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Help Me Interview Marc Benioff, CEO, Salesforce.com (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

By - October 03, 2011

benioff.jpegAs usual, this year’s Web 2 Summit is packed with CEO interviews. Next up, after Pincus and Donahoe, is Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com. Marc and I go way, way back – he was one of my best sources when I was a cub reporter in the 1980s (he was at Oracle, I was at a trade magazine called MacWeek). I’ve watched his career ever since, with increasing admiration and anticipation – one never knows what Marc might say next. He’s declared the end of software, the end of Microsoft, even the end of Salesforce investor and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, at least as far as his business model is concerned. (And he calls Ellison a friend!)

Benioff, one of the few marketers to found and drive a major Silicon Valley company, is a genius at both identifying and exploiting key trends, bringing them to enterprise markets with zeal and craft. Probably no single executive has done more to evangelize the cloud model of computing, and we’ll certainly be talking about that, particularly given his recent offhand comment that the cloud is passe. Salesforce is a platform and developer driven model, so we’ll touch on that, and last year the company bought a Superbowl ad, featuring will.i.am, to launch its social enterprise app called Chatter.

Given that Michael Dell and Steve Ballmer will follow Benioff on day two, I’m sure to ask his opinion of those two companies.

Marc has also led when it comes to philanthropy, both personal and corporate.

Given all this and more, I’d love your input. What do you want to hear from Benioff, and about his company?   

As an extra incentive, I’ll be picking the best three questions from these series of posts (including Paul Otellini, Dick Costolo, Michael Dell, Dennis Crowley, Mary Meeker, Michael Roth, Steve Ballmer, James Gleick, Vic Gundotra, and Reid Hoffman, among others.) The authors of those questions will get complimentary passes to Web 2 – a more than $4000 value. So get to commenting, and thank you!

Previously: Mark Pincus and John Donahoe. Next up: Dick Costolo.

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Help Me Interview John Donahoe, CEO, eBay (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

By - October 02, 2011

donahoe.jpegNext up on the Web 2 Summit interview docket is John Donahoe, President and CEO of eBay. This marks a return of sorts for eBay to the Summit stage, it’s been four years since former CEO Meg Whitman joined us. Much has changed – eBay faces significant competition in its PayPal business, and unwound its Skype acquisition, for example. It also purchased GSI Commerce, a company that might best be called a “white label Amazon.” But eBay is also a company on a mission, with its new X.commerce payment platform, a renewed focus on mobile commerce, and the addition of a Facebook executive to its Board of Directors.

Given this is Donahoe’s first Web 2 Summit interview, I’d love your input. What do you want to hear from him, and about his company?   

As an extra incentive, I’ll be picking the best three questions from these series of posts (including Pincus, Marc Benioff, Paul Otellini, Dick Costolo, Michael Dell, Dennis Crowley, Mary Meeker, Michael Roth, Steve Ballmer, James Gleick, Vic Gundotra, and Reid Hoffman, among others.) The authors of those questions will get complimentary passes to Web 2 – a more than $4000 value. So get to commenting, and thank you!

Previously: Mark Pincus. Next up: Marc Benioff.

Help Me Interview Mark Pincus, CEO/Founder, Zynga

By - September 30, 2011

Tpincus.jpegoday kicks off my annual postings on folks I’ll be in interviewing for the Web 2 Summit. Every year I seek your input, every year you help me get smarter, and I thank you for that.

The Web 2 Summit (to which all readers of this site are invited) kicks off Oct. 17th with Mark Pincus, a fellow I’ve known for over a decade, since his days at Freeloader, Support.com, and Tribe. But Zynga has become his signature success, becoming one of the fastest growing companies of the past decade, and shorthand for “games” across the social web. Zynga filed for a much-anticipated IPO earlier this year, though as with nearly every company in the space, the market seems to have cooled since then. In late August, reports circulated that Zynga was delaying its IPO, but those were never confirmed.

I doubt Mark will answer any questions related to the IPO, given he is still in a quiet period, but there’s plenty more to talk about. Pincus got the Vanity Fair treatment in June, and he’s certainly a classic Valley character.

But I’m more interested in Pincus’ take on the Internet’s strategic landscape – he’s been through bruising negotiations with Facebook over credits, he’s recently taken his games to Google+ and other platforms, and he has his finger on the pulse of some sixty or so million daily game players. If anyone can grok Web 2′s theme of “The Data Frame,” it’s Pincus.

I can and will ask Mark about scaling a startup, managing growth, his personal story, etc. But Searchblog readers certainly know Zynga, and you have questions for Mark and for his company. What might they be?

As an extra incentive, I’ll be picking the best three questions from these series of posts (they will include Pincus, Marc Benioff, Paul Otellini, Dick Costolo, Michael Dell, Dennis Crowley, Mary Meeker, Michael Roth, Steve Ballmer, James Gleick, Vic Gundotra, and Reid Hoffman, among others. The authors of those questions will get complimentary passes to Web 2 – a more than $4000 value. So get to commenting, and thank you!

The Web 2 Summit Data Layer Is Live

By - September 25, 2011

Earlier this year I posted about an idea we’ve come up with to create a new “data layer” on top of last year’s popular “Points of Control” map. We created this map to visualize the theme of the Web 2 Summit conference, which is coming up again in a few weeks.

As you can see from the map, we’ve visualized eight key Internet players as cities, with each of the buildings representing storehouses of key data types. Cities are scaled by the size and engagement of their audiences, with data driven by our partner Nielsen and also company-reported sources. A detailed legend is here.

The map is still a work in progress, and there’s plenty of opportunity for you to comment on it. And there’s more coming – soon anyone will be able to create their own city, based on their own company, or one they think should join the map. Check it out, and stay tuned for more news.

The Future of Twitter Ads

By - September 14, 2011

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(image) As I posted earlier, last week I had a chance to sit down with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. We had a pretty focused chat on Twitter’s news of the week, but I also got a number of questions in about Twitter’s next generation of ad products.

As usual, Dick was frank where he could be, and demurred when I pushed too hard. (I’ll be talking to him at length at Web 2 Summit next month.) However, a clear-enough picture emerged such that I might do some “thinking out loud” about where Twitter’s ad platform is going. That, combined with some very well-placed sources who are in a position to know about Twitter’s ad plans, gives me a chance to outline what, to the best of my knowledge, will be the next generation of Twitter’s ad offerings.

I have to say, if the company pulls it off, the company is sitting on a Very Big Play. But if you read my post Twitter and the Ultimate Algorithm, you already knew that.

In that post, I laid out what I thought to be Twitter’s biggest problem/opportunity: surfacing the right content, in the right context, to the right person at the right time. It’s one of the largest computer science and social engineering problems on the web today, a fascinating opportunity to leverage what is becoming a real time database of folks’ implicit and explicitly declared interests.

I also noted that should Twitter crack this code, its ad products would follow. As I wrote: “If Twitter can assign a rank, a bit of context, a “place in the world” for every Tweet as it relates to every other Tweet and to every account on Twitter, well, it can do the same job for every possible advertiser on the planet, as they relate to those Tweets, those accounts, and whatever messaging the advertiser might have to offer. In short, if Twitter can solve its signal to noise problem, it will also solve its revenue scale problem.”

Well, I’ve got some insights on how Twitter plans to make its first moves toward these ends.

First, Dick made it clear last week that Twitter will be widening the rollout of its “Promoted Tweets” product, which pushes Tweets from advertisers up to the top of a logged-in user’s timeline (coverage). Previously, brands could promote tweets only to people who followed those brands. (This of course drove advertisers to use Twitter’s “Promoted Accounts” product, which encouraged users to follow a brand’s Twitter handle. After all, if Promoted Tweets are only seen by your followers, you better have a lot of them).

Just recently, Twitter began to allow brands to push their Promoted Tweets to non-followers. This adds a ton of scale to a product that previously had limited reach. Remember, Twitter announced some pretty big numbers last week: more than 100 million “logged in” users, and nearly 400 million users a month on its website alone. Not to mention around 230 million tweets generated a day. All of these metrics are growing at a very strong clip, Twitter tells me.

All this begs we step back and ask an important question. Now that advertisers can push their Tweets to non-followers, how might they be able to target these ads?

Twitter’s answer, in short, is this: We’ll handle that, at least for now. The first iteration of the product does not allow the advertiser to determine who sees the promoted tweet. Instead, Twitter will find “lookalikes” – people who are similar in interests to folks who follow the brand. Characteristically, Twitter is going slow with this launch – as I understand it, initially just ten percent of its users will see this product.

(The implication of Twitter finding “lookalikes” should not be ignored – it means Twitter is confident in its ability to relate the interest graphs of its users one to another, at scale. This is part of the issue I wrote about in the “Ultimate Algorithm” post, a major and important development that is worth noting).

Now, I’ve spent many years working with marketers, and even if Twitter’s lookalike approach has scale, I know brands won’t be satisfied with a pure “black box” answer from the service. They’ll want some control over how they target, who they target to, and when their ads show up, among other things. Google, for example, gives advertisers an almost overwhelming number of data points as input to their AdWords and AdSense products. Facebook, of course, has extremely rich demographic and interest based targeting.

So how will Twitter execute targeting? Here are my thoughts:

- Interest targeting. Twitter will expose a dashboard that allows advertisers to target users based on a set of interests. I’d expect, for example, that a movie studio launching a summer action film might want to target Twitter users have shown interest in celebrities, Hollywood, and, of course, action movies.

How might that interest be known? There are plenty of clear signals: What a user posts, of course. But also what he or she retweets, replies to, clicks on in someone else’s tweet, or who they follow (and who that followed person follows, and, and….).

- Geotargeting. Say that movie is premiering in just ten cities across the country. Clearly, that movie studio will want to target its ads just in those regions. Nearly every major advertiser demands this capability – consumer packaged goods companies like P&G, for example, will want to compare their geotargeted ads to “shelf lift” in a particular region.

Twitter has told me it will have geotargeting capabilities shortly.

- Audience targeting. I’d expect that at some point, Twitter will expose various audience “buckets” to the marketer for targeting based on unique signals that Twitter alone has views into. These might include “active retweeters,” “influencers,” or “tastemakers” – folks who tend to find things first.

- Demographic targeting. This one I’m less certain of – Twitter doesn’t have a clear demographic dataset, the way Facebook does. However, neither does Google, and it figured out a way to include demos in its product line.

- Device/location targeting. Do you want your Promoted Tweets only on the web, or only on Windows? Maybe just iPads, or iOS more broadly? Perhaps just mobile, or only Android? And would you like location with that? You get the picture….

Given all this targeting and scale, the next question is: How will advertisers actually buy from Twitter? I think it’s clear that Twitter will adopt a model based on two familiar features: a cost-per-engagement model (the company already uses engagement as a signal to rank an ads efficacy) and a real-time second-price bidded auction. The company already exposes dashboards to its marketing partners on no less than five metrics, allowing them to manage their marketing presence on Twitter in real time. And its recently announced analytics product only adds on to that suite. Twitter has also said a self-serve platform will be open for business shortly, one that will allow smaller businesses to play on the service.

Next up? APIs that allows third parties to run Promoted Tweets, as well as help marketers manage their Twitter presence. Just as with Facebook and Google, expect a robust “SEO/SEM” ecosystem to develop around these APIs.

The cost per engagement model is worth a few more lines. If an ad does not resonate – is not engaged with in some way by users – it will fall off the page, an approach that has clearly worked well for Google. The company is very pleased with its early tests on engagement, which one source tells me is one to two orders of magnitude above traditional banner ads.

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Finally, recall that Twitter also announced, and couched as very good news, that a large percentage of its users are “not logged in,” but rather consume Twitter content just as you or I might read a blog post. Fred writes about this in his post The Logged Out User. In that post, he estimates that nearly three in four folks on Twitter.com are “logged out.” That’s a huge audience. Expect ad products for those folks shortly, including – yes – display ads driven by cookies and/or other modeling parameters.

In short, after staring at this beast for many years, I think Twitter is well on its way to cracking the code for revenue. But let’s not forget the key part of this equation: The product itself. Ad product development is nearly always in lockstep with user product development.

Twitter recently surfaced a new tab for some of its users called “Activity”, and I was lucky enough to get it in my stream. It makes my timeline far better than it was. The “Mentions” tab (which we see as our own handle) is also far richer, showing follows, retweets, and favorites as well as replies and mentions. But there’s much, much more to do. My sense of the company now, however, is that it’s going to deliver on the opportunity we’ve all known it has ahead. It’s mostly addressed its infrastructure issues, Costolo told me, and is now focused on delivering product improvements through rapid iteration, testing, and deployment. I look forward to seeing how it all plays out.

The 2011 Web 2 Summit Program Is Live; My Highlights

By - September 07, 2011

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August is a month of vacation, of beaches, reading, and leisure….unless you happen to work with me creating the program for the eighth annual Web 2 Summit this October. Each year, my “summer vacation” turns into a “working vacation” as my team and I spend hours massaging more than 50 speakers into a tightly choreographed program running over what always turns out to be an extraordinary three days. I must be a masochist. Because I always love how it turns out.

This year, as I wrote earlier, our theme is “The Data Frame.” And this year’s program hews more tightly to our theme than any before it. Just about every speaker will be presenting on some aspect of how data changes the game in our industry. From policy to tech, art to retail, we’ve got one of the most varied lineups ever. You can see it here, but remember, these are extremely volatile times. In other words, the lineup might change a bit in the next six weeks. I’m just glad I didn’t ask Carol Bartz to come back, but then again, that would have been fun, no?

Web 2 is a year book of sorts, a stake in the ground where our industry has some of its most important conversations. This year we are taking a new tack – eliminating panels altogether, and focusing on our trademark conversations, as well as short, high impact presentations.

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Here are a few I’m really looking forward to.

We’ll start day one with Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga. Mark has been busy, in particular given both the growth of Zynga and the recent turmoil in the financial markets, which plan on welcoming his company to public status at some point in the near future. But Mark is just the starting gun of an amazing opening session, one that will include John Donahoe, CEO of eBay, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel, Dennis Crowley, co-founder of foursquare, Ross Levinsohn,

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EVP Americas at Yahoo!, and Reid Hoffman, founder and Chair of LinkedIn, the public market’s current darling.

Of the group, I’m particularly pleased to welcome Ron Wyden, Senator from Oregon. This will mark Web 2′s first ever visit from a sitting senator, and our industry will have plenty to discuss with him – he’s the man who has taken stands on COICA and its cousin Protect IP, controversial (and many would say flawed) pieces of legislation that may have significant impacts on how the Internet works.

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After cocktails we’ll sit down to dinner, and I’m very pleased to announce that our dinner conversation with be with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, a man who would win any “funniest CEO” competition. running away. Be prepared to snort wine through your nose.

Day two opens with Dell CEO Michael Dell, who will have plenty to say about the moves of his competitors HP, Apple, and Samsung. We’ll get our first taste of a new program element – “Pivot” – short presentations tailored to shift your thinking in five minutes or less. You’ll hear Pivots from Tony Conrad (about.me),Chris Poole (Canv.as, 4chan), Bill Gross (uber media), Aileen Lee (KPCB), David Hornik (August Capital) and many more.

We’ll also hear from two data and privacy policy experts – Dr. Ann Cavoukian, of the Ontario Office of Information & Privacy, and David Vladeck, of the FTC. Ben Horowitz (of Andreessen Horowitz) will sit for a conversation, as will John Partridge, President of Visa, and Dan Schulman, Group President, American Express – together. That’s sort of like getting Coke and Pepsi in the same room, which, it turns out, we did. Over the three days, we’ll hear from both Alison Lewis, CMO of Coca Cola Inc., as well as Frank Cooper, CMO of Pepsico Beverages.

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This brings me to another important point – with data, all companies must become Internet companies. John, Dan, Alison, and Frank will bring that point home. As will Michael Roth, CEO of IPG, one of the largest advertising holding companies on the planet.

And of course we’ll hear from Mary Meeker, in her eighth appearance at Web 2. But this time, I’ve given her enough time to both do her “capital markets roundup,” as well as sit down with us and discuss her new role as partner at Kleiner Perkins.

A highlight of Day Two will be Thomas Drake, who used to work at the NSA on a forward-looking data surveillance program called ThinThread. While there, he uncovered facts about how the NSA was conducting surveillance which he believed was illegal. He blew the whistle, was charged with espionage, and lived to tell the tale.

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Rounding out Day Two will be Jack Tretton, President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of American, Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, and Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft.

But wait…there’s more! Sprinkled throughout the three days will be our trademark “High Order Bits” – shortform presentations designed to amaze, inspire, and even perplex. We’ll hear from voices as varied as Genevieve Bell, in house anthropologist at Intel, Peter Vesterbacka, the “Mighty Eagle” of Rovio,

Alex Rampell, CEO of TrialPay, Mike McCue, CEO of Flipboard, Bret Taylor, CTO of Facebook, Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, Susan Wojcicki, SVP at Google, Deb Roy, Founder of Bluefin, Richard Rosenblatt, CEO Demand Media, Mike Olson, CEO of Cloudera, and even MC Hammer.

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That’s a lot of names, and we’re not close to being done. Highlights of day three include James Gleick, who has written one of the most important books about data in recent years (“The Information”), and a passel of Facebook alums: Sean Parker, who has yet another startup to discuss, Dave Morin, of Path, and Charlie Cheever together with his co-founder Adam D’Angelo, of Quora. More High Order Bits will come from Hilary Mason, of bit.ly, Jeremie Miller, of Singly, and Josh James, of Domo.

Rounding out the day are Andrew Mason, of Groupon fame, and Vic Gundotra, the man behind Google+.

Whew. And that’s not even all the great folks who are coming. It’s going to be a spectacular three days. I hope you’ll join us!

My deepest thanks go out to my Web 2 Advisory Board, which gave me a lot of great input on the program, and to the teams at O’Reilly, Techweb, and FM. As well as all our amazing sponsors, of course, and my producer extraordinare, Janetti Chon. It’s almost showtime!

PS – Look for our announcement next week about the new “Data Layer” on our “Points of Control” map. It’s going to rock!

More on Twitter's Great Opportunity/Problem

By - August 10, 2011

Itwitter-bird.pngn the comments on this previous post, I promised I’d respond with another post, as my commenting system is archaic (something I’m fixing soon). The comments were varied and interesting, and fell into a few buckets. I also have a few more of my own thoughts to toss out there, given what I’ve heard from you all, as well as some thinking I’ve done in the past day or so.

First, a few of my own thoughts. I wrote the post quickly, but have been thinking about the signal to noise problem, and how solving it addresses Twitter’s advertising scale issues, for a long, long time. More than a year, in fact. I’m not sure why I finally got around to writing that piece on Friday, but I’m glad I did.

What I didn’t get into is some details about how massive the solving of this problem really is. Twitter is more than the sum of its 200 million tweets, it’s also a massive consumer of the web itself. Many of those tweets have within them URLs pointing to the “rest of the web” (an old figure put the percent at 25, I’d wager it’s higher now). Even if it were just 25%, that’s 50 million URLs a day to process, and growing. It’s a very important signal, but it means that Twitter is, in essence, also a web search engine, a directory, and a massive discovery engine. It’s not trivial to unpack, dedupe, analyze, contextualize, crawl, and digest 50 million URLs a day. But if Twitter is going to really exploit its potential, that’s exactly what it has to do.

The same is true of Twitter’s semantic challenge/opportunity. As I said in my last post, tweets express meaning. It’s not enough to “crawl” tweets for keywords and associate them with other related tweets. The point is to associate them based on meaning, intent, semantics, and – this is important – narrative continuity over time. No one that I know of does this at scale, yet. Twitter can and should.

Which gets me to all of your comments. I heard both in the written comments, on Twitter, and in extensive emails offline, from developers who are working on parts of the problems/opportunities I outlined in my initial post. And it’s true, there’s really quite a robust ecosystem out there. Trendspottr, OneRiot, Roundtable, Percolate, Evri, InfiniGraph, The Shared Web, Seesmic, Scoopit, Kosmix, Summify, and many others were mentioned to me. I am sure there are many more. But while I am certain Twitter not only benefits from its ecosystem of developers, it actually *needs* them, I am not so sure any of them can or should solve this core issue for the company.

Several commentators noted, as did Suamil, “Twitter’s firehose is licensed out to at least publicly disclosed 10 companies (my former employer Kosmix being one of them and Google/Bing being the others) and presumably now more people have their hands on it. Of course, those cos don’t see user passwords but have access to just about every other piece of data and can build, from a systems standpoint, just about everything Twitter can/could. No?”

Well, in fact, I don’t know about that. For one, I’m pretty sure Twitter isn’t going to export the growing database around how its advertising system interacts with the rest of Twitter, right? On “everything else,” I’d like to know for certain, but it strikes me that there’s got to be more data that Twitter holds back from the firehose. Data about the data, for example. I’m not sure, and I’d love a clear answer. Anyone have one? I suppose at this point I could ask the company….I’ll let you know if I find out anything. Let me know the same. And thanks for reading.

Who Am I, According to Google Ads? Who Am I, According to the Web? Who Do I Want to Be?

By - August 03, 2011

Over on Hacker News, I noticed this headline: See what Google knows about you. Now that’s a pretty compelling promise, so I clicked. It took me to this page:

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Ah, the Google ad preferences page. It’s been a while since I’ve visited this place. It gives you a limited but nonetheless interesting overview of the various categories and demographic information Google believes reflect your interests (and in a way, your identity, or “who you are” in the eyes of an advertising client). This is all based on a cookie Google places on your browser.

I was hoping for more – because Google has a lot more information about us than just our advertising preferences (think of how you use Google apps like Docs, or Gmail, or Google+, or Search, or….). But it’s an interesting start. I certainly hope that someday soon, Google will pull of this in one place, and let us edit/export/correct/leverage it. I sense probably it will. If it does, expect some pretty big shifts in how our culture understands identity to take place. But more on that later.

Anyway, I thought it’d be interesting to see who and what Google thought I was. I use three browsers primarily, and I use them in different ways. My main browser has been Apple’s Safari, but lately it’s become slow and a bit of a pain to use. I have my suspicions as to why (iWorld, anyone?), but it’s led me to a gradual move over to Google Chrome, which is way faster and feature rich. I’d say over the past few months, I’ve used Safari about 60% of the time, and Chrome about 30% of the time. The other 10%? I use Firefox. Why? Well, that’s the browser I use when I want anonymity. I have it set to “do not record my history” and I delete cookies on it from time to time. For this reason, it’s not very useful, but I do like having a “clean” browser to try out new services without the baggage of those services sniffing out my past identity in some way. Increasingly, I think this ability will become second nature to us all – after all, we are not the same person everywhere we are in the physical world, and our identity is something we want to manage and control ourselves (for more on that, read my piece Identity and The Independent Web). We just haven’t come to this realization culturally. We will.

There’s currently a pretty hotly contested identity debate in the ourosborosphere, and I find myself aligning with the Freds and Anils of the world. I’m glad this debate is happening, but the real shift will come from the bottom up, as more and more people realize they want to more carefully instrument “who” they are online, and start to realize the implications of not paying attention to this. And entrepreneurs will see opportunities to catch this coming wave, as the time comes for services that help us manage all this identity data in a way that feels natural and appropriate. Sure, there have already been attempts, but they came before our society was ready. It soon will be.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to see who Google thinks I am in the three browsers I use. In Safari, where I have the longest history, here’s my profile:

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I find it interesting to note that Google gets my age wrong (I’ve been 45 for nearly a year), and that it thinks I am so into Law & Government, but that’s probably because I read so much policy stuff for my book, my work with FM and the IAB, and my writing here. Otherwise, it’s a pretty decent picture of me, though it misses a lot as well. I love that I can add categories – I am tempted to do just that and see if the ads change noticeably, but I don’t like that I can’t correct my identity information (for example, tell Google how old I really am). In short, this is a great start, but it’s pretty poorly instrumented. I’d be very interested in how it changes if and when I really start using Google+ (I am on it, but not really active. This is typical of me with new services.)

Now, let’s take a look at my Google Chrome “identity” as it relates to Google Ads:

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Not much there. Odd, given I’ve used it a lot. Seems either Google is holding some info back, or is pretty slow to gather data on me in Chrome. I find that hard to believe, but there you have it. It’s not like I only use Chrome to look for books or read long articles, though I think I have used it for my limited interaction with Google+, because I figured it’d work best in a Google browswer. Hmmm.

Now, on to Firefox, which as you recall is the one I keep “clean,” or, put another way, my identity is “anonymous.”

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Just as I would have expected it.

I’ll be watching for more dashboards like this one to pop up over the coming years, and I expect more tools will help us manage them – across non-federated services like Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s going to be a very interesting evolution.

Google+: If, And, Then….Implications for Twitter and Tumblr

By - July 13, 2011

It’s hard to not voice at least one note into the Morman Tabernacle of commentary coming out of Google’s first two weeks as a focused player in the social media space.

I haven’t read all the commentary, but one observation that seems undervoiced is this: If Google+ really works, Google will be creating a massive amount of new “conversational media” inventory, the very kind of marketing territory currently under development over at Tumblr and Twitter. Sure, the same could be said of Facebook, but I think that story has been well told. Google+ is a threat to Facebook, but for other reasons. The threat to Tumbrl and Twitter feels more existential in nature. (Ian remarks on how Google+ feels like content here, for example).

Let’s look at a typical flow for Tumblr, for example. Most of the action on Tumblr is in the creator’s “dashboard.” Mine looks like this:

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As you can see, this is a flow of posts from folks that I follow, with added features and information on the right rail. I can take action on these posts in the dashboard, including reblogging them on my own Tumblr, which is, for the most part, a blog. A blog, like…Blogger.

Now let’s look at what my flow looks like in Twitter. I use the web app for the most part:

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Again, flow on the left, info and services (and ads) on the right. However, Twitter has no integrated blog like function, though I love using it as a platform to promote my blog posts (as many of you undoubtedly have noticed). Also, Twitter recently bought Tweetdeck, which organizes flow more along the lines of “Circles” in Google+, but more on that later.

Now, let’s look at my flow for my “Colleagues” circle on Google+. I choose “Colleagues” because it’s really the only one with content in it. My “friends” and “Family” are not really using Google+ yet. If those streams start getting traction, well, then we can talk about Facebook’s existential threats. But already, I am finding this stream useful:

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Look familiar? Yeah, it sure does. Just like Tumblr’s dashboard, and Twitter’s main stream. Both those companies are focused now on how best to monetize this key “conversational media” content, and just as they are getting traction, Google comes along with a product that is nearly identical. However, there are important differences, and of course, Google has a massive advantage: Google+ is integrated into everything the company owns and operates.

I’ll be adding more to this post later tonight, but I wanted to get this idea out there. Later, I’ll go into the key differences, and also, map out the advantages Twitter and Tumblr maintain compared to Google+. My one thought to keep you going while I’m away: If Google+ works, and Google integrates all that conversational media inventory with its extraordinary advertising sales machine, there’s even more of a need for what I’ve come to call a truly “independent” and “conversational” media company. Twitter and Tumblr are not playing the same game as Google, and they’ll need to tack into the advantage *not* being Google provides to them.

More soon.

We (Will) Live In A Small Big Town

By - June 09, 2011

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Earlier today I moderated a panel at an energetic and well-attended event called the “Newfront,” produced by Digitas, an innovative agency which counts American Express, Kraft, P&G, and GM as clients.

I say energetic because it was highly produced and very considered (and this from a guy who carefully produces live events for a living, among other things). A lot of flash, and deep consideration of lighting, music, and red carpet treatment of star guests (there were many). In short, the place was lovingly festooned with the kind of attention to detail that makes people feel special, just for being there.

Since I was a speaker, I got whisked past the lines and through the photo pit into the backstage lounge, where I commenced to review the work ahead of me: To lead what might have been the most practical discussion of the entire day: a conversation about how real brands leveraged content as marketing. Now, this is a subject with which I have a fair bit of familiarity, and all the panelists were clients of Federated Media (and no, I didn’t pick them). Susan Sobbott, the President of American Express OPEN, for example. Beth Comstock, the CMO of GE. And Susan Kopper, SVP Marketing at SAP. My job was to get them talking for a full hour in front of 500 or so folks who had just heard Ashton Kutcher rant about how he disliked advertising, and who, after we were finished, were eagerly awaiting a discussion with Tori Spelling.

No, I am not making that up.

Thanks in the main to my panelists, the conversation went quite well. I’d write it up, but the whole thing was livestreamed, and honestly, after six hours on the tarmac at JFK (again, not kidding), I want to tell a different story.

And yes, the six hours on the tarmac is part of it.

So during our conversation onstage, I asked my panelists if they considered the back and forth between a brand and its customers on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook as “content,” and if the answer was yes, then if they considered themselves publishers of that content. The consensus was that yes, brands in fact are publishers of conversations (finally, my 2007 ideas are happening…). “But,” one of my panelists pointed out, “if you are going to become a publisher, then you have to actually be listening and responding to the conversations out there.” Indeed. I nodded (sagely, of course) from my moderator’s chair. Then without thinking, I quipped that brands, in the main, have not proven to be so hot at listening. (Here’s proof.)

And for reasons I can’t explain, I had to call at least one brand out to prove my point. And who came to mind? Well, honestly, it was United Airlines.

Now, this is the very company that has held my mortal coil in its aluminum wrapper for the past seven and a half hours, and, as far as I can tell, is responsible for either my long delayed reunion with my loved ones in five or so hours, or, should it fail miserably, will be…well, I’d rather not think about what else might happen. I am, as I write this, 35,000 feet in the air, after all.

But thanks to the wifi on the flight, I can tell you about all this. Not that the wifi was free….

But I digress as usual. Back to my story. I looked over the audience and asked “how many of you have lodged a customer complaint over Twitter?” About 15 percent of the hands went up. I then asked how many of them felt like they had been heard. About half the hands went down.

That will and must change.

I then called out the aforementioned @united as a personal example of a company I’ve repeatedly reached out to on Twitter, a company that purports to be active on the service, but so far has failed to really “be” on Twitter, at least the way ATT, Comcast, GE, Amex, or any number of other major brands are.

All well and good. The panel continued, folks seemed to enjoy it, from what I could tell, and after saying hello to far too many old friends, I headed to the airport. I was in a good mood – after four days on the road (including leading a successful CM Summit), it was time to go home.

And while there was traffic on the way to JFK (tweet), I made it in time for my plane. I got through security and settled in, ready for the six-or-so-hour journey home.

As I often do when home is tantalizingly close, my seatbelt is securely fastened, and the plane is about to take off, I dozed off in anticipation of the upward lift which comprises a transcontinental journey’s opening act.

As I nodded off, a daydream of sorts came to me. I imagined a world, not so distant, where our social utterances have impact….

It’s hard to explain without a fair amount of literary license, but if you are this far into my story, what the hell, right?

OK, so I imagined that as I called @united out onstage today, and that call out was amplified (via Twitter) by various folks in the audience, there was, in fact, someone at United listening. Further, I imagined that that person had access to all the touchpoints with United that I have as a customer.

In short, I imagined that United was listening to me, even though I was speaking at what, to United, was a pretty random conference in lower Manhattan. I mean, it’s rather presumptuous of me to assume that a brand might catch wind of my calling them out, right? After all, it happens all the time, all over the world, no?

Or is it?

What if the world were wired in such a way that every utterance that each of made had real meaning, and, further, that we as the creators of that utterance understood that fact?

In other words, what might happen if I knew that United was listening when I spoke those words on stage at the NewFront?

Well, as I dozed, I did imagine it. After all, at the moment I was on United Flight 863, which was slowly pulling out of Terminal 7 at JFK, purportedly on its way to San Francisco.

So here’s what came to mind.

As I entered JFK and checked in at the United counter, the man behind the counter addressed me by name – before I even handed him my ID – and apologized for United’s lack of responsiveness. “We missed your call out at that conference,” he said. “Hate to make excuses, but our Twitter guy was offline with a personal issue. I wish our UA team had texted you with an apology but we only have your email. Did you get our message?”

Well…no, I hadn’t checked my email in the car, because I was on the phone. I looked at my phone and indeed, there was a mail from United, apologizing for its past inattention to such a loyal customer, and promising to do better. Not to mention that the mail promised a free upgrade on my upcoming flight – flight 863, which was on time. Given the time and my current location (gleaned from my phone, which automatically broadcasts my location to every brand with which I’ve indicated I have a trusted relationship), I must be on my way, no? The email continued – click this link to accept the upgrade, choose my seat, order a special meal….you get the picture.

I give the counter attendant my mobile number so United can text me in the future, and after clearing security, I’m on the plane. And… As I often do when home is tantalizingly close, my seatbelt is securely fastened, and the plane is about to take off, I dozed off in anticipation of the upward lift which comprises a transcontinental journey’s opening act.

OK, daydream over. Might this actually happen? And not just for me, the dude with the “Internet influencer” designation, but for everyone?

Damn right it will.

Now, what really happened …. well, I checked in (the gate attendants were very pleasant), and I got on the plane (so were the flight attendants), and I settled in. And yes, I did fall asleep. No one at United knew who I was, or that I had just called the company out in front of 500 people (or tens of thousands repeatedly on Twitter over the past two years)…regardless, what did happen next is that I woke up.

And we were on the tarmac. And it was raining. And as I regained consciousness after my social media daydream, I heard the pilot apologizing – turns out the weather was not cooperating, and we’d have to turn off the engines. And wait.

Not United’s fault. I mean, who controls the weather, after all?

Six hours and one trip back to the gate later (see, I told you I’d get to that), United Flight 863 took off. I expect to land at SFO by 2.15 am, PST, fates willing.

But the whole experience got me thinking about what it might mean if a brand really had a relationship with each of its customers, leveraged over customer data, social nuance, and intelligent platform technology, and what it might mean if we, collectively as a culture, simply assumed this to be true.

And it struck me it’d be a lot like living in a small town – where everyone knows everyone’s business, all the time. And if that were true, well, maybe I wouldn’t have called out United in the first place, because that would have just been unfriendly. Especially if I knew United was listening.

And having never really lived in such a place, I wondered – is that a good thing? Or might we, as a society, be on a path where we learn to integrate the best parts of a small town – intimacy, connection, responsiveness – with the best of big city living – anonymity on demand, control over identity, privacy?

I think we’re about to find out. As I think all of you who made it to the end of this story know, we live in a time of great cultural change. It’s a story that fascinates me, and I hope I can spend a lot more time telling it.