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“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

Archive for June, 2007

Social Networking No Longer a Fad…So What Do We Do About It

Posted by direwolff on June 30, 2007

It’s time that social networks enter the fabric of the Net.  Jeff Pulver recently blogged about how Facebook is becoming the new AOL which makes sense, but is just silly that it’s happening.  Marc Canter has been talking about how open standards need to play a bigger role and that every one needs to open up their networks.  In Marc’s most recent post (which is a tad self-referential since he points to one of my previous posts) it appears that Dave Winer is also doing some thinking along these lines.

As I’ve been spending more and more time on Facebook, and I’m starting to see how natural it is to keep up with what my connections are doing.  They’ve gone beyond what others before them have done, especially as it relates to that recent News Feed feature.  How nice it would be if I didn’t need all of my friends and family to have joined Facebook to keep up with them.  Some of my friends just have Flickr pages and like to take pictures and blog there.  It would be cool to have those show up on my Facebook News Feed.  Some other friends are blogging only and have not joined any social networks per se.  Why not also be able to see what they’re doing through Facebook?  There are some people on Last.fm that pick some awesome music and I’d like to just subscribe to them for that purpose.  Then there’s the issue of keeping up with my connections on LinkedIn, as they change jobs or post questions or any other activity that LinkedIn supports.  So why do I have to join every one of these services to subscribe (ie. read only) to this info.  Seeing them through Facebook is really just a metaphor for something equivalent to an RSS reader that can read all of these other types of info.  Some of these services publish their info in RSS, but this all still needs to get easier and supportive of more types of content.

Consider that today I don’t have to have an account on WordPress or Six Apart to be able to subscribe to a friend’s (or simply someone whose perspectives interest me) blog posts.  Heck, looking at the list of blogs I track on my Google Reader, I don’t personally know most of the people whose opinions I follow, but I enjoy keeping up with these none-the-less.  Why isn’t this the case for everything else?  I have no problems with people wanting to maintain their privacy and having privacy controls in place so as to control their authorized distribution list.  It just seems like we should be able to abstract all of the capabilities in Facebook into a broader set of protocols, in a manner similar to how RSS did this for blog posts.  Perhaps it’s handled through extensions to RSS, I don’t know I’m not techie enough to figure that out, but guys like Marc Canter, Dave Winer and Marc Andreessen, should be able to exploit this opportunity some how.  I mention the “Marcs” because they understand the issues well considering their latest start-ups, PeopleAggregator and Ning.  Dave of course, comes in to play because of his RSS-fame.

How does this get elevated to becoming an opportunity?  As I recall, in the last iteration, Netscape took on the challenge with RSS, though it was Dave picking up the mantle and driving it through to where it is today.  There’s a useful history on Wikipedia.  Perhaps its time for the next generation of wunderkind to take on this challenge since they inherently understand social networking and have basically grown up with it.  All I’m saying here, is that it’s time.  I want to keep up with my family, my friends, my business associates, my acquaintances, and this should not require letter writing or sending periodic e-mails, or any explicit means of reaching out.  It can, but it shouldn’t be required.  In thinking of how many times I recount a story of a vacation to several friends on different days over different months.  How many times I announce an important happening in my life, whether it be getting married or changing jobs.  All of these communications would benefit from me being able to simply publish them and have them reach those who need to know or simply want to know.  I should be able to control who that is, but once done, it just needs to happen.  Those who care and want to know, would have an easy way to keep up with my life and all of its facets.   It’s interesting to see what serendipity occurs when I publish something on Facebook, whether in my status or a note, and the connections people facilitate for me or anecdotes they share from seeing something they didn’t previously know I was interested in.  It yields deeper, valuable and useful interactions.   Any one not experimenting on Facebook is missing out on seeing the beautiful interactions and getting the warm and fuzzies from seeing that one of their friends is also friends with another one of their friends that they weren’t aware of, or that your attending the same event as another good friend is attending without having coordinated this.  Serendipity.

Note, I’m not envisioning search engine participation here unless the person publishing their life desires it.  I don’t want a search engine spidering my Facebook posts and activity, which given their closed garden approach they can control today.  Hence, something equivalent to the robot.txt file on Web sites would need to be created to allow me to not have my content crawled and included on search engines.  Violating this should be punishable by law so as to create the appropriate privacy protections for us as publishers and the appropriate disincentive to keep nefarious search engines at bay (get busted for crawling my private distribution info and go to jail, doesn’t matter if Jimmy passed it on to Jane when Jane wasn’t an authorized subscriber to me).  Copyright could also play a role for any content I publish about myself.  This leads me down the path of the AttentionTrust with the idea that we should be able to own our information.

Anyway, I’m hopeful that people are beginning to grok this stuff.  I remember back in 1994 at Reuters, (who had the foresight among a certain group of executives to see that the Net was coming and was going to be important), that the board of directors at the time was very pessimistic about this whole “Internet thing”.  The words “it’s just a fad” were commonly bandied about.  As the guy brought in to look at the business opportunities for Reuters on the Net, it was a might discouraging but I didn’t care because I knew it would happen with or without their participation.  Fortunately for the company, the execs who got it, got it big and ran with it.  Today’s leadership there is as on top of the game as one could hope.

When I started working for Tribe, I heard this all over again.  Social Networking is going to a fad, the detractors would say.  Many friends of mine, in their early 40s have yet to explore the medium as they believe it’s for kids, “it’s just silly”, “who wants to put up all of their information like that”, “I don’t have time to play with that”.  Oy!  Well, it’s not up to them any more, and most young people under 30 are fully immersed in these worlds and understand how these services further their social interactions in every phase of their lives.  The future will be.  Now it’s time to agree, like I believe we agree that the Internet is here to stay, and say that social networking is also here to stay and it needs to play a role at the infrastructure level.

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Indoor Skydiving…Cool!

Posted by direwolff on June 30, 2007

I was just over on Tribe, perusing some of the tribes I belong to and seeing if I was missing out on any worthwhile discussions when in the kitesurfing tribe I found the following post:

Hello I’m new to the tribe and very new to owning my own business. Prior Biz Dev Mgr at HP in Silicon Valley now gone
wind tunnel owner…
It’s a totally cool, safe and INCREDIBLE business to experience human flight WITHOUT the danger of skydiving! Check us out at: www.iFlySFBay.com We fly everyone 3yrs to 93yrs!

Here’s the question…how do I promote it in the internet space? MySpace? Google Ad’s, Yahoo postings? Mass emails?

I am working on a limited budget (like everyone I know…) planning printed ads, news events for the launch, VIP tours, etc but am really not sure about what the “best practices” are for internet publicity?

Any ideas?

Thank you, Kent Sessions

Well, it looks like they’re opening one of these facilities in the East Bay (it’s somewhere between 92 (San Mateo Bridge) and 84 (Dumbarton Bridge)). It didn’t take long to read through the site and figure out that my adrenalin junkie body would regale in the opportunity to fly around a chamber and enjoy that free-fall feeling. It also didn’t take long for me to pony up for two pre-opening bonus priced introductory flight sessions for me and Lil’ Pinot. They’re supposed to be opening some time this summer and now I can’t wait. You know what they say, “there’s one born every minute”…an adrenalin junkie that is ;). I’ll definitely report back and hopefully post the video from the DVD they make of us (comes with the introductory flight session) so every one can live vicariously through our experience.

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Subscribing to parts of our DLA

Posted by direwolff on June 28, 2007

With this post I’m going to come across like more of a shill for Marc Canter, than the other kiss-ass posts (here and here) that you’ve seen from me, but it’s because I keep track of things people say and when they come true, long after many have forgotten, I remind every one that this had been predicted so as to keep it all in perspective and pay better attention to these prognosticators. Of course, I also like to call out those who’ve predicted stuff that never happened…but I tend to do that more in private or behind their backs ;) Under full disclosure, I’m also an advisor to Marc’s Broadband Mechanics.

While at Tribe in late 2004, Marc was explaining the importance of Digital Lifestyle Aggregators (DLA), and in doing so he pointed out that eventually people would have several components on their page and others would subscribe to those components they were interested in. Note, at this time RSS feeds were gaining major momentum, but Marc was going further. We discussed components like perhaps a list of recipes that one might maintain and others might want to subscribe to, or perhaps my photo album or song titles so that any time I post something new my friends could keep up with this through their subscriptions.

I believe Multiply was the first social networking community site that enabled this sort of capability, but it’s not clear that they have yet entered the mainstream consciousness though I’ve always found their offering to be pretty cool. However, in reading a recent blog post from Marc, it appears that on the heels of Facebook opening up its APIs and its recent News Feed capability, one of the start/home page providers, Pageflakes, has announced that they are getting into social networking. In effect, given that they already enable people to share or subscribe to widgets on other users’ pages, this will now take them to the next level of being a full on DLA that enables people to subscribe to others’ parts. Very interesting indeed.

Given that I’m a fan of Pageflakes, it will be interesting to see how users take to this and what innovations will be derived from this model.

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Boy, what’s an entrepreneur to do with all of this conflicting advice

Posted by direwolff on June 26, 2007

With the jump in activity from my recent work with Loyalty Lab, it’s taken its toll on my blog reading. It’s been worth it in some ways because I believe that retention marketing or permission marketing or loyalty marketing or whatever you want to call it, holds the key to some of the overarching privacy issues that are mounting on the Internet and legislatively. Issues that I expect will affect all sites and services that track users/members/buyers’ movements online without providing for a way to opt-out. But more on that in a future post.

The first blog I caught up with was Chris Law’s blog, 1000 Flowers Bloom. He doesn’t post very frequently, but I always enjoy reading when he does. I had the privilege of working with Chris at Tribe, and followed his and Paul Martino’s travails into Aggregate Knowledge, and his blog is my small way of keeping up with him. In Chris’ latest post, “Won’t you just get acquired“, he refers to a post by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo on MediaShift. Jennifer reflects in her post that a panel composed of Josh Koppelman, Julie Hanna Farris, and Paul Kedrosky seemed to agree with her take that many of the presenting companies at Supernova’s Connected Innovators session presented applications that were “features not a company”.

From here, I checked out Mark Pincus’ (another Tribe founder) latest post on “How NY is like burning man“, which provided the levity I needed to then go read Marc Andreessen‘s 13 blog posts since my last visit to his blog, which are always interesting and insightful. He’s getting lots of kudos from the blogosphere on the quality of his posts, and it’s well deserved. He’s one of those guys that “I remember when…” and he was bright then back in 1994, and he seems to have only gotten brighter with age. There were two new parts on his series, “The Pmarca Guide to Startups”. Because I was reading these on Google Reader, they were coming up in reverse chronological order, so I first caught part 4: The only thing that matters. Here Marc breaks down the components that most affect a start-up’s success as being, the team, the product and the market. It’s most certainly a worthwhile read, and while there are some assessments he makes that I’m not sure I fully agree with, his citing of Andy Rachleff’s Corollary of Startup Success, being “The only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit.“, is dead-on from my experience with start-ups as well. What’s appealing about this statement is that it reconciles my observations of start-up teams starting in one place and a year later evolving and finding their success in another area that they would never have reached had they not gone out to market and tinkered until they got the product/market mix right.

I then moved on to Marc’s “part 3: “But I don’t know any VCs”” post where towards the end he points readers to Sequoia’s Web site where they provide some very good guidelines for entrepreneurs who want to submit their business plans. Noteworthy to the title of my post, is under the “Elements of Sustainable Companies” column, the Focus item says “Customers will only buy a simple product with a singular value proposition.”.

The dichotomy that presents itself is that on the one hand some of the companies who appear to be very focused on a problem are being called features rather than companies (and accused of just wanting to get acquired, as though that should be a bad thing, without consideration that such an acquisition might occur as a result of the start-up addressing an unmet need for the acquirer), by some. On the other hand, we’re getting well heeled VCs advising focus and singular value propositions.

Somehow, in all of this, it’s the latter position that appeals to me the most, because I believe that even if an early stage company releases what is considered by some as only a feature, there’s a better chance of growing that into a company if you have the product right, than having what is considered a company and needing to change directions because the features aren’t quite there. As well, a good feature is more easily monetized than a company that may need to prove itself over a much longer period of time.

I guess the reality is that I also don’t think that Jennifer’s tone is about the whole feature thing is appropriate given that people build companies for many different reasons and shouldn’t be judged for those, (…hmmm…am I judging Jennifer here?…hmmm…).

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The Best Birthday Party Invite…EVER!!!

Posted by direwolff on June 26, 2007

My dear friend Carolyn, just sent out a video birthday invitation that her friend “Mr. Dinner” created for her. It’s up on YouTube and totally rocks…gotta get Mr. Dinner to make one for me next year :) Check it out…

Carolyn’s boyfriend and also a good friend of mine, Smelley Kelly will be part of the entertainment with his band, the new and improved Plain High Drifters.

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Congrats to the Healia team!!!

Posted by direwolff on June 18, 2007

A well deserved exit for Tom Eng and his group at Healia that has really worked their hearts out developing what I believe to be the highest quality healthcare search engine.

Meredith Acquires Health Vertical Search Engine Healia

Furthers goal to reach more American women via digital platforms

DES MOINES, IA/BELLEVUE, WA (June 18, 2007) – Meredith Corporation (NYSE:MDP), one of America’s leading media and marketing companies, today announced the acquisition of Healia (www.healia.com), a consumer health search engine specializing in finding high quality and personalized health information online. Terms were not disclosed and the transaction will not have a material financial effect on Meredith.  (More…)

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You Gotta Love Jason Calacanis

Posted by direwolff on June 16, 2007

While I don’t always agree with Jason’s politics or his at times overbearing stage presence, I have a soft spot for him in that he seems to understand some subtleties of Web traffic and he exploits these diligently and directly. In his most recent post about Mahalo, he announces the launch of Mahalo Greenhouse where he is now paying people $10 to $15 per search result page created. In contrast with my previous comments about the service, what I like about this latest development is threefold.

First, the SEO value of these pages is significant and $10 to $15 feels like relatively cheap labor to me but more importantly is that he’s paying a one time fee for this content that will likely have a greater lifetime value. Note by contrast that About.com pays its guides a percentage of the revenue generated from their pages, which is an on-going fee.

Second, by opening up and allowing people to submit search result pages, he’s tapping into that Wikipedia juju. That’s a beautiful thing, since he’s also allowing them to donate that money to the Wikimedia Foundation. Now he gains some wonderful PR and shows that he’s trying to do the right thing here. One might argue that the right thing would have been to follow the About.com model here too and pay a percentage of the ad revenue he will generate on an on-going basis to the foundation, but hey, baby steps, what he’s proposing is a step in the right direction.

Third, something we learned at Tribe, which many others surely know, is that “content is king”. In other words, for an advertising driven site to be successful it has to have a lot of content to increase the chances that results leading to its site will be frequently displayed by the major search engines. This is a sublety that is often not deeply understood by watchers of these sites, but that you quickly realize when seeing the daily logs of exactly how much traffic is coming from the search engines and what impact additional content can have on this. At one point, while at Tribe I had wanted to start a “love the content provider” campaign so that all areas that enabled people to submit content into service, be it recommendations, blog posts, discussion tribes, etc., would be reviewed to make sure they were as effective and simple as possible. Also, to explore and find ways to enable people to more frequently add content to the site. Suffice it to say, part of Mahalo’s ability to start generating real traffic, and hence revenues from this, will hinge on how fast it can create as much content as possible. While they could hire people, opening it up in Wikipedia sort of way means that now you can use people more effectively to review submissions for acceptance than to create the original content.

It will be interesting to keep up with Mahalo and see if these raw ideas that hit right at the heart of online success workout as cleanly as they appear. For me, the simplicity of the model, less so its ingenuity, make this a fascinating case study.

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Facebook on the Mind and Home Page

Posted by direwolff on June 13, 2007

Since getting into Facebook a couple of weeks ago, and finally connecting with various friends, including several I didn’t think would be on there, I’m beginning to feel a large metaphorical wave building under all of this. It’s the like the sum of the incremental changes and features of Facebook, many of which are not new, but lots of which are implemented in better ways than other such services, plus the fact that more people understand what social networks are as well as what all of the widgets can do for them, all of this is working towards creating a perfect storm. I posted on my Facebook status that just the Newsfeed feature is a gamer changer for them. Just the fact that I can keep up with all of my friends’ and contacts’ activities in near real-time is exciting.

While waiting for my new friend Sean who works with France Telecom’s Orange group that recently came out with a Netvibes competitor named Bubbletop, it occurred to me that the market of companies with start pages should soon feel the impact of the Facebook Platform. If I was any of the players in this space, including Netvibes and Pageflakes, I’d be exploring how to leverage Facebook’s API quickly. While many of these start page applications have been innovating from where the early MyYahoo! started, there’s nothing that beats keeping up with one’s social network as a means for capturing people’s attention. It’s interesting to me to see that Bill Tai is alternating sit-ups and responding to e-mail, or that Tara Hunt just posted some new cool pics, or that Kevin Werbach and Stowe Boyd are now friends with Don Park. It’s even interesting to see which applications my connections have added or removed from their profiles.

All of this reminds me of Seth Goldstein’s new Atten.TV, which is really trying to exploit these principles to the nth degree. Here’s how Atten.TV describes its service:

Atten.TV turns personal clickstreams into social media. It allows people to watch what other people are clicking on, in real-time.
You can be an exhibitionist and broadcast your clickstream to the world.
Or you can be a voyeur and just watch what others are clicking on.

Given the interest that people have in their friends and other people, it certainly makes sense that perhaps there are people who would want to know what others are looking at, not for any nefarious reasons, but just to know that they’re not missing out on the good stuff or out of curiosity for what others are exploring online.

The companies offering start pages, which in addition to the ones mentioned above, also include the likes of Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, are really missing the importance of all things social which really should be driving those start pages. Because none of them has excelled at delivering on true community models like Facebook, I’d say it will be easier for someone to leverage the Facebook APIs to make these start pages more interesting, or for Facebook themselves to begin providing start page-like functionality then it will be for these others to build up the community side of their offering. Google is trying to move in this direction but they are doing so in a more implicit manner which is what has caused people concern over the privacy issues. With Facebook, it’s all explicit, I define which people I want to keep up with, not some algorithm that groups with “like-minded people who have visited similar web sites or made similar queries to mine”.

With that said, the one other area that I think still needs some attention on Facebook are the access controls. Specifically, as more and more people are converging here for both work and play there’s a need to limit access to parts of one’s profile and activities so that some people can view some parts of me while others view other parts. I’ve recently been hearing that Facebook is a threat to LinkedIn. I’m not sure about this being the case yet, because there are lots of LinkedIn contacts and activities that I don’t necessarily want to have take place on Facebook. Primarily because some of the information I post on Facebook isn’t relevant to them. Likewise, there are some more businessy comments I may want to post on Facebook which will not be relevant to my personal non-business contacts. Breaking out access controls for “friends”, “family” or “public” is just not enough. I’m hopeful that a smart start-up figures out a way to access the APIs to help resolve this issue as well.

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Was Squidoo a CGM attempt at what Mahalo is doing?

Posted by direwolff on June 5, 2007

CGM = Consumer Generated Media

So first there was About.com (previously known as The Mining Company) with a model of creating a site with “guides” managing areas of interest and building up resource pages on the topics they were interested in and responsible for. These people were trained by the company, on how to create valuable real-estate on the About.com site, and were paid a percentage of the CPM/CPC revenue generated by their pages. Then, much later, came Squidoo. This service encouraged ordinary users interested in a topic to build a resource page and they would be paid a percentage of any affiliate revenue generated from offers appearing contextually on their page. This in effect took a lower cost approach to user generated content. While from a Google perspective, there’s probably some interesting search engine optimized (SEO) traffic coming here, the quality of the content pales in comparison to About.com’s. Not having looked at all of the Squidoo content versus all of the About.com it might be a bit speculative to make this last comment, but it’s been my impression in random reviews of both sites that About.com is more useful to me than Squidoo.

But now, along comes Mahalo with what seems to be some innovative positioning in saying that it’s going after the search engine biz, when in effect, it doesn’t cater to the “Long Tail” of searches at all (only focused on top 20,000 queries and are up to the top 5,000 so far). Next, it proposes to create a results/topic page for each of the 20,000 queries. For any query not covered by the Mahalo pages, regular Google results will be returned. At this stage, the service appears to be more analogous to a site with 20,000 pages that offers search results using the Google site search capability. But given that Mahalo is going after the top 20,000 queries that should also mean that they will eventually begin to place highly within the organic search engine results given the SEO opportunity here. Hmm…

Mahalo appears to be taking a more similar approach to About.com in terms of training and paying people to create the pages (versus allowing people to naturally do this on their own). The differentiator is how they’re choosing the content for building their site pages.  Like About.com, the quality of the pages should also be superior to Squidoo’s.

One can call this search, but I think that’s a stretch given that there are several more appropriate metaphors for what Mahalo is doing. I’d even liken it more to Richard Rosenblatt’s DemandMedia, that went from the domainer business to one where they would build up the domains with relevant content to create a more permanent informative destination page, monetized through text-based advertising though they will surely be well positioned in the future for the lead generation business. The Demand Media offering is described as follows:

Demand Media consists of nearly 60 Web sites in niche verticals such as golf, outdoors and gardening, reaching 28 million unique visitors per month; a domain registry service that’s second in size to godaddy.com and reaches 60 million unique visitors per month across its sites; and the “Channelme.tv” initiative launched in May. Under Channelme.TV, Demand Media provides Web users with the ability to buy a personalized URL, such as their name, and add a .tv to it. Individuals then can populate their sites with videos from about 15 Web partners, such as YouTube, Brightcove and MySpace, creating a “personalized TV channel.”

Here’s a great breakout of Demand Media’s properties (note that WeHow is even compared to Squidoo).

Anyway, given that I know a few of Mahalo’s investors, and know of the faith they have in Jason Calcanis, I’m sure there’s more to this play and likely some innovation on the cost side of creating this content which provides another advantage to the other models. That, and Jason is scrappy entrepreneur which you gotta like if you’re an investor in start-ups. So with that said, it will be interesting to keep up with his start-up to see how it evolves over the next couple of years.

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Posted in advertising, Online Community, Online-Offline Media, search & categorization | 1 Comment »