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The World Is An Internet Startup Now

By - July 01, 2011

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(image) Last night I got to throw a party, and from time to time, that’s a pretty fun thing to do. To help us think through the program and theme of the Web 2 Summit this Fall, we invited a small group of influential folks in the Bay area to a restaurant in San Francisco, fed them drinks and snacks, and invited their input. (Here are some pics if you want to see the crowd.)

Nothing beats face to face, semi-serendipitous conversation. You always learn something new, and the amount of knowledge that can be shared in even a few minutes of face time simply cannot be replicated with technology, social media, or even a long form post like this one. I always find myself reinvigorated after spending an evening in a room full of smart folks, and last night was certainly no exception. In fact, about halfway through, as I watched several of my close friends from my home turf of Marin mingling with the crowd, I realized something: The whole world is an Internet startup now.

Let me try to explain.

Back even five years ago, our industry was dominated by people who considered themselves a select breed of financier and entrepreneur – they were Internet startup folk. I considered myself one of them, of course, but I also kept a bit apart – it’s one reason I live up in Marin, and not down in the Silicon Valley. Why did I do that? I am not entirely sure, other than I wasn’t certain I wanted to be fully immersed in the neck-deep culture of the Valley, which can at times be a bit incestuous. I wanted to be part of the “rest of the world” even as I reveled in the extraordinary culture of Internet startup land.

Part of living up here in Marin is meeting and befriending smart folks who have pretty much nothing to do with my business. In the past ten years, I’ve become good friends with real estate developers, investment bankers (and not ones who take Internet companies public), musicians, artists, and doctors. When we first connected, I was always “the Internet guy” in the room. And that was that.

But as I scanned the room last night and watched those friends of mine, I realized that each of them was now involved in an Internet startup in some way or another. I then thought about the rest of my Marin pals, and realized that nearly every one of them is either running or considering running an Internet startup. Only thing is, to them it’s not about “starting an Internet company.” Instead, it’s about innovating in their chosen field. And to do so, they of course are leveraging the Internet as platform. The world is pivoting, and the axis is the industry we’ve built. This is what we meant when we chose “Web Meets World” for the theme of the 2008 Web 2 Summit, but it’s really happening now, at least in my world. I’m curious if it’s happening in yours.

A few examples – though I have to keep the details cloudy, as I can’t breach my friends’ confidence. One of my pals, let’s call him Jack, is a highly successful banker specializing in buying and selling other banks. But he’s an artist in his soul, and has a friend who is a talented photographer. Together they’ve cooked up a startlingly new approach to commercial consumer photography, including a retail concept and, of course, a fully integrated digital and social media component. Jack is now an Internet startup guy.

Another pal is a doctor. We’ll call him Dr. Smith. Smith is a true leader in his field, redefining standards of medical practice. He often gives speeches on what’s broken in the medical world, and holds salons where some of the most interesting minds in medicine hold forth on any number of mind bending topics. For the past year or so, Smith has been working on a major problem: How to get people to understand the basics of nutrition, and engage with their own diets in ways that might break the cycle of disease driven by poor eating habits. He’s got a genius answer to that question, and now, Smith is an Internet startup guy as well.

Dan, another anonymized pal of mine, made his name in real estate. Two years ago he effectively retired, having made enough money several times over to live a very good life and never have to work again. But Dan is a restless soul, and he’s also a bit haunted by the loss of his father to a poorly understood but quite well known neurological disease. He’s dedicated his life to supporting new approaches to research in the field, and the work he’s funded is tantalizingly close to a breakthrough. It’s an entirely new framework for understanding the illness, one that isn’t easy to grok if you’re a layman (as he was when he started). As I listened to him explain the work, I had a very strong sense of deja vu. Dan was an Internet startup guy now, pitching me his new approach to disrupting a sclerotic industry (in this case, the foundation-driven research institutes and their kissing cousins, the pharmaceutical companies.). It may work, it may not, but he’s going to go for it. To raise funds for his new approach, Dan is talking to angels and VCs, and developing a new model for profiting from drug compounds that may come out of the research he’s funded. In short, Dan’s appropriated the Internet’s core funding process to try to solve for one of the most obstinate problems in health.

I could go on. There’s the award winning filmmaker and his musician/producer partner who are creating mind-blowing next generation online games. The agency creative who’s won every traditional advertising prize on the planet, and is now obsessed with digital. And on and on and on….

I guess my point is this: The Internet no longer belongs to the young tech genius with a great idea and the means to execute it online. Innovation on the Internet now belongs to the world, and that is perhaps the most exciting thing about this space. It’s attracting not just the “next Mark Zuckerberg,” but also thousands of super smart innovators from every field imaginable, each of whom brings extraordinary insights and drive to play. And that’s another reason I love this industry, because, in the end, it’s not a singular business. It now encapsulates the human narrative, writ very large.

What a great story. Does it resonate with you? Do you have examples like mine? I’d love to hear them.

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My, My, Time Does Fly

By - June 16, 2011

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Over at the Federated Media site, I’ve posted an appreciation of the company I started in a garage six years ago this week. FM came about because of my work on my first book – it was through the study of search’s impact on media and markets that I came up with the idea in the first place. Which means, in a pretty direct way, it was attributable in part to the musings here on Searchblog, and to your responses to those musings. 

FM is great success by any metric now, so I wanted to briefly say thank you to all of you who still read me here, and know that I will be writing a lot more in the next year or so, thanks to a new book project soon to be announced. 

From my post on FM’s six year anniversary:

FM was the first company that I built from scratch – no initial corporate parent (as I had with The Industry Standard), no initial set of partners (as I had with Wired or Web 2), just an idea and equal measures of optimism and trepidation…..

We delivered our first campaigns to FM partners in late 2005, and we’ve never really looked back. From our early start – about 20 sites, mostly tech, comprising about 2 million uniques and 20 million pageviews – we’ve grown to one of the largest Internet media companies in the world – with more than 75 million worldwide uniques and billions of pageviews across a multitude of categories, including food, parenting, lifestyle, and of course technology and business.

….

Along the way, FM became synonymous with innovation in media and marketing. I’m bragging like a proud papa here, but given where I sit at the moment (no longer CEO, but a very active Founder/Chairman reflecting on six years of sleepless commitment), I hope you’ll indulge me. We’ve worked with some of the best brands in what we’ve come to call “the Independent Web” – that part of the media world that isn’t Facebook (though we’ve worked with them, of course), or Google, or Yahoo, or AOL for that matter. Early on, I called this the “rest of the world,” and it’s a very vibrant and deeply passionate place.

….

FM was the first company to bring Fortune 500 brands to blogs, at scale. The first to identify and bring a business model to community driven news sites like Digg. The first to bring brands into the Facebook platform through partnerships with innovators like Graffiti. The first to evangelize “conversational marketing,” and the first to deliver actual ad units which allowed marketers to bring their own voice, in real time, into the real estate previously considered a wasteland. In fact, we were honored in 2006 with a Webby for our RSS-driven ad units, where a marketer’s own messaging (or the content of those authors they supported, now celebrated as “content marketing”) was updated as the conversation changed across the web. Now, of course, the idea that a brand might drive a conversation, and that this conversation should be central to a brand’s marketing efforts, is the axis around which Facebook, as one example, drives its current business. We didn’t start FM to be Facebook, (the Independent Web is pretty much the ying to Facebook’s yang) but it’s nice to know our ideas have not only gained currency, they’ve become the de facto currency of digital marketing…

…When Twitter took off in 2008, FM was there, creating the first brand integration, with our partner Microsoft. And when the world’s largest publishing platform, WordPress – long a friend to the company – was ready to explore monetization, FM again was the partner of choice

Over the past three decades, I’ve been at the center of a few amazing companies – two of which have passed 500 employees in girth. Wired, which still lives on, was the first. The Industry Standard, which lives on in a few markets outside the US, was the other. But FM is my proudest and most cherished accomplishment – with just 175 or so extraordinary employees, we’ve managed to deliver more than $100 million back to the creators of the Independent web over the past six years. That means that thousands of independent voices have rung out true, in part because FM and its partnesr were there to help them pay the bills.

I can’t really put in words how proud that makes me feel.

Web 2 Map: The Data Layer – Visualizing the Big Players in the Internet Economy

By - June 03, 2011

As I wrote last month, I’m working with a team of folks to redesign the Web 2 Points of Control map along the lines of this year’s theme: “The Data Frame.” In the past few weeks I’ve been talking to scores of interesting people, including CEOs of data-driven start ups (TrialPay and Corda, for example), academics in the public dataspace, policy folks, and VCs. Along the way I’ve solidified my thinking about how best to visualize the “data layer” we’ll be adding to the map, and I wanted to bounce it off all of you. So here, in my best narrative voice, is what I’m thinking.

First, of course, some data.

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On the left hand side are eight major players in the Internet Economy, along with two categories of players who are critical, but who I’ve lumped together – payment players such as Visa, Amex, and Mastercard, and carriers or ISP players such as Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.

I’ve given each company my own “finger in the air” score for seven major data categories, which are shown across the top (I don’t claim these are correct, rather, clay on the wheel for an ongoing dialog). The first six scores are in essence percentages, answering the question “What percentage of this company’s holdings are in this type of data.” The seventh, which I’ve called Wildcard data, is a 1-10 ranking of the potency of that company’s “wildcard” data that it’s not currently leveraging, but might in the future. I’ll get to more detail on each data category later.

Toward the far right, I’ve noted each company’s overall global uniques (from Doubleclick, for now, save the carriers and payment guys – I’ve proxied their size with the reach of Google). There is also an “engagement” score (again, more on that soon). The final score is a very rough tabulation computing engagement over uniques against the sum of the data scores. There are pivots to be built from this data around each of the scores for various types of data, but I’ll leave that for later. This is meant to be a relatively simple introduction to my rough thinking about the data layer. Hopefully, it’ll spark some input from you.

Now, before you rip it apart, which I fully invite (especially those of you who are data quants, because I am clearly not, and I am likely mixing some apples and watermelons here), allow me to continue to narrate what I’m trying to visualize here.

As you know, the map is a metaphor, showing key territories as “points of control.” The companies I’ve highlighted in the chart all have “home territories” where they dominate a sector – Google in search, Facebook in social, Amazon and eBay in commerce, etc. What I plan to do is create a layer based on the data in the chart that, when activated, shows those companies’ relative size and strength.

But how?

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Well, the best idea we’ve come up with so far is to show each as a small city of sorts, where the relative height of the buildings is determined by a corresponding data point. So Twitter, for example, will have a tall building in the middle of its city, representing “Interest data.” Google’s tallest building will be search. Facebook’s, social, and so on. And of course the cities can’t be all on the same scale, hence our use of total global uniques, and total engagement. Yahoo may be nearly as big as Facebook, but it doesn’t have nearly the engagement per user. So its city will be smaller, relatively, than Facebook’s.

What is interesting about this approach is that each company’s “cityscape” emerges as distinct. Microsoft’s is wide but not tall – they have a lot of data in a number of areas. It will probably end up looking like a suburban office park – funnily enough, that’s what Microsoft really looks like, for the most part. Amazon and eBay will have high towers of payment data, with a smattering of shorter buildings. And so on. I don’t have a good visualization of this yet, but the designers at Blend, who I’m working with, have sketched out a very rough early version just so you can get the idea. The structures will be more whimsical, and of course be keyed with color. But I think you get the idea.

I’m even thinking of adding other features, like “openness” – ie can you access, gain copies of, share, and mash up the data controlled by each company? If so, the city won’t be walled. Apple, on the other hand, may well end up a walled city, with a moat, on top of a hill.

Now, a bit more detail on the data categories. You all gave me a lot of really good input on my earlier post, where I posited these original categories. But I’ve kept them the same, save the addition of the wildcard data. Why? Because I think each can be interpreted as larger buckets containing a lot of other data. I’ll go through each briefly in turn:

Purchase Data: This is information about who buys what, in essence. But it’s also who *almost* buys what (abandoned carts), *when* they buy, in what context, and so on.

Search Data: The original database of intentions – query data, path from query data, “intent” data, and tons more search signals.

Social Data: Social graph, but also identity data. Not to mention how people interact inside their graphs, etc.

Interest Data: This is data that describes what is generally called “the interest graph” – declarations of what people are interested in. It’s related to content, but it’s not just content consumption. It includes active production of interest datapoints – like tweets, status updates, checkins, etc.

Location Data: This is data about where people are, to be sure, but also data about how often we are there, and other correlated data – ie what apps we use in location context, who else is there and when, etc.

Content Data: Content is still a king in our world, and knowing patterns of content consumption is a powerful signal. This is data about who reads/watches/consumes what, when, and in what patterns.

Wildcard Data: This is data that is uncategorized, but could have huge implications. For example, Microsoft knows how people interact with their applications and OS. Microsoft and Google have a ton of language data (phonemes, etc.). Carriers see just about everything that passes across their servers, though their ability to use it might be regulated. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have tons of email interaction data. And so on….

Now, of course all these data categories get more powerful as they are leveraged one against the other, and of course, I’ve left tons of really big data players off the map entirely (Tons of small startups like Tynt, Quora, or Sharethis have massive amounts of data, as do very large companies like Nielsen, Quantcast, etc.). But you have to make choices to make something like this work.

So, that’s where we are with the Web 2 Summit map data layer. Naturally, once the data layer is live, it will be driven by a database, so we can tweak the size and scope of the cities and buildings based on the collective intelligence of the map users’ feedback. What do you think? What’s your input? We’ll be building this over the next two months, and I’d love your feedback before we get too far down the line. Thanks!

The in.imit.able will.i.am: Embracing Brand As An Artist

By - June 01, 2011

Next week will mark the third time in one year that I’ve interviewed Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am on stage, and each time it’s gotten better. If you’re coming to CM Summit, you’re in for a treat. Will is in New York for a benefit concert in Central Park, and he’s stopping by to chat with us along the way.

I’ve found will.i.am to be a rare bird – a massively successful commercial artist who embraces brands and marketing as part of his work, instead of a distraction from his work. He reminds me of another William – William Gibson, an author who natively embraces marketing as part of a narrative, finding signal in the work of branding, rather than noise. And no one can argue with Will’s street cred, his philanthropic work is a model for all celebrities. Not to mention, the dude is director of innovation at Intel. Intel!

If you want a preview of what we’ll be talking about, check the interview we did back in February at Signal LA. Expect more of the same, with a few twists, when we meet in New York next week.

As a reminder, we’ll hear from more than 30 presenters at CM Summit, 11 of which will be one-one interviews. Those include:

Google’s Neal Mohan: A $200 Billion Opportunity

Reimagining Yahoo!: Chief Product Officer Blake Irving

Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain Declares Interdependence: The Internet Is Changing How We Think

The Colorful Bill Nguyen: The Market Will Come

The Swan Song of Mich Matthews, Outgoing Chief of Marketing at Microsoft

Taking Twitter to the Next Level: President of Global Revenue Adam Bain

On the Future of Media: Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Laura Desmond

I’ll be adding posts on the remaining folks – Demand CEO Richard Rosenblatt, Visa CMO Antonio Lucio, and Facebook’s Carolyn Everson, shortly.

The CM Summit is less than one week away, and nearly 450 folks have registered, we can only take 500….so register today before we sell out.

Special thanks to our sponsors: Blackberry, AT&T, Google, Quantcast, Demand Media, Facebook, Outbrain, Pandora, Pixazza, R2integrated, Slideshare, Yahoo!, AOL, American Express OPEN, Balloon, BriefLogic, Evidon, Marketing Evolution/Telmar, Mobile Roadie, Spiceworks, and Ustream. And a shout out to our partners at IAB, Mashable, paidContent, ReadWriteWeb, SMAC, and TechZulu.

There Are No More "Dot Coms"

By - May 19, 2011

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At least, there shouldn’t be. We’ve passed that era. Any business of scale and worthy of going public, as LinkedIn did today in spectacular style, isn’t a dotcom. It’s a real business, with significant impact in several important markets. In LinkedIn’s case, those markets include publishing, recruitment, and professional services. So what if they are leveraged over a digital platform that has a “.com” address? At this point, that’s pretty much the entire US economy, not to mention a significant percentage of the “rest of the world.”

I’m tired of the easy comparisons to the dotcom bubble. They simply aren’t accurate.

Set The Data Free, And Value Will Follow

By - April 28, 2011

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(NB: Much has been written and said on this topic, and this post is in no way complete. We’ll be exploring this issue and many others related to data at the Web 2 Summit this Fall).

Perhaps the largest problem blocking our industry today is the retardation of consumer-driven data sharing. We’re all familiar with the three-year standoff between Google and Facebook over crawling and social graph data. Given the rise of valuable mobile data streams (and subsequent and rather blinkered hand wringing about samesaid) this issue is getting far worse.

Every major (and even every minor) player realizes that “data is the next Intel inside,” and has, for the most part, taken a hoarder’s approach to the stuff. Apple, for example, ain’t letting data out of the iUniverse to third parties except in very limited circumstances. Same for Facebook and even Google, which has made hay claiming its open philosophy over the years.

And this trend is not limited to the large players. I currently have 302 photos locked up in a service called Twitpic. I’d very much like to export them into my iPhoto library, so I can mange them as part of the rest of my photo library. But the only way to do that is to “right click” on each and every one of those photos, copying them to my desktop. That’s several hours of work that most folks simply won’t do. When an enterprising coder wrote an automated script that exported photos from Twitpic to another service called Posterous, Twitpic blocked the program. That was about the time I stopped using Twitpic.

This trend, I predict, will become the petard upon which our industry will hoist itself over the next couple of years. Very well intentioned projects like DataPortability.org and others are working on this issue, but it’s largely hidden from public view and debate, because that debate has been framed as “Us versus Them”, where the “Them” are presumably evil and profit-driven companies who want to leverage our data for their own gain. (See the entire WSJ series as exhibit A in this debate).

So far, the approach companies seem to be taking boils down to this: The data we have is too valuable to let our customers understand it, manage it, and ultimately, do whatever they want with it. We’ll say soothing things, and we’ll let our users take some actions with their data – Facebook will let you authenticate using Facebook Connect on third party sites, for example – but we won’t let you take the data you’ve created on our services, put it in your own pocket (so to speak), and hand it over to other services and platforms such that those platforms can add value to your daily life.

In other words, if information is truly currency in today’s economy, so far the coins in your pocket are all from different countries, and there’s no global exchange mechanism. They’re only worth something in the nation in which they’ve been minted.

For example, you can’t pass your Facebook identity to a third party site so as to enable that site to serve you a better advertising experience. While Facebook insists that your Facebook data is, in fact, *yours*, it turns out it’s not yours if you want to use it to help a third party make money. In other words, it’s not really yours if it has true value to a third party. Which, in essence, means it’s only yours if it’s not valuable to anyone but you. But value is most often a social concept – something has value because a third person values it.

If the true value of the economy we are building is to be unlocked, that value has to flow unchecked from one party to another. Were this to be true, differentiation of services would migrate to a higher level of the stack, so to speak. Services would be considered valuable for what they did with data given to them by consumers, rather than by their ability to lock consumer’s data into their proprietary platform. New models would emerge to reward those services for adding that value, and those models would be both more robust, and far larger than the “one ring to rule them all” model currently at play.

As things stand today, our industry’s practices are gaining the attention of dead-serious regulators, spurred to potentially early lock down of how data is used based on an incomplete understanding of how value will flow through future economic models yet to be invented. (More on this in another post).

A generation from now our industry’s approach to data collection and control will seem outdated and laughable. The most valuable digital services and companies will be rewarded for what they do with openly shareable data, not by how much data they hoard and control.

Now, I live in the real world, and I understand why companies are doing what they are doing at the moment. Facebook doesn’t want third party services creating advertising networks that leverage Facebook’s social graph – that’s clearly on Facebook’s roadmap to create in the coming year or so (Twitter has taken essentially the same approach). But if you are a publisher (and caveat, I am), I want the right to interpret a data token handed to me by my reader in any way I chose. If my interpretation is poor, that reader will leave. If it adds value, the reader stays, perhaps for a bit longer, and value is created for all. If that token comes from Facebook, Facebook also gets value.

Imagine, for example, if back in the early search days, Google decided to hoard search refer data – the information that tells a site what the search term was which led a visitor to click on a particular URL. Think of how that would have retarded the web’s growth over the past decade.

Scores of new services are emerging that hope to enable a consumer-driven ecosystem of data. Let’s not lock down data early. Let’s trust that what we’re best at doing is adding value, not hoarding it.   

More on this in my 2007 post The Data Bill of Rights, not to be confused with the “Commercial Data Privacy Bill of Rights,” introduced last week. While well intentioned, this bill does not consider data ownership and portability.

Plato On Facebook

By - April 21, 2011

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One of my first “big books” out of college was James Gleick’s Chaos: Making a New Science and it still resonates with me, though it’s been so long I think I’m due for a re-read. In any case, the next book up in my ongoing self-education is Gleick’s The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. It’s long. It’s dense. It’s good, so far. In fact, there’s already a passage, a quote from Plato, that has struck me as germane to the ongoing threads I attempt to weave here on this site (even if all I’m really making is a lame friendship bracelet – pun intended, as you will see).

Early in the book, Gleick narrates the birth of the written word, which if you think about it (and he certainly has), is quite an extraordinary event. Turns out Plato, who was literate (and therefore quotable today), was not a fan of the written word. His mentor Socrates, Gleick reminds us, was illiterate. Well, OK, that’s not fair. Socrates wasn’t illiterate, he was, in Gleick’s words, a “nonwriter.” In any case, the passage that struck me is Plato speaking about the written word, quoted in “The Information”:

For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them .You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom.

Nicholas Carr would be proud of Plato. But both would be wrong.

Definitions of wisdom shift as cultures shift. Now, of course, to be wise is to be literate. Then, to be wise was to commit knowledge to memory. Now, it’s to the ability to lookup (to search, to find, to divine patterns). I’ve called this search literacy in the past, but I think we’re moving toward something larger.

Consider the same passage, liberally edited to be a critique of the new medium of Facebook and social networking, rather than the new medium of the written word.

For this invention will produce disconnection in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice true relationships between people. Their trust in Facebook, produced by external connections which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own ability to maintain relationships.You have invented an elixir not of relationships, but of reminding one of relationship; and you offer your pupils the appearance of connection, not true connection.

When writing was new, it was strange, and it was hard to imagine a society based on the written word. At the dawn of digital connectivity, the same holds true. Are digital relationships real? Is the grammar of Facebook robust enough to hold all the nuance of true connection?

Probably not yet. But I for one am happy Plato learned to write. And I can also imagine a time – well after these words sink deeply into the sediments of history – when Plato and Facebook are united in a new technology of memory, relationship, and communication that eclipses anything we might debate today.

A Funny Coincidence, or a Glimpse of the Future?

By - April 15, 2011

I took a ride today, and it was gorgeous as usual. That’s not my story, but it’s certainly a part of it.

As I rode I used the AllSports GPS app on my iphone to track my progress (guys, if you’re reading, your upload is busted).

I knew I’d be able to see the whole ride on Google Maps later, which is cool. It also tracks stuff like distance, vertical, speed, etc. Tons of fun.

So that’s one signal tracking me all along the way, kicking off tons of data as I went. Some of it I was capturing. Some of it, I’d warrant, was being captured by the app. And, if that app has a deal with Google or others for advertising, some of that data, I’d wager, is going to Google as well. I know this. Not sure most folks do, but they will. More on that in another post.

As I rode, I checked into a couple of trails I was on: Indian Fire, and Eldridge. In fact, I put Eldridge on the map of Foursquare, odd, but I knew it wasn’t on there as I tried to check in before but didn’t follow through on Foursquare’s request that I add the spot.

This time I did. Another app has some of my data now. I’m happy to give it to them, in fact.

After about 45 minutes of good up, I found myself at this vista and sent it to Tumblr:

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A happy place to be sure. I think I captioned it Beeeeeuuuuttiieee or something. This is the view looking Northeast, two-thirds up the Eldridge trail on Mt. Tamalpais. Oh, and a third app now has my data.

Of course, the iPhone also has all that data, and more. And AT&T has its fair share to boot.

We peaked (checked in natch), ripped on down, took more pics, including a video, and I got home to my new video/music/think out loud room. And I put the map and the pictures and the video up on the big screen, and played a bit of Muppets doing Dance Yourself Clean because, well, it was Friday after all.

My buddy left, and I went in to get something. I came back to check mail, and brought up my browser. Now, my home page is this site, and what do I see at the top of the site, in the ads which at this point had reverted to Google AdSense?

Well, I saw this image:

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Well I’ll be, I say to myself. That looks a lot like where I just was! And this was a Google Maps ad. Holy CRAP! Did Google get some of that data and, in near real time, show me an ad with MY PICTURE IN IT?

Funny thing was, I wasn’t creeped out. In fact, I was thrilled….I love that place, and there it was at the top of my site!

Now there’s much to say about this, but OF COURSE I CLICKED ON THAT BAD BOY.

Here’s what I got:

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The thrill was palpable – was I looking at a Northeast view from two-thirds up Eldridge? Wow! Now that’s conversational media!

Well, no. I was looking at a beautiful vista in Ireland, in fact. Clearly the ad folks at Google thought it was a good shot to use. Packaged goods media.

It was all a coincidence.

But it sure as hell got me thinking.

Why *isn’t* there a way to take all that data, and more, and make experiences that work for all of us? I wrote about this in the “Rise of Metaservices.” I want me some, now. And not just so Google can serve me the perfect ad. The world is so much bigger than that (but if that pays for that world, I’m cool with it, as long as I have a dashboard which gives me control).

More to come.

Go Forth And Invest

By - April 11, 2011

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This headline caught my eye this morning: US VCs Raised $7.7 Billion In Q1, Highest Influx In A Decade. Of course, if you‘ve been following the news in our industry, you know there’s a raging debate on over whether we are in “another bubble.” This news will of course be interpreted as evidence that, in fact, we are back to bubbly levels…after all, one decade ago was when we had our last big hurrah, right? When VCs gave mostly incompetent founders way too much money, and the whole thing came crashing down around us.

Well, yes….and ten years ago, there was no way our industry, social culture, or technological infrastructure was ready for the big ideas VCs wanted to fund.

This time, I believe, is different.

There, I said it. Now go invest those billions, VCs, and go spend them, entrepreneurs. It’s about time we believed again.

Though, I must admit, the constant specter of the dot com bubble is a healthy thing – it keeps most of us focused on creating value, rather than simply scheming on how to make a quick buck.

Everbody Forgets About the Power of Intentional Declaration

By - March 23, 2011

I love that Facebook is testing real time conversational advertising. In short, the idea is that the right ad shows up on someone’s Facebook page when they declare some intention. As the Ad Age coverage puts it:

Users who update their status with “Mmm, I could go for some pizza tonight,” could get an ad or a coupon from Domino’s, Papa John’s or Pizza Hut….With real-time delivery, the mere mention of having a baby, running a marathon, buying a power drill or wearing high-heeled shoes is transformed into an opportunity to serve immediate ads, expanding the target audience exponentially beyond usual targeting methods such as stated preferences through “likes” or user profiles.

Sounds great, but hollow – kind of like a 4/4 beat missing a bass drum. And what’s the bass? It’s the consumer, of course.

Allow me to explain. If I’m a consumer in Facebook’s real time advertising world, and I notice that the ads change based on my status update, I may decide to intentionally declare my desire for a pizza, or a pregnancy test, or some cool shoes, because I know the ads/offers/coupons/deals are going to come my way. In other words, it’s advertising’s version of the street finding its own use for technology. Advertising isn’t one way, Facebook. It’s conversational, and the biggest mistake one might make is to assume your consumers won’t game that system for their own uses. In fact, I’d suggest you design your product around that assumption.

If you do that well, you just might have a hit on your hands.