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Everbody Forgets About the Power of Intentional Declaration

By - March 23, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Color Matters: Augmented Reality And Nuanced Social Graphs May Finally Come of Age

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I read with interest about Color, a new social photo app that was much in the news today. The main angle of coverage was the size of the pre-revenue company’s funding – $41 million from Sequoia and Bain. Hell, the company isn’t just pre-revenue, it’s pre-product….at least for now. Tomorrow the actual product launches.

If it works as advertised, it may well be the first truly execution of augmented reality that truly scales.

I for one hope it works.

The service’s founder, Bill Nguyen, is the real deal. He has a particular ability to see around corners, and is a veteran of more than half a dozen startups. So why am I fired up about Color’s service? Because I think it bridges an important gap in how we use the web today. And please know that my definition of “the web” is in no way limited to “PC based HTML”. When I say web, I mean the digital platform through which we leverage our lives.

OK, now that we’ve clarified that, what does Color actually *do*? Well, let me explain it as best I can, based on a great piece here by Bruce Upbin (OK and this piece and this one too).

In short, Colors combines the public social graph and instant sharing of Twitter with the “capture the moment” feel of an Instagram or Path. But the real twist is in the service’s approach to location. To my mind, Colors has the opportunity to be the first breakout application fueled by the concept of “augmented reality.”

Now, let me back up and remind readers of my oft-repeated 2010 maxim: Location is the most important signal to erupt from the Internet since search.

OK, that said, what Colors does is offer up a visual public timeline of any given location, in real time. Every single image captured at any given location is instantly “placed” at that location, forever, and is served up as an artifact of that location to anyone using the Colors application.

Put your brain to that idea for a second, and you realize this is one of those ideas that is both A/ Ridiculously huge and B/ Ridiculously obvious in retrospect. And pretty much every idea that passes those two tests only has to pass a third to Be Really Big. That third test? Execution.

Wait Battelle, you may be saying. What are you on about? I’m not getting it?!

In short, if Color is used by a statistically significant percentage of folks, nearly every location that matters on earth will soon be draped in an ever-growing tapestry of visual cloth, one that no doubt will also garner commentary, narrative structure, social graph meaning, and plasticity of interpretation. Imagine if Color – and the fundaments which allow its existence – had existed for the past 100 years. Imagine what Color might have revealed during the Kennedy assassination, or the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, or hell, the Rodney King beating?

But that’s just the stuff that’s important to us all. What Color really augurs is the ability to understand our shared sense of place over time – and that alone is mind-bendingly powerful. Back in 2008 I was struck with a similar concept, which at FM we turned into Crowdfire – a fleeting, early antecedent to the Color concept focused on music and festivals.

To me the key here is plasticity. By that I mean the ability to bend the concept of “social graph” beyond the inflexible “one ring to rule them all” model of Facebook to a more nuanced set of people you might care about in the context of place or moment. I love these kinds of steps forward, because it’s just so damn clear we need them.

Trust me on this. If Colors fails, it will be due to execution, and someone else will get it right. Because the world wants and needs this, and the time is now. (By the way, I’m not encouraged by the website, which focuses on group sharing and such. I think the service is way bigger than that. But I guess you have to start somewhere…)

Oh, and note to Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare: If you don’t get this feature into your service, pronto, you will more likely than not be rueing the day Color launched.

A Report Card on Web 2 and the App Economy

By - March 18, 2011

As I noted earlier in the week, I had the opportunity to speak at a GM conference today. I was asked to peer into the future of the “app world,” and deliver any divinations I might discover.

I like a challenge like this, as it forces me to weave any number of slender threads of my current thinking into a more robust and compact narrative.

Below is an updated version of a slide I presented today. As I thought through why I have a negative gut reaction to the world of apps as they currently stand, I realized it’s because they violate most of the original principles of what makes the web so great. And when I thought about what those principles are, I realized that a list already existed – in the opening presentation Tim O’Reilly and I gave at the first ever Web 2 Summit, in 2004.

Tim codified those principles in his seminal paper “What Is Web 2,” first published in 2005. For my GM speech, I extracted the core values which comprise the underpinnings of Web 2, then graded them in two categories: The Web, and The App Economy. For each I have a check or an X, depending on progress made since we originally outlined those principles seven years ago. A check means that, in essence, our industry has solidified its commitment to the principle, in particular as it relates to the most important party: The person using the web or the app. An X means we’re not there yet (and perhaps we won’t ever get there).

I think the results speak for themselves. After the image (and a quick break), I’ll offer some thoughts on each.   

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* The Web Is A Platform. There is no doubt that this is true on the open web (by this I mean the legacy HTML web). Anyone can put up a site, without approval by anyone else. This is simply not true in the Apple app world, though it’s more true for Android. I could write further pages on what it means to be a platform – certainly iOS and Android are platforms – but what we meant by “The Web Is A Platform” went deeper than the idea of a closed ecosystem controlled by one company. The beauty of the Web was that anyone could innovate on top of it, without permission. This is simply not true in the App World, for now.

* You Control Your Own Data. I have a very long post in me about this, and I spoke about it at length today at GM. But suffice to say, I don’t think either the web or app world have checked this box. But I see it as coming, very soon, projects like The Locker Project and others are hastening it. It’s my belief that soon consumers will demand value from their data, and that the web will be a place where that demand is met. Apps? I’m not so sure they’ll lead here. But they will have to follow.

* Harness Collective Intelligence. I believe the web has delivered on this concept, in spades. But I believe App World creates islands of disconnected experiences, most of which fail to share APIs, data structures, or insights.

* Data Is the New Intel Inside. I agree with this concept, which is truly Tim’s innovation. But I don’t believe either the Web or App World have delivered this power to us as consumers. As with “You Control Your Own Data”, I think the Web will lead, and Apps will follow.

* End of the Software Release Cycle. The Web has totally checked this box – when was the last you checked what version of Google you were using? Meanwhile, we still have to update our apps….

* Lightweight Programming. The web has excelled here. Apps, not so much. I have a lot of hope for Telehash, however.

* Software Above Level of A Single Device. When was the last time you wondered whether the web worked on a particular device? Oh yeah, when you tried to use Flash on an Apple product….enough said.

* Rich User Experiences. This is where apps kick the Web’s ass. And man, it’s a compelling ass kicking, so compelling we may be willing to give up all the other principles of Web 2 just to have a great experience. But I believe, in the end, we don’t have to compromise. We can have our App chocolate, and get our Web peanut butter to boot.

What do you think?

Signal Austin Conversation: Best Buy CTO and Geek Squad Founder Robert Stephens

By - March 16, 2011

It was fun to open last week’s event with Robert Stephens, who has grown Geek Squad from 2 people to more than 20,000 in the past 15 years. Highlights include his view of advertising (“a tax for poor products”) and his confirmation that yes, every Best Buy employee will, in fact, get a tablet sometime soon.


Signal Austin Conversation: Matt Mullenweg

By - March 15, 2011

I posted earlier about my conversation with Matt, from that post:

When WordPress.com was split off into the for-profit company, many were concerned it would quickly become clogged with ads, but Mullenweg and his partners have been extremely careful in how they’ve introduced marketing into the community. Experiments include FoodPress, EcoPressed, and others in partnership with my company, Federated Media, as well as one-off sponsorships with Microsoft around IE9, and some clever use of Google’s AdWords and other ad networks. Clearly media is a business WordPress will get into more, especially with the traffic and uniques it attracts (see chart at bottom).

Instead of advertising, so far WordPress has focused on tools – including a “freemium” model for key plug ins such as backup, polling, and spam protection. But as the platform has grown, it has taken a considerable amount of investment capital, and those investors will at some point demand a significant return. Furthermore, WordPress has earned the dubious honor of being large enough to become a target for hackers with less than honorable intentions (not to mention ongoing battles with black hat spammers).


Below is the conversation I had with Matt at Signal Austin.




Signal and SXSW: What Should I Ask WordPress Founder Matt Mullenweg?

By - March 08, 2011

Screen shot 2011-03-08 at 6.34.10 PM.pngOn Thursday at Signal Austin, and then again on Friday at SXSWi, I’ll be having an onstage conversation with WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, who continues to be the driver of the WordPress community. WordPress is a unique platform – Matt works for Automattic, a for profit company that owns the rights to the hosted version of WordPress, at wordpress.com. There’s also WordPress.org, which is an open source, not-for-profit foundation that boasts a vibrant community of developers and hackers who merrily create hacks, plugins, and any number of patches to the WordPress code.

When WordPress.com was split off into the for-profit company, many were concerned it would quickly become clogged with ads, but Mullenweg and his partners have been extremely careful in how they’ve introduced marketing into the community. Experiments include FoodPress, EcoPressed, and others in partnership with my company, Federated Media, as well as one-off sponsorships with Microsoft around IE9, and some clever use of Google’s AdWords and other ad networks. Clearly media is a business WordPress will get into more, especially with the traffic and uniques it attracts (see chart at bottom).

Instead of advertising, so far WordPress has focused on tools – including a “freemium” model for key plug ins such as backup, polling, and spam protection. But as the platform has grown, it has taken a considerable amount of investment capital, and those investors will at some point demand a significant return. Furthermore, WordPress has earned the dubious honor of being large enough to become a target for hackers with less than honorable intentions (not to mention ongoing battles with black hat spammers).

I could go on and on – I am fascinated by WordPress, as well as by the publishing platform space it inhabits. The same habitat is populated by a clutch of super interesting companies, including Tumblr, which recently surpassed WordPress in pure number of pageviews (though not engaged uniques) and of course Twitter. It’s my sense these three companies are due to run into each other in the marketplace over time, in particular as the independent web matures into a real media play (more on that another time).

But rather than have me ramble on about WordPress and Automattic, instead let me put the question to you: What would you have me ask Matt at Signal and SXSW? Please leave your questions in comments, or tweet them to me at @johnbattelle with the tag #FMSignal or #SXSW. Thanks!   

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Austin Signal: The Program

By - March 07, 2011

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(cross posted from the FM Blog) In just a few days I’ll be welcoming 200 or so digital marketers to Signal Austin, the second edition of FM’s Signal conference series – regional, “mini” versions of our highly-acclaimed annual New York event. Our first Signal – based in LA – focused on content marketing. I’m proud to say it was both oversold and very well received.

This week’s Signal in Austin will focus on the impact of location in marketing. Given that Austin – home to the legendary SXSW conference – is where Twitter, Foursquare, and Gowalla all broke out, I’m expecting quite a program. To that end, I wanted to give readers a bit of a “curtain raiser” on what to expect for the day. As with all our shows, the conference is limited in attendance (we thought we’d cap it at 150, but nearly 200 are already registered) but we’ll be livestreaming it and putting the audio online as well.

Signal Austin will open with our a trademark one-on-one conversation. These are my favorite part of the show, perhaps because it gives me a chance to interview such interesting characters. You never really know what’s going to happen on stage (who knew that will.i.am was going to go meta?), but I prepare quite a bit in any case.

The first conversation will be with Robert Stephens, CTO of Best Buy and founder of the Geek Squad. I love opening with Robert because one of the themes I believe is critical to marketing in the digital age is a deep understanding of the role technology plays in how a company speaks with its customer base. You simply can’t execute “customer aware marketing” without shifting how your company understands and leverages information and information technology. Robert understands this innately. And of course, nothing’s more “local” than feet on the street, literally, who touch customers in store and in their homes.

After Robert, Brady Forrest, curator of the seminal Where 2.0 location conference, will introduce the concept of “Startup Ignite”, a special version of his Ignite format that he’s bringing to Signal. Throughout the day, we’ll be hearing from early stage location-driven startups hand-picked by Brady.

Following Brady, we’ll hear about the big news from Foursquare and American Express. It was supposed to break at our show, but someone leaked it to the Journal already. Sigh. Stuff happens.

Signal will be focused mostly on case studies, so after an Ignite we’ll hear from the CEO of Loopt, with a case study around the company’s work with Virgin America. We’ll then hear news from another hot location startup, Whrrl.

Next comes our second conversation of the day, with WordPress and Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg. I’ve come to know Matt a fair bit over the past couple years and really like his point of view on things. WordPress, as most know, is the most successful and feature rich blogging platform on the market. He’ll talk about his point of view on local, as well as what’s ahead for his platform and his company.

After a break we’ll come back to hear from the CEO of GoWalla, the founder of JiWire, and the COO of SCVNGR – a murderer’s row of location-based startups, all of whom are doing real work and real marketing revenue. After another Ignite, we’ll hear a case study from Levi’s, and a unique POV on B2B from Spiceworks.

Once lunch is over, we’ll return to a conversation with Sean Finnegan, a senior marketing executive who recently took the helm as CEO of Geomentum, IPG’s hyperlocal agency with more than $2 billion in media billings a year. After Sean, we’ll hear from Microsoft, which has made local a key focus of its Bing search engine.

Andy Lark, a senior marketer from Dell, will then bend our concept of what “local” means with a case study around enterprise marketing. We’ll hear another Ignite, and then hear from the founder of SimpleGeo, another key location startup. After that we’ll hear from American Eagle, Yelp, and Archrival, which will present youth-focused research.

As we head toward the home stretch, we’ll hear from sponsor HP, which has made location a key part of not only its marketing, but its product strategy as well. After HP we’ll hear from Pepsi, then our final Ignite. Marc Ruxin, a pal and key man at Universal McCann, will lament the “death of touch”, and we’ll round out the day with a conversation with Marissa Mayer, who heads up location for Google.

Not bad for one day!

If you can’t make it to Signal Austin, make sure to visit the event page this Thursday. We’ll post the live link there for you.

A special thanks to all the staff and sponsors who make Signal possible. It’s really amazing to work with you all….

Live blogging Eric Schmidt at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting

By - February 27, 2011

eric-schmidt-web-20.jpgI’m one of the four hosts of this year’s IAB conference, and kicking off the event is a keynote from Google’s Eric Schmidt. I’ll be updating this post as he speaks, so stay tuned….

Eric is wearing a vneck sweater and looks quite dapper. Executive Chairmanship agrees with him (not that I know anything about that…).

Eric starts by hitting “Morning Joe” who said that computers are “cold companions.” Eric says he’s wrong. “Computers do what computers do best, humans do what humans do best.” A “net win for humanity.”

Cites “Speak to Tweet” wrt Egypt, Ushahidi as examples.

Turns attention to advertising. Avg. American spends about a third of their media time online. Kids will be always online. Media will mean digital media. Smart phones surpassed PCs two weeks ago. “Mobile first.” Build first for them, then worry about web.

(So far, this is stuff we’ve heard from Eric before…)

Here’s something new: Mobile searches spiked 200% for Chrysler during Sbowl, only 48% on PCs. Interesting. Union of mobile devices and advertising is big…”especially display.” Current size ad market $26billion, 9 of which is online display (US). Eric says he thinks display can be $200bb globally.

It’s too complicated to get a campaign up, that’s limiting growth to that $200bb number…we can automate this.

Need to address measurement (no sh*t!) and give more choice/control to all parties (indeed)

Three bets: 1. Everything is changing. Our intuition about future is linear, but IT grows exponentially. The new online advertising model is real time, iterative, not press the button and see what happens in the week, it occurs live.

He notes Chrome is growing as fast as Twitter, and Android has beaten iPhone “and it looks like that will continue.”

Eric is now promoting ad networks (adsense) as good for publishers. And onepass, payment for content…

We’ve never fundamentally solved the problem of “mass engagement” in this medium. Need to … does not go into really how.

Now talking about hyperlocal…phones and tablets are perfect for this. Ex: RadioShack does this with mobile…pushing NFC as solution for closed loop. Agree this is a big deal.

Now Eric is pretty much talking “The Gap Scenario” … we’ve spent 20 years getting there and we’re nearly there now…

Eric is now talking near future world scenario: Computers are very good at remembering things, they remember you don’t…you’re never lost. You can predict where you might want to go. And with statistical translation, it’s good for the world.

“The computer can help me.” You’re never lonely, you’re never bored….computers can connect you to others….you’re never out of ideas, always something new to learn…

“What I like most about this future is the biz of information has always been the biz of elites….but our vision covers everyone…”

End of main speech, now to Q&A

QA time. Martin N. of NYT asks about “native apps” closed v. open – Eric does not like “closed apps” (IE Apple..) No kidding…Closed has worked because it’s simple, works well, easier to work with. But ultimately the world wants more choice and more openness. Ultimately scale wins. Apps should be able to know what container they are in and then optimize to that container…sounds like Java then Flash, no?!

Question about DSPs which I admit I missed….but had to do with Google’s position as both a DSP and an ad exchange/network. Eric said he was not going to become a monopoly.

Question: From Dave M. Simulmedia: What about TV? What about TV? Eric talks about ads product (tvads) and Google TV, which he said is “controversial”. Said that TV industry is mad that Google is taking “dumb TV and making it smart”. Indeed….

Q: privacy…”industry has to get our act together fast.” Goog working on this. Concerned abt early govt. reg. b4 innov. plays out

Q: M&A: We have been acquiring a lot of small companies very quickly.

Q: How long till we get to $200bb in display online? Eric says it’s going to be faster than we think…5-10 years

And he’s off…

will.i.am at Signal LA

By - February 10, 2011

I’ve interviewed will.i.am before, but this conversation at Signal LA earlier in the week was my favorite of the day. will.i.am is a remarkable thinker and as you can see from our conversation, he’s much, much more than “just a musician.”