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Signal LA: The Curtain Raiser – Tim and Arianna Open A Sold Out Show

By - February 07, 2011

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Tuesday marks the launch of FM’s Signal conference series, where we focus on one topic, one day, in one city. For our first event, in Los Angeles, we’ve always had a great lineup, but recent events have certainly made it even more timely.

The event has been sold out since last week, but given the weekend’s news, I’ve convinced our events director to allow people to register at the door. It will probably be standing room only, but it’ll be a great show. The focus, appropriately, is on the role of content in marketing.

We’ll begin the day with Arianna Huffingon, who just last night announced the sale of the Huffington Post to AOL. Joining Arianna will be AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, who is making a surprise visit so as to outline his $315 million vision for combining the two entities. I’ve interviewed both onstage, but not together. Should be a good discussion.

We’ll then pivot into a Case Study from the newly public Demand Media, and then a conversation with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. From there we’ll dive deeper into the content strategies of both AOL and MSN, hear Case Studies from Gatorade and Moxie Interactive, learn about some of the most promising

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startups in LA, hear from YouTube on branded entertainment, and American Express on OPEN Forum.

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And that’s just before lunch. When we return, we’ll hear from the CMO of Adobe, who I’ll be interviewing. After that is a Case from the irrepressible Jason Calacanis, a Case from Toyota, an overview of Intuit’s massive gamble last month (they bought out thre

e hours of prime time programming), Cases from Appsavvy,Yahoo, and Slideshare, and then a conversation with Peter Guber, a Hollywood legend who’s just coming out with another major book.

After Peter, we’ll hear a Case from Facebook, and then we’ll close with a conversation with will.i.am, who will be fresh off his Superbowl performance with the Black Eyed Peas. That’ll give us something to talk about.

Even though the event is essentially sold out (I’m told we can sell only a couple dozen tickets at the door), we are working on livestreaming it so that everyone can join the dialog. Check the FM events page for more on that later in the day.

(cross posted from FM blog)

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File Under: Metaservices, The Rise Of

By - February 04, 2011

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I’m beta testing a new service called Memolane, which collects the breadcrumbs we drop around the web (from Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, RSS, etc) and visualizes them as a timeline. It’s not fair for me to review the service at this point – I’ll save that for later. Rather, I’m interested in what it augurs: The rise of metaservices.

The problem/opportunity addressed by metaservices has been worked to death by folks far smarter than I – in particular by well-intentioned developers looking to create better standards for services to share data. But so far solutions have failed to address the market opportunity. I think this is going to change, in the main, because we’ll demand it does.

Let me step back and describe the problem. In short, heavy users of the web depend on scores – sometimes hundreds – of services, all of which work wonderfully for their particular purpose (eBay for auctions, Google for search, OpenTable for restaurant reservations, etc). But these services simply don’t communicate with each other, nor collaborate in a fashion that creates a robust or evolving ecosystem.

The rise of the app economy exacerbates the problem – most apps live in their own closed world, sharing data sparingly, if at all. And while many have suggested that Facebook’s open social graph can help untangle the problem, in fact it only makes it worse, as Fred put it in a recent post (which sparked this Thinking Out Loud session for me):

The people I want to follow on Etsy are not the same people I want to follow on Twitter. The people I want to follow on Svpply are not my Facebook friends. I don’t want to sharemy Foursquare checkins with everyone on Twitter and Facebook.

Like nearly all of us, Fred’s got a social graph instrumentation problem and a service data-sharing problem. Here’s what he suggests:

I would like to be able to run these people through all my social graphs on other services (not just Facebook and Twitter) and also my phone contacts and my emails to help me filter them and quickly add those people if I think they would make the social experience on the specific service useful to me.

When you break it down, what Fred is asking is this:

1. That each service he uses will make the data that he creates available to any other service with which he wishes to share.

2. That each service he uses be capable of leveraging that data.

For that to happen, every app, every site, and every service needs to be more than just an application or a content directory. It needs to be a platform, capable of negotiating ongoing relationships with other platforms on behalf of its customers in real time. This, of course, is what Facebook does already. Soon, I believe, every single service of scale will work in a similar fashion.

When you think about a world in which this idea comes true, all sorts of new services become possible: Metaservices, services which couldn’t exist unless they had the oxygen of other services’ datastreams to consume. At present, I can’t really think of any such services that are currently at scale. (I can think of some promising stuff in early stages – Memolane and Percolate come to mind.)

Sure, tons of services use Facebook connect to leverage our social graph. But that’s a half step. So is authorizing or logging into a site via Twitter. Solves a simple problem, but doesn’t add much value beyond that.

But I’ve noticed a trend of late. While a year ago I’d only see a “service connection” happen between an app and Facebook or Twitter, lately I’ve noticed such connections happening all over the place – with LinkedIn, Google, Foursquare, and many others. I think it’s only a matter of time – and not much of it – before we have a “metaservice” hit on our hands – an entirely new and delightful service that curates our digital lives and adds value above the level of a single site.

Perhaps it’s already out there. What have you seen that qualifies as a metaservice today?   

The Call of the Filed

By - February 03, 2011

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I’ve noticed that the number of folks who are networking with me via LinkeIn has really increased lately. Anyone else noticed this? Might it be related to the publicity around LinkedIn’s recent IPO filing?

The company today announced “Skills” – a way to find people with certain skillsets. It’s been on a tear recently in terms of new features – Swarms, a visualization of search terms, InMaps, a visualization of your network, OpenGroups, a new groups feature, and Signal, more sophisticated search in general. I’m sure I’ve missed something.

Meanwhile, I’ve also noticed an increase in social graph communications coming at me via Linked In – responses to Tweets, for example (I’ve connected my Twitter account to Linked In). Makes me wonder, perhaps in the future, might LinkedIn pivot, and add a consumer-driven side to the business? Stranger things have happened…

The Next iPhone Test

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I’ve been watching the overwhelmingly positive “reviews” of the new Verizon iPhone bounce around the blogosphere today, and I have to say, it’s hard to not get caught up on the excitement: Hey! I can actually MAKE A PHONE CALL!

Well, perhaps we’ve all forgotten, but until the iPhone hit AT&T’s network and slammed it to the ground, phone calls were pretty much the same on either network. IE, they both had their issues, depending on where you were in the world. And it’s sort of not fair to compare Verizon’s pre-iPhone network to AT&T’s currently overwhelmed one. Remember, all those reviewers are getting clear reception *now*, before the Verizon iPhone even comes out. Let’s wait and see what happens when there are millions of the data hungry buggers on Verizon’s network. That will be the true test of whether it can continue to be the best carrier for voice.

This piece:  Verizon Wireless to begin throttling data speeds of heaviest users from BGR seems to indicate that Verizon knows it’s in for some serious stress testing, and is preparing for battle.

Apple Shows Its Colors?

By - February 01, 2011

Today news comes (from the NYT) that Apple has shifted its approach to content sales, no longer allowing content owners to directly sell access to their own content via apps on iTunes.

This is ridiculous, and if it proves out, spells the end of the media’s love affair with Apple and its platform. Mark my words. Apple’s crossed a line here, and in a short time, it will retreat back. If it does not, it will only power competition where purveyors of fine content can exist without Apple’s universal platform tax. The folks at Google/Android must be doing cartwheels this morning.

Then again, it could be that there’s nothing to this, and it was a random act. The Times piece is sourced to Sony, who may have simply misinterpreted Apple’s current rules – that’s Venturebeat’s speculation. We’ll see.

Remember Googlezon?

By - January 25, 2011

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Lately I’ve become a bit obsessed with predicting the future. Not the present future, as in one year from now – I do that every year, after all. But the long-ish future, as in ten to twenty years out. That kind of a time horizon is tantalizing, because it’s within the reach of our reason – if only we play the right trends out, and anticipate new ones that could defensibly emerge.

I’ve often found that predicting the future is a waste of time, but reporting the future is a worthy endeavor. More on that in another post, but I learned this distinction from my mentors an co-founders at Wired back in the early 1990s.

Late last year the Economist asked me to predict what the world might be like in 2036. When they asked, I of course said yes, because heck, it’s very rare for anyone to get a byline in the Economist (most pieces run without credit). I think my predictions were OK, but I have to say I can’t defend them with any kind of rigorous framework.

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Over the past week or so, however, an idea has grown inside my mind, and I can’t shake it. I spend a lot of time thinking about where this Internet Economy is going, and I’ve grown tired of the short view. I’m itching for a wider vista, for a time frame that spans years, if not decades. Most of the blogs, news outlets, and pundits I read day-to-day are stuck in the short now. I want to think more about the long future.

So I’ve started looking for predictions that spanned at least a decade. And of course the first one that came to mind was EPIC 2014. I remember covering this short film in 2004, when it first came out. It caused quite a stir back then, because the scenario it painted seemed so…possible. And given that it was predicting events an entire decade later, it had a certain whiff of science fiction to it. We want to believe in science fiction – after all, it’s nothing more than proof that the future is already here, just unevenly distributed.

EPIC 2014 focused on one thread of our ever-changing Internet Economy – our relationship to media. Some six-plus years of heady change later, I wondered, how does it hold up? And what can we learn from watching it now, just a few years from its predictive date of 2014?

Well, depending on how you grade it, it’s either an utter failure, or pretty smart, given the constraints of the time.

Remember, after all, that in late 2004, Facebook didn’t really exist. Certainly the idea of the “social graph” was years from cultural currency. Twitter was utterly foreign. EPIC 2014 is interesting for the assumptions it makes, and what it got right, and what it got wrong. Here are few choice ones:

- The New York Times “goes offline.” This seemed vaguely possible only a year ago. Now, the Times seems quite a bit more healthy, and it’s certainly not going anywhere soon. In fact, most news outlets look to the Times as forging a new model for news, one that just might work.

- Google buys Tivo. Nope, but damn, I bet many wish they had. This assumes Google wants to be a really good interface to TV. Apparently, no one at Google got that memo, yet. Because all I have heard about Google TV is that the interface is way, way too hard to understand.

- Microsoft responds to Google by buying Friendster and creating “social news.” If only! That might have saved Friendster, if only for a year or two. But the thinking that social news would be really important was prescient. Microsoft would create this social news service by 2007, EPIC predicted. Well, the company did a major deal with Digg in early 08. How did *that* work out, eh?!

- Google will create a service called “Google Grid” – a smart prediction of cloud computing; with “subscriptions” to “editors” who add value to the grid. This presages Twitter and Tumblr, or the rise of social editors and supernodes, as I’ve written previously.

- Google and Amazon would join forces, with Amazon lending its recommendation smarts, and Google lending its grid computing. Oddly, Amazon is now the leader in cloud, with Google a close second. And so far, Google and Amazon haven’t become real partners, in fact, if anything they are poised to be mortal enemies given the fight over media distribution coming with Kindle, Android, Google TV, and Amazon’s streaming media ambitions.

Overall, what I find fascinating about EPIC is how it got the overarching trends right, in the main, but the timeline and the details, while supporting a compelling narrative, were utterly wrong. Yes, the cloud is coming, but man, it ain’t gonna take over the world in a mere five or six years! Yes, social news and social editing will be critical, but NO, the winners of the current day – Google, Amazon, and Microsoft – would NOT rule that world. Totally new and unpredictable startups – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr – own that space now. And in the meantime, a shooting star – Digg – came, flamed, and went!

All in all, I love EPIC 2014 just for the fact that it was made. Here and below is a link, again, to the video, this time on YouTube, which, of course, didn’t exist when EPIC was made.

I love the Internet.

Last Week's Signal Weekly: 1.21.2011

By - January 24, 2011

FMsignal-sidebar.gifAw heck, two weeks ago I promised to round up each week’s Signal every Friday, and then last Friday I went and forgot to do it. So here’tis, a day or so late but no less the punchy for it. (There was no Monday Signal as it was a holiday).

Friday Signal: A New Page at Google

Thursday Signal: It’s Breakfast Time

Weds. Signal: Facebook Again, By Gollum!

Tuesday Signal: The Sky Will Not Fall

If you want Signal each day, sign up for the email newsletter on the site (top right), or grab the RSS Feed.

The InterDependent Web

By - January 23, 2011

When I wrote Identity and The Independent Web last Fall, I was sketching out the beginnings of what I sense was an important distinction in how we consume the web. This distinction turned on one simple concept: Dependency.

Of course, the post itself was nearly 2500 words in length and wandered into all sorts of poorly lit alleys, so one could be forgiven for not easily drawing that conclusion. But since that Thinking Out Loud session, I’ve continued to ponder this distinction, and I’ve found it’s become a quite useful framing tool for understanding the web.

So here’s another attempt at defining one corner of the “Independent Web,” as distinct from the “Dependent Web.” In my original piece, I state:

The Dependent Web is dominated by companies that deliver services, content and advertising based on who that service believes you to be: What you see on these sites “depends” on their proprietary model of your identity, including what you’ve done in the past, what you’re doing right now, what “cohorts” you might fall into based on third- or first-party data and algorithms, and any number of other robust signals.

The Independent Web, for the most part, does not shift its content or services based on who you are.

Yahoo, for example, will show you one of a possible 38,000 home pages, depending on who Yahoo believes you to be. Yahoo Mail (or any other mail, for that matter), is an utterly dependent service: it will only show you your mail (we hope). Facebook, of course, creates an entirely different experience for you than it does for me, because what Facebook shows us depends on who Facebook thinks we are. And search, in general, is a dependent service – what you see as results depends both on what you input as a query, as well as who the search service believes you are (personalized search).

And while I believe this idea of a dependent service being defined as “one that changes depending on its profile of you” is important, this isn’t the only feature that distinguishes Independent sites from Dependent ones.

Another way to understand the distinction is that Dependent sites tend to be ones we, well, depend on for some basic service in our lives. You might depend on Yahoo or Google for mail. We depend on Facebook for our social graph, and Twitter for our “interest graph.” Of course we depend on Google (or Bing) for search. And I’m starting to depend on StumbleUpon to surface sites I might like.

In fact, most of us “depend” on Dependent-web services to discover independent sites – a fact we may as well call “the interdependence of the independent and dependent web.”

Whew. We employ both kinds of sites, and each type depends on the other for value. What would Google be without the billion points of independent light out the rest of the web?

Not much, to my mind, and I think that’s essentially the point of both Fred’s call out today (see his piece on The Independent Web) as well as his partner Albert’s advice to Larry Page.

The funny thing is, Dependent web sites crave the dollars that big marketers spend on branding, but their services don’t complement brands, in the main. Yet up until recently, brands haven’t have many other places to spend their dollars online (brands love scale), so they’ve spent them at large dependent web services, and, in the main, bemoaned their comparative weakness to television. Yahoo Mail is a famously terrible place to put brand advertising. Google is a direct marketing machine, but it’s not a great environment for brands. Brands love Twitter and Facebook, but are still trying to figure out how to leverage those services at scale – Facebook’s “engagement ads” are not exactly brand friendly, though they can serve as great distribution for a branded story somewhere else (same for Twitter’s promoted services).

So where does that brand story live? My answer: On the Independent web.

Consider the sub-category of “content” on the web. It’s a very large part of what makes the web, the web – millions of “content sites,” ranging from the smallest blog to ESPN.com. Most of these sites don’t change what they show us depending on who they think we are. So does the “independent/dependent/interdependent” framework help us distinguish anything interesting here?

I think it does. To me, an independent content site is one driven by a sense of shared passion around a subject or a voice, one that a consumer independently chooses to visit and engage with.

Publishers pay close attention to what visitors choose to do independently on our sites – we covet “repeat visitors,” “high engagement,” and “low bounce rates.” Do visitors come back independently, or do we, as publishers, depend on acquiring one-time traffic from SEO, SMO, or other “tricks”? Once visitors come via a dependent service like search or social or StumbleUpon, do they independently elect to consume more than just the one page they’ve landed on?

When it comes to “engagement”, dependent sites tend to have more of it, at least if you are measuring in user minutes. Folks stay on Facebook for a long, long time. Twitter users go back over and over again, especially power users. The average Google user goes back again and again. Most of Yahoo’s engagement is in mail – take mail out of Yahoo, and Yahoo would lose a huge chunk of its user minutes.

But there’s a big difference between engagement on a dependent site, and engagement on an independent site. And in a word, that difference is what makes a brand.

When we engage with content, we engage with a shared narrative – a new story is told, an old story is retold or re-interpreted. And that shared narrative shifts what we believe and how we see the world. We are in the space of shared symbols – brands – and it is in this space that marketers can tell their stories and shift our perceptions.

I’m fascinated by how brands can leverage Dependent services in conjunction with the Independent web, and if there’s one conclusion I’ve come to, it’s this: Brands must be robust actors in the Independent web, underwriting its ecosystem and participating in its ongoing creation and curation. It’s not enough to “have a presence in Facebook” or “do an upfront with Yahoo and Google.” Brands must also engage where ideas and narratives are born and shaped – and learn to join the Independent web.

Sure, that idea is self-serving – FM’s tagline is “powering the best of the Independent web, at scale.” But that doesn’t mean we don’t love us some Dependent web services. We’ve been pioneers in working with all kinds of great services, from Digg in 2006 to Facebook Platform in 2007; Twitter in 2008 to Foursquare in 2010. If you’re going to succeed as a publisher or a brand on the web, you need to work with both. They’re interdependent, and wonderfully so.

Some might argue that you never need to leave a particular service or domain – that you can “get all you need” in one place. I certainly hope not. That sounds like a movie we’ve seen before, and don’t need to watch again.

Me On Google Change

By - January 21, 2011

I did a short bit on Bloomberg (they have some amazing studios in SF on the water, had not been there, good to see my old pal Cory, who is now working there). Here’s the video: