Web ServicesDeveloper Bonanza? $250M sFund Aims to Grow Facebook, Social Web Apps

Developer Bonanza? $250M sFund Aims to Grow Facebook, Social Web Apps

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PALO ALTO, Calif. — What if there was a $250 million party and everyone you knew was invited?

Well, not quite everyone, but venture capitalist John Doerr described the new sFund for social Web applications as “a quarter billion dollar party” aimed at finding and funding social Web entrepreneurs.

Doerr, a partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers (KPCB), said the social Web represents the third great wave of computing following personal computers and the Internet. “Fifteen years after the Web, we’re creating a new kind of Web,” he said at an event here at Facebook headquarters to launch the sFund.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was particularly bullish on the promise of social apps.

“We think every industry will get fundamentally rethought and designed around people and social interaction,” he said. But he also warned that companies that try to add a layer of social features to applications, are more likely to fail or at least won’t be as successful as those designed from the ground up to be deeply integrated with the social Web.

Zynga CEO Mark Pincus spoke at length about the opportunity for developers to make the social Web more useful. Zynga publishes the hugely successful Farmville game on Facebook.

“With the social Web, there are new expectations of what a service should be like. Things have changed so much, so fast, this is one of the few times venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are behind the curve,” he said.

He cited travel as a category ripe for a new application or social Web-based service. “I’m bugged that there isn’t a great travel service that knows when my flight’s been cancelled and can recommend a new one and send that right to my BlackBerry or iPhone. And maybe recommend a game while I’m waiting,” he said.

“Or a book,” quipped Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos.

Pincus also said he hoped the sFund leads to the development of a more effective customer support solution for social networks and other free Web services. “We don’t want to be in that business,” he said.

Amazon’s Bezos, Zuckerberg and Zynga’s Pincus, all joined Doerr on stage and are all investing in the sFund. They were also joined by former Electronics Arts CEO Bing Gordon, now a partner at KCPB, who will be directing the sFund. Media companies Comcast and Liberty Media, as well as Allen & Company, are also investing in the sFund.

KPCB already manages a $200 million iFund designed to back companies developing new applications for the iPhone.

Just as new apps for Facebook promise to help the social networking site grow, Amazon also expects to benefit directly because many of these developers will use Amazon Web Services to outsource much of their computing infrastructure to the cloud-based system. “The top three companies that develop for Facebook all use AWS,” said Bezos.

“There is no way we could scale Farmville without AWS,” added Pincus.

Doerr said the new fund isn’t limited to Facebook, but his comments made it sound like it virtually is. “This is not the FBFund. We don’t control that, but Facebook is the social network and the best place for [new applications] to grow,” he said.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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