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Mark Zuckerberg at Web 2: Third Time's A Charm?

By - October 24, 2010

Next month will mark the third time that Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg will sit down with me for a Web 2 interview. (The first is above, the second can be found here). Last year Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg joined me, and she was great, but I’m eager to speak with Mark again, given all that has happened in the past year. If you watch his interview in 2007, then a year later, and then his recent appearances, you see a guy who’s really matured as a public figure (and yes, that has a lot of nuance when you run Facebook). Yes, he had a uncomfortable (and famously sweaty) conversation at D earlier this year, but lately I’ve noticed a confidence that I’m going to bet will be on display next month.

Not that we won’t have a few items to cover that will test Zuckerberg’s newfound stage presence, what with congressional inquiries, unflattering Hollywood portrayals, and platform outages to discuss. But if you’re CEO of a very public (though still financially private) company, dealing with these things comes with the territory.

So what would you ask Mark Zuckerberg? Leave your thoughts in comments, and please do the same for Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt. Next up will be Yuri Milner, CEO of DST and major investor in Facebook, Groupon, and many others.

Here are some thought starters for Zuckerberg:

- You recently stated that the company is run basically at break even, and that’s OK. Can you unpack that for us? Investors like DST expect a lot more than that at some point, no?

- While we won’t focus on the movie, it’s a hit, so what does he make of it?

- The question of privacy and in particular user controls. Is he satisfied Facebook has done all it should with the new dashboards?

-  Instrumentation – why didn’t “friend lists” take off? The new Groups. Is it working?

- Faecbook Open Graph. Will TripAdvisor type integrations become the norm?

- A Facebook ad network off domain. Is that coming, when?

- Google.me. Thoughts on this?

- Twitter…same. Is the Interest graph of interest?

- What is next for the Facebook product? Mark famously loves to work on the product. So what’s he working on?

Please leave your comments here, so Tim and I can do the best interview possible! Thanks.

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Robin Li at Web 2: Bridging Valley and Chinese Business Cultures

By - October 22, 2010

Baidu stock.pngI’m particularly pleased to welcome Baidu CEO Robin Li to the Web 2 stage this year. Li is a familiar Valley startup success story – he left a promising career at search pioneer Infoseek to found a startup that has rocketed to multi-billion dollar valuations and global business fame. The big difference? Li did it in China.

A one year chart of Baidu’s stock, shown at left, certainly tells a story of success. I spoke to Li earlier in the Fall to prep for our conversation, and found him reserved, intelligent, and perhaps a bit apprehensive. After all, he’s speaking an hour or so after Eric Schmidt, and Baidu is often called “the Chinese Google.” Not to mention the company has profited from Google’s recent decision to, for all intents and purposes, to exit the Chinese market. And I wouldn’t blame him if he’s worried that the industry might call him out for bowing to Chinese policies regarding censorship. But as Li told me, “We’re based in China. We don’t have a choice on this issue.”

American educated, Valley smart, Chinese native, Li is a fascinating study in two cultures. That he’s willing to come and be part of our industry’s conversation says a lot about the man, and I think we’ll all learn from his visit.

Here are some of the things we’ll be discussing, please add your thoughts in comments, and please

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do the same for Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt. (Next up will be Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.)

- The Google comparison, and Google’s recent moves in China. Do you likebeing compared to Google? Do you agree with the company’s clear challenge of the Chinese Government?

- Baidu’s stock has been on an absolute tear. How do you keep this up? Can you?

- Baidu is not well understood by the US market as a technology and product company. What distinguishes its offerings in China?

- Search in China – what’s different, what’s the same?

- The Baidu founding story – it’s a classic. It even has a Andy Bechtolsheim-like check writing moment.

- His take, as a “bridge” figure, on the various battles around Points of Control – Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Are there any parallels in Chinese business culture?

- Will he expand into the US? Europe? Other regions?

Carol Bartz at Web 2: Everybody Is Sticking Everybody Else In The Eye

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(image) Continuing my journey through the highlights of our forthcoming Web 2 Summit (here’s my initial take on Eric Schmidt), today I ask for your help in interviewing Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. I am particularly pleased Bartz is coming, first because she’s very good in conversation (and yes, often salty), and second because she fell ill the day I was to talk with her last year on stage, and we all missed the chance to hear her then.

However, much has changed since then, although Yahoo shareholders might argue not enough – in particular, not Yahoo’s down-to-sideways stock price (for a comparison to Google’s yearlong performance, see this chart). Those arguments have fostered serious chatter that Bartz might once again miss her Web 2 date – and this time not due to illness.

Well, I predict she’ll show, and she’ll have plenty to say. When we last spoke, we discussed the Web 2 theme, and she summarized it this way: “Everybody is sticking everybody else in the eye.” I won’t take it as my job to instigate her famous sailor’s mouth, but I sense it may go off on its own. After all, we do have a few things to talk about that might make a gal want to cuss. Here are a few of the issues we’ll discuss. Please add your thoughts in comments….

- Any public response to the current rumors of a private equity led buyout of Yahoo, perhaps with an AOL twist? I can’t imagine Bartz will have anything to say about this, but we’ve gotta ask.

- The never ending question: What is Yahoo? Bartz and I spoke about this on the phone a month or so ago, and you may be surprised by her answer. There’s been some seesawing in Yahoo’s definition of itself – from a technology driven company to a media company – how does Yahoo bring the two together? Again, there’s an interesting story here as it relates to content.

- Talent. A lot of folks have left (and yes, many have come). Why? Why would a talented engineer want to go to Yahoo instead of, say, Facebook or a startup?

- Yahoo’s approach to social. The new Yahoo Connect seems directed at Facebook, yet deep integration of Facebook is one of Yahoo’s core strategies.

- Yahoo’s new approach to product and infrastructure (I’ve written about this here). There’s an interesting story to hear, and Carol tells it well.

- The Microsoft search deal. Now mostly integrated, will it/is it bearing fruit.

- Her view of Apple. This should be quite entertaining. As should her take on Google, which she told me “has to grow at least a Yahoo a year…”

- The advertising platform business. Yahoo is deep in it, competing in a trench war with Google and Microsoft. How does Yahoo differentiate?

- The concept of “content with a soul” and her response to the content-farm allegations around Associated Content.

- Local: Always a focus at Yahoo, what’s next?

Please give me your thoughts on what to as Carol in the comments. Thanks!

Identity and The Independent Web

By - October 21, 2010

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Are we are evolving our contract with society through our increasing interactions with digital platforms, and in particular, through what we’ve come to call the web?  

I believe the answer is yes. I’m fascinated with how our society’s new norms and mores are developing – as well as the architectural patterns which emerge as we build what, at first blush, feels like a rather chaotic jumble of companies, platforms, services, devices and behaviors.

Here’s one major architectural pattern I’ve noticed: the emergence of two distinct territories across the web landscape. One I’ll call the “Dependent Web,” the other is its converse: The “Independent Web.”

The Dependent Web is dominated by companies that deliver services, content and advertising based on who that service believes you to be: What you see on these sites “depends” on their proprietary model of your identity, including what you’ve done in the past, what you’re doing right now, what “cohorts” you might fall into based on third- or first-party data and algorithms, and any number of other robust signals.

The Independent Web, for the most part, does not shift its content or services based on who you are. However, in the past few years, a large group of these sites have begun to use Dependent Web algorithms and services to deliver advertising based on who you are.

A Shift In How The Web Works?

And therein lies the itch I’m looking to scratch: With Facebook’s push to export its version of the social graph across the Independent Web; Google’s efforts to personalize display via AdSense and Doubleclick; AOL, Yahoo and Demand building search-driven content farms, and the rise of data-driven ad exchanges and “Demand Side Platforms” to manage revenue for it all, it’s clear that we’re in the early phases of a major shift in the texture and experience of the web.

The dominant platforms of the US web – Facebook, Google, and increasingly Twitter- all have several things in common, but the one that comes first to my mind is their sophisticated ability to track your declarations of intent and interpret them in ways that execute, in the main, two things. First, they add value to your experience of that service. Google watches what you search, where you go, and what advertising you encounter, and at near the speed of light, it provides you an answer.

Facebook does the same, building a page each time you click, based on increasingly sophisticated data and algorithms. And Twitter is hard on its parents’ heels – to my mind, Twitter is the child of Google and Facebook, half search, half social. (Search’s rich uncle is the explosion of “user generated content” – what I like to call Conversational Media. Facebook’s rich uncle is clearly the mobile phone, and texting in particular. But I digress….as usual.)

Secondly, these services match their model of your identity to an extraordinary machinery of marketing dollars, serving up marketing in much the same way as the service itself. In short, the marketing is the message, and the message is the service. We knowingly go to Facebook or Google now much as we go to the mall or the public square – to see and be seen, to have our intent responded to, whether those wishes be commercial or public expression.

When we’re “on” Facebook, Google, or Twitter, we’re plugged into an infrastructure (in the case of the latter two, it may be a distributed infrastructure) that locks onto us, serving us content and commerce in an automated but increasingly sophisticated fashion. Sure, we navigate around, in control of our experience, but the fact is, the choices provided to us as we navigate are increasingly driven by algorithms modeled on the service’s understanding of our identity. We know this, and we’re cool with the deal – these services are extremely valuable to us. Of course, when we drop into a friend’s pictures of their kid’s Barmitzvah, we could care less about the algorithms. But once we’ve finished with those pictures, the fact that we’ve viewed them, the amount of time we spent viewing them, the connection we have to the person whose pictures they are, and any number of other data points are noted by Facebook, and added to the infinite secret sauce that predestines the next ad or newsfeed item the service might present to us.

Now I’m not against the idea of scale, or algorithmic suggestions – in particular those driven by a tight loop of my own actions, and those of my friends (in the case of Google, my “friends” are ghost cohorts, and therein lies Google’s social problem, but that’s grist for another post).

But there is another part of the web, one where I can stroll a bit more at my own pace, and discover new territory, rather than have territory matched to a presumed identity. And that is the land of the Independent Web.

What’s My Independent Identity?

What happens when the Independent Web starts leveraging the services of the Dependent Web? Do we gain, do we lose, or is it a push? We seem to be in the process of finding out. It’s clear that more than ads can be driven by the algorithms and services of the Dependent Web. Soon (in the case of Facebook Open Graph, real soon) Independent sits will be able use Dependent Web infrastructure to determine what content and services they might offer to a visitor.

Imagine if nearly all sites used such services. As they stand today, I can’t imagine such a world would be very compelling. We have to do a lot more work on understanding concepts of identity and intent before we could instrument such services – and at present, nearly all that work is being done by companies with Dependent business models (this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a thing). This skews the research, so to speak, and may well constrain the opportunity.

The opportunity is obvious, but worth stating: By leveraging a nuanced understanding of a visitor’s identity, every site or service on the web could deliver content, services, and/or advertising that is equivalent in relevance and experience as the best search result is to us today. The site would read our identity and click path as our intent (thus creating the “query”), then match its content and service offerings to that intent, creating the “result.” Leveraging our identities, Independent Web sites could more perfectly instrument their sites to our tastes. Sites would feel less like impersonal mazes, and more like conversations.

But is that what we want? It depends on the model. In a Dependent Web model, the data and processes used to deliver results is opaque and out of the consumer’s control. What we see depends on how the site interprets pre-conceived models of identity it receives from a third party.

Consider how most display advertising works today. As we roam the web, we are tracked, tagged, and profiled by third parties. An increasingly sophisticated infrastructure is leveraged to place a high-probability advertising match in front of us. In this model, there is no declared intent (no “query”) – our presence and the identity model the system has made for us stands in for the query. Because there is no infrastructure in place for us to declare who we might want to be in the eyes of a particular site, the response to that query makes a ton of assumptions about who we are. Much more often than not, the results are weak, poor, or wasted.

Can’t we do better?

For purposes of this post, I’m not going to wade into what many consider the threat of “our privacy being breached” as more and more personal data is added to our Dependent Web identity models (the ongoing debate about tracking and disclosure is robust, but not what I’m getting at here). Instead I see a threat to the overall value of our industry – if we continue to graft a Dependent Web model onto the architecture of the Independent Web, we most likely will fail to deliver the value that we all intuit is possible for the web. And that’s not good for anyone.

As consumers, we understand (for the most part) that when we are on Dependent sites, we’re going to get Dependent results. It’s part of a pretty obvious bargain. On Facebook, we’re Facebook users – that’s our identity in context of Facebook. But out on the Independent web, no such bargain has yet been struck. On Boing Boing, the Huffington Post, or Serious Eats, we’re someone else. The question is – who are we?

I Am What I Say I Am, For Now…

The interplay between Dependent and Independent services may set the table for a new kind of identity to emerge – one driven not by a model of interaction tracked by the Dependent Web per se, but rather by what each individual wishes to reveal about who they are, in real time. These revelations may be fleeting and situational – as they so often are in the real world. If I alight on a post about a cool new mountain bike, for example, I might chose to reveal that I’m a fan of the Blur XC, a bike made by the Santa Cruz company. But I don’t necessarily want that information to presumptively pass to the owner of that site until I read the post and consider the consequences of revealing that data.

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Let’s presume, for sake of argument, that the biking site has deeply integrated Facebook’s Open Graph (the way that, for example, Yelp or TripAdvisor does). When I show up, that site will know I’m a fan of Santa Cruz (let’s assume I have “fanned” the Blur XC on Facebook) and surface all sorts of articles and services related to that information. Somehow, that doesn’t feel right. It’s not that I don’t want the site to know that I like Blurs, it’s that I want to reveal myself to a new community on my own terms (and every media site is, at its heart, a community). In this example, the Dependent Web does the revealing for me. I’m not sure that’s a good thing for our industry. It runs counter to how people are wired to work in the real world.

Creating such a nuanced instrumentation of identity and how it might be conveyed across the Web seems a long way off, but I’m not so sure it is. It starts with taking control of your own identity in the Independent Web (for more on that, read A. Dash - from 8 years ago…). Who we believe we are in the world is pretty fundamental to being human, and as we bleed our actual identity into our digital one, it’s worth recalling that so far, at least, we don’t have a system that lets us really instrument who we are online in a fashion that scales to the complexity of true human interaction.  

Let’s take that last bike scenario and play it out in the “real world.” Instead of alighting on a post on some random web site I’ve stumbled across, let’s say I’m having a coffee at a local bakery, and I overhear a group of guys talking about a bike one of them recently purchased. I don’t know these guys, but I find their conversation (the equivalent of a “post”) engaging, and I lean in. The guys notice me listening, and given they’re talking in a public place, they don’t mind. They check me out, reading me, correctly, as a potential member of their tribe – I look like a biker (tribes can recognize potential members by sight pretty easily). At some point in the conversation – based on whether I feel the group would welcome the interjection, for example – I might decide to reveal that I’ve got a Blur XC. That might get a shrug from the leader of the conversation, or it might lead to a spirited debate about the merits of Santa Cruz bikes versus, say, Marin. That in turn may lead to an invitation to join them on a ride, and a true connection could well be made.

But until I engage, and offer new information, I’m just the dude at the next table who’s interested in what the folks next to me are talking about. In web parlance, I’m a lurker. As I lurk, I might realize the guys at the next table are sort of wankers, and I’m not interested in riding with them. I have the sense that this model of information sharing is, at its core, the way identity in what I’m calling “The Independent Web” should probably work. If, however, the Independent Web uses Facebook and/or Google services to determine what content to show me when first alight on a site, the model will be quite different.

A Third Way – The Revealed Identity?

I sense an opportunity to create a new kind of social identity for us to leverage around the web, one that is far more personal and instrumented than a Facebook profile or a Google cookie. It’s an identity that is independent of the one we’ve cultivated on Dependent platforms, but not necessarily separate from them. We can chose to include our Dependent Web profiles, but we don’t have to. At the moment, the model seems pretty black or white. If I’m logged into Facebook and the site I visit is using Facebook’s services, that site knows more about me than probably most of my friends do.

In other words, perhaps it’s time for a Revealed Identity, as opposed to a Public or Dependent Identity. As human beings wandering this earth, we certainly have both. Why don’t we have the same online?

I think it’s worth defining a portion of the web as a place where one can visit and be part of a conversation without the data created by that conversation being presumptively sucked into a sophisticated response platform – whether that platform is Google, Blue Kai, Doubleclick, Twitter, or any other scaled web service. Now, I’m all for engaging with that platform, to be sure, but I’m also interested in the parts of society where one can wander about free of identity presumption, a place where one can chose to engage knowing that you are in control of how your identity is presented, and when it is revealed.

One thing I’m certain of: Who I am according to Google, or Facebook, or any number of other scaled Dependent Web services, is not necessarily who I want to be as I wander this new digital world. I want more instrumentation, more nauance, and more rights.

The question is, however, how to create that better service? Is it in the commercial interests of the dominant Dependent Web players to do so? Are there startups working on this right now who already have the answers?

I think how we manage these questions will define who we are at a very core level in the coming years. As Lessig has written, code becomes law. It took tens of thousands of years for homo sapiens to develop the elaborate social code which defines how we interact with each other in the real world. I’m fascinated with the question of how we translate that code online.

(I’m not certain where I’m going with this post, but as I said it’s an itch I wanted to scratch. I know I’ve not done the reading I should in the topic, and I’m hoping readers might point me in useful directions – further reading, people to meet, companies to watch – so I might get a bit smarter and refine my thinking. This is all, of course, pointing me toward the “next book” which, as books tend to do, is not exactly writing itself.)


Eric Schmidt, Opening Coversation at Web 2: So Much To Discuss, So Little Time

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(photo) As I do each year, I’ll be thinking out loud here about some of the key interviews I’ll be doing on stage at Web 2 next month. Opening the conference is Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. Given our theme of “Points of Control,” I can’t think of a better way to start – of all the major players in our industry, Google stands alone in both its ambition as well as its power. It’s also got a rather large target on its back – everyone, from Microsoft to Facebook, Apple to Hollywood, everyone competes with Google.   

Google’s ambition is breathtaking, as you can see from the image at left, taken from our interactive Points of Control map. From its base in search, Google has pushed into cloud computing, operating systems, television, mobile platforms (both OS and hardware), social media, content, and advertising. That’s not to mention its rather serious dabbling in energy, transportation, gaming, commerce, and just about everything else.

So there’s a lot to talk about with Dr. Schmidt when we take the stage Nov. 15th. Some key questions include:

- Where is Android going, and will Google see direct revenue streams from it? Will the company take a more central role in driving quality app experiences a la Apple?

- Apple. Thoughts on the company, the competition, and the history (Eric was on Apple’s board).

- Why develop both Chrome OS and Android?

- What exactly is Google.me, and will Google ever make peace with Facebook and start to share data?

- Google TV will be just a few weeks in market. How is it going, and will Hollywood really play ball?

- M&A: Google has purchased two dozen or so startups in the past year. What’s the philosophy and

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thesis here?

- I wrote Stop It, Google won’t buy Twitter. Was I wrong?

- China. Robin Li from Baidu is speaking the same day. How did Google come to the decision to retreat from the world’s largest market?

- Core search: Are we worried about Bing yet?

- Privacy and data control. We’re getting mixed signals from Google (and others) on how this issue will play out. What’s Google’s framework for data controls and how might it differ from, say, Facebook or Apple?

- Self driving cars?!

What else do you think I should ask Eric? And what’s the most important, given the limited time we have? Please leave comments or tweet your response, but make sure to put @johnbattelle in the post!

The Points of Control Map: Now an Acquisition Game – Check It Out

By - October 13, 2010

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 7.52.40 PM.pngAs you know, part of visualizing the them for this year’s Web 2 Summit included a map I dreamt up with a crew of possibly inebriated fellow travelers. I’ve been really pleased with the response to the maps’ first iteration – we’re closing in on nearly 100K unique visitors who have spent nearly six minutes each playing with the maps various features, which include two levels of detail, threaded location-specific commenting, and a cool visualization of key Internet players’ moves into competitive territories.

But when I brainstormed the map, I always wanted one feature that was a bit difficult to execute: Acquisition Mode. In the Internet Economy, there are there those who acquire, and those who dream of being acquired. This has always been so, but in the past few years it’s been less so. My sense is that is about to change.

To that end, we’ve added a layer to the map that allows anyone to suggest an acquisition, anywhere on the map – and it also allows us to vote for those ideas. My goal is a heat map of acquisitions, a collective intelligence layer, if you will, over the chess moves companies small and large are making in the battle to control key areas across the map.

So if you think it’s a good idea for Twitter to acquire, say, Foursquare, well, suggest it. And see who might vote for it. If you run a startup, hell, tell us who you want to be acquired by – and if you think you’re the acquirer, so much the better. Tell us that as well.

So far, folks think Amazon should acquire Netflix, Facebook should acquire Zynga, and eBay should acquire Yelp, among many others. Check it out, and suggest your own.

I love the web.

Mayer to Location: Big.

By - October 12, 2010

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Today I was in a meeting with a number of consultants to a very large technology company. Their job: market research, essentially. They called to ask me my thoughts on the media and technology world, in particular as it might play out in the next five or so years. They were responsible for helping the Fortune 50 company navigate an increasingly complicated world.

I love these kind of free association tasks, because while it’s not easy to be right, it’s also pretty easy to not be wrong if the questions are smart. I’ve been a student of technology cycles for a couple of decades, and often times what’s directly in front of you is, in fact, the next big thing.

So when I got this question: “What’s the next big thing after social?” I didn’t lose a beat in answering: “Location.”

Now, many, many folks before me have been saying this for years. I’m in no way first. But I’m an early convert, in particular, as it relates to what I call the conversation economy. And the reason is simple: Once someone can declare where they are, they add extraordinary context to both search and social, and to their expectations of what a search or a social connection might yield. For an example, see The Gap Scenario.

In short, location is a key factor in the future of search, social, commerce, and media, among a lot of other things. And that’s why the news today that Google’s Marissa Mayer, long the VP of Search Products at Google, is taking over responsibilities for the location business, strikes me as a Big Deal.

Some have argued this is a demotion for Mayer, a Google stalwart and press favorite. But if in fact Google is “parking” Mayer in a “non job” due to her status as an early and long standing employee, I can’t imagine a more strategic area for her to park. And given Mayer’s success and wealth, I can’t imagine she’d stay at Google if she weren’t committed to a new role that she believes will be game changing. She has way too many other options, including, well, not working for as long as she’d like.

I for one don’t think that’s what is going on. Local is the most important signal to emerge in the database of intentions since the link. Once a consumer demands that businesses respond to their intent in the context of where they are, right now, well…the first to get that response right, wins.

Facebook Addresses Instrumentation & Trust – Goal: Win In the "Non Facebook Web"

By - October 06, 2010

63999_492208846728_20531316728_6755172_4414657_n.jpgToday Facebook made several announcements that begin to address key issues I’ve written about many times: With “New Groups” the company is providing a more nuanced instrumentation of your social graph, and with “Download Your Information” Facebook is addressing issues of both lock-in and the “Data Bill of Rights.”

You can read all about the news at other sites, but here are the basics: Through a new groups feature, Facebook is allowing its members to share information with selected subsets of friends. This is an issue that was widely discussed after Google engineer Paul Adams called Facebook out on it back in July.

Facebook also announced a service that lets you download “everything you’ve ever posted on Facebook and all your correspondences with friends: your messages, Wall posts, photos, status updates and profile information.” As the blog post continues:

If you want a copy of the information you’ve put on Facebook for any reason, you can click a link and easily get a copy of all of it in a single download. To protect your information, this feature is only available after confirming your password and answering appropriate security questions. We’ll begin rolling out this feature to people later today, and you’ll find it under your account settings.

In a related move, Facebook is changing how users interact with applications, and how we all see and can instrument permissions around our data:
..we’re launching a new dashboard to give you visibility into how applications use your data to personalize your experience. As you start having more social and personalized experiences across the web, it’s important that you can verify exactly how other sites are using your information to make your experience better.

Taken together, these changes create a framework for Facebook to further expand its reach and depth into the “non Facebook” web. The major impediment to increased off-site engagement for Facebook have been instrumentation, on the one hand, and trust, on the other. They go together. Give me more instrumentation/control, then I’ll trust you to be part of my non-Facebook interactions across the web.
This has significant implications for the adoption of Facebook Places, for example, which CEO Zuckerberg called out in his presentation today. Expect more from me on these moves in future posts…

Currency

By - September 21, 2010

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I’m very proud of a new platform launched today by American Express: Currency. Sometimes when a brand embraces the concept of truly being a publisher, they align with strong voices around the web, underwriting existing properties and helping them create new sections or services. But every once in a while, a brand realizes that its marketing goals align with a very real need in the marketplace, one that for whatever reason hasn’t been addressed. That’s how Currency came to be.

Yes, Currency is an ongoing FM partnership, just as Open Forum is, but this one is a bit different – it’s for young adults just starting to grapple with financial issues (I wish it existed when I got out of college), and it’s got a lot of social media chops, including a game (called Social Currency natch) built on top of Foursquare that helps you track purchases. It also features tons of coursework to help folks get smart on important money matters, and everything – from reading an article to completing a course to checking into purchases – earns you Currency points.

Now, I know my demo here at Searchblog, and let’s face it, most of you are a bit older, wiser, and richer than Currency’s core constituency. But I also know you’re interested in all things web and media, so check it out, and let me know what you think.

That Was Fast: TellApart Implements A Searchblog Suggestion

By - September 02, 2010

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Earlier this week I mused out loud about retargeting, suggesting that perhaps it’s time for marketers to not just chase folks around the web in hopes they might irritate us into submission, but rather offer us the chance to politely say “Not right now, thanks.”

One of Searchblog’s readers turned out to be Josh McFarland, CEO of remarketing startup TellApart. He marshalled his team and within 24 hours had a working prototype integrated into his service. Here’s how it works, in his words:

Hi John –

As promised, here’s our v1.0 of the functionality you described. If a user mouses over the [X], it will highlight in red:

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Clicking on that [X] will disable remarketed ads from that advertiser, reloading the ad with a message that further allows the consumer to opt-out of TellApart targeting altogether (industry best-practice functionality):


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This is now live for all TellApart Diapers.com ads, with the exception of 10% of the users which we use as a control baseline (to measure effects on CTR, conversion rates, etc.)


I applaude McFarland’s ability to quickly iterate and act on what he judges to be good input.

And he acknowledges, this is just version 1.0 of the functionality, executed within 24 hours of my original post. McFarland says he plans to add a lot more features. I think that’s needed, for both marketers as well as consumers – conversation is not just yes/no or off/on, and McFarland gets that.

From a follow up email exchange:

Here’s what we’re working on next, and we’re right in line with your thoughts:


1) Option of pausing the ad for the remainder of the time we predicted the user to be in-market for that retailer — instead of a straight, permanent opt-out.

We named our display ads application “Transactional Retargeting” in a nod to the fact that someone is in market for an item (our clients currently are pure-play e-tailers) for a limited window (5-12 days depending on the retailer’s avg consideration cycle), and most people leave a site without buying and never return during that window. Our job is to present those otherwise lost users with compelling ads (and sometimes offers) to get them to click back and transact… Transactional Retargeting drives higher conversion rates and incremental sales. This also means we only show users ads during those same 5-12 days. This modified “pause” functionality will allow users to stop ads for now but gives the merchant the ability to reconnect in the future.


2) Allowing more feedback as to why the user didn’t like the ad (a la Facebook)

3) A link to a much more informative page (about remarketing, TellApart, etc.) – which we are designing now.

One thing we have to balance, however, is the need to have the consumer rapidly choose one of three paths with the display ad: click through, ignore, or decline. Whereas other providers get paid for building overly complex ad widgets (with tabs, text content, tiny scrollbars, even purchase completion within ad), our goal is to definitively drive the user back to the retailer’s full site where they can re-engage with and complete their purchase.


Our business model couldn’t be simpler: we get paid a percentage of revenue for sales that result from a click through on a TellApart ad. That is the only way we make money. No sham view throughs or cost-per-ad-engagement; we drive clicks that convert. As ex-Googlers, it’s our DNA to start with a very hardcore DR approach, because when we can prove our system works under even the most brutal scrutiny (e-retailers managing ROI down to the penny), it will work for everyone (audience buying, brand campaigns, seasonal promotions, etc.)

Impressive. Expect more from TellApart soon, follow the company’s moves here.