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My, My, Time Does Fly

By - June 16, 2011

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Over at the Federated Media site, I’ve posted an appreciation of the company I started in a garage six years ago this week. FM came about because of my work on my first book – it was through the study of search’s impact on media and markets that I came up with the idea in the first place. Which means, in a pretty direct way, it was attributable in part to the musings here on Searchblog, and to your responses to those musings. 

FM is great success by any metric now, so I wanted to briefly say thank you to all of you who still read me here, and know that I will be writing a lot more in the next year or so, thanks to a new book project soon to be announced. 

From my post on FM’s six year anniversary:

FM was the first company that I built from scratch – no initial corporate parent (as I had with The Industry Standard), no initial set of partners (as I had with Wired or Web 2), just an idea and equal measures of optimism and trepidation…..

We delivered our first campaigns to FM partners in late 2005, and we’ve never really looked back. From our early start – about 20 sites, mostly tech, comprising about 2 million uniques and 20 million pageviews – we’ve grown to one of the largest Internet media companies in the world – with more than 75 million worldwide uniques and billions of pageviews across a multitude of categories, including food, parenting, lifestyle, and of course technology and business.

….

Along the way, FM became synonymous with innovation in media and marketing. I’m bragging like a proud papa here, but given where I sit at the moment (no longer CEO, but a very active Founder/Chairman reflecting on six years of sleepless commitment), I hope you’ll indulge me. We’ve worked with some of the best brands in what we’ve come to call “the Independent Web” – that part of the media world that isn’t Facebook (though we’ve worked with them, of course), or Google, or Yahoo, or AOL for that matter. Early on, I called this the “rest of the world,” and it’s a very vibrant and deeply passionate place.

….

FM was the first company to bring Fortune 500 brands to blogs, at scale. The first to identify and bring a business model to community driven news sites like Digg. The first to bring brands into the Facebook platform through partnerships with innovators like Graffiti. The first to evangelize “conversational marketing,” and the first to deliver actual ad units which allowed marketers to bring their own voice, in real time, into the real estate previously considered a wasteland. In fact, we were honored in 2006 with a Webby for our RSS-driven ad units, where a marketer’s own messaging (or the content of those authors they supported, now celebrated as “content marketing”) was updated as the conversation changed across the web. Now, of course, the idea that a brand might drive a conversation, and that this conversation should be central to a brand’s marketing efforts, is the axis around which Facebook, as one example, drives its current business. We didn’t start FM to be Facebook, (the Independent Web is pretty much the ying to Facebook’s yang) but it’s nice to know our ideas have not only gained currency, they’ve become the de facto currency of digital marketing…

…When Twitter took off in 2008, FM was there, creating the first brand integration, with our partner Microsoft. And when the world’s largest publishing platform, WordPress – long a friend to the company – was ready to explore monetization, FM again was the partner of choice

Over the past three decades, I’ve been at the center of a few amazing companies – two of which have passed 500 employees in girth. Wired, which still lives on, was the first. The Industry Standard, which lives on in a few markets outside the US, was the other. But FM is my proudest and most cherished accomplishment – with just 175 or so extraordinary employees, we’ve managed to deliver more than $100 million back to the creators of the Independent web over the past six years. That means that thousands of independent voices have rung out true, in part because FM and its partnesr were there to help them pay the bills.

I can’t really put in words how proud that makes me feel.

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We (Will) Live In A Small Big Town

By - June 09, 2011

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Earlier today I moderated a panel at an energetic and well-attended event called the “Newfront,” produced by Digitas, an innovative agency which counts American Express, Kraft, P&G, and GM as clients.

I say energetic because it was highly produced and very considered (and this from a guy who carefully produces live events for a living, among other things). A lot of flash, and deep consideration of lighting, music, and red carpet treatment of star guests (there were many). In short, the place was lovingly festooned with the kind of attention to detail that makes people feel special, just for being there.

Since I was a speaker, I got whisked past the lines and through the photo pit into the backstage lounge, where I commenced to review the work ahead of me: To lead what might have been the most practical discussion of the entire day: a conversation about how real brands leveraged content as marketing. Now, this is a subject with which I have a fair bit of familiarity, and all the panelists were clients of Federated Media (and no, I didn’t pick them). Susan Sobbott, the President of American Express OPEN, for example. Beth Comstock, the CMO of GE. And Susan Kopper, SVP Marketing at SAP. My job was to get them talking for a full hour in front of 500 or so folks who had just heard Ashton Kutcher rant about how he disliked advertising, and who, after we were finished, were eagerly awaiting a discussion with Tori Spelling.

No, I am not making that up.

Thanks in the main to my panelists, the conversation went quite well. I’d write it up, but the whole thing was livestreamed, and honestly, after six hours on the tarmac at JFK (again, not kidding), I want to tell a different story.

And yes, the six hours on the tarmac is part of it.

So during our conversation onstage, I asked my panelists if they considered the back and forth between a brand and its customers on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook as “content,” and if the answer was yes, then if they considered themselves publishers of that content. The consensus was that yes, brands in fact are publishers of conversations (finally, my 2007 ideas are happening…). “But,” one of my panelists pointed out, “if you are going to become a publisher, then you have to actually be listening and responding to the conversations out there.” Indeed. I nodded (sagely, of course) from my moderator’s chair. Then without thinking, I quipped that brands, in the main, have not proven to be so hot at listening. (Here’s proof.)

And for reasons I can’t explain, I had to call at least one brand out to prove my point. And who came to mind? Well, honestly, it was United Airlines.

Now, this is the very company that has held my mortal coil in its aluminum wrapper for the past seven and a half hours, and, as far as I can tell, is responsible for either my long delayed reunion with my loved ones in five or so hours, or, should it fail miserably, will be…well, I’d rather not think about what else might happen. I am, as I write this, 35,000 feet in the air, after all.

But thanks to the wifi on the flight, I can tell you about all this. Not that the wifi was free….

But I digress as usual. Back to my story. I looked over the audience and asked “how many of you have lodged a customer complaint over Twitter?” About 15 percent of the hands went up. I then asked how many of them felt like they had been heard. About half the hands went down.

That will and must change.

I then called out the aforementioned @united as a personal example of a company I’ve repeatedly reached out to on Twitter, a company that purports to be active on the service, but so far has failed to really “be” on Twitter, at least the way ATT, Comcast, GE, Amex, or any number of other major brands are.

All well and good. The panel continued, folks seemed to enjoy it, from what I could tell, and after saying hello to far too many old friends, I headed to the airport. I was in a good mood – after four days on the road (including leading a successful CM Summit), it was time to go home.

And while there was traffic on the way to JFK (tweet), I made it in time for my plane. I got through security and settled in, ready for the six-or-so-hour journey home.

As I often do when home is tantalizingly close, my seatbelt is securely fastened, and the plane is about to take off, I dozed off in anticipation of the upward lift which comprises a transcontinental journey’s opening act.

As I nodded off, a daydream of sorts came to me. I imagined a world, not so distant, where our social utterances have impact….

It’s hard to explain without a fair amount of literary license, but if you are this far into my story, what the hell, right?

OK, so I imagined that as I called @united out onstage today, and that call out was amplified (via Twitter) by various folks in the audience, there was, in fact, someone at United listening. Further, I imagined that that person had access to all the touchpoints with United that I have as a customer.

In short, I imagined that United was listening to me, even though I was speaking at what, to United, was a pretty random conference in lower Manhattan. I mean, it’s rather presumptuous of me to assume that a brand might catch wind of my calling them out, right? After all, it happens all the time, all over the world, no?

Or is it?

What if the world were wired in such a way that every utterance that each of made had real meaning, and, further, that we as the creators of that utterance understood that fact?

In other words, what might happen if I knew that United was listening when I spoke those words on stage at the NewFront?

Well, as I dozed, I did imagine it. After all, at the moment I was on United Flight 863, which was slowly pulling out of Terminal 7 at JFK, purportedly on its way to San Francisco.

So here’s what came to mind.

As I entered JFK and checked in at the United counter, the man behind the counter addressed me by name – before I even handed him my ID – and apologized for United’s lack of responsiveness. “We missed your call out at that conference,” he said. “Hate to make excuses, but our Twitter guy was offline with a personal issue. I wish our UA team had texted you with an apology but we only have your email. Did you get our message?”

Well…no, I hadn’t checked my email in the car, because I was on the phone. I looked at my phone and indeed, there was a mail from United, apologizing for its past inattention to such a loyal customer, and promising to do better. Not to mention that the mail promised a free upgrade on my upcoming flight – flight 863, which was on time. Given the time and my current location (gleaned from my phone, which automatically broadcasts my location to every brand with which I’ve indicated I have a trusted relationship), I must be on my way, no? The email continued – click this link to accept the upgrade, choose my seat, order a special meal….you get the picture.

I give the counter attendant my mobile number so United can text me in the future, and after clearing security, I’m on the plane. And… As I often do when home is tantalizingly close, my seatbelt is securely fastened, and the plane is about to take off, I dozed off in anticipation of the upward lift which comprises a transcontinental journey’s opening act.

OK, daydream over. Might this actually happen? And not just for me, the dude with the “Internet influencer” designation, but for everyone?

Damn right it will.

Now, what really happened …. well, I checked in (the gate attendants were very pleasant), and I got on the plane (so were the flight attendants), and I settled in. And yes, I did fall asleep. No one at United knew who I was, or that I had just called the company out in front of 500 people (or tens of thousands repeatedly on Twitter over the past two years)…regardless, what did happen next is that I woke up.

And we were on the tarmac. And it was raining. And as I regained consciousness after my social media daydream, I heard the pilot apologizing – turns out the weather was not cooperating, and we’d have to turn off the engines. And wait.

Not United’s fault. I mean, who controls the weather, after all?

Six hours and one trip back to the gate later (see, I told you I’d get to that), United Flight 863 took off. I expect to land at SFO by 2.15 am, PST, fates willing.

But the whole experience got me thinking about what it might mean if a brand really had a relationship with each of its customers, leveraged over customer data, social nuance, and intelligent platform technology, and what it might mean if we, collectively as a culture, simply assumed this to be true.

And it struck me it’d be a lot like living in a small town – where everyone knows everyone’s business, all the time. And if that were true, well, maybe I wouldn’t have called out United in the first place, because that would have just been unfriendly. Especially if I knew United was listening.

And having never really lived in such a place, I wondered – is that a good thing? Or might we, as a society, be on a path where we learn to integrate the best parts of a small town – intimacy, connection, responsiveness – with the best of big city living – anonymity on demand, control over identity, privacy?

I think we’re about to find out. As I think all of you who made it to the end of this story know, we live in a time of great cultural change. It’s a story that fascinates me, and I hope I can spend a lot more time telling it.

Web 2 Map: The Data Layer – Visualizing the Big Players in the Internet Economy

By - June 03, 2011

As I wrote last month, I’m working with a team of folks to redesign the Web 2 Points of Control map along the lines of this year’s theme: “The Data Frame.” In the past few weeks I’ve been talking to scores of interesting people, including CEOs of data-driven start ups (TrialPay and Corda, for example), academics in the public dataspace, policy folks, and VCs. Along the way I’ve solidified my thinking about how best to visualize the “data layer” we’ll be adding to the map, and I wanted to bounce it off all of you. So here, in my best narrative voice, is what I’m thinking.

First, of course, some data.

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On the left hand side are eight major players in the Internet Economy, along with two categories of players who are critical, but who I’ve lumped together – payment players such as Visa, Amex, and Mastercard, and carriers or ISP players such as Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.

I’ve given each company my own “finger in the air” score for seven major data categories, which are shown across the top (I don’t claim these are correct, rather, clay on the wheel for an ongoing dialog). The first six scores are in essence percentages, answering the question “What percentage of this company’s holdings are in this type of data.” The seventh, which I’ve called Wildcard data, is a 1-10 ranking of the potency of that company’s “wildcard” data that it’s not currently leveraging, but might in the future. I’ll get to more detail on each data category later.

Toward the far right, I’ve noted each company’s overall global uniques (from Doubleclick, for now, save the carriers and payment guys – I’ve proxied their size with the reach of Google). There is also an “engagement” score (again, more on that soon). The final score is a very rough tabulation computing engagement over uniques against the sum of the data scores. There are pivots to be built from this data around each of the scores for various types of data, but I’ll leave that for later. This is meant to be a relatively simple introduction to my rough thinking about the data layer. Hopefully, it’ll spark some input from you.

Now, before you rip it apart, which I fully invite (especially those of you who are data quants, because I am clearly not, and I am likely mixing some apples and watermelons here), allow me to continue to narrate what I’m trying to visualize here.

As you know, the map is a metaphor, showing key territories as “points of control.” The companies I’ve highlighted in the chart all have “home territories” where they dominate a sector – Google in search, Facebook in social, Amazon and eBay in commerce, etc. What I plan to do is create a layer based on the data in the chart that, when activated, shows those companies’ relative size and strength.

But how?

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Well, the best idea we’ve come up with so far is to show each as a small city of sorts, where the relative height of the buildings is determined by a corresponding data point. So Twitter, for example, will have a tall building in the middle of its city, representing “Interest data.” Google’s tallest building will be search. Facebook’s, social, and so on. And of course the cities can’t be all on the same scale, hence our use of total global uniques, and total engagement. Yahoo may be nearly as big as Facebook, but it doesn’t have nearly the engagement per user. So its city will be smaller, relatively, than Facebook’s.

What is interesting about this approach is that each company’s “cityscape” emerges as distinct. Microsoft’s is wide but not tall – they have a lot of data in a number of areas. It will probably end up looking like a suburban office park – funnily enough, that’s what Microsoft really looks like, for the most part. Amazon and eBay will have high towers of payment data, with a smattering of shorter buildings. And so on. I don’t have a good visualization of this yet, but the designers at Blend, who I’m working with, have sketched out a very rough early version just so you can get the idea. The structures will be more whimsical, and of course be keyed with color. But I think you get the idea.

I’m even thinking of adding other features, like “openness” – ie can you access, gain copies of, share, and mash up the data controlled by each company? If so, the city won’t be walled. Apple, on the other hand, may well end up a walled city, with a moat, on top of a hill.

Now, a bit more detail on the data categories. You all gave me a lot of really good input on my earlier post, where I posited these original categories. But I’ve kept them the same, save the addition of the wildcard data. Why? Because I think each can be interpreted as larger buckets containing a lot of other data. I’ll go through each briefly in turn:

Purchase Data: This is information about who buys what, in essence. But it’s also who *almost* buys what (abandoned carts), *when* they buy, in what context, and so on.

Search Data: The original database of intentions – query data, path from query data, “intent” data, and tons more search signals.

Social Data: Social graph, but also identity data. Not to mention how people interact inside their graphs, etc.

Interest Data: This is data that describes what is generally called “the interest graph” – declarations of what people are interested in. It’s related to content, but it’s not just content consumption. It includes active production of interest datapoints – like tweets, status updates, checkins, etc.

Location Data: This is data about where people are, to be sure, but also data about how often we are there, and other correlated data – ie what apps we use in location context, who else is there and when, etc.

Content Data: Content is still a king in our world, and knowing patterns of content consumption is a powerful signal. This is data about who reads/watches/consumes what, when, and in what patterns.

Wildcard Data: This is data that is uncategorized, but could have huge implications. For example, Microsoft knows how people interact with their applications and OS. Microsoft and Google have a ton of language data (phonemes, etc.). Carriers see just about everything that passes across their servers, though their ability to use it might be regulated. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have tons of email interaction data. And so on….

Now, of course all these data categories get more powerful as they are leveraged one against the other, and of course, I’ve left tons of really big data players off the map entirely (Tons of small startups like Tynt, Quora, or Sharethis have massive amounts of data, as do very large companies like Nielsen, Quantcast, etc.). But you have to make choices to make something like this work.

So, that’s where we are with the Web 2 Summit map data layer. Naturally, once the data layer is live, it will be driven by a database, so we can tweak the size and scope of the cities and buildings based on the collective intelligence of the map users’ feedback. What do you think? What’s your input? We’ll be building this over the next two months, and I’d love your feedback before we get too far down the line. Thanks!

Facebook's Carolyn Everson: “We’re one percent done on our ad products.”

By - June 02, 2011

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When Facebook announced it had convinced Carolyn Everson to leave Microsoft to head sales at the pre-IPO social networking giant, a few eyebrows lifted: Everson had only been at Microsoft for nine months, and was recruited there by CEO Steve Ballmer after he watched her work to integrate an important deal between Microsoft and MTV, where she previously worked.

While Microsoft could not have been pleased it lost a key sales executive, at least Everson was going to a friend of sorts: Microsoft owns a chunk of Facebook stock, and has been busy leveraging Facebook data into its upstart search engine Bing.

Everson and I spoke last month as a prelude to our onstage conversation next week at the CM Summit. She repeated one of her early statements about Facebook’s advertising potential – “We’re one percent done” – and we spoke abut Facebook’s “branded stories” product, which lets companies put social activity related to the brand directly into Facebook advertisements (I ribbed her about how FM has been doing something similar for years, but of course, FM has about 10% of Facebook’s scale).

There are no shortage of questions to get into with Everson, including Facebook’s rumored push into content – something CEO Mark Zuckerberg implied was inevitable in recent public speeches. And then there’s the always rumored “Facesense” – a Facebook-data driven ad network for third party publishers that would take on Google’s display business. And of course, the recent launch of Facebook Deals, a Groupon competitor that is super focused on the local advertising marketplace.

And then there’s the question of privacy. While Zuckerberg has a clear philosophy on the question, and most likely it’s shared by a large percentage of his customers, advertisers are usually far more sensitive to how they use data, and, oddly enough, at far larger risk of regulatory backlash. And of course privacy laws are not only in flux (there are half a dozen or so proposed pieces of legislation in the US alone), but they vary greatly from country to country.

Lastly, there’s the rumored 2012 IPO, and with it the pressures of making quarterly numbers. As global sales chief, that responsibility falls to Everson.

In short, there are plenty of things to discuss, and that’s why I’ve asked Everson to be our last speaker at CM Summit, so if we go a bit long, we’re not bumping anyone else off the stage. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to ask her.

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

Visa CMO Antonio Lucio: Our Business Is Digital, Period

The in.imit.able will.i.am: Embracing Brand As An Artist

Google’s Neal Mohan: A $200 Billion Opportunity

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 my final post on Demand CEO Richard Rosenblatt in the next 24 hours, as we are speaking later today.

The CM Summit is less than one week away, and nearly 500 folks have registered – it’s just about sold out….so register today before we do.

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.

Visa CMO Antonio Lucio: Our Business Is Digital, Period

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If you Google “Antonio Lucio CMO Visa”, as I did in preparation for my conversation with him next week at CM Summit, the first several links which show up are headlined : “Google Hater – Visa CMO Antonio Lucio Slams Giant.”

The headline isn’t really reflective of Lucio’s views on Google, but there you have it. For most casual observers, Lucio is a firebrand calling out the largest force in digital marketing today.

I think what instead we’ll find on stage is a thoughtful marketer who has a clear agenda for making the transition to digital. And unlike many of his counterparts in consumer packed goods or auto, for example, he’s also at a firm whose very existence is challenged by the Internet. Visa, after all, is a payment processing business, a middleman, as it were, and if other middlemen find a more efficient way to execute what Visa does, well, Visa is threatened.

Lately those threats have gotten very real. Facebook, Google, Paypal, Amex, along with startups like Square and TrialPay are all looking to take Visa’s business, not to mention the threat of commercial banks like Chase and Citi, long Visa’s partners.

In short, the market is up for grabs, and product differentiation will be key. Lucio knows this, and we’ll be talking about it front and center next week. Sure, Visa will have to partner (it’s invested in Square, which some say wants to disrupt Visa’s business, for example) and build out new and innovative product offerings as plastic goes the way of the compact disc (Visa recently announced an NFC-based Digital Wallet initiative).

But where the brand will really have to pivot is in meaning more than “an easy way to pay.”

Key to that is social, Lucio told me. He recently delivered a message to all the marketers in his organization titled “The Three Principles of Social Media.” They are: “1) Sharing is the new giving; 2) Participation is the new engagement; and 3) Recommendations are the new advertising.” Expect Lucio to unpack each in our conversation.

Lucio certainly walks the walk when it comes to digital spending: nearly 40% of Visa’s annual marketing spend is in digital. Two years ago, that figure was 12%. He also wants to shake up how he works with his agencies – he directs his team to work directly with media and audiences first, then agencies. Them’s fighting words to many in the agency world.

Tell me in comments what you might want to hear from Lucio as I interview him 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:

The in.imit.able will.i.am: Embracing Brand As An Artist

Google’s Neal Mohan: A $200 Billion Opportunity

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, 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.

The in.imit.able will.i.am: Embracing Brand As An Artist

By - June 01, 2011

Next week will mark the third time in one year that I’ve interviewed Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am on stage, and each time it’s gotten better. If you’re coming to CM Summit, you’re in for a treat. Will is in New York for a benefit concert in Central Park, and he’s stopping by to chat with us along the way.

I’ve found will.i.am to be a rare bird – a massively successful commercial artist who embraces brands and marketing as part of his work, instead of a distraction from his work. He reminds me of another William – William Gibson, an author who natively embraces marketing as part of a narrative, finding signal in the work of branding, rather than noise. And no one can argue with Will’s street cred, his philanthropic work is a model for all celebrities. Not to mention, the dude is director of innovation at Intel. Intel!

If you want a preview of what we’ll be talking about, check the interview we did back in February at Signal LA. Expect more of the same, with a few twists, when we meet in New York 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:

Google’s Neal Mohan: A $200 Billion Opportunity

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, 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.

Google's Neal Mohan: A $200 Billion Opportunity

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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.

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

By - May 31, 2011

tiffany.jpgOne of the curveball sessions I’m most looking forward to at next week’s CM Summit is with filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, whose recent documentary features “Connected” was selected for inclusion at Sundance (and many other prestigious festivals.) Today I jumped on the phone with Shlain, who has been a fellow traveler since the days when I started The Industry Standard and she founded The Webbys. We’ve both moved on from those heady days, but find our work is once again interconnecting – “Connected” is an essentially optimistic but cautious story of Tiffany’s own life, work, and passions, in particular as it relates to her relationship with her father, a renown physician and author who spent much of his life searching for patterns in human behavior which transcended traditional boundaries of academic pursuit.

In short, the film is a call for all of us to move past our current frame of thinking, and to leverage the moment we are in to embrace a new philosophy – that of interdependence. The axis of this movement is the Internet, Shlain argues, and we have it within our grasp to leverage digital networks to solve the extraordinary problems we’ve collectively created through, well, collective creation.

Shlain was in a good mood as we began our conversation – she had recently learned her film had been picked up for national theatrical distribution in the Fall. That’s a big deal for a committed independent filmmaker, to be certain, but it’s also something of a quandry – theatrical distribution is “how films are normally done” and Shlain has plenty of unique ideas about how to get her work out into the world.

We’ll be talking about some of those ideas, which range from using Facebook to drive local screenings, to a mobile app specifically for the film, to continuing the film as a conversation across the web through the creation of three-minute “follow-up” films, the first of which will be crowdsourced through YouTube.

As I asked earlier about Bill Nguyen, why have Shlain at a digital marketing conference? Well, “Connected” is certainly about the impact of the Internet on our lives. But also because, as Tiffany says in her film, “emotional connection drives everything we do.” Marketers need to be reminded of this from time to time, in particular in the context of the constant, real time connections for which all brands are now the stewards. It struck me as somehow appropriate to have an artist grace our stage, and I’m thrilled Tiffany has agreed to join us.

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.


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.