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 Intention Web: Social Business Designed

Jeremiah Owyang from the Altimeter Group explains the Intention Web as being about information that provides explicit predictions of who will do what next, although it’s not happened yet.

From his perspective, this forward-looking or anticipation network will provide three unique opportunities:

1.People can now use their social relationships that have similar goals or events on a calendar and improve their experience

2. They can also identify who in their social circles are most likely going where, increasing their knowledge of top events

3. This provides businesses with the ability to listen to provide highly contextualized offerings and experiences for those explicitly stating their intents.

As enterprise increasingly integrates social business design principles, I expect them to formulate strategies for tapping into the growing intention network. These strategies will include ways to identify true intent, reward those who broadcast their intent and generally make  this data actionable.

Jeremiah has provided a list of intention enabled sites including:

*  43 Things, a wish list; and

* Plancast, which allows users to publish their future plans.

I want to talk about another intention enabled site called Sponty.  Boston based, the company uses the tagline ‘be hangoutable’ and bills itself as allowing users to create and discover social activity feeds around them. Users create topical feeds that tell others about fun things happening around town, like indie music and hipster parties.

According to co-founder, Mahmoud Arram, Sponty’s premise is that while location is important, the type of the activity and which of your friends are going is the determining factor whether to go to something. Sponty let’s people broadcast their social intentions so that their friends can join them.

He believes the power is in user created topical event feeds. People may be able to tweet events, but tweets are not actionable; in the sense that you cannot click “I’m down” on a tweet to let the organizer/friend know that you’re going and see who else is going.

Mahmoud sees Sponty as being laser focused on events. “Think of it as real-time intentions, rather than real-time statuses”.

He agrees that game mechanics is an essential element and they are exploring ways to build an incentive system for people to share and contribute their topical event feeds. Currently, the top users feel rewarded when they help people go out and discover an event they probably would not have known about otherwise.

Using Twitter as an analogy and stepping back in time 12 to 18 months, it is not hard to see the power within the intention web. Especially for businesses who are able to tap into what will be a growing arena in 2010.

The New Deconomy: Advertising Under Siege?

Yesterday I mosied around the Sydney ad:tech conference. Being in that wonderfully liberating point of time of seeking my next windmill to tilt at I figured it to be a worthy destination.

My first impression, after factoring in the change of venue from last year, was that it was much subdued. Bearing in mind how photographers see things in capture frames, I spoke with one of the photogs doing the rounds and she had the most wonderful comment which totally summed up the atmosphere.

Her takeout was that she was reticent to take pictures of speakers whilst their slides painted doom and gloom backdrops. She kept finding herself hesitating and waiting for more upbeat slides – which didn’t often materialise.

Last year there was almost a feeling of whimsical discovery – ad execs and marketers in a discovery comfort zone: “tell me again how social media works?”. This year – a totally different picture: “we’ve gotta figure a way to make money from this social media stuff”.

I was also somewhat bemused by the rise of Twitter across the conference consciousness. It was definitely the tech word of the day – much like Google was on everyone’s lips a few years back. Expect a Twitter consultant or two to pop up near you soon. It’s the new SEO in the new Deconomy.

Seriously though, the new epiphany for an industry that is increasingly under pressure, will soon be around engagement and I suspect there to be a panel or more at next year’s event on this topic.

Mapping Minds: Google Trends Meet Twitter Thoughtstream

Two of the most powerful tools for currently mapping how humanity thinks are Google Trends and Twitter Search.

I whipped up an analysis of Google versus Twitter on Google Trends and the result put Twitter far ahead in our collective consciousness. This is a really useful tool for tracking across a timeline, with clear pointers to inflection points, but it does nothing for point of origin or realtime tracking.

This is where Twitter’s Search function shines. I did an exercise last week in which I tracked a number of key words on Twitter. “jobs” not surprisingly brought up a bunch of results, mainly from job board feeds, “Sydney” alerted me to a number of interesting events taking place in the city, but the clear topic du jour was the “iPhone” – the amount of traffic on Twitter related to this device was enormous.

Imagine if we could mash up these two tools, and extend their reach beyond Twitter’s audience – this would be an extremely powerful way for marketers, politicians and many others to map our minds.

Hattip to Erick Schonfeld for getting me thinking about this.

Radio Silence: Replaced By The Newsfeed, While Silicon Valley Hums Quietly In The Background

First up, to my regular readers my humble apologies for not blogging for a few weeks. I had a busy month – what do they say about living in interesting times – yip, that is how it has been.

When I have found the time to feed the meter, as it were, I’ve turned to the newsfeeds. Mostly I’ve kept up posts on Facebook and to a lesser degree, Twitter.

I think I am not alone in this shift: blogging less, posting more.

I’m heading back to Sydney this evening for a few weeks and will hopefully have a bit of breathing space to do some more considered posts.

Let’s see how that pans out. If you are in Sydney and would like to meet up please ping me – I look forward to getting a grip on how the tech space has progressed downunder.

I’m also very happy to let you know that despite reports to the contrary, Silicon Valley is alive and well. One of the companies I am advising has gone from zero to term sheet in less than two weeks. I am keen to see more of the same!