof on startups.

Why am I an Angel List scout? I get a lot of people wanting to meet with me to discuss their startup and help them get introductions to people I know. This is partly due to my profile in building the Australian tech community, my involvement in the DataPortability Project, and my most recent initiative the StartupBus which I launched in 2010 as an entrepreneur development program and with its success I now hope to turn into a qualified community of entrepreneurs (more on that another time).

By being made a scout, I’m now going to be able to direct people to Angel List and formally provide social proof to the investors who want to know more about the startups applying. I won’t be investing in the startups that apply, but I can provide recommendations to people who will.

I don’t get paid for this. Actually, I don’t get any benefit from doing it, other than the satisfaction of helping people like future entrepreneurs and my friends at Angel List. But hopefully, I can now make my interactions with people more valuable as I have a direct connection with what I believe could transform Silicon Valley and consequently the world one day.

So if you have a pitch, go ahead and fill out the form – add my name in the referred field and they will circle back with me for my opinion (currently free-form text, but it will soon be a drop down). Also, if you want to be visible to me when applying, you have to choose me from the “angel picker” when me apply. I’ll try my best to make coffee time for as many entrepreneurs as possible who stop by San Francisco, as I have been in the last year and a half since moving to America.

Update January 2 2011: I just got told that “as a scout, you can see, vote, and comment on startups that have chosen to be visible to you. So you do have some real powers in influencing the investors on the site and crowdvoting up the good startups”. So once again I can’t *do* anything that will get you funded, but I can help 🙂