Tunerfish/Comcast/Plaxo: What a ride!

Today is my last day at Tunerfish/Comcast/Plaxo — and the end of my longest ride in Silicon Valley (a sequence of positions that started in March 2006 when I joined Plaxo as the company’s first VP of Marketing).

I’m proud to have played a key role in the turnaround of the Plaxo brand and product, a re-invention that helped pave the way for the acquisition of the company by our largest customer, Comcast, in May 2008 (one of the best exits of the year, especially given the economic meltdown that followed). While at Comcast, I had the great privilege of founding and leading Tunerfish, a new business unit in what would become the white-hot market space of social TV. I took Tunerfish from concept to secret skunkworks, to launch at TechCrunch Disrupt, and on to what is now a really great service, built by one of the best product design and development teams I’ve ever worked with. In short, a fantastic run!

But I’m a startup guy, not meant for a long stay at a huge corporation, and it is now time for me to head on to my next Silicon Valley adventure.  (BTW, If you’ve got an interesting consumer Web startup that could use a seasoned product/marketing/business leader, I’d love to chat.)

I will really miss the awesome folks at what is now the Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center (home to four teams working on the future of entertainment and communications), and I’m looking forward to seeing all of the great stuff under development there roll out in the coming months. In particular, I’m keen to see how the Tunerfish team brings social/discovery/personalization features to the Xfinity touchpoints in millions of homes — and how they’ll continue to evolve my favorite social TV app.

Oh, and I’ll also miss the awesome view from the office, overlooking the dirigible hangars at Moffett:

Onward and upward!

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More Fire Power for Google’s Social Web Team

Early this morning, the Social Web TV broke the news that Chris Messina is joining Google! This follows on the heels of Joseph Smarr’s announcement in December that he would be leaving Plaxo to join Google. The new episode is entitled “Another one bites the dust” and it’s must-see Social Web TV…

TechCrunch has picked up the story from Chris’s post.

Silicon Valley: Top 10 of the 2000s

Kaliya's computer

It’s all too easy to view the first decade of the 21st Century as just an unmitigated series of disasters: September 11th, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, and the meltdown of the global financial system, to name just a few.

But the 2000s also saw continued acceleration in the advance of technology and its impact on society, as we continued to ride the exponential curve of Moore’s Law. So, let me offer my “Silicon Valley: Top 10 of the 2000s”…

The Dot Com Bubble Collapse. (Yes, even this list starts with a disaster.) We entered the new decade and the new century drunk with optimism that recessions were a thing of the past, with a firm belief that the Internet’s transformational power had created an unprecedented “long boom“. And then, in March of 2000, the Bubble burst, sending Silicon Valley into a multi-year “nuclear winter.” Internet companies of all sizes imploded, unemployment rose, buildings went vacant, vendors started requiring cash (rather than asking for equity), and the venture capital fire hose turned into a trickle.

Broadband and Wi-Fi. While many of us licked our wounds and wondered whether Silicon Valley would ever recover, the underlying fabric of the Internet just kept getter better. Broadband access crossed over from early adopter to mainstream, and Wi-Fi hotspots spread like wildfire, fueling a rapidly growing addiction to the Internet. Ten years ago, most of us sipped the Web through dial-up straws; now we expect high-speed access everywhere, all-the-time.

Google IPO. In the first half of the 2000s, one company defied the pessimism and came to symbolize the hope of a return of the good old days. Google reminded us that the Bubble was less about the true Silicon Valley and more about the madness of irrational investment behavior on Wall Street. And their profitability and growth were so strong that they could do what no one else could since the collapse — pull off a tech IPO. Heck, they not only IPO’d, they dictated their own terms to the Street, with a Dutch auction in the summer of 2004. Indeed, for most of the 2000s, Google was the undisputed hottest company of Silicon Valley. [Correction: Dave McClure points out that another high-flier, PayPal, was the first tech IPO, post 9/11. He’s got a lot of other great additions, too, so be sure to read his comments. Thanks, Dave!]

Blogging. Though blogging started in the ’90’s, it would take until the middle of the 2000s for it to become a powerful mainstream force. But by decade’s end, sites like TechCrunch, Mashable, Techmeme, CNET, GigaOm, ReadWriteWeb, VentureBeat, and ZDnet, among many others, had completely transformed how we discover, consume, and create tech news. And it wasn’t just tech. The power of blogging was transforming every facet of the news business, from politics to sports — and even to the paranormal, like when a Bigfoot hunter held a press conference in Palo Alto.

YouTube. In the ’60’s, it was said that “the revolution will be televised”. In the 2000s, it became clear that it would be uploaded to YouTube. The video sharing site blasted off from the emerging “Web 2.0″ scene in early 2005, rocketed to mainstream impact, and got acquired for $1.6 billion by Google — all in less than two years! Suddenly, Silicon Valley was once again a place where a few people could get together, build something innovative, have big impact on the world, and get ridiculously rich in the process. The Web 2.0 revolution was in full force, with hundreds of new companies with funny names popping up all over, embracing user-generated content and social virality.

Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and team did not invent social networking, but they apparently internalized all of the right lessons from those that had come before, including Plaxo (the first socially viral “people layer” network, founded by Sean Parker, Cameron Ring, and Todd Masonis), Friendster, and MySpace. Facebook exploded out of Mark’s dorm room, riding a potent exponential growth curve that continues to this day, propelling Facebook to the center stage of the Internet industry — and finally giving Google a run for the money in the “hottest company in Silicon Valley” category.

Twitter. As the 2000s come to a close, a new contender is rising, not from Silicon Valley, proper, but from the Ground Zero of the Dot Com Bubble of 10 years ago: San Francisco. Twitter, a darling of the early adopter set, launched at the cool geek confab, SXSW, in 2006, and remained decidedly niche for so long, that many thought it might be remembered primarily for its “fail whale”. But Twitter eventually connected with celebrities and mainstream media outlets, like CNN, and the chirpy little bird soared into the stratosphere.

Ereaders (Kindle, nook, and more to come). Books are one of the most important inventions in human history. Major breakthroughs (like the Internet) are often compared with the impact of Gutenberg‘s movable type press from the 1400s. As the 2000s are coming to a close, “ereaders” are revolutionizing the concept of a book, turning it from a physical object to a digital item pulled from the clouds. In the coming decade, the impact will be enormous.

Apple, iPod, and iPhone. For a company that almost died in the ’90s, the 2000s have been a truly remarkable decade for Apple, featuring a return to profitability, a string of hot new products, the launch of two new billion-dollar-plus product lines (iPod/iTune and iPhone), and the reinvention of the music and mobile phone industries. Silicon Valley sees “Big Waves” only once every 15 years on average, but we’re ending the 2000s, riding two distinct and reinforcing Mavericks, and one of them is embodied by the iPhone. The iPhone has given birth to a new ecosystem, much the same way the personal computer did in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and is inspiring vigorous competition in what had been a technological backwater. Of course, the other really Big Wave is the emergence of…

The Social Web. When Sean Parker and team pitched Mike Moritz at Sequoia, seeking venture funding for Plaxo in the dark days of 2002, it was not just to solve the real and vexing problem of stale address books. The billion dollar opportunity they pitched was that the Internet, for all its great impact, would not reach its full potential unless and until someone brought to it the missing “people layer”. If real identity and real relationships could be combined with network effect and Internet-style interoperability, they said, something really big would happen. Of course, like so many big, bold visions, getting there has taken multiple attempts, and now involves a really dynamic collaboration between big Internet companies, “Open Stack” grass-roots communities (like OpenID, OAuth, Portable Contacts, Activity Streams, the Open Web Foundation, and OpenSocial), and lots of startups, but we exit the 2000s seeing proof-points all around of the emergence of an open and interoperable Social Web. It’s becoming increasingly common to visit a new website and be able to use an online identity you’ve established at Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a growing list of other identity providers, and get a new account (without having to repeat the dreadful process of choosing a new password, filling out a bunch of forms, importing your address book, and re-friending the same long list of familiars you’ve friended so many times before). Look to the coming decade to bring us an amazing array of new startups native to this new Social Web.

What do you think? Are these the right 10? Nominate others via comments.

And, now all that’s left is to wish you all a Happy New Decade!

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Reviewing my Five Bold Social Web Predictions for 2009

I just read David Recordon’s post about Facebook implementing support for OAuth WRAP on FriendFeed as a step toward supporting OAuth in Facebook Connect. That reminded me that we, as an industry, made enormous progress in 2009 toward a truly open, interoperable Social Web. But, I wondered, how well did that progress map to my five bold predictions for 2009, penned December 18, 2008?

My five bold predictions were:

Prediction 1: Facebook will begin its migration to the “Open Stack” and roll out support for at least one piece of it. Leading candidates: OpenID and OAuth.

Prediction 2: Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft will rollout support for Portable Contacts for their respective webmail services.

Prediction 3: Microsoft will implement OAuth, at least for Portable Contacts, if not more broadly.

Prediction 4: Microsoft’s “Windows Live” social network will become an OpenSocial container.

Prediction 5: Plaxo will so successfully prove onboard turbocharging via the Open Stack that they will abandon traditional email/password signups entirely.

Well, I’ve gotta say that I nailed the first of the five (Facebook beginning a migration to the Open Stack). Facebook accelerated its “open” plans in 2009, becoming a member of the OpenID Foundation, implementing “Hybrid OpenID/OAuth” for easy signup via Google account, hiring David Recordon, participating in the Activity Streams standardization effort, working actively in OAuth WRAP, and more I’m forgetting.

I got prediction number 2 mostly right (Big webmail providers support Portable Contacts), but not right enough. Google rolled out support for PoCo in March, joining other big supporting sites, like Plaxo and MySpace. And PoCo became a standard feature of OpenSocial. Microsoft rolled out support for the Portable Contacts schema, but not for accessing it via OAuth. Yahoo, who had a tough year in many ways, didn’t quite get there with PoCo…

Prediction number three, is complicated (Microsoft embracing OAuth). There are differing opinions about exactly the relationship between OAuth WRAP and OAuth. (I feel like I need to get The Social Web TV gang together to sort it all out.) I credit Microsoft with participating in the community efforts, in communicating clearly they’re objections to the current OAuth spec, and on working to move the ball forward.

Predictions four and five were a little over the top; I may have been hitting the egg nog when I wrote them. That said, Microsoft made big strides toward greater interop based on open standards, and while Plaxo is still allowing people to sign up without a third-party identity, people all over the Social Web are getting more comfortable signing up to sites via Facebook Connect or OpenID.

Overall, I’d say I was half-right in my bold predictions for 2009. Let me know if you disagree. Next week, I’ll make my predictions for 2010…

A Toast to Joseph Smarr and the Open Social Web!

My “partner-in-crime” for the past three years, Joseph Smarr, has just publicly announced that he’s leaving Plaxo (after eight years!) and will be starting an exciting new job at Google early next year. He’s been tapped by Google to “help drive a new company-wide focus on the future of the Social Web”. As much as I hate to see the breakup of the greatest two-man team I’ve ever been a part of, I’m truly excited for Joseph and wish him all the best in his new role.

A "toast" to the Open Social Web!

More importantly, I think being a part of Google will enable Joseph to have an even bigger impact on the emergence of an open, interoperable Social Web, built on the Open Stack, and with users in control.

New Episode of The Social Web TV, with Special Guest, Frank Eliason, a.k.a. @comcastcares

Joseph Smarr and I welcome special guest, Frank Eliason, a.k.a. @comcastcares, on an episode of The Social Web TV, shot at the NewTeeVee Live 09 conference last week.

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New Episode of The Social Web TV: “We’re Back (Really!)”

The fans demanded it, so we got the band back together! Chris Messina, Joseph Smarr, and I shot an episode of The Social Web TV at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View during this week’s Internet Identity Workshop. So much has happened since we last shot that this is our most jam-packed episode ever!

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Photoblogging the Internet Identity Workshop, 11/09

On the heels of the OpenID Summit, we roll into the Fall Internet Identity Workshop. There are folks here from companies large and small, from grass roots effort, and from the government. I may add more color in text over time, but let me get the ball rolling with some photos to capture the event for posterity. It’s photoblogging time again!

Opening Circle:

At the Internet Identity Workshop

Joseph Smarr, CTO of Plaxo, shilling for his session:

At the Internet Identity Workshop

Angus Logan of Microsoft and Kevin Marks of BT co-lead a session on optimizing the UX for consenting access to data:

At the Internet Identity Workshop

Afternoon breakout sessions:

At the Internet Identity Workshop

The “unconference” schedule:

At the Internet Identity Workshop

Michael Jones of Microsoft kicks off a session on the prototype browser extension for an Identity Selector:

At the Internet Identity Workshop

Chris Messina leads a double-session on Activity Streams (so he gets two photos!):

At the Internet Identity Workshop

At the Internet Identity Workshop

Self-portrait, in the Activity Streams double-live marathon:

At the Internet Identity Workshop

Eran Hammer-Lahav of the “Hammer Stack,” bringing lots of spec-development experience to the Activity Streams working session:

At the Internet Identity Workshop

Late afternoon collaboration:

At the Internet Identity Workshop

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From the OpenID Summit: What gets Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Plaxo to work together? OpenID.

From the OpenID Summit, 11/02/09

I spent this afternoon at a great OpenID Summit, hosted by Yahoo, and featuring some of the leading figures in the industry from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Plaxo, AOL, PayPal and others. This was a real working session, with frank sharing of lessons learned from deployments by these companies and active discussion about how to move forward together as rapidly as possible. There is now a *lot* of horsepower being applied to making OpenID part of the core Web experience.

Interesting to note which companies did not have representatives here. (The two most notable: Twitter and LinkedIn, both of which could really play a big role in online identity.)

One highlight was Michael Jones of Microsoft demoing a prototype of an OpenID identity selector browser extension:

From the OpenID Summit, 11/02/09

From the OpenID Summit, 11/02/09

Here’s Yahoo’s Aanchal Gupta, reviewing all the great progress they’ve been making on improving the OpenID user experience:

From the OpenID Summit, 11/02/09

From the OpenID Summit, 11/02/09

Here’s Joseph Smarr of Plaxo, who rallied the troops with a combination of hard-hitting analysis of how much work is still to be done, along with an inspiring reminder of how this community has worked so well together to solve problems with solutions like the “Hybrid” of OpenID and OAuth. (Slides and video further down.):

From the OpenID Summit, 11/02/09

From the OpenID Summit, 11/02/09

And Luke Shepard of Facebook, who explained that Facebook “does OpenID because it’s good for our business”. Luke, like Joseph, shared important feedback from the perspective of a “Relying Party”:

From the OpenID Summit, 11/02/09

Allen Tom of Yahoo and David Recordon of Facebook led the technical breakout after all the presentations, driving toward a list of items to tackle in the next six months. David reminded us that the 2.0 version of the OpenID spec has been out there since 2007.

From the OpenID Summit, 11/02/09

I’ll add more content as it comes in. Here’s the deck Joseph used for his talk, “What an RP Wants, Part II”:

And some video clips from Joseph’s talk:

Update: Joseph got a post up about his talk, with some additional color.

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Tornado Unleashed in Palo Alto

Bret Taylor talks Tornado at Facebook

Last evening, many of the developers of the Social Web came together in Palo Alto for a Tornado Tech Talk at Facebook. The event delivered a one-two punch from two heavy hitters who recently joined Facebook — David Recordon, the open technology leader and advocate, and Bret Taylor, of the recently-acquired FriendFeed (where Tornado was developed).

What’s Tornado? David Recordon says:

Tornado is a relatively simple, non-blocking Web server framework written in Python. It’s designed to handle thousands of simultaneous connections, making it ideal for real-time Web services.

(Oh, and the big deal is that it has been open-sourced, so that anyone can benefit from the many innovations developed originally for FriendFeed.)

Bret Taylor talks Tornado at Facebook

It was a really great event. Bret Taylor is one impressive individual — deeply technical, a great communicator, and someone with a very coherent world view and philosophy for developing product.

Bret Taylor talks Tornado at Facebook

David Recordon has more details (including Bret’s slides) on his post, Talking about Tornado. And Caroline McCarthy of CNET puts it into perspective with her post, Facebook wastes no time putting FriendFeed to work.

All-in-all, this is a great sign of the continued movement toward an open and interoperable Social Web. I applaud Facebook’s continued moves toward greater openness. And it’s clear that David Recordon and the FriendFeed team are a great addition to the mix!

[UPDATE: Bret has a post up now that, along with the slides, embeds the full video of the talk!]

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