Tag Archives: microsoft

Launching Emitter.ca: Open Data, Pollution and Your Community

This week, I’m pleased to announce the beta launch of Emitter.ca – a website for locating, exploring and assessing pollution in your community.

Why Emitter?

A few weeks ago, Nik Garkusha, Microsoft’s Open Source Strategy Lead and an open data advocate asked me: “are there any cool apps you could imagine developing using Canadian federal government open data?”

Having looked over the slim pickings of open federal data sets – most of which I saw while linking to them datadotgc.ca – I remembered one: Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) that had real potential.


With NPRI I felt we could build an application that allowed people and communities to more clearly see who is polluting, and how much, in their communities could be quite powerful. A 220 chemicals that NPRI tracks isn’t, on its own, a helpful or useful to most Canadians.

We agreed to do something and set for ourselves three goals:

  1. Create a powerful demonstration of how Canadian Federal open data can be used
  2. Develop an application that makes data accessible and engaging to everyday Canadians and provides communities with a tool to better  understand their immediate region or city
  3. Be open

With the help of a crew of volunteers with knew and who joined us along the way – Matthew Dance (Edmonton), Aaron McGowan (London, ON), Barranger Ridler (Toronto) and Mark Arteaga (Oakville) – Emitter began to come together.

Why a Beta?

For a few reasons.

  1. There are still bugs, we’d love to hear about them. Let us know.
  2. We’d like to refine our methodology. It would be great to have a methodology that was more sensitive to chemical types, combinations and other factors… Indeed, I know Matt would love to work with ENGOs or academics who might be able to help provide us with better score cards that can helps Canadians understand what the pollution near them means.
  3. More features – I’d love to be able to include more datasets… like data on where tumours or asthama rates or even employment rates.
  4. I’d LOVE to do mobile, to be able to show pollution data on a mobile app and even in using augmented reality.
  5. Trends… once we get 2009 and/or earlier data we could begin to show trends in pollution rates by facility
  6. plus much, much more…

Build on our work

Finally, we have made everything we’ve done open, our methodology is transparent, and anyone can access the data we used through an API that we share. Also, you can learn more about Emitter and how it came to be reading blog posts by the various developers involved.

Thank yous

Obviously the amazing group of people who made Emitter possible deserve an enormous thank you. I’d also like to thank the Open Lab at Microsoft Canada for contributing the resources that made this possible. We should also thank those who allowed us to build on their work, including Cory Horner’s Howdtheyvote.ca API for Electoral District boundaries we were able to use (why Elections Canada doesn’t offer this is beyond me and, frankly, is an embarrassment). Finally, it is important to acknowledge and thank the good people at Environment Canada who not only collected this data, but have the foresight and wisdom to share make it open. I hope we’ll see more of this.

In Sum

Will Emitter change the world? It’s hard to imagine. But hopefully it is a powerful example of what can happen when governments make their data open. That people will take that data and make it accessible in new and engaging ways.

I hope you’ll give it a spin and I look forward to sharing new features as they come out.


Since Yesterday Emitter.ca has picked up some media. Here are some of the links so far…

Hanneke Brooymans of the Edmonton Journal wrote this piece which was in turn picked up by the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, Canada.com, Leader Post, The Province, Times Columnist and Windsor Star.

Nestor Arellano of ITBusiness.ca wrote this piece

Burke Campbell, a freelance writer, wrote this piece on his site.

Kate Dubinski of the London Free Press writes a piece titled It’s Easy to Dig up Dirt Online about emitter.ca

More Open Data Apps hit Vancouver

Since the launch of Vancouver’s open data portal a lot of the talk has focused on independent or small groups of programmers hacking together free applications for citizens to use. Obviously I’ve talked a lot about (and have been involved in) Vantrash and have been a big fan of the Amazon.ca/Vancouver Public Library Greasemonkey script created by Steve Tannock.

But independent hackers aren’t the only ones who’ve been interested. Shortly after the launch of the city’s Open Data Portal, Microsoft launched an Open Data App Competition for developers at the Microsoft Canadian Development Centre just outside Vancouver in Richmond, British Columbia. On Wednesday I had the pleasure of being invited to the complex to eat free pizza and, better still, serve as a guest judge during the final presentations.

So here are 5 more applications that have been developed using the city’s open data. (Some are still being tweaked and refined, but the goal is to have them looking shiny and ready by the Olympics.)


MoBuddy by Thomas Wei: Possibly the most ambitious of the projects, MoBuddy enables you to connect with friends and visitors during Olympics to plan and share experiences through mobile social networking including Facebook.


Vancouver Parking by Igor Babichev: Probably the most immediately useful app for Vancouverites, Vancouver Parking helps you plan your trip by using your computer in advanced to find parking spots, identify time restrictions, parking duration and costs… It even knows which spots won’t be available for the Olympics. After the Olympics are over, it will be interesting to see if other hackers want to help advance this app. I think a mobile or text message enabled version might be interesting.

Bronze (tie):

Free Finders by Avi Brenner: Another app that could be quite useful to Vancouver residents and visiting tourists, Free Finders uses your facebook connection to find free events and services across the city. Lots of potential here for some local newspapers to pick up this app and run with it.

eVanTivitY by Johannes Stockmann: A great play on creativity and Vancouver, eVanTivity enables you to find City and social events and add-in user-defined data-feeds. Once the Olympics are over I’ve got some serious ideas about how this app could help Vancouver’s Arts & Cultural sector.

Honourable Mention:

MapWay by Xinyang Qiu: Offers a way to find City of Vancouver facilities and Olympic events in Bing Maps as well as create a series of customized maps that combine city data with your own.

More interestingly, in addition to being available to use, each of these applications can be downloaded, hacked on, remixed and tinkered with under an open source license (GNU I believe) once the Olympics are over. The source codes will be available at Microsoft’s Codeplex.

In short, it is great to see a large company like Microsoft take an active interest in Vancouver’s Open Data and try to find some ways to give back to the community – particularly using an open source licenses. I’d also like to give a shout out to Mark Gayler (especially) as well as Dennis Pilarinos and Barbara Berg for making the competition possible and, of course, to all the coders at the Development Centre who volunteered their time and energy to create these apps. These are interesting times for a company like Microsoft and so I’d also like to give a shout out to David Crow who’s been working hard to get important people inside the organization comfortable with the idea of open source and open to experimenting with it.

My new mac – some thoughts for other PC users

As some of you know, I recently shifted from a PC to a Mac. It’s a big transition for me… I’ve used a PC all my life, so it is easy to say that I’m having a little (but not a ton) of culture shock.

I’ll be honest about the single best selling feature of the mac: Spotlight.

I do very few things on my computer. Mostly I write, I surf, and I email. A LOT of email. So first and foremost, having a computer where I can find my emails and documents easily is critical. When you’ve got over 70,000 emails you want to be able to search, well, neither Microsoft Outlook, any Windows desktop search engine I’ve ever seen, or even Google desktop (which essentially requires you to load a browser each time) is going to cut it.

I NEED to be able to find stuff quickly. Google has bred me with an expectation of instant results (not a slow churning solution). Maybe Windows 7 will get there, but I’ve given up waiting. My 5 year old thinkpad wasn’t going to last long enough for me to see.

Am I happy? Absolutely. One thing our Apple friends do well is design. I love the keyboard, the screen and pretty much everything physical about the machine. Moreover, the convergence of Mac & Windows software has made the transition relatively easy – I’d be frightened to think of how much time on my computer I spend on the browser, but it is a lot… so moving from Firefox to Firefox is pretty sweet.

That said, the transition hasn’t been perfect. There are several features on the Mac that have been frustrating, and even disappointing. For those thinking of making the leap I thought I let you know the rough parts; it shouldn’t dissuade you, just set some expectations that not everything in Macworld is peaches and cream. Of course, if some veteran users have solutions to these issues, I’ll be eternally grateful.

So here’s my list of 4 things I’d change on the Mac – some of these are so petty I’m almost embarrassed…

1. No “send to” email client option. One thing Windows has that I’ve not found on the Mac is the “Send To” folder. Drop any application in the Send To folder and when you right-click on a document you have the option of opening the document with that application. What I loved was being was being able to right-click on a document, send it to my email client and bingo! A new email was created with the document attached. Very productive and easy. Alas, no such luck in the Mac.

2. No “open container” option in spotlight. Yes, I love Spotlight AND… when the drop down menu is showing me a list of found items, why can’t I right-click on it and open the containing folder? Sometimes, I don’t know what document I’m looking for, but I do know it is co-located with a document I do know the title of… Just saying.

3. In Mail, you can’t drag an email to iCal to create an event. Best feature Outlook (and I presume Entourage) has that Mail and iCal don’t is the ability to turn an email into an event. I know that Mail has the funky – click on the date and it will create an event – but it rarely brings in the relevant information. In Outlook I simply dragged an email to the calendar and presto! I had an event in which the email contents were in the notes. That way I could easily copy all the relevant details and, had a ton of context I could quickly reference within my calendar.

4. Okay, so this one seems REALLY petty… but it strikes at something deeper, something important for PC users to know. I’m feeling a little annoyed that, in Mail, when I delete an email in my inbox the cursor always moves to the newer email regardless how the mail is sorted. In Outlook it always moved “down” (Which I had arranged to mean that it went to an older email). Small, I know, but it is driving me crazy when I’m dealing with my email. Of course, this is all part of what I understand to be a larger philosophical problem with Macs (and why I’ve never been an owner before) which is that the company is centered on the idea that it knows how you should use your computer better than you do… so customizing is limited. This is the biggest culture shift for PC users. Owning a Mac is like being in a gated community… its pretty and manicured, but you have to adhere to the community bylaws, or else…! Yes the Windows world has got serious medical issues (viruses), a generic corporate feel (Windows Themes) and a approach to planning that seems modeled after Houston (I say this with some affection) but you also had a lot more freedom to create trouble or solve things your way. At the moment, I’m welcoming my new overlord because it’s like my computer has been taken over by the Swiss! It’s efficient, but if I try to complain… well you get the point.

Pretty much everything else that I’m wrestling with. The way Alt-Tab works on the Mac or the fact that I can’t open press “command+F” to open the “File” menu are things that I know, in time, I’ll adjust to.

Microsoft: A case study in mismanaging a business ecosystem

mslogoA lot of fuss has been made about Microsoft’s inability to compete in the online space and the web specifically.  Indeed, it is widely acknowledged that Microsoft was slow to understand the web’s implications and adjust its product lines accordingly. How did the largest, most successful software company in the world fail to predict or even, once the future became clear, effectively adapt to the rise of the internet? More importantly, why hasn’t it been able to acquire its way out of trouble?

Numerous articles have been written on this, many focusing on Microsoft’s strategy and the fact that it likely faced a disruptive innovation problem. I’d like to supplement that analysis by focusing on the predatorial way Microsoft managed and engaged its business ecosystem in the 1990s. I’ve not seen this analysis before so I thought I would throw it out there.

The 1990’s were a good time for Microsoft. It experienced tremendous growth and its operating system was by far the dominant choice in the market place. It had tremendous leverage over everyone in its business ecosystem, including its competitors, customers and complementors. While this was seen as a source of strength (and profit) it also laid the foundation for many of its problems. The story of Microsoft’s competitors in its traditional marketplace – especially those that have adopted an open source space model such as Linux, Mozilla and Apache – is well documented and forms the core of the traditional disruptive innovation thesis. But I think Microsoft’s inability to counter these threats, as well as its inability to compete in new spaces – such as against Yahoo! or Google – isn’t just a result of the fact that it crushed its traditional competitors but also due to the mismanagement of its relationship with its complementors and partners. More importantly, the disruptive innovation thesis fails, on its own, to explain why Microsoft hasn’t been able to acquire itself out of its problems.

I’ve been told that one of Microsoft’s great strengths is that it has fantastic tools for developers (I’m not a coder so I can’t comment myself). However, in the 1990s and early 2000s, Microsoft lacked a sophisticated or long-term strategy for engaging the software products and companies those developers created. Given that Microsoft was sitting atop the  computer software ecosystem the company had one goal – staying there. This lead it to view anyone as a potential competitor – or if not a competitor than at least someone eating into profits that it could otherwise capture. Rather than balancing the growth of the value network with trying to capture its fair share, Microsoft prioritized the latter over the former. Consequently, many companies that produced products within the Microsoft ecosystem – particularly for Windows – were often not seen as complementors, but as rivals. Microsoft was aggressive in dealing with them – it was gracious in that it would usually offer to buy them out – on its terms – but always looming in the background was the threat that if you didn’t sell to them they would copy what you did. Consequently, many little companies that designed applications that enhanced Windows were forced to sell – or were put out of business after Microsoft copied their products and integrated them into the operating system.

A business ecosystem is like a natural one. It doesn’t matter how nutrient rich the environment (like say, one with excellent development tools) if emerging lifeforms are consistently snuffed out, pretty soon they will elect to grow and evolve elsewhere – even in places where the nutrients are weaker. This is precisely what I suspect started to happen. Likely, fewer and fewer developers wanted to approach the Microsoft ecosystem with a 10-foot pole because they would either be bought out on unfavorable terms or at an early stage (before they were too valuable) or worse, Mircosoft would simply crush them by using its enormous resources to replicate them and eat into their business.

The repercussion of this is that Microsoft saw fewer and fewer new and innovative products being created for its platforms. Programmers and developers shifted to other platforms, or created whole new platforms where they would be free to grow ideas. This, I believe, prevented Microsoft from understanding how the web would change its business. Not only did its current profits create a disincentive to altering its business strategy but it snuffed out one of the few groups of people that could warn it, educate it and challenge it, about the impending changes – its complementors and partners. Equally important is that it diminished the pool of potential acquisition targets whose culture, technology and processes might have helped Microsoft adapt. There were simply not that many mid-sized mammals in the ecosystem: Microsoft had prevented them from evolving.

Today – based on conversations I’ve had with some people in Microsoft – I get the sense that they are trying to become a better partner (or at at least, they may be aware of the problem). Perhaps Microsoft will succeed in becoming a better partner. It won’t however, be easy. Changes to how one treats complementors and partners often require rethinking the very culture of an organization. This is never an easy or quick process. In addition, it takes time to rebuild trust and attract new blood into the ecosystem… and any misstep will count dearly against you.

There are also almost certainly some interesting lessons in this for other dominant players – such as Google. Will Google behave differently? I don’t know. In many regards Microsoft behaviour was rational. It was seeking to preserve its position and maximize its share of the pie. This was made all the tougher because its market was evolving and the future was unclear. No one knew which pieces of the value network would be critical (and therefor most profitable)  and so Microsoft was simply trying to stake out as many of them as possible. It is easy to imagine Google behaving in a similar manner. But I suspect that if it does, it may also find it hard to escape Microsoft’s fate.

Big thank you to David H. for pointing out some typos and errors.

Hackers are Social Activists mashup – Eric Raymond vs. Bill Moyes

Bullhorn5If the Open Web is a social movement then are Hackers Social Activists?

From the reaction of a number of people to that post the answer at first seems unclear. Some of those who responded shared their discomfort with the idea of being labeled a social activist. Notions of people chaining themselves to something, yelling into loudspeakers or even adopting the approach of archetype hacker activist Richard Stallman’s makes many open source supporters uneasy.

I agree – but being an activist doesn’t necessarily mean these things.

I’ve been struggling to explain why when, while re-reading the Cathedral and the Bazaar essay “Revenge of the Hackers” I was stuck by how Raymond’s description of the rise of Open Source parallels the stages of activism outlined in the “Movement Action Plan” – a strategic model for social movements developed by Bill Moyer, a US social change activist (basic outline at bottom of this post).

The parallels are not perfect, nor are they absolutely linear (but then Moyer concedes that they never are). Moreover, the language used by Bill Moyer would probably make any coder (or even non-coders like me) feel out of place or downright uncomfortable (does anyone in an open-source community talk powerholders?).  But mapping Eric Raymond against Bill Moyes is instructive. It highlights quite effectively that hackers are a movement, they are social activists (even when thy don’t consider themselves to be), and that when mobilized they can achieve big hairy audacious goals more effectively than many other groups.

I share this not because I want hackers to change who they are or what they do, but, like Eric Raymond, to help them gain a better awareness of who they are and what they are doing (accomplishing!). There are others who want to join this movement – and so understanding that there is a movement, and your role and place in it, is the first step in figuring out how to help others join in. If we want to invite, enable and foster the next million mozillians, we need to at least understand our place within the ecosystem of the open web social movement.

Title and Quotes from the 8 stage Movement Action Plan (see below) by Bill Moyers

Quotes from Eric S. Raymond’s “Revenge of the Hackers”

Stage 1: Business as UsualIn this first stage there are many conditions that grossly violate widely held, cherished human values such as freedom, democracy, security, and justice, and the best interests of society as a whole.

The opposition feels hopeless because it seems that the situation will continue indefinitely, and they feel powerless to change it.


Stage 1: A hackers life was not an easy one…I had been in the hacker culture, living through its various phases, for twenty years. Twenty years of repeatedly watching brilliant ideas, promising starts, and superior technologies crushed by slick marketing. Twenty years of watching hackers dream and sweat and build, too often only to watch the likes of the bad old IBM or the bad new Microsoft walk away with the real-world prizes. Twenty years of living in a ghetto — a fairly comfortable ghetto full of interesting friends, but still one walled in by a vast and intangible barrier of mainstream prejudice inscribed “ONLY FLAKES LIVE HERE”.
Stage 2: Normal Channels FailProve that the official doctrine and policies of powerholders and institutions violate society’s values and the public trust.

Positive results are not expected now

Except for the rare media coverage of opponents’ activities, the problem is still neither in the public spotlight nor on society’s agenda of contested issues.


Stage 2: Market fails to sustain open standardsNetscape had been targeted for destruction. Microsoft rightly feared that the open Web standards embodied by Netscape’s browser might lead to an erosion of its lucrative PC desktop monopoly. The weight of Microsoft’s billions, and shady tactics that would later trigger an antitrust lawsuit, were deployed to crush Netscape.For Netscape, the issue was less browser-related income (never more than a small fraction of their revenues) than maintaining a safe space for their much more valuable server business. If Internet Explorer achieved market dominance, Microsoft would be able to bend the Web’s protocols away from open standards and into proprietary channels that only Microsoft’s servers would be able to service.
Stage 3: Conditions RipenThe “take-off” of a new social movement requires preconditions that build up over many years. These conditions include broad historic developments, a growing discontented population of victims and allies, and a budding autonomous grassroots opposition, all of which encourage discontent with the present conditions, raise expectations that they can change, and provide the means to do it.The growing numbers of discontented local people across the country quietly start new autonomous local groups, which as a whole form a “new wave” of grassroots opposition, which is independent from the established Professional Opposition Organizations.


Stage 3: Condition Ripen
On new Groups and approaches:My first encounter with Linux came in late 1993. I had already been involved in the hacker culture for fifteen years and I thought I understood the hacker culture — and its limitations — pretty well.Encountering Linux came as a shock. I still carried in my head the unexamined assumption that hacker amateurs, gifted though they might be, could not possibly muster the resources or skill necessary to produce a usable multitasking operating system. The HURD developers, after all, had been evidently failing at this for a decade.

But where they had failed, Linus Torvalds and his community had succeeded. And they did not merely fulfill the minimum requirements of stability and functioning Unix interfaces. No. They blew right past that criterion with exuberance and flair, providing hundreds of megabytes of programs, documents, and other resources. Full suites of Internet tools, desktop-publishing software, graphics support, editors, games…you name it. The hacker tradition I had been observing for two decades seemed suddenly alive in a vibrant new way.

On a sense of awareness and identity:

…Around me was a community which had evolved the most effective software-development method ever and didn’t know it!. That is, an effective practice had evolved as a set of customs, transmitted by imitation and example, without the theory or language to explain why the practice worked.

Lacking that theory and that language hampered us in two ways. First: we couldn’t think systematically about how to improve our own methods. Second: we couldn’t explain or sell the method to anyone else… The Cathedral and the Bazaar was less a revelation of novelty than an opportunity to celebrate the new language and the consciousness that went with it. That standing ovations were not so much for my work as for the hacker culture itself — and rightly so.

Stage 4: Take Off!New social movements surprise and shock everyone when they burst into the public spotlight on the evening TV news and in newspaper headlines. Overnight, a previously unrecognized social problem becomes a social issue that everyone is talking about. It starts with a highly publicized, shocking incident, a “trigger event”…


Stage 4: Take Off!On netscape going Open-Source:

On January 22nd 1998 Netscape announced it would release the sources of the Netscape client line to the Internet… This was the event that commentators in the computer trade press would later call “the shot heard ’round the world’… For the first time in the history of the hacker culture, a Fortune 500 and darling of Wall Street had bet its future on the belief that our way was right.

Stage 5: Activist FailureThe general populace experiences dissonance, not knowing who or what to believe. While many agree with the movement’s challenges, they also fear siding with dissidents and losing the security of the powerholders and status quo. The alternatives are unclear to them. The general citizenry is about evenly divided, 50 percent to 50 percent, between the powerholders and the movement. Movement violence, rebelliousness, and seeming anti-Americanism turn people off and tend to frighten them into supporting the powerholders’ policies, police actions, and status quo.

Powerholders continue a hardline strategy, including escalating their policies to prove that they are in charge and that both the movement and public have no effect.

The overall goal is to help activists become empowered and move on to Stage Six by becoming strategists by using a framework such as MAP, forming political and personal support groups


Stage 5: Crossing the ChasmOn developing a grand strategy:

At the Mozilla launch I met with several key people in the Silicon Valley and national Linux community. While helping Netscape was clearly a short-term priority, everybody I spoke with already understood the need for a longer-term strategy.

On abandoning failed activist approaches:

It seemed clear that the term `free software’ had done our movement tremendous damage over the years. Part of this stemmed from the fact that the word `free’ has two different meanings in the English language, one suggesting a price of zero and one related to the idea of liberty. Richard Stallman, whose Free Software Foundation (FSF) has long championed the term, says “Think free speech, not free beer” but the ambiguity of the term nevertheless created serious problems — especially since most “free software” is also distributed free of charge.

Most of the damage, though, came from something worse — the strong association of the term `free software’ with hostility to intellectual property rights, communism, and other ideas hardly likely to endear it to an MIS manager.

Under the pressure of the Netscape release the FSF’s actual position didn’t matter. What mattered was that its evangelism (associating `free software’ with these negative stereotypes in the minds of the trade press and the corporate world) had backfired.

Stage 6: Win Majority of Public The majority stage is a long process of eroding the social, political, and economic supports that enable the powerholders to continue their policies. It is a slow process of social transformation that create a new social and political consensus, reversing those of normal times.

The movement’s chief goal, therefore, is to nurture, support, and empower grassroots activists and groups. Finally, activists also need to have a grand strategy for waging Stage Six majority movements to win positive social changes against the strong opposition of the powerholders.


Stage 6: Win Majority of Decision MakersThe following six months were a study in increasingly surreal contrasts. On the one hand, I was giving talks on open source to Fortune 100 corporate strategists and technology investors; for the first time in my life, I got to fly first class and saw the inside of a stretch limousine. On the other hand, I was doing guerrilla street theater with grass-roots hackers — as in the riotously funny Windows Refund Day demonstration of March 15 1999, when a band of Bay-area Linux users actually marched on the Microsoft offices in the glare of full media coverage, demanding refunds under the terms of the Microsoft End-User License for the unused Windows software that had been bundled with their machines.
Stage 7: SuccessStage Seven begins when the long process of building opposition reaches a new plateau in which the new social consensus turns the tide of power against the powerholders and begins an endgame process leading to the movement’s success. The Stage Seven process can take three forms: dramatic showdown, quiet showdown, or attrition.


Stage 7: Marketplace Supports Open Standards
In the early part of 1999 big independent software vendors began porting their business applications to Linux, following the lead set earlier by the major database vendors. In late July, the biggest of them all, Computer Associates, announced that it would be supporting Linux. And preliminary results from an August 1999 survey of 2000 IT managers revealed that 49% consider Linux an “important or essential” element of their enterprise computing strategies. Another survey by IDC described what it called “an amazing level of growth’’ since 1998, when the market research couldn’t find statistically significant use of Linux; 13% of the respondents now employ it in business operations.1999 also saw a wave of wildly successful Linux IPOs by Red Hat Linux, VA Linux Systems, and other Linux companies.
Stage 8: Moving On Stage 8: Moving On

On a separate note, I think it is fascinating the overlap between Bill Moyes Movement Action Plan – which is about activism – and Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” – which is about technology in the market place. The two things are describing the same event (the adoption of something new) in different spaces (community/society vs. marketplace) and each highlights a point on the exact same place of an S-curve where the threat failure is greatest: the Chasm for Moore, and Activisim Failure for Moyers. Happily, I think Open-Source has crossed the threshold, but other significant challenges, challenges both Moore and Moyer have insights into, await.

Bill Moyes Movement Action Plan:

Movement Action Plan

Open Updates: Firefox 3 and open office

So Firefox 3 RC 1 has been released and again, if you haven’t downloaded it I strongly encourage you to do so.

Having used the FF 3 Beta for months now I can honestly say it is everything it’s cracked up to be. Especially its coolest feature – the Awesome Bar (some boring people are still referring to it as the Smart Location Bar, but ignore them).You can read more about this feature, along with an interview of my man Beltzner who’s making some pretty bold claims about it, here. That said, I think Beltzner is right, the Awesome Bar has already changed how I surf the net and use my browser.

In other exciting Open Source news Microsoft has announced that Office 2007 SP2 will add support for Open Document Format. This is a real win for the Open Office crew.  It also means the day I switch to Open Office has been moved up dramatically.

Exciting times to be open…

How to make $240M of Microsoft equity disappear

Last week a few press articles described how Google apparently lost to Microsoft in a bidding war to invest in Facebook. (MS won – investing $240M in Facebook)

Did Google lose? I’m not so sure… by “losing” it may have just pulled off one of the savviest negotiations I’ve ever seen. Google may never have been interested in Facebook, only in pumping up its value to ensure Microsoft overpaid.


Because Google is planning to destroy Facebook’s value.

Facebook – like all social network sites – is a walled garden. It’s like a cellphone company that only allows its users to call people on the same network – for example if you were a Rogers cellphone user, you wouldn’t be allowed to call your friend who is a Bell cellphone user. In Facebook’s case you can only send notes, play games (like my favourite, scrabblelicious) and share info with other people on Facebook. Want to join a group on Friendster? To bad.

Social networking sites do this for two reasons. First, if a number of your friends are on Facebook, you’ll also be inclined to join. Once a critical mass of people join, network effects kick in, and pretty soon everybody wants to join.

This is important for reason number two. The more people who join and spend time on their site, the more money they make on advertising and the higher the fees they can charge developers for accessing their user base. But this also means Facebook has to keep its users captive. If Facebook users could join groups on any social networking site, they might start spending more time on other sites – meaning less revenue for Facebook. Facebook’s capacity to generate revenue, and thus its value, therefor depends in large part on two variables: a) the size of its user base; and b) its capacity to keep users captive within your site’s walled garden.

This is why Google’s negotiation strategy was potentially devastating.

MicroSoft just paid $240M for a 1.6% stake in Facebook. The valuation was likely based in part, on the size of Facebook’s user base and the assumption that these users could be kept within the site’s walled garden.

Let’s go back to our cell phone example for a moment. Imagine if a bunch of cellphone companies suddenly decided to let their users call one another. People would quickly start gravitating to those cellphone companies because they could call more of their friends – regardless of which network they were on.

This is precisely the idea behind Google’s major announcement earlier this week. Google launched OpenSocial – a set of common APIs that let developers create applications that work on any social networks that choose to participate. In short, social networks that participate will be able to let their users share information with each other and join each other’s groups. Still more interesting MySpace has just announced it will participate in the scheme.

This is a lose-lose story for Facebook. If other social networking sites allow their users to connect with one another then Facebook’s users will probably drift over to one of these competitors – eroding Facebook’s value. If Facebook decides to jump on the bandwagon and also use the OpenSocial API’s then its userbase will no longer be as captive – also eroding its value.

Either way Google has just thrown a wrench into Facebook’s business model, a week after Microsoft paid top dollar for it.

As such, this could be a strategically brilliant move. In short, Google:

  • Saves spending $240M – $1B investing in Facebook
  • Creates a platform that, by eroding Facebook’s business model, makes Microsoft’s investment much riskier
  • Limit their exposure to an anti-trust case by not dominating yet another online service
  • Creates an open standard in the social network space, making it easier for Google to create its own social networking site later, once a clear successful business model emerges

Nice move.