Twitter rules for now, but what's next?

Twitter has rocketed to the front lines of social media coverage, but it's hardly the only game in town. Several social media upstarts debated what's next during a panel wrapping up the AlwaysOn Summit here at Stanford University last week.

Panelists pointed to the openness of the Web as providing plenty of opportunity for new ideas and models to be successful.

Gerry Campbell, CEO of Collecta, noted the early days of proprietary online services like CompuServe (where he once worked). "It was so hard to get value in the walled garden, though that model worked for a while," he said. Then came the second generation of online services, represented by Yahoo's portal approach, which offered open channels to other Web services.

And now?

"There's a third generation of 'onlineness' where instead of one company, you have all these small companies providing all these pieces in conjunction with these large transport mechanisms, (e.g. Facebook), that make it a lot cheaper to start a company," he said. "The world is splintering online, blasting apart into a million pieces. We're trying to provide value and attract people."

Collecta is a social search engine that provides real-time results from a variety of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, blogs and other sources.

Clara Shih isn't say much about her new startup, Hearsay Labs, which only launched a few weeks ago, but readily commented on a subject she's more than familiar with; business applications on social networks.

Shih was formerly product line director for AppExchange,'s online marketplace of third-party SaaS applications. She's also the author of "The Facebook Era" and creator of Faceconnector, one of the first business applications for the social network that provided integration between Salesforce and Facebook.

"We're at a really important juncture where I see the social Web as being more disruptive than the Internet," said Shih.

She argued the new "World Wide Web of people" that social media enables brings about new levels of engagement and relationships.

"How do we tie the online engagement to offline activity," she asked, noting the answer will be key to successful marketing and sales campaigns.

"Getting content to the right person at the right time is the holy grail," said Shih. "In the past we had the 'where' and the 'what,' we never had the 'who.' The social graph gives us the 'who' and Google gives us the 'what.'"

Shih did offer a few tidbits on Hearsay Labs, noting its aim is to provide high level tools for marketers and managers to leverage their campaigns on Facebook and Twitter.

Pay to play?

Panelists were generally bullish on the prospects of social network's growing importance to business, but they also said they won't be surprised if changes accompany that transition.

Shervin Pishevar, CEO of Social Gaming Network, offers services on both Facebook and the iPhone. "The iPhone gets 30 percent of what we sell and we're happy with that. Facebook didn't ask for anything and perhaps they regret that," he said. "A transaction payment within Facebook is not a bad idea. I think a lot of people that are building multimillion dollar businesses in there would be happy to engage with that."

Max Ventilla, co-founder and CEO of Aardvaark, agreed. "These are proprietary platforms and they will want to extract their fair share of value you're getting," he said.

Advaark, which recently went public after a private beta period, is a free consumer service designed to provide quick answers from friends and friends of friends to things like travel tips, restaurant and movie recommendations, career advice and more.

Ventilla, who was formerly at Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), said he's confident any payment system from Facebook and Twitter will be fair.

"These guys are idealistic," he said, referring to the heads of Facebook and Twitter. "I can tell you coming from Google, the 'Do No Evil' philosophy was not just lip service. That makes it easier than having to work with some bloodthirsty monopolist that's going to take every penny."

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