Investment and innovation themes from the Defrag conference

I am lucky enough to work with a guy who, on top of  (or in spite of) his aristocratic good looks, is also a very smart cookie and former entrepreneur called Max  Niederhofer (aka Graf Max).  As he likes to spend our hard earned management fees on long distance flights, it was natural for him to check out Defrag 2009.  My recent rant on Twitter reminded me of this interesting writeup he sent.  So with some delay, I thought I would share with you the insights he gleaned from the conference

Here are some the themes:

  • Making email better. Email still the center of our work communication/collaboration and social interaction. Invest in tools that make email more collaborative, reduce overload, embrace using email as to-do lists, integrate email into the social graph. Microsoft has a large internal effort devoted to this. Xobni is the most high-profile start-up in the area. Incremental efforts seem to do better than full-on innovation (Gmail vs Wave).
  • Making lifestreams relevant. Activity streams are changing our lives. Constant sense of presence of one’s social and professional network. Twitter works because it appeals to some base social needs (knowing what’s going on, being able to have a self-assert) without the constraint of having to “friend” both ways. Right now, Twitter is mostly “just microbursts of dopamine.” Key question is again how to filter and prioritize the firehose. Situational relevancy, e.g. through geo-location or by changing streams depending on activity, may be key. Foursquare is the hottest startup there. Twitter inside the enterprise (Yammer) seems to be working well for creative/services SME’s.
  • Measuring and monetizing influence. You can measure friends and followers but it’s harder to measure influence or effect. Brands want to court influencers. Hottest startup here is Klout.
  • Extranets. Rather than yet another startup targeting internal collaboration, address industry verticals that are either naturally fragmented or fragmenting because of internet’s lower transaction costs.
  • Selling data. Collecting, interpreting and packaging data becomes a lower barrier to entry business given how much data is freely available online/through API’s. Several startups targeting e.g. Gnip. Sometimes just archiving and making available can be a good entry-level business.
  • Meaning is the new search. Search was based on scarcity: hard-to-find documents. Now information is ubiquitous and hence finely grained relevancy becomes much more important. The next Google will not look like Google – it will be something that delivers information based on some trigger – behavior, location, etc.
  • Breaking the corporate IT environment. Many people feel happier and more productive when choosing their own tools of work. How do we enable corporate IT departments to do away with “one” infrastructure. Let groups choose their own computers, phones and apps. Key questions on provisioning accounts, managing data silos, data security, compliance.
  • Education. We’re stuck in the university lecture and exam paradigm. Online learning and degrees will happen. Question about investing in enablers versus replacements.
  • Application Marketplaces. Based on the iPhone App Store, many ideas around application marketplaces that combine SSO, data sharing and social graph within one framework on the web.
  • Identity Metasystem. Facebook Connect, OpenID, Twitter/OAuth – something will emerge as dominant over the next few years. Verified identity is still a problem and could be used for some interesting applications. Best talk here was from Kim Cameron at Microsoft (

This is the last one for the road for 2009.  See you next year.

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