My new gig at the Guardian in London

At the end of April I will be joining the Guardian in London to build a new developer program there.

This is a fantastic opportunity in many ways. Perhaps what’s most appealing to me is the direction the Guardian is going — they are totally focused on building a great online business, and it all starts with great journalism. As Jeff Jarvis reported from a management meeting there about a year ago,

“Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, told the staff of his newspaper that now ‘all journalists work for the digital platform’ and that they should regard ‘its demands as preeminent.’…They issued a set of principles to work by. And this was surrounded by much deserved — in my biased opinion — back-patting for good journalism and innovation and, from managing director Tim Brooks and company head Carolyn McCall, for business progress.”

In addition, being owned by a trust committed to preserving the core values of journalism provides a very powerful foundation for using the Internet to offer important services for developers around the world. From the Guardian Media Group web site:

“The Trust was created in 1936 to safeguard the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the Guardian. Its core purpose is to preserve the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity, while its subsidiary aims are to champion its principles and to promote freedom of the press in the UK and abroad.”

With it’s history of championing data freedom, the Guardian is a great environment for opening up data that matters to people. The Guardian’s Simon Waldman points out:

“Charles Arthur and his gang have been banging their ‘Free our data’ drum for two years now. This week, under the slightly optimistic headline: In sight of victory, they cover a report which proves their case that their is more value to be created by opening up publicly owned data than by giving government agencies control over it.”

This is also a great opportunity for me, personally. I lived in London a few years ago now when I was with The Industry Standard and loved it. I met my wife and got married there and always planned to return someday. (I’m curious to see how fast my daughter’s accent changes…my wife has been trying in vain to get her to speak the ‘correct’ way. “Water is pronounced wottah, not waddr.”) And I’m looking forward to living in the same city as my brother Mitch again. Many pints to enjoy together, brother.

It’s also difficult to leave Yahoo! with all the exciting developments happening there. I came to Yahoo! in 2005 during the Flickr era when lots of people were innovating on different approaches to openness. Now, it seems, the drive toward openness is having a major impact on the company and the Internet as a whole. I’m glad I was able to at least participate in getting things moving in that direction.

At the same time, I’m really excited to be working with some outstanding people at the Guardian, some I already know, many I’ve recently met and many who I’ve only heard about still. I can’t wait to find out what other ideas are cooking in addition to our plans to open up data and services for developers.

Meantime, anyone interested in buying a nice little house in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill, please drop me a line. Oh, and let me know if you have any interest in looking after our dog (terrier/beagle mix) while he’s in the pet immigration waiting period (about 6 months).

I’ll continue to use this blog to comment on what’s going on in the online media market as I see it. I may also twitter the inane details of our move across the pond for our friends and family. So, stay tuned as this new adventure unfolds.

Creating leverage at the data layer

There’s a reason that the world fully embraced HTTP but not Gopher or Telnet or even FTP. That’s because the power of the Internet is best expressed through the concept of a network, lots of interlinked pieces that make up something bigger rather than tunnels and holes that end in a destination.

The World Wide Web captured people’s imaginations, and then everything changed.

I was reminded of this while reading a recent interview with Tim Berners-Lee (via TechCrunch). He talked a bit about the power of linking data:

“Web 2.0 is a stovepipe system. It’s a set of stovepipes where each site has got its data and it’s not sharing it. What people are sometimes calling a Web 3.0 vision where you’ve got lots of different data out there on the Web and you’ve got lots of different applications, but they’re independent. A given application can use different data. An application can run on a desktop or in my browser, it’s my agent. It can access all the data, which I can use and everything’s much more seamless and much more powerful because you get this integration. The same application has access to data from all over the place…

Data is different from documents. When you write a document, if you write a blog, you write a poem, it is the power of the spoken word. And even if the website adds a lot of decoration, the really important thing is the spoken words. And it is one brain to another through these words.”

Data is what matters. It’s a point of interest in a larger context. It’s a vector and a launchpad to other paths. It’s the vehicle for leverage for a business on the Internet.

What’s the business strategy at the data layer?

I have mixed views on where the value is on social networks and the apps therein, but they are all showing where the opportunity is for services that have actually useful data. Social networks are a good user interface for distributed data, much like web browsers became a good interface for distributed documents.

But it’s not the data consumption experience that drives value, in my mind.

Value on the Internet is being created in the way data is shared and linked to more data. That value comes as a result of the simplicity and ease of access, in the completeness and timeliness, and by the readability of that data.

It’s not about posting data to a domain and figuring out how to get people there to consume it. It’s about being the best data source or the best data aggregator no matter how people make use of it in the end.

Where’s the money?

Like most Internet service models, there’s always the practice of giving away the good stuff for free and then upselling paid services or piggybacking revenue-generating services on the distribution of the free stuff. Chris Anderson’s Wired article on the future of business presents the case well:

“The most common of the economies built around free is the three-party system. Here a third party pays to participate in a market created by a free exchange between the first two parties…what the Web represents is the extension of the media business model to industries of all sorts. This is not simply the notion that advertising will pay for everything. There are dozens of ways that media companies make money around free content, from selling information about consumers to brand licensing, “value-added” subscriptions, and direct ecommerce. Now an entire ecosystem of Web companies is growing up around the same set of models.”

Yet these markets and technologies are still in very early stages. There’s lots of room for someone to create an open advertising marketplace for information, a marketplace where access to data can be obtained in exchange for ad inventory, for example.

Data providers and aggregators have a huge opportunity in this world if they can become authoritative or essential for some type of useful information. With that leverage they could have the social networks, behavioral data services and ad networks all competing to piggyback on their data out across the Internet to all the sites using or contributing to that data.

Regardless of the specific revenue method, the businesses that become a dependency in the Web of data of the future will also find untethered growth opportunities. The cost of that type of business is one of scale, a much more interesting place to be than one that must fight for attention.

I’ve never really liked the “walled garden” metaphor and its negative implications. I much prefer to think in terms of designing for growth.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings that were engaged with the environments in which they lived. Similarly, the best services on the World Wide Web are those that contribute to the whole rather than compete with it, ones that leverage the strengths in the network rather than operate in isolation. Their existence makes the Web better as a whole.

Photo: happy via

What would happen if the Internet knew where you were?

Tom Coates took the stage today at ETech to announce the developer availability of Fire Eagle.

Fire Eagle is a location storage service. You tell Fire Eagle where you are, and then Fire Eagle can act as your location broker for other services that might want your location information.

It’s like PayPal for your location.

When I asked Tom to explain what Fire Eagle was he replied, “What got me excited about Fire Eagle was the idea that the Internet might be really interesting if it knew where I was.” The video of his ETech presentation is here:

People have been talking about how the advertising model would change in a location-aware world for years. There are countless scenarios for improving the way marketers can talk to people if they know where they are at a particular moment in time.

Social networking is an obvious winner, as well. If services like Facebook or MySpace knew where your friends were that would certainly create some interesting new ways to interact with people.

Every day tasks could change dramatically, too.

Let’s say you need gas for the car. You pull up the handy local gas ticker on your phone which shows the nearest stations and compares prices.

Then maybe you decide to go for a coffee…Are any of your friends out and about? Ping Fire Eagle. You learn that an ex-girlfriend is at the local cafe around the corner, so you go to Starbucks instead.

Now, not everyone has a GPS or wifi-enabled device. And developers will require a little time before they uncover the best uses for this kind of interaction model. However, there are already a few partners working on neat integrations, like Dopplr, for example. And Erica Sadun already built an iPhone hack that will automatically ping Fire Eagle with your location.

Online media today is less about hosting web sites that push out HTML pages every day. It’s real power is derived from treating media as a service or rather about helping data find data. Fire Eagle is a great model of this world.

Fire Eagle has to be one of the most promising applications to come along in a while, in my opinion.

A big congrats to the Fire Eagle team!