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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Yahoo Advances in the Online Identity War with a More Powerful and More Consumer-Friendly Implementation of OpenID

If it’s not clear to everyone, the future of the Social Web will be be characterized by signing up and signing into services with credentials from the identity provider of your choice. Which company wins in this Online Identity War will reshape the Internet. Today, Yahoo significantly upgraded its weaponry, with a rockin’, consumer-friendly implementation of the OpenID-OAuth hybrid protocol, complete with Facebook Connect-like pop-up, together with launch partners Plaxo (see blogpost) and JanRain.

This “hybrid” approach first saw the light-of-day in a rollout between Google and Plaxo, which famously produced the “92% success result” that jolted the industry. Since this is all pure Open Stack, not proprietary code, it could quickly be replicated (and improved upon). Since then, Facebook implemented it with Google, when they became an OpenID Relying Party. And MySpace also became a hybrid provider.

It will be interesting to watch how this war shapes up between Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, MySpace, JanRain, and others, and how that effects the evolution of the technologies beneath the hood, like OpenID, OAuth, Portable Contacts, and Facebook Connect. Either way, the competition should be great for consumers and the industry.

From the Latest ActivityStrea.ms Meetup — “Toward a Distributed FriendFeed”

Today I went to the Stanford campus for the latest ActivityStrea.ms meetup, as we work toward an first implementor’s draft. There were folks from Facebook, MySpace, Microsoft, Google, Plaxo, Netflix, and Six Apart, among others, with grass roots/DiSo community leader, Chris Messina informally leading the discussion. It was a truly awesome event, much like ones that came before it in January and April 2009. No invitation was needed to attend; anyone with a passion for an open, interoperable Social Web was welcome to join, to help converge on a candidate open spec that could become a standard element of the new “Open Stack”.

ActivityStrea.ms meetup

One of the early topics was whether/how the spec should handle ratings. Joseph Smarr, of Plaxo, pushed for testing from various pairwise interactions between publishers and consumers. In particular, looking to get the Netflix feed currently implemented in Plaxo to be compliant with the draft spec.

That raised the broader question of who is already supporting the draft spec with live implementations. Facebook and MySpace are both publishing Activity Streams, and Plaxo and Microsoft are both consuming Activity Streams. There was encouragement for Plaxo to take the next step and go from consuming/aggregating to also publishing. The more major consumer Internet sites that implement the draft spec, the easier it will be to see where it falls short.

ActivityStrea.ms meetup

There was a desire to codify some unit tests. Rob Dolin of Microsoft volunteered to draft a wishlist of implementations in the wild that would validate the spec.

After a lot of early discussion, we did an around-the-table of introductions; participants in the meeting included:

Kevin Marks, BT
Jyri Engstrom, Google
Jerry Caine, Facebook
John McCrea
Gerard Capiel, MySpace
Joseph Smarr, Plaxo
Adina Levin, SocialText
Dmitri Volkrann, Sybase
JR Conlin, Netflix
Chris Messina, DiSo
Ryan Boyd, Google
Martin Aktins, Six Apart
Monica Keller, MySpace
Rob Dolin, Microsoft
Phil Wolf, Data Portability

ActivityStrea.ms meetup

Chris Messina shared that the vision for this effort was to enable the development of a “distributed FriendFeed” (and pointed out how the need for that is even greater now that FriendFeed has been acquired by Facebook).

A fun quote (that sent me in search of an online dictionary, I confess), in the debate on whether location is properly an attribute of the actor, the event, or something else, Joseph pre-pended one of his comments with, “I don’t want too get to epistemological…”

There was a lot of discussion and debate over a nested or flat data model for representing activities. Adina Levin of SoxialText, an advocate for a flatter model, lobbied for use of tags to establish context. Some of the examples being debated were “mood” and “location”… JR Conlin of Netflix argued for another model, with machine tags that are extensible.

Joseph asked the group to keep in mind three tests: 1) Can a dumb feed reader read it? 2) For a consumer doing no customization, can you get a enough for free? 3) When you want to do a richer implementation for a given publisher, do you have sufficient flexibility to create something high fidelity?

Chris Messina cautioned that requests for extensibility will come early, citing reactions to the first incarnation of microformats spec, with people saying, “I want to create a microformat for my butterfly collection.”

ActivityStrea.ms meetup

Joseph, Chris, and I decided to shoot a down-and-dirty episode of The Social Web TV on location, so we grabbed Martin Atkins of SixApart, the author of the draft spec, and headed outside to shoot with my Flip Mino HD. Here’s the special episode:

I think it should be clear that something truly awesome is happening, as the Web goes social, the Social Web goes open, and it’s all being driven through non-corporate collaboration between smart, passionate individuals, rather than through cumbersome, bureaucratic processes. Open Stack, FTW!

Update: Here are more extensive notes from the meetup.

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