David Pakman's Blog www.pakman.com

Thoughts on Amazon’s Locker Service

Mar 29

Amazon’s new “Cloud Player” music service is a welcome addition to the field of online music services. It is a basic music locker service in its current form, largely identical to the Myplay Locker Service Doug Camplejohn and I pioneered and launched in 1999. Users get 5GB of storage free (Myplay was 3GB free), can use a desktop uploader client app, and can click to stream music back to web and Android mobile devices. Amazon will charge you $1 per GB per year beyond that. (free upgrade to 20GB if you buy an MP3 album).

The service is entirely legal. Users are uploading music they own (or have otherwise acquired), Amazon is presumably segregating accounts, and users are authenticated into the locker to stream or download back. By segregating, I mean I assume Amazon is storing individual copies of every song uploaded, rather than storing a single copy of every song and using pointers in each locker. (such a shortcut would likely require licenses from sound recording copyright holders and publishers). Amazon is also not offering sharing. I presume they are allowing only single-user sign-on to avoid locker sharing.

Amazon auto-loads your AmazonMP3 purchases into your locker. Very nice. I have not yet checked if they will do this retroactively for all of your previous purchases, which would make sense.

The pricing is somewhat surprising to me. The service is clearly targeted to people with smaller digital music collections, which is the majority of the world. Power users with large collections would find the service uneconomical. For instance, I have about 800GB of music, which would cost me $800 a year. Yet Spotify is $120 a year and gives me access to millions of other songs I don’t yet have.

A bunch, actually. Obviously the lack of iOS apps is a curious omission. Also sounds like they are using flash quite a bit. Odd there is no nice HTML5 support with use of audio tags. You could imagine an amazing HTML5 player which would work fantastically well on iPad and all tablets without needing an app download. HTML5 is extremely well-suited to this application, in that Amazon could make use of the local database to store song names and metadata to mimic an ITunes-like experience in the browser. I presume iOS support is coming or will otherwise be blocked by Apple. Most disappointing is the complete lack of any social features. No integration into Facebook or existing social networks. No playlist sharing. No music news feed to see what my friends listen to. This is an area where Spotify shines. In many ways, this is not surprising since Amazon has under-innovated around social across their regular shopping experience today. In addition, they don’t seem to be offering any library clean-up tools, which could be a differentiator here (de-duping, metadata cleanup, adding missing album art, etc.) Finally, for cloud services to work really well on mobile devices, there needs to be limited playlist syncing to the local device. Spotify does this really well and prices it as a premium feature. Looks like Amazon overlooked this in the first version.

In short, the service is useful but basic as launched. It is likely to be improved over time. I am happy to have Amazon offering the service and expect others like Google will do the same. (please excuse the lack of links in this post. Writing this on my iPad in the wordpress app.)

Author David Pakman
Category Technology
Comments 5 Comments
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Immoveable Platforms are Toast

Mar 21

Consumers now expect rapid platform advancement. Accustomed to accelerated development cycles, the benefits of agile development and the incessant pace of innovation, no longer are we content to wait years for our consumer devices to improve. It used to take Blackberry a few years to rev its software and introduce new features. And even then they didn’t always make new OS software available to previously purchased units. Before iPhone, we didn’t expect things like free updates to the OS on our smartphone. Apple changed all that, applying the maxims from the computer OS/software industry to consumer electronics. Now, we buy a device and expect it to improve over time, not be static. We accept a few missing features, because we know they are likely to appear as a software update within the life of the device.

Before the software industry update model invaded consumer electronics, most devices used immoveable platforms. These are platforms that were certified for the device, shipped with the device, and would never change. A few examples are set-top boxes, TVs, home alarm systems and home phone systems. Innovation moves very slowly on immoveable platforms. The development model is based on infrequent, big release milestones. Immoveable platforms encourage complacency among their manufacturers. Once a device has shipped, all innovation is focused on the next product. No one tries to bring new delight to existing customers.

But now CE manufacturers think about devices as upgradeable platforms. This encourages them to concentrate on core hardware design and broad adaptable software infrastructure that supports innovation. Moveable platforms inevitably lead to developer ecosystems, public APIs and app stores. Purveyors of moveable platforms encourage others to help innovate on their platform or device. Immoveable platforms keep others away. They are almost always closed. And they underwhelm us.

To me, one of the biggest sitting ducks and one of the largest purveyors of slow, painful, immoveable platforms are the auto companies. There is a huge amount of technology in our cars: engine data and performance, usage and wear and tear information, communications system, navigation systems, audio and entertainment systems, integration with our personal data and devices, etc. But talk about an immoveable platform! Anytime you buy a brand new car, you can pretty much expect that the technology in the dash is three to five years old already. It is impossible to get state of the art from a car dealer. A whole after-market “mod” community exists to upgrade cars and their platforms, but this should be the domain of the manufacturers, and it is not.┬áThe systems are almost always closed. They can only be updated, when possible, by dealers. The navigation system in your car is significantly worse than the one on your phone. Why? Because the latest can be shipped to your phone any day as an app. Some car company chose the nav system in my 2010 car probably back in 2007 when they were designing it and testing it. And now it shows.

The solution, of course, is to get off of immoveable platforms and create a more open platform that allows new functionality to be delivered via consumer-initiated updates and third party applications. I am sure the folks who follow the “digital car” markets, like my Venrock partner Dev Khare know this stuff is coming. But it can’t come too soon. My friend Doug Camplejohn remarked that he was surprised the Tesla guys, with their Silicon Valley DNA, instead of designing their own iPad-like interface to their car control systems didn’t just include Apple’s 30 pin connector and place an iPad right into the dash. Talk about a platform!

I reward moveable platforms with my money. Hope you do, too.

Author David Pakman
Category Technology
Comments 3 Comments

Personal Social Data – All Together Now

Mar 14

The web is now social. While thousands of sites today have added social features, eventually, every web experience (PC and mobile) will be social in nature, meaning you will participate in some way to make the content more personal and relevant to you and your connected friends and networks. Today we certainly share updates, links and pictures on Facebook, but we also rate movies on Netflix, contribute restaurant reviews on Yelp, update professional developments on LinkedIn, share concert experiences on SongKick, favorite songs on Hype Machine, travel plans on TripIt and Plancast, etc. We are social creatures, and the web has caught up with us.

Individually, these little bits of social information and gestures (“David Pakman likes The Culinary Institute of America”) are amusing at the time many of us see them. They become very useful when delivered to us at the right-time, which I have discussed before here. But what if they could all be aggregated together? That’s where they become really powerful. If you could combine my LinkedIn network with my Google Calendar, I could be far better prepared for meetings. If my tweet stream could be mashed with my contacts and my calendar, I could remember that blog post my friend wrote before I sit down to have lunch with her. And if my Amazon purchase history could be taken with me and not just locked up by Amazon, well there is a bunch of cool things I could do with this data.

Actually, it’s not just me who I want to have access to my personal social data, it’s carefully selected developers who build cool apps on top of it. So many new companies we see have spent months integrating into the APIs of a few web services in order to get the data. That is duplicated effort that could be eliminated with a personal social data solution. Cools apps like Greplin offer search across some of your data sets. But that is only one of many apps you could see being valuable to you.

We have spent time thinking about the opportunities in this space. But we aren’t the only ones thinking about it. For instance, the WEF published this report on the future of personal social data. And we’ve met some very exciting startups operating in this space. I’d love to meet more, and I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Author David Pakman
Category Big Data, Startups
Comments 4 Comments

Blog state of the art

Mar 12

I took the plunge and moved this blog off the free wordpress.com to a hosted solution. Here is what I used:

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  • Hosting on BlueHost. I don’t really like their interface, but they had one-click wordpress install, auto updating of wordpress binaries, and they were cheap ($7/month)
  • WordPress 3.1
  • Theme from WooThemes (they are awesome!)
  • Cloudflare for optimization and cloud security
  • Smarting for language translation (coming soon)
  • WPTouch for iPhone optimization
  • Google Analytics
  • Facebook and WordPress comments
  • Experimenting with Chartbeat for real-time analytics (expensive at $120/year!)
  • Askimet for comment spam prevention
  • All-in-one SEO and WooTheme’s SEO


So, what am I missing? I would appreciate everyone’s feedback and ideas. I’d like to add iPad optimization. What else? Thanks, everyone!

Author David Pakman
Category Venture Capital
Comments 2 Comments