Monthly Archives

July 2008

A reminder: We are part way through a social revolution

By | New Media, Social networks, Video | 11 Comments

I just watched all 55 minutes of this video from digital anthropologist Michael Wesch and it is awesome (you may have seen his earlier Information R/evolution). I don’t think I have ever sat through 55 mins of a YouTube video before. I love this one for the way it captures the hope, passion, excitement and shear force for change that the internet and social media represent.

I have often made the dry statement that web communities have the potential to replace the village communities of old that have been lost in the industrial era as we all move to cities and lose tough with our neighbours. This video will make you feel that in your heart.

All of which is a reminder that the social media revolution is a BIG DEAL for society. Some of the implications are scary, for example the constant exposure to being videoed and posted to the web and hate comments, whilst others are amazing, like deep connections formed over vast distances, new ways to explore identity and heightened levels of self-awareness.

All told we are looking at huge changes in the way society is structured, which will in turn mean big changes for the way entertainment is delivered and business is conducted.

Which brings me back to communities, networks and markets as investment themes.

If you have an hour and want to feel good about the web and the world, watch this video. If you only have ten minutes, watch the start.

Thanks to Lloyd for the pointer, picked up via FriendFeed.

Scrabulous loses out to corporate America

By | Casual Games, Facebook | No Comments

As reported on Techcrunch Scrabulous has been wiped off Facebook, following legal action against the owners of Scrabulous by Hasbro, who own the rights to the board game.

This issue has been rumbling on since April when Hasbro released their own version of Scrabble for Facebook and started to turn up the heat on Scrabulous.

Their first version of the game wasn’t a success and now Hasbro have released another version, this time in partnership with EA. This went live last week, and at the time of writing had 14,956 daily users. Before it went down in North America Scrabulous had half a million daily users.

It will be interesting to see how successful EA and Hasbro are with this for two reasons:

  1. It will give a steer on whether EA (and by implication other large games companies) have the capability to produce compelling social games – this is highly significant for startups in this space – Playfish, Zynga and SGN
  2. We will learn whether brand is as important in marketing social games as it has been in other forms of games – this could have big implications for game budgets, which could spiral if brand license deals become important (to give credit where it is due, this was a point made by Kristrian Segerstralle of Playfish on the post about Scrabulous back in April, the argument for brands being less significant in social games is that for the first time consumers get lots of information from their friends and social graph and therefore rely less on marketing and PR)

What a new search engine should be about

By | Google, Search | 26 Comments

There has been an awful lot of chatter about Cuil in the blogosphere over the last couple of days. The biggest memes have been (not very positive) reviews, the way the launch was bungled because the site is still buggy, and the way the launch was fantastic from a PR point of view.

For me the interesting question is Cuil’s strategy.

For sure search is an attractive market and given Google’s market share, margins and search quality issues it is only right that there should be plenty of challengers. And there are hundreds – AltSearchEngines is an entire site dedicated to covering the sector.

But if I was going after Google I would not choose to major on the themes Cuil picked out

  • size of index,
  • less emphasis on popularity to determine relevance, and
  • privacy

My instinct is that most searchers are:

  • not looking for needles in haystacks and for them Google’s index is more than big enough,
  • don’t worry too much about the search algorithm (so long as it sounds sensible), and
  • don’t feel too threatened by Google’s privacy position

That said, Cuil are backed by some smart money, so there are obviously multiple valid opinions in this space.

If I was going to challenge Google I would focus on areas like using social search to cut out spam, allowing natural language queries, foreign language search, mobile and maybe video. These are the areas where I think it is possible to be both distinctively different than Google and much better than them (although their recent social search experiments are a warning how quickly things could change).

Free is the only business model for online news

By | Business models, chris anderson, Content, News | 8 Comments

That is a feeling I have had for sometime and is re-enforced by the recent results from FT.com.

This is from PaidContent:

But, despite FT.com unveiling a new access model in November (giving five articles free per month, and a further 30 for those who register), we’re still seeing a plateau in paying  subscribers. Results said subscriber levels were only “maintained” at “around 100,000” – the same figure as last month, when MD Rob Grimshaw told me sub levels were “largely static”.  non-paying registrations, of course, have tripled since the switch, from almost 150,000 to 500,000 at present – so FT.com isn’t converting many of these to paying subs but is trying to monetise them through other means, like direct marketing and on-site advertising.

The message here is clear. People love the content, but aren’t prepared to subscribe. I am in that camp myself. Furthermore, my guess is that if they got rid of the five/thirty articles limit their traffic would rise even faster.

The real way to make money, as shown by the Guardian is to build out a community which converses about the news, and leverage that to offer other paying services like recruitment. For those that want to look further into the future I would add syndicate your content so people can consume it where they want to, and build monetisation into the feed.

BTW – if you fall foul of the five articles per month limit on FT.com you can set your counter back to zero by deleting your browsing history, cookies etc.

Paul Graham’s thoughts on hot areas for startups

By | Advertising, Content, Enterprise2.0, Entrepreneurs | One Comment

Paul Graham of Y-Combinator publishes lists of what he thinks hot areas for startups. This helps channel his deal flow – this is, I think, a smart idea, and one of my motivations behind writing this blog. You can find his list here. The three that resonate most with me are:

3. New news. As Marc Andreessen points out, newspapers are in trouble. The problem is not merely that they’ve been slow to adapt to the web. It’s more serious than that: their problems are due to deep structural flaws that are exposed now that they have competitors. When the only sources of news were the wire services and a few big papers, it was enough to keep writing stories about how the  president met with someone and they each said conventional things written in advance by their staffs. Readers were never that interested, but they were willing to consider this news when  there were no alternatives.

News will morph significantly in the more competitive environment of the web. So called “blogs” (because the old media call everything published online a “blog”) like PerezHilton and  TechCrunch are one sign of the future. News sites like Reddit and Digg are another. But these are just the beginning.

5. Enterprise software 2.0.
Enterprise software companies sell bad software for huge amounts of money. They get away  with it for a variety of reasons that link together to form a sort of protective wall. But the software world is changing. I suspect that if you study different parts of the enterprise software business (not just what the software does, but more importantly, how it’s sold) you’ll find parts that could be picked off by startups.

One way to start is to make things for smaller companies, because they can’t afford the  overpriced stuff made for big ones. They’re also easier to sell to.


12. Fix advertising. Advertising could be made much better if it tried to please its audience, instead of treating them like victims who deserve x amount of abuse in return for whatever free site they’re getting. It doesn’t work anyway; audiences learn to tune out boring ads, no matter how loud they shout.

What we have now is basically print and TV advertising translated to the web. The right answer will probably look very different. It might not even seem like advertising, by current standards. So the way to approach this problem is probably to start over from scratch: to think what the goal of advertising is, and ask how to do that using the new ingredients technology gives us. Probably the new answers exist already, in some early form that will only later be recognized as the replacement for traditional advertising.

Bonus points if you can invent new forms of advertising whose effects are measurable, above all in sales.

If I’ve done my job on this blog even half well this shouldn’t be a surprise to you, at least not for the second and third ideas.

Facebook losing thought leadership

By | Facebook, MySpace | No Comments

It doesn’t seem like there was much exciting news from the Facebook conference yesterday, lots of sensible initiatives, but nothing groundbreaking. As Techcrunch points out that is in stark contrast to last year when they launched the app platform.

Particularly disappointing, if true, is Arrington’s assertion that Facebook Connect is just vapourware.

It feels like Myspace is starting to suck their oxygen.

Social gaming gets hot

By | Casual Games, Facebook, MySpace, Social networks | 9 Comments

At the beginning of the year I blogged a bit about games in social networks (here and here), since then the category has gone from strength to strength as measured by app installs and usage – e.g. Playfish had 900 million minutes of usage across its three games in June, up from 300 million minutes in May. To put it into context 900 million minutes is the same as 30 million people watching an episode of EastEnders (for those that don’t know Eastenders is a popular UK soap that screens in 30 minute episodes).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the growth in usage and the hype around Slide, we are now seeing some big investments into this sector, with $29m just announced for Zynga and SGN raising $15m back in May. Playfish was also in on the action, albeit in a small way, raising $1m from Accel earlier this month.  Thanks for Max to the pointer.

So what does all this mean?

For me it is another example of how innovation cycles are increasingly compressed these days – particularly in sectors that are a derivative of other new successful areas, e.g. social games are a derivative of the successful social network sector.

In this case we have seen the social games sector go from first VC investment back in January (Union Square into Zynga) – a move which at the time seemed risky and visionary, to the big rounds described above barely six months later. Moreover consolidation has already started with Zynga acquiring virtual worlds FB app YoVille.

We are also seeing the traditional games cycle of increasing budgets to improve quality to take market share playing out over the same timeline. This has always been the strategy at Playfish and now SGN are singing from the same hymm sheet. All of this is of course brilliant for Facebook who at their conference yesterday lauded Playfish for their high quality games.

Finally, following in the footsteps of Myspace’s data portability initiatives Facebook announced yesterday that they are extending Facebook Connect making it possible to log into third party sites using Facebook login details and then to access things like friends lists inside those sites. This will help the social gaming startups get closer to their dream of people playing with each other across different socnets.

Myspace takes the lead in data availability

By | Facebook, MySpace, Social networks | One Comment

From Mashable yesterday:

The so-called social Web just became legitimately open, as MySpace has launched the two first implementations of its Data Availability initiative on Flixster and Eventful. Simultaneously, the company is announcing that it will support OpenID, allowing its users to sign into any OpenID-enabled website using their MySpace credentials.

I think this is very cool for both Myspace and Flixster/Eventful. The former just became more useful to its members, and the user experience on the latter will be much improved. Here’s how:

The implementations of Data Availability on Flixster and Eventful work much as you might expect. On Flixster, users can register using their MySpace credentials, at which point they can import their profile data and connect with any of their friends who already have accounts on
Flixster. On Eventful, users can not only import their profile data, but also receive alerts for events coming to their area, based on the artists that the user has friended on MySpace. Hence, if you’re friends with Augustana on MySpace and they are having a concert in your town, you’ll automatically be alerted to it.

And here is how it works technically:

All of this information is synced across the Data Availability supporting sites and MySpace. So, if you update your profile, edit your biography, or remove an artist from your friend’s list on MySpace, this will immediately be reflected on Flixster and Eventful. Certain more sensitive data like religion, sexual orientation, and ethnicity are only cahceable for 24 hours by Data  availability partners, while core profile data like age, location, and profile photo can be stored on the third-party site, though still synced with MySpace.

This is pretty good. Early predictions had it that Myspace wouldn’t allow any caching of data on partner sites. It would be much better, of course, if changes made on Flixster or Eventful wrote back to the Myspace platform.

Facebook is widely expected to announce similar developments at its conference this week.

Personalised news based on your socnet profile

By | Advertising, Content | 8 Comments

The New York Times and LinedIn are announcing a partnership that will see LinkedIn users being shown personalised news on NYTimes.com, based on their LinkedIn profile – e.g. chemical engineers will see stories about chemical companies in the business and technology sections. Screenshot below and more details on readwriteweb and Techcrunch.

I think this is kind of cool, but is probably (hopefully) just a sign of things to come.

The cool bit is the delivering a personalised service (NYTimes news) against a pre-existing profile on a different site (LinkedIn). I haven’t heard of this happening before. The fact that the profile is pre-existing is critical because this makes the service accessible to the mainstream who won’t bother to build a profile from scratch because the early period is not rewarding enough.

However, whilst it is great to save a little time by having stories about your industry brought to the front page of the website for you, what would be really cool would be to be able to manually say ‘and I’m also interested in politics’ and/or ‘gardening’, and then bring in other content feeds, which would also be filtered. If you could then further enrich your profile by voting stories up and down things are really starting to get exciting. And by now you also have a profile that would be great for targeting ads – so long as you do it responsibly.