This post was spawned from a comment left at TechCrunch where the commenter had this to say about Meebo:
“Iâ€™m still curious how they plan to turn this into an actual business, and how they plan to deal with the non-existent barrier to entry in their space. I wish them the best of luck!”
I responded to that comment with this:
“Matt – the barrier to entry isnâ€™t trivial by any means. Interoperating with the major IM services (since they update their connection protocols often and like to lock-out 3rd parties) is a major pain, so these guys deserve all the credit theyâ€™re given.”
Many people feel as though all “web 2.0” companies with funny names are all in the same boat, but that’s certainly not the case. Lumping all the new companies together is probably bad for the whole, considering there are many companies doing amazing things but I’d say even more companies who will probably fail this year. Here are some separators/questions that I think all “web 2.0” companies should be analyzing and answering themselves:
Are we actually useful or just fun to play with?
Are we actually innovating or just mashing/copying?
Are there barriers to enter our market, or can anyone be us?
I like Meebo. I like the service they provide, and the 3-person team is really friendly and approachable. I had the good fortune of conversing with Seth via email and he asked me if I’d like to join the Meebo team as their lead visual designer. Although I’d really like to design/redesign Meebo and their services, the full-time job thing is just not my bag anymore. Here are my answers to the above questions regarding Meebo:
Meebo is actually useful, actually innovative, and there are barriers to enter the market. Meebo is incredibly useful — anyone who is away from their main computer, or spends the majority of their time somewhere else other than their house (people who work in offices, college and high school students, etc.) can use Meebo. I can’t even imagine how many thousands of students are on IM right now courtesy of Meebo. The company is innovating because interoperating with the various IM protocols is incredibly difficult, and because those protocols are often changed with no notice given to 3rd party clients, I’d say that Meebo has done a phenomenal job. There are barriers to enter the market, because for the most part the Meebo competitors are Java applet-based or are incredibly buggy from what I’ve seen, and Meebo’s infrastructure is elegant and smooth. With the hundreds of thousands of Meebo users online, I’m positive that their revenue model will present itself soon.
Analyzing 43 Things
43 Things is a site where people find and make lists of the goals and aspirations they have in their life. You pick “43 things” that you want to do, and then others can look at your goals and agree with yours or pick their own. I’ve been told that once you choose your 43 goals, you can’t pick any more — that seems kinda odd to me, but maybe they’ve changed that policy. An Amazon-backed creative team called The Robot Co-op put it together, and here are my answers to the same questions about 43 Things:
43 Things is fun to play with, mashing/copying, and has no barriers for entry. 43 Things isn’t useful in the sense that it lets you get anything done, but it is a ton of fun to play with it and see what other people want to do. I’ll call it a mashup because you’re essentially just adding/modifying/deleting tags and blog entries, and viewing other people’s tags and blog entries, but for 43 Things they’re all related to life goals. 43 Things is innovative in how they are remixing the idea of tagging, so they’re walking a fine line between innovation/mashup. There aren’t any barriers to enter this market, considering the Ruby on Rails framework provides easy methods of duplicating the 43 Things functionality for the most part.
Flock is an updated and refreshed version of the Firefox web browser that adds geeky built-in functionality to connect to weblog services, Flickr, Delicious, etc. They’re still in beta and for good reason — building on top of Firefox with totally custom development is going to take a lot of time to get right. Here are my answers for Flock:
Flock is fun to play with, actually innovative, and there are barriers to enter the market. Flock is useful to only a small percentage of the population, so for now I’ll say that simply fun to play with until tech-centric things like Delicious or blogging takes off for the majority of the population. Even though I harp on Flock a bit, I still think that what they’re doing is totally innovative and would never take that away from them. Modifying the entire source code of a web browser? Yeah, I’d say that’s a strong barrier.
Analyzing Online Calendars
Michael Arrington wrote last month about the “online calendar space” and how many new companies are being formed around this concept. While I’ve played with most of them, none of them look particularly novel or useful enough for me to use them everyday. Here are my answers:
Making The Bucks
There are essentially only two different revenue models affixed to new “web 2.0” companies: charge for a product or service, or give away the service and charge advertising (or both.) If you put together a service that is attractive and useful enough, the eyeballs will come and advertising dollars will follow — this seems to be the revenue model of choice for many new companies, and this is the saving grace for new “web 2.0” companies who put out a service that’s not useful or innovative, but is incredibly cool. People seem to like wasting their time learning more about other people’s aspirations, but if 43 Things charged for that service then it’d go down the tubes since it’s not useful. And therein is the cardinal sin of “web 2.0”: if a product/service is not useful, you cannot charge for it. My theory is that so many new “web 2.0” services are free because they know that they haven’t put together something useful enough to charge any money for it 🙂