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.
Our dinner conversant at Web 2 Summit is Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter. Why pick Costolo for dinner? Because he’s pretty damn funny, besides being the CEO of Twitter, that’s why. And when it comes to dinner, you need some levity.
Not that Twitter doesn’t have some serious issues to talk about. I’ve outlined them in full throat on this site; if you want the latest, read The Future of Twitter Ads, for a start.
Dick and I have been round the maypole a few times, both onstage and in life. My company FM had a deal with his previous startup, Feedburner, and we remain colleagues and friends. Of course, that won’t stop me from channeling the Summit audience’s important questions. Or yours. So I’d love your input. What do you want to hear from Costolo, and about Twitter?
As an extra incentive, I’ll be picking the best three questions from these series of posts (including Paul Otellini, 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!
As 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!
Next 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!
Today 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 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.
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.
This is what users who are not logged in see on the home page of Google. Clearly, folks at Google would very much like you to sign up for Google+.
There’s a lot more to say on this subject, but I’m on the road. Just wanted to capture this for posterity. Google+ is a major play by the company to put digital mortar between all of its offerings, and create a new sense of what the brand *means* – far more than search. It’s Google’s clear declaration that it will be a platform player alongside Microsoft and Apple. More on this over the weekend.
Now, given the antitrust fever that has hit Washington and other international capitals, this move might be viewed dimly by some competitors, depending on how things play out over time. It’s clearly “tying” dominance in one market – search – to another – social media. Then again, no one is forcing you to use Google….