Even really smart guys don’t bat .1000 all the time

Chapter 1. I already have a friend feed – it’s called an RSS newsreader

Today, I read in the New York Times how some guys who created Google Maps, the Google Maps API, Google’s developer program, Gmail and Google Groups, who got together “while working as entrepreneurs in residence at Benchmark Capital,” have created something called FriendFeed.com.

In a minute, I’ll recall a couple of reasons why you don’t want your pre-launch startup to be reported first in the New York Times, but before that, I must lament that a group of folks brilliant enough to create all those incredible Google products aren’t out finding cures for cancer and instead, are re-skinning an RSS newsreader and calling it sliced bread.

I feel like I’m missing something, but why would it take that brain trust to come up with something anyone using an RSS newsreader could do in less than five minutes? In fact, I did it last week in about 45 seconds. Realizing that it’s a productivity brickwall to visit all the “update” pages my social network keeps buzzing me with, I did the following:

1. I added a folder to my RSS newsreader (I use Netnewswire as it synchs with Newsgator.com which has a wonderful iPhone interface at m.newsgator.com).

2. In that folder I added the RSS feeds from the following: “Tweets” from those I follow on Twitter, Status updates from Facebook friends and new photo posts from my Flickr friends. The screen grab on the left shows how my friend feeds are displayed — that’s a photo of Robert Scoble and his son, Patrick, flowing along my river of flickr friends.

3. There’s no #3, I just did #1 and #2 and I now have the ability to keep track in one place (actually three, if you count Netnewswire, Newsgator.com and m.newsgator.com) of activities of friends in my social network. (I could add YouTube updates, etc., however I haven’t found a way to do LinkedIn updates without creating an email to RSS feed hack. Also, if I wanted to head in a different direction, I think I could hack something using lijit.com or tumblr.com that would work in much the same way and also integrate as a Facebook app, as well. But hey, I don’t want to show off.)

Now, if I — a user, not a developer — can aggregate all of those feeds into a newsreader in about 45 seconds, why would I want another newsreader to do that? Moral of this chapter: if you’re brilliant enough to create Google Maps, Gmail, et. al, move on to inventing a flying car or something.

Chapter 2. Shades of Odeo

Over the years, whenever I see an article in the New York Times about a pre-launch startup created by some really smart and successful peopole who did incredible things at a previous job — I cringe. The last place you want to be floating a pre-beta startup if you’re previously successful is in the New York Times.

I call it the Instant Company curse, named for a New York Times Magazine cover-story by that name by Po Bronson (thank you, NYTimes.com newly-free archives) that appeared on July 11, 1999. It was about how a VC (one already mentioned in this post) funded some can’t miss tech-gurus who, with Po Bronson tagging along, created epinions.com. (While something exists today by that name, it has little to do with the startup in the article — and a google search will probably turn up lawsuits still bouncing around some courts related to it.)

Then, there was the time the very-same reporter who wrote today’s article did a feature on some guys creating a business that was going to be the eBay of podcasting. Needless to say, the world didn’t actually need an eBay of podcasting — and then, well, iTunes started supporting the whole attachments to RSS feeds thing, and the rest is history. I think the founder of Odeo (oh, that was the name of it) learned his lesson and, next time, he waited until it was well up the adoption curve before talking to the New York Times about Twitter.

Anyway, today, I thought of those pre-launch articles about epinions.com and odeo.com when I read about “FriendFeeds.com.”

Moral of this chapter: A John Markoff article about your pre-launch startup is not money-in-the-bank. Come to think of it, money-in-the-bank is not money-in-the-bank if there are easier ways to solve the problem your startup is supposedly solving.

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