Kevin Rose, Evan Williams and the Rise and Rise of the Product Factory

Sarah Lacy has written a great post on Kevin Rose’s new company. The former Digg founder is setting up Milk, a closed innovation shop that, counter to the current Silicon Valley driven incubator-trend, will focus internally on developing up a small number of big hairy audacious game changing products that use the mobile Internet as their enabler.

Firstly, I’d like to congratulate Kevin – I believe he has hatched an awesome plan. Why? He isn’t reliant on bringing on board a steady flow of ‘quality’ entrepreneurs and then melding them to create winners, instead he is using his nous and that of a hand-picked team of coders, thinkers and innovators to quickly iterate ideas and test their viability, pivoting and repurposing when necessary, but always moving forward with a portfolio of potential winners.

Secondly, I’d like to highlight that Sarah has quite rightly picked up on the similarities between Kevin and Evan Williams.

A few years back, Evan and I were having a series of discussions (here, and here)  around product factories – I was infusing product factory magic into a major research lab in Australia and he had set up Obvious along similar lines.

Fast forward four years and his “side project”, Twitter, ended up subsuming everything else in the Obvious pipeline to the point where Obvious fell by the way side. Twitter achieved massive traction and in many respects has been a game changer.

In contrast, I managed to get a number of projects out of my factory – one of which, Open Kernel Labs, has achieved major traction with its virtualization software on 1.1 billion handsets around the world – and more to come. Although we both moved on from our respective organisations, Evan has come full circle recently and is again building up a product factory.

I look forward to seeing how both of them iterate on the product factory concept, how this influences a counter-incubator culture and what they both bring to market next.

The Amazing Foursquare Race

Endemol USA has levelled up to become the mayor of reality TV.

According to Variety, they are partnering with Foursquare to created a new show that is “likely to have an ‘Amazing Race’-style competitive element, in which participants travel to various sites.”

This could signal a deeper level of engagement between users of emerging technology and television programming. For example, a Foursquare user could leave clues for participants in the race at various locations. Or users could vie for the right to be mayor of a venue that racers must check in at and be the local person greeting them as they come running through the venue.

Chomping At The Bit: How To Find iPhone Apps

Australian serial entrepreneur Ben Keighran is starting to make waves in Silicon Valley again with his new venture Chomp. With fellow Aussie co-founder Cathy Edwards and funding from Ron Conway, Blue Run Ventures and other Valley notables the business is aimed at enabling iPhone users to find apps.

Chomp has received some solid coverage on TechCrunch and an interview with Robert Scoble (embedded below) in which Ben explains their value proposition:

Foursquare Boosts Public Transit Use

foursquareThe location-based mobile network Foursquare has partnered with San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART to locals) to encourage use of their train service across 43 stations in the Bay area.

As regular metarand readers know, I am a big fan of game mechanics. Foursquare combines social networking elements with game mechanics, encouraging users to explore their neighborhoods and make recommendations.

For example, a user can become ‘mayor’ of a specific cafe or pub by checking in there more than anyone else. Updates are shared across services like Twitter which announce when someone takes over as mayor.

I’ve found these tweets somewhat irritating, but I think that is due to the way they are written – it’s usually a few microseconds into my scanning a tweet before I realize its a Foursquare announcement and I move on.

Foursquare

The BART partnership with Foursquare involves awarding $25 promotional tickets to riders chosen at random from those Foursquare users who log in at BART stations. Users can also duke it out to see who becomes ‘mayor’ of various stations on their regular commute routes.

All up, an innovative use of social media, mobiles and geolocation to boost public transport usage.

We Asked And iPhone 3.0 Will Deliver: Micro-Payments

As Last 100 points out the recent announcement by Apple that the next version of the iPhone software, 3.0, will enable In App purchasing will be a huge boon for micropayments.

This is a huge step in the evolution of the iPhone platform towards a fully-fledged ecosystem. I also anticipate that it will bring about a boost in virtual goods.

Gizmodo thinks this is bad news, but meh, what do they know!

Next Line On The iPhone Horizon: Micropayments

Apple has a tried and tested approach of creating complete, yet simple ecosystems and the one it has developed for the iPhone is testament to this genius.

However, ecosystems need to evolve or they devolve to the lowest common denominator. Much has already been said about the “commoditisation” of apps to very basic one offs with gimmick appeal.

Allowing for a deeper level of engagement within an app is key to this “appolution”. And one of the most important steps forward in achieving this in my view is to open the spigot for micropayments.

Om Malik has also called for this:

I would be spending a lot more if Apple extended the API to allow for the ability to transact within apps.” Nothing like buying a song, an application or a ringtone with a simple click, only to be billed in a batch, later. Such buying habits are the reason why we believe Apple’s iPhone could prove to be an ideal micropayments platform.

Top 5 UiPhone Rules: Building Successful Apps

As the cult of Mac gives way to the cult of iPhone, it’s worth putting a peg in the sand around a set of design rules that define what makes an iPhone app work.

John Gruber has posited an excellent starting point with one overarching guideline for iPhone UI design:

Figure out the absolute least you need to do to implement the idea, do just that, and then polish the hell out of the experience.

From this starting point he goes on to list a set of five rules or guidelines to continually parse against:

1. Each screen should display one thing at a time. That “thing” may be a list, but it should just be a list.

2. Minimize the number of on-screen elements.

3. Make UI elements large enough to be easy to tap; place them far enough apart that there is little risk of tapping the wrong target by mistake.

4. Eschew preferences as much as possible, and assume that nearly all users will use the default settings.

5. As you show more detail, conceptually you move from left to right – but it’s best to minimize how deep you can get while drilling down to the right.

Craig Hockenberry, who put me onto John’s “First Law of iPhone Development” reduces this to a one word iPhone principle: simplicity. As he points out, “doing as little as possible” can be your greatest challenge, but it will produce the highest reward – a successful app.

Craig’s methodology is to seek out the core function of your app and keep yourself true to this every time you work on it. He uses the example of Twitterrific, a Mac OS X client for managing your Twitter account. This, however, is not the core function of Twitterrific. Say what?

In fact he sees the core function, or the “nut”, of this app as being reading:

Twitterrific is all about reading what other people are doing, thinking, or experiencing. Even its secondary function, posting tweets, is related to reading. The posting interface functions as a way for you to give your followers something interesting to read.

Knowing this core function, his team at Iconfactory could manifest it within their iPhone app in a number of ways that you can read about in his post.

I really like both John and Craig’s approaches and encourage iPhone developers to adopt their thinking and build upon it.