Protos is currently in limited private beta testing. We started spring of 2007 and are hoping to release to a wider audience before the golf season draws to an end. Right now the focus is on quality and robustness. Of course we're always working on new features, but we've got what we need to get started.
Protos Personal Performance is as much a hobby as it is a business. Kevin and myself, Chris, work in the IT industry (surprise, surprise), but are involved with large corporate development projects. While there are many 'Web 2.0' pretenders, we at Protos take that philosophy at heart. Yes, we do believe that Web 2.0 is more about a design philosophy than technology. It's all about targeting a niche community (the long tail) and giving them tools that make it painless and simple to contribute. With this the website becomes a more attractive destination - drawing in more users, or equally as importantly, retaining the users you have. It's about encouraging participation. The site should get better with more people involved. By furnishing a reputation system, the site benefits from better quality user-provided content, and opens opportunities for commerce within the community because a level of trust has been established beyond what credit companies and escrow services provide. This is where Protos is headed.
Protos is making a couple of business plays (Web 2.0 alone is not a business plan!).
Our current set of features at launch are entirely free. Revenue will be generated through advertising and premium subscriptions (hey, this is the Internet after all. It's kind of like creating a magazine and being asked how it will make money- same scheme, different medium). There is a twist though. With our map we are able to display advertiser locations, such as driving ranges, mini putt, or retailers like Golf Town or Nevada Bobs. If they want to pay, we'll show them on our map (up to a limit of course - don't want the map too cluttered with paid advertisers). Additionally with the mobile client we can deliver location based ads - even without a GPS - since we know what course the user is playing at. So we can dish up ads to businesses in the vicinity. More about mobile access later. Premium subscriptions may come with new features added in the future.
What about advertising Protos itself? Getting the word out. Some would argue that if you have to advertise, you're not really a Web 2.0 player. Though I'm not explicitly agreeing with that statement, our decision to not advertise, but rather attempt to spread virally, was purely dictated by lack of funds. This is where the Facebook widget comes in. There is no better place to spread like a virus than on a social network. The intent of the Protos Facebook widget is to speed along word-of-mouth adoption and increase participation.
Apart from advertising, there are premium fee-based membership services that will be introduced. Over time these premium features will be added making it attractive for users to sign up for a low annual fee to gain access to useful tools and reports. Membership will begin and remain free, as will most of the features. We need to build the community first.
Protos is a true second generation net business since it doesn't rely upon a huge infusion of investor capital to get off the ground (are we off the ground yet?). The heady days of the Internet Bubble are long over and investors and VC firms are not about to make the same mistakes again. We've taken a very conservative approach here. Our monetary investment is just our hosting costs. Of course, these costs increase in line with the popularity of the site, but that's about it (the plan is to have our adventisers cover our hosting costs). Oh and I think we paid for the banner graphics as well. Everything is built on open source software - Apache, Tomcat, MySQL and Linux. This is expecially important if later you need to scale up - no software licenses to worry about. Just hardware, and commodity hardware is cheap. Of course, keeping a heavy traffic website functional and responsive is a multi-disciplinary effort, starting with proper software design, something Kevin and I can do (cue site outtage - now). Neither of us knows anything about web design. It's certainly been a painful and frustrating experience for myself. So, one could argue that we should have spent some money on creating a catchy and slick user interface. You'll get no disagreement from me. So the offer goes out - is there a web designer out there who would like the challenge of revamping Protos in exhange for... a reference? (cheap to the end).
The value of the business is in the number of active members it has and in its ability to convert those users into paying participants. Here the payment may be a monetary one, or by contributing to the value of the business by posting content. In the case of Protos, even by just posting scorecards, it allows the site to create more accurate statistics on game play, available to the whole community. So the value of the business is not in the software and hardware that supports it, but in the data - most of which is volunteered by the user community. The hardware and software is just the net used to capture it. The days of the proprietary programming interface (API) and vender lock-in are eclipsing. Open standards have taken center stage. Market dominance can now be gained through owning proprietary data. Owning a unique, comprehensive and specialized database is the business. Providing third-parties programmatic access to that data is a means to extend the utility of that data in areas you could not have imagined. Promote reuse through simple REST services and become the authoratative source for data in your niche market.
Stick to your core-competency or business focus and 'outsource' everything else. For example, on Protos, users can associate images with their bio pages or with a club description. Image hosting is not something we want to get into. As a small player, hosting images will eat up our disk space and bandwidth quotas. There are so many services available to do this that I chose two - Flickr and PicasaWeb. Same goes for maps. And geocoding services. And web metrics. In effect, this is the realization of the "Web as a Platform".
The days that a website can only be accessible from a desktop browser are numbered. North America is slow to adopt mobile technology (for reasons I don't want to get into here - I blame the telecomms!). However, looking at Europe and especially Japan and Korea, is like looking into our own future with regards to mobile technology adoption. The trend will grow where web based services will be frequently accessed from small-format screens where typing is a laborous chore. The introduction of Wi-Max will greatly accelerate this trend. This disadvantage to the service provider is compensated by the fact that they (may) have access to location information of the user and visits, while shorter, will be more frequent.
Protos has made strides in this area by providing a Java Mobile Edition (JME) midlet that can be installed on most (MIDP 2.0) Java capable phones or PDAs. For devices that do not support Java, specially designed web pages (HTML-Mobile Profile) are provided. Both the midlet and HTML-MP pages allow members to use mobile devices to enter scorecards while at the golf course. However, there is more we are planning to do. Location-awareness will be integral to the user experience, not a bolt-on for things like ad delivery. For example, mobile devices that have a GPS can be turned into range finders, something some golfers may find useful. Drive distance is yet another data point that Protos can collect, something made easier to collect if the mobile device is location-aware.
In summary, I will provide a report card on how Protos measures up as a second generation Internet business. Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media, originator of the Web 2.0 term, provides a list of seven core competencies of Web 2.0 companies:
Thank you for your interest in Protos Personal Performance, either from a sporting or Web 2.0 business perspective. Your comments and advice is welcome at