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.”
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