Shaker won TechCrunch Disrupt a few hours ago and the tech community seems to be getting a fair bit of hate on for them. I’ll be the first to admit that Shaker is not, in any conceivable way, earth shaking. But after playing with Shaker for just a few minutes, I think it was a solid choice for a few reasons:
1) Any product that seems obvious in retrospect is positioned for success
In general, I have three reactions to new startups:
- This is awful!
- What am I supposed to do with this?
- This should have been obvious.
Color is a pretty good example of “this is awful” — most people tried it and walked away thinking “man, this sucks”. They weren’t confused by why it was useful — most people I talked to were pretty bullish on the general idea. Ad-hoc aggregation of location-based media is a brilliant idea. But the interface seemed to have been designed by Amish people. Companies in this camp tend to die quickly in the marketplace.
Twitter is a great example of “what am I supposed to do with this” — most people initially tried it and didn’t understand why it might be useful to them. But over time, Twitter has shown that it fills an important roll in peoples’ lives, both in terms of one-to-many broadcasting with a low cognitive load and as a signal for important information. Companies in this camp are often victims of being too early in the marketplace, but when a company succeeds, they tend to succeed BIG.
I put Shaker in the third category of “this should have been obvious” — where people look at it and go “well, duh!” What it means to me is that the product fills an obvious existing need and it does so in an extremely intuitive and polished manner. Shaker is not the first attempt at 3D Facebook chat, but it’s the only one that anyone in my peer group remembers because it’s the only one that is any good. Companies in this last category don’t typically go huge, but they almost always have a fantastic exit. So on this factor alone I think they were a great choice for winning TC Disrupt.
2) Identifying FOAFs and shared interests is fantastic
One of the hardest things for most people in both real world and virtual world situations is coming up with something to talk about. Shaker does a great job letting the user know what they have in common with other people in the chat room. There were multiple occasions where I started a chat with someone with “How do you know Brenda Brathwaite?” or “Hey, I like Adam Ant too!”
The bigger Shaker gets, the less likely it is that you will know people in a random room. They’ve done a great job in providing easy avenues to starting conversations with strangers and that could be a fundamental factor for sustaining long-term growth.
3) It does a great job of delivering presence
I chatted with three friends during my time on Shaker. In each case, when I left the conversation, the obvious thing to say was “nice seeing you”. This is incredibly powerful.
We were all using generic avatars in a virtual space. Texting one another. I chat with folks on Skype and AIM all the time and I have never been compelled to say “great seeing you”. This implies that Shaker provides a much greater sense of tangible presence than other online chat mediums I’ve used. And it’s not just the fact that it’s in 3D — I never said “nice to see you” to anyone during those dark, early days of Second Life.
Now, some of this may be due to the fact that I don’t normally stumble upon people at random on Skype or AIM. We seek each other out, typically with a specific need. But so what, the feeling remains the same, regardless of the source.
So, yeah, Shaker isn’t going to turn your world upside down. It’s not going to cause you to re-evaluate your life. It won’t solve the jobs crisis, help educate the kids or fix global warming. And the more time I spend online, the more I yearn to be a part of something meaningful. But that doesn’t mean that Shaker isn’t objectively a winner. Great job, guys. You’ve earned the award.