Fred Wilson’s Shopping List.

Fred Wilson, a vc at ‘a vc‘, always has his finger on the pulse. But he may be missing something with his recent blog, I Prefer Safari to Content Apps On The iPad. Part of his message is that he would rather have free stuff through the web than pay for things through the app store, so you could say he has produced a non-shopping list. But we most of us do buy stuff from the app store and I think he has also craftily compiled a little public shopping list of a different kind. Mind you he certainly makes some reasonable points. Here are most of them:

  1. Content apps treat pages as monolithic objects. No cut and paste.
  2. There are no links to other content apps in mobile apps
  3. No multi-tasking, so no multi-paging.
  4. Every newspaper, or magazine, seems to have to invent a new interface
  5. Sometimes the stuff I pay for in an app is free on the web
  6. No connections with social media
  7. You can’t search content in apps (not with Google, sometimes not with anything)

Rather than get all defensive and point out that some of this is not true for Exact Editions apps (our apps do link to mobile apps, eg postcodes link straight to Google maps, and phone numbers are live to the iPhone. Take a look at the Congleton Chronicle app which has masses of live postcodes and phone numbers that do stuff on your iPhone/iPad. Our book and magazine apps do search their own archives, including issues not sync-ed to the iPad/iPhone). Moving gracefully from defensiveness to engagement, we can admit that he has a good list and Exact Editions already is one of the platforms that newspapers and magazines can use straight off the bat, no need to invent another UI if you pick up this one that magazines and people are already using. That scratches off point 4; we have a mini-platform that others can use!

But take another good look at the list. These are mostly solvable problems. Aren’t these shortcomings obvious and tempting targets for app developers? Does anybody think that we are going to see a static picture of app development here? I have my doubts about Fred Wilson’s blog, he really is a vc (venture capitalist). His blog helps his investing and distills wisdom from his experience of investing. He seems to be half out of love with his iPad and half in love with it. He uses his blog to change his mind. He uses it to think aloud. So he is not really complaining about the state of the app store, he has just produced a list of juicy targets that start-up companies in the mobile app space are going to have to address.

Take if from me, Fred has just given us the shopping list for the technologies and the companies that Union Square Ventures is going to invest in next. I would say that number 6, the interaction between apps and social media, is really a very ripe fruit. For two reasons. First, it is indeed a huge and gaping chasm in the apps universe, for the e-commerce system that Apple are building needs much more social interaction. Sure Twitter and Facebook have produced their first and very creditable apps, but getting beyond the app as ‘account window’ is the next step. Leveraging the plethora of apps out there is the challenge and entrepreneurs will crack it first. There is a lot of disruptive potential in getting hold of that space (software dilineating and inventing the appropriate mobile relationships between Facebook, Foursquare, content, location, music, app e-commerce and advertising). And, second, Apple will not be good at holding on to this territory for itself, much though it may wish to do so. Apple might hang on to mobile content search for its apps and to a good chunk of mobile advertising within apps but it can’t/won’t do the social graph for itself (far too crafted, planned and inflexible, though I would leave to see Steve, Mark and Ev in the same room).

If he hasn’t already done so, I am sure that Fred will turn his list around and go looking for companies that are tackling these problems/opportunities on the iPhone and the Android platforms. But he is also missing the key change which the discovery of apps has thrown in the path of publishers. Once we start thinking of books or magazines as apps that can do, at their next iteration must do, some of this stuff (link social groups, facilitate and reciprocate Google searches, copy content, remind via citation, collect usage and reactions, or work with and through other book-apps and magazine-apps) publishing becomes a much more dynamic relationship between author and consumer. Apps are at the heart of this change and will encourage us to stop thinking of content as format-bound (boring old ‘files’), but rather to view digital publications as media for engagement. Go for it Union Square Ventures. Show Fred how his apps should work!

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