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Is TweetUp Bill Gross' Second Overture?

By - April 11, 2010

It sure sounds that way, from this NYT story.:

Bill Gross, the serial entrepreneur who pioneered search advertising, is unveiling a venture on Monday that aims to make money by allowing people using Twitter to bid on key words to give their posts top ranking.

I’d say this was brilliant if it weren’t for the fact (OK, not fact yet, but my strong sense) that Twitter is going to do something quite similar, soon. I’ve been calling this platform “TweetSense” for some time, but whatever its name, it’s certain Twitter will do something along these lines, and it has a distinct advantage because it sees all the data across the Twitter ecosystem.

But just as with GoTo, nee Overture, nee Yahoo, Gross understands the power of a strong #2. I’m always rooting for Bill, so I look forward to seeing how this develops.

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A Note to Twitter Developers: Alas, It Was Ever So: Now, Add Value, Post Haste

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chirp.pngSeveral moves by Twitter in the past week have Twitter developers understandably nervous about their future. Many of them have labored for months, if not years, to create applications on top of the open Twitter ecosystem, and they’ve created a lot of value in doing so. They have “filled holes” in Twitter’s often bare bone service, creating Twitter-reading clients, Twitter application stores, Twitter filtering tools of all stripes, even Twitter analytics tools. The explosion of Twitter apps has been a boon to the service, driving rapid adoption and a strong allegiance in the developer community toward the young company.

Much of that has been called into question after the company indicated it would start building its own device-specific clients, as it did last week with Blackberry. It followed that news with the acquisition of a popular iPhone client. And, in a case of what appears to be independently poor timing, Twitter investor Fred Wilson penned a thoughtful but inflammatory post about the role of developers which led many to conclude that their efforts may well be subsumed by Twitter’s own internal efforts.   

For background on all of this, read the NYT’s Sunday piece. You know the old school media world cares when the Times gives Twitter main billing in the Sunday Business section.

But in the main, I have to agree with Fred’s points. Like Facebook, or the Microsoft OS, or the iPhone, there will be “core” features that the platform will develop, and these features will continue to evolve over time. But for every core asset integrated into Twitter’s ecosystem, there are probably 1,000 opportunities that developers can address. Add in the Facebook, LinkedIn, Buzz, and other firehoses, and the possibilities start to go exponential.

The point is this: Two years ago, adding value to the Twitter ecosystem meant building a good reader, or a good aggregator. But the game changes over time, and if you don’t keep moving, you will become irrelevant. Value now is not value then. That’s the life of the startup world. If you run a startup that feeds off the oxygen of a growing platform, your job is to add value in a way that continues to redefine what’s possible on that platform. Keeping running ahead, and figure out a way to get paid along the way. That’s what FM does, to be honest – we’re a Twitter developer too. And what we do now can’t be what we did last year. It just doesn’t cut it anymore.

It should be very interesting to see how this all evolves at the Chirp conference this week – Twitter’s first ever developer confab. I’m “MC” for the first day, and I look forward to hearing from Ev, Biz, Dick, and various Twitter partners and developers. It should be quite a conversation.

IAB: Internet Ad Revenues Reach Record Quarterly High

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This from the IAB’s annual revenue report. I’m a board member of the IAB, FWIW. From the release:

Though U.S. Internet advertising revenues, at $22.7 billion for the year, showed a 3.4% decline from 2008, there are signs of an emergent recovery in the industry. The fourth quarter of 2009 hit a record quarterly high of $6.3 billion, a 2.6% increase year-over-year and a 14% increase over the third quarter of 2009.

Highlights of the report include: Search and display-related advertising continue to represent the largest percentages of overall interactive advertising spend. Search revenues, comprising 47% of the total, amounted to nearly $10.7 billion for 2009, up slightly from 2008. Display-related advertising—which includes display ads, rich media, digital video and sponsorship—totaled nearly $8 billion in 2009, showing an increase of 4% from 2008. One component of display-related advertising, digital video, continues to experience robust growth, with an almost 39% increase from 2008 to 2009. These latest revenue figures underscore the significant share shift taking place from traditional media to digital. Based on industry data from PwC from 2005 to 2009 in five key U.S. ad-supported media (television, radio, newspapers, consumers magazines and Internet), the Internet’s share of combined ad revenue grew from 8% to 17%.


The full report has a lot of good charts and data, a couple below, but read it yourself …. lots to chew on.

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Foursquare – I Wish It Was Better For Me…

By - April 06, 2010

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I’ve been using Foursquare for a few months now, and I’m impressed with the service on many levels. But I have to be frank – the most impressive thing about it – at least in this test group of one – is what it *could* be, not what it is.

First, the caveats. I use Foursquare, for the most part, on a Blackberry, which means the app is limited by RIM’s hardware and software. This means – as just one example – that when I’m checking in, the process is often fraught with poorly triangulated data (the Blackberry app uses cel towers, not GPS, to determine where you are). In plain English, that means that the app sometimes thinks I’m in Marin when I’m in San Francisco, Mill Valley when I’m in Ross, or fails to properly figure out where I am at all. Not good for a location-based service.

This also means that I want to rely on the web-based service as a backstop for much of my interaction, and, well, the web-based version of the service ain’t very good. It’s clearly not built to help folks like me, and, perhaps for the majority of folks, that’s just fine. But for me, not so much.

Another caveat is that I’m pretty much “not in the demo” – at least as I understand it. I’m not in my early 20s, and I don’t go out a lot in search of connection (despite the “Bender” badge I earned for having breakfast with my kids. Enough said there). So I get almost no value from the “Tips” that are offered on any given venue I check into – mainly because I’m not looking for tips (if there are even any to find). I check into places I know pretty well already, and if I do go somewhere I’ve not been before, I find the app does a pretty poor job of surfacing tips, or any other value above the ambient satisfaction of just declaring “I am here.” Again, that’s not a good thing. I expect more from Foursquare than just the momentary fun of checking in. To me, checking in is a search (see here for more on checking in as the newest field in the Database of Intentions), and so far, the “search engine results” are pretty thin.

Not “being in the demo” also means I’m not looking to hook up – either with a roving band of urban nomad pals, or … well, anyone else, for that matter. For me, the biggest “hook up” that’s happened due to Foursquare so far is when my industry pal Josh Felser introduced me to a fellow who had just captured what had once been my mayorship of the Bay Club Marin. It was fun to meet the guy, and yes, Byron C., I’m coming for you…but honestly, after three months, I expected a bit more…human contact. Compared to three months of using Facebook or Twitter, Foursquare just ain’t doing it in the “connect me to other interesting humans” category.

Before you dismiss my thoughts as the rantings of an old man irrelevant to the Next Big Thing, recall that I’m very, very enthusiastic about this space in general. And, to my mind, if Foursquare can’t make itself Deeply Useful to a guy like me, well, the chances it’ll scale past the level of Mildly Interesting To A Few Million Hipsters is pretty low.

Now, let’s get past the caveats. I’ve got a number of things I wish the service would do, but doesn’t (or if it does, I’m not aware of it, and that’s an issue as well). Also, I’ve got a number of gripes, perhaps, again, that might be resolved by my own education, but my thesis is if a web service isn’t either initially self explanatory (IE, Amazon), or confusing but fascinating (Twitter) it’s not worth spending time on.

So far, Foursquare has not unfolded in any particularly interesting way beyond checking in. That, to me, is both a problem and an opportunity. Now that I’m in the habit of telling my “friends” where I am – what else? To me, that’s a critical problem with the service, one worthy of digging into.

It strikes me that businesses may have an answer to this question, but not at scale – yet. For example, if every X times I checked into the Bay Club, the club itself gave me some value – a discount at the pro shop, or my name in lights behind the counter (well, maybe not that, but you get the picture) – well, now that would be adding a lot of value. But getting hundreds of thousands of venues to figure out how to add value to Foursquare is a tall order, and so far, the examples of small businesses doing so are few and far between.

So what might Foursquare do, beyond just letting me compete with scores of others for the “mayorship” of the Bay Club? I’m not sure, but solving that problem should be at the top of the company’s list of To Dos….right behind ….figuring out what, exactly, a “friend” on Foursquare really is.

So on to that. Now I understand I’m not a normal use case, but I currently have hundreds of pending “friend requests” on Foursquare. Most of these requests are from people I don’t know. Given that I have 5000 friends and nearly 1000 pending requests on Facebook – where my policy has been “don’t be a d*ck” and just say yes – it’s not surprising that folks who I don’t know have reached out to connect on Foursquare. (Do they do that with you as well, I wonder?)

But here’s what I don’t understand about the service: What’s the value of a friend on Foursquare? On Twitter, I understand “followers” – they are folks who chose to read what you create. It’s sort of like a more personal and connected version of this site’s RSS feed. And I understand the same kind of connection on Facebook or Linked In – these are business, personal, and even “possible” friends – folks who I may one day meet and who may become colleagues or friends.

But on Facebook, I can keep folks in that third category at a distance – there’s no chance that, by declaring something on Facebook, folks might walk up to my table at Picco and create a socially awkward moment (well, at least there’s no chance since I made sure my Foursquare checkins don’t broadcast to Facebook status updates!).

With Foursquare, however… not so much. So I’ve tried to manage my Foursquare friends by the simple maxim that, at any given moment, should we find ourselves checking in to the same location, I’d have a decent chance of remembering who that person was.

This means I’ve got a lot of pending requests on Foursquare that I’d have easily approved on Facebook (and of course on Twitter, all of this is moot. Anyone can follow you). So sorry folks waiting for a reply from me – either I’m not sure how or why I might know you, or I’ve not been able to figure out the Blackberry app and approve you in the first place. Either way…not a good thing.

This is a long way of saying that the service is, to my mind, poorly instrumented from the point of view of social relationships.

Lastly, for now anyway, the service is deeply lame in terms of search. Everything is instrumented toward location, so you can’t search for stuff that isn’t near where you happen to be. When I wanted to find the location “Federated Media” just now, so I could link to it, the service found nothing. Why? Because I was “near Fairfax, CA”, and Federated is in SF. That’s just a terrible user experience – one I could write an entire post about, but I won’t (continue to) bore you.

And when you do find a place or a person, their checkin and other Foursquare history is not there, or it’s impossible to find. Also….not good.

I could go on, but I think given it’s late and your patience may be wearing thin, I’ll stop here and ask you all to help me out. What do you think of Foursquare? What am I missing? Is it living up to your expectations?

The service is enjoying an early Twitter like hype, and I certainly like both its founders and its backers. Dennis Crowley will be speaking at the CM Summit in June (that is, if he’s not too peeved at me for my Thinking Out Loud here), and I am, as anyone who reads this site knows, a huge fan of Fred Wilson, a Foursquare investor.

But because I see the huge potential lurking behind Foursquare, I can’t help but be honest. I’m close to losing interest in the service, despite my raging optimism about the space it represents.

Well, with one caveat. I’ll fight to the death to retain my nominal mayorship of FM’s San Francisco headquarters, of course. Keep trying, Jonas!

Hooey

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My Signal post is up over at FM. In it I ranted a bit about all the iPad hype, which is particularly dense here in the Valley:

The iPad is not going to change the world this week.

The world takes a long time to change. It doesn’t happen in one machine, or one year, or even one decade. Now, what the iPad represents – new approaches to user interfaces, sophisticated, third-generation software applications that are connected to and feed the Internet – yes, this is a very big deal.

But let’s not wrap all that change, which will take time to unfold – into one device and one launch. It’s ridiculous. Think back over ten years of Internet innovation – back to the year 2000. And as much as the Web has evolved, think how long it took us to get from the Treo to Android, or GeoCities to WordPress. It takes time, folks. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves

Brands As Publishers – Part 2

By - April 04, 2010

The second installment of Toward A New Understanding of Publishing is up over at the FM Blog. From it:

… what does it mean to have a good voice? And how does that relate to publishing?

Marketers have always aligned themselves with great voices: publishers whose communities reflect the Brand’s core values and promise. Some have even taken the next step – they’ve created those communities, extending beyond making a “traditional” media buy. American Express, for example, runs a significant print publishing business that includes Travel+Leisure and Food&Wine. And P&G famously created the soap opera in the early days of television, and today its PGP arm still runs two soaps, as well as the People’s Choice awards.

Initially, the benefits of such moves were clear: profitable properties (a new revenue source), good lists to mine for direct response conversion (marketing efficiency), and a high quality environment in which to market your Brand (well-lit Brand environments).

However, not many brands want to be in the magazine or television business – even when they weren’t in decline, as they are now. There are plenty of significant operating realities that simply do not scale in those mediums, if they ever did. The impetus to creating Brand Publishing offline was strategically correct, but its true value proposition – one all Brands can and must embrace – will be found online.

April Fools!

By - March 31, 2010

I was going to post…

…That Twitter had been sold, for 1.75 billion, to Google (who would pay that, I’d reckon).

…That MySpace had been sold, for 250 million, to Viacom (who would pay that, just to rub it into Murdoch’s face).

…That Google had announced it was only kidding about China, and was ready to play ball again with the PRC.

…That Facebook had made all public actions available in its API (oh wait, that’s going to be true!)

….That Foursquare announced it was no longer doing high profile deals and instead was going to focus on its product.

….That Yahoo and AOL were merging.

….That Microsoft had won the iPhone and iPad search business

…That Apple was opening up the iTunes store to web crawling, made peace with Adobe, and was launching an effort to create an SDK that ported iPhone/Pad apps to Android

…That Amazon had launched a payment business to compete with PayPal

…That eBay had bought Skype, again.

….and that Nokia had bought RIM.

But…April’s Fools is so boring now, ain’t it?

Why I Like Working With Marketers

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Cross posted from the FM Blog:

…For today’s Signal topic, I’d like to talk about marketing as a portal to understanding your business.

Now, before you roll your eyes and click away, stick with me for a minute. If you’re reading this post, chances are you are in business. And chances are also pretty good that business is media or marketing, because that’s the focus of Signal, after all.

So, what business are you in? Or, more to the point I’d like to make: What is your business?

You’d might be surprised at the number of folks I’ve met with in the past year who pause when I ask that question. Because, in the main, that number is exceedingly low.

Allow me to explain. While it might seem, from a cursory review of my career, that I’m fascinated by media and marketing, what really gets me up in the morning (or more accurately, wakes me up in the middle of the night) is business. I love the puzzle that is connecting a great idea with a great market (that’s the entrepreneur in me), and I love learning how Really Big Companies work. In fact, over the past decade or so, I’ve gone pretty deep in both: Starting several small businesses based on Big Ideas, and spending a ton of time with very engaged folks deep in brands like HP, American Express, Walmart, P&G, Intel, McDonald’s, and countless others.

And without an exception, I’ve found that asking interesting questions of senior folks responsible for marketing at large companies has led to exceedingly smart insights on how those businesses work. It’s sort of like Clift Notes for Big Biz – if you want to understand the company behind major brands, start with the folks who run marketing.

An example. Earlier this week I sat down with an SVP responsible for marketing at a major retailer. Because I don’t have his (or her) permission, I’ll keep my source – and the company – anonymous. But know this – this company has a top 25 e-commerce site, a national brand, a major catalog business, and several different divisions, all of which are high-end and are sub-brands in and of themselves.

As we dug into our conversation, we quickly dropped any pretense of our dialog being about marketing, at least in any traditional sense, and quickly got to questions that had to do with the business – what products sold when, where, and why; what kinds of data were gathered to support business decisions; which customers were most profitable, most elusive, and most difficult to convert; what role the founder’s DNA played in what had become a major enterprise’s business decisions (and why it was crucial to respect that); how the competition was playing its cards and what response to take to those moves; what institutional blocks were impeding innovation in the business; and on, and on, and on.

I could spend hours and hours, and days and days, in conversations like this one. In fact, I’m honored to say that for the most part, doing just that is pretty much my job these days…..(more )

Apple Won't Build a (Web) Search Engine

By - March 30, 2010

…but it will build the equivalent of an app search engine. It’s crazy not to. In fact, it has to. It already has app discovery via the iTunes store, but it’s terrible, with no signal that gives reliable results based on accrued intent.

What Apple needs is a search engine that “crawls” apps, app content, and app usage data, then surfaces recommendations as well as content . To do this, mobile apps will need to make their content available for Apple to crawl. And why wouldn’t you if you’re Yelp, for example? Or Facebook, for that matter? An index of apps+social signal+app content would be quite compelling.

What Apple will NOT do is crawl the entire web, which is what’s implied by this headline. Apple has already shown a general disdain for the open Internet, anyway, and I don’t see the company spending hundreds of millions of dollars in capital expense to play a game it can’t win anyway.

Google, on the other hand, already has web search well in hand, and most likely will also create an app engine. Unfortunately for us all, the two will most likely not share data. And that is bad for everyone.