Of Facebook Timeline, Lifeblob And “The Art Of Moving On”
I watched the entire F8 (Facebook’s developer event) yesterday and the moment they announced Timeline, it reminded me of Lifeblob, Bangalore based startup that built on a similar concept.
Essentially, Lifeblob used to import your photos from Flickr/Facebook/Picasa accounts and organized them in timeline.
The company was acquired by Printo (Nov 2010) and while the founders have moved on, the whole FB episode reminds me of their earlier FB accusation (read: Indian Startup, Lifeblob accuses Facebook of Copying its feature).
Just to set the record straight, we have had this feature ( and a lot more ) at http://www.lifeblob.comfor over a year now and facebook has blatantly copied it. Every time you upload a photo on lifeblob, a recommendation engine not only looks at the face tags, but also the other information associated wtih your photo to show you photos that are closely related around it.So when you upload your graduation day photos, we discover other photos of your graduation day and show it next to your photo. What facebook has done is picked up this idea and launched a simple version of it that only uses face tags
And now, Facebook launches a full-fledged feature that actually brings the entire concept of Lifeblob alive (read: Lifeblob’s New Release Lets You Explore Connections Using Pictures,Your Facebook Friends get a new Life with Lifeblob app )!
Do you think Lifeblob had a better chance of making it big, if they were in Silicon Valley? After all, building a global consumer centric product from India ain’t that easy and one needs to be present in the ‘early adopter communities’ (i.e. Silicon Valley).
We ask the cofounders – Pranav and Rakesh to share their first reaction.
Rakesh Ranjan (a.k.a XP)
Firstly, I’m happy that the idea that we had, has now a chance to become “mainstream”! As I mentioned earlier, I think FB has a good chance at it, as they have *the* 2 most important parts needed to make this work — connections and photos.
Now thinking of lifeblob and this story, it’s a mixed feeling – the idea we had 4 yrs back and the fact that we couldn’t crack it at that point. I strongly think that location matters a lot – we are talking about paradigm shift in how people interact with relations and photos online. ( If you remember about what we used to talk earlier — flickr bought the first wave with tagging, FB with face tagging and LB was trying to tag relations and everything else). So while it may not be necessarily only SV, it could be any place where people are open in sharing their life online and willing to adopt new services.
Regarding the “copying” of idea(s) — I think ideas are cheap, execution/output is what counts :) Good luck to FB!
The idea of connecting people through photos / videos etc is very powerful and since the interconnections can become very complex, timeline is the most natural way to allow users to interact with it. It was in 2007 that we came up with this thought and that is when we decided to leave our jobs and start lifeblob.
I think we had our moments with coverage on TechCrunch, a deal with Sony Music, access to seed funding and most importantly strong support from our investors ( SeedFund ) throughout our journey. I sometimes wonder what convinced SeedFund to take the risk that they did on our whacky idea, but now that Facebook has launched it and everyone is raving about it, we can take some credit of having the foresight to think about it and the guts to do it!
Looking back, it is always easy to say what we could have done differently and what external factors could have made a difference:
Location: As a startup, the evolution of your product is influenced to a large extent by your users. For a social product, it is all the more important to have early adopters who actively engage with it and help steer the product in the right direction. I think presence in a location like Silicon Valley enables interaction with so many like minded individuals that it cuts down the feedback cycle dramatically and helps you move much faster in the right direction.
Distribution: The problem of distribution is something that a lot of startups under-estimate and we did too! To grow an idea from zero users to a million users is significantly harder than getting an idea adopted when you already have 800 million users. For a startup, you need to first crack the chicken and the egg problem with data vs users.
Brand: Facebook has worked hard over the years to build a reputation in the social space and now whenever they launch something new, users not only accept it graciously but also rave about it. For a startup, launching the same idea is much harder because the process of building brand equity goes hand in hand with the launch and evolution of the product.
All said and done, it is certainly flattering to see the timeline launch by Facebook and given our passion for this idea, I do hope people love it! As Xp rightly said, ideas are cheap and its the execution that counts :)