TechStars Days : Google Day
The first couple weeks, of TechStars has been flying by in a blur. The first weeks were filled with many meetings, introductions, contacts, and informal group meet-ups. I am pretty sure during the first two weeks each team gave their elevator pitch 45+ times, giving us all chances to refine our pitches. During these first weeks besides the regular meetings, there were some full meeting days, which I call “TechStars Days”.
The thought behind our initial meeting-packed schedule is that TS front loads many of the longer meetings at the beginning of the program. This allows us to try to absorb as much of the advice as possible before we get moving. If we came in the program and immediately started going as fast as possible we might find that we were running the wrong direction. Devver has slightly shifted the way we think of our business, and I think we are better off for it. At the heart of these full days there were four large, themed days: Google Day, Amazon Day, Microsoft Day, and Yahoo Day. We just finished the last of our so-called themed days, and I have far too many thoughts and notes to even try to turn them all into blog posts. So I will just try to cover some key points and notes from my experience.
Over the next four days I will post all of my TechStars Days thoughts, starting with Google Day below.
Kevin Marks (OpenSocial)
Kevin talked about the “Social Cloud”, as he put it. The idea is that we don’t have to build new social networks and have our social graph data trapped inside any particular website (i.e. Facebook). We can use the existing web infrastructure of linking to establish our social circles. Using XFN (which apparently Kevin prefers) or FOAF you can link to websites and express your relationship to those sites. I could for example link from my blog to my girlfriend’s blog and use XFN to express that she is my girlfriend. As this metadata grows on the web, Google does what it does best, and crawls all this information and allows people to search and query against the data via an API (Google’s Social Graph API). Now the next time you sign up for a new service like Twitter, instead of finding all your friends again, it can query my social graph and recommend contacts that I have already expressed on the web. This is also far safer and better than many services asking for my Gmail password to find my contacts. The open social graph is a very cool and big idea, but it will really require a large adoption of XFN by many and preferably highly social sites.
Kevin also talked about Google providing a solution to the Gmail password problem. Google has a Contacts API which will get all of your contacts information from Gmail without you having to give a third party system their password. The contact API initially is entirely separate from the social API, but I am sure you can see the likely overlap.
Lastly Kevin got into Open Social, the large social initiative Google has been pushing to allow developers to write a single social app that should play nicely in any Open Social container. So a site like LinkedIn would run an Open Social container and apps that were developed for Open Social could run on this container and access my LinkedIn social graph so the app could use those relationships. The same social app could run on other Open Social containers as well like MySpace, iGoogle, or BeBo. Open Social sounds really promising to me if I was working in the social or viral space.
Kevin had interesting thoughts on viral growth and organic growth, the second of which he believes is the correct way to try to spread through a network. He also discussed limitations that social growth can run into, for example language or cultural barriers. He didn’t get into this topic as deep as he could have, but recommended that if we were interested, we should really read Danah Boyd, who has been working in the social space for a long time.
Google Gears isn’t just providing offline experiences, it is improving the speed and performance of websites. It also offers a unique way to offload work from the server to the client side. An interesting example of this is MySpace providing message searching to users via Google Gears. Utilizing SQLite DB, local caching, and local thread pools allows developers to perform many operations client side better and simpler than server side. Google Gears also allows full icon links, growl for the web, multiple file upload without flash, and a variety of other cool things.
Dion also talked briefly about Google’s location API which sounded pretty cool, being able to identify the users location based on Wi-Fi hotspots, cell towers, GPS, and a variety of other sources. Besides giving a location it will give accuracy ratings. I don’t know how much of this is live now, but it could be very useful if you are working in the location-based services.
Dion of course talked about Google App Engine last, which I really enjoyed hearing about, but pretty much everything we heard is publicly available. It seems to have some really nice benefits over Amazon like being free for up to 5 million page views, having a stronger DB offering, and seemingly better support. It also has some huge limitations which seemed to make most people, myself included, feel it isn’t ready for many real applications. If you want to build a sweet Python web app or Django-powered site, get on App Engine, but if you need any back end control App Engine just isn’t the way to go yet. It was great to hear this as we are currently very interested in cloud computing. Dion wasn’t allowed to discuss upcoming features or the widely discussed rumors of other languages and MapReduce support, admitting only that some big things are in the works.
As part of Google Day, we got to hear from a company that was acquired by Google. My cofounder did a great post about the talk, FeedBurner get all the feeds, so I will leave that to him.