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The Facebook App Economy: Revival Time?

By - July 19, 2010

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Who remembers the utter gold rush that was the Facebook Platform back in 2007, back when everyone, and honestly, really, EVERYONE, in the industry was busy answering the question “What’s Your Facebook Platform strategy?”

Well I sure do. At FM, we had meetings to address this question, meetings driven by me, by my staff and my senior executives, and of course, by our investors, who were asking the same question of every portfolio company they had. (And…do you believe…when Facebook launched Platform, it only had 20mm users?!)

Fortunately, our “Facebook strategy” was to not drop everything and start developing apps for the new environment. Despite the extraordinary hype, we took a measured approach, working with a few clear winners (like Graffiti), and waiting to see how it might all play out.

Fast forward a few years, and it’s clear that a very small set of important companies have managed to lever the original Facebook Platform into real value – Zynga, Slide come to mind – but I’m not certain the amount of energy put into the Platform ever netted out a gross ROI for all who threw themselves into the race.

Now, three months after all the Open Graph announcements at this year’s f8, I find myself wondering – where are all the web-based Facebook applications and services? It seems to me that Facebook has won, big time, in terms of getting folks to adopt “Likes.” But where are the developers and the awesome new ideas? Am I missing something? Is Facebook going to go toe to toe with Google, Apple, and Microsoft for the hearts and wallets of the developer?

From what I can tell, Facebook’s privacy tempest has delayed the formation of what I expected to be another goldrush. And no, I’m not talking about publishers who have incorporated “Likes”. I’m talking about entirely new or re-formulated web and mobile services that leverage unique data feeds from Facebook so as to bring entirely new value into the world. We’ve seen a fair amount of this from the Twitter ecosystem (though still and all, not as much as we might see soon). In the case of Facebook, however, I expected that by now we’d have seen a bunch of super cool services. But so far, none.

Again, am I missing something? What are you planning to do with the Facebook APIs? And what do you wish you could do, but so far, can’t, despite the announcements at f8 last April?

(Image above is from the Web 2 Summit, where Mark Zuckerberg will again grace the stage and converse with me).

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Search, Foursquare, and Checking Into States of Mind

By - July 14, 2010

Screen shot 2010-07-14 at 1.06.43 PM.pngI’ve written before about my relationship with Foursquare, and I’m sure I will again. I’ve tweeted my complaint that the “friend” mechanism is poorly instrumented (in various ways), and I should note that this is certainly not just a Foursquare problem (more on “Friendstrimentation” shortly).

But today I wanted to build on my earlier post, “My Location Is a Box of Cereal,” and Think Out Loud a bit about what I’d really like to do on Foursquare: I’d like to check into a state of mind.

What do I mean by that?

Well, imagine that instead of checking into a physical location, as Foursquare is mostly constrained today, I check into the state of mind I might call “In the market for a car.” Or perhaps I check into “playing a great game of poker with my friends.” Or maybe I check into “pretty bummed out about the death of my cat.”

I think you get the point. The check in is, as I’ve argued elsewhere, more than a declaration of where I am. It’s also a declaration of my state of mind, as well as my openness to a response from someone who might provide me with value.

In short, the checkin is a search, waiting for a response. And there’s no reason to constrain that search query to location.

What matters is that as users of this particular brand of search, we get good results. And the jury is well out on that concept, at least to date.

Here’s what I’d like to have happen when I check in to the state of mind I’ll call “In the market for a car.” This is a commercial checkin, of course, and I’d be well aware of that when I checked in. So what might I expect?

First, the ecosystem of businesses eager to sell me a car become aware of my status, and are prepared to respond in an instrumented fashion. I use the word “instrumented” very directly here – the last thing I want is a bunch of spam results – pointless, irrelevant come ons for brands or models in which I most likely have no interest. If that’s what I wanted, I’d just use a search engine. After all, most of search is instrumented, for the most part, against my query, and my query alone. On a service like Foursquare, I’d expect the response to be far more nuanced.

How? Well, I’ve given Foursquare permission to use my Facebook social graph, for one, and my Twitter interest graph, for another. So when I check into Foursquare, I’d expect a response that understands who I am, who I know, what my interests are, and how I compare, as a cohort, to others like me, who may have also in the past checked into a similar “state of mind.”

Add even more social and interest data to the mix, and you can see how this starts to get pretty interesting.

I’d expect a response that 1. knows who I am is personalized in a meaningful way, 2. surprises or delights me with an offer of value to my search, and 3. respects the fact that I might not be ready to act, at least not yet.

Organizing all this data and response isn’t an easy task. But then again, neither was building out the infrastructure we currently understand to be search. Once the checkin is loosed from the chains of pure location, the potential for connecting to customers in conversation at scale, and at an intimate level, is far too great for this use case to not exist.

A final thought on Foursquare, since I’m on about it. I really wish it was easier to create temporary or unique “venues” or states of mind. For example, last night about 125 folks came to the Web 2 dinner at a local SF restaurant. Many of them “checked into” the actual restaurant, but wouldn’t it have been a lot more fun if, when they came and fired up Foursquare, they saw a new “venue” that had been created, perhaps by the first person there, or perhaps by the organizer, called “The Web 2 Premiere Dinner”? And further, wouldn’t it be cool if the organizer, sponsor, or anyone else involved in the dinner could attach some kind of value to folks who might check in?

Now sure, I know you can create a new venue on the fly, and many do (I saw a pal who checked into “The Dog House” a while back, because he did something that upset his wife. I loved that). But the process to do so is awkward and difficult at best. Foursquare can and should encourage such behavior, and provide resources for us to intelligently curate the results.

Doing so would be a big step toward an ecosystem of search that was driven by the equivalent of a “social query” driven by a state of mind as much a location. And when the two connect, well, so much the better (read The Gap Scenario for more on that.)

OK, back to work, all.

On Facebook, Google, and Our Evolving Social Mores Online

By - July 10, 2010

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(image ) I just reviewed this presentation from Paul Adams, research lead for social at Google (embedded below). He works on Buzz and YouTube, and presumably, whatever is next from Google, including the rumored “Google Me.”

His presentation is good, and worthy of your time if you are interested in the impact of social media on culture and business. Note, however, that it’s clearly biased against Facebook, coming as it does from Google. It’s in Google’s interest to deconstruct Facebook as a service, finding faults along the way, which this presentation does in spades.

In essence, Adams points out that Facebook lacks what I’ve come to call instrumentation. On Facebook we cannot manage our social relationships with any of the nuance that we do in real life. We don’t have the instrumentation, neither the tools nor the mores (more on that in a bit).

On Facebook, Adams points out, we have one big group of “friends.” Clearly, that’s not true in our lives. We have groups of friends, some of them with strong ties, some weak, some temporary, and many not friends at all, but colleagues, or family members, or members of a club or hobby.

Adams suggests we, as architects of what I like to call the conversation economy, should design for how we really interact with people, and I completely agree. However, it’s not that simple (Adams makes this point in his talk, but I’m going to take it a bit further here).

Certainly Adams – and his employer Google – see a significant opportunity in creating a better social networking mousetrap. But as he points out, it’s not just about making a better Facebook (though I’ve heard that “Google Me” is, in essence, attempting to be just that.) It’s about a wholesale shift in how we experience the Internet – the same shift many folks have mislabeled* as “the semantic web” – a shift toward designing the web around people, rather than pages, content, or even search.

The problem is, while I agree with the idea of designing around people, the truth is that we haven’t quite figured out what this design looks like. It’s rather like attempting to design an industrialized city while living in 1200 AD. Not only has the technology not evolved (power grids, modern plumbing, automobiles, communications networks etc.), but equally importantly, the social mores have not developed as well.

As I often say in talks to agencies and brands (just did four of them last week), we are in the midst of a significant shift in our cultural history, one similar as our move, as a species, from a largely agrarian culture to one based on the modern city. That shift took roughly 1000 years to occur. And as it did, we renegotiated nearly every aspect of our social mores – the values that we hold as community standards. You need a new set of shared and respected rules to move from a village of 150 or so farmers, who knew each other very well, to a city of 1.5 million inhabitants, most of whom don’t know each other, but live packed together in multi-story apartment buildings.

And we certainly did develop a new set of mores. In the western world, this culminated is what many call “Victorian” society, with elaborate principles of etiquette and relationships. In the US anyway, we’re still deeply effected by Victorian culture.

As we move online, we’re once again making a great migration of social mores, and this time it’s one not entirely tethered to physicality, location, or regional constraints. And this shift is happening far more quickly than the last one. Adams does a good job of outlining some of the new interactions that occur online – temporary ties to people we’ll most likely never interact with again, but who might have commented on our online review, or liked our picture on Facebook, or answered our product registration question via IM, text, or phone call.

This is uncharted territory, and we’re very early in the instrumentation process. We’re not certain, in advance of a given interaction, what’s right and what’s wrong, but we seem to know it when we see it. Adams’ advice is to design for how humans interact with each other, and at some core level I agree. But I also think we’re not always certain how we might end up behaving in this new world. So I wouldn’t want it limited to the mores we currently evince. That would be like designing Victorian London with the mores of a farming village.

Formation of new cultures like cities, or online communities, require that a process be, in the phrase of Kevin Kelly, a bit out of control. Attempting to design the future is usually fruitless. Instead, as designers (and developers, architects, publishers, brands…), we must pay close attention to shifting behaviors, listen and participate deeply, and design as fast followers to where this culture leads us. Sometimes, as with the original Facebook, we end up creating something that strikes a deep nerve for connection. When that happens, we are catapulted into a position of leadership, but we shouldn’t assume that adoption equates with finality. It’s way too early for that, and and I think this really is Adams’ core thesis.

What remains to be seen is if a company like Google is capable of this kind of design, or whether it comes from somewhere entirely outside our current field of vision. My guess is a bit of both. I am quite certain, however, that Facebook is already paying attention to this instrumentation problem. I expect many of Adams’ critiques will be addressed, and quickly, in future revisions of the Facebook service.

It’s certainly an exciting time to be in this industry, and in this society. They’re increasingly one and the same thing.

The Real Life Social Network v2

View more documents from Paul Adams.
*(The mislabel, to my mind, is that the semantic web is understood to be designed around machine readability, not people).

CM Summit: Help Me Interview Amex CMO John Hayes

By - June 04, 2010

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The CM Summit kicks off next week on Monday morning with an interview of John Hayes, CMO for American Express. I’ve come to know John through my work at Federated, and I am certain this session will be lively and full of insights.  

American Express is one of the world’s premiere brands, consistently ranked in the top 25 by marketing and business publications. Hayes has overseen the brand for 15 years, or put another way, since the Netscape IPO and through the rise of Google, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m looking forward to our conversation Monday. Here are a few topics I plan to cover:

- Hayes has said “the chief challenge for brands today isn’t customer awareness; it’s customer engagement.” What does he mean by that?

- Has the American Express brand changed in the past ten years? How?

- How has the rise of digital changed American Express’ approach to marketing? What mistakes does he see brands making in the context of digital?

- How does Hayes keep American Express “in the conversation” when that conversation is increasingly dominated by online chatter, as opposed to popular culture tent pole events like sports and cultural events?

- The past two years have been particularly challenging for financial services brands. But Amex seems to have come out pretty well. Why? And what has American Express learned in the past two years?

- American Express purchased Revolution Money late last year. Why?

- Along the same lines, how has the rise of online payment – Facebook Credits, Google Checkout, PayPal – challenged or spurred American Express?

- American Express has launched a number of new online services for card members. How do they play into the brand promise?   

- Open Forum has been a major success – winning awards, growing traffic. Why? What has American Express learned from that program?

- Stepping back, what do you make of the economy right now? What are your card members telling you, in aggregate, through their purchases?

- What do you expect from your agency relationships? What lessons might you impart about how to work best with agency?

- Publishers and content creators are in the midst of a major disruption. What are you looking for from your publishing and content partners?

So what do you want to hear from John Hayes?

And don’t forget to add your comments for Dick Costolo, Hilary Schneider, Arianna Huffington, Tony Hsieh, Tim Armstrong, Omar Hamoui, and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. See you in NYC, or online!

CM Summit: Help Me Interview Dick Costolo

By - May 28, 2010

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I’ve come to know Dick Costolo, COO at Twitter, pretty well in the past year, though I’ve known him for much longer. FM and his previous company, Feedburner, had a deal in the early days of RSS, and I’ve always liked his point of view on our industry. Feedburner was acquired by Google, and Dick spent a short year or so there before moving on to Twitter.  

Since he joined, Twitter has rolled out a ton of new features, (mostly) fixed its platform stability issues, launched a beta trial of its advertising platform (Promoted Tweets), and managed to grow a few orders of magnitude to over 100 million uniques.

I interviewed Dick at Twitter’s Chirp conference last month, and I look forward to doing it again at the CM Summit week after next. What would you like to hear from him? Leave me your thoughts in the comments, thanks!

Update: And don’t forget to add your comments for Hilary Schneider, Arianna Huffington, Tony Hsieh, Tim Armstrong, Omar Hamoui, and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.

Help Me Interview Hilary Schneider, EVP Yahoo!

By - May 24, 2010

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The CM Summit is now just two weeks away, and already I’ve asked for your input on five major voices in digital media and marketing: Arianna Huffington, Tony Hsieh, Tim Armstrong, Omar Hamoui, and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.Next up is Hilary Schneider, EVP Americas, Yahoo! Hilary is a crucial member of CEO Carol Bartz’s team, running Yahoo’s largest and most public business in the US, among others.

Yahoo has not had an easy time of it these past few years, and Hilary has been there for the whole of the ride, including the frenetic, off again on again negotiations over possible acquisition by Microsoft, the subsequent search deal, the shift from Semel to Yang to Bartz, and more.

Yahoo has recently declared its position as “the world’s largest media company” and seems intent, with acquisitions like Associated Content, on pushing even deeper into that world. So what’s up with Yahoo, and where might it be headed? I’d love your input. Here are a few questions I plan to ask, please add your own in comments:

- Why Associated Content, and why now? How will Yahoo differentiate from Demand (CRO Joanne Bradford will be at the conference) and AOL (CEO Tim Armstrong will be as well)?

- Overall, how has Yahoo’s content strategy shifted from your first year there (2006)?

- How is the Microsoft search deal going? What’s different now, what is the same?

- What do you make of Facebook’s recent moves (Open Graph, etc) and how deeply will Yahoo be integrating these services?

- You recently cut a big deal with Nokia. Why? What’s coming from that? Does Yahoo have a mobile strategy per se?

- What can marketers get from Yahoo that sets it apart, besides massive scale?

There are certainly more things to ask about. But I’ll ask you guys to help me with that. What do you want to hear from Hilary?

The CM Summit Is Coming, Get the App…

By - May 20, 2010

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If you’re coming to the CM Summit in a few weeks, or if you’re just curious about the lineup and content (which is sure to drive quite a conversation in the world of marketing), you should download the CM Summit mobile app. The app provides access to speaker, attendee, agenda, and sponsor information as well as twitter and news feeds. I’ve used it in beta and it’s pretty darn slick. Check it out! (Cross posted from FM blog).

Help Me Interview Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Chairman, The New York Times Co.

By - May 14, 2010

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The CM Summit is now just three weeks away, I hope you can join us. We’ve got more than 450 folks signed up, and we’ll hit our limit pretty soon, so register now…

With that in mind, fourth on our hit list of CM Summit interviews is Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Chairman, The New York Times Co.

Arthur has led the Times for the past 13 years, and during his tenure the company has constantly innovated in digital publishing. The Times made news recently by announcing it would take a “metered” approach to pay as you go on the Times website. It was also a launch partner for Apple’s iPad. Below are some of the questions I have for Arthur, I welcome your input!

(And please, help me with questions for Tim Armstrong, Arianna Huffington and Tony Hsieh! Thanks!).

- How is progress on the “metered” approach to the Times? How did you come to this decision, and where does the project stand?

- The Times and its other properties are what the industry calls “premium” publishing brands, and you make most of your marketing revenue from “premium” brand advertising. What do you make of the whole remnant/DSP/exchange model?

- Talk to me about the differentiation of a branded environment online. What makes the investment worth it for you, for your marketing partners?

- What do you make of iAds? Are they competitive to your own sales force? Will you be using them on the NYT?

- The NYT was showcased in the roll out of the iPad. Is this device going to live up to its hype? What about the rest of the “pads” out there – RIM, Android/Google, HP, etc?

- Has the Times come up with any new forms of advertising products that you can discuss?

- What lessons have you learned going digital along the way (one that comes to mind is the precursor to the metered solution, called Times Select ?)

- How is About.com doing, and how does it fit into the overall digital strategy?

So what would you like to know from Arthur Sulzberger? Leave a comment, or tweet it on #cmsummit. Thanks.

Adobe: We Love Ya, Apple – But We Don't Love What Ya Do.

By - May 13, 2010

This campaign – focused on “Choice” – just went live across the country in major print newspapers. Intersting that Adobe chose print for the impact – Adobe recently launched CS5 entirely on digital platforms so you can’t faul tthe company for zigging and zagging. There’s an online component as well.

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