Hanging on for dear life

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trainWith the Gillmor Gang shut down, I’ve been shifting my attention to the Realtime Stream CrunchUp Eric Schonfeld and I are hosting July 10 at the Fox Theater in Redwood City. Growing interest from startups, bigcos, open standards developers, and investors augurs for a valuable event. I hope you’ll join us.

Some of the areas we expect to see explored include, obviously, Twitter, its ecosystem of third party developers and products, and the reactions of and interactions with other social media platforms. Facebook’s namespace rollout of the past few days is just one of the ripple effects of Twitter’s surge. Others include FriendFeed’s realtime services, live video streaming and low cost digital production, Google’s Wave project, smartphone platform strategies, Robert Scoble’s Building 43 community, and the battle for control of the center of the Web OS desktop.

Stringing these technologies and brands together highlights both how early and how late we are in this cycle of renewed innovation. Just a few short months ago, we were debating if Twitter would survive, whether Facebook would open up, why Google and Microsoft would see realtime as anything more than a distraction, and the eternal where’s the money. Today, the answers to those questions are clear: Yes, As quickly as possible, Because they have no other real competition than each other, and Right where it’s always been — the enterprise.

With Oracle swallowing Sun, the enterprise dynamics have swung hard to right, past cloud computing, and directly into the mobile identity landrush. It’s easy to pigeonhole smart phones as the latest version of Studio 54 society politics, but in fact our identities are being consolidated around the SIM chip, with our social graph around the Follow/Track architecture of Twitter and its subsidiaries. Today the switching costs from device to device are substantial, but Apple’s aggressive deployment of the iPhone and AppStore application divide are doing to the carriers what widgets did to Yahoo.

The razor blades are winning, gaining ground, and inexorably blacktopping the differences between service plans, mobile browsing, location-based services, and social graph (affinity) marketing. It’s a language the carriers understand: revenue per user divided by cost of customer acquisition. Feature comparisons between devices are not the defining metric for where the market will flow. Neither are broadband buildout, developer lock-in, or any other measure of value — except realtime elasticity.

If you look at realtime access as the most valuable asset we control, our phone number is at the top of the priority list. Starting from the bottom, Facebook lets us be pinged by semi-strangers without surrendering email address, symmetrical follow provides direct messaging assent on Twitter, IM and SMS we use to determine permission for realtime voice access. The interrupt moves from soft to hard, from intermittent to constant. The more complete, the more valuable. People guard their privacy. Smartphones allow the full panoply of options at all times. Now we guard our protocols like we used to guard our devices.

Abstractions such as Mesh and Gmail/Gchat/Gvideo are the new platforms, the new Office/OS hybrid. Realtime takes away the distinction between operating system and application services. To the iPhone customer, the device is simply an enabler of the new OS services that stream down to whatever client the user can afford; the most advanced services unlocked by the latest device are the upsell not so much for the device as the tariff negotiated with the carriers.

Put another way, I’m not paying 5 or 6 hundred bucks for video recording, I’m paying it for the (eventual) streaming video conferencing provided via the AppStore. I’m investing in pointing my phone at the Hot Chili Kit shelf at the Safeway and saying, “This one?” And soon I’m betting the Hot Chili Kit is going to look at my phone and say, “How about 10% off, Steve?” and “Oh, by the way, Steve, don’t forget the buns and you’re out of bacon, right TIna?” And the more Steve and Tina’s there are the faster these services arrive, which keeps us engaged and subsidized enough to keep the flow going.

At a macro level, the smart phone is setting up a widget platform across the Safeways and Targets and WalMarts that will be highly disruptive of their customer lock. They will not let this go lightly, just as the carriers are bending to Apple’s will one by one and then service by service and probably never device by device. The Pre and the G2 don’t have to match Apple to play in this game, but only Apple can run the table on the carriers. Whoever controls the ground game is likely to win. The ground game is user behavior. By moving the ball in realtime, in video, in a good enough latency to allow an adequate simulation of face to face interaction between charging stations, will take a bite about travel, entertainment, social gestures, political control. The Blackberry won the election.

In Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan talks about reading Kerouac:

Kerouac moves so fast with his words. No ambiguity. It was very emblematic of the time. You grabbed a hold of the train, hopped on and went along with him, hanging on for dear life. I think that’s what affected me more than whatever he was writing about.

Buried in the Realtime dialogue will be that notion of the hell-bent-for-leather nature of the social stream, that this is no way to spend our lives like rats pushing buttons for more pellets. Certainly I stop from time to time and wonder about my seemingly endless fascination with these machines and pulses of alleged information. It often seems so ephemeral, with a saccharine aftertaste and the bloated feeling of too many potato chips. But that’s not the sum of it, or even the meat of it. More and more I seek refuge from the stream, even as I crave its rushing waters. As Dylan sings:

Admitting life is hard, without you near me

  • http://www.geise.com PXLated

    Good post Steve.
    And – Please bring back the Gillmore Gang.
    Wondered how long it would last with Leo, never seemed a good fit. Leo’s a good guy but his personality definitely didn’t fit the Gang.
    In the mean time, how about some real-time consciousness streaming – Attention Deficit Theater – with the Doctor.

    • Kyle

      Leo saved the Gillmor Gang. I never even heard of it until Leo started streaming it live.

  • http://newgadgets.dailytidbit.com/new-gadgets/hanging-on-for-dear-life/ New Gadgets | Hanging on for dear life

    […] Original post by TechCrunchIT […]

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hamish_MacEwan/720296769 Hamish MacEwan

    Hi Steve,

    Wondered if there would be any significant fallout to the spat, particular given the rapid reconciliation of the protagonists. C’est la vie. Forever, part of the addictive nature of the Gang and its precursors was the fragility and random nature of its rewards.

    Selfishly I approved of the move to TwIT.tv as it injected a slight amount of structure while retaining some of the anarchy, and you seemed to calm Leo’s DJ angst about dead air, mostly.

    On the post, I hope I read it right when you wrote:

    Q: “the eternal where’s the money.”

    A: “Right where it’s always been — the enterprise.”

    Which puzzled me a little as the non-enterprise market is generally larger and if cost-effectively served more profitable. Plenty of room at the bottom as Feynman and C. K. Prahalad have both observed.

    But reading on to your discussion of mobile, a mass market if ever there was one, which is moving further down the pyramid everyday, did you mean the money was going to the enterprises who can efficiently serve mobile? The carriers, handset and apps providers (now that they have begun their inevitable structural separation)?

    Hope the Gang recovers soon, and distribution returns to live and recorded modes. Its proved pretty robust in the past.

    • Steve Gillmor

      while the realtime platform is being built out in the consumer space, the money will appear in the enterprise space. Salesforce, Google Apps, Exchange Online are already leveraging the cloud, and micromessaging will be the foundation of Y3K

  • ed

    Will the Gilmore Gang be broadcast anywhere?
    I thought everything between you, Leo and Steve
    was patched up.

    Leo completely over reacted.

  • Jim

    I for one would LOVE to have the Gang continue somehow. I love Leo’s stuff and I love the Gang- including Mike. One of my top 3 or 4 podcasts for a long time.

  • Jason

    A timely post in one of many parallel universes. I was able to attend a lecture a discussion by Howard Bloom ( Global Brain, Lucifer Principal, etc) where the topic was “The Infinity Chip” aka Web 5.0, 6.0, 7.0. In other words, what you Steve have been talking about for several years. The audience pondered the hardware implementation or user interface of the futuristic Infinity chip with ideas pushed forward of genetically engineered biometric implants. Said commenter failed to see the irony of his statement as he was being filmed by another commenter with a flip video camera. To quote you Steve, “If is going to be true, it is true.” The hardware implementations were available June 18, 2009. This revolution will be televised.

  • http://arnoldit.com/wordpress/2009/06/30/search-sucks-a-mini-case/ Search Sucks: A Mini Case : Beyond Search

    […] query Gilmore Gang on Google and finally found a link to a story published on June 13, 2009, called “Hanging on for Dear Life.” The problem with the Google results was that the top rated links were just plain wrong in terms […]

  • bavb

    i’m sure the gillmor gang will be back one day, until then, sigh…

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