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Union Square Ventures' managing partner, Fred Wilson, had plenty of blunt opinions on the tech industry Wednesday at the Geo-Loco conference in San Francisco. But he also had some compelling justifications for his insults, even if they were mainly targeted at competitors of his portfolio companies.
Wilson was especially dismissive of Facebook, calling it "a photo-sharing site." He said Facebook's supposed monopoly on the "social graph" is overblown. Every big website has a social graph, said Wilson—Google's (GOOG) just isn't "lit up" yet. Further, he argued that the Web itself is the social graph. Still, Wilson acknowledged that Facebook is a "juggernaut." He said Google should try to buy the company, if it can. Google, at this point, is "challenged" on multiple fronts, Wilson said—its last great Web innovation was Gmail, he contended.
Wilson said the biggest worry for his portfolio companies, which include Foursquare and Twitter, is not actually Facebook, as many would assume. It's Apple. Apple is "evil," Wilson said. Why? "They believe they know what is best for you and me. And I think that is evil." The VC also said he worries that Apple owns the mobile app marketplace and the minds of mobile developers, and it interferes too much with how people use and find apps. He said he's hopeful that Android can keep Apple (AAPL) honest, but he doesn't think that's happening yet.
Wilson even picked on the little guy, too—calling Gowalla "the second fiddle" in social location vs. Foursquare.
Wilson did give a candid opinion of one of his own portfolio companies, admitting to Twitter's unending problems staying online. The service breaks, he said, because "it wasn't built right—Twitter was built kind of as a hack, and they didn't really architect it to scale, and they've never been able to catch up." But he promised Twitter would soon do interesting things around location—that was the topic of the conference, after all. The company will soon use location metadata to improve "relevancy and signal to noise," Wilson said.
The location business is more likely to be won by startups than by big companies, said Wilson, because startups don't have to change users' existing expectations. Check-ins would be awkward on Facebook, he said, because you don't want to tell 1,000 people you're grabbing a beer. And younger companies have the benefit of being able to create and maintain consistent settings for privacy and information sharing from the start.
Wilson's prediction for the location market: "The companies that do the best job on managing a user's privacy will be the companies that ultimately are the most successful."
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