What Apple Knows That Facebook Doesn’t

What Apple Knows That Facebook Doesn’t.

Business week has an interesting article on the economics of platforms. Interesting, but flawed. They compare two platforms (Facebook, and Apple’s mobile platform). The argument goes roughly as follows: Apple is using it’s platform to create a new market by being open and Facebook is using traditional methods of using the market as a control point. Apple is creating an open market and Facebook is making an open market more closed. The author even goes as far as to associate the keywords good and evil here.

The article is flawed because in fact Apple is not creating an open market. They have been removing applications that don’t fit their business model (e.g. anything VOIP related) and are still keeping people from writing about the APIs because NDA has not been lifted yet. Apple is acting as a dictator here. That it is a mostly benevolent one doesn’t matter. It doesn’t sound very open to me in any case. Or very new.

Sure, their platform is pretty nice and their online shop pretty usable. That’s definitely disruptive to the mobile industry, which is not used to good quality platforms and well designed use-cases such as online shops for applications. However, there’s a pretty big market for mobile applications and most people writing for the iphone don’t do so exclusively and instead target multiple mobile platforms. You can download several VOIP applications for S60 or mobile windows and other platforms, as well as numerous games, productivity apps, etc. Then there is J2ME of course with a few billion phones in the market right now. You might say it is crappy but it has a huge reach. Incidentally, Apple also blocks components from their shop that would enable people to run J2ME applications since an open source Java platform has in fact been ported long before Apple even ‘opened’ up their platform. That’s right, a good old case of reverse engineering. Apple’s platform is quite unique in the sense that people were developing for it long before Apple decided to hand out developer kits.

Facebook indeed is also not very open but they were first to a market that they created, which is pretty big by now. As a viral way of spreading new services to users it is pretty much unrivaled so far. It is Google that has created a competition for more openness with their Open Social platform, which is in many ways similar but has open specifications and may be implemented freely by other social networks. Both Google and Facebook have a very similar centralized identity model that is designed to lock users into their mutual platforms (Google Friends Connect & Facebook Connect). Google is maybe being somewhat more smart about it but they are after the same things here: making sure trafic flows through their services so that they can sell ads.

So, Facebook’s model is advertisement driven and Apple’s business is operator driven. Apple makes most of their money from deals with operators who subsidize iphones and give Apple a share of the subscription revenue. That’s brilliant business and Apple protects it by removing any application from their shop that has conflicting interests with this revenue stream.

However, the key point of the article that the platform serves as a market creation tool is interesting. Apple managed to create an impressive amount of revenue (relative to their tiny market share of the overall mobile market) and Facebook has managed to create a huge market for Facebook applications. Both are being challenged by competitors who have no choice to be more open.

Interestingly, Google is competing on both fronts and can be seen as the primary threat to both Apple and Facebook’s platforms. Google could end up opening up the mobile market for real because it is not protecting any financial interests there but instead are trying to spawn a mobile internet market. Android is designed from the ground up to do just that. It needs to be good enough for developers, users and operators and Google has worked hard to balance interests enough so as to not alienate any of these.

All three are fighting for the favours of developers. Developers, developers, developers! (throws chair across the room & jumps like a monkey). That too is not new although Microsoft seems to have forgotten about them lately.

Wired 4.12: Mother Earth Mother Board

Intriguing phrase (about Alexandria’s lighthous) from an article (page 31) by Neal Stephenson from 1996:

The collapse of the lighthouse must have been astonishing, like watching the World Trade Center fall over. But it took only a few seconds, and if you were looking the other way when it happened, you might have missed it entirely – you’d see nothing but blue breakers rolling in from the Mediterranean, hiding a field of ruins, quickly forgotten.

Songbird Beta (0.7)

Songbird Blog » Songbird Beta is Released!.

Having played with several milestone builds of songbird, I was keen to try this one. This is a big milestone for this music player & browser hybrid. Since I’ve blogged on this before, I will keep it short.

The good:

  • New feathers (songbird lingo for UI theme) looks great. Only criticism is that it seems to be a bit of an iTunes rip off.
  • Album art has landed
  • Stability and memory usage is now acceptable for actually using the application
  • Unlike iTunes, it actually supports the media buttons on my logitech keyboard.

The bad (or not so good since I have no big gripes):

  • Still no support for the iTunes invented but highly useful compilation flag (bug 9090). This means that my well organized library is now filled with all sorts of obscure artists that I barely know but apparently have one or two songs from. iTunes sorts these into compilation corner and I use this feature to keep a nice overview of artists and complete albums.
  • Despite being a media player with extension support, there appears to be no features related to sound quality. Not even an equalizer. Not even as an extension. This is a bit puzzling because this used to be a key strength of winamp, the AOL product that the songbird founders used to be involved with.
  • Despite being a browser, common browser features are missing. So no bookmarks, no apparent RSS feed, no Google preconfigured in the search bar, etc. Some of these things are easily fixed with extensions.

Verdict: much closer than previous builds but still no cigar. Key issue for me is compilation flag support. Also I’d really like to see some options for affecting audio playback quality. I can see how having a browser in my media player could be useful but this is not a good browser nor a good media player yet.

Vacation photos

I’ve uploaded the photos from my recent vacation in Spain. Earlier, I posted an overview of the places I’ve visited so I won’t repeat that here. I took quite a bit of photos and filled both 1GB SD cards I have.

Of course, I took lots of nice panorama photos as well. The latter have also been added to my special stitched photo album where you can admire them in slightly higher resolution. Too bad I don’t have the bandwidth + space to put them up in full resolution. For example the one below is originally 18319×2191 pixels wide and composed of no less than 11 8 megapixel photos and the jpeg is 40 MB. The level of detail is amazing. WordPress is sadly messing up the aspect ratio but if you click on it you should see it properly.

Indie Social Networking

I have this page elsewhere on this site where I try to keep track of various accounts I have with social networks and other sites.  I updated it earlier today with some interesting additions.

It seems finally decentralized social networking is starting to happen. It’s all very low profile now but promising. It all started somewhere last week when I noticed that one of my colleagues, John Kemp was now micro blogging via something called identi.ca. I noticed this because his status in skype was telling me. Since we share similar interests in things like OpenID and a few other things, I decided to check it out. I never really bought into this twitter stuff and gave up on updating my Facebook status regularly long time ago. But this identi.ca looks rather cool, so I signed up.

It’s basically twitter minus some features (not yet implemented) with a few interesting twists:

  • You can sign in using OpenID
  • It’s open source. The software identi.ca is based on is called laconi.ca.
  • It’s completely open. It has all the hooks and obvious protocols implemented. For example, I microblog using a identi.ca contact in my jabber client (pidgin) over XMPP. There’s RSS and probably some more stuff.
  • Your friends info is available as FOAF, thus enabling Google’s Social Graph search to work with the data there and in other places (like e.g. your wordpress linkdump).
  • It’s decentralized, you can have laconi.ca friends on different servers. Like email, there is no need for everybody to be on the same server.
  • It’s written in PHP -> you can probably install it on any decent hosting provider you can now run your own microblog just like you can run your own blog.

Of course being low profile, there’s only the usual suspects active: i.e. people like me.

A second interesting site I bumped into is whoisi.com. It’s basically friendfeed or similar sites with a few interesting twists:

  • You don’t have to sign in or register. You just start using it.
  • In fact you can’t sign in and there’s little need because whoisi creates a nice account for you on the fly that you can access using the cookie it sets automatically or a url you can bookmark.
  • You can follow any person on the web and associate feeds with that person.
  • There’s no concept of your profile on whoisi. It’s simply a tool for following people, anonymously. They don’t even have to use whoisi in order for you to follow them.

It’s run by Christopher Blizzard who works at Mozilla. I’m not sure if he is doing this in his spare time or if this has a bigger Mozilla labs plan behind it. Either way, he’s a cool guy with good ideas obviously. Since whoisi didn’t know about me yet, I ended up following myself, which feels slightly hedonistic, and added most of the interesting feeds. Including of course my identi.ca feed.

It occurs to me that using identi.ca’s FOAF and Google’s Social Graph search, whoisi should be able to automatically find websites related to a person from a single url by just following the rel=me links that Google can produce and then any friends from the rel=friend links. Check out what Google finds out about me from providing www.jillesvangurp.com here.

This hooking up of simple building blocks is exactly the point of the decentralized social network. It’s nice to see some useful building blocks emerge that work towards making this happen. Basically, all the necessary building blocks are there already. From a single link it is possible to construct a very detailed view of what your friends are doing all over the web fully automatically. True all this is still a bit too difficult for the average user right now but I imagine that a bit of search and discovery magic would go a long way to making this just work on a lot of sites.

My former house

GeenStijl : ANP doet Google Earth na.

Ten years ago, I was a computer science student in Utrecht who was about to leave the Netherlands to live in Sweden. At the time, I had been living for about a year in a very spacious (50m2) attic room on a top location: Domplein, complete with nice view over the square.

A Dutch reporter took some photos from a balloon which gives a nice perspective on how nice this room was. I’ve highlighted which building was I lived in. The house, a four story monumental building was owned by a lawyer. The bottom floor was an apartment he rented out and he had converted the attic into two student apartments. The front apartment, which was the largest, was mine. The front two windows were both mine, as well as the little window on the side. Total rent was 675 guilders per month. Try find an apartment with that price in euros these days (at the moment of introduction, 1 euro was slightly overvalued at 2.2 Guilders). Anyway, at the time it seemed like a lot of money.

As you can see right next to my left there is a pretty big tower and half a cathedral. In fact this is the largest church tower in the Netherlands and you can read all about the missing half of the cathedral on wikipedia. It was noisy too, especially at night. But you stop noticing after some time.