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Summary:

Union Square Ventures managing partner Fred Wilson’s blunt opinions on the tech industry were on display today at the Geo-Loco conference in San Francisco. And he had some compelling justifications for his insults, even if they were mainly targeted at competitors of his portfolio companies.

Union Square Ventures managing partner Fred Wilson’s had plenty of blunt opinions on the tech industry today at the Geo-Loco conference in San Francisco. But he also had some compelling justifications for his insults, even if they were mainly targeted at competitors of his portfolio companies.

Wilson was especially dismissive of Facebook, calling it “a photo-sharing site.” He said Facebook’s supposed monopoly on the “social graph” is overblown. Every big web site has a social graph, said Wilson — Google’s just isn’t “lit up” yet. Further, he argued that the web itself is the social graph. Still, Wilson acknowledged that Facebook is a “juggernaut.” He said Google should try to buy the company if it can. Google, at this point, is “challenged” on multiple fronts, Wilson said — its last great web innovation was Gmail, he contended.

Wilson said his biggest worry for his portfolio companies, which include Foursquare and Twitter, is not actually Facebook, like many would assume. It’s Apple. Apple is “evil,” Wilson said. Why? “They believe they know what is best for you and me. And I think that is evil.” The VC also said he worries that Apple owns the mobile app marketplace and the minds of mobile developers, and it interferes too much with how people use and find apps. He said he’s hopeful that Android can keep Apple honest, but he doesn’t think that’s happening yet.

Wilson even picked on the little guy, too — calling Gowalla “the second fiddle” in the social location space versus Foursquare.

Wilson did give a candid opinion of one of his own portfolio companies, admitting to Twitter’s unending problems staying online. The service breaks, he said, because “it wasn’t built right — Twitter was built kind of as a hack and they didn’t really architect it to scale and they’ve never been able to catch up.” But he promised that Twitter would soon do interesting things around location — that was the topic of the conference, after all. The company will soon use location metadata to improve “relevancy and signal to noise,” Wilson said.

The location space is more likely to be won by startups than big companies, said Wilson, because startups don’t have to change users’ existing expectations. Check-ins would be awkward on Facebook, he said, because you don’t want to tell 1,000 people you’re grabbing a beer. And younger companies have the benefit of being able to create and maintain consistent settings for privacy and information sharing from the start.

Wilson’s prediction for the location space: “The companies that do the best job on managing a user’s privacy will the the companies that ultimately are the most successful.”

Photo of Wilson courtesy Flickr user joi. Feature image courtesy Flickr user lloydcrew.

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  1. hi Liz

    i hope you enjoyed the conversation with John Battelle. we agreed last night that we would try to make it lively and fun and that i would do my best to be controversial. i guess i succeeded. i do believe at some level in everything i said, but i was also purposefully trying to be out there.

    on the twitter scaling issue, i also did say they have now amassed a large and excellent engineering team with equally excellent leadership and they are making a lot of headway on the scaling issues. i think they are getting caught up on their “technical debt” very quickly now.

    1. Thanks Fred. The conversation was definitely entertaining — and gave me something interesting to write about. I think it goes without saying that you said nice things about Twitter.

  2. dude, you called apple evil…change your name and get a face transplant stat!

  3. I agree with his comment on Apple. They need someone else to make it an even playing field or we will only be left with what Apple wants on their products.

    1. “…we will only be left with what Apple wants on their products.”

      Yeah how dare they control what’s in their own products…

      1. No, how dare they control what you have on the device you purchase…

    2. If you don’t like what Apple sells, DON’T BUY IT! It just so happens that tens of millions like the safety and stability that the walled garden provides. Beats the pants off of the crashes, malware, spyware, and viruses that plague more “open” platforms.

      I will bet you that Apple will come out shining once Android malware starts spreading like wildfire in a year.

      1. yeah and years ago people could have said the same thing with Microsoft. “if you don’t want it to come with IE, don’t buy it!”

        But they had to change because the govt. slapped them around…

        BTW, do you really think that Apple’s products are safer? How naive. If someone make malware, or a virus, are they going to make it for what 90% of people use, or for the minority of 10%? As apple gets bigger of course they will get more viruses and malware…

      2. Wait .. Jim I’m confused. Apple is too big and controlling but has a market share so small that malware writers ignore them?

      3. no Khurt, talk about willfully trying to misunderstand what was said. look at what I wrote, and look again at what you wrote. Where did you come up that?

        Apple WAS smaller (past tense here Khurt, past tense), therefore they didn’t get as much malware. As they get bigger, they are not immune from people trying to create malware for their products. In fact they will probably start to see more the bigger they become.

        A report was just released by a security firm Secunia that shows that Apple has more security holes than MS. And you know, it isn’t the first such report I saw this year. Check for yourself.

        So let me make it clear for you. A smaller company will not have as much of a problem with malware. As said firm gets bigger they will. Apple used to be smaller, and a lot of their problems went unnoticed by the majority of people because they were smaller. NOW (notice the present tense, Khurt) that Apple is a bigger company, what was acceptable on a smaller scale is not as acceptable on a larger scale. SOme of the problems that were not noticed will be noticed by more people and malware will become more of an issue.
        I hope I made it clear enough to end your confusion.

  4. Someone has to be evil in the minds of geeks – Microsoft is irrelevant so it’s Apple’s turn – Google will be next :-)
    Geeks can just never admire success for too long.

    1. Interesting that you noticed that as well :-)

    2. It’s just like in the real world: some people believe in freedom for freedom’s sake, they are not interested in outcomes. You can make 1000 parallels between this and politics.

  5. may be Apple is evil, but users are liking a more controlled and closed system. they are flocking to buy iPhones, so your argument has no merits. as for privacy Apple does a better job than Google/Android/Facebook folks.

    1. @najeeb I agree with you. People flocking to Apple is the free market system working gorgeously. There is no one holding up a gun to anyone’s head telling them they must by an iPhone, iPad, etc. There is also no monopoly created through a complex of lawyers (I.e., this is not the Wintel monopoly of the past which required PC makers to carry a license of and install as the only choice by default Windows on the PCs they vended). Longer term maybe Android will come around if, say, Apple makes a fatal error (such as massive privacy or security breach) but so far they’re making things that people want and desire and they’re not forcing it on anyone, and there’s no arch government behind the scenes, no conspiracy, so Fred Wilson’s opinion in this context is just another noisy OpEd that Gigaom’s gatekeepers thought was interesting but it really nothing more but noise.

      1. @Axel F I believe Fred wasn’t commenting on the Apple platform per se, but more on the way Apple handles the app store and developers in general. See the current debacle with the 15-year old kid that snuck a tethering app into the appstore. The app ran up skyrocketed in sales before Apple pulled it from the app store. That wouldn’t happen in a truly “free market” system.

      2. @Ziggy: You’re making the common mistake of confusing the App Store with the free market. The free market is people choosing to buy an iPhone over a competitor. The App Store is Apple’s own ecosystem and is not a free market. It doesn’t pretend to be, and it shouldn’t be. It’s kind of like Steam, actually.

    2. people are flocking to buy big macs and extra large bottles of coke too

      1. …Wait, Fred, I’m confused. Is deciding what’s best for people on their behalf good or “evil”?

      2. That is disingenuous. Either you are advocating for free and open markets or you are belly-aching that Apple is being the bad parent that tells everyone what to do. Do not be hypocritical.

    3. Lady GaGa is the number 1 artist. Jersey Shore and House Wives of ______ are the hot shows…

      People dont buy quality, they buy what other people buy…

      1. Well said! Couldn’t agree more. Most consumers don’t know what the difference is between Apple or Microsoft. They base their buying decisions on looks and popularity.

  6. Not sure about all this “evil” stuff. The biggest problem on the Internet right now is that everyone thinks that everything falls under some made up Internet rules. Why can’t a company just make what they want or offer whatever service they want and then you, personally, can choose whether to buy it or not? I think the idea that everyone feeling that they should have a say in how every company runs its business is evil. I’m happy that there are companies that are smart than the average Internet user doing things in their own way. I chose to buy Nike sneakers. I chose to buy a Panasonic TV. And I choose to buy Apple products. I don’t want them doing things the Google way or anyone else’s way. Steve Jobs has proved himself to be the smartest guy in the room enough times that I trust he knows what he’s doing and the second I’m unhappy with what they offer, I’ll stop buying. Let the pundits start their own companies, but the inventor choosing the fate of his own invention is not evil. This is not a potluck. You don’t have to come along.

    1. Yeah, but if I buy an apple device, I don’t have the choice to put whatever app I want on it. Even if I think it might be awesome, I am limited to what Big Brotha Apple says is alright. I am also told what network I can use a cell phone on and if I Jailbreak it and get caught, boom! they can disable the device so I can’t use it. I can’t upgrade any of the devices – heck, I can’t replace the battery on the Ipad, I have to send it in and risk them losing my data.
      You keep talking about choice, well Apple is taking away some of that choice if you use their stuff…
      Apple should let it be a free market where I can buy what I want. If i don’t like an app, I won’t buy it!

      1. I guess I’m a touch puzzled about this holy grail of batteries. I’ve had a slew of products over the decades that didn’t have easily swappable (to people like yourself, bill) batteries. The last one I replaced was on a Palm m515, a feat that apparently is far too difficult for most people who can’t master a T5 screwdriver. Looking at tear-apart images of the iPad, it’s hardly difficult. I also think you need to alter ‘an apple device’. So far as I know you can install whatever you with on their desktops and laptops. As a final note, I find it rather laughable that Apple is even remotely evil. Union Carbide is evil, Balfour Beatty, Halliburton, WalMart and a bevy of others.

        “Apple should let it be a free market”

        Apple IS in a free market, and they have about a 3% market share. They don’t dominate a damn thing other than the mp3 market, and even then they only control what they built.

        If we applied these ‘everything must be open’ standards to companies outside of computers it would be laughable. People have no concept of just how closed their world is, and Apple is hardly even a blip on the dial!

    2. “I think the idea that everyone feeling that they should have a say in how every company runs its business is evil.”

      Ding ding.

      If someone doesn’t like how a company does business to that point, they don’t have to buy the products. And sorry, a business isn’t “evil” until they’re killing people and taking all of their money for no return. i.e. medical insurance companies.

    3. I disagree. Overly privatized decision making is what is breaking the system down. Decision making should not be concentrated in the hands of few without the society commenting on it. What we are discussing is companies that would cheat and take everything for themselves. This is freedom of expression, and small people should have the same rights as Apple, Goldman Sachs, etc.. Secondly, you overestimate “choice.” People who work in Nike’s sweatshops don’t really have a choice. Companies that want honest consulting have to choose from a small mix of totally corrupt firms. I don’t and you don’t have choice in your cable provider. Generally, the concept of choice is totally overblown and oversold and is mostly a fiction pitched by conservative think tanks. There are tremendous monopolies in every area of the economy. I find that those who object to the value judgement of this or that being evil, essentially think might makes right. Apple has the right to call the shots because they are big right? BP too? Hey, we can buy Exxon if we are unhappy with BP. Wow what a choice. Anyone who is big and has a lot of cash seems to have the right to do what they like, ethical or not. Meanwhile the rest of us should shut up. Is that it?

  7. Braindead TechCast EP 108: Wow we have a listener and we answer his question | Shooting at Bubbles Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    [...] Fred Wilson: Apple is “Evil” and Facebook is “a Photo-sharing Site” – GigaOM [...]

  8. If Twitter improves its location based service so I can use Twitter to say “Whats happening and where it is happening at” then what is the point of using Foursquare or Gowalla?

  9. With that kind of thinking, one could argue that Twitter is dumb. Why? “They can’t seem to fix a simple website up-time problem!”. And that Foursquare is silly. Why? “Because, I think it seems like a silly idea.”. But we know that such arguments sound simultaneously dumb & silly.

    Fred Wilson is known to be a perfectly reasonable and good guy. So, I think this entire interview is fake. If that isn’t the case, you can expect that Fred would some day do an MBA Mondays session titled “Hey! I am not perfect either.” ;^)

  10. Fred Wilson: Apple is “Evil” and Facebook is “a Photo-sharing Site” « Chicago Mac/PC Support Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    [...] Wilson: Apple is “Evil” and Facebook is “a Photo-sharing Site” Fred Wilson: Apple is “Evil” and Facebook is “a Photo-sharing Site”.  Pretty brave to be taking on two current superpowers.  Is this [...]

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