The Future of the Programmable Web (or the Growing Importance of Brand Online)

Looking back at history, it’s amazing to see how much the process of launching a web-based business has changed since the late 1990s.

To start a site in 1998:

  • You had to purchase physical server racks (both for now and in anticipation of growth)
  • You had to purchase traditional software licenses to run in-house
  • Software you couldn’t find available you had to build from scratch (ex: early CRM for the web)
  • You had to code everything in the product from scratch (Open Source was not widely available)
  • You had to pay to launch at DEMO or hope to get covered by a traditional news channel

Then assuming all of the above happened – you finally get your first users on the site – who were both confused by the Internet and unsure if they even need your product (much as you were unsure if they really needed your product)

Flashing forward to today, to start a site right now:

  • You host the site on a shared hosting provider, Amazon EC2, or Heroku
  • You leverage opensource code to shorten time to market and deal with the noncore features
  • You sign-up for SaaS options for internal company software – much of which is freemium
  • You schmooze with bloggers and the tech elite for coverage as well as leverage social channels for distribution
  • Finally – you’re off to the races.

More over, using a combination of AdWords, Facebook Ads, and Customer Landing Pages – you can test the core hypothesis behind your business before even writing your first line of code.

For a concrete example – Andrew from Spark Capital suggested someone should build a Startup Service Provider Review Site today on his blog – the following morning, this site was live and taking reviews – leveraging my hosting plan on Bluehost, WordPress, and a $70 plug-in from Eastment Publishing.

Overall, this trend has enabled businesses to get to launch and begin to scale while spending very little money – which is good for investors and entrepreneurs alike.

Looking into the future, why should this trend not continue to move further up the stack?  Simplifying and bringing efficiency to the numerous non-core functions most businesses have to complete everyday.  Taken even a step farther – leveraging the Amazon cloud – do we eventually end up in a world where everything is offered as a service or as a opensource code library?

Simply looking at the market today:

Core Infrastructure:

  • Mail – SendGrid, Amazon Mail
  • Hosting – Amazon EC2
  • Storage – Amazon S3

IT and Ops:

  • IT Ops – Puppet Labs
  • Application Deployment – Heroku, DotCloud
  • Log Management – Loggly
  • Mobile Security – Duo Security

App Layer:

  • CMS – WordPress, Drupal
  • Mobile Infrastructure – Urban Airship
  • Connecting Real World Devices – ioBridge, Bugg Labs, Orbotix
  • Location – EZRI, SimpleGEO
  • Audio Hosting and Streaming – SoundCloud
  • Telephony – Twillio
  • Simple Human Labor – Amazon Turk, Crowdflower

Data Layer:

  • Retail Inventory Data – Retailigence
  • Store Listings – Foursquare, Gowalla
  • Social Graph – Facebook, Twitter
  • Professional Graph – Linkedin
  • Historical Purchase Data – Foursquare
  • Historical Game Play Data – Kiip
  • Personalized Interest Data – Hunch

If the market continues to shift in this direction, the cost for building and deployment will continue to decline – and more importantly, the barrier to entry for new companies should decline significantly – making the digital world look a lot like the traditional retail world where its no longer about solving hard technical problems, but rather about building a scalable brand to drive defensibility.

What does that mean for application developers today?

  • Beauty and Experience Matter for End Users
  • Defensibility is about more than having a large number of users – its about driving a relationship with those users
  • Market positioning and mindshare (“Owning Your Language”) is crucial for breaking into the mainstream

More thoughts later this week – but for now, what platforms am I missing?  What other platform services and open source tools make building web applications easier today that ever?

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I work for True Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund with offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto. We partner with promising entrepreneurs at the earliest stages in the technology market providing hands-on management support to guide our portfolio companies through the challenges of early growth.