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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.

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Google Google, Wait A Minute. This Is About Us, Isn't It? Google (And Everyone Else) Is Just a Means to Our Ends…

By - July 15, 2011

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One last thought before I hit the hay after a long, satisfying evening with the people who gave me the chance to start FM in their garage, the Shores. And that is this: Google killed its earnings earlier this evening thanks in part to is algorithmic approach to display advertising (not that profit was easily broken out, I’m sure it contributed in the way most mature brand businesses do, which, as a mature business, must be looking way better than it did a few years ago. Congrats, Google, on both your work in display, which I am not sure can scale to ten billion without some changes, and in Google+, which I sense, with the right ad products, just might.)

I wrote a book about Google and its world, how it all happened, five or so years ago. And I am super happy that the company I chose to focus on is still prospering, just as I and pleased that Wired still defines the tech publishing zeitgeist, and that the Industry Standard, alive in a few countries that are not really in the US, is still seen as the paragon of reporting on the story so many, including current and past partners of FM, have reported on since.

So I spend the evening with old (in years spent together, not in age) friends Martin and Robyn, in the new space I plan to use as my creative retreat for the new book. And I realize this – one of the most fundamental things we all might consider as we move along the path that life provides us: it’s all about the moment, and the creation and curation of that moment on behalf of those you care about. That’s my job, that’s the job of everyone associated with Federated Media, whether it’s the 170 or so people who work with us, or it’s the tens of thousands of Independent voices who in one way or another partner with us. After six years, the Independent Web is ready to come into its own.

It’s about figuring out the moment worth sharing, the story, in our voice, that you might want to connect to. It’s really not much more complicated than that, though we, as marketing partners, may make it so at times (ROI, CTR, conversion, closed loop marketing, conversation targeting, I mean, it’s endless). It’s honestly, not more complicated than this: Someone you respect, saying something you want to hear. Therein lies the value of brand – whether you are a publisher, a marketer, a reader, or a creator working inside the system all of those create. You want to either be that brand, or recognize it as worthy, and associate with it. That’s branding, in a nutshell, ain’t it?

It’s all about the moment that you, as a reader having gotten to the fouth paragraph of this late night rant, are having right now, understanding what I and tens of thousands of other independent voices have to say every day. And somehow, making it our work to support and underwrite and create a platform that allows that expression to continue, but more than that, to matter, in a way that just might change things, in some small or large way, over the course of the next few years, if not for the next generation (like Fred, my kids read this site, but I don’t know if they will appreciate this sentiment, today, but I trust they will, someday…) So as a parent and member of this global culture, I have to believe that someday, they will, whoever they are. And i hope to be alive when they realize the value of our shared conversation here. It’s nearly 6000 posts now, and that, as Fred points out, is more extraordinary than any book I might write). That’s why I still work at FM, and why I still write here, even it it’s at nearly 5 am, and I just published Signal because, after being with great friends who made it all possible, I appreciate and honor the chance to get paid to think about these topics, write posts and even books about them, and listen to you feedback while I do it. It’s why I love this thing we call the Internet. As Denise Caruso says, it’s number, oh, I’ll pick a number, 195, number 195 why I love the Internet. That good enough, Denise?!

I certainly hope so. Because if Denise is down with it, then I sense the rest of you will be too. Here’s to #wwhw, and all it might entail.

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:

jbat twitter.png

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.

Time For A New Software Economy

By - July 12, 2011

mc-vs-pc-vs-goog.jpegWay back in the day, before all this Interweb stuff made news, we had a computer hardware and software industry that was both exciting and predictable. I was a cub reporter in those days, covering an upstart company (Apple) as it did battle with two dug-in monopolists: IBM in hardware, and Microsoft in software. IBM was clearly on its way down (losing share to legions of hardware upstarts in Asia and the US), but Microsoft was an obvious – and seemingly unbeatable – winner.

Underdog Apple had a cult following (I was part of it), and its products were clearly better, but it didn’t seem to matter. Quality wasn’t winning, and as a young journalist that fact irritated me. But that’s only an orthogonal part of the story I want to tell today.

Back in the late 1980s, Steve Jobs wasn’t running Apple, but his DNA was very clearly still in the company (for those who don’t obsessively follow Apple, Jobs and Woz founded the company, then Steve’s board brought in John Sculley to run it in 1983. Sculley then fired Jobs from any operational role. Jobs returned to Apple’s helm in 1997.) Apple in the 80s and 90s was secretive, paranoid, full of extraordinary talent, and convinced it was being unfairly treated by Microsoft.

In the main, Apple’s fears were pretty well founded. And there was perhaps no greater battlefield to prove those fears than the battle for the hearts and minds of software developers. (Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has never really forgotten this lesson).

In the 1980s and 90s, developers were the most important class of value creator in the digital economy – they were the entrepreneurs and marketers leveraging the new platforms of Apple and Windows, building new businesses out of thin air. Borland, Oracle, Lotus, Intuit – I could list scores, if not hundreds, of successful developers from that time. Many still exist today.

As a reporter, developers were often my best sources, because Apple and Microsoft would show them early versions of hardware and operating systems. Developers would then talk to me about those new products, and I’d get my scoops. That was how the information ecosystem worked, and everyone knew it. Developers had a ton of power – they made the products which drove sales on the Windows and Apple platforms, and if they felt slighted, they could always go to the press and apply pressure as needed.

Fast forward to now, and substitute the Internet platforms of today (the open HTML web, Apple’s iOS, Facebook’s Platform, Android, and to a lesser extent Twitter and Google’s Chrome) for the ones of my fading yesteryear. How do they stack up?

Not so well, I’m afraid. While the early Internet was a paradise for a certain kind of developer – anyone who knew HTML and could figure out a way to create value on the nascent web – what’s emerged in the past five years of the new mobile web is not a very promising foundation for the creation of lasting value. I’m speaking, in the main, about the “app economy” – a fractured ecosystem lacking a strong economic and technological true north.

Of course, Apple’s current cult of followers would argue that there *is* a True North: iOS. But I’m not seeing great new companies born on Apple’s platform, as they were back 20 years ago. Angry Birds aside, am I missing something here?

One could argue Facebook is such a platform, and declare Zynga proof that great companies have been created thanks to Facebook’s platform. But last time I checked, Zynga was one company, not scores of them.

Android is Google’s answer (as is Chrome, to a confusing extent), but so far, Android seems to be taking the same route as iOS in economic terms – make an app, hope for a hit, where a hit is defined in tens of thousands of dollars in revenue (not exactly a business). And Twitter still has work to do before it becomes a true platform for economic value creation (though promising signs are in the air).

The HTML or open web is still the best and most robust platform for development of true value, to my mind. And hundreds, if not thousands, of developers and entrepreneurs have succeeded by leveraging it. But it lacks what that early Apple and Windows ecosystem had: a true software business, one that provided differentiating value such that consumers (and enterprises) would pay significant dollars to use that software. This may sound counterintuitive for an advertising-driven entrepreneur such as myself to state, but it’s time we had a robust paid software ecosystem on the web. There’s certainly room for both.

I think it’s coming. The table is set, so to speak. As consumers we’re getting used to paying for apps on our phones and tablets. And as consumers, we’re getting frustrated with the lack of value most of those apps provide us. As with Windows back in the day, quality isn’t winning right now. On the web, we’re wanting more robust solutions to problems that are only beginning to surface – I’d pay five bucks a month to someone if they’d solve my social presence problem, for example: I just can’t keep up with Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, and newer services like Percolate. I’d probably also pay for someone to solve the deals space for me – it’s too confusing and I know I am missing out on serious savings. Same for music and media (an area of early and promising development), professional services of many stripes, and on and on.

But for such a quality software ecosystem to unfold, we need, as developers, a clearer sense of a platform roadmap, and some certainty as to what portions of the economic pie are open for competition. This is particularly true for the consumer space (enterprise is used to paying for value, and is already doing so at places like Salesforce and LinkedIn). Clearly, you shouldn’t develop a photo app for Twitter, or a music or communications solution for Facebook. And you’d simply be crazy to create a contacts manager for Apple products, even if the one they have is godawful once you pass about 1000 records.

Or would you be? Perhaps the solution is to create at a level above all of these services – software that lives above the level of a single platform, so to speak. Software in the cloud (passe as it might be, Mr. Benioff).

Isn’t that what the web is supposed to be? Isn’t that the promise of the cloud?

It is, but for that to work, all those platforms have to be willing to share data and APIs. I’m not holding my breath for that to happen in the next few years. But happen it will, I predict, because happen it must. Change will be forced downward, from consumers back into the platforms that, for now, are mostly closed to value creation. Mark my words….I hope they’re right.

The World Is An Internet Startup Now

By - July 01, 2011

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(image) Last night I got to throw a party, and from time to time, that’s a pretty fun thing to do. To help us think through the program and theme of the Web 2 Summit this Fall, we invited a small group of influential folks in the Bay area to a restaurant in San Francisco, fed them drinks and snacks, and invited their input. (Here are some pics if you want to see the crowd.)

Nothing beats face to face, semi-serendipitous conversation. You always learn something new, and the amount of knowledge that can be shared in even a few minutes of face time simply cannot be replicated with technology, social media, or even a long form post like this one. I always find myself reinvigorated after spending an evening in a room full of smart folks, and last night was certainly no exception. In fact, about halfway through, as I watched several of my close friends from my home turf of Marin mingling with the crowd, I realized something: The whole world is an Internet startup now.

Let me try to explain.

Back even five years ago, our industry was dominated by people who considered themselves a select breed of financier and entrepreneur – they were Internet startup folk. I considered myself one of them, of course, but I also kept a bit apart – it’s one reason I live up in Marin, and not down in the Silicon Valley. Why did I do that? I am not entirely sure, other than I wasn’t certain I wanted to be fully immersed in the neck-deep culture of the Valley, which can at times be a bit incestuous. I wanted to be part of the “rest of the world” even as I reveled in the extraordinary culture of Internet startup land.

Part of living up here in Marin is meeting and befriending smart folks who have pretty much nothing to do with my business. In the past ten years, I’ve become good friends with real estate developers, investment bankers (and not ones who take Internet companies public), musicians, artists, and doctors. When we first connected, I was always “the Internet guy” in the room. And that was that.

But as I scanned the room last night and watched those friends of mine, I realized that each of them was now involved in an Internet startup in some way or another. I then thought about the rest of my Marin pals, and realized that nearly every one of them is either running or considering running an Internet startup. Only thing is, to them it’s not about “starting an Internet company.” Instead, it’s about innovating in their chosen field. And to do so, they of course are leveraging the Internet as platform. The world is pivoting, and the axis is the industry we’ve built. This is what we meant when we chose “Web Meets World” for the theme of the 2008 Web 2 Summit, but it’s really happening now, at least in my world. I’m curious if it’s happening in yours.

A few examples – though I have to keep the details cloudy, as I can’t breach my friends’ confidence. One of my pals, let’s call him Jack, is a highly successful banker specializing in buying and selling other banks. But he’s an artist in his soul, and has a friend who is a talented photographer. Together they’ve cooked up a startlingly new approach to commercial consumer photography, including a retail concept and, of course, a fully integrated digital and social media component. Jack is now an Internet startup guy.

Another pal is a doctor. We’ll call him Dr. Smith. Smith is a true leader in his field, redefining standards of medical practice. He often gives speeches on what’s broken in the medical world, and holds salons where some of the most interesting minds in medicine hold forth on any number of mind bending topics. For the past year or so, Smith has been working on a major problem: How to get people to understand the basics of nutrition, and engage with their own diets in ways that might break the cycle of disease driven by poor eating habits. He’s got a genius answer to that question, and now, Smith is an Internet startup guy as well.

Dan, another anonymized pal of mine, made his name in real estate. Two years ago he effectively retired, having made enough money several times over to live a very good life and never have to work again. But Dan is a restless soul, and he’s also a bit haunted by the loss of his father to a poorly understood but quite well known neurological disease. He’s dedicated his life to supporting new approaches to research in the field, and the work he’s funded is tantalizingly close to a breakthrough. It’s an entirely new framework for understanding the illness, one that isn’t easy to grok if you’re a layman (as he was when he started). As I listened to him explain the work, I had a very strong sense of deja vu. Dan was an Internet startup guy now, pitching me his new approach to disrupting a sclerotic industry (in this case, the foundation-driven research institutes and their kissing cousins, the pharmaceutical companies.). It may work, it may not, but he’s going to go for it. To raise funds for his new approach, Dan is talking to angels and VCs, and developing a new model for profiting from drug compounds that may come out of the research he’s funded. In short, Dan’s appropriated the Internet’s core funding process to try to solve for one of the most obstinate problems in health.

I could go on. There’s the award winning filmmaker and his musician/producer partner who are creating mind-blowing next generation online games. The agency creative who’s won every traditional advertising prize on the planet, and is now obsessed with digital. And on and on and on….

I guess my point is this: The Internet no longer belongs to the young tech genius with a great idea and the means to execute it online. Innovation on the Internet now belongs to the world, and that is perhaps the most exciting thing about this space. It’s attracting not just the “next Mark Zuckerberg,” but also thousands of super smart innovators from every field imaginable, each of whom brings extraordinary insights and drive to play. And that’s another reason I love this industry, because, in the end, it’s not a singular business. It now encapsulates the human narrative, writ very large.

What a great story. Does it resonate with you? Do you have examples like mine? I’d love to hear them.

Google's Neal Mohan: A $200 Billion Opportunity

By - June 01, 2011

neal-mohan.jpgSeveral years ago, Google’s top executives clearly realized they needed to create growth engines beyond search. As they looked for new opportunities, two stood out: first, the shift from the PC web to mobile, and second, the rise of “intelligent display” – advertising that works at the brand level, and not just lead-generation and demand fulfillment, which is where search has always ruled.

The moves the company subsequently made have both paid off. First, Google acquired Android and then AdMob. And second, it acquired Doubleclick, and began in earnest to build out (and buy) a display network that moved AdSense from a secondary remnant network to a first-order premium display platform. The two are clearly connected.

At the IAB conference earlier this year, then Google CEO (now Executive Chairman) Eric Schmidt declared that the Internet display market would reach $200 billion. Yep, that’s two hundred billion dollars. Eric didn’t give a ton of details about how that number might be achieved, but he did mention the core obstacles to reaching it: making digital as efficient and as easy to buy as television. Right now, it’s not.

The man who wrote that speech for Schmidt is Neal Mohan, Google’s VP of Display Advertising Products, who I’ll be interviewing onstage at CM Summit next week. When we spoke last month, Mohan noted a $50 billion disconnect between consumer attention given to digital, and consumer attention given to television. In other words, major brand advertisers are spending a lot more in TV than in digital, a theme that many others have echoed in my preparation for Summit conversations (see Desmond and Matthews, for example).

Mohan wants to correct this discrepancy by providing a seamless, real-time environment for digital marketing, and of all the companies who want to play in this space, Google is clearly in the lead position. I’ll be asking him about all the buzzy acronyms – DSPs, RTB, ROI etc. – but I’ll also be asking about his competition, which include Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and a slew of fast growing startups. I’ll also be asking him about the role of publishers in this new world – can they thrive if Google wins? And of course, I’ll have to ask him about Google’s social strategy, and how it feels to take on Apple in the handset and mobile advertising world.

What would you like to hear from Mohan onstage next week?

As a reminder, we’ll hear from more than 30 presenters at CM Summit, 11 of which will be one-one interviews. Those include:

Reimagining Yahoo!: Chief Product Officer Blake Irving

Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain Declares Interdependence: The Internet Is Changing How We Think

The Colorful Bill Nguyen: The Market Will Come

The Swan Song of Mich Matthews, Outgoing Chief of Marketing at Microsoft

Taking Twitter to the Next Level: President of Global Revenue Adam Bain

On the Future of Media: Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Laura Desmond

I’ll be adding posts on the remaining folks – Demand CEO Richard Rosenblatt, entertainer will.i.am, Visa CMO Antonio Lucio, and Facebook’s Carolyn Everson, shortly.

The CM Summit is less than one week away, and nearly 450 folks have registered, we can only take 500….so register today before we sell out.

Special thanks to our sponsors: Blackberry, AT&T, Google, Quantcast, Demand Media, Facebook, Outbrain, Pandora, Pixazza, R2integrated, Slideshare, Yahoo!, AOL, American Express OPEN, Balloon, BriefLogic, Evidon, Marketing Evolution/Telmar, Mobile Roadie, Spiceworks, and Ustream. And a shout out to our partners at IAB, Mashable, paidContent, ReadWriteWeb, SMAC, and TechZulu.

Reimagining Yahoo!: Chief Product Officer Blake Irving

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Yahoo! It’s our industry’s favorite puzzle. On the one hand, it’s one of the largest sites on the web, on the same size and scale as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. On the other hand, it’s not growing very quickly, revenues are flat, and investors have been calling for CEO Carol Bartz’s head with increasing regularity. The company has failed to find a “hit” that redefines its value proposition in a world driven by hits like Twitter, Foursquare, and Flipboard. What’s a nearly two-decade old industry legend to do?

Well, bring in fresh blood, for one. The company recently hired Ross Levinsohn, formerly of Fox, to lead North America. Prior to that, it hired Blake Irving, formerly of Microsoft, to lead product. I’ve spent time with both in the past month, and one thing is for sure: They’re singing from the same song sheet. Both men are energized by the chance to leverage the Yahoo platform, and both are realistic as well – it won’t be easy, and it won’t come fast.

The subject of a recent NYT profile, Irving will be joining me onstage next week at the CM Summit, and I’ll be asking him about all of this and more. In particular, I’ll be asking about one of his central initiatives: Livestand.

Blake will be showing Livestand, due later this year, at the Summit, and we’ll be discussing its potential. The new service, which is focused on a tablet media experience, is aimed directly at several weaknesses and opportunities in Yahoo’s portfolio.

First and foremost, Yahoo is a top publisher on the web, but until recently its publishing platform was inconsistent from region to region and segment to segment. In addition, Yahoo has massive amounts of content engagement data (what many call an “interest graph”), and hundreds of scientists and engineers analyzing that data. These folks are creating systems that inform which content to show Yahoo users at a particular moment in time (think of it as similar to what advertisers are trying to do with data-driven ad systems). Irving had a lot of clean up to do before he could roll out something as ambitious as Livestand on top of all that tech, but he claims he’s close.

Second, Livestand is a mobile play, in particular, a tablet app that creates a personalized media experience based on a user’s implicit and explicit content preferences. Yahoo is the ultimate PC-web company, and Livestand is its first major attempt at moving into the mobile world. Third, Livestand is a platform for other publishers outside of Yahoo, publishers looking to hook into Yahoo’s massive audience and technology assets. Yahoo has always held the promise of becoming a true platform for smaller publishers, but Livestand marks a commitment to that space. In short, Yahoo wants to make Livestand a channel for all publishers who want a “tablet edition” of their wares to be available to the public.

So with Livestand, Irving is attempting to leverage Yahoo’s technological publishing platform to create a service that gives Yahoo a foothold in a key new market (tablet) with a key new media experience (the Livestand app) leveraging key new partners (the creation of an outside publishing ecosystem).

Ambitious? Yes. But it’s about time Yahoo started innovating again, no?

Oh, and by the way, Livestand is just one of the many issues and products upon which Irving must focus. He’s got to integrate social into Yahoo, which means Facebook, in the main (Yahoo has deeply partnered with the leading social service). He’s got to continue to innovate in search user interface and experience, even as he leverages Yahoo’s decision to partner with Microsoft on core technology. And he’s got to keep up morale, which has been battered by constant bad news over the past few years.

Somehow, the man keeps a smile on his face. So what does he know that we don’t? I intend to find out. What would you like to hear from Irving onstage next week?

The CM Summit is less than one week away, and nearly 450 folks have registered, we can only take 500….so register today before we sell out.

Special thanks to our sponsors: Blackberry, AT&T, Google, Quantcast, Demand Media, Facebook, Outbrain, Pandora, Pixazza, R2integrated, Slideshare, Yahoo!, AOL, American Express OPEN, Balloon, BriefLogic, Evidon, Marketing Evolution/Telmar, Mobile Roadie, Spiceworks, and Ustream. And a shout out to our partners at IAB, Mashable, paidContent, ReadWriteWeb, SMAC, and TechZulu.

The Colorful Bill Nguyen: The Market Will Come

By - May 30, 2011

Bill_Nguyen_headshot_png_100x100_sharpen_q100.jpgIn preparation for our short onstage discussion at CM Summit next week, I recently hopped on the phone with Color founder and CEO Bill Nguyen. Color, ostensibly a social-photo app, is backed by big money and saddled with huge expectations. It launched with great fanfare in March. I wrote glowingly of its potential here. I got a fair amount of sh*t for being too rosy in my estimation of the service’s potential. By April, Color had been written off as a failed effort by much of the blogosphere, and folks moved on to the next shiny object.

None of this seems to bother Nguyen, who’s been around the block a few times more than your average startup bear. He sees a wave rising in the distance, and he’s building Color to ride it. Whether or not others see the wave is not particularly interesting to him. As far as he’s concerned, it’s coming. Folks will get on board when the time is right.

So what is the wave? It’s a pivot in the fundamental organizing principle of how social networks work. He wants to move social past the friend network. Nguyen is certain that Facebook, for all its power, is stuck in a limited model – a poorly instrumented friend graph that you set up once, then run forever. I’ve called this the “instrumentation problem” of Facebook – it simply does not allow the nuance of true social interaction.

To Nguyen’s mind, the next wave of social will be driven by proximity. By that, he means by people who are near other people. If you’ve ever seen that famous video of a festival flash dance, you know how quickly human beings can create social groups. Color is meant to be an app that understands this essential human nature, “appify it”, and add value to it in various ways. His first choice was photos, but that’s really just a proxy for any number of things folks might want to share and relate to as a group (and as members of that group even when not together). Over time, these shared social group objects become intermingled with physical locations, and all sorts of goodness ensues.

However, if you’re going to make an essentially social service, as Color is, you can’t ignore Facebook. Color 1.0 did just that. I expect the next version will not. Facebook is the oxygen in today’s social web. Unless you plan on beating Facebook head to head, it’s best to beat it by joining it.

Nguyen’s goals for Color are very, very big, and getting there will require a lot of work, a lot of capital, and a lot of assumptions that will have to prove out over time. One of them is that Facebook won’t add Color-like features to its service. But while Nguyen told me adding proximity features to Facebook should be “mission critical,” he doesn’t see the social networking giant focusing on it in the near term. He’s probably right.

So why have Color and Nguyen at a conference about digital marketing? Because I see one of our jobs at FM as pushing all of us to think about how the world of human relationships might look three to five years out. Remember, five years ago, Facebook was a curiosity. It pays to pay attention to very smart folks building tools they don’t expect will be fully scaled till the year 2015 or so. Nguyen is one of those folks.

Oh, and at scale, Color would be one hell of a marketing channel. Bill’s got a few thoughts about that as well.

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The CM Summit is just one week away….so register today before we sell out.

Special thanks to our sponsors: Blackberry, AT&T, Google, Quantcast, Demand Media, Facebook, Outbrain, Pandora, Pixazza, R2integrated, Slideshare, Yahoo!, AOL, American Express OPEN, Balloon, BriefLogic, Evidon, Marketing Evolution/Telmar, Mobile Roadie, Spiceworks, and Ustream. And a shout out to our partners at IAB, Mashable, paidContent, ReadWriteWeb, SMAC, and TechZulu.

Taking Twitter to the Next Level: President of Global Revenue Adam Bain

By - May 25, 2011

adam-bain.jpgTwitter. It’s our favorite conundrum here in Internet Media Land, isn’t it? On the one hand it’s changing the world and growing like crazy, with more than 200 million users who generate 155 million tweets a day. The services handles tens of billions of search queries a month, putting it on scale with some of the most elite platforms in the world. However, only a fraction of its users are also active creators of content; most are readers and followers – and that’s where Twitter can be confusing*. If Twitter is to truly scale, it needs to become a more compelling media experience. Further, Twitter’s initial foray into advertising products, its “Promoted Suite” of services, are garnering some mixed reviews, mainly for a lack of scale, though the company tells me it engages with 600+ advertisers who have run 6,000+ campaigns to date.

The company is openly self critical of its shortcomings, and knows it has work to do to make its service less opaque and more valuable to both marketers and users (not to mention developers, who have been scratching their collective heads of late, wondering how best to create value in the Twitter ecosystem). In March the company welcomed co-founder Jack Dorsey back into an active product role, and just this week it acquired TweetDeck, a respected third-party developer which had created a custom interface for advanced Twitter consumers.

And perhaps no question has dogged the company more than this one: When and how can Twitter make money? The issue is further freighted by staggering valuations in the private secondary market, which have wrapped a multi-billion dollar valuation albatross around Twitter’s still slender neck. The successful IPO of industry bretheren LinkedIn and Yandex, and the expected success of Pandora only heighten expectations for the young company.

Perhaps, given all this, Twitter doesn’t need to be profitable to have a successful initial public offering, but it certainly has to show numbers that prove the company is on its way. The man responsible for that job, Adam Bain, will be sitting down with me on day one of the sixth annual CM Summit in two short weeks.

Early revenue estimates are encouraging – eMarketer estimates $45 million in 2010, and more than triple that this year. But it’s expensive to maintain the infrastructure – and staff – needed to keep Twitter running. At least Bain has experience in both. He came to Twitter from Fox Interactive, where, among many other things, he helped lead the acquisition of MySpace and build out a scaled revenue platform across all of Fox’s online properties.

So it’s fair to say we’ll be having a robust conversation at the Summit. I’ll be asking about all this and more, and I’d love your input as well. If you have a question you’d like me to ask Adam, leave a comment here or join the conversation on the #CMSummit hashtag. See you in New York!

Oh, and PS – Register today before we sell out. It’s getting close!

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*I’ll be writing a longer post on this soon, for one take, check VentureBeat.

Special thanks to our sponsors: Blackberry, AT&T, Google, Quantcast, Demand Media, Facebook, Outbrain, Pandora, Pixazza, R2integrated, Slideshare, Yahoo!, AOL, American Express OPEN, Balloon, BriefLogic, Evidon, Marketing Evolution/Telmar, Mobile Roadie, Spiceworks, and Ustream. And a shout out to our partners at IAB, Mashable, paidContent, ReadWriteWeb, SMAC, and TechZulu.

Set The Data Free, And Value Will Follow

By - April 28, 2011

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(NB: Much has been written and said on this topic, and this post is in no way complete. We’ll be exploring this issue and many others related to data at the Web 2 Summit this Fall).

Perhaps the largest problem blocking our industry today is the retardation of consumer-driven data sharing. We’re all familiar with the three-year standoff between Google and Facebook over crawling and social graph data. Given the rise of valuable mobile data streams (and subsequent and rather blinkered hand wringing about samesaid) this issue is getting far worse.

Every major (and even every minor) player realizes that “data is the next Intel inside,” and has, for the most part, taken a hoarder’s approach to the stuff. Apple, for example, ain’t letting data out of the iUniverse to third parties except in very limited circumstances. Same for Facebook and even Google, which has made hay claiming its open philosophy over the years.

And this trend is not limited to the large players. I currently have 302 photos locked up in a service called Twitpic. I’d very much like to export them into my iPhoto library, so I can mange them as part of the rest of my photo library. But the only way to do that is to “right click” on each and every one of those photos, copying them to my desktop. That’s several hours of work that most folks simply won’t do. When an enterprising coder wrote an automated script that exported photos from Twitpic to another service called Posterous, Twitpic blocked the program. That was about the time I stopped using Twitpic.

This trend, I predict, will become the petard upon which our industry will hoist itself over the next couple of years. Very well intentioned projects like DataPortability.org and others are working on this issue, but it’s largely hidden from public view and debate, because that debate has been framed as “Us versus Them”, where the “Them” are presumably evil and profit-driven companies who want to leverage our data for their own gain. (See the entire WSJ series as exhibit A in this debate).

So far, the approach companies seem to be taking boils down to this: The data we have is too valuable to let our customers understand it, manage it, and ultimately, do whatever they want with it. We’ll say soothing things, and we’ll let our users take some actions with their data – Facebook will let you authenticate using Facebook Connect on third party sites, for example – but we won’t let you take the data you’ve created on our services, put it in your own pocket (so to speak), and hand it over to other services and platforms such that those platforms can add value to your daily life.

In other words, if information is truly currency in today’s economy, so far the coins in your pocket are all from different countries, and there’s no global exchange mechanism. They’re only worth something in the nation in which they’ve been minted.

For example, you can’t pass your Facebook identity to a third party site so as to enable that site to serve you a better advertising experience. While Facebook insists that your Facebook data is, in fact, *yours*, it turns out it’s not yours if you want to use it to help a third party make money. In other words, it’s not really yours if it has true value to a third party. Which, in essence, means it’s only yours if it’s not valuable to anyone but you. But value is most often a social concept – something has value because a third person values it.

If the true value of the economy we are building is to be unlocked, that value has to flow unchecked from one party to another. Were this to be true, differentiation of services would migrate to a higher level of the stack, so to speak. Services would be considered valuable for what they did with data given to them by consumers, rather than by their ability to lock consumer’s data into their proprietary platform. New models would emerge to reward those services for adding that value, and those models would be both more robust, and far larger than the “one ring to rule them all” model currently at play.

As things stand today, our industry’s practices are gaining the attention of dead-serious regulators, spurred to potentially early lock down of how data is used based on an incomplete understanding of how value will flow through future economic models yet to be invented. (More on this in another post).

A generation from now our industry’s approach to data collection and control will seem outdated and laughable. The most valuable digital services and companies will be rewarded for what they do with openly shareable data, not by how much data they hoard and control.

Now, I live in the real world, and I understand why companies are doing what they are doing at the moment. Facebook doesn’t want third party services creating advertising networks that leverage Facebook’s social graph – that’s clearly on Facebook’s roadmap to create in the coming year or so (Twitter has taken essentially the same approach). But if you are a publisher (and caveat, I am), I want the right to interpret a data token handed to me by my reader in any way I chose. If my interpretation is poor, that reader will leave. If it adds value, the reader stays, perhaps for a bit longer, and value is created for all. If that token comes from Facebook, Facebook also gets value.

Imagine, for example, if back in the early search days, Google decided to hoard search refer data – the information that tells a site what the search term was which led a visitor to click on a particular URL. Think of how that would have retarded the web’s growth over the past decade.

Scores of new services are emerging that hope to enable a consumer-driven ecosystem of data. Let’s not lock down data early. Let’s trust that what we’re best at doing is adding value, not hoarding it.   

More on this in my 2007 post The Data Bill of Rights, not to be confused with the “Commercial Data Privacy Bill of Rights,” introduced last week. While well intentioned, this bill does not consider data ownership and portability.