I unglued my nose from the Project X programming grindstone yesterday to spend 5 hours of quality iPod-enabled drive time to and from a freebie Microsoft event (ReMix08) and I'm glad I did. Not because I learned a more about Microsoft's Silverlight, although that was what this event was billed as.
Scott Guthrie's keynote was good - but I'd watched it in March from the comfort of my Aaron chair live from Mix08 and the only new thing I picked up was Microsoft has added a small but important (to MSFT) goal to SilverLight 2's to do list - being able to upscale code directly to WPF.
And unfortunately, Seema Ramchandani (the Microsoft program manager making sure Silverlight runs well on Macs as Windows boxes) who was supposed to dig deep into Silverlight 2's code took a detour into Presenter's Hell when her AV support people apparently forgot how to route video from a Mac between her morning and afternoon sessions.
What really impressed me was the panel discussion, "The Future of Social Networking".
I know, I know, you as a microISV or a developer working long long days think, "Why would I spend time on Twitter, Pownce, Facebook and get constantly interrupted, poked and distracted? What's the benefit unless I'm developing yet another social network that might turn into an $850 million impulse buy like Bebo did for AOL?"
While anyone who's been in this industry a while can see that social networking is well down the dot.bomb road, there is a hard core of realness there for microISVs and non-social networking startups: Internet-enabled social networking has changed how under-30 year olds live/think in a lot of the developed world. Those MySpace teenagers and Facebook college kids continue to get older: in 2.5 years, one half of the U.S. workforce will be under 30 years old.
MicroISVs and startups (except for Paul Graham's hatchlings and the like) tend to be in their 30's or older: they've had time to develop their technical skills, learn to despise bosses and get some experience in what is laughingly referred to as the Real World. They don't instinctively get what these youngsters (called customers) are into. But they need to: it won't be the wrinkly old execs that are going to find new software for their companies to buy, it's going to be some new hire who's going to check you out with their network first.
Same issue, different direction: how do you write a desktop app that won't get cracked or a SaaS that won't go out of fashion in a matter of weeks? You build it so that it has an organic social network inside of it that connects with the larger mosaic of social networks.
As Dave McClure of 500 Hats (no relation) pointed out yesterday at that panel, 'online social networking is about real needs and wants: getting laid, finding a job, making the right decisions'. (no relation, really)
While he drove the rest of the panels somewhat nuts, he had a good point: social networks like Facebook are all finding new ways of addressing intrinsic human needs in our physically increasingly unsafe, fragmented, segmented Real World.
MicroISVs who pride themselves in being tone deaf about social networking are missing more than a good non-coding distraction: they may be missing their future.