Picks and shovels for the web

We have had quite a resurgence in the web market during the last few years.  A number of great companies have come out of nowhere to become household names, and it seems that everyday we are inundated with news on another slew of new web startups going after the consumer.  And yes, looking for the next YouTube or Facebook or Myspace is exciting.  Depsite all of that, the one area is that is not discussed much is the boring infrastructure market where companies sell the picks and shovels to allow these startups to run their operations.  And what could be more boring than talking about a database or data warehouse?  Anyway, I am glad that Don Clark of the Wall Street Journal wrote a nice article on a new breed of startups going after the database market.  Shamelessly, I would like to add that he has a nice writeup on Greenplum (full disclosure: my fund is an investor and i am a board member).

Granted, the opportunity to make money selling picks and shovels during this web resurgence is definitely much harder as developers typically go for free and cheap software and hardware to launch their new companies.  That being said, every click that we make is being stored somewhere and the companies who can better analyze this data to better monetize their sites will be the winners in the next phase of the web.  This is where Greenplum comes into play.  The company is not only playing off of the data volume and analysis trend but also the move towards commiditization.  As Don mentions in his article, the secret sauce is that our customers can deploy massive data warehouses using our software which is built on top of the open source database Postgres and deploy it on commodity boxes.  The benefit is not only in terms of cost but also in significant performance increases over the competition.  As per Don’s article today:

One user is iCrossing Inc., of Scottsdale, Ariz., which provides analytical services to companies that operate Web sites. Analyzing a day’s worth of some types of data once took 20 to 22 hours, said Tony Wasson, the company’s vice president of engineering. With Greenplum’s technology, and some modifications to its own software, the job now takes about an hour, he said.

Anyway, it is nice to see the mainstream press finally getting the fact that data and analytics matter. Yes, plumbing is boring, but without cost effective platforms which can scale and perform under heavy stress, we won’t be able to reach the full peak of monetization on the web.

Thoughts on OpenSocial

Tim O’Reilly has a great post on Google’s OpenSocial.  At the end of the day, I couldn’t agree more with Tim’s thoughts that OpenSocial is great for developers but a who cares for users. 

If all OpenSocial does is allow developers to port their applications more easily from one social network to another, that’s a big win for the developer, as they get to shop their application to users of every participating social network. But it provides little incremental value to the user, the real target. We don’t want to have the same application on multiple social networks. We want applications that can use data from multiple social networks.

Would OpenSocial let developers build a personal CRM system, a console where I could manage my social network, exporting friends lists to various social networks? No. Would OpenSocial let developers build a social search application like the one that Mark Cuban was looking for?  No.

I agree Tim.  OpenSocial is like Java for social networking apps-the promise of write once, run anywhere.  It goes back to my point I made in an earlier blog post – I am completely inundated now from requests from Facebook, LinkedIn, and now PlaxoPulse.  I am having a hard time keeping track of all of my contacts, messages, and the like.  It would be great if I could have a service that sat on top of these apps and allowed me to manage all of my relationships from one place.  Sure, some contacts may only be a Linked in contact, some may be a Facebook and LinkedIn, etc.  Check here if you want your music to be shared on this network and not the other one, etc.  You get the idea.  It is not hard to view this data in one place by sucking in RSS feeds from the various services but viewing it in one place vs. managing all of my relationships from one place are two different value propositions.  Jeff Nolan has a recent post about this as well.  Of course the challenge is that the value of these services is their proprietary networks which creates lock-in for the user.  Once users can export and manage that data and without visiting these various platforms then the service begins to lose its lock-in. We see this problem over and over again in many web services – the constant battle between closed and open standards and networks.  If you are the big guy, why bother.  If you are the small guy, it makes sense to join up with many of the other smaller players.  Anyway, enough digression here – I would love to hear your thoughts about how you are spending your time managing your various relationships across different networks and what you would like to see.

Wireless and the lowest common denominator

There is a ton of hype on the wireless front especially with the announcement of Android, the Google operating system for mobile phones.  I too am quite excited about the prospects of having applications that are written once on the Google OS that can be ported to any other phone on any other network that also supports the Google OS.  If any of you have developed apps in the wireless world, that is not exactly how it works as even apps built on the Java Micro Edition Platform need to be tweaked for different devices and different networks.  The idea of having phones and web-based apps that are truly easy to use and truly cross platform is a big one but the proof will be in the details.  The impact will be dependent on how many devices on how many networks that are truly open will be in the hands of the consumer.  In the short term, what Android really does is put pressure on the other wireless players like Nokia to respond.  All of this reminds me of an email that Michael Robertson (CEO of portfolio company Sipphone/Gizmo Project) just sent me.  UntitledIt represents the reality and the opportunity for wireless applications – the majority of people today only send SMS messages and a relative minority use their phones for mobile browsing, email, and other applications. Will easier to use phones, faster networks, and better applications change that?  I am sure that it will as users like my wife and her friends who are not the most technically savvy are starting to get iPhones and using it to post pictures to websites and view Youtube videos on the run. However, in the meantime, I would also remember that the lowest common denominator is still SMS so don’t forget that user base when building mobile apps like community based functions, social networking, games, advertising, etc. because that crowd is still dominating the here and now.