Ev Williams, CEO of Twitter, from stage today, notes this funny Google search suggest image….Twitter clearly has work to do …
Ev Williams, CEO of Twitter, from stage today, notes this funny Google search suggest image….Twitter clearly has work to do …
(image from Ad Age) The NYT has broken news of Twitter’s initial version of its native ad platform, which it is calling “Promoted Tweets.” I will acknowledge being briefed on this news prior to its breaking, and I did promise to withhold any comment until the news had been publicly broken.
Now that the Times has provided me with a reason to sound off, here are my initial thoughts on the program.
First the details. I’ll stick to what has been publicly reported, as that only seems fair. Obviously I’ve been thinking about this for some time, given I first theorized “TweetSense” back in 2008. But as to what the NYT has reported:
The advertising program, which Twitter calls Promoted Tweets, will show up when Twitter users search for keywords that the advertisers have bought to link to their ads. Later, Twitter plans to show promoted posts in the stream of Twitter posts, based on how relevant they might be to a particular user.
The news is not so much that Twitter will show sponsored tweets in search results – after all, we’re pretty used to that, thanks to AdWords. The real news is the second part: Twitter will include sponsored tweets in the “the stream of Twitter posts, based on how relevant they might be to a particular user.”
Read that sentence again. And think about what it means.
Let’s go to the basics of marketing, which have to do with attention, message, and return on investment. First, attention. Where is the attention on Twitter? Well, truth be told, more than 70% of it is not on Twitter.com. It’s on third party applications that drive traffic through the Twitter platform. Of course, Twitter has a huge amount of attention on Twitter.com, and with its acquisition of a popular iPhone app, as well as creation of a semi-official Blackberry app, it will have even more “owned and operated” attention out in the mobile world as well. But the majority will remain out in the developer ecosystem, with apps like TweetDeck, Seesmic, and Brizzly. This platform will drive ads out into that previously anaerobic ecosystem. That is a Good Thing.
Regardless of where Twitter users consumer their Twitter feeds, the reality is this: Twitter’s new ad platform will mark the first time, ever, that users of the service will see a tweet from someone they have not explicitly decided to follow.
And that marks an important departure for the young service. One that I think is both defensible, and, if done well, could be seminal to both Twitter and to its partners – both new (marketers) and old (developers). More on that when I come back….
(Posting this, taking a break to get kids to bed, will update soon.)
OK I am back. So I pointed out what I believe to be the major shift in Twitter’s ad platform – that its users will see stuff they’ve not elected to follow. The key question then becomes, as it was with Google’s AdWords – will that which they see be relevant, useful, valuable?
Twitter Dick Costolo responds to this question in the Times piece thusly:
Twitter will measure what it calls resonance, which takes into account nine factors, including the number of people who saw the post, the number of people who replied to it or passed it on to their followers, and the number of people who clicked on links. If a post does not reach a certain resonance score, Twitter will no longer show it as a promoted post. That means that the company will not have to pay for it, and users will not see ads they do not find useful, Mr. Costolo said.
In short, “resonance” is Twitter’s quality score, its measure of whether an ad is useful (Google uses clicks on ads in a similar fashion). That Twitter is including this feature is, to my mind, crucial – it means advertisers have to add to the conversation that is Twitter, or face losing their ability to insert commercial messaging into the Twitter stream.
Initial response to this program – at least in my own Twitter stream, chock full of new media pundits and marketers as may be – is mixed. @Scoble isn’t convinced, but he’s open to hearing more. Others have praised it, and predictably, some have claimed they are forever done with Twitter if it forces ads into their streams.
My reaction is this: This is to be expected, even welcomed, in particular by developers. The initial program is very limited – there are only six initial advertisers – but Twitter has set some pretty clear parameters. First, the ads will be clearly marked as such. Second, the ads will have to perform – and that performance is determined by Twitter’s users, as understood through Twitter’s own algorithms. And third, the ads will be delivered in the grammar of the service itself, not secondary to it.
Sounds an awful lot like the parameters that made AdWords a major success, if you ask me.
I’m not predicting Promoted Tweets will travel the same path, but it sure would have been dumb to ignore the lessons of the most successful digital advertising format in the history of the Web.
Now, on to why I think this is good for the developer ecosystem (I’ll get to whether this is good for marketers next). My initial sense is yes, this is a good thing. Twitter will almost certainly roll this system out through their API, allowing developers to run the same ads in their own curations of the Twitter firehose. And while, as with AdSense, Promoted Tweets may not allow developers to cover 100% of their costs, it sure will help. And as the system develops, and more advertisers join, developers will start to understand how much revenue they might expect from the platform, allowing them to plan for investment and value creation on top of the base dollars they can expect from Twitter.
Again, we’ve seen this movie before, and the web is better for it.
Now, as to marketers.
Unlike with AdWords, which launched in 2001 to minimal fanfare and with a base of mostly small business marketers (the kind who might have spent with the Yellow Pages, or the kind who understood how to game GoTo back in the day), this new system is launching with major brand advertisers who have already committed to “being in the conversation” that Twitter represents.
It’s a safe way to start, free of the wild west, gray market early days of AdSense/AdWords. But to truly scale, Twitter is going to have to open up their platform to anyone with a credit card and the desire to buy their way into the dialog. That’s both scary and potentially very powerful.
Twitter is already open to anyone with an account and something to say. But only those with money can buy a Promoted Tweet. I look forward to the day when the system evolves to let pure capitalism work out its kinks in real time, through the Twitter universe. The key, to my mind, is the concept of resonance. If Twitter gets this right, only “good” ads will make it into our Twitter streams. That will force marketers to mind what they say when given the privilege of being inserted into our feeds. To think hard about adding value to the conversation that surrounds their brands.
And honestly, isn’t that the kind of behavior we’d hope for?
What do you think of Promoted Tweets? I’m eager to hear. Leave a comment or hit me back on @johnbattelle. I’ll be listening.
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.
Several 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.
This is simply not going to scale, Apple. It’s not. OPEN UP.
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.
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!
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
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.
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?