Next up on the list of interesting folks I’m speaking with at Web 2 are Charlie Cheever and Adam D’Angelo, the founders of Quora. Cheever and D’Angelo enjoy (or suffer from) Facebook alumni pixie dust – they left the social giant to create Quora in 2009. It grew quickly after its public launch in 2010, inspiring some to claim it was the best structured Q&A site ever. They’ve also snagged funding led by Benchmark. As far as I know, this is the duo’s first major on stage interview together.
I’ve used Quora, a bit, and probably will be using it a lot as I start researching my book in earnest. But I’m curious as to how the service scales beyond its current place as a repository of quality – yet incomplete – knowledge. I’m also curious about its business model.
Perhaps no man is braver than Ross Levinsohn, at least at Web 2. First of all, he’s the top North American executive at a long-besieged and currently leaderless company, and second because he has not backed out of our conversation on Day One (this coming Monday). I spoke to Ross yesterday, and wanted to wait on asking your input on what I should ask him till we had spoken.
Since that time, the daily rumor mill has swirled around the company (it was only weekly before that). Today’s news, for example, was that Yahoo stock is up, because potential buyers are “circling” the Internet giant. One of those buyers is Alibaba, the Chinese giant, another is Newscorp, where Ross worked in another life. A third is private equity, which would mean Yahoo ceases to be a public company, at least for a period of time. A long shot fourth is Microsoft, but we’ll get a chance to ask Steve Ballmer about the on Day Two….
…on the Web 2 Summit “Data Frame” map. It’s kind of fun to think about your company (or any company) as a compendium of various data assets. We’ve added a “build your own city” feature to the map, and while there are a couple bugs to fix (I’d like to be able to add my own icon, for example), it’s pretty fun to do.
I built a city for Federated Media, naturally. Given our acquisitions of Lijit, Foodbuzz, TextDigger, and BigTent, as well as our organic growth, we’ve actually accumulated quite a bit of Interest, Search, Content, and Wildcard data. It’s fun to see the city take shape in real time. Give a spin for a company you like!
Next up on Day 3 of Web 2 is Vic Gundotra, the man responsible for what Google CEO Larry Page calls the most exciting and important project at this company: Google+. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard as varied a set of responses to any Google project as I have for Google+. Traffic is up in a huge way, state many reports, then, no, it’s down as much as 60%. Google + is the best thing since the slicing of bread, Google+ is a waste of time.
I honestly don’t think the folks at Google care about week to week traffic fluctuations, or initial reviews by the blogerati. The company is in it for the long haul this time. And Google+ marks a shift in how the Google brand is expressed, what it actually means in the minds of its customers. (Here’s my post on that idea).
“…heavy users of the web depend on scores – sometimes hundreds – of services, all of which work wonderfully for their particular purpose (eBay for auctions, Google for search, OpenTable for restaurant reservations, etc). But these services simply don’t communicate with each other, nor collaborate in a fashion that creates a robust or evolving ecosystem.”
I noted that the rise of AppWorld only exacerbates the problem (apps rarely talk to each other or share data).
This must change. Not due to my philosophical problems with a closed web (though I do have that problem) but because yesterday, while driving back from an afternoon in the Valley, I had an idea for a new service, which for now I’ll call Tapestry, for lack of a better name. And then I got depressed: I figured making such a service would be really, really hard to do. And it shouldn’t be. And I hate getting depressed so quickly after having a fun idea.
But let’s focus on Crowley for this post. He and his co-founders have a tiger by the tail in Foursquare, the location-based leader that so far has resisted either demolition or acquisition by larger players like Google and Facebook. The still-young company (two+ years old) recently celebrated its billionth check-in, not to mention a $600 million private valuation. That kind of pressure is continuous and very real, I’ll be asking Crowley about living up to his investor’s expectations.
I’ll also be asking about business model, of course. Foursquare has done a ton of deals with many different kinds of brands, including publishers, but so far does not have a model that scales – though it’s clearly building out a platform for merchants. This puts it in the Groupon business, so to speak, at least in terms of competing for retailers’ time and treasure. So I will clearly be asking about that. Too bad Groupon had to cut out of the agenda (IPO issues), or I could have asked their CEO about Foursquare.
While I could go on, this is where I aks for your input. What do you want to hear from Crowley, about his company?
As an extra incentive, I’ll be picking the best three questions from these series of posts (including Paul Otellini, 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!
Not unlike Steve Jobs back in the 1990s, Michael Dellreturned to the helm of his company at a crucial moment, when his namesake was seemingly rudderless. Back in 2007, Dell was losing marketshare to HP, Apple had not yet proven the monster it has since become in mobile, and tablets were something used on factory floors.
Since then, Dell has redoubled its efforts in tablets and mobile, reworked its product line to compete with Apple’s resurgent MacBooks, but seen his stock price only slightly recover since the 2008 recession. Why? Dell faces competition from China, for one (Lenovo has claimed it will overtake Dell in market share this year), and from tablets, for the other (Amazon’s new Fire might hurt Dell’s ultralightweight offerings, and its Streak Android tablet).
That said, Dell has to be happy about the on again, off again approach taken to the PC business by its primary competitor, HP.
In short, we’ll have much to discuss – Amazon, Apple, Android and Google, HP – and the future of device computing in general. Not to mention what it’s like to come back and run a company you had once thought you had handed over to a trusted lieutenant.
So I’d love your input. What do you want to hear from Dell, about his company?
As an extra incentive, I’ll be picking the best three questions from these series of posts (including Paul Otellini, 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!
Today Federated Media Publishing announced it has acquired Lijit Networks, a world-class business partner to online publishers based in Boulder, Colorado. This combination is the result of literally months of work, including a ton of strategic thinking that dates back to Federated’s acquisitions of Foodbuzz, Big Tent, and TextDigger last year.
With reach into nearly 200 million uniques, Lijit is a major player in what we at Federated call “the Independent Web.” While Lijit serves all stripes of publishers, it shines with smaller sites whose size often means they get ignored or minimized by other network players. Lijit not only provides top-tier advertising services (it’s growing like crazy, see Lijit CEO Todd Vernon’s post here), but it was born as a service to publishers – with great analytics and search (I use it here on Searchblog). In the past year, Lijit has built out an impressive set of offerings in the technology-driven display market – a space rife with acronyms like SSP (supply side platforms), DSP (demand side platforms), and RTB (real time bidding). This ecosystem is increasingly complex, and Lijit is committed to helping independent publishers thrive within it.
But Lijit is more than great technology and services. It’s a passionate group of people who share our vision of bringing service and value to the constellation of “small pieces loosely joined” that, taken together, comprise the true voice of the web. When I traveled to Boulder and met the team, including CEO Todd Vernon, COO Walter Knapp, and lead investor Seth Levine of the Foundry Group, I knew we had more than a business deal at hand. I don’t know how else to put it – these are really good people, and I can’t wait to work together to write the next chapter of our work together. Congratulations to all.
The conference reminds me of TED, full of presentations and interviews meant to inspire and challenge the audience’s thinking. I participated in a few of the onstage discussions, and was honored to do so.
I’d been noodling a post about the meaning of Google’s brand*, in particular with respect to Google+, for some time, and I’d planned to write it before heading to the conference, if for no other reason than it might provide fodder for conversations with various Google executives and partners. But I ran out of time (I wrote about Facebook instead), and perhaps that’s for the good. While at the conference, I got a chance to talk with a number of sources and round out my thinking.
I also got the chance to ask Larry Page a question (video is embedded above, the question is at 19.30). In essence, my query was this: For most of Google’s history, when people thought about Google, they’d think about search. That was the brand: Google = search. For the next phase of Google’s life, what does Google equal?
I asked this question with an answer in mind (as I said, I’d been thinking about this for some time), but I didn’t get the answer I had hoped for. What Page did say was this:
“I’d like the brand to represent the things I just spoke about (for that, see the video) … it’s important that people trust the brand…that we’re trustworthy…and I think also it should stand for a beauty and technological purity…innovation, and things that are important to people, driving technology forward.”
The text above doesn’t really do Page’s answer justice, because somehow when he said “beauty” – a word I was surprised to hear – he delivered it with a sincerity that I and others at the conference found…almost Apple-like.
Then again, Page didn’t directly answer the question, at least from a marketing standpoint. In 2009, Google’s brand = search. That kind of clarity and consistency is what every marketer seeks to define in their brand.
At the moment, Google’s brand is a bit confusing. Google equals Chrome. And YouTube. And Android. And Google Docs. And Gmail. And Maps, Places, Voice, Calendar….and self driving cars, and investments in energy research, and antitrust hearings, and Adwords, and of course search. Not to mention Google+.
One can forgive the average consumer if he or she is a bit confused about what Google really means.
In conversations with various Google executives over the past few weeks, including leaders in product, marketing, and search, it’s clear that the company is well aware of this problem, and is focused on finding a solution. And while most have seen Google+ as the company’s answer to Facebook’s social graph, I now see it as something far bigger.
In short, Google+ = Google.
Google VP of Product Bradley Horowitz, who I know well enough to know he doesn’t say things without thinking about them a bit, recently told Wired as much, but the context was missing. To wit:
Wired: How was working on Google+ different from working on the company’s previous offerings?
Horowitz: Until now, every single Google property acted like a separate company. Due to the way we grew, through various acquisitions and the fierce independence of each division within Google, each product sort of veered off in its own direction. That was dizzying. But Google+ is Google itself. We’re extending it across all that we do—search, ads, Chrome, Android, Maps, YouTube—so that each of those services contributes to our understanding of who you are.
Horowitz is making an important point, but the interview moved on. It should have lingered. In those conversations with Googlers over the past month, I’ve heard one consistent theme: Larry Page is obsessed with Google+, and not just for its value as a competitor to Facebook. Rather, as I wrote earlier this month, Google+ is the digital mortar between all of Google’s offerings, creating a new sense of what the brand *means*.
So what is that meaning? I’d like to venture a guess: one seamless platform for extending and leveraging your life through technology. In short, Google = the operating system of your life.
At the moment, there are really only three serious players who have the technological, capital, and brand resources to stake such an audacious claim. Of course, they are Apple, Microsoft, and Google (Amazon seems on the precipice of becoming the fourth). Of the three, Apple has the best handle on its brand. And Microsoft made its brand in the operating system world, so it has at least pitched its tent in the right part of our collective mindspace.
But Google? Well, Google’s got some brand work to do. Google’s products don’t all work together in a seamless way, and at first glance, don’t seem to all speak to the same brand experience. Google+ is the company’s attempt to address that problem, such that every experience with Google “makes sense” from a brand perspective. Which is to say, from the customer’s point of view. As a very senior Google marketing executive recently told me: “There’s a reason it’s called Google….plus!”
If this is correct, then the stakes of ensuring that Google+ succeeds are raised, significantly. Google has twice tried to out-social Facebook (Buzz, Orkut), and neither quite worked. But this time, Google’s not just trying to beat Facebook. It’s being far more ambitious – it’s trying to redefine what happens inside your brain when you consider the concept of “Google.” Part of that is social, sure. But far more of it has to do with being the brand to which you entrust nearly every technology-leveraged part of your life.
If that indeed is what the company is trying to do, I’m more certain that Google+ will succeed. Why? Because it means the company is committed in a new way to a singular purpose. It means it will cut new kinds of deals so as to compete (like bringing Cityville to Google+, or undermining Facebook’s Skype partnership through Hangouts, or, soon, bringing media and marketing into Google+). It means tying Google+ to its core promotion engine of search (which it most certainly has). And it means, as Horowitz told Wired, “extending (Google+) across all that we do.” I recently asked Google’s head of local, Marissa Mayer, what percentage of her products were integrated with Google+. Five or so percent, she told me. But she quickly added: That’s going to change, and fast.
At Zeitgeist, when Page answered my question about the brand, he answered mostly with meaning – innovation, trust, beauty. But Larry spoke for twenty or so minutes prior to my asking him that question, and he mentioned Google+ over and over, pressing how important the project was, and how excited he was about it. So come to think of it, maybe his first response to me – I’d like the brand to represent the things I just spoke about - was all the answer we really needed.
* And not for the first time. I’ve written about it quite a bit….the precursor to this post is this one: On Google’s Brand. More here .
(image) Recently I was in conversation with a senior executive at a major Internet company, discussing the role of the news cycle in our industry. We were both bemoaning the loss of consistent “second day” story telling – where a smart journalist steps back, does some reporting, asks a few intelligent questions of the right sources, and writes a longer form piece about what a particular piece of news really means.
Instead, we have a scrum of sites that seem relentlessly engaged in an instant news cycle, pouncing on every tidbit of news in a race to be first with the story. And sure, each of these sites also publish smart second-day analysis, but it gets lost in the thirty to fifty new stories which are posted each day. I bet if someone created a venn diagram of the major industry news sites by topic, the overlap would far outweigh the unique on any given day (or even hour).
This is all throat clearing to say that with the Facebook story last week, I am sensing a bit more of a “pause and consider” cycle developing. Sure, everyone jumped on the new Timeline and Open Graph news, but by day two, I noticed a lot more thought pieces, and most of them were either negative in tone, or sarcastic (or both.) Exmples include:
Now, I am not endorsing all these pieces as perfect second day posts, but collectively, they do give us a fairly good sense of the issues raised by Facebook’s big news.
I’d like to add one more thought. Perhaps this might be called a “second week” post, given it’s been four or five days since the big news. In any case, the thing I find most interesting about the new approach to sharing and publishing on Facebook lies in what Mark Zuckerberg said his new product would deliver: “The story of your life.”
Now, long time readers know where I stand when it comes to telling the “story of your life.” I’m firmly in the camp that believes that story belongs to you, and should be told on your own domain, your own terms, and with a very, very clear understanding of who owns that story (that’d be you.) And this applies to brands as well: Your brand story should not be located or dependent on any third party platform. That’s the point of the web – anyone can publish, and no one has rights over what you publish (unless, of course, you break established law).
It was our inherent desire to tell “stories of our lives” that led to the explosion of blogging ten or so years ago. And crafting a rich narrative is just that, a craft (some elevate it to art). Yet Facebook’s new timeline, combined with the promiscuous sharing features of the Open Graph and some clever algorithms, promises to build a rich narrative timeline of your life, one that is rife with personal pictures, shared media objects (music, movies, publications), and lord knows what else (meals, trips, hookups – anything that might be recorded and shared digitally).
Now, I don’t find much wrong with this – most folks won’t spend their days obsessing over their timelines so as to present a perfectly crafted media experience. I’m guessing Facebook is counting on the vast majority of its users continuing to do what they’ve always done with Facebook’s curation of their data – ignore it, for the most part, and let the company’s internal algorithms manage the flow.
But our culture has always had a small percentage of folks who are native storytellers, people who do, in fact, obsess over each narrative they find worthy of relating. And to those people (which include media companies and brands falling over themselves to integrate with Open Graph), I once again make this recommendation: Don’t invest your time, or your narrative exertions, building your stories on top of the Facebook platform. Make them elsewhere, and then, sure, import them in if that’s what works for you. But individual stories, and brand stories, should be born and nurtured out in the Independent Web.
I’ve got plenty of philosophical reasons for saying this, which I wont’ get into in this post (some are here). But allow me to relate a more economic argument: At present, there’s no way for our story tellers to make money directly from Facebook for the favor of crafting engaging narratives on top of the company’s platform. And from what I can divine, Facebook plans to make a fair amount of money selling advertising next to these new timeline profiles. As they get richer and more multi-media, so will the advertisements. Do you think Facebook intends to cut its 800 million narrative agents into those advertising dollars? I didn’t think so.
Which is just fine, for most folks – for people who don’t see the “stories of their lives” as a way to make a living. But if crafting narrative is your business, or even just a hobby that brings in grocery money, I’d counsel staying on the open web. (BTW, crafting narratives is *every* brand’s business.) For you, Facebook is a wonderful distribution and community building platform. But it shouldn’t be where you build your house.