Big data and its developer fallout

Big data and its developer fallout

As the internet social turf wars continue to mature, the land grab is becoming much better understood. With a few companies controlling 95 percent of the social data, the internet is more closed and much more controlled than ever before.

The term (and concept behind) big data has been thrown around a lot over the past 15 months. What I’m referring to here is user data, primarily from social businesses that can be leveraged to build other apps and businesses if done within the confines of a company API.

A few basic examples. Let’s take Facebook: A developer, product architect, entrepreneur, etc. may want to analyze names, pictures or shares. How about Snapchat: shares or number of sent items. Instagram: users, hearts or comments. Tesla: car location, energy consumption, last charge. The list goes on and on. The modern web has been built on an open data exchange.

I regularly get asked what I think makes a good app. The answer is simple: data. More specifically: users and their respective meta-data. Users are data. Without them, no matter how flashy your app is, it won’t work. Period.

The follow up question is always, “OK, how do I get users?”

That’s the billion-dollar question. The existing social sites want you to believe that by connecting to them and through them that users will come. If only that were true. Just to set the record straight, you can’t buy users. And you can’t connect to existing sites to leverage users or anything in between. Users are tired of new, yet more of the same, software. Distribution (i.e. finding and retaining users) is the hardest part of creating a successful app.

As developers, we used to be able to go deep into the social graph on Facebook. Developers used to be able to inject meaningful data in a sophisticated way to all sorts of web and app products and, most importantly, we used to be able to request big datasets without getting throttled by bandwidth limitations. Just because a few big companies say you can use their data doesn’t mean it’s accurate.

Over the past few years there’s been a massive shift. Sadly, the best way to illustrate such change is to look at the the rise and fall of Zynga. As Facebook opened their API and enabled users to do deep penetration into the Facebook Graph, Zynga, more than any other company, took advantage and built an incredible gaming business directly through the Facebook Graph API. Over time, Facebook began making changes to how developers could interact with specific data and just as quickly as Zynga grew, they fell — and fell far.

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