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CM Conversations: Evan Williams

By - October 13, 2008

Evan Williams2 Next up in the star lineup of conversants at the CM Summit this week is Evan Williams, the co-founder of Blogger, which Google acquired in 2003, and current co-founder of Twitter, which I’ve written about recently (TweetSense, anyone?).

Evan’s knack for conversational social media applications is obvious, but as Twitter settles into its place as a Web 2 favorite (and punching bag), one key question does remain – what’s the business model? How might Twitter work with marketers? With Blogger, Google saw a model – AdSense (and data, of course). Will lightening strike twice?

Rather than list additional questions here, I thought I’d just open this one up, knowing that Searchblog readers have *a lot* to ask Evan. So…have at it!

Other CM conversants, still eager to hear your questions (the conference starts Weds. morning):

David Rosenblatt (CEO DoubleClick, now at Google)

Laura Desmond (CEO Starcom)

Joel Hyatt (CEO Current)

Last to come (will post later today or Tuesday): Gian Fulgoni, founder Comscore.

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CM Conversations: Joel Hyatt

By - October 12, 2008

Joel Hyatt

Continuing my crowdsourcing of questions for one-on-one conversations at this week’s CM Summit is Joel Hyatt, CEO of Current. Founded in 2005, Current is “the only 24/7 cable and satellite television network and Internet site produced and programmed in collaboration with its audience.” The company has grown to nearly $64 million in revenues (2007) but has yet to hit profits, early this year it filed a public offering ($100 mm in proceeds), which has not completed due, one presumes, to market conditions. Still and all, a cable channel that counts more than 50mm potential viewers is a serious asset, and current.com, its online presence, is a vibrant community as well. It doesn’t hurt that the company courts a difficult to reach demographic – young, educated adults.

Current has been at the center of a lot of innovation in media, a recent example is “Hack the Debate“, a partnership with Twitter (co-founder Evan Williams will also be speaking at the CM Summit).

Current is an ambitious project, backed by serious players, including Al Gore, who serves as Chairman. Hyatt, who runs the company day to day, also serves on the board of HP and the Brookings Institute, and has been quite involved in politics, serving as National Finance Chair for the Democratic Party in 2000. Previous to Current, he co-founded and led Hyatt Legal Services, which provided low-cost services to middle and lower-income families.

So what would you want to hear from Joel in a fireside chat? My questions include:



- Current has a pretty new model (for television, certainly) but still a lot of its value is in the TV play. Are you still held hostage to that? Will the online portion of Current ever be bigger than the television piece?

- How is the economy impacting sales, both offline and on?

- Clearly this is not a time to go public. What are the financing options for a large media play like Current in this environment?

- Tell us more about the deal with Twitter? What does it portend?

- What’s broken with how we get our news? If you ran a major news outlet (IE CBS News), what would you do differently?

- What have you learned working with marketers at Current? Give us some examples of innovation that might spark discussion?

- I can’t let Joel get off stage without getting his take on the election, given the timing….

What would you ask Joel?

Previously:

David Rosenblatt

Laura Desmond

That Google/Wikipedia Post – Finally

By - October 10, 2008

Remember a couple months back when I promised you guys I’d post on this?

Well, thanks to a deal with LookSmart, I finally got a chance to write it. It’s over here. From it:

But here’s the rub: There’s a critical difference between curation based on algorithm (Google News) and curation based on human insight (Digg or Wikipedia) – and that difference can be summed up in one word: Voice. In short, sites that allow people to be part of the curation process have voice, and sites that are driven by algorithm, don’t.

No matter how hard we try, we can’t come up with an algorithm that creates a truly human voice. Sure, we can mimic it, but until we solve the Turing Test, the only computer that can create a human voice is, well, a human. And when you put lots of humans together, and give them all a chance to express their voices, you get community-driven media.

Now, how does this all relate to Google Maps and Wikipedia?

In my earlier post, I said “Google Maps isn’t very good.” That was kind of a cheap shot, because in fact the application is great – if what you need is a Map. But the promise of Google Maps goes well beyond looking at a map – currently you can get driving and walking directions, find businesses nearby, calculate traffic delays, and the like. But it’s the promise of what might be layered on top of that where things get really interesting.

On Speech Based Interfaces to Search – and Beyond

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This stuff is going to get real, soon. From Google’s latest Technology Roundtable Series:

[This] video, “Applications of Human Language Technology,” is a discussion of our enormous progress in large-scale automated translation of languages and speech recognition. Both of these technology domains are coming of age with capabilities that will truly impact what we expect of computers on a day-to-day basis. I discuss these technologies with human language technology experts Franz Josef Och, an expert in the automated translation of languages, and Mike Cohen, an expert in speech processing.

BTW, isn’t it funny how so many VP level people (note the guy introducing the piece) at Google says “Google” exactly the way Larry and Sergey say it, and not at all the way most of the rest of us say it? There’s this funny, compressed, geeky inflection on the “ooooo” sound.

CM Conversations: David Rosenblatt

By - October 07, 2008

Speaker Rosenblatt Second up in my series of crowdsourcing the CM Summit conversations (first up was Laura Desmond) is David Rosenblatt, former CEO of Doubleclick, now a VP at Google. David is something of a DoubleClick lifer, having joined the company in 1997 and rising from tech lead to CEO of a company valued at more than $3 billion when sold to Google in 2007.

Readers of Searchblog will recall the industry charlie horse that the DBLCK deal caused – Microsoft lobbied mightily against it, US and European governments took their time approving it, everyone else went on a drunken ad network buying spree, and one could argue that the deal set the painful decline of Yahoo in motion – here was Google, taking square aim at Yahoo’s one remaining stronghold – display advertising.

It’s been so long since the deal was announced – a year and a half – it’s easy to forget it didn’t really get final approval till March of this year. The integration, in other words, is still in its first six months, and Rosenblatt took a portion of this summer off before rolling up his sleeves and getting back to work.

I’ve spoken to David several times since the deal closed, and like Laura, find him both candid and real – he knows Google’s strengths, and he recognizes the company’s weaknesses when it comes to the brand side of marketing – where DoubleClick has done the lion’s share of its business. So I’ll be particularly interested in his take on where Google might take its fledgling efforts in non-algorithmic media.

(To register for the CM Summit – nearly 350 already have – please head here).

My questions for David include:

- With YouTube and DoubleClick, Google’s spent $5-6 billion to get into the branded display business. Yet 98% of its revenue is in AdWords/Sense. How will that bet pay off inside a corporate culture obsessed with scale and algorithms?

- Google made its brand on not owning and operating media sites. But with YouTube, Knol, Gmail, and now apps, that seems to be changing. What does that portend for branded media plays in the future?

- What is his view of Yahoo and other competitors – Microsoft, AOL?

- The Yahoo/Google deal – does it have a display element? Will it clear the antitrust hurdle?

- Many in the advertising/marketing community call Google “frenemy” (Sorrell). What do you make of this reputation?

- Display is now about a $1bb business inside Google – in other words, very small. Where will Google be in terms of share of display revenue in five years? How will it grow?

- How will DoubleClick as we know it now change and be integrated with other Google products – analytics, apps, AdWords….and how will you deal with the issues of data privacy and transparency?

- Are you seeing the effects of the economy yet?

These are the first questions from the top of my mind. What are yours?

CM Conversation: Laura Desmond, CEO Starcom MediaVest Group

By - October 02, 2008

Speaker Desmond FM’s third CM Summit is just two weeks away (register here), and as I have in the past (and will with other speakers as well as folks I’ll interview at Web 2), I turn to the collective intelligence of Searchblog readers to help me prepare. I’ll be having conversations with Evan Williams (co-founder Twitter), Gian Fulgoni (founder Comscore), David Rosenblatt (CEO DoubleClick, now at Google) and many others.

But first up in terms of thinking out loud here is Laura Desmond, Chief Executive Officer, Starcom MediaVest Group, a unit of the Publicis Groupe. For those of you who might not follow the world of marketing too closely, SMG is one of the largest and most influential marketing services companies on the planet, its clients include Kraft, Allstate, Kellogg’s, Walt Disney, GM, Coca Cola, Proctor & Gamble, RIM (Blackberry), and on and on. The company collectively controls billions of dollars of marketing spend, including a significant chunk of the monies that fuel the Internet Economy.

In other words, Laura is one Very Important Person in the world of the web, even if you’ve never heard of her.

Given what I do for a living, I’ve come to know Laura and find her extremely candid and refreshingly absent the marketing-speak that sometimes creeps into top executives’ vocabulary. GIven the economy, it’s an extraordinary time to have a conversation. Here are some of the topics I plan to cover:

- SMG’s clients represent a comprehensive sampling of the largest marketers in the US and global economy. Given the economic crisis, what are they saying to you now about their plans for spending? Are they going to continue to shift to digital, or are they going to pause or move spend to places where they’ve lived in the past (IE TV, print)?

- CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands are just starting to lean into digital. What have they learned, and how far do they have to go before they view online as central to their plans, if ever?

- How has the digital world changed how agencies within SMG do their work? (This in light of my writings on CPG vs. Conversational Media, here).

- Lastly, I’ve asked Laura to bring examples of work done by SMG agencies. I’m looking forward to the show and tell.

But here’s where you can help: What else should I be asking Laura? Chime in in the comments!

TweetSense

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Prmote Twitter

I think the business model at Twitter is going to be really, really interesting, and I think it’s going to leverage search, but search as a proxy for data and pattern recognition. We get an inkling of it at Election 2008, Twitter’s mashup of Tweets relating to the election, but there’s a lot more to think through. First off, Twitter is using its real estate to promote its deal with Current, which is a first, from what I can tell. The “ads” are on the right, right below each users’ profile. I remember covering every new pixel as the Google homepage caved to promotional reality, it’s interesting to watch it happen at Twitter, too, which I think has a lot of similarities to Google in terms of potential models.

Also worth watching is the hash function, where you can tag any topic (IE #redsox, as Churbuck pointed out). This function is not likely to catch on with my mother (I can’t imagine her adding hashes to her tweets, much less tweeting…yet), but what it enables certainly could. The problem is, when you create a site to pull hashed stuff out into a stream the result is often less than useful (as Churbuck noted in his post).

This is where the role of curation and editors is paramount. Voice, as Fred pointed out. There is voice in editing, voice in curation. And voice adds value. And where value is added, marketers can play, both on Twitter (imagine a cars.twitter.com, with auto advertisers on the right rail and at the top, perhaps using contextual TweetSense – yes, it’s owned, by…), and off (think about a feed of contextual Tweets and TweetSense next to conversational sites like Digg and, well, millions of others, as well as sites created simply from Twitter feeds on popular hashes…).

Just a (half) thought….

PS – why isn’t search.twitter.com, where you can see hash streams, even promoted on the home page of Twitter? Am I missing something, as I usually do?

All Algorithm, No Voice

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That’s how Fred describes Google’s new blog search, a supposed “Techmeme (or Technorati or Blogs.com) – killer”.

It’s a very good description of Google’s services.

World Inside Out

By - October 01, 2008

Over at the Amex Blog we’re starting a conversation about how this financial crisis effects small business. The site has given me a chance to think more deeply about what it means to run or be part of a small business – none of us here in the Valley like to think of ourselves as “small” but by nearly every definition, we are. And FM works with nearly 200 other “small” businesses. Join the conversation, we all might learn something. From my post:

…But that doesn’t mean I don’t wake up in the middle of the night, worried about what might be coming next. Many of us in the Internet industry are veterans of the last big bust – 2000-2002 – and we can still feel the pain of losing it all (as I did with the Industry Standard), or at the very least, having to cut back to the bone and wait it out. And this time, something feels different. This crisis is not limited to an overinvestment in telecom and Internet, this time our entire financial system has been brought to its knees. How can you not be worried when Congress is in an extended session to determine the best way to spend nearly a trillion dollars, money that, in fact, we don’t actually have (we’ll be borrowing it, given our national debt)?

It’s a well worn saw that as goes small business, so goes the economy. If all of us start laying off employees and cutting back expenses by a third, our economy will go into a deep funk. If, on the other hand, we all declare faith in the future and start acting accordingly, our businesses will become the engine of economic recovery.

So what do we all need to move away from fear, uncertainty, and doubt, and toward faith and optimism in the future? I’m really eager to hear your thoughts and stories. What are you doing to deal with the current economic situation? Given your business and industry, what actions do you want government to take? What stories do you have to tell about how today’s environment is changing your business outlook? Perhaps if we start to talk about this, and share our knowledge, we can start to effect change – one story at a time.

The Case for Local Conversation: Saving Corbet's Hardware (Latest Open Forum Post)

By - September 28, 2008

Corbets (image credit Marin IJ)

I’ve just posted my latest missive on the American Express Open Forum blog, where I Think Out Loud about my local hardware business, which just might be forced out of business. It’s titled “Think Local, Act Conversational – It Just Might Save Your Business.” From it:

Corbet’s Hardware is my neighborhood hardware store, it’s something of a local legend. Let’s see what happens when I put it into Google (I omitted the apostrophe, as most folks do).

Interesting. First up is a link from “zinsser.com”, which appears to be some kind of a shellac company (no, really, a company that makes shellac). Corbet’s probably carries their products – the Zinsser site lists its distributors – but man, what on earth is that doing being first? Clearly, Corbet’s has not exactly joined the conversation economy quite yet.

Put another way, the very first link for Corbet’s is not Corbet’s own website (the store does not seem to have one), it’s some random supplier of Corbet’s. This is not a good thing.

Second up is a very nice profile of Corbet’s in the local paper. Third is another link from the paper about the store moving. A credit to the store, for sure. But it’s not really very conversational (for more on why I think “conversational” is so important, read this).

Fourth is a link from “ziphip.com”, which looks like some kind of listings directory (or more cynically, an Adsense honeypot). Nothing really useful for a potential customer of Corbet’s – nothing conversational or particularly trustworthy…..

….But imagine, if you would, that Corbet’s had a blog, and used that blog to talk about its business. The folks at Corbet’s could post about weekly specials, tips on home improvement, best approaches to pest control, and all the stuff that brings customers into the store. Oh, and by the way, it could leverage all its built in good will to drive its customers toward the Larkspur City Council, who, in the end, will determine whether or not Corbet’s will continue as a business – if Corbet’s doesn’t get that zoning change, it can’t afford to stay open. Ouch!

Given how sparse and poorly connected the first few links for “Corbets hardware” currently are, it’s clear that such a blog would come in first, and possibly second, third, and fourth, in any Google search. Add a Twitter account, and you’re nearly guaranteed to be a major force in any web-based conversation around your business. (In fact, I’d be willing to bet that within a few weeks, this blog post may well rank in the top ten for a search about Corbet’s…).

In short, by joining the conversation, Corbet’s would get a chance to shape it. And by shaping it, it just might ensure its future. Which leads me to ask: Has your business joined the conversation? You might consider doing so, before it’s too late.

Read the whole post here