free html hit counter July 2008 - John Battelle's Search Blog

CrowdFire Launches: The Creation Myth

By - July 30, 2008

Logo Crowdfire-1

(This is cross posted from the launch of CrowdFire)

Back in June of 2007 I had the pleasure of attending my first Bonnaroo, one of the most mind-bending music festivals on the planet. Anytime you get nearly 100,000 rabid fans together with scores of the best bands in the world, there’s bound to be magic. And for me, a lapsed fan just re-engaging with the world of live music, it was a revelation.

I don’t want to age myself here, but I’m not exactly in Bonnaroo’s core demographic, if you know what I mean. But so many bands I loved were playing there – the Flaming Lips, Ziggy Marley, Spoon, Bob Weir, Fountains of Wayne – and so many bands I’d heard of but never really heard – Kings of Leon, Lily Allen, Mavis Staples, Paolo Nutini, Brazilian Girls, Mute Math, Ween – the list went on and on and on. And oh, yes, I’ll admit, the band I loved when I was in the demo was also playing: The Police.

And I was fortunate enough to not only see most of these bands, but to also see how a festival like Bonnaroo gets created – from the backstage load ins to the incredible ballet of literally hundreds of staff and volunteers who create, in three days, a mid-sized city in the center of a 700-acre farm in the middle of Tennessee.

The reason I had such access? A good friend (thanks, Martin) had hooked me up with the festivals’ producers, an outfit called SuperFly. As I got to know them and watch the fruits of their work, I came to realize I was watching something far larger than a music festival. In short, I was watching a new culture emerge, a culture fueled in equal parts by the timeless connection between musician and audience, on the one hand, and the breakdown of the traditional music business thanks to new technologies of personal media, on the other.

It’s not like I wasn’t familiar with these trends, in theory, anyway. After all, there’s a reason I named my company “FM” – it was clear that on the web, “musicians” (talented folks who were creating independent websites) were connecting with their audiences in new ways outside traditional “top 50” distribution models (ie, outside the old school models of major media companies like Time Inc., Yahoo, Viacom, etc.). This mirrored the rise of the counter cultural music movement of the 60s and 70s, a movement that leveraged another new technology – the FM radio band. The rise of the album and the explosion of creative freedom which resulted – well, that resonated with me when I saw talent like Dooce, or Boing Boing, or Digg start to redefine the Web.

But as I was building FM (and even before, while I was working on a book and a new conference), I managed to lose touch with the visceral, emotional connection that live music represents. And live music, it turns out, was undergoing its own incredible evolution.

Then I spent those three days at Bonnaroo.

And there, well, BAM, it hit me. Everyone says the music business is in collapse, but that’s not true at all. The old industry may be dying, but the connection between fans and bands is stronger than ever. Thanks to the web, more and more acts can find their audiences, more and more fans can find music they love, and together they are changing the world of entertainment forever. It’s nearly impossible to make money as a musician using the old system of record labels and Top 50 hits. But if you tour, if you are smart about what festivals you play, and if you use the web to connect directly with your base, well, there’s clearly a great living to be made, doing what you love to do. And new companies like SuperFly and Red Light and Another Planet were springing up to help artists do exactly that. It felt a lot like what I was trying to do with FM, the only difference being the medium. One was live music, the other was the conversational web.

Logo Outsidelands

Over the past year I began a conversation with the folks at SuperFly about their business and ours, and we kept an eye out for a way to connect the two. Then Rick Farman, one of the partners at SuperFly, called me and told me about Outside Lands, which they were doing in partnership with Another Planet. He said he wanted to figure out something cool to do there that had to do with technology and Bay area culture, and he thought FM might have some ideas. We agreed it could be some kind of digital campfire in the center of the festival, one informed by the same vibe that informs social/conversational media – something of and about the audience’s experience of the festival. In essence, we wanted to create a place where folks could mix their love of music with all the potential of personal and cultural technology.

Now those of you reading this already know what an incredible event Outside Lands is going to be – basically, it’s Bonnaroo west, with the first ever nighttime concert in Golden Gate Park (and it’s Radiohead, for goodness sakes) and three days of incredible music (Wilco, Jack Johnson, Tom Petty, Widespread, Beck, Broken Social Scene, Ben Harper, Jackie Greene, and about 40 others? ARE YOU KIDDING ME???!)

Roo Crowdfire-Tm Copy

Over the course of several brainstorming sessions, including with Marc Ruxin at McCaan and folks at Microsoft, an idea began to take shape based on a single insight: personal media is changing how we all experience music. Remember, it had been a while since I had been to a concert. A lot had changed. Everyone there had a cel phone with a camera, for one. Or a Flip. Or a digital camera. And when an amazing moment occurred, more folks held up their digital devices than they did lighters. At Bonnaroo this past June, I took a picture that nails it for me – the image at left. A woman capturing an incredible personal memory of an incredible shared experience (in this case, it was Metallica literally blowing people’s minds), the three screens reflecting the integration of physical, personal, and shared experiences. That image informed our logo, as you can see.

So – where did all those experiences go (Searchblog readers, of course, know I’ve been thinking about this for a while)? What could be done with them if they were all put together in one place, at one time, turned into a great big feed by a smart platform that everyone could access? In short, what might happen if someone built a platform to let the crowd – the audience – upload their experiences of the music to a great big database, then mix, mash, and meld them into something utterly new?

Well, we’re about to find out. Thanks to some pretty visionary folks at Microsoft, our presenting sponsor, and Intel, a Platinum sponsor, today marks the launch of that idea realized: CrowdFire. The idea is pretty simple, really: Live music has always been a major production from the stage out to the audience: one to many, in essence. But with CrowdFire, we hope to provide all of us music fans a platform for doing with the experience of music what we’re already doing with the experience of the web: a place where all of us can share and produce our experiences: a many to many celebration of live music, in real time, as well as as an ongoing, living archive of what has happened, and what might happen next.

Sound a bit…out there? It is. Today marks the launch of our beta, and I am sure there will be bugs, blips, and general screw ups. But that’s how the web – and music – works. You get out there and you play (link to main site). The more you play, the better you get. And the more folks you play with, the faster you get better. So join us today (link again). Set up an account (link), upload some of your favorite memories around music (images, blog posts, Twitter or flickr streams, video, we’re ready for pretty much anything (link).) Take a tour around, and help us (link to suggestion box) make this thing really sing.

Black Angel-Tm

You might have noticed we’ve already got some pretty cool “kindling” in the CrowdFire, including photos from Jeff Kravitz, an amazing talent who recently joined the blogging world (that’s one of his many incredible images at left), as well as leading voices from the music, technology, and culture worlds.

But we need your input to really light this thing up. Browse and rate the stuff that’s already up. Add your own (there’ll be some pretty cool contests and prizes for stuff that the crowd rates as the coolest). And coming up very soon, in the next rev of CrowdFire, you’ll be able to remix all the content in the CrowdFire database, creating your own feeds, videos, and mashups.

When the festival starts, the CrowdFire really gets going. We’ll all be able to send SMS, email, and uploads of our media directly into the CrowdFire database, and we’ll have media jockeys creating streams of CrowdFire imagery in real time, which we’ll send back out into the festival grounds through a network of LED screens. We’ll also send them out into the ether of the Web, for anyone to experience. And anyone can do the same – which is pretty cool.

Big thanks to the folks who helped realize this vision – Marc Ruxin and Matt Nessier of Universal McCaan, Bill Capadanno, Laura User and Aaron Lilly of Team Microsoft, the teams at Superfly Productions, Another Planet and Starr Hill, Martin Shore and the tireless FM Team.

Thanks for coming to check out our first version of CrowdFire. Now let’s go make something cool together!

  • Content Marquee

Still Traveling…

By - July 28, 2008

If you want to know what I’m up to, read my Twitter feed….back to posting when I’m back in the US…

Kevin Johnson Leaving Microsoft

By - July 24, 2008

A month or so ago I sat down for a strategy briefing from Kevin Johnson, the then-president of Microsoft responsible for Windows and online services. I never did get around to writing what I thought of that meeting, partially due to a request from Microsoft PR that the session be on background.

I enjoyed my time with Kevin, but wondered a bit about whether his strategy, outlined somewhat in this Fortune piece, was going to be enough to sate Steve Ballmer’s appetite for competing with Google.

Now we know. With Live Search, share has been lost, and with Yahoo, the deal is not closed. Here’s the spin:

REDMOND, Wash. — July 23, 2008 — Microsoft Corp. today announced that the Platforms & Services Division (PSD) will be split into two groups: Windows/Windows Live and Online Services, with both groups reporting directly to CEO Steve Ballmer. Microsoft also announced that PSD President Kevin Johnson will be leaving the company. Johnson will work to ensure a smooth transition.

“Kevin has built a supremely talented organization and laid the foundation for the future success of Windows and our Online Services Business. This new structure will give us more agility and focus in two very competitive arenas,” Ballmer said. “It has been a pleasure to work with Kevin, and we wish him well in the future.”

Effective immediately, senior vice presidents Steven Sinofsky, Jon DeVaan and Bill Veghte will report directly to Ballmer to lead Windows/Windows Live. The Windows organization recently announced strong annual sales, with more than 180 million copies of Windows Vista sold globally, and it has driven more than 100 million installs of its Windows Live suite. The organization’s innovation pipeline includes a new version of Windows Internet Explorer, the next version of Windows and the next generation of the Windows Live product suite.

In the Online Services Business, Microsoft will create a new senior lead position and will conduct a search that will span internal and external candidates. In the meantime, Senior Vice President Satya Nadella will continue to lead Microsoft’s search, MSN and ad platform engineering efforts. Microsoft recently announced a strategy to redefine search through innovations in the user experience and business models. As an example, the company’s cashback search program, announced in May, is already generating strong momentum among online shoppers and advertisers.

In addition, Senior Vice President Brian McAndrews will continue to lead the Advertiser & Publisher Solutions Group (APS). APS has great momentum, having signed more than 100 new publisher deals in the past year. McAndrews will continue to focus on the display advertising opportunity for Microsoft, driving execution and integration of advertising assets, including recent acquisitions such as Massive Inc., Navic Networks, ScreenTonic SA and YaData Ltd.

“Our Windows business is firing on all cylinders,” Ballmer said. “We see tremendous opportunity in search and advertising, and we have a clear strategy for investing in success today and growth in the future.”


By - July 21, 2008

Have a fair amount of traveling to do today, but once I settle in, late tomorrow, I’ll be in a place to write far more…


By - July 17, 2008

It had been a week since I saw the fail whale. Damn.


Me, Dishy.

By -

Susan Bratton interviewed my on any number of topics, and her interview and transcript is here. Thanks, Susan!

"Google Results Disappoint"

By -

The headline in the Wall St. Journal.

Google Inc.’s second-quarter net income rose 35%, but the results disappointed investors and shares fell nearly 10% in after-hours trading.

Update: If you want snark, but worthy analysis, read SAI:

GEORGE REYES takes over. Grab the coffee.

AdSense DOWN sequentially. First time ever. Attributed to quality control, seasonality.

Paid clicks DOWN sequentially. Again, first time ever. Attributed to quality control, seasonality.

UK DOWN sequentially. No FOREX benefit, seasonal weakness. Again, first time ever.

Operating margin down sequentially.

Interest income down (some of the EPS miss here). Lower cash balance from DoubleClick deal, and lower yields.

Free cash flow again hammered by massive CAPEX: Up modestly sequentially, but has essentially been flat for 4 quarters.


Queries in many sectors weak: autos, real-estate, finance, etc. Real estate down year over year. Y/Y auto ad spend up, but not on financing side (consumers hit). Consumers cautious. This is the first time Google has acknowledged weakness. Revenue performance remarkable in light of this.


Boring product details.