free html hit counter John Battelle's Search Blog - Page 3 of 556 - Thoughts on the intersection of search, media, technology, and more.

Growth Is Hard

By - February 28, 2016

Zuckerberg1The business story of the decade is one of insurgency: Every sector of our economy has spawned a cohort of software-driven companies “moving fast and breaking things,” “asking for forgiveness, not permission,” and “blitzscaling” their way to “eating the world.” For years we’ve collectively marveled as new kinds of companies have stormed traditional markets, garnering winner-take-all valuations and delivering extraordinary growth in customers, top line revenue, and private valuations.

But what happens when the insurgents hit headwinds? In the past year or so, we’ve begun to find out. The unicorn class has had its collective mane shorn. A quick spin through the “unicorn leaderboard” finds a cohort strewn with cautionary tales: Uber’s under continual attack by regulators and increasingly well funded competitors. Square and Box, both of which managed tepid public debuts, have consistently traded below their private valuations. Airbnb, SnapChat, DropBox, and many others have been marked down by their largest investors. And of course, there’s the cautionary tale of Zenefits.

While this news has evinced a self-congratulatory whiff of schadenfreude throughout the tech press, I think the reckoning is more fundamental in nature. The hardest part of running a company, it turns out, is actually running a company. Put another way: Growth can be bought, but growing up has to be earned.

Take Uber, for example. Once a poster child for a culture of “ask for forgiveness, not permission,” Uber is now taking a more traditional approach to new markets, meeting (and working with) local regulators, hiring seasoned pros, and learning how to play politics just like any other big company. It even gave itself a new grown-up “haircut.”

Young companies built on venture-fueled cultures of grow-at-all costs are facing a shift: The essential truth of business is that you must create value for all constituents — your employees, your customers, and your community. That last part may sound squishy, but it’s the soft stuff that can kill you. Learning to become a respected corporate citizen isn’t on the minds of founders and executives chasing top line revenue and lofty private valuations. But at some point, it will be. I think that moment is nigh.

Facebook is a good example. In 2014 it changed its internal motto from “Move Fast and Break Things” to “Move Fast With Stable Infrastructure.” Among companies I like to call “established insurgents,” Facebook stands out for mindfully transitioning from a culture of youthful arrogance to one of continual learning and partnership. I spend a fair amount of time talking to senior folks at large, established “BigCos,” the kinds of companies that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on platforms like Facebook and Google. Nearly all of them have commented on Facebook’s maturing culture, noting in particular that the company genuinely wants to learn from its big company partners.

What could Facebook possibly learn from a Nestle, P&G, or a Ford, you might ask? We sometimes forget that the current crop of unicorns aren’t the first group of companies to transition from roaring startup culture to Blue Chip incumbency, or from regulatory outlaw to lobbying insider.

Yes, the insurgents threaten the incumbents’ very existence. But they face their own existential questions as well: “How do I build a company that will last for generations? How can I maintain a strong corporate culture now that I have thousands of employees? How do I work productively with regulatory and policy frameworks, now that I’m an established player?”

Turns out, BigCos have decades of experience with exactly those kinds of questions. Over the next few years, I predict the two sides will increasingly engage in a dialog about how each might learn from the other. In many cases, the dialog has already spawned partnerships: Whole Foods and Instacart, GM and Lyft, Earnest and New York Life. In the end, the established insurgents and the BigCo incumbents have more to gain from working with each other than they do by tearing each other down. In the process, we might just re-invent the very nature of business itself — taking the best of both sides, and abandoning the worst. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

  • Content Marquee

The NewCo-BigCo Shift or, These Nine Things Will Change Business Forever

By - February 15, 2016
VIP Dollar Shave Club

Addressing the crowd at Dollar Shave before interviewing CEO Michael Dubin during NewCo LA last November.

(cross posted from NewCo)

Thanks to NewCo, I’ve gotten out of the Bay Area bubble and visited more than a dozen major cities across several continents in the past year. I’ve met with founders inside hundreds of mission-driven companies, in cities as diverse as Istanbul, Boulder, Cincinnati, and Mexico City. I’ve learned about the change these companies are making in the world, and I’ve compared notes with the leaders of large, established companies, many of which are the targets of that change.

As I reflect on my travels, a few consistent themes emerge:

1. Technology has moved from a vertical industry to a horizontal layer across our society. Technology used to be a specialized field. Technology companies sold their wares to large companies in large, complicated IT packages and to consumers as discrete products (computers and software applications). In the past decade, technology has dissolved into the fabric of our society. We all can access powerful technology stacks. We don’t need to know how to program. We don’t need a big IT department either. Now, technology is infrastructure, like our physical systems of highways and roads. This levels the playing field so new kinds of companies can emerge, and it’s forcing big companies to respond to a new breed of competitor, as well as a newly empowered (and informed) consumer base.

2. Big companies are on the precipice of the most wrenching transformation in history — and tech is only part of the reason why. BigCos change very slowly. They are cautious by nature and extremely suspicious of “the new.” BigCos study new developments and wait for proof before they change. As digital technology spread through society over the past three decades, big companies were slow to get a web page, slow to conduct business over the web, slow to lean into mobile and social, and slow to respond to new types of startup competition. Of course, now that the web is mature and consumer platforms like Facebook and Google are massive, BigCos have shifted resources to digital. But that last point — responding to startup and business model competition — is far more problematic, because responding to new kinds of competition isn’t something you can outsource. It requires a fundamental shift in corporate social structure — and culture is hard to change.

3. The next generation’s leaders don’t want to work at BigCos (if they don’t have to). In the past year I’ve met with senior executives at massive companies like Nestle, Publicis, P&G, Walmart, Visa, and McDonald’s. When I ask what keeps them up at night, all of them answer “hiring the next generation of leaders.” The best and brightest now see “launching a company,” “working at a startup,” or “working at a digital leader like Google or Facebook,” as a preferable career choice, starving BigCos of their most valuable asset: talent. While one might dismiss young professionals’ penchant for startups as a fad or a phase, there’s something far deeper at work, namely …

4. A job is table stakes. To win talent, companies must compete on purpose, authenticity, and organizational structure. Millennials are now the largest force in the global economy, and they have a markedly different view of work: Purpose and “making a difference in the world” are central in their work-related decisions. They’d rather work at The Honest Company than Unilever, if given a choice — and the best and brightest always have a choice. Members of the next generation want to be at a company where work means more than a paycheck. They believe work can be a calling (Reich) or an expression of our creativity (Florida). BigCos aren’t currently organized to enable their workforces in this way (human resources, anyone?), but NewCos — even the very largest ones like Google — most definitely are.

5. Today’s consumers are newly empowered and are making decisions on more than price. If millennials are choosing employers based on purpose and authenticity, it follows that they decide how they spend their money in similar fashion. Convenience, selection, and price are important, but new kinds of competitors are exposing weaknesses in big companies’ essential truths, and that’s an existential threat. Dollar Shave Club questions Gillette’s core premise, MetroMile questions Geico’s core premise, Earnest does the same to large financial institutions, HolaLuz to energy companies, and the list goes on. Companies profiting from practices or products that demonstrably create more harm than good in the world are threatened in an age of transparency and accountability. Regardless of good intent or excellent marketing, if your business makes people unhealthy, or depends on exploitation of vulnerable workers, or can be laddered to climate change, it’s at risk of mass consumer migration to businesses with better narratives.

6. The platform economy means traditional competitive moats are falling away. Today’s largest consumer companies earned their power by consolidating and optimizing their access to commodities (what their products were made of), manufacturing (how their products were made), and distribution (where their products were sold and how people became aware of them). They were built on humanity’s first global platforms: television and mass transportation networks. We all know that the Internet undermined this hegemony; physical distribution is no longer a surefire competitive advantage (just ask Walmart). But what’s not well understood is how quickly other parts of the product stack have become platform-ized. Just as startups can now access technology as a service, they can also access sourcing and manufacturing as a service (Dollar Shave doesn’t make its blades, for example). This of course bolsters point #5 above: If any company can access the same economies of scale, brands must compete on more than price or distribution, they must compete on voice, innovative (and information-first) approaches to markets, and purpose.

7. Cities are resurgent. I just returned from Mexico City, which earlier this month hosted its first NewCo festival. While there, I heard a refrain consistent with my visits around the world: The city is changing for the better and new kinds of companies are at the heart of that change. When people gather at NewCo meetups or inside NewCo sessions, I keep hearing “There’s just no way these kinds of companies could have made it in this city ten years ago.” Coupled with the horizontal force of technology and the rise of a purpose-driven zeitgeist, cities have become both the epicenter of humanity’s greatest challenges, as well as the birthplace of our greatest innovation. One generation ago, one-third of humanity lived in urban centers. Today, it’s more than 50 percent. One generation from now, more than two-thirds of us will reside in the tangled banks of a city center, and that number will surpass 80 percent by the end of this century. Cities offer access to capital, education, regulatory frameworks, and a collaborative density of human curiosity and connections. It’s where great companies are born and grow.

8. BigCos are deeply aware of all this — and a massive shift is about to reveal itself. For as long as I’ve been in the media and technology business, I’ve heard big company executives proclaim they were committed to change. But it always rang hollow: Large companies expended far more resources preventing change than they ever did committing to it. Over the past year, however, I’ve sensed a deep shift in the tone of my conversations with BigCos. These are some of the smartest people in the world, and they understand the technological, generational, and social tectonics at play. In their board rooms and C-suites, conversations are already underway about changes so significant, they’ll be viewed as “calendar reset” moment: Before Shift and After Shift. We’re already seeing leading indicators — Walmart’s commitment to sustainability, GE’s move to Boston, Publicis’s rewritten purpose statement and organizational structure — but in the next year or two, the pace will quicken. New CEOs at category-leading companies like McDonald’s, Ford, and P&G will most likely announce stunning new initiatives that would have been inconceivable a decade ago.

9. The best NewCos realize there’s a lot to learn from the BigCos. After years of feasting on BigCo markets, “established upstarts” like Google, Facebook, Uber, Zenefits, and Square are transitioning from cultures based on “move fast and break things” and “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” Their leaders are now turning to questions like “How do I build a company that will last for generations? How can I maintain a strong corporate culture when I have thousands of employees? How do I work productively with regulatory and policy frameworks, now that I’m an established player?” Turns out, BigCos have decades, if not centuries, of experience in answering these kinds of questions. In my conversations with leaders of both NewCos and BigCos, I sense a new kind of detente as each side realizes how much it has to learn from the other. In the coming months and years, I expect we’ll see a lot more cooperation between the two.

In the coming months, NewCo will be focused on exploring these business trends, with new media and event products. If you’d like to join the conversation, please follow us on Facebook or Twitter, share this post, and/or sign up for our daily newsletter. We believe this the most important story in business, and we’re committed to covering it for you.

Want to follow the biggest story in business? Get our NewCo Daily newsletter.

— —

* A note on climate change: Our society’s response to climate change is one of the most remarkable issues ever to face humankind. More than 70% of Americans now believe that climate change is real, and more than half of the world views the issue as the most serious global threat to humanity. And climate change is to Millennials what mutually-assured destruction was for Boomers: An existential threat. Whether or not you believe in this threat, climate change is now a social and business fact, a force affecting billions of decisions large and small around the world. Consumers are voting with their conscience, forcing unsustainable businesses to adopt provable, net positive products and processes. When Unilever, Walmart, Pepsi and scores of others align with the Pope on sustainability, a movement is most certainly afoot.

Should a Company Have a Soul?

By - February 14, 2016

Much of the Republican debates have been expendable theatrics, but I watched this weekend’s follies from South Carolina anyway. And one thing has struck me: The ads are starting to get better.

This season’s debates have had the highest ratings of any recent Presidential race, and they’re attracting some serious corporate sponsorship. One spot in particular caught my eye:

This ad looks like a lot of others I’ve noticed coming out of large companies these days — dramatic, driving music, compelling fast frame visuals, an overarching sense that something important and world changing is going on.

The spot has one purpose: To make us wonder if a business can be alive. Here’s the ad copy:

Can a business have a mind?
A subconscious.
A power to store every experience, and call upon it through something called intuition.
Can a company have reflexes.
A nervous system.
The ability to react, precisely and correctly, faster than the speed of thought.
Can an enterprise have a sixth sense. A knack for predicting the future.
Can a business have a spirit?
Can a business have a soul?
Can a business be…alive?
THE ANSWER IS SIMPLE. THE ANSWER IS SAP HANA

Given our cultural fascination with evil, AI-driven corporations, I have to wonder how stuff like this gets through any big company’s Fear of Looking Scary filters, right? I mean, does the agency not watch Mr. Robot?

But somehow the spot resonates — if you work in a large company, don’t you want that company to be … alive? Don’t you want it to be fast, and smart, and nimble, and … soulful? Don’t you want to be part of something powerful and vibrant?

Clearly, the ad is working for SAP, they’ve been running it for well over a year, and they (or their agency) felt it was appropriate for the 13+ million folks watching the Republican debates on Saturday night. The ad leaves a pretty clear premise for the viewer: If you want your company to be alive, install our software!

But it begs a larger question: what is the role of corporations in our society going forward, if we’ve begun to accept that they are in fact alive? (And have the rights of people, to boot!)

I’d be curious if folks out there are buying this whole narrative. What do you think?

The Waze Effect: Flocking, AI, and Private Regulatory Capture

By - February 03, 2016

Screenshot_2015-04-20-18-03-49-1_resized-738987(image)

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were heading across the San Rafael bridge to downtown Oakland for a show at the Fox Theatre. As all Bay area drivers know, there’s a historically awful stretch of Interstate 80 along that route – a permanent traffic sh*t show. I considered taking San Pablo road, a major thoroughfare which parallels the freeway. But my wife fired up Waze instead, and we proceeded to follow an intricate set of instructions which took us onto frontage roads, side streets, and counter-intuitive detours. Despite our shared unease (unfamiliar streets through some blighted neighborhoods), we trusted the Waze algorithms – and we weren’t alone. In fact, a continuous stream of automobiles snaked along the very same improbable route – and inside the cars ahead and behind me, I saw glowing blue screens delivering similar instructions to the drivers within.

About a year or so ago I started regularly using the Waze app  – which is to say, I started using it on familiar routes: to and from work, going to the ballpark, maneuvering across San Francisco for a meeting. Prior to that I only used the navigation app as an occasional replacement for Google Maps –  when I wasn’t sure how to get from point A to point B.

Of course, Waze is a revelation for the uninitiated. It essentially turns your car into an autonomous vehicle, with you as a simple robot executing the commands of an extraordinarily sophisticated and crowd-sourced AI.

But as I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’re a regular “Wazer,” the app is driving a tangible “flocking” behavior in a significant percentage of drivers on the road. In essence, Waze has built a real time layer of data and commands over our current traffic infrastructure. This new layer is owned and operated by a for-profit company (Google, which owns Waze), its algorithms necessarily protected as intellectual property. And because it’s so much better than what we had before, nearly everyone is thrilled with the deal (there are some upset homeowners tired of those new traffic flows, for instance).

Since the rise of the automobile, we’ve managed traffic flows through a public commons – a slow moving but accountable ecosystem of local and national ordinances (speed limits, stop signs, traffic lights, etc) that were more or less consistent across all publicly owned road ways.

Information-first tech platforms like Waze, Uber, and Airbnb are delivering innovative solutions to real world problems that were simply impossible for governments to address (or even imagine). At what point will Waze or something like it integrate with the traffic grid, and start to control the lights?

I’ve written before about how we’re slowly replacing our public commons with corporate, for-profit solutions – but I sense a quickening afoot. There’s an inevitable collision between the public’s right to know, and a corporation’s need for profit (predicated on establishing competitive moats and protecting core intellectual property).  How exactly do these algorithms choose how best to guide us around? Is it fair to route traffic past people’s homes and/or away from roadside businesses? Should we just throw up our hands and “trust the tech?”

We’ve already been practicing solutions to these questions, first with the Web, then with Google search and the Facebook Newsfeed, and now with Waze. But absent a more robust dialog addressing these issues, we run a real risk of creating a new kind of regulatory capture – not in the classic sense, where corrupt public officials preference one company over another, but rather a more private kind, where a for-profit corporation literally becomes the regulatory framework itself – not through malicious intent or greed, but simply by offering a better way.

On Medium, Facebook, and the Graph Conflict

By - January 21, 2016

I double took upon arriving at Medium just now, fingers flexed to write about semi-private data and hotel rooms (trust me, it’s gonna be great).

But upon my arrival, I was greeted thusly:

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 9.13.43 PM

Now, I have no categorical beef with Facebook, I understand the value of its network as much as the next publisher. But it always struck me that Medium was forging a third way — it’s not a blogging platform, quite, at least as we used to understand them. And it’s not a social network, though it has a social feel. It’s something … of itself, and that’s a good thing.

So when I saw that prompt, my shoulders sagged a bit. And I may have let a bit more air than usual out of my nose. Then I hit the little “X” in the right hand corner of the prompt, and prepared to write. (No, really! Think about what the Internet of Things will do to hotel anthropology! The data! The renegotiation of a sacred social compact!)

But then something tugged at me. Wait, I thought. Did Medium really just ask me to connect my identity in Medium, to … Facebook?

No, I countered. More likely they are just testing it out, seeing the uptake, learning. I’d certainly do the same.

I decided to test my theory by logging on with another identity, that of NewCo, which is experimenting with the platform as a publisher. (Aside: I predicted this will be a breakout year for Medium, and I’m a unabashed fan of this place). Surely if this was a test, I wouldn’t see the same prompt as I had previously, when I logged on as “John Battelle.”

But alas, and indeed, the same Facebook prompt appeared under my NewCo identity. Unless I got extremely lucky (in terms of odds, anyway), this doesn’t appear to be a test.

When I first logged on to Medium (and most likely, when you first logged on as well), it asked me to connect to Twitter. That’s how I got my first 18K or so “followers” on Medium — they were all the people both on Twitter and on Medium — and I accepted that deal. Medium also auto-followed anyone on Medium that I also followed on Twitter. OK, cool. Gas, meet carburetor.

Now as has been discussed to the point of amnesia, Twitter employs a public follow model, and at its core is driven by a publicly declared interest graph.

Facebook, on the other hand, is driven by the perception of a private friend graph. I say “perception” because I think the newsfeed (and therefore the lion’s share of the Facebook experience) has morphed (evolved? mutated?) into something else entirely — it’s very clearly now a cross breed of true friends and family with … well, whatever the Like button has come to mean, as well as the new follower model the company has created for public figures and brands. Oh, plus about a hundred (a thousand? we don’t know) other things that are part of a rather murky (but still, well intentioned!) secret sauce.

But I digress. The point is, someone is trying to put their fish sticks in my chocolate, and I’m not sure I like it. I wonder if the sign up process now has an option to create your Medium account purely by connecting to Facebook? Hang on a minute…..(creates icognito tab…fires up medium.com…oh wait…huh…) it’s been two years, you can choose Twitter, Facebook, or Google.

 Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 9.08.55 PM

Jeez. Which means that there are neighborhoods here in Medium — those who logged in with Twitter, and those who logged in with Facebook (I bet the Google option is a still a pretty small zip code — but interesting!).

Is there a “Facebook Medium”? Who out there is reading and connected via Facebook? What’s the experience like? Anyone connected BOTH Facebook and Twitter? Or…all three?!

Please, do enlighten me. We must co-create an ethnography of the place!

And wait! If you want more folks to join this conversation, please RT this. Or Like It On Facebook. You know, hit the, um, Social Action Button. Yes, I’ve never asked that here before. But … I did in my cross post on Medium so…

Business, Meet Mission: With His Final #SOTU, Obama Reframed The Climate Debate

By - January 13, 2016

2011_State_of_the_Union

President Obama’s final State of the Union address is currently trending on Medium, which is pretty much what you might expect given Medium is where the White House decided to release it (take that, Facebook! — though a piece about building Instagram has about twice as many recommendations, but I digress…).

I watched the speech last night while at a company retreat with 18 of my colleagues from NewCo. Over and over, the President hit on trends consistent with our thesis of fundamental change in business and culture. For example, he spoke of decoupling benefits such as healthcare from employers, because in the NewCo era, people move between jobs a lot more (or are self employed, or want to leap into a startup). Obama spoke of living in a time of extraordinary technological and social change, of a deepening and troubling social inequality, of optimism and hard work and a right to thrive in “this new economy.”

But what really got my attention was when he addressed innovation and coupled it to climate change, about halfway through his speech.

“We’ve protected an open internet,” he said, “We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.”

A very NewCo sentiment. But then he turned his focus squarely on climate change, which I believe will be the defining issue of both business and culture over the next 40 years. First, he set up those who would deny that climate change is real (pretty much the entire Republican establishment). Making a direct reference to the era of Mutually Assured Destruction — which until climate change marked the only time mankind created an existential threat to humanity — Obama ridiculed climate deniers:

“When the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.”

Jabbing further, Obama continued:

“Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”

And then he landed a devastating left hook (the President is left handed, after all):

“But even if the planet wasn’t at stake; even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record — until 2015 turned out even hotter — why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?”

BAM! Nothing like turning the single biggest threat to humanity into a massive business opportunity with one rhetorical flourish! It was almost laughable to watch the gallery respond to that one, as the Democrats applauded thunderously, and the climate-denying right wing struggled to figure out if they just missed something important.

Because, truth is, they are missing out. If the United States doesn’t lead in the transition to a business culture that values sustainability, clean energy, and a work ethos that views people not as replaceable “human resources” but rather as invaluable creative assets, well, the rest of the world will lap us within a generation.

In my travels to NewCo festivals in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Istanbul, London, and soon Mexico City, I’ve seen the future, and it couldn’t care less about our internal debate about climate change, sustainability, and work culture. The future’s already happening. We can either lead, or get pushed out of the way. What excited me about last night is that for the first time, I heard a sitting President say exactly that. And once again, it gave me hope.

Follow my work at NewCo with our daily newsletter here.

Mobile Gets a Back Button

By - January 12, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 6.32.45 PMI just opened an email on my phone. It was from a fellow I don’t know, inviting me to an event I’d never heard of. Intrigued, I clicked on the fellow’s LinkedIn, which was part of his email signature.

That link opened the LinkedIn app on my phone. In the fellow’s LI feed was another link, this one to a tweet he had mentioned in his feed. The tweet happened to be from a person I know, so I clicked on it, and the Twitter app opened on my phone. I read the tweet, then pressed the back button and….

Wait, the WHAT? The back button? But…back buttons only exist in a Browser, on the PC Web, right?

Yes, that used to be true, but finally, after years of chicletized, silo’d apps that refuse to talk to one another, finally, the chocolate is meeting the peanut butter. The mobile operating sysem — well, Android anyway — is finally acting like a big-ass web browser, only better — with sensors, location data, and other contextual awareness.

It doesn’t happen a lot, but thanks to deep linking and the inevitable need of commerce to connect and convert, it’s happening more and more, and it represents the future of mobile. The chocolaty goodness of the linked web is merging with the peanut-buttery awesomeness of mobile devices.

It’s about time.

FaceSense: Sometimes (OK, A Lot of Times) Your Predictions Are A Tad Early

By - January 11, 2016

Way back in 2012 – four years ago in real time, three decades or so in Internet time – I predicted that Facebook would build an alternative to Google’s AdSense based on its extraordinary data set. I was right, but…off by a few years. From Ad Exchanger:

AdExchanger has learned Facebook Audience Network is one month into a test involving about 10 publishers that would see the ad network’s placements run on mobile web pages. The expansion brings its own set of technical hurdles, along with a large revenue expansion opportunity for Audience Network, which reached a $1 billion run rate last quarter.

…A Facebook rep confirmed the test and Diply’s involvement, but declined further comment.

“This is Facebook coming in and offering an alternative to AdSense,” said a source with knowledge of the test who did not want to be identified revealing private information.

From my post Predictions 2012 #3: The Facebook Ad Network:

Facebook will …launch a web-wide advertising network along the lines of Google’s AdSense. I’ve talked about this for years (short handing it as “FaceSense,”) and I’ve asked Mark Zuckerberg, Carolyn Everson, Bret Taylor, and Sheryl Sandberg about it on stage and off. The answer is always the same: We’re not interested in launching a web ad network at this time.

I predict that line will change in 2012. Here’s why:

– Once public, Facebook will need to keep demonstrating new lines of revenue and growth. Sure, the company already has the attention of 1/7th of all time spent “on the web.” But there’s a lot more attention out there on the Independent Web, and the default ad service for that other 6/7ths is Google’s AdSense, a multi-billion dollar business.

– Facebook already has its hooks into millions of websites with its Open Graph suite – all those Like, Recommend, Share, Connect, and Facebook Comment plugins. These buttons are pumping data about how the web is being used directly into Facebook’s servers. That data can then be combined with all the native Social Graph data Facebook already has, making for a powerful offering to marketers across the entire web. Think of it as “social retargeting” – marketers will be able to buy attention on Facebook.com, then know where folks are across the web, and amplify their messaging out there as well.

– Because Facebook is already integrated into millions of sites, it’ll be a relative snap for the company to start signing up publishers to offer their inventory to the social giant. It will be interesting to see what terms Facebook offers/requires – I’m assuming the company will match Google and others’ non-exclusivity (IE, you can use any ad network you want), but don’t assume this will be the case. Facebook may have an ace or two up their sleeve in how they go to market here.

– Lastly, let’s not forget that the team who built and ran AdSense is now at Facebook (that’d be Sheryl Sandberg and her ad ops chief David Fischer, oh, and one of the “fathers of AdSense,” Gokul Rajaram).

Critical to the success and rollout of Facebook’s web ads will be two key factors. One, the structural underpinning of the system: AdSense scans the content of a page and delivers relevant ads (though many other factors are now creeping into its system). This leverages Google’s core competence as a search engine (it’s already scanning the page for search.) Facebook’s core leverage is knowing who you are and what you’ve done inside the Facebook ecosystem, so the key structural construct for its web ad network will turn on how the company leverages that data. I imagine the new ad network might initially roll out just to sites that have Facebook Connect installed, so that visitors to those sites are already “inside” the Facebook network, so to speak.

The second issue is what may as well be called the “creepiness factor.”  Search display retargeting is still a gray area – a lot of folks don’t like being chased across the web by ads that know what sites you’ve recently visited or what terms you’ve searched for. Cultural acceptance of ads on third party sites that seem to know who your friends are, what you ate for dinner last night, or what movies you recently watched might provoke a societal immune response. But that’s not stopped Facebook to date. I don’t expect it will in this case either.

 

 

 

The Streaming Conundrum: Forgetting What I Heard

By - January 10, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 4.56.22 PMOnce upon a time, I’d read the yearly lists of “best albums” from folks like Rick Webb or Marc Ruxin, and immediately head over to the iTunes store for a music-buying binge. Afterwards, I’d listen happily to my new music for days on end, forging new connections between the bands my pals had suggested and my own life experiences. It usually took three to four full album plays to appreciate the new band and set its meanings inside my head, but once there, I could call those bands up in context and apply them to the right mood or circumstance. Over years of this, I built a web of musical taste that’s pretty intricate, if difficult to outwardly describe.

About two years ago, I started paying for Spotify. Because I’d paid for “all you can eat” music, I never had to pay for a particular band’s work. Ever since, my musical experience has become…far less satisfying.

Last night, for example, I had a small gathering at my house, and I wanted to curate a playlist for the evening. My house is set up with a Sonos system, which is connected to my iTunes library, as well as Spotify and various other apps. Before I stopped buying music on iTunes (or ripping CDs into iTunes), it was super easy to set a Sonos playlist: I’d just review my iTunes library on Sonos and toss the tunes into a queue to be played. I’d usually chose recent music to play — curating a playlist is a chance to demonstrate your musical taste, after all, and that changes over time.

But now that I use Spotify, I realized something rather distressing: I can’t remember the names of most of the bands I’ve listened to over the past couple of years. That made creating a new playlist near impossible — my guests had to endure a musical set that would have felt fresh had the year been 2013.

I know Spotify has robust playlist creation tools, and I know I’m supposed to adapt to them, and learn how to create value on the Spotify platform. But the ugly truth is I lean on Spotify’s “Discover” feature, and its attendant algorithms, to suggest all manner of new music for me. I listen to it, but I’ve lost the recall signal which allows me to create a good playlist.

For me the most important signal of value is an exchange — I pay the band for their music, the band gives me rights to own and play that music. Streaming has abolished that signal, and I’m feeling rather lost as a result.

Perhaps I’ll go back to simply buying music on iTunes, but that feels like going backwards. Streaming is here to stay. However, I’m guessing plenty of folks have run into this issue, and might have a suggestion for how best to address it. So LazyWeb, I ask you: How do you ingest music and give it meaning in a streaming world?

Dear Microsoft. I Want To Use Office 365. But…

By - January 06, 2016

Here’s what I encountered when I, as a first time ever user, was directed to a document that lived in Office 365 World:
Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12.08.38 PM

Holy crap, Microsoft! I just wanted to read the document a colleague at another (much larger, older, and traditional) company had sent me.

When this happens with Google, well, most of us have a Google account, so the link would redirect to this:

 Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12.12.47 PM

Pretty easy, and even if you don’t have a Google account, you see this:

 create google

Better, but still not great.

So I wondered what it’s like at, say, DropBox.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12.10.05 PM

Ah, yes. That’s the ticket.

Microsoft, you have a lot to learn about living on the web.