The year of consolidation

An interesting year so far in terms of online services ending or merging. I don’t have a good enough memory to mention all of those that have vanished this year, but there are a number of notable examples I thought I’d highlight, mainly because I’ve used them in the past. I last did a short review of some of these consolidations about two years ago.

So where to start… well, I just read the news that has been acquired by Facebook. It’s a file-sharing service which was incredibly easy to get set up. I wrote about a couple of years ago and at the time it was an exciting service with a lot of potential, a growing developer community, and some very cool plans like location-sensitive drops, content transcoding, and so on. I guess for me its utility was rapidly eclipsed once I discovered Dropbox which I now use to sync content between 2 laptops, a netbook, a home server and my iPhone, and which my Dogear Nation co-hosts and I use to share our content (not using it yet? try this referral link). It looks like is effectively closing on December 15th.

Two notable (to me) video services are going, too. [well, OK, as I write this, one has gone, and the other one is on its way]. Seesmic – the original video version, not the microblogging / update service – is closing. This was a service which wanted to pioneer a “video Twitter” conversation concept, and it was interesting to start off with – I mentioned it in my round-up of online video services back in February 2008. For me, I enjoyed the experiment, and there are a lot of ways in which video online has grown and become an effective way of delivering content, but text has remained my major conversational medium so Seesmic didn’t work out longer term. Of course it has spawned a successful business on the back of Twitter and other sites in the form of Seesmic Web and Desktop clients (and they acquired as well).

Another fun and fascinating video service has gone away – has just a page of video static greeting visitors now. I loved that service, although again I struggled to make longer term use of it… but I’m often to be seen sporting my 12seconds t-shirt 🙂

In the cases of both Seesmic and 12seconds I’m left to wonder where to re-host my content… kudos to both sites for enabling me to get access to what would otherwise be lost. I suspect I will end up dumping them to YouTube since that isn’t likely to go away in a hurry. Of course the Seesmic videos, particularly the conversational ones, won’t make so much sense without the context.

Vox went the way of the dodo in 2010 as well. As an early adopter I tend to try out most services and I had a small but largely inactive blog over on Vox. I can’t say I’m too sad about its end as I’m perfectly comfortable with a blog at WordPress… it’s funny that Windows Live Spaces bloggers are being migrated to WordPress too – a sign of the times I think, as we’re seeing many of these earlier diverse networks collapse into the larger, more established networks (Vox to SixApart/Typepad, and whilst Windows Live Spaces is hardly supported by a non-established brand in Microsoft, but they are obviously refocussing just like everyone else).

The final service worth mentioning, I think, is xMarks. This is a service I only started using in the middle of the year, in an attempt to synchronise my browser content between the iPhone and other devices. The sudden announcement that it was heading for the buffers back in September led to an outpouring of despair and support from the user community, and as a result what was looking like a failure ended up being a near death experience – they initially took user donations, and have now negotiated a sale (so this is more consolidation, in a sense).

So what’s next? Well the microblogging wars seem to have died out, Twitter has won over e.g. former contenders like Jaiku and Pownce, although most online services appear to be integrating their own “updates” concept to continue to seem relevant. The big spaces where I’m personally seeing competition / overlap at the moment are in sites like Tumblr vs Posterous for general content sharing, and in online identity landing pages where, and want my business. There are a number of fascinating new music-oriented services as well and I think some of those will start to overlap as they add features. The rest of the competition and fight for success seems to me to be in mobile apps and between runtimes on the handhelds. Just a personal point-in-time observation as 2010 starts to draw to a close.

The circle of life played out on the Internet – early innovation and excitement, a plateau of limited success leading to, possibly, monetisation (and/or an explosion of copycats), and a quiet death disappointing a small user community, or heady growth and unlimited stock prices. It’s an interesting space to continue to watch for us early adopters…

5 thoughts on “The year of consolidation”

  1. Nice post! Any thoughts on location-based services? The emergence of competitors like Facebook Places, Google Latitude and Foursquare have me (and perhaps even a sizeable bunch of people?) interested, but confused. Would be interested in your thoughts…

  2. Great question Clare, thanks. Yes, you’re right that there’s a scrum on location at the moment and again this is an area I’ve been watching for a while, all the way back to Plazes in 2006.

    So for me the most interesting of the location services is actually one you’ve not listed – Gowalla – my interest in that is being driven by the fact that it’s more of a social game though. Both that and Foursquare can push data into Facebook… Facebook itself remains a walled garden (listen to the discussion at the end of Dogear Nation #178 for a commentary on the Facebook closed, Google open debate) .

    Are any of them useful? well, yes, potentially. Foursquare and Facebook seem to be most serious about “monetising” your location by pushing offers; Google uses it to drive search results. All of these things are absolutely important and the use of contextual information to deliver useful information is something I’ve been waiting for to happen for ~5 years. It’s only now with the affordability and the increasing pervasiveness of devices with GPS, and the existence of a solid geo database, that the promise is really beginning to emerge.

    If you’re asking which one is likely to “win” – predictions of the death of 4sq and Gowalla abounded once Facebook Places was announced, but I don’t see either going away yet. I think if there’s going to be a collapse or round of acquisitions in this space then that’s likely to be in the next big round of consolidations – I can’t see any of those 4 running out of cash or acquiring the other in the immediate term… but things like Plazes, Fire Eagle and the location-based services that came before, are already essentially lost to history.

  3. Fantastic! Thanks for such a thoughtful response (worthy of a blog post of its own, I’d say). I must admit Gowalla is actually the one I’m most interested in: I spent a short while in Bergen last month doing a comparative study of Gowalla and geocaching (very briefly mentioned at the bottom of this post).

    So, what part of Gowalla leaves you describing it as a game? Collecting pins ‘n’ stuff? I was intrigued by just how many people use Gowalla in Norway — I came back to the UK having signed up to it and next to none of my friends are on there. These trends are fascinating.

    Your observation about the increasing pervasiveness of GPS devices is spot on, btw! It definitely drives the uptake of such applications. Geocaching, for instance, as been around for donkey’s years, but now everyone and his dog has an iPhone, the community is growing really rapidly. Interesting times.

  4. Gowalla’s social gaming aspect comes from collecting items and adding them to your “collection”. There are rare items available, and the idea is that you collect items, drop ones you have already in “new” or unusual locations, etc. If you dig deeper you’ll find people trying to catalog the icons / items available, and there are missions and other things available with rewards, too.

    Funny that you mention geocaching – I totally agree that the popularity of that has taken off lately, and fundamentally Gowalla is a digital geocaching game. It is somewhat social too, of course – you’ll find me by my “usual” username on there if you don’t have me in your friends list yet.

    One of the things I found slightly amusing on my recent trip to China was that although various sites are officially limited or restricted, many locations had Foursquare mayors or Gowalla items 🙂

    Another location-based tool that is even more explicit about being a game (based on achievements), and with even lower penetration in the UK, is Scvngr. Oh, and in the “where are they now” column, we also have Brightkite, of course – one of those services I was a big user of until it was basically eclipsed by both Gowalla and Foursquare.

    I think these comments count as an additional post 😉

  5. Oh cool! Here’s something fascinating: as part of my work in Norway I ran an hour-long focus group with five enthusiastic Gowalla users… and only one of them was really interested in the “collection” aspect of things. They were waaaaay about using Gowalla socially (in stark contrast to the comments in your second link — though that was written in March ’09), to track who is where and to get a sense of community.

    I totally hadn’t thought of Gowalla as digital geocaching, but that makes sense in the context of “collecting” things 🙂

    I guess the conclusion of that is that there are multiple ways to use Gowalla, and I only touched on a few of them while away. Thanks for broadening my horizons!

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