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Stop It. Google Won't Buy Twitter.

By - September 30, 2010

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(image) Today I landed from a trip to the world of the non-tech obsessed (PA and OH) to find my newsfeed was full of speculation that Google MUST buy Twitter, or be damned to obscurity in a race it’s already losing to Facebook.

Not so fast.

Here’s my simple reasoning for why Google won’t buy Twitter: Twitter won’t sell.

Those who decide whether Twitter goes to Google pretty much come down to a handful of folks: Founders Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey, and Biz Stone, with COO Dick Costolo and Twitter’s investors and other Board members (Fred Wilson, Peter Fenton, and Bijan Sabet). I know most of these guys well enough to say this with confidence: They don’t want to sell, and even more importantly, they don’t need to.

Now, sure, Google can write a ridiculous check, and perhaps, that might sway the key folks (management). But I doubt it. Why? Because nearly all of them have already sold a company to Google – Blogger (Evan and Biz) or Feeedburner (Dick). And, well, they didn’t stick around, did they?

They’ve got a tiger by the tail, the chance to build an independent, lasting legacy that will cement each one of them forever into the immortal tablets of business history. It’s really, really hard to pass that chance up, especially if you’ve already gotten a score or two under your belt. Why not swing for the fences if you’re already batting over 300?

In short, they’re not in it for the money. They’re in it for the immortality. And that’s a much, much bigger deal.

But there’s another reason Google won’t buy Twitter, and it’s this: Google is learning to be patient. Twitter is a big deal, but if you accept it as part of an emerging landscape, there’s no reason you need to own it. Given Twitter’s natural competitive positioning against Facebook, Google can partner with the emerging service in ways that provide both companies advantage against a shared enemy.

And should Twitter prove to be a world class company, prove its revenue model, and go public, things get a bit easier down the road in terms of M&A. The public market will set a price, and Google can negotiate a merger later, when, perhaps, the speculative bloom is off the budding rose, the founders have proven their point, and Twitter is run to satisfy shareholders who crave a buyout price.

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Last Week of Signal

By - September 27, 2010

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For those of you in RSS land who often ask, here are last week’s Signal roundups – a daily dose of what I’m reading and thinking about each day, posted on the FM site, usually late at night. You can get the RSS feed here, or get it via email here.

Monday Signal: This Is Only An Eye Test

Friday Signal: All Is True, And Quite Fictional

Thurs. Signal: Bubble, No Bubble, Toil and Trouble

Weds. Signal: Shake a Stick at This, Apple

Tuesday Signal: A Potpurri of News

Monday Signal: The Battle Heats Up

Happy Bday, Google

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Google is 12 today, as Sept. 27 marks the anniversary of the company’s actual incorporation. Of course the company has roots prior to the date, but ya gotta pick a date. Happy birthday Google, as they say in China, may you live in interesting times….

Currency

By - September 21, 2010

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I’m very proud of a new platform launched today by American Express: Currency. Sometimes when a brand embraces the concept of truly being a publisher, they align with strong voices around the web, underwriting existing properties and helping them create new sections or services. But every once in a while, a brand realizes that its marketing goals align with a very real need in the marketplace, one that for whatever reason hasn’t been addressed. That’s how Currency came to be.

Yes, Currency is an ongoing FM partnership, just as Open Forum is, but this one is a bit different – it’s for young adults just starting to grapple with financial issues (I wish it existed when I got out of college), and it’s got a lot of social media chops, including a game (called Social Currency natch) built on top of Foursquare that helps you track purchases. It also features tons of coursework to help folks get smart on important money matters, and everything – from reading an article to completing a course to checking into purchases – earns you Currency points.

Now, I know my demo here at Searchblog, and let’s face it, most of you are a bit older, wiser, and richer than Currency’s core constituency. But I also know you’re interested in all things web and media, so check it out, and let me know what you think.

The Web 2.0 Summit Program Is Live

By - September 14, 2010

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I’m very proud to announce the initial 2010 Web 2.0 Summit program. You can see the lineup on the Summit site here.

Our 2010 theme Points of Control, helped us create a lineup that is truly remarkable, full of industry titans and insurgents alike. Alongside policy leaders such as Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the FCC, we’ll hear from the Internet’s most powerful CEOs:

  • Google’s Eric Schmidt, perhaps the most active player in our points of control map – defending the company’s home turf of search, extending its reach into mobile payments, content, advertising platforms, social networking, and more.
  • Robin Li, CEO of China’s biggest search engine Baidu which has ambitions well beyond its current (massive) scale.
  • Todd Bradley and Jon Rubinstein, the duo responsible for HP’s Palm integration (not to mention the largest maker of computing devices in the world).
  • Ariel Emmanuel, the co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (and yes, the man who inspired Entourage…)
  • Kathy Savitz, CEO of Lockerz helping us understand the behavior of “Generation Z.”
  • Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, in one of his first one on one conversations in months.
  • Ev Williams, CEO of Twitter, six months into the launch of his company’s new revenue platform.
  • Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon, one of the fastest growing companies in the history of business.
  • Richard Rosenblatt, CEO of the surging Demand Media (which filed for an IPO just last month).
  • Davis Guggenheim, director of An Inconvenient Truth and the forthcoming Waiting for Superman.
  • Yuri Milner, the Russian super-investor who owns nearly 10 percent of Facebook, among many other major platform players.
  • Jim Balsillie, the co-CEO of RIM, who has plenty to talk about given the upheaval in the mobile marketplace.

These conversations will be paired with a series of high-powered, dynamic presentations we call High Order Bits that are tailored to push our thinking. All our panels focus around our theme, Points of Control, and industry topics include: Mobile Platforms, Content, Finance, Advertising Platforms, Education, and, not to forget, Location Based Services.

As has been since Day 1 in 2004, Mary Meeker will share her annual ‘Internet Trends’ presentation; Bing Gordon will explore The New Geography of Gaming with Don Mattrick of Microsoft; and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh will swap stories on growth, culture, and financial triumph alongside Susan Lyne, CEO of Gilt, and Richard Rosenblatt.

Throughout this robust program, we added bits of humor and passion sprinkled across the three days in a format we call Ignite. We culled the best of the best from around the world — human experiences shared through exactly 20 slides in exactly five minutes. Be sure to catch them; they go fast but leave a strong impression.

We’ve also got Carol Bartz, Perter Chernin, Marc Benioff, John Doerr, Fred Wilson, Jack Dorsey, and so much more… I’ve only covered some of the high points, but sprinkled throughout will be presentations from Wim Elfrink, EVP & Chief Globalization Officer at Cisco, Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga, Vinod Khosla, Founder of Khosla Ventures, Steven Berlin Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, and many more, including some surprise product and company announcements.

To see a visualization of Points of Control, please visit The Map here, we’ll be updating it soon with a cool new feature (watch this space…).

And if you haven’t already, register today to join the conversation this November. If you need an invite, as a Searchblog reader, I can make sure you get one. Just ping me at jbat at battellemedia dot com.

Hope to see you there!

Nielsen: Bing Overtakes Yahoo In Search Share

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Way back in January, I predicted (see #8) that Microsoft’s Bing would overtake Yahoo in share to become #2 in search. Today, at least one measurement service seems to have validated that claim, which at the time was a bit far-fetched, given the nearly seven point gap in share between the two companies.

These figures do not consider the Yahoo/Bing’s search deal. From the release, which is not yet up on the site:

According to new research released by The Nielsen Company, for the first time, MSN/Windows Live/Bing Search overtakes Yahoo! as the #2 search engine in the U.S., with a 13.9% share of search volume in August 2010, a 0.25% delta increase from last month.

Although Google saw little change in its month-over-month search volume, it still dominates the search market, accounting for 65% of all U.S. searches.

Yahoo! followed Google and MSN/Windows Live/Bing Search with a 13.1% share of U.S. searches, falling from a 14.6% share in July 2010 to 13.1% (a 1.2% delta decrease or an 8% relative decrease).

In terms of a year-over-year comparison, Google has seen little change in its share of search while Yahoo! has seen a small but steady decline, going from a 16% share to 13.1% (a delta drop of 2.9% or a relative drop of 18%). MSN/Windows Live/Bing’s share has grown from 10.7% in August 2009 to 13.9% (a delta increase of 3.2% or a relative increase of 30%).

Catching Up On the Signal

By - September 13, 2010

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For those of you who haven’t signed up for the Signal newsletter (shame on you, really), it’s my daily roundup of what’s happening in the world of media, marketing, and platforms. You can get it via RSS or email here (sign up for the newsletter in upper right hand corner).

As I do from time to time, here’s the last week or so for all you RSS readers.

Monday Signal: The Zeit of the Geist

Friday Signal: Time for Some Data Porn

Thursday Signal: The Industry Is Gathering

Weds. Signal: Google’s News Day

Tuesday Signal: What, It Gets Harder From Here?

Google Instant: The Headlines and Quick Takes

By - September 08, 2010

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Google today introduced what many are calling a major evolution in search interface today, sparking a landslide of commentary about the impact on SEO, mobile, competitors, search share, revenue, you name it.

It’s a lot to digest, and as much as I’d like to have a definitive statement on Google’s move to “instant search,” I don’t. Yet. I prefer to use it for a while, and think on it a bit more. I will admit that my initial response is more “meh” than “WOW!” – but then, I can’t really back that up. In the main, I think any major shift in search interface that is still predicated on typing inside a command line is most likely not going to change things much.

Then again, there are scores of folks who don’t share that half-formed sentiment. Here are some of the most prominent:

Live Blogging Google ‘Streaming” Search Event & How To Watch Live (SEL) Danny’s coverage of the news as it happened.

Search: now faster than the speed of type (Google Blog) The official announcement, with video.

Google Instant Makes SEO Irrelevant (Rubel) Not so fast, says Matt, below.

Thoughts on Google Instant (Matt Cutts) Matt is a key guy on search quality at Google. He says Google Instant will not kill SEO, among other things.

About Google Instant (Google.com) More from Google on why they did it.

Google Instant: A Mobile App Approach to Search (GigaOm) Interesting and cogent insight.

Google Instant Search: The Complete User’s Guide (SEL) As you would expect, second day overview on the first day from SEL.

Google Instant officially announced. Never underestimate speed. (TNW) Speed is the focus of Google’s announcement.

Google Just Killed The “I’m Feeling Lucky Button” (GOOG) (SAI) And, according to SAI, made a cool 100MM+ in the process.

More after a few days of using it…

More Thoughts On Demand: A Referendum of Sorts on Google and Social

By - September 03, 2010

Demand.pngIt’s been nearly a month since Demand filed its S1, and I promised you all a longer look after my initial posting. Here are some thoughts now that I’ve had a chance to digest the document. A caveat: I know Demand CEO Richard Rosenblatt well, and consider him a friend. And one of his investors, Oak, is an investor in my company, Federated Media. However, neither Oak nor Richard participated in the preparation of this post.

First off, the offering is notable for the number of banks that grace its cover sheet. I count ten, as many as Google had in its IPO back in 2004. That shows the hunger in the financial world for a win – and the company that gets in front of that hunger has a better chance than most to succeed in an offering, as those banks will all be pushing shares to their best clients.

But Demand’s S1 is far more traditional than Google’s. There’s no auction involved, and the company stays far away from the revolutionary prose espoused in Google’s S1 (remember “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one” ? And recall my response: “Yow,” I said to myself (and now to you…). “Do they really want to set themselves up like this?”)

One can debate whether Google has managed to live up to its S1, six years later, but it’s clear that Demand isn’t planning on setting itself up in a similar way. The two lead bankers are stalwarts Goldman and Morgan Stanley, and it looks like Demand is going to play this one straight down the middle.

I find Demand’s IPO interesting for several reasons, but the one that really gets me thinking is the company’s positioning – a new form of media company that leverages technology, algorithms, and scale. It reminds me of Yahoo – which picked up Demand-like Associated Content recently.

Yahoo is currently running an industry campaign titled “Science, Art, and Scale” – arguing that it takes all three to make a great media company. When it comes to Demand, one might argue there’s a distinct lack of “Art,” but young companies always play to their initial strengths. Regardless of whether you believe Demand is the next big thing or a “content farm,” anyone who is paying attention to the world of Internet media should take the time to get smart on Demand’s model. Win or lose, there’s much to learn in how the market judges this offering.

In fact, I believe this IPO could well be a tipping point of sorts, a referendum on not just the financial markets, but on the Era of Google as we know it. More on that in a minute.

The Offering

Demand checks the box as a typical Internet media company – it’s got large reach and scale with owned and operated properties like eHow and Livestrong.com, and it’s got a freshly minted syndication business for its largely service-driven content base. But having large numbers (86 million uniques, in the case of Demand) isn’t enough to get a company public these days (ten years ago was a different story).

Investors now want a company to show them how its can turn those uniques into dollars, ideally via multiple product lines. And Demand has a pretty impressive history of doing just that – not without controversy, to be certain, but still, the scale is impressive.

Demand declares its mission thusly: “To fulfill the world’s demand for commercially valuable content.” As has been outlined well by others, Demand’s core product, at least as far as it is encountered by a consumer, is the daily creation of thousands of text and video articles on mostly service-related topics: How To Choose a Watermelon, for example, or How to Tie A Tie. Demand has also begun to create and aggregate content against celebrity brands in classic media categories – Lance Armstrong in health, or Tyra Banks in women’s interest.

Demand also is one of the world’s largest registrars, where it actively plays the domain game, leveraging “type in traffic” against AdSense for Domains and Yahoo’s competing product, as well as testing that traffic against its own content (which in itself is monetized through both AdSense and site specific brand campaigns). The domain business is extremely lucrative, in that it offers both subscription and advertising revenue, and operating costs are low. As Demand puts it in the S1: “Our Registrar complements our Content & Media service offering by providing us with a recurring base of subscription revenue, a valuable source of data regarding Internet users’ online interests, expanded third-party distribution opportunities and proprietary access to commercially valuable domain names that we selectively add to our owned and operated websites.”

I’m not going to wade into the debate over “content farms” here, mainly because I honestly find it a distraction. Demand has clearly found a strong and scaleable place in the search and content ecosystem. If journalists and publishers find it the model insulting, I suggest they create a better one. Demand’s content studio isn’t ever going to win a Pulitzer, nor, frankly, should it be asked to. But it works for me when I want to tie a tie. And that, times millions of uniques a day, is a real business.

The Financials

As most coverage has pointed out at length, Demand is not making money, at least not on a GAAP accounting basis, which of course is what matters at the bottom line. But the company is quick to point out that it is, in fact, making money on an “adjusted OIBIDA” basis, and a lot of it. From the S1:

“For the year ended December 31, 2009 and the six months ended June 30, 2010, we reported revenue of $198 million and $114 million, respectively. For these same periods, we reported net losses of $22 million and $6 million, respectively, operating loss of $18 million and $4 million, respectively, and adjusted operating income before depreciation and amortization, or Adjusted OIBDA, of $37 million and $26 million, respectively. See “Summary Consolidated Financial Information and Other Data—Non-GAAP Financial Measures” for a reconciliation of Adjusted OIBDA to the closest comparable measures calculated in accordance with GAAP.”

On page 12 of the filing, the company gets into this measure, and it’ll be by this measure that the company hopes to be judged in financial circles. Sorry to give you more financial jargon, but it’s important:

“Our non-GAAP Adjusted OIBDA financial measure differs from GAAP in that it excludes certain expenses such as depreciation, amortization, stock-based compensation, and certain non-cash purchase accounting adjustments, as well as the financial impact of gains or losses on certain asset sales or dispositions. Our non-GAAP revenue less TAC financial measure differs from GAAP as it reflects our consolidated revenues net of our traffic acquisition costs. Adjusted OIBDA, or its equivalent, and revenue less TAC are frequently used by security analysts, investors and others as a common financial measure of operating performance.”

In short, it’s the OIBDA that’s got ten banks eager to take this company public. As far as I can tell, the OIBDA measure is intended to showcase Demand’s content business (as opposed to the registrar revenue), as the content business is growing far faster, overtaking registrar revenue 58% to 42% this year. By the measure of content OIBDA, the company is minting money, nearly $26 million in the first six months of this year.

However, Demand chose to take all that operating profit, plus some, and reinvest it (mostly) in acquisitions (to the tune of $21mm). And GAAP rules meant the rest of the operating profit was eaten up by non cash items like content amortization, stock option expenses, and depreciation.

In other words, the company could have been GAAP profitable, but – and this is important – it chose not to be. That’s interesting. We’ll see if the market agrees with this strategy.

Regardless, the company has significant revenue, and that revenue is ramping. $114 million in the first half of 2010 is impressive, and that’s before Q4, which for most media companies comprises 40% or more of annual revenue. That puts Demand on track to clear more than a quarter of a billion in revenue this year.

The Google Referendum and the Social Connection

OK, moving on from financials, the next key factor in the Demand offering is how, in a very real sense, it’s a referendum on Google’s current and future business prospects. Google is far and away the largest referrer of traffic to Demand properties, and its largest revenue source as well (this includes revenue from YouTube via eHow and other videos). The S1 acknowledges this, declaring that the company receives 26% of its revenue from Google, but it does not explicitly say what percentage of traffic it receives from Big G. Suffice it to say, it’s got to be huge. (Danny has an estimate here – it’s in the mid thirty percent range).

So the big question is this: If Demand is, in essence, a company that leverages Google as a platform (like Zynga does Facebook, for example), how will the stock market handicap Demand’s – and therefore Google’s – future?

It’s a worthy question. Google as an investment hasn’t done so well lately, in particular compared to rival Apple. Another rival, Facebook, is most likely going to be the hottest IPO after Demand (or Skype). So from Google’s standpoint, Demand is an important event, and I’m going to guess Google executives are rooting for it to be a raging success.

To me, all of this turns not on whether Demand will continue to be a search and content success (it will, to my mind), but whether Demand’s content can in some way become essential in what is increasingly a social content ecosystem. Of course, that is a key question for Google as well – can it add a third dimension of social to its flat content-based model of search?

Put another way, Google owns the web of directed intent – help me find WHAT I need, WHEN I need it. Content like Demand works beautifully in this world, and up till now, the web has been modeled on the search centered world of WHAT. But the web is moving to a web of indirect intent – modeled more on how people communicate with each other, as opposed to how people find answers. That’s a WHO-driven web, a social web – a Facebook web. And the WHAT web, led by Google, hasn’t cracked that nut. The reason? Well, in short, people are not predictable. That’s the charley horse of social. We love to share, but writing algorithms that predict sharing is a tricky business.

Criticisms of Demand’s content declare, rightfully, that “flat” articles about how best to tie a tie or potty train a pet are not the kind of articles that most people want to share. They serve a single purpose: they are consumed and folks move on. It’s a classic search model.

Branded content, however, is far more social, because branded content is written with a human voice and published by a branded entity. Search drives a lot of traffic to branded content, of course, but once there, people tend to share branded content a lot more than “how to tie a tie.” The former is socially shareable (“hey, check this out, it’s interesting”) and the latter is specific (“I need an answer, and I don’t think my friends have the same need right now”).

This was ever so. Voice and point of view are the distinction here. Encyclopedias and Yellow Pages don’t have it, Mashable and the Huffington Post do. People are far more likely to point a friend to a link on HuffPo than a link on eHow.

So whatever Demand’s social strategy is will say a lot about how the company, and by extension Google, might compete in the next few years.

Unfortunately, the S1 doesn’t give us much to go on when it comes to this topic. Demand does, through its purchase of Pluck, provide “enterprise-class social media tools allow websites to add feature-rich applications, such as user profiles, comments, forums, reviews, blogs, photo and video sharing, media galleries, groups and messaging offered through our social media application product suite.”

But Demand does not disclose how much revenue it receives from this offering. I think one can safely assume it’s not very large.

So how can Demand get more social? A few ways. First, it can build “up the pyramid” – create branded sites like Livestrong.com that draw scale from thousands of “how to” articles, then layer more social branded content on top. This is clearly an area the company is getting into, with its recently inked deal with Tyra Banks, for example.

Second, it can figure a way to makes its service content accessible through the new distribution channel of social. As I’ve said many times, social is challenging search as the navigation interface for consumer intent. To put it another way, many of us are just as likely to tweet or post on Facebook something like the following “Help! I forgot how to tie a tie!” as we are to search for that on Google. We then hope one of our pals will post a link to – well, perhaps to eHow’s page on the subject.

What if there were a better way to surface those links as smart responses to such questions, through Facebook’s own advertising platform, for example, or a new app that Demand might create on the Facebook Platform? That’s one way to make service content more social – weave it into the fabric of social services at the root level. When I ask that question on Facebook about tying that tie, perhaps the response comes from a Demand content app.

But how does this help Google? I’m not sure, to be honest. At some point, the company will have to figure a way to play nicely with Facebook. Perhaps if Demand succeeds, both as a public company and in relationship to social, Google will see Demand as a point of entry to solving this problem. I’m not predicting this, as it’d be a stretch for Google to own a company that clearly competes with the rest of the content web – the same content web Google depends on for its value. Then again, Google did buy YouTube….

In Conclusion: The Role of Data

Perhaps the least discussed aspect of Demand’s business, but one that clearly is critical to its long term success, is the amount of data the company has on how people search, what they do once they do search, and what they do once they engage with a piece of content. This includes how they share it, where they go next, and so on. The ability to see those patterns, make products against them, and ultimately profit form them is at the heart of Demand’s model.

Given the size of Demand’s content network, its sophistication in terms of leveraging search data, and its ambition to be a larger brand player, I can see the company starting businesses in the data services field – should it decide to. Or it might, as Google does, keep that data for itself, and leverage it to its own end. Either way, I think it’s worth noting that there’s a hidden data gem in Demand’s business, one that will be a major asset as it negotiates acquisitions, new product developments, and business deals with the major players of the Internet Economy.

Demand’s bid for the public spotlight comes at a fascinating time for the world of content, navigation, and social media. It raises questions about the future models of search and social networks. Watch this one, and watch how leaders Google and Facebook respond to it.


Fortunately for us, Demand Media CEO Rosenblatt agreed to come speak at Web 2 prior to filing for the IPO. That means he can continue to be part of the event. You can register or request an invitation on the site here.