GLASS HALF FULL
Yahoo! wireless maven and uber-blogger Russell Beattie put up a provocative post titled "Where's the Ambition?" a few days ago, ranting about all the dozens of Web 2.0 companies that have been popping up like new rabbits on a rabbit farm.
Whether he means it, or is just griping to provoke a reaction, it's a post worth reading. It certainly has generated a fair amount of discussion, given the 60 or so comments on the post to date.
At the very least, he breaks down the current crop of new companies into eight categories. And then goes onto to complain about each. It's very much a "glass half empty" kind of discussion.
I've already posted about interesting Web 2.0 companies by categories of my choosing in the past, which you're welcome to review here.
But as I think about Russell's categories, the glass has barely begun to fill. It's a very exciting time. There are already examples of new companies or new services by existing companies that are very useful, and have a promise to really thrill down the road. Companies that thrill is something I've posted about before.
In each of the categories listed by Russell (in quotes below), I can already name at least one example of a company that is doing some serious lifting, in terms of the complexity and promise of the service being provided. Each of these companies' service is already eye-opening in terms of it's uniqueness, even though most are in very early beta releases with much more development to come.
I'll likely change the picks in each category as time goes on. To make it easy to find, I'm tagging this post with the "Russell's Web 2.0 Rant Rebuttal" category.
Let's start off with...
1. "Scrape Engines - These are the little search sites focusing on one niche or another. They’re not full-on Search Engines that crawl the entire web and add value by allowing us all to make order from the massive chaos that is the web, they rob value from other sites by crawling them to death and stealing most of the vital information, returning very little. I’m sure there’s some sort of justifiable symbioses here for some, but most are just leaches, IMHO."
POTENTIAL THRILLER: While many of companies that do this are guilty as charged, there are a promising new companies that could actually take the readership, economics and circulation of the exploding number of blog (of every type), to a whole new level.
First, I'll acknowledge the sites that have given this category a bad name. Do a Google search for splogs and you find dozens of entries explaining how the new form of "spam blogs" (thus "splogs") are the next most evil thing in the world of blogs after spam comments and trackbacks. As a recent Wikipedia entry explains:
"There is frequent confusion between the terms "Splog" and "Link spam". "Splogs" are blogs where actual articles are spam, whereas "Link Spam" refers to only spam in the comments of a blog article.
"Splog" does not include random comments on the blogs of innocent bystanders, that is "Link spam" or "comment spam". "Link spam" takes advantage of a site's ability to allow visitors to post links. A blog that posts its own spam is a form of Spamdexing that is now called a Splog."
But like viruses in the real world, some strains mutating out of this wild and woolly world of rapidly evolving automated technology to index elements of blogs, re-package them, and then re-present them to the blog-reading audience.
SOME of these new companies are making the morass of blog content far more accessible and readable.
I'll call these companies "Blog Processors".
A great example is Memeorandum, unveiled a few weeks ago, and already taking the blog world by storm. The startup currently focuses on two categories of blogs, politics and technology, crawling them real-time and re-presenting them by the topics that get most blogged about in a day, with a very readable array of blog entries from different blogs. The whole thing is constantly re-ranked based on the popularity of the topic and the specific entries.
The site is already changing the habits of this blog reader and many other bloggers, relying on it more everyday. I'm aware of a few more startups that are focusing on the same opportunity, taking the enormous amount of "peer produced" content on the web and making it more discoverable by a broader, more mainstream audience. So stay tuned for more of these "Blog Processors".
Onto the next category...
2. "Mashed Ups - Yes, it’s so neat you can add a free map to your database of geo-data. Good for you. Thank Google for giving god-knows-how-much money to Navteq for you every time you query their data and render a map. Even the GOOG can only throw so much money out the window for so long, so I wouldn’t plan on that lasting very long. If you’re doing the Mash-up for fun, that’s cool. But be honest, you’re not really creating much value are you? Yes, sometimes the sum of parts can be greater than the whole, but that’s really not the case here."
POTENTIAL THRILLER: The company I'd nominate here is "Trulia", a real estate site that's does mashup Google Maps, and combines it with real estate listings from across the web. Using an approach similar to other P2P vertical search companies like Indeed (in the Jobs category), the utility of Trulia is evident on the first search you do with your zip code.
The results provide listings in your area culled from real estate sites across the web, with far more ability to screen the data than any site I've seen to date. For example, besides providing the usual sorting by number of bedrooms, the site also lets you cull the results by the square feet of the house you're looking for.
It also provides recent transactions in the area, and average comparison ratios on various metrics for the market you're interested in.
The site is young and only has data for the west coast to start, with more states to be added soon. One can easily see this site as being a "must-go-to" site on real estate queries.
Next Russell category...
3. "Web Trapps - AJAXy, Tagged and Shared: Calendaring, To Do Lists, Email, Notes, Word Processors, Project Management, Databases, and anything to do with Getting Things Done. Have fun with all that, but 99.9% of the people out there will still be using Microsoft Office and Yahoo! (Yes, my employer, but I’d say that anyways.) Really. Look, I don’t *trust* your site to keep my personal (and definitely not my professional) data safe, okay, and I’m not going to change my daily habits to include a site that may disappear from the face of the Earth tomorrow. And I could participate in the whole collective intelligence part, but then I’ll just abandon you if you “go commercial” then as well."
4. "Social Anything - Look, you’re not going to be another del.icio.us alright? And News Corp is the last company to ever pay that much money for a Social Networking site. Ever. (Yes, that includes you too, FaceBook). And you know how I’ll find that podcast, song, movie or other digital content I’m looking for? I’ll probably just ask a friend, search for a reviews, browse iTunes, or buy whatever is marketed at me like everyone else."
POTENTIAL THRILLER: This category is way too new...no one despite their head start has a "lock" on the entrenched leader spot, MySpace and Delicious notwithstanding. I'd already point to Flock as the one to watch here, even though the first almost alpha "beta" version being less than thrilling to date. On the tagging front, I've posted about Yahoo!'s "My Web" service as already being very useful, along with Delicious as well.
5. "Phile Sharing - Oh my god! Stop with the photo sharing sites already! An honestly, if you describe your site like, “It’s like Flickr, but with [insert file type here]” then you’ve got serious problems. No, really. No, no, really."
POTENTIAL THRILLER: For an "out of the box" approach to P2P file sharing utility, check out Foldershare. It allows you to constantly keeps files synchronized amongst multiple computers, anywhere in the world, regardless of operating system. And it's still an early release! It's already become one of the first five applications I install on any new computer I get.
If it's photo related thrill you want, check out Riya.com. An out-of-the-box approach to organizing and sharing photos. Again, an early beta.
6. "Content Management Saturation - There shall only be one Wikipedia, and it’s free. There’s about as many blog and wiki software platforms as there needs to be. Generally, I think at this point, the world does not need another CMS solution. Maybe in a few years, but right now we really have what we need."
POTENTIAL THRILLER: Check out Answers.com if you haven't already...it's been around a while, but getting better everyday.
If it's a non-profit thriller you seek, check out Kiva.org, a whole new take on micro-giving.
7. "RSS Holes - RSS is a pretty great technology, but really, how many more startups munging RSS feeds do we need? Google and Yahoo! are already doing RSS Search, so there’s probably better ways to spend your efforts on that front. And if your service is described like, “We take the RSS feeds and do [insert cool sounding agent/filtering/analysis technology here]” you’re in trouble. Yet, though Bloglines has barely touched their feature set in over a year, no one seems to be able to come up with a decent competitor in terms of functionality and usefulness (and ability to read via mobile) - that I don’t get."
POTENTIAL THRILLER: For all the complaints about Bloglines (mine included), I still think it's a pretty amazing service. It remains one of my "must install" applications for over a year now. More innovation is inevitable here though, from Bloglines and/or others.
8. "Firefoxing - Umm, I like FireFox as much as the next geek. But if you’re creating enhancements to a browser with a 7% marketshare, god knows what you or your investors are thinking."
POTENTIAL THRILLER: You've got to think beyond the browser Russell...there are examples of must have browser enhancements regardless of the browser used. My "must have" service here is the "oldie but still thrilling goodie", "My Yahoo! toolbar". It's the one Batman would pick as his "Bat-toolbar".
There it is...my utterly subjective list of potential thrillers in each of these categories. The picks will change as time goes on, but they already make these categories more than a passing fad. Check them out if you haven't.
If you have other suggestions for any of these categories, please do let me know in the comments.