Just yesterday, I was reading through old news articles about the very public (and very brazen) departure of Dodgeball co-founder Dennis Crowley from his post-acquisition position as Product Manager at Google. When I first read about his move back in April, I didn’t see too much resonance beyond the story as it stood. A frustrated, inherently self-reliant employee felt like he was being held captive under the grubby thumb of a tech Colossus…
Seems straightforward enough: the habits of a down n’ dirty startup entrepreneur are hard nuts to crack. (And, with due respect to all parties, Crowley’s nuts seem particularly intractable.)
So why did I find myself following up on Crowley and the big fat bird he threw at The Goog? Let’s call it an “informed accident.” I was checking out the new projects at Area/Code, seeing what was up on their end of the location-based tech spectrum, and stumbled upon Crowley’s name (he’s climbed aboard as the third partner). Sure, sure… he’s clearly kept his focus on in-location mobile projects, this time in an even quirkier playplace than his Dodgeballian roots. Still, nothing surprising here.
That is, until this morning. The first thing I do upon waking up, even before chugging coffee and lacing up my running shoes, is give my RSS feeds a quick scan. The headline that first caught my eye today was from Read/WriteWeb: MingleNow to Close 7 January: Forced by Yahoo?
A web giant acquires a location-based mobile start-up, and soon thereafter stops allocating engineering resources to building out the service, and it dies a slow and/or quick-n-nasty death.
Yes, yes, I’ve heard this story before. Crowley has too.
According to Fortune, Google and Yahoo have each acquired 40 or so small businesses over the past decade, and very few instantly (or, for that matter, ever) become queen bee apps like Flickr (Yahoo) or YouTube (Goog). Fair enough– but is it purely coincidental that the same fate would strike two very similar (at least conceptually) location-based mobile social networking services?
But I don’t think so.
So what keeps going wrong? Crowley points a quick finger at the Man: “The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us – especially as we couldn’t convince them that Dodgeball was worth engineering resources.”[cit.]
An anonymous commenter (#1) on R/WW this morning echoes Crowley’s point in regard to MingleNow/Yahoo scenario: “yes, Yahoo is forcing us to close. they don’t seem interesteed[sic] in maintaining our awesome site.”
Insider comments aside, I’m not convinced that allocating proper engineering resources would even begin to address the problem. This clearly seems to be a market-based problem just as much (if not more) than it is a technology problem.
When you tie in evidence from other similar services– the recent shutdown of Kakiloc comes to mind– it seems possible that the in-location, mobile-based social networking space requires much more (literal) legwork than most other subgroups of technology and/or social media companies. Perhaps the Biggies aren’t willing to put in the face time and on-site attention that a location-based SN service needs to be successful. It seems obvious, but a service that encourages “real-life, real-time” interaction will need to employ a “real-life, real-time” market roll-out. This proves no small feat for a self-contained, easily-navigitable startup; Forget about it within the corporate maze of a Google or a Yahoo.
[Ed.Note: While Yahoo doesn't directly control MingleNow, they acquired ad network Blue Lithium back in September, which owns MingleNow... So we're actually seeing more of an Evil Stepmother type effect here. Moreover, I write this post with the disclaimer that Yahoo's involvement with MingleNow's impending shutdown remains purely speculative. However, it should also be mentioned that the recent announcement on MingleNow's blog encourages users to post their pics to Flickr and their events to Upcoming (both, not incidentally, Yahoo properties). Just saying.]