Dirk Knemeyer

Apple’s entry into cloud storage, March 8, 2011

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In one final bit of Apple-related news, rumors are circulating that they are preparing to make their mobile cloud storage and backup service free in the months ahead. This may be corresponding with a move of content purchase from iTunes on to the cloud. And needless to say this is welcome news for those of us who have suffered moving content to computers and backup drives. It also makes you wonder if Apple might be horning in on the broader online sync and storage business pioneered by companies like Dropbox. Only time will tell.

On Zynga’s business model, February 22, 2011

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As reports of Zynga, about raise another $500 million dollar surface, which would skyrocket their value to $10 billion dollars, the backlash is beginning. More and more observers are pointing out that virtually all of Zynga’s success is due to the success of Facebook. Like any parasite they will only be as healthy and well-fed as their host organization allows them to be. If the host dies, so do they. While Facebook’s position remains stratospheric, it is ultimately a dead-stupid business strategy for a 10 billion dollar company to hitch their success to another company, one that has been embroiled and run afoul of potential government legislation. Here’s hoping for Zynga’s sake that they put some of their hundreds of millions towards creating a platform of their own.

Facebook game design, February 9, 2011

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The design of Facebook Games has abandoned the old-school approach of trying to design a great game experience for players and instead is trying to design an engine to optimize revenues from the players. It is a huge difference in philosophy, where the marketers who are paid to make money have taken over from the engineers who are paid to make great experiences and in the process are reducing video game design from a deep and joyous hobby to a prettied-up form of interactive advertising. It is ironic, because we are at a moment where these games can be made much more cheaply than before, and there is plenty of money to be made even if the outcome is a great experience not a cash optimization engine. But these designers just can’t help themselves. Either through corporate mandate or their own misguided design philosophy, they are focused on taking more money from the player while giving them far, far less.

[…] Unfortunately, in the game design of all the games I played, the focus is only on the profitability of the developer and not on the joy of the player.

[…] Let’s for a moment stipulate that whatever they need to do to bring in more players is necessary for their viability. It’s not, but let’s stipulate it. Well, at least let us really make the most of our friends playing. Let the shared nature really enhance our experience. It doesn’t.

[…] The problem with the revenue model for most popular Facebook Games is that they compel the player to spend more, FAR more, than much better games would cost in order to play an inferior experience.

[…] Now, we shouldn’t be terribly surprised about this. People are flocking to these games. There is seemingly no incentive for them to change what they are doing because this is a money machine. Well, I have two points to make on that. First, this is going to change. The market will stop responding to these black holes of suckdom. It may not be today, or tomorrow, but it will change. There will be a demand for the experience-to-investment ratio to get substantially better. And then the games will dutifully shift to meet the market. But my second point is the more immediate one. Remember the Golden Rule? Treat others as you would like them to treat you. I can assure you that the designers of these games are not designing experiences they want to play. They are designing business-driven income generators. We live in a capitalist society, and a game development company needs to make money to stay in business. What we have instead are games that are generating massive profits while being true embarrassments of experience design. The design decisions are shameful, and I can assure you if the designers were creating something they wanted to play they would craft things that were far different.

The future of online privacy, January 25, 2011

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Google and Mozilla, the makers of Chrome and Firefox respectively, announced this week they are adding the ability to block tracking for users of their browsers. Now, Microsoft has previously made this privacy feature available , then removed it due to advertiser complaints, before returning it again to their Explorer product. And that is the bugaboo right at the heart of this issue: the advertisers. Their money is what makes the internet go round. So when they let out a rebel yell about losing access to our data and behavior the tech giants typically listen. That is where the battle for privacy will be felt, at the bottom line. My prediction is that near total privacy, at least as an option, will become ubiquitous on its own, or by corporate if not government mandate. Then, the for-profit companies will incentivize us to give that privacy away using money, bonuses, benefits or other enticements, they will get us to opt into non-privacy out of our own perceived self-interest. In some ways that will be worse than what we have now. As with things like cigarette smoking or alcohol consumption, we will be saying yes to things that put us at risk, yet will claim near-zero personal culpability when our identity is stolen or embarrassing information is released or we are otherwise compromised. Now, at least, we can legitimately chastise Facebook or Google treat our private information like disposable wipes. However, once there is clear distinction where opting in in a more explicit, informed way it becomes more difficult to paint the corporation as a villain with any degree of credibility. So, let’s just say I am increasingly optimistic about having more control of my own personal, but think many consumers will make ignorant decisions despite giant warning labels about their own.

On Zynga’s purchase of Flock, January 11, 2011

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Facebook gaming giant Zynga purchased Flock recently. Once a web 2.0 darling, Flock crashed into obscurity once it was clear that it could not keep up with the bigger browser provides once those competitors began catching up to the new web application paradigm. This is Zynga’s 8th purchase in 8 months, and something tells me the meteoric upstart has its sights set on something more than just a massive Facebook gaming empire. In purchasing a browser Zynga has acquired a potential content delivery platform, one that will enable them to untether from Facebook and serve their highly profitable games without the Pal Alto middleman. Time will tell what Zynga really has planned, but I, for one, and skeptical of their ability to really parlay doing one relatively simple thing very well into some greater degree of online primacy.

On Facebook’s future,

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Facebook is the first company to federate seemingly everybody onto the same website where many of us are remaining actively and engaged with the people of our lives. More than that, Facebook has managed to monetize users to an impressive degree. In fact, so impressive is the Facebook money-making machine that a young Facebook games company, Zynga, has a higher market cap than one of the long-time titans of the video-gaming industry, Electronic Arts. At present there are no identifiable competitors that threaten to move Facebook’s base of increasingly active online users anywhere else. I might not have access to the financials, and it could be a classic bust situation if something major changes within Facebook or its competitive landscape, but today Facebook shares are worth more than they are being shared for. If you can buy them, do. Be ready to get out if that future competitor emerges, but at the moment Facebook has the unique and powerful distinction of bringing all of us together on the web in one place and knows how to make tremendous amount of money from us besides. In January 2011, there was only one possible recommendation for Facebook shares even completely ignorant of the current valuation. Buy.

On bookmarks and newsfeeds, December 22, 2010

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While I suspect del.icio.us will be saved by Yahoo proper or some spinoff or appropriation, the fact that Yahoo has deemed this property deserving of euthanasia reflects the changes the web has undergone since del.ici.us has debuted in 2003. We’re moving away from the desktop browser and into mobile apps. We’re moving away from bookmarks and newsfeed and onto social networks. As much as del.icio.us was an important step, and even as it maintains an impressive user base and following, it is already a relic. The digital life moves very quickly and it doesn’t take long to being the darling of the tech intelligentsia to a product deserving of, quote-unquote, “sunsetting”, by a second-tier internet powerhouse. Thanks for the memories, del.icio.us.

AOL’s acquisition of About.me,

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Four day old startup, about.me a custom profile and personal analytics dashboard, was purchased by AOL yesterday. Yes, you heard that right, four day old. While in truth the startup was much ballyhooed for some time, the site was only live for a scant four days before the once-dominant internet behemoth scooped it up. The concept behind about.me is a good one, but it is a solution that really needs to come from an entrenched tech giant that people are already using in their digital life, not a random startup. And, enter AOL. I suspect AOL is the wrong destination and thus what about.me strives to do will instead be mainstreamed by someone else… say, Google or Facebook. Still, kudos to the about.me team for what must be a near-record-breaking buyout success.

On Google’s “Do no evil” motto, December 9, 2010

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Speaking of the Mountainview behemoth, analysts are taking note of Google’s increasingly tenuous position of attempting to “objectively” serve up search results while being a content producer of its own. With Google Editions, their online bookselling service now live in the United States, they have yet another vested interest that will increasingly compel difficult conversations inside the Googleplux between the starry-eyed idealists and the project managers fighting to get more marketshare.

Related, Google announced last week that they are now acting more quickly to remove pirated content and even manipulating the auto complete feature to redact piracy related search terms. Now, we all rolled our eyes while keeping a sliver of hope that Google’s high-minded principles might manifest a different kind of business, but it is increasingly clear Google is in a moral freewill that puts lockstep with the notorious companies of the past. Every day and in different ways Google feels more and more like the Microsoft of the 1990s or Standard Oil of the 1870s or the Hearst publishing empire in its often dishonest attempts to actually segregate the news and advertising departments. We shouldn’t pile on Google though, this is what lightly-regulated capitalism is. Survival goes to the most determined, callous and shrewd. Newcomers think they can do it in another way, but sooner or later they knuckle under. Google might as well simply embrace it and stop the duplicity inherent in their failing attempts to reach the higher ground.

Facebook’s future,

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The killer app of Facebook, so to speak, is that everybody’s there. Most of us are network with literally everybody we know. That’s an immensely powerful thing, it’s something that’s never been achieved in the history of the internet previously, certainly on any broad level. That’s what somebody else is going to need to crack for Facebook to sink. I think it’s inevitable that that’s going to happen, it’s just a question of when. I used to think that Facebook’s success and time on top would be more terminal than I think it’s proving to be. Facebook could be on top for another 5+ years, which is really an eternity in this industry.