From The Ground Up

Fwd: Engineering, startups and life

The Web Is Read. Long Live The Web. And APIs.

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Wired’s front page item last month* announcing the death of the web was irresponsible and inane.  Wired claimed that applications would (continue to) grow to become the only portal through which users accessed content.

No doubt applications, especially in today’s mobile ecosystem, play a major role in accessing content. However companies looking to build platforms that scale to and reach millions and billions of users understand that the web remains vital to growth. The web represents the most device- and language-agnostic medium and is itself a platform that has the potential to reach every person on earth (that’s one heckuva long tail). It is not going away.

Google understands this best, in its quest to rule the world. In terms of online advertising, Google owns the long tail. Cloud-based applications like GMail, Google Finance, Google Docs and YouTube are a means to an end — to encourage the user to spend more and more time on the web, searching for, discovering, and linking to content on the web.  These inter-connections drive Google’s business. Furthermore, Google continues to learn and push towards display advertising (see acquisition of Invite Media), signaling their effort to bring better branding across the web.

In the mobile space, Google is only more so. Although the vision of an ad-supported mobile phone that could be used on any choice of network has yet to pass, the search company has championed openness and HTML5-based applications.

Eric Schmidt has openly stated his underappreciation of the social web. Facebook has widened its influence significantly with the release of its Social Plugins and the Open Graph API. These offerings are very intentionally meant to increase Facebook’s reach by providing hooks into the rest of the web. Facebook understands that for continued growth and increased stickiness, they must reach users across the entire web, not within isolated silos. The web represents a vast amount of content and Facebook wants to use this to their advantage. Social means getting the relevant eyeballs in front of relevant content, and in this ad-mad world, this leads to monetization. Facebook aims to take on Google by making the web less about search and more about discovery, less about biddable keywords and more about brands. The Social Plugins and Open Graph allow them to build the (much-discussed) taste graph that achieves these goals.

Attaining the scale Facebook desires, billions of users worldwide, also requires developing for mobile. When asked about developing for specific platforms (iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, web, mobile web, etc) in a recent interview with TechCrunch, Mark Zuckerberg says “… It’s kind of a disaster right now. I really hope that the direction that this stuff goes in is one where there’s more of a standard… we have 4 or 500 engineers at the company, it’s pretty hard for us to build a lot of new products and build them all for these different platforms. So if something like HTML5 becomes a big standard then that would be hugely valuable for us. So we’ll help push that. I imagine that over the long term that will be the solution to this problem…”.

With both Google and Facebook pushing for HTML5 standards, especially for mobile devices, the web looks quite safe, and in fact is poised for massive growth.

Evan Williams recently posted some awesome facts and thoughts about the Twitter ecosystem and Twitter usage. They’re now up to 150 million users. Turns out, Twitter users access Twitter content predominantly through In fact, receives more hits than all the other Twitter clients combined.

The next two most frequented portals are the mobile version of the website and SMS. Twitter is all about broadcasting web-based content. Twitter allows corners of the web to be discovered and distributed. By offering their own URL shortener service and photo/video integration, Twitter controls the access points to the rest of the web. Twitter, like Google and Facebook, can understand user behavior across large swaths of the web. They are not constrained to silos.

There are other examples of the burgeoning web as a platform. Hunch is taking an inherently riskier path towards monetization by relying on Facebook/Twitter credentials and building their knowledge on top of these existing networks. However, Hunch also recently made its foray towards monetization, almost exclusively through its API that plugs into partnering websites. “These companies will either build applications that reside on, embed Hunch functionality within their own sites, or both”, said Hunch.  Hunch wants as many users as possible interacting with personalized recommendations. It only makes sense to build APIs/plugins that integrate with the rest of the web. Moving forward, Hunch will want to personalize everything the user sees, reads, and listens to on the web.

Foursquare 2.0 was launched this week. They have also started to extend their social network across the web. Similar to Facebook’s “Like” or “Recommend” button, Foursquare has partnered with major websites to place an “Add to Foursquare” button with relevant content. This has major implications and is what Foursquare wants to be. This button adds the relevant content, typically a place, to your To-Do list within your Foursquare application. The To-Do list takes on the role of your very own taste graph, if not your aspirational taste graph. Suddenly, Foursquare is able to tie together a lot of disparate pieces of information, including location, content, and taste and will turn this into monetization opportunities with brands in the real world and on the web.

I see these technologies/features as the maturation of Web 2.0: interoperability and user relevance. User interactivity, taken to the next level — where it’s not only a given site that understands your tastes, but allowing that knowledge to be distributed across the web and across devices.

The basic tenet here is that the to achieve the next wave of growth both in terms of users and revenue, companies are going to have to scale globally and build new user bases. To reach this incredibly long tail, these companies need a presence in all far, remote corners of the web. These companies will flourish by building business and partnerships around APIs, and empowering 3rd parties to transfer data amongst services, across the web, allowing for and promoting interoperability and innovation.

* I know, this post is way overdue.


Written by Girish Rao

September 23, 2010 at 12:59

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Great post Girish. I see the next iteration of the web, “Web 3.0” or the Semantic Web, as one that hinges completely on the API ecosystem that companies like FB, Twitter, and Hunch are building. They are quite literally building the tubes of the interwebs!

    A post I wrote a while back comments on a lot of the same things:


    September 24, 2010 at 12:52

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