I read the New York Times’s Hundreds of Start-Ups Hope to Be a Copycat Start-Up and very nearly climbed through the screen to express my dismay with the blog entry, which is an exceptionally uninspired piece that seeks to convince me that startups think of nothing new.
The blog entry laments — and I choose “laments” based on the lede where he describes many new companies as “astoundingly unoriginal” — that entrepreneurs tend to think of ideas that echo existing successes. As I pointed out myself a few days ago, it’s good to have a quick description. (A commenter says it even better: Just because Chipotle could be described as Starbucks with tacos doesn’t mean it’s not a bad business plan.) But there are even better reasons, not the least of which is that evolution is a heck of a lot faster than making life from scratch. “We point at the successes as inevitable and forget those slight variations that, for timing or luck or skill, didn’t make it,” said another commenter. (I thought comments were supposed to always be lame?)
Indeed, venture capital has funded many astonishing successes that threw a twist on something that didn’t go well the first time (or the fiftieth), such as Google following Alta Vista.
I’ll count myself as among those who misunderstood an opportunity because of my eagerness to say it had already been done. Not only did I once upon a time say we didn’t need Google because we had Alta Vista (smart one, there), I also said we didn’t need Instagram because we had flickr.
Yet PlanetAll begat SixDegrees begat Friendster begat Myspace begat Facebook. It may be true that, as it reads in Eccelesiastes, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” But it’s another thing entirely to equate that with failure. What has succeeded before may do so again, in part and in whole, and what failed may not.
I’m learning now to remember without scorn. Business need not be novel to be a new opportunity.
We are all moviemakers now, something I discover again every time I talk to IT managers who are trying to sort out how to use video media effectively in supporting workers and customers. Last night, I had the privilege of inquiry with an Australian client in government that is trying to sort out how best to get video training and executive messaging to workers and constituents distributed across that massive continent.
They’re just getting started, and weren’t aware of the extraordinary video “Dumb Ways To Die,” which accompanied an Australian safety campaign. (Safe for work? Well, if you can watch South Park in your cube, yeah.) But being a moviemaker doesn’t just mean being an entertainer — it also means being an editor, a customizer, a developer and an interaction design specialist. Making video, my clients tell me, takes far longer than making a text or a graphical message. More impact? Absolutely. But something like 5x or 10x the time to get there.
One key concern they have is the ability to make videos for custom markets, with either internal or external use in mind. Language-specific talk tracks are an issue they raise, as are swappable elements to address aging of some video elements (parts naming, say) while other elements remain evergreen (such as product usage). They want the ability to have videos be parallel tracked for decomposition and dynamic redesign, which of course is easy to do — for creative professionals who make movies and music, and work in software designed to generate canonical, final drafts, rail journeys that are repeatable and predictable.
(Image courtesy of flickr user Daniel Zimmerman, whose content is tagged as OK to use thus.)
My colleague Adam Preset and I took a briefing from Equilibrium this week; the most interesting part was the discussion about the multi-tracking and swapping of video elements or sub-elements as necessary to keep them fresh. I can’t imagine that most organizations have the sophistication to treat video the way they might code development — I dealt with Service-Oriented Architecture in the early 2000s, so I have some sense of the difficulty of making the transition to dynamic thinking — but it’s a necessary capability for some.
Many clients wonder when dynamic translation will happen to allow them to record once and speak anywhere, and recent developments imply that’s getting better. Language flexibility, for now, means different audio tracks, sometimes by the dozen for global organizations. And then there’s different messages, different devices for consumption, differing lengths for different audiences. Such capabilities demand new ways of thinking about content and messaging.
Last night, I dropped by the Pitch Fest & Fest at TechSandbox, a (fairly) new accelerator in Hopkinton, near where I live. People with new ideas got 180 seconds to pitch a business idea. I had also recently attended and judged at a business plan contest at Worcester’s The Venture Forum. Here’s my advice for anyone getting ready to deliver a sharp pitch, based on what I have seen work.
Focus on the audience’s expectations. What works is telling the audience what it needs to hear. If it’s angels, tell them why your product is the one that will make them rich. If it’s venture capitalists, explain what your success arc will look like so they know you fit their target investment style. Analysts want to understand who uses you and why. Prospects need a call to action.
Set the context. Choose data evidence that touches what you do, even if it’s not a perfect match. Last night, one entrepreneur selling a wound evaluation product told us how many people have chronic wounds. It’s not a marketing plan, but this is short form. Don’t tell us how many people there are with PC’s; do tell us how many of them buy a new one every year.
Express why you care. I see the advice everywhere, and I add my voice. Why should anyone believe you’ll stick with this? A woman pitching the ability to make customized jeans explained that she has a condition that results in persistent body asymmetry. A good friend of mine from school has started ShugaTrak to help people know that people they care about with diabetes are doing their tests. People he loves are diabetic. When he says he wants to help, he means it.
Draw a comparison. You see mockery of Hollywood pitches all the time: “This movie will be like ‘Being John Malkovich’ meets ‘Alien.’ ” But story pitching in the entertainment business is the very definition of economy of expression. Last night, the guys at Trilio Data gave us a bunch of very interesting slides with lots of information that I was enjoying crunching mentally — but then, I’m an analyst. Then they said, “It’s like [Apple's] Time Machine, but for your applications and their workflows.” Or, something like that. Know what I heard? ” ‘Time Machine’ for the enterprise.” That I get.
Say what you’ll sell. When I started at Web Week magazine in 1996 (ouch!), I asked my editor, the redoubtable Robert Hertzberg, what business reporters could ask when they didn’t know what to ask. One thing he said is to always ask, “What is your business model?” I heard too many pitches last night that didn’t tell me where the money comes from. Always tell us where the revenue is.
It’s been a while since I blogged. (OK, four years.) I’m back. Thanks for reading.
Many of my colleagues sort of threw up their hands at the Google announcement. (You can find a somewhat running summary of our thoughts, including many other blog posts, on an earlier posting from this blog. A First Take slouches toward publication as I write.) They felt, all but in unison, that a simple blog entry is a ridiculous indicator of a strategic direction with — frankly — global implications for the future of many companies, Microsoft included. More, even, than the blog entry, they felt that media reaction implied a slow news day. Sarah Palin was no doubt delighted she had picked the comparatively sleepy holiday weekend to drop her own farewell-for-now message into public discourse, as it meant over-the-shoulder graphics of the Google and Microsoft’s logos crossing swords were no threat.
But — BUT! — I need to respectfully disagree.
One of the things that Google has failed at dismally from time to time is communication of its plans and efforts. Not so much the Wave-style announcements, where they turn up in your breakfast cereal with an announcement that sets the technological world aflame with hype, so much as the failure to provide them. Ask Microsoft or Oracle or IBM what they’re going to do in the next generation of a product and they are likely to tell you. As an open source community and they’ll give you the email address for the key developers and a list of their goals. Ask Google, and sometimes all you get is the sound of waves sloshing up and down inside an ocean borne electrical generator.
Yes, the blog entry is talking about something that probably won’t be real for quite a while — shipping on devices in 2010, impact in enterprises later, circa 2012. But it is better for Google to tell us — and you — what it is doing than that it continue to labor in the server pits, splurting out occasional gouts of slag and plumes of gold all a-sparkle. (For example, I respectively think here of the first generation of Google enterprise search, an ASP model that cratered in the early 2000s, and Picasa, which is a thing of beauty where I squirrel all my images.)
One blog entry will not be enough to satisfy the community of peerers and observers we analysts and our constituents represent. But its existence — the idea that Google owes its vast prospect base transparency of strategy and detail of tactics before they become fact, is an extremely good sign. The key is to adopt an intelligent perspective on Google’s communications. (We can help with that. Sorry, that’s my rent-paying gene talking.)
Gartner’s redoubtable Bill Gassman has published a new research note on Google Analytics. It’s a lengthy, careful, detailed look at the Google Analytics product that serves as an effective window into the state of the current Web site analytics market. (Warning on that click — Bill’s note is behind the paywall. Sorry, folks; that’s how we pay the rent here.)
Gassman’s note is worth considering in the context of the Chrome OS announcement for a number of reasons. Let’s look at how Google Analytics fits into the recent history of site tracking analysis and other research:
1. Google started out slow. “…the initial offering was primitive when compared to commercial, subscription-based competition…” writes Gassman of Google Analytics in his extended review of its value, which tracks to other Google products I have dealt with, including the search appliance (which was extremely primitive when it launched, but which did what many enterprises needed done). Google likes to let functionality sort of trickle into a product to add flexibility in a kind of reverse fossilization.
That’s not going to be OK with an operating system. Yes, Ray points out (along with many others) that it’s a New Kind of of OS, but it will need to be highly stable and mature. No one wants a wonky operating system. Perhaps Chrome (the browser) was the necessary scaffolding on which Google will have developed its strategic direction. If not, and even to some degree if so, releasing an operating system is a significantly different commitment to releasing an email service that doesn’t exit beta for a long time.
2. As Google Analytics matured, many felt the site analytics business was so totally done. When I started at Gartner, we agreed that site analytics would become part of business intelligence, and so it did. Nevertheless, there was room and has been room for many new perspectives to emerge on Web site analytics, from action-oriented systems like Baynote to ASP-centric solutions. OS’s looked pretty done, but obviously there’s ample space for another kind of OS, whether you want to characterize it as a cloud OS or a network-centric one or – and here my skepticism, cynicism and opportunistic bent will out — an advertising-friendly one.
3. Disruption is certain. “Competition is driving Google Analytics forward and forcing competitors to innovate at the high-end of the Web analytics market,” Bill writes. In enterprise search, the Google appliance line served to force a final evolution of less-functional, inexpensive products — and dragged giant Microsoft into the business to customers’ likely benefit. Google outsold all comers for a significant period of time, and now Microsoft — no bit player in the OS drama — is responding through a mature, intelligent search strategy targeted at similar customers and more strategic opportunities as well.
Certainly, Google’s institutional patience will be tested as the drumbeat of competition for Chrome OS builds ahead of its release, and as vendor impatience for an effective foil for Microsoft (and Linux, too) also swells. Chrome will demand it address its practices differently and with new kinds of initiative.
It will come as no surprise to our clients or fans (we have fans!) that our internal discussion process is fecund but sometimes a tad groping. I’m looking at a 90+ message thread view of our (main) email conversation on Google Chrome OS that contains terse pith from some colleagues and scrollworthy analysis from others. While we’re working on how best to distill this into our lamentably brief First Take format and notes beyond that, I’m going to take a moment to mash this up into a collection of issues we are internally mulling.
1. Chrome OS, as proposed in Google’s spare blog entry, is not like any OS that has preceded it from a major vendor. One analyst puts this as “this is not your father’s operating system,” and the use of the trope made famous by the Oldsmobile ad featuring Lisa Marie Presley (oh sigh!) is a shortcut that is useful mainly as shorthand, but which stops short of insight. To take it farther, the point — as Ray Valdes expressed it to me this afternoon when I interviewed him for the First Take we are developing with Mike Silver and dozens of analysts’ input and review — is that Chrome OS is proposed as a vessel that is deeply associated with its contents.
I have tried to find the proper metaphor for this. (I am a literature major and I survive at Gartner and in IT on such somewhat reductive but fanciful thinking.) In essence, the idea is that Chrome OS presents a means of establishing stability and predictability that guarantees Chrome will always have a home within which it can serve users. The biology buff might see this as a sort of constructionist commensalism. In commensalist relationships, one species benefits from the relationship, and the other doesn’t much care. The Chrome browser would always benefit from Chrome OS, but the Chrome OS doesn’t get much benefit from the browser.
Why would this matter? Well, for one thing, it means that the Chrome Browser needs to be able to live as many places as possible. It is already an OS-like browser, as Ray explained in his own excellent (and less fanciful) blog entry. Such a development will come as no surprise to those who remember the fact that Netscape, as combined with Sun’s Java, was perceived as the very hopeful creation of a similar kind of commensalist relationship — client-side Java could live in Netscape or in other Java virtual machines. Java would always have the safety of the Netscape browser to retreat to, not unlike the clown fish can always retreat to anemones. (Whew. Got outta that metaphor with all my fins intact.)
2. Chrome OS is currently what I think one might charitably call “postware,” as in “software which primarily is represented to the public as a concept described in a blog post.” I wanted to call it “blogware,” but Wikipedia says that’s one way of describing stuff you’d use to make blogs with.
There is nothing wrong with describing a piece of software in a blog post. I noted in my own post on this particular issue that there are at least two good reasons to inform everybody with access to the Internet why you are starting a new operating system. My colleague Mark Stahlman — who has astonishing depth in the impacts of technology companies’ actions on public markets — pointed out today in an internal meeting that by telegraphing their plan to create a free operating system (NEW OS TO COME SOONEST STOP TELL WORLD STOP STILL WRITING IT FULL STOP), Google immediately puts pressure on Microsoft’s ability to command the price it will want to get from its partners for Windows 7 installations. And lo! Google itself has told us in its Google Chrome OS FAQ that it intends to work with, at least, “Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba.” There’s nine vendors who will feel a little more comfortable waiting two or three rings before they pick up when the Caller ID shows a Redmond number than felt that way before that FAQ went up.
But postware brings with it some serious issues. Our advice is not crystallizing around any sort of frantic reaction to Google Chrome OS, especially for company IT people. I looked at our research last night (I love working here), and we rarely counsel people to skip OS generations because of the increased cost of leapfrogging. Meanwhile, Ray’s saying it’s going to be three years, at least, before this has any impact in the average enterprise. And yet our own phones blew off the cradles when Google posted the blog entry. The media, at least, is excited about the possibility of resurrecting the Operating System Wars (note to music: cowbell here).
It’s just a blog post, so far. Reading my colleagues’ emails, I can tell you we’re fascinated by the very real possibility that something profound has changed. We see the potential for a lightweight OS that is mostly — well, probably TOTALLY — intended to support Web use as empowering a category of fantastical devices that Yefim Natis termed “browser appliances.” Such appliances, in just my opinion (not the company’s or any other analyst’s), would serve Google as a means of getting advertising umpty-bazillion places it isn’t right now. I see them on digital signage; I see them in toasters; I see them in shower TV’s.
But it’s all just a blog post. For now, it’s an energizing and exciting moment when we have nothing but the idea of a new operating system and a new browser from a popular company with bulging freighters loaded with cash circling the globe. But it’s just a blog post, and for many analysts, that alone is enough to demand not just caution, but active and intense skepticism.
3. There are a lot of reasons to start over with operating systems. Existing operating systems demand a bunch of electricity (at least collectively) and cooling systems. Ray did a back-of-the-email envelope calculation on what kind of code silhouette Google Chrome OS could present to manufacturers, and there’s the potential of a significant reduction in size, on the order of one-tenth the size of Windows 7, or about the size of Windows 3.1 NT. As Yefim Natis said, Google doesn’t want to battle Windows in its fortress redoubts; it simply wants to render them less relevant. And as Brian Gammage wrote tonight, Microsoft is far from intending to stand still.
Some analysts like to characterize this as a necessary element in what they see as the opportunity to create a “cloud operating system,” which is referenced in our written research mostly (as of this instant) in the context of Windows Azure. I couldn’t be happier than to tell you that I am weak personally on cloud computing, (do you see my literature degree? here, let me hold it up higher, above my political science degree) and when you combine that with operating system discussions, I skid fast. Let’s put it like this: If you, the user, can get to the cloud and orchestrate computing within it such that it can combine your identity, the application elements you need and the data to which you have the privilege of access, then it’s all good.
But technology is just the start of the reasons for having an alternative to Windows (and for that matter, Linux). Money’s also a factor. As Leslie Fiering pointed out, manufacturers are tired of paying a tithe to Redmond every time they want to sell users another device that runs useful software. At the best, an effective OS alternative would free them from the tax altogether. That’s not likely for a very, very long time, because as another colleague pointed out (not in contradicting anyone — just raising the issue) the substantial majority of client apps were written to run on Windows and its variants — not in the cloud. At the worst, though, Chrome OS would pressure Microsoft to charge less for Windows. Remember what Mark pointed out way the heck back up this sprawling entry — Chrome OS can attenuate Microsoft’s pricing power even while it is still “postware.” (Gotta trademark that.)
Let’s assemble all of this, now. (Remember: Analysts are skeptics for a living.)
1. Chrome OS is, as described, an operating system of an entirely new kind.
2. Chrome OS currently only can be detected in the actual world via a few posts on official blogs by one of the most powerful and popular companies in the world.
3. The idea of a new kind of operating system is extremely exciting for lots of reasons that are probably invisible to non-IT folks but aren’t to us (nor to you, probably, dear Reader), which is why we’re here to help companies understand how to translate those technological shifts into business opportunities.
So, this is how the story now reads: In a blog post, Google is describing a new kind of operating system with very spare functionality that as a result could have a very, very small footprint in a device and could profoundly change the market.
As the lead analyst for Google at Gartner, it is my responsibility to watch over our coverage and understand how we examine this massively complex, massively ambitious software vendor. My colleague Ray Valdes is the sort of person one desperately looks to at a time like this. He has posted his opinion of Chrome OS on his blog. It’s my hope we’ll see more from him, and Gartner currently intends a First Take on this topic next week. The fact is that blog entries are easier to write than First Takes, and Ray’s opinion is very important. I am consequently extremely pleased that we have it. Nick Jones has added his take now — less technical and broad, and more admonitory and suaisive. I’ll look to mention my colleagues’ posts as they also come up. We have a special Google community meeting planned for the near future; some people are carving time out of vacations and such. If I can share insight from that, I will — or the participants will.
My background is in journalism, and my degree is in political science and literature. Consequently, I always wonder about the timings of announcements. (Did you notice that Sarah Palin dropped her bombshell last weekend going into a holiday weekend?) Google is apparently doing this now in part because the press started to scoop it (nice to see there’s life in the New York Times yet, youngsters). But the spin in the Times is that, among other things, Android wasn’t built for netbooks, and Google Chrome will be.
1. Google is announcing Chrome OS now because it wants to stop developers from using good-enough technology it has developed and instead to wait for better technology. A blog post on the Google blog is far more effective than any Big Campaign to call people on their little Google phones, or whatever the cognoscenti use now. (iPhones? Like I would know.) (See also, No More Big Launches, Please.)
Now, like any big decision, there have to be other factors. In this case, Google adores making mischief with Microsoft. And Microsoft plans soon to kick Windows 7 out of the nest and into the Big Bad World. Our research no doubt already details how that’s affecting PC sales (I can’t read everything, people) and Windows OS revenue, but at the very least, the Chrome OS announcement puts Microsoft in the position of needing to talk more about Gazelle, which Ray gets at a bit in his above-linked post. Even better for Google would be if Microsoft chose not to talk much about Gazelle, for fear of confusing the consumer market and delaying their interest in Windows 7 — which in turn would leave them mum on Gazelle and talking about 7 to keep cash flow clear, but make them look like fuddy-duddies.
2. Google is announcing Chrome OS now because it relishes the idea of derailing Windows 7 sales and forcing Microsoft to talk more about Gazelle.
I’ll think of more reasons, I bet, and so will you.
I gotta admit I had to read this remarkable blog entry on philosophy and e-discovery multiple times and I will probably do it again. The entry at times reads like the most self-conscious columns I wrote in college for the college newspaper, including dismal ruminations on afternoon sunlight and…OK, don’t go look them up, please? However, it’s also got sections like this:
Specifically, as Law updates to keep pace with emergent technology, I believe that supplying a linguistic framework to help make sense of its language artifacts is crucial. Terms like ‘knowledge’, ‘belief’ and ‘reasonable’ are not benign. Nor are they clear. Historically, outside of law, these terms have received extensive attention and analysis, chiefly within the area of philosophy called epistemology: essentially, the study of the nature, scope and limitations of knowledge. There, ‘knowledge’ has been understood according to types and conditions – not any single-sentence definition.
Not to put too fine a point on it, this is righteous thinking. Every profession appropriates the generalist vocabulary of its languages (and typically mainly its primary language) to create a subvocabulary which it then defends ferociously like the purist community it is. This post artfully if sometimes floriferously (look that up in your Flog and Wagnall’s) points to the challenges that we all face. Gartner is always careful about pointing out that we don’t give legal advice, and I am sure that sometimes, at least, lawyers wish they could do the same. One reason for that is that we ourselves are regularly at work in the linguistic mines, carving out our own terminologies. Try the notion of “search” in law and “search” in IT, for example.
E-discovery is veined with deceptive veins of intellectual assumption. When a “reasonable man” uses Google to find a pizza joint near the courthouse, what will “reasonable” then mean in the rules of civil procedure in states, at the magistrates’ courts, in The Hague and in the break room? We’re still sorting it out, same as Socrates.
There you are, minding your own business, and somebody Amazons you before you can even finish installing all the Starbucks cafes to establish the value of your bricks-and-mortar operations. That going to happen to real estate agents? Not if they move fast. But Google’s shoring up its efforts around real estate. Here are the results for the query “shrewsbury, ma rentals”. From the annals of business: Classified Ads deboned by Craigslist. Bob’s Bookstore deboned by Borders which is deboned by Amazon (for a while — it’s resurgent, I hear).
I’ll say it until I’m hoarse. A company with the power Google has will fail to recognize the destructive potential of its own power unless it codifies a consicence. Google must get an ombudsman or face the potential of losing its precious users’ trust.
Remember the summer of Star Wars? We geeks were the ones who went more than once, or at least that’s how I remember it. Close Encounters was thinkier. Grownups went to see that on purpose. I only saw The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi once each, but I remember there being much excitement. Girls were drawn in with the Ewoks, and I think there is no genderism in remembering that the Ewoks made it a date movie where Empire failed.
Anyway, one of the most wonderful themes of the last 20 years has been the long, slow triumph of geeks of many kinds in many walks of American and global life. The Internet, Apple, Microsoft, miniaturization and mobile technology, the rise of the PC game and computer game — all these have reflected the success of geek culture and geek cred, and for the most part the people who take advantage of it have included increasingly large segments of civilians.
I remember when I went to visit a university that I was appalled by what I saw as the precise and lengthy waste of time a chorale singer’s group engaged in on stage. I saw it as ornamented absurdity. (I was a fan of The Doors at the time.)
Now I see its beauty. (I’m a fan of Sweet Honey in the Rock, for heaven’s sake. Who coulda seen THAT coming?) There’s an inspired geekiness in any trade that is adopted by few and whose fans don’t number that much more than its practitioners.
Here’s a friend’s blend of the two. Krista Lang Blackwood, the artistic director of Octarium, provides this properly cited version of Star Wars lyrics and combined Star Wars music in what I would have to call a fine geek classic that will surely introduce many Star Wars fans to exceptional singing and presumably will introduce the last two singing fans in the word who are not Star Wars-literate to the franchise.
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