Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Analysis: MySpace Seeks To Stem Silicon Valley Developer First Mover Culture

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 6, 2008

...Swift or slow initially it won't matter

Tuesday evening in San Francisco, MySpace unveiled a unique plan to win developers of social network apps. It said it would seek to eliminate some competitive advantages between large and small developers by holding back all application launches to the same day--one month from today.

"We want a level playing field and we think this will encourage quality over quantity," said Kyle Brinkman, GM of the MySpace Developer Platform. He wants small developers to have equal opportunities for success as the larger developers, which have the resources to quickly produce and distribute apps. Or maybe it is the small, nimble developers that will lose out to the larger, slower moving competitors?

Over on ZDNet, I asked if this "socialist-like" strategy would succeed. Does this Southern California based firm understand the developer culture here. Because the MySpace policy clearly clashes against the hard core, deeply embedded code of Silicon Valley's startup culture: speed to market brings massive rewards and creates formidable barriers to competition.

Silicon Valley developers have a deep understanding of the importance of first mover advantage. Startups know that being swift leads to long term success and shorter lives for competitors.

The MySpace plan is to curtail the rewards that first-to-market developers would capture. In the first month, Swift or slow it won't matter, all apps become available at the same time.

Mr Brinkman believes that this will create a democracy and a meritocracy in the MySpace developer community, where apps will succeed based on quality and usefulness.

Quick and dirty apps...

MySpace also said it will scrutinize each app before release to make sure it meets stringent privacy and decency standards. I asked Mr Brinkman about revisions to apps since developers are constantly tweaking their software. Every change will require re-examination.

I understand MySpace's concern about privacy and decency but this process of re-examining tens of thousands of apps creates a potential bottleneck. And paradoxically, it threatens the quality of MySpace apps.

Quick and dirty apps with few revisions will be seen as the most effective strategy. Constant improvement of apps is punished by delays due to re-examination of the code. Again, this is counter-culture to Silicon Valley's best practices in developing best applications.

Anti-viral...

There is also another interesting move: MySpace has weakened the viral distribution capabilities of social apps on its platform. On Facebook, some app developers have seen huge viral uptakes, hitting a million users within a week and tens of millions within a month.

These huge numbers, however, often have more to do with questionable distribution methods that exploit the Facebook communications infrastructure, The growth in users is certainly viral but not necessarily virtuous. MySpace is seeking to reward quality apps. But again, it runs against the grain of Silicon Valley's developer culture, which seeks to maximize and amplify any and all viral distribution opportunities.

It'll be interesting to see how this approach will work out. It is worth remembering that counter culture and counter-intuitive business strategies have succeeded many times in Silicon Valley.

Some excerpts from ZDNet and my conversations at the MySpace developer party:

MySpace will not seek to discourage copycat application developers. Popular Facebook apps such as Zombies, and others, can be cloned with impunity. I asked MySpace CTO Aber Whitcomb about this issue. “We don’t want to get involved in any copycat disputes, we will leave that up to the developers to figure out.”

...

Michael Cerda, CEO of Jangl, an SMS and telephony application developer, said, “We have negotiated deals with the major carriers, it won’t be easy for others to do the same. We also have negotiated deals with major advertisers, we already have revenues. And we have core patents.”
. . .

Jared Kopf from Slide and Adroll said he wasn’t worried about copycat competitors. “We will have the best Super Poke app on MySpace,” he predicted. Slide is one of the top Facebook app developers and raised a stunning $50m in January 2008, giving it a valuation of more than half-a-billion dollars ($550m.) [Slide Slides Into Some Cash - Brad Stone, New York Times]

. . .

Bill Cromie, co-founder and CTO of New York based Nabbr, a distributor of media widgets loaded with premium content, had an interesting perspective on the differences between the SoCal culture of MySpace, New York, and Silicon Valley/San Francisco. “New York and San Francisco startup cultures are more similar to each other than they are to Southern California. The difference is that people talk in big pictures in Silicon Valley while New York is more focused on show me the money.”


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