Category betaworks

Summize and Hahlo

More data on Summize search and how it changes the way people interact with Twitter. See this tweet:

I’ll save you the jump. The chart below shows the effect on pageviews of Summize integration into Hahlo. Search changes the way people interact with an application — see the engagement jump.

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Summize and Twitter

On monday Summize ran a test partnership with Twitter to cover the WWDC, the results were fairly extraordinary (a colleague mailed me … “holy fuck”).   The raw data is displayed below. Traffic peaked at 190 queries per second, spikes went way over that number. For context — this is close to the search load that AOL manages today (at its peak AOL was doing several x that number).

People came, they searched … but they also seem to have left the browsers on, watching the WWDC conversations flow by. This is interesting and unusual — search as a browse/monitor experience is different to the way search has been thought of to date. We have also seen this with the trending topics on Summize. Conversational search is a big idea – the Summize team are starting to figure it out.

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web 2.0 & making money

Article in today's financial times about Web 2.0 companies making, and not, making money.   I think the article is right and we are likely heading for some consolidation — but the article misses the most interesting points about why and how that consolidation will take place.  Its a fairly typical turn of the tide article — replete with a bonus quotation from someone who just raised a lot of money.     Moving on from the drama of MSM — start with why there will be consolidation of some form.  

The web 1.0 companies who survived and prospered did so mostly on the back of Google —  its distribution and its monetization platform.    The fact that many web 2.0 companies have yet to turn a profit is an indication that (a) Google's  platform is still not optimized for this generation of web services and that (b) Facebook, the company everyone expected to provide an alternative, has thus far failed to  provide a platform to build a business.    A year ago this week I drafted an essay on why I believed the Facebook platform needed to offer Web 2.0 applications more than just distribution — its a year later and the data is starting to be tabulated.    Facebook has left a wide gaping opportunity for others to drive into –and companies driving in to fill this gap need to scale social graphs and in order to do that they are opening up — Facebook's misstep, accomplished two moves on the chess board!    They had a chance to build another walled garden but now they are in a struggle to the bottom (or top) of who can become more open — very good for the web as a whole and, specifically, very good for web 2.0 companies.      

Moving to the how.    This shift will pry open opportunity and monetization platforms across the web – and its likely we will have diversity in this system, it will likely be much more sustainable than web 1.0.    While this change is taking place its important to grow audience, manage costs and experiment with monetization approaches that follow the grain of your service.   And lastly, the consolidation the FT talks about — may not be the typical consoldation we see as busssiness go through changes — many of the web 2.0 companies have managed overhead/costs very aggresively, there might be opportunities to loosely couple parts instead of the organizational pain that mergers spawn.    More to come on this later when I have some time to write.    

Compacting connections

Interesting article by the founder of Meetro about what he learned from his startup experience.   Intrigued by the discussion about launch and member growth — he talks about how it first took off in Chicago and then it started spreading into small communities around Chicago.   A lesson I leant at Fotolog was the value of compacting social networks — its counter intuitive but it makes sense when you think about it.     Communities need to be compact or tightly connected at the outset in order to reach critical mass.    Duncan Watts has done a lot of great research on this — Adam Seifer taught me about it in practice.    Raw growth is not the right metric to focus on when you start a social network — you need to measure and track the density of those connections — tight, compacted social networks grow faster than thin broadly distributed one's.

Firefly

We launched the conversational overlay Firefly this week.  We had planned to roll out Firefly at tech meetup but Dave Winer was in our office on tuesday am and we gave him a preview.    He wrote a post and within 5 mins this is what his blog entry looked like this:

FF

In this picture you can see his blog about firefly with firefly active on the page.  Everyone present on the page is represented by a mouse icon and some of those people are chatting within firefly.    I wrote a piece about overlays and layers of the web a few weeks ago and firefly is a great example of this layering idea.   Its also a return to the early days of the internet —  when would crawl into some corner of the net and just start talking with someone — community and people were far more present than they are today.    Firefly offers up a layer of interaction where conversations can take place while people are still remain in context on the page — no download, no extension, no registration, just people on a page.    I had a crazed week but wanted to put up this screen shot before the weekend hits.

Couple of related links:

Summize search on firefly, a good way to find whats going on

Blog post on Firefly, and another

Future of news

I saw the future of news unfold today.   We were on a conference call with Jay who was in Falls Church VA – he heard an explosion – Dave posted the question on twitter and in the space of two hours the tweet-o-sphere figured out it was a small earthquake.      There is still nothing on the subject on Google or Google news, let alone MSM.

You can see the tweet stream below via a search on Summize.  We  talk about this stuff ad-infinitum but its amazing to see it unfold before one’s eyes.   The first tweet is from 1.35pm right after the quake.   The last one on the screen shot was approx. 3.10pm — it links to the confirmation from the USG:

(USGS has confirmed a magnitude 1.8 “micro” earthquake occurred near Annandale, VA at 1:30pm.  There have been no reports of damage or injuries.)

note the screen shot below is a compilation of tweets, re-run the search on falls church at Summize.com

summize / earthquake

Dimensionalizing the web

What is a web page today? If you look at the average web page, it’s a compilation of a diverse set of data sources drawn into a construct that we think of as a concrete whole. It probably started with CGI — and the first commercial application was likely the ad banner — but today that simple web page is made up of a whole mix of things ranging from dynamic content, ad’s,  widgets, sidebar tools, gadgets — the frame that we think of as a web page is now constructed from data streams in from all these sources and more.   This componentization of the page was the first step in what is becoming a different architecture for information delivery. What we have today are the equivalent of early life forms – necessary building blocks that evolution will use as more sophisticated lateral services develop. The organization of data streams and how they are constructed relates to our understanding of the dimensions of the web.

Question?   What would the web look like if you picked it up and looked at the bottom? I imagine, what you would see would be a set of databases – with streams of data flowing between them, into these things we call web pages and between these things we call web sites. These metaphors we have applied to the web — pages and sites — are analog’s that helped us grasp and structure the web, yet like any proxy they also impose limits on our perspective. RDF/RSS started me thinking about a lot of these ideas but in the eight or so years since those standards were developed our understanding and approach to web sites as vertical businesses has barely evolved. The spacial assumption we imposed on the web — that a site is a discrete experience that a publisher can control — maps with both a human need to impose hard edges on a dynamic, complex system but also with how we have understood media for the past 100 years or so. I think those edges are been broken down and are offering a different view of the web, and therefore of media companies, one that is less structured around the hard edges of a web page or site, less vertical, less about data silos and more about dynamic, fluid use of data and connections between data points. Some examples.

Take a look at this picture of this post I found on tumblr last week. This person — Erin — is using tumblr to announce a meetup. In this case email and reblogging are the tools she is using to confirm attendants. Shouldn’t this person use meetup for this — clearly its their preference not to, but why?

tumb log

I would propose two theories: context and easy of use. First context — context is important, Erin has followers (an audience) on tumblr, she has an environment that is customized with a user experience she could control (nice background) — and so she wants her meetup to appear in that context. Ease of use — for a myriad of reasons it seems it was easier for her to roll her own meetup than use meetup.com or to quote Pip Coburn the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived pain of trying to learn something new. So here is an example of someone molding a use case (creating a meetup) into another web experience to fulfill a need.

Example #2. What about Twitter. What is the web site Twitter.com?   The first answer — the one I would tell a stranger in conversation — is that its a destination to access and use the microblogging service provided by Twitter, “want to try one to many micropublishing? go to twitter.com”.   Sounds simple enough. Yet that conclusion isn’t supported by the data. I don’t have the exact number but I think its safe to say that more than half of the interactions with Twitter occur off Twitter.com — and the number is in all likelihood a lot higher than that. So is Twitter a protocol?, maybe.   Maybe Ted Stevens actually understood the web better than we thought — thinking about Twitter as a pipe makes more sense than as a  destination.   But its not a pipe in way that old media understood pipes — its different, im not sure i understand exactly what that difference is going to yeild but what is clear today is that each interaction that takes place on the network add’s value or context to further interactions.    As data chunks move around Twitter the get organized and collated into conversations and meme’s.  Similar to the Meetup example — each node on the twitter network is contextualized in form that makes sense for that particular interaction. But unlike Meetup, Twitter is powering all these interactions. The data becomes more valuable as it moves from interface to interface — not less.     There is something very powerful that is happening with the simplicity and openess of this network.   A network is the best metaphor I can think of for Twitter.

Another example.  Iminlikewithyou — the flash casual gaming site, started off as a destination (disclosure note, a betaworks company).    All of a sudden users started grabbing the code and syndicating their game on to their web sites.    But this isnt just the game — its not a widget model — its the entire underlying game net that is getting syndicated.     IILWY is closer to our understanding of old media but its contains some of the bizarre distributed breadth and possibilities that Twitter holds.

So where does all of this lead us?  I believe we need new metaphors to understand and place dimensions around what a web experience is. I don’t have an answer but I do have a few thoughts on how we can begin to frame and understand the shape of what is to come.

i) Think Centers vs wholes, think about networks vs. destinations

Pic by CALast week I was re-reading Christopher Alexander the Nature of Order . In the first book he has a section about wholes vs. centers. He makes the argument that composing visual structures as whole’s — thinking of buildings, things, windows — anything as a whole — fails to recognize the context in which the object lives. He builds the argument up starting with a dot on a piece of paper — he then analyzes how the dot divides and structures our spacial understanding of the piece of paper.  From this point he starts to frame up a way of looking at the world that is based on thinking about centers, zones of spatial activity vs. wholes.   An example he cites:

“On one occasion, I was discussing the concept of centers, as it applied to some bedroom curtains, with my wife Pamela.     She made the comment that the use of the word “centers” as I had explained it to her, was already changing her view of everything around her, even as we were talking: “When I look at the curtain in the room, and think of the curtain, the curtain rod, the window, the sky, the light on the ceiling, as centers, then I become so much more cognizant of the relatedness of all things — it is as though my awareness increases”

I think Alexander’s point and work here is profoundly applicable to the web. If you start thinking about centers — clusters of information — vs. destinations and vertical sites, for me at least, it gives me a frame of reference a metaphor that is far more expansive and networked than the one in which we operate today.   At Fotolog I learned that centers can form and cluster with remarkable speed within a community — now this is starting to happen with information moving laterally between domains.

ii) Think what can move laterally and encourage it to move

People, those things we often call users, want to take data and move it laterally across the web.   They want it to exist in context’s that make sense for a particular interaction. Whether its data portability standards, micro-content standards, people want to cross post and move data from one service to another. There is much that needs to be done here.   A year ago when F8 was launched it seemed that Facebook was driving headlong into this domain.   Yet a year later it now seems like Facebook might become known as the last portal, the last walled garden experience — data comes in but not out.   Openness of interface, api’s — letting data come in an go out of a domain is central to this thesis.    The Facebook newsfeed could be a web wide service — instead the way its articulated today is about retaining eye balls and attention — a movie we have seen before.  Last week we started talking publicly about SwitchAbit — SwitchAbit is a service that is designed to help drive this lateral movement of data across the web, while retaining context, its a small contribution we are hoping to make to this larger puzzle.

iii) Think about how to atomize context so that it can travel with the data

Dirty DataAtomizing content is one piece of the puzzle, the other is doing the same for context so it can travel with the data as it moves around the web from center to center.    Outside.in — Steven Johnson’s creation — trawls through blog posts and attaches geo context to individual posts. I sometimes refer to Outside.in as a washing machine — dirty data comes in one end — Outside.in scrubs the data set and ships out geo-pressed results the other end.   The geo scrubbed post is now more useful for end users, publishers and advertisers.   A bit of structure goes a long way when the data can then move into other structures.   The breadth of what geo scrubbing can do is staggering — think about pivoting or organizing any piece of information around a map — the spatial dimension that is most familiar to our species.  A bit of context goes a long way.   (disclosure note, Outside.in / an investment of betaworks)

iv) Think Layers

There is a layering dimension that is worth consideration — there are services starting to emerge that offer functionality that is framed around exposing some separation between different layers of the web.   Photoshop is the software that first introduced me to the layer metaphor,  i still cant use photoshop, but I think I get the layer idea.   Google earth has applied a layering concept to mapping.   Similarly services like PMOG are experimenting with layers.   Back at betaworks Billy Chasen started working with layers about eight months ago.   He developed a simple navigational tool called Fichey that lets you navigate web pages independent of their domain – using a common navigational tool.    Want to flip thru the top digg stories? — fichey makes it fairly easy and fast.   This was just a beginning.    Billy has developed a service called firefly — it’s in testing now and over the coming weeks we will begin to preview it — but its all about creating a layer of interactivity that is contextualized with the web site you are on but its exists independent of that web site.

v) Accept uncertainty, keep it rough on the edges

What did Rummy say about the known unknown’s?    As we experiment and design these new forms of interactions its vital that we remain open to roughness and incompleteness on the edges of the web.   The more we try to place these services into the convenient, existing models, that we have used to structure our thinking thus far the more we will limit our ability to look ahead and think about these things differently.

This is just a beginning.   I hope these five areas have helped define and frame how to think about alternative data dimensions on the web.  Time to wrap this post up — enough for now.

Profile of betaworks

The deal put out a profile of betaworks.

Switching bits

Betaworks is starting to roll out SwitchAbit, our first homegrown product. SwitchAbit is a content router. A switchboard to connect one service to another. It will let people shuttle a flickr to twitter, or to tumblr, facebook or pownce or pretty much wherever people want. SwitchAbit doesn’t aspire to be another UI to aggregate data — in fact its the reverse — it assumes that people want to contextualize information streams within existing services and existing communities. I’m tired of companies seeking to jam users into a new user experience that is mostly designed to drive a business model rather than drive new, relevant or meaningful interactions. As a consequence SwitchAbit is designed to be a platform — Twittergram will be the first service that will be powered by the platform.

When we started working on SwitchAbit one of the foundational services that inspired us was Twittergram, a service that Dave Winer created almost a year ago. Few individuals have been more innovative in finding ways to move data — live & static data — laterally across the web. This lateral movement of data is exactly what SwitchAbit is about. Once we had an alpha version of SwitchAbit working I sent it to a handful of people, one was Dave. After a rapid set of email exchanges — we came to an agreement and Dave is joining SwitchAbit as an advisor. The last deal we worked on was back in Userland days, between AOL and Userland — after months we never managed to finalize a relationship — this time around we managed to get this done end to end in about an hour. Good stuff.

It’s less than six months since we setup the development team at betaworks and this is the first of three products that will roll out in the coming months. As I started to outline last week betaworks is a company that through focus and structure is designed to drive linkages and accelerate innovation across what we call our network. The intent is to create a set of loosely coupled components — some wholly owned, some partially owned — and drive innovation, context and value across the network — thru the exchange of data. What people today call monetization, but monetization as it applies to a network, not two isolated nodes. Over time this network will look like a company — I guess a media company is the best analog we have today — but a little different in focus, structure and purpose. And we aren’t going to start talking about new media, again. For now we are very excited about getting SwitchAbit rolling.

beta working

The past few months have been fast and hectic. The focus has been getting betaworks to scale. We call betaworks a platform for seed business creation — let me spell out a little more about what that means to us.

We are creating a network of companies — some of which we are building and some of which we are investors in — that are threaded together by a set of common themes and capabilities. A set of loosely coupled bits that over time we will seek to connect in ways that are meaningful. Some background follows on our perspective and intent.

I started betaworks in 2006 seeking to develop a new methodology, and platform, for seeding businesses. We gathered a small team and for a year we tested a series of different approaches to seed business creation. We learnt a lot, we had successes and failures, we intentionally kept it small — permitting us to learn fast, fail fast and make small mistakes. In hindsight the most important thing we learnt was a design principle. When we started out we thought we could design or architect elements of betaworks. What I learnt was that given that we dont know all of the elements we are going to thread together we needed to start by working, by building, and then in the practice of work let the components between the companies emerge rather than imposing a top down view of what the connections should be.

Mid 2007 we flipped our approach — and went bottoms up. We stayed small, under the radar, focussed on our theme, seeking not to be distracted by opportunism. We started identifying standards and methodologies to scale our work and stopped trying to over think the design. By the fall of 2007 we had assembled our learning and formally started to build out the platform. Six months later we have four things that we have built and we have fourteen seed investments.

Central to the design of betaworks is the assumption that companies building services with a common theme can and should profit from inclusion in a platform or network of loosely coupled bits and driving context and meaning across these sites is valuable. Portals are gone but a new metaphor has yet to emerge to replace the portal concept. The portal was grounded in the same set of assumptions as media has operated with for many years — as it recedes something new is emerging. Something that is more distributed — something that is not based on the assumption that erecting a walled garden around services is the way to build a sustainable long term relationship with users or a long term business. Something that actually encourages the movement of data across edge services, vs. building silos — as data moves and is exchanged it actually gains in value becoming more interesting to users not less. There is a hairball we are decoding, bit by bit, its right in front of us our job is to figure it out and scale it.

Someone said to me last week that we are a reverse incubator. Incubators share the peripheral services things that I believe entrepreneurs can and should get from the market (legal, hr, accounting, office space) — betaworks is designed to share core capabilities – software / IP, knowledge, data, standards, analytics, leadership, tools etc… Someone a year ago called it a funcubator — maybe a reversobator, or outcubator? — a little less George Clintoneque. enough.

Fotolog, lessons learnt

The week before last I packed up my office and formally ended my tenure as CEO of Fotolog. I will miss Fotolog and the team, we had an amazing and exhilarating year, what follows is a handful of thoughts on what mattered, what didn't and what I learnt running Fotolog.

#What we accomplished In the space of 12 months we took Fotolog's membership from 5.8 Million members to 14 Million, we grew engagement in terms of time on the site and features, we moved up into the top tier of Alexa's and Comscore's rankings (Alexa ranked us as #13 worldwide last week ), we turned the site into a business and we completed a sale to one Europe's largest advertising and micropayment networks. It was a busy year. When I think about how we accomplished this — the first and last thought I have on the subject are the people.

AdamS AdamL AndrewC AndrewL Andrey Angelo Anna Brian Cynthia Dan Danielle Elke Frank Jason Joseph Linh Luis Mathias Meghan Melissa Michael Olu Rachel Rodrigo Scott Thomas Tom Toshimitsu Warren 'n' Yossi made it happen, it was a privilege to work with you all. The team grew through the year — we lost some and we added a handful — and we figured out how to work as a team, how to set and deliver priorities. When I came on board the company was in a position that was on one hand typical of a start up and on the other unusual. The typical included a somewhat overwhelming list of things to get done with few agreed upon ways to prioritize or assess what should get done when and why. The unusual included the fact that Fotolog was a small team running a hugely popular web site with an audience that was predominantly international. The first job was about prioritization and focussing on scaling the site and reducing latency. We worked to establish a common set of priorities and then establish a process to execute against those priorities. We then shifted attention to monetization, cleaned up some odd contracts, tested partnering with some exotic non US companies and then drove monetization with the ad networks, and the partnership we struck with Google. We worked through up's and downs: outages, breaking 10M member threshold, a membership strike, massive growth in Europe, drowned servers, visits from the FBI, and a good deal of member love. Throughout getting the team to work together as a team was I think our biggest accomplishment — our successes flowed from that. My thanks.

#Active angel, advisor, board member, get a job… My relationship with Fotolog started as an angel investor in 2003. Then in late 2006 Scott Heiferman, Fotolog co-founder and board member, raised the possibility of my coming on board as CEO. I had known Fotolog as an investor for years — but coming in as CEO offered a wholly different perspective of the operational challenges. Thorough the experience, I learnt that you can be as active as you want as an investor, be an advisor, sit on the board, help with product or business development but you wont really have a clear idea about what's going on within a company unless you actually work at the company. You need to be in the flow of everyday decisions, you need to understand workflow, process and — most evidently what are the real challenges a company faces — not the one's they think or you think they face. The lesson here as an early stage investor is to balance the time you spend with companies — it's tempting to think you can help solve operating issues from the outside — but unless you are willing to jump in and take a job much of your backseat driving is as useful as backseat driving.

#Balancing capital raises with audience growth and monetization One of the things the Fotolog team did right since the first day the site was launched was managing the cost base of the company in a way that was appropriate to the audience, monetization and funding. At no point did the Adam, Fotolog's co-founder, misjudge the balance between these drivers. This is hard to do particularly if VC's are offering funding based primarily on audience metrics. There are sites who have audiences growth comparable to Fotolog with 4x or more the headcount. In 2008, I think, striking this balance will be as important as ever — in particular re: businesses who are building audience on the back of platforms like Facebook or Twitter — eg: indirect vs. a direct (non mediated) form end user interaction.

#Fresh matters There is a tremendous amount of value that accrues to coming into a situation fresh and seeing things without the encumbrances or assumptions you inevitably make after been in a role for a while. The Fotolog team had all the answers to the paths we ended up taking there right in front of them, it is just hard to see those paths after you have been in a role for a while. Keeping perspective is always hard to do in life, and the formation pain of becoming an entrepreneur makes it especially hard. Back at AOL, a long time back, Steve Case and Ted Leonsis used to talk about periodically firing one another — in order to keep perspective. The lesson here is that as an entrepreneur you need to flip between fervent passionate belief in your ideas and objective reassessment of your position — those perspectives usually sit at either end of a spectrum — making that flip is hard to do, very hard. Sometimes an outsider can help, sometimes getting away helps. In Fotolog's case, Adam Seifer, gets credit for making those flips. Adam and I had known each other for a long time — going back to the mid/late 90's and six degrees / Total New York — as a co-founder of Fotolog he was open to re-invention and an objective assessment of what we were doing right and what we weren't. Hard to do, not always easy, but necessary.

#Positioning matters When I started at Fotolog one of the early set of discussions we had was about positioning — what is Fotolog? what does the brand represent to our members and what is the relationship our members have to the experience? Fotolog had for a long time been considered as an international version of Flickr. Yet when we looked at the usage data it was radically different to Flickr. Yesterday, to take a random data point — 6% of all the people who ever signed up to Fotolog uploaded a photo to the site, thats a degree of engagement beyond Flickr and many other photo sites (870k pictures, one picture per member, 13.9M members — translates into 6.3% of the total membership). Last month comscore tracked Fotolog users as spending 26 min on the site, per day, Flickr's numbers are less than a quarter of that number. By digging into usage data we concluded that the Fotolog experience was social, social media. Understanding this helped us orientate our positioning for our members, our advertisers and ourselves. The rituals associated with digital images are slowly taking form — and operating from within the perspective of a mature analog market (aka the US) tends to disort one's view of what how digital imagery is going to be used online. The web as a distinct medium is developing indigenous means of interactions. We figured out the positioning, summarized it in a short phrase (share you world with the world), put together a banner with 1.. 3 steps to get going on Fotolog and got to work. Clear positioning helped us, and helped our partners figure out what we were and what we weren't.

#Scalling, speed matters Fotolog is a huge bazaar of user generated content, displayed on a small number of page layouts. The importance of rendering those pages as fast as possible cant be understated. It's always easy to put more things on a page but rendering a page quickly and giving the user what they came for has to remain the top priority. As we go into 2008 Fotolog has steamed passed the 150M daily pageview threshold, we are heading towards 5BN monthly pageviews, we now have more than 350M photos that we host, guest book messages per photo now average almost 12, an increase of more than 30% over the past year, and Alexa ranked us at #10 in the world last wednesday, #10?!@ (the average for last week was 13). This past Christmas period saw records of uploads, pageviews, November to December saw month over month growth of over 10% — a big shift since in past years the holidays have been downtimes for our membership. Its hard to determine what has changed, I think its a combination of the relative growth in Europe (where uploads and activity has continued to grow through the holidays) and the fact that the internet and Fotolog are becoming more and more threaded into people's personal lives, and media experiences. Maybe its also a little bit about Florkey — Fotolog continues to make people feel special — its microfame of a form that Warhol could never have anticipated.

#Saying no is hard It is hard for young organizations to say no. No to possible partnerships, no to business development inquires, no to investors who think they understand your business. Yet saying no is what many small companies need to learn how to do. When you are still figuring out what you do and how you make money opening those questions to third parties can either grind you to a halt (partnerships are complicated), distract you into retrofitting a model that your partner understands but may not be right for you or just confuse you. Bob Pittman taught me how easily a mass of small projects that you leave unfinished or undecided can drown out the one's that matter. When I arrived at Fotolog one of the first thing we did was shut down many of the business development conversations the previous CEO had opened up. We might have missed a gem but shutting them down gave us the space to figure out what we needed to do. What we didn't have a chance to do at Fotolog was the automate the business development process. Once you get to a scale and can standardize your contracts along with your API's you can scale partnerships in a manner that doesn't require saying no to partnerships — everything becomes a test and trial.

#Integrating publishing and distribution into a seamless experience Fotolog taught me the power of melding a publishing capability with distribution. This is what Facebook did when they added the news/mini feed — all of a sudden your updates, activity on site was pushed to your friends — its an important lesson that many other user generated content sites could learn from. Media companies often separate these functions — which in turn skews value towards distribution. Social media networks are using a distributed audience to categorize and rank what is valuable and most interesting. Fotolog started doing this over five years ago — the form that Fotolog uses is simple but effective. When you publish a photo it appears on your page and in thumbnail form on all the pages of your friends. Since the average Fotolog user has 51 friends — each photo you publish is distributed through to 51 people, they in turn re-distribute it. Facebook introduced the news and minifeed structure a year and a half ago as a means to drive and distribute information accross the socialmap they were building. In 2007 the newsfeed became such an important part of the service that people are exploring Newsfeed optimization since only an estimated 0.2% of all submitted items get published into the newsfeed. Fotolog's approach was simple but it was and continues to be groundbreaking and in my opinion a core piece of innovation that is now spreading to the web as a whole.

#Working with an investment bank Several people asked me whether it made sense for Fotolog to engage and work with an investment bank. At Fotolog working with a bank, in our case UBS, was necessary. Interest in Fotolog spanned four industry categories (media, internet, cell phone and traditional photo companies) and three geographies (US, Europe and South America) — organizing inquiries from the matrix of companies that fit into these boxes was complicated to say the least. The UBS team did a fantastic job of putting out a broad net and pulling it in quickly to find out where the legitimate inquires were coming from — they worked tirelessly on our behalf. The transaction we ended up doing was technically a sale but it was also part merger, part recap. Fotolog had been through three meaningful rounds of funding and the cap table was more mature than the business was. The business needed both a direct ad sales capability and a micropayment partner in Europe — Hi Media gave us both. UBS worked with us to navigate our options, mindful of the stage of growth the business was in. Key investors — including myself — continue to hold stock in the acquiring company, not because of a lock up (there was none) but because we believe in the combined value.

# Working with an international audience is challenging This shouldn't be the case, for years the leading web companies in the US have talked about international growth, international commitments but in pretty much all cases international audiences are an afterthought for US companies. I think this is a mistake. The web offers means to reach and monetize audience outside of the US in ways that couldn't have been imagined ten years ago. Think about building a US based company that garners one of the larger audiences online that is pretty much all outside of the US and marketing and monetization are all executed within the platform, nothing needs to be local. Its pretty astounding. Looking forward as global GDP growth outpaces US GDP growth (3.9 percent versus 2.2 percent in 2007), as broadband continues to be available faster and cheaper outside of the US as innovation starts to happen outside of the US (vs. replication which is much of what has happened to date) — as all these things begin to come together international growth has to become a meaningful part of US companies growth.

#Google's scale and reach is astounding … Mid summer '07 we signed a deal for Fotolog with Google to add search to the Fotolog's member pages. The deal had many benefits — among them access to search services and greater transparency into Ad Sense — offering greater control over our our inventory. We learnt a lot doing the deal with Google and we learnt a lot executing on the deal. In doing the deal we learnt how far ahead Google is vis its rivals — I cant offer much more detail but when you dig into it their scale and footprint is astounding. In executing the deal we learnt that despite the improvements in transparency that we gained by entering into a direct relationship the Google platform is still hard to manage as a publisher, it's closed or maybe translucent is a better word — you get the impression that you know what is going on and why, but often its an illusion. This is a problem — as CEO I bet our strategy on Google's platform, applying it to our international audience to get us to break-even and beyond without having to scale up and ad sales team. In hindsight Fotolog needs to have a direct ad-sales capability to complement the networks — the Hi-Media deal gives us that capability in one fell swoop. The deal we did compliments our network capability in a way that we would have had to build if we hadn't decided to work with Hi-Media.

#The future of advertising & social media networks … Is still very much in its infancy. Yet there are indications that display advertising matched with technology that offers adequate cross network targeting could un-tap the value of user generated content sites. Targeting and conversion are real challenges for advertising on social media networks — the more engaged the audience, the more fluid the conversations, the less likely that on page targeting is going to work effectively. Yet companies like Lotame and Lookery are starting to use the data inherent in the structure of the social network to improve targeting and relevancy and hopefully conversion. It is early days but I believe there is promise here — so much so that betaworks has invested in both these companies). Let me offer a detailed example. If you look at Fotolog's PC gaming group over one month in 2007 the group received 500k pageviews. Yet it you look at the "virtual group or channel" — if you target gaming ad's to all the people who visited the gaming group in that past month — even when they are on other areas of the site the reach is extended to 100M pageviews. As Andrew Cohen likes to say "pictures of Aunt Edna might not be so easy to monetize but if you know all the places that people have been who are looking at Aunt Edna you might be able to influence and target where they might want to go next". I believe this holds promise.

Looking to 2008 there is much to do at Fotolog. Integration with Hi-Media is done — we started that back in August and completed much of it before we closed — and the fruits of integration are now coming forth. The team at Fotolog is pretty much as it was — Erik-Marie Bion and Andrew Cohen have taken over leadership (Erik Marie in Paris as CEO and Andrew in NY as the GM). Cyril, Emirik, David and the Hi Media team have been a pleasure to work with, truly. And now they have another great asset on their hands, I am excited to see what they and the team here in NY do. Thank you once again — I learnt a lot from you all.

Florkey

Article about Fotolog member florkey — daughter of Argentina's newly elected President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Example of a public figure blowing through assumed public / private boundaries — posting intimate and personal pictures rather than what would be expected from a presidential daughter — manicured press handled media.

… there is no potential for any malicious activity

“… there is no potential for any malicious activity” is what the TLC told NBC after Billy managed to browse around the file system of the PC’s onboard NYC taxi cabs. When will organizations learn that computers attached to the public network are vulnerable.

Billy’s post and the interview with Billy on NBC.

Facebook Beacon: Not what I signed up for

Finally got a taste of beacon yesterday. I bought a ticket at Fandango and it was posted in my Facebook newsfeed — fb_evil.jpg you can see the image to the left here. No opt-in, no notification on Fandango, no notification from Facebook that beacon was enabled — it wasnt what I expected — if you want to see a play by play of what is meant to happen, its here). I felt there was a violation of commercial trust unlike I had experienced in a while. Yes I get spam, targeted behavioral ad's but this is both more explicit and more of a violation of the compact that I thought I had with Facebook. I find it astounding to think that a site believes it has my permission to gather and use this data on a non aggregated basis. Age, sex, location — thats one thing — but a purchase that is then explicitly broadcasted out to a group of people, some of whom i know, some of whom I wish i knew and some of whom wish they knew me? If I hadn't found beacon blocker to be as easy to setup I would have closed my Facebook account.

What's the context here? The Facebook needs to rapidly figure out how it can earn an operating margin that reflects the way it is scaling its audience growth. They need to do this to justify the valuation that MSFT pegged on the company. And if private equity investors are going to invest they are going to need to see the path to torrid margin growth, and cash flow — even if this investment is purely financial (eg: at a valuation that is discounted to the strategic MSFT round). Facebook is supposedly making money today but there are two important caveats that add up to supposidely. First, most of the money Facebook is making is from an advertising agreement that blends rationale economics with MSFT willingness to pay a premium to Facebook to keep them out of Google's arms — in English — the advertising deal they have isn't market priced, the investment demonstrated that fact. Second, even if the advertising deal was made up of rationale / extensible economics — advertising using a third party network, doesn't have the kind of operating margin that Facebook needs to achieve to support a market cap of $15BN+.

Facebook is in experimentation mode — and beacon needs to be placed in that context. Nine months ago Facebook launched its digital asset business — that was meant to be a high operating margin, revenue stream. Digital assets sales didn't take off. Then came F8. F8 and the platform initiative has been a huge boon to web 2.0 companies looking for distribution — but as yet, it is not a business. Now we have social ad's and beacon. Both are meant to lead Facebook to the promised land of Adsense like operating margins. My guess is that they will fail and Facebook will have to try again. Not to say there is anything wrong with testing radical new approaches to monetization. Its very necessary — and its brave and unusual to see a company of this scale figuring out its business in the public eye. I think Facebook's market position is fascinating — not since Netscape have we seen a company with this scale of audience without a scaled business model to match. But unlike Netscape — Facebook has at least $250M – $500 of capital to invest to figure its business model out. They have taken the VC model and turned it upside down. They have sold strategic alignment for cash and a stub of equity — buying them time to figure out where the business is.

My bet is the beacon backlash will be severe. The service is presumptuous at best, it lacks transparency and its poorly executed (ie: Facebook's web privacy setting states "…you will still be notified on affiliate websites when they send stories to Facebook. You will be able to decline individual stories at that time." This is not what I experienced). And even if they navigate the backlash they will likely be forced to make it an opt'in feature – rather than opt'out. As a feature that you need to opt into beacon will fade — users wont be navigating Facebook's frustratingly translucent privacy settings to turn beacons on. I wonder if Facebook's platform effort might have given them to the idea that they have permission to launch beacon. This would be facinating — they seem to have bought into their own marketing pitch that they are a web wide platform, missing the fact that they are a site and the web is the platform. I dont believe they have users implicit consent to collect and explicitly serve up this data — I certainly haven't. The backlash that is brewing online is, I believe, very different to the backlash they experienced when they launched the newsfeed. Along with users, MoveOn is at the helm — they can marshall resources and attention in Washington and the EU — this is very different to the newsfeed.

But to run out a counter point — what if beacon is accepted — everything else aside is beacon actually gathering useful information? Like Facebook itself, beacon, is gathering chad's of people lives in a manner that is machine readable but of unclear relevancy. Facebook needs to broker partnerships with all the retailers who are make up my commercial relationships — my commercial graph – and like Facebook's social graph aspires to, it needs to map how relevant these relationships are to me. This is where I think the Facebook model is most flawed. When I friend someone on Facebook I have to put them into one of 14 categories representing how we connected. This might represent 14 categories that can then be mapped across the social network but its only a few steps more interesting than Friendsters rating of whether you were a friend or not. Its not how human relationships are mapped. The dynamic nature of human relationships is reduced on Facebook to a narrow, stagnant handful of categories in order for them to be fully accessible and managed by the code base. Dumbing human relationships down so that they can be more effectively managed by machines is problematic. Its almost back to the the cathedral and the bazaar — computer centric experiences vs. human one's. And what about the data — these commercial chads of data — two counter perspectives. I was reading an interview with Craig Venter this weekend. He talked about how the six billion letters of his genome are now mapped but that the only useful conclusion thus far is that he should be taking statin drugs (fat lowering drugs) a conclusion that could be reached with far less data — by simply looking at family history. Are these beacon data points actually representative enough to form a data set that will enable behavioral targeting? In discussing behavioral targeting with the founder of Tacoda last week he explained how second order data was often more predictive of behavior — not first order. I wonder how predictive and useful these data points would be anyway. Over to Twitter — compare a Twitter stream to the Facebook news feed. Facebook's news feed feels like media, its processed, organized and polite. Twitter is messy, its all these tiny little specs of people's lives in a stream of data that offers a surprisingly human feel — Facebook has processed, digested and organized — Twitter is a steady stream of chatter, some of it useful, much of it messy, but all of it very human. Similar story with Fotolog — it has none of the computing cetric categorization that dominates Facebook — the site is messy and hard to navigate if you are a machine, but for humans its seemingly a pleasure — average time on the site is now 25 min per user, per day. These are disctinctly human experiences online — I believe we need to foster these experiences and get machines and code to be smarter about us, not the inverse. There will be more — not less — to come on the subject of beacon. Oh, and btw Beowulf was good — worth seeing in 3D.

Flog and Spain and Jesus

Quick post: someone asked me yesterday how Fotolog is doing growth wise in Europe  and then Scott sent me this chart.    Google trend analysis for search terms Jesus, Real Madrid and Fotolog — as you can see Flog is on somewhat of a tear in Spain.  Note flagged news items — F was clearly a driver of traffic, but E? ?

Google trends