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Web 2 Conversation: Robin Li

By - November 18, 2010

I found myself really engaged with Robin (CEO, Baidu) in this conversation, and I found his answers to some difficult questions – like doing business under the Chinese government’s rule – to be refreshingly honest.

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Web 2 Conversation: Eric Schmidt

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Given how silent this site has been over the past few weeks, it only seems right to share with you all the result of all my work. So I’ll be posting videos of some of the highlights of the Web 2 Summit this past week, starting with our kick off conversation with Eric Schmidt. Enjoy.

The Web 2 Summit Playlist, 2010 Version

By - November 17, 2010

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One of these days, I’m going to figure out how to publish a real live playlist, one that links to real music, but for whatever reason, I never seem to be able to. If you guys have an easy way to do it, please let me know. I’ve tried a few services and they fail me, or, perhaps more aptly, I fail at them. Anyway, here’s a screengrab of the playlist I used at the Web 2 Summit this year. I always pick music that has inspired me during the preparation for the event, which takes a good ten months. Many of these bands I’ve seen live, and I hope you enjoy them as I have!

At Web 2 Summit…Here's the LiveStream!

By - November 15, 2010

Postings have been and, through this week, will continue to be pretty light. The reason: I’m hosting, with my partner Tim O’Reilly, the seventh annual Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

There should be a lot of news here, starting with some of our own – for the first time ever the Web 2 Summit will be livestreamed, for free, to anyone. The stream can be embedded anywhere, so I’m adding it to this site below. If you can’t make it in person, well, now you can check it out on the web.

Enjoy! (Update – so far, nearly 75,000 folks have watched the livestream. That’s pretty cool – about one hundred times the number of folks in the room at any give time!)

web20tv on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free

Evan Williams at Web 2: What's In A Platform?

By - November 04, 2010

_@user_40285.jpgI met with Ev at Twitter headquarters yesterday, a prelude to our conversation in less than two weeks time at Web 2 (I also spoke with him last year). As usual he was in a thoughtful mood, though an unexpected visit from Biz added some levity to the proceedings.

Williams will be the final speaker at Web 2 this year, a program that begins with Eric Schmidt, continues with Robin Li, Ari Emmanuel, Shantanu Narayen, Jim Balsille, Mark Zuckerberg, Carol Bartz, and so many more.

So by the time we get to Ev’s session, something of a grand narrative should have unfolded, if I’ve done my job right. And it feels right to me to conclude with Twitter, because it is at once the growth story of the year, as well as the enigma – what, exactly, *is* Twitter, now that the service is pushing 200 million users and on the verge of a truly scaleable revenue model?

I found Ev’s thoughts refreshing. He recently handed the CEO title over to Dick Costolo (see my interview of him here), and is focusing on product. As we spoke, however, it strikes me that “product’ is a bit too pedestrian a term for the issues and opportunities that Ev is tackling. They have a tiger by the tail. But what, exactly, is the nature of this tiger?

Twitter is a service, most would say, one that, by its own definition, is “the best way to discover what’s new in your world.” But it’s also a network, one with important social overtones – Twitter has created a public attention and interest graph. And it’s a platform, on which many developers have created applications and services. And of course it’s an emerging standard, of sorts, not unlike email – a set of protocols for short messaging that has become a de facto standard across the web (including mobile, of course). And related: Twitter is beginning to challenge search in terms of driving referral traffic around the web.

But Twitter wants to be more than just a protocol, Ev tells me, and that leads to perhaps the most contentious debate around the company: Should it be centralized, or decentralized? Those who have invested their time or resources in the Twitter “ecosystem” are increasingly complaining that Twitter should stick to a decentralized service model, letting other companies create value at the point of usage – in essence, let the developers determine how best to use Twitter. After all, that was how the service started. But Twitter has made it clear that it has more robust plans. It’s not that the company doesn’t want developers adding value, Williams argues, it’s that the company wants developers to add value beyond what’s possible right now. And to do that, Twitter has work to do on its own platform.

We’ll be talking about this and much more when we convene in ten days. What do you want to hear about from Ev? Here are a few questions to get your thoughts started, please leave yours in comments.

- How is the “new Twitter” doing? What have you learned from how usage patterns have changed? Can you share any data on how Twitter is being used now that might give us new insights?

- Tell us about the transition from CEO to founder with product focus? How is that going?

- The ongoing grumbling over Twitter obviating developers’ businesses by adding new features and services. What is your philosophy there? What do you wish developers would create that they are not creating now? What work does Twitter have to do to help developers create more sustainable, long term value?

- How are the new ad programs going? Tell us about the tests with HootSuite (in stream promoted tweets). When might we expect this to roll out at scale?

- One of the chief complaints about Twitter is finding relevance and signal from all the tweets. Are you working on this and what might we expect in the future? Might we expect to see “relevance” in the timeline?

- What do you make of the whole “open vs. closed” debate – and the “Web is Dead” meme? Can we unpack the decentralized vs. centralized debate?

- There have been rumors of another big financing. Shall we put them to rest?

Let me know your thoughts in comments. And while you are at it, click on over to my posts for Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen, RIM’s Jim Balsillie,  DST’s Yuri Milner, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt and add your thoughts there as well.

All Brands Are Politicians

By - October 29, 2010

Obama-kissing-a-baby.jpg(image) Recently I was watching television with my wife, a baseball game if memory serves, when an advertisement caught my eye. It was for a regional restaurant chain (not a national one like Jack in the Box). The ad was pretty standard fare – a call to action (go now!) and a clear value proposition: the amazing amount of tasty-looking food you could have for a bargain price. I can’t find the ad online, but there’s no dearth of similar spots on television – in fact, their plentitude is why the commercial caught my attention in the first place.

In short, the ad offered pretty much all you could eat pasta, fries, and burgers for something like six bucks. Nearly all the food portrayed was processed, fried, and sourced from factory farms – necessarily so, as it’d simply not be possible to offer such a deal were it not for the economies of scale inherent in the US food economy. It’s simple capitalism at work: The chain is taking advantage of our nation’s subsidization of cheap calories to deliver what amounts to an extraordinary bargain to a consumer – all you can eat for less than an hour’s minimum wage!

It’s entirely predictable that such an offering would be in market. What’s not predictable, until recently, is how marketing such an offer might backfire in the coming age of marketing transparency and political unrest.

Allow me to try to explain.

As I watched the ad, and considered how many similar ones I see on a regular basis, I got to thinking about who the chain was targeting.

Certainly the chain wasn’t targeting me. I’m one of the so-called elites living in a bubble – I try to eat only organic foods, grown locally or sustainably if possible. I do this because I believe these foods are healthier for me and better for the world. I know I am in the extreme minority when it comes to my food – in the main because I can afford the prices they command. (And sure, I love hitting a burger joint every so often as a treat, but I also know that the act of considering fast food chains a “treat” is a privilege – I don’t have to rely on those outlets for my main source of sustenance.)

So no, that television ad was most certainly not targeted to me. I’d actually never even heard of the chain (nor had I seen its restaurants near where I live or travel). In short, that chain was wasting its marketing dollars on me, and most likely on a lot of other folks like me who happen to like watching baseball.

So what audience was that chain trying to reach? Experts in food marketing will tell you that the QSR industry is obsessed with reaching young men (and young men do watch baseball). But as I watched that ad, I started to think about another cohort that would clearly be influenced by the ads.

And that “target?” Intentionally or not (most likely not), it struck me that the advertisement would certainly appeal to our nation’s poor, as well as to those in our country who have eating issues, quite often the same folks, from what I read. One in seven people in the US are officially poor (and that bar is pretty damn low – $22K a year or less for a family of four). Nearly one in three are categorized as “obese.” And these two trends have become a seedbed for what are becoming the most politically sensitive issues of our generation: healthcare, wealth distribution, and energy policy. (The link between energy policy and food is expanded upon here).

Now, what happens when marketers like the all-you-can-eat chain, who like most marketers are not spending their money efficiently on TV, start buying data-driven audiences over highly efficient digital platforms? When and if we get to the nirvana that Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Blue Kai, Cadreon, and countless others are pushing at the moment – a perfect world of matching marketers dollars to audience data and increased foot traffic in-store – we’ll be able to discern quite directly who a marketer is influencing.

And while that restaurant chain’s goal might be to influence young men, what happens if the digital advertising ecosystem proves directly that the folks who are responding are deeply effected by what has become a hot potato national issue around food, energy, and health?

And what happens when digital activists reverse engineer that marketing data, and use it as political fodder for issue-based activism? As far as I am concerned, the question isn’t if this is going to happen, the question is when.

Wait a minute, you might protest (if you are a marketer). What about privacy!! Ah, there’s the rub. Today’s privacy conversation is all about the consumer, about protecting the consumer from obtrusive targeting, and informing that consumer how, when, and why he or she is being targeted.

But that same data, which I agree the consumer has a right to access, can be re-aggregated by intelligent services (or industrious journalists using willing consumer sources), and then interpreted in any number of ways. And don’t think it’s just anti-corporate lefties and green freaks who will be making noise, in my research for this article, I found tons of articles on Tea Party sites decrying federal food subsidies. In short, the data genie is out of the bottle, not just for consumers, but for marketers as well.

Get ready, marketers, to be judged in the public square on your previously private marketing practices – because within the ecosystem our industry is rapidly building, the data will out.

I’m not picking on the food industry here, rather I’m simply using it as a narrative example. Increasingly, a company’s marketing practices will become transparent to its customers, partners, competitors, and detractors. And how one practices that marketing will be judged in real time, in a political dialog that defines the value of that brand in the world.

This new reality will force brands to develop a point of view on major issues of the day – and that ain’t an easy thing for brands to do – at least not at present. I’ve written extensively about how brands must become publishers. I’ve now come to the conclusion that they must also become politicians as well. Brands will have to play to their base, cater to interest groups, and answer for their “votes” – how their marketing dollars are spent.

I’d wager that marketers who get in front of this trend and shows leadership on the big issues will be huge winners. What do you think?


Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen at Web 2: Apple? Who Needs 'Em…

By - October 28, 2010

_@user_64196.jpgAdobe CEO Shantanu Narayen has come to Web 2 as many times as Mark Zuckerberg, and like the Facebook CEO, he’s had one heckuva year. From the fallout with Apple over Flash to the rumors of a Microsoft takeover (which he’s denied), Narayen has had more than his share of challenges this past 12 months. So it should be interesting to hear what he has to say in two weeks time. Tim had some interesting things to say about Adobe in our webcast yesterday, I’ll post a link once the video is live. Meanwhile, what do you want to hear from Narayen?

While you are at it, click on over to my posts for RIM’s Jim Balsillie,  DST’s Yuri Milner, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt and add your thoughts there as well.

Here are a few thought starters:

- Why do you think the stock market liked the idea of a Microsoft purchase so much? (The stock shot up on rumors earlier this month).

- What is the future of Flash? How might it play in a cloud computing world? Could you see “Flash in the cloud”?

- How is the integration of Omniture working out? How does it complement Adobe’s core offerings?

- Are you concerned about questions of privacy, as Flash cookies combined with Omniture are starting to get more notice?

- If Steve Jobs were with us on stage, what would you say to him?

- The criticisms of Flash around performance seem to never go away. What’s your response to them?

- What is Adobe’s position on the Chrome OS and Android?

Please add your thoughts in comments!

Web 2 Conversation: RIM's Jim Balsillie

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jim_balsillie.jpgContinuing my tour of selected speakers at Web 2 this year, I alight upon RIM’s Jim Balsillie, the man responsible for guiding the Blackberry brand through the Skylla of Apple and Kharybdis of Android – or is that the other way ’round?

In any case, RIM has long been the king of enterprise smart phones, but that grip is arguably slipping. However, a suite of new products and an invigorated approach to developers is showing promise. Also eagerly anticipated: The Playbook, RIM’s first tablet product.

Balsille hasn’t been shy when it comes to Apple, he was recently quoted thusly: “We think many customers are getting tired of being told what to think by Apple.”

Yep, I’m looking foward to speaking with Jim next month! What would you like to ask him? While you are at it, click on over to my posts for DST’s Yuri Milner, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt and add your thoughts there as well.

Here are a few thought starters for Balsille:

- What are your expectations for the Playbook? Can or will it cross over from business to consumer?

- RIM is behind when it comes to the developer support, at least perceptually. What are you doing to address that? Do you have a different strategy from Apple and Google?

- Related, what is RIM’s advertising strategy? You currently work with a number of networks, but is there a larger play coming?

- What do you make of Apple?

- Of Android, and HP/Palm? Windows 7?

- Would you ever make an Android-friendly Blackberry?

- What features do you wish RIM had now that we might anticipate?

- Blackberries are often called “the phones you get if you have to have a keyboard.” They are also seen as mainly enterprise phones. Is that fair?

- RIM has been the subject of takeover speculation – do you see that as a distraction?

- Do you see the carrier world shifting in any way?

Leave your questions in comments, and hope to see you at Web 2 this year!

Web 2 Debrief for Media, Marketing Mavens: Please Join Us!

By - October 27, 2010

web2db.pngReaders of Searchblog already know that Web 2 is coming in less than three weeks, what with all my missives here about Schmidt, Zuckerberg, Bartz, and others. But what I haven’t told you about is the “Web2 Debrief” that my company, Federated Media, is doing after the conference.

The Debrief is an evening event directly after the last day of the show, featuring Tim O’Reilly and myself in conversation about the previous three days. We’ll be breaking down the highlights of the event and taking questions from the audience. There will be a distinct focus on what it all means from the point of view of the marketing and/or media business, given FM’s position in those industries.

The nominal ($35) fee helps to cover the food and drink, as well as the excellent venue – Mezzanine, a short walk from the Palace Hotel, where Web 2 Summit will be held. I hope to see you there!

Click here to register for the Web2 Debrief.

Also, don’t forget that today is our “Points of Control” webcast, where Tim and I will discuss the theme of this year’s Web 2 Summit. Registration is free.

Yuri Milner at Web 2: The Man Behind A Revolution in Finance?

By - October 26, 2010

_@user_95614.jpg.pngWho exactly is Yuri Milner? I’ve heard this question asked quite a bit over the past year, as the Russian financier and entrepreneur has amassed significant holdings in key US Internet players – from Groupon to Zynga to Facebook (where he now owns around 10% of outstanding shares). His company, DST, has more than a billion invested in these social media players. (IT also purchased ICQ from AOL).

I had a chance to sit down with Milner in my San Francisco office, and ask him a few questions about his philosophy of investing, his background, and his strategy going forward. I’m very pleased he will be joining us at the Web 2 Summit – his approach to investing has upended a lot of presumptions about how “mezzanine” deals are getting done. In short, he cares little for the complicated structures and protective rachets of traditional pre-IPO rounds. He’s forced Silicon Valley legends to sit up and take notice. Oh, and by the way, he also owns major stakes in Russia’s most important social networking and Internet companies.

So what would you ask Yuri Milner? Here are a few thought starters:

- What’s your thesis behind investing? What do you look for when you make an investment?

- Does coming from Russia help or hinder your work? What do you want the Valley to understand about Russia that perhaps we don’t?

- Why do you so fervently believe in Facebook? What keeps you up at night about this investment?

- You are actively involved in your investments. What advice do you give to the CEOs of Groupon, Zynga, and Facebook?

- How do your terms of investment differ from traditional mezzanine players?

- Who are your next targets? Why haven’t you invested in Twitter or Demand Media? Betfair? Are there “types” of companies you are not interested in?

- What is the plan with your Russian properties? Do they have properties that you might export to the US or other markets?

- What do you plan to do with ICQ?

What do you want to ask Yuri Milner? Please leave your thoughts in comments. And please do the same for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt.