While talking to Atul today afternoon over lunch, the issue of defendability of social apps came up. His comment was that in the web 2.0 paradigm, the biggest challenge is the defendability. Someone else can pick up your idea and execute and you can’t do anything about it. There are three main things here - a) Everything is pretty much open so there are mostly no trade secrets, b) There is no rocket science involved in the technology, so, it’s very easy to replicate it, c) Most of the stuff is built on top of open source code, so, anyone can mimic your functionality in no-time.
So, how do you defend the leadership of your social application? What barriers-to-entry can you create for others?
While thinking more about it, I realized that the real defendability of social applications is not to be found in technology but in something that’s at the core of social applications - i.e. social. Yes. What’s there in the name of technology for Wikipedia? In fact, most of the other wiki softwares are better than MediaWiki. Yet, can we have another Wikipedia? What’s there in Facebook? What’s there in LinkedIn? In any of the popular social applications on the web today, technology is neither a barrier, nor an advantage. It’s all social.
Earlier, if you were to build a product, you’ll build some fancy technology. Building that technology will be the real challenge and also the real asset later on. That technology will put the barrier to entry of other players.
However, in the social application world (or the web 2.0 world), the real challenge when building the application is social, and when that challenge is solved, the real asset is also social.
For Wikipedia, Facebook, MySpace and others like them, the challenge was not to develop any fancy technology. It was rather to develop a social system in which their users could do something useful and also mobilising those potential users around their concept. Once it was done, their success cannot be replicated by anyone else.
So, when we think social apps, we have to think really social. For challenges that we solve and for the competitive advantages that we build.