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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Responsive Website, Mobile App or Mobile Web?

7:49 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , , No comments
I have met many people recently who want to leverage the growth in mobile space. For most of them the default way to enter the mobile space is an app. Now while that might be true for some cases, I wonder if they have even thought about other options as well. 

While on one hand, Financial Times has become kind of a poster child for how people can bypass the walled gardens of app stores and still be successful with their mobile HTML5 application; on the other, some people swear by the wonders of responsively designed website. I have been thinking about the options for my own application and thought of capturing some points I have considered for each option in this blog. Please feel free to add or comment on it. (Note that I am considering hybrid and native apps as one - Mobile Applications - because they need to be downloaded from app stores.


Responsive Web Design Mobile Application Mobile Web
PROs
  • Making just one [responsive] website that can perform and look beautiful in all devices (PCs, tablets, TVs and mobile phones) is the ultimate dream, and hopefully we will get there some day

  • Given the various kinds of screens we have nowadays, it is pretty much a no-brainer to have a responsive web design

  • Having a single site for your PCs, tablets, mobiles and TVs, saves a lot of investment (time and money) in device specific design
  • Mobile apps are able to leverage device specific features (such as GPS, offline access and local storage)

  • They provide faster, sleeker and more optimized app experience

  • They can leverage the distribution and payment channels of the app stores
  • A lot of users will try to go to your website at least once before downloading and using the app. TO serve such audience, it makes a lot of sense to have mobile website

  • No sharing of revenue. It's all yours to keep!

  • Single mobile website for all mobile apps. Requires less effort and cost for maintaining the application

  • [HTML5] mobile web apps can leverage some device specific features, such as offline access and local storage
CONs
  • Responsive apps are not able to leverage the capabilities of a mobile applications, and serve the same content to mobile as is meant for a PC, hogging more than required bandwidth

  • No matter how good the concept of responsive design is, the reality is that the way a user interacts with a PC, tablet and mobile phone is different. Bottom line is that, currently, while responsive design might work for basic websites (like for a shop, blog or partnership), it is still a compromise for proper web applications
  • The federated mobile environment means that you need to build an app for each type of mobile OS, which is a costly and time consuming affair

  • Sharing revenue with app stores is one of the biggest and most irritable problems for developers and companies

  • The app store approval process (particularly in iOS) is a big pain for the developers and companies

  • App discovery (with hundreds of thousands of apps published) remains a big problem

  • Danger of vendor-technology lock-in
  • Does not provide access to all device specific features

  • Unable to leverage the advantages provided by an app store (such as distribution and payment systems)

  • HTML5 is still an evolving standard and not all mobile browsers fully support it yet

For some types of apps the decision to go with one of the above options is more obvious than others. For example, for high performance gaming apps a native app is a better choice. For a small pastry shop making a responsive website might be better and cost effective. Whereas, for an app which requires online access, is not into too much into graphics and where revenue sharing is not an option, mobile web is the option to go with. With app discovery still remaining a problem in app stores, I personally do not see much advantage in going with a native app (considering the revenue sharing constraint as well) - as HTML5 web apps are more than sufficient for most of the applications out there. With increasing browser support and developer adoption for HTML5, I am very hopeful that mobile web is the future.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Experience Graph

Anyone who has read my blogs in the past (here and here) would know that I am a huge proponent of the interest graph. Its potential and advantages for e-commerce are now very well known and exercised by many startups and organizations. 

I have been working on an initiative for some time now, for which I have come across another kind of graph which has proved to be as interesting, if not more, as the interest graph. I call it the Experience Graph. Now before I go further, others have also explored the "experience graph" before me, and while there is no common universal understanding of the term, I believe that there is a lot of agreement in all definitions. 

What Is An Experience Graph? 
Life is full of many small experiences, which can vary from spending a weekend together with family on a camping trip, to a day at Disneyland, to just a walk in the park. It is these experiences that connect us and stay in our memories. The experience graph is a representation of these experiences. While in a social graph, people are connected with other people they know, and in an interest graph people are connected with other people or entities that they find interesting, in an experience graph people are connected with an experience - which in turn connects them with other people that they lived that particular experience with. What makes the experience graph more interesting is that other people might also have lived similar experiences, and yet other set of people might want to live a similar experience in future, allowing new connections to be formed. These properties of the experience graph make it like a hybrid of social and interest graphs. 




Graph Traversal 
Experience graphs - unlike interest graphs - are undirected, and can be traversed in two ways: experience and person. You can traverse an experience graph from an experience and explore all the people that have lived it or want to live it. You can also start the traversal from a person, and explore all the experiences that he or she has lived in the past or wants to live in future. 

Advantages Of Experience Graph 
An interesting property of the experience graph is that it is more active than either of its two counterparts. For example, in an interest graph, the chances of that interest turning into an action are not very bright and the signals can be subtle. Whereas in an experience graph, if you have lived an experience, you have most certainly actioned it, and if you want to live an experience there is a pretty good chance that you will action it in future. This information can be very helpful for e-commerce purposes. Companies can explore an experience graph of a person to find out the experiences he has lived in the past and the experiences that he wants to live in future. Based on this information, more specific messages and products can be targeted towards that user, with higher chances of the user taking an action - a win-win for both the company and the user. 

Actions speak louder than words, which is why an experience graph of a person can prove to be a better tool for self expression than an interest graph. As the experiences are actually lived by that person, the experience graph can provide a more accurate description of him, even better than an interest graph. 

Applications 
While we have established examples of social (Facebook) and interest (Twitter) graphs, there isn't an equivalent one for the experience graph. However, there are many startups that are trying to venture in this area and explore the concept further. In addition to the startups, deals providers are also well positioned to explore the experience graph, after all a deal can be mapped to an experience as well. One way or the other, I am certain that we will soon see an established example of an experience graph. 

There is more research I need to do on this topic, and if you have any thoughts in this area please do feel free to share them.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Experience Oriented Approach To Deals

The SoLoMo (Social+Local+Mobile) game is getting more interesting by the day, specially from the deals perspective. Big boys of the game (Facebook, Yelp, Groupon) have been gearing up for quite some time now, and Foursquare with its new focus on exploration and recent app redesign is looking even more interesting. What I love the most about this whole deals angle to the SoLoMo phenomenon is that it has the power to tap the long tail of local commerce and affect the small shopkeeper/businessman directly - a brilliant case of capitalism with economic and social benefits at the root level. 

I have yet to check out the new Foursquare app, but I find most of the current apps (web + mobile) in the deals space very transactional in nature. I believe that there is a scope of making the whole deal buying experience better, making it less transactional and more humane. 

Now you might be wondering what I mean by making the experience humane and improving it. All deal-based applications can be divided into two main camps: transaction oriented (most of the deal apps fall in this camp) and experience oriented. While transaction oriented applications focus on the discounts and price aspects of the deal, the experience oriented applications focus on user experience and solution aspects. Let me explain these two further with an example. Say a user wants some guitar lessons. If he visits a transaction oriented deals application looking for guitar lessons, he will be shown a few discounted deals with some information and reviews on each one of them. The focus for the transaction-oriented deals app will be to sell the service to user. The spotlight will be on the discount.  

An experience-oriented app, on the other hand, will take a different approach and focus on providing the solution to the user, instead of just selling the service. It will focus on the features, reviews and samples of the guitar class providers, instead of talking about discounts upfront. It will show photos and videos of the facility (almost a given nowadays) along with user testimonials. It might allow you to connect with other user members who have availed the service and ask for feedback. And then, at the end, if you like the service, it will talk about the price and discount (if any). Basically, an experience oriented deals application will try to make sure that you get the best solution for your problem, which in this case is learning how to play guitar. This is how best businesses in the real world work, and I see no reason why this kind of premium service cannot work on the internet. While Facebook (in particular) and Foursquare are some of the best positioned players for providing better experience in buying deals, JetSetter is one of the best examples that I have seen of experience oriented approach to deals.


By focusing on the discount, transaction oriented apps are doing themselves a disservice and actually contributing in making their users fickle. Basically, they are opening themselves to low cost competition. Tomorrow if a new player enters the deal space and provides deals with better discounts, the users will have no qualms switching to that new application. On the other hand, experience oriented applications will be better placed against the competition [as compared to transactional ones], as they focus on providing better options to the user instead of just providing the cheapest ones. Real world businesses have shown us that users are not always after the lowest cost options, and that it is the value and service that matters more to many of them. I firmly believe that this is applicable in the online world as well, and think that we will see a transformation in the deals space with more experience oriented players emerging (or transforming from being transaction oriented).

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Internet - Exciting Times Ahead

1:14 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal No comments
Last week KPCB partner Mary Meeker released her Internet Trends 2012 report, and just like her other awesome reports this one is also full of data and insights. The report has highlighted some interesting trends/points which were not covered in the earlier version of the report, such as the monetization dilemma of the mobile platform, re-imagination of nearly all aspects of life and some light on the debate of whether there is a tech bubble or not. This report confirms [with data] what a lot of us are already aware of - we are at the cusp of a tectonic shift in the field of technology and how it affects our lives. Instead of repeating what is in the report, I strongly suggest that all technology enthusiasts should go through it.
KPCB Internet Trends 2012

Can we please put the Tech Bubble debate to rest now? 
One of my favorite parts of this report is the information provided on the recent tech IPOs. The Facebook IPO has shown us that the public markets have not lost their sanity yet, and the hype around tech stocks has largely been restricted to private investors. The fact that pretty much all the star IPOs of recent times, except LinkedIn, have lost their value from opening price, though a bad news for the investors, should help in putting to rest the debate of whether we are witnessing another tech bubble. 
Recent Tech IPOs (source - kpcb.com)

White House going big on technology 
The Layers Of Digital Services (source - whitehouse.gov)
Recently, another event happened that gave a preview of how technology and internet are going to change are lives. On 23rd May 2012, White House issued a press release according to which all federal agencies are required to open up their data so that it is readable by humans as well as machines (through APIs). The US president has issued a few deadlines for this initiative as well, wherein within 90 days the agencies are required to create a page on their website reporting progress in meeting the requirements, and within 12 months they need to implement the requirements of this Digital Strategy initiative. The US government has issued a report with the details of the initiative and the conceptual model of the initiative. This Digital Strategy initiative, if successfully implemented, can enable third-party developers to implement applications that can serve the people of US better and provide a good push into promoting entrepreneurship.   

"This is Day 1 for the Internet...
Reports and initiatives, such as the ones mentioned above, remind me of two extremely powerful and relevant quotes from two of the most influential figures in the world. 

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, once famously stated - "This is Day 1 for the Internet. We still have so much to learn". Even today Jeff mentions current time as Day 1 for the internet in his letter to Amazon shareholders, and talks of internet as a largely untapped resource. 

John Doerr, legendary partner of the venture capitalist firm KPCB, once famously said "The Internet is the greatest legal creation of wealth in history…". KPCB launched the iFund (in 2008) and sFund (in 2010) to finance technology initiatives in the field of mobile and social applications respectively. 

All this confirms my belief that while we have achieved a lot in the field of internet, we still have merely scratched the surface of the immense possibilities out there. The incentives for exploring these possibilities are both social and financial. There is still a lot of re-imagination (and implementation) waiting to happen. There are still a lot of exciting times about to come.