Category think

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.

Parting is hell


Weep if you must
Parting is hell.
But life goes on.
So sing as well.

Joyce Grenfell

I struggle sometimes to define what I consider to be appropriate personal boundaries re: personal publishing online. As I type, I am flying back from a short trip to London where I went to the memorial service of my 36 year old nephew. What follows is a somewhat rambling post about these boundaries and some memories from the service.

Only connect
After the service yesterday other than sadness all that I could feel was a desire to connect. I called my wife and other family members, I just wanted to share the experience I had had with people I care about. Forester’s words come back and back to me over the years of working with online. As humans we have a deep need for connection — but what are the boundaries of those connections, what tools online serve to effectively share and connect with other human beings?

Online so many of the tools we are building are about public connections, public sharing, public publishing. Friends in the media world often wonder or don’t wonder they just state that people who today are sharing their lives openly on facebook, myspace, beebo, fotolog or any of the long list of other social publishing platforms will stop doing this when they grow up. I don’t believe they will — we are on path to greater and greater public disclosure. This is different to privacy and its certainly different to what people in studies say they want — but usage data is pretty clear, pointing in the direction of ever decreasing concerns about public/private boundaries.

Take Facebook. There has been an incredible explosion of activity on Facebook this year. Much of it is the arrival of the digerati, and many of those people are active bloggers so they fell right into the grove of publishing, posting pictures publicly and updating their newsfeed etc. But many of these new users have never blogged and in discussions with them I have heard them talk about how Facebook is giving them a new platform for sharing in public. But the platform is not new — the internet has offered this kind of sharing for a long time — what is new is they are accepting a new compact in terms of the public / private boundary under which they organize and share their lives using real identity (vs. fantasy which is most of what we see on Myspace, Fotolog etc.). As such Facebook is becoming a platform for identity on the web. New Facebook users are changing behavior, the technology and social context may be easing that change but its the user behavior that is shifting. Slowly, haltingly, people are opening up their lives and participating in virtual communites. It’s a similar but more extreme story over at Twitter.

I regard Twitter through the prism of presence management. Yes, it is a tool for communication and personal publishing, but so many of the posts and the activity on Twitter relate to presence. “I am here right now and its kind of interesting, here is a bit of here”. The shift the designers of Twitter made a few weeks ago — clarifying that friends are named as “followers” only serves to re-inforce this aspect of Twitter. The public / private boundary in Twitter has a couple dimensions to it. Foremost is location. People post and tell you where they are at random points in time. Its not random for the poster, its just somewhat random for the follower. Event happens and are posted when people want them to know something about the place. Its similar to a service in Japan launched years ago called Ima-hima, they did opt in location based posting from mobile devices. I think they are still around, hard to tell from the web site.

Personally, I have few concerns about posting location, heck, last year I played around with publicly posting my location for weeks, hour by hour, via GPS. Its the type of location posting on Twitter that I struggle to navigate. I have no interest in what I call observational broadcasting or egocasting — using Twitter to essentially say “here check my life”. There is a subtle point here I will try to unpack. Egocasting for me feeds two aspects of my relationship to the network that I don’t want to feed — both of these aspects are related let me try to distinguish them clearly. First it serves to increase my awareness of the network about my physical space, encouraging me to observe an experience vs. engage and hope to understand an experience. Second it serves to feed my ego’s need to push or publish that awareness to the public network. I personally, don’t want to develop either of these traits. When I am somewhere I want to try experience where I am, not the experience of what sharing the experience of where I am will be. This might be personal, I know its personally important to me — its somewhat I feel strongly about to ramble on about it here.

Back to London and the memorial service. I wanted to share my experience but I wanted to share it in a direct and personal way with a small group. The tools to do this dont really exist today beyond email. Years ago bullentin boards and communities like the Well or Panix served this need. But today the scope of Facebook or Myspace is insanely broad and as a consequence it lacks the dynamic evolution of human relationships. The designation of friends on many social sites is clumsy and broad — on Facebook I get to shoehorn the type of relationship I have with you into one of 14 categories. And then there is the issue of missing prana that I remember reading about in a piece by Barlow over a decade ago. Friends are not the 150 friends I have on Facebook, friendship is a dynamic human experience and shoehorning it into a set of categories is dehumanizing. The network needs to serve us, not us the network. To the extent possible, I seek to be very intentional about how i interact with the network.

One aspect of the network and the internet that I do want to feed is its capacity to enhance and help us remember. So let me close with the address that was given at the service.

The priests who gave the address at the service was the priest who had married my nephew eight years ago, he was also his god father. His address was very frank and ungarnished with religious dogma. He couldn’t avoid it — he wasn’t just the representative of a religion here he was the god father — he was someone who actually had to resolve how this kind of loss can sustain his belief not undermine it. He spoke very directly about how he resolves belief in God with the loss of someone in their mid-thirties, a husband, a father, who has spent fifteen years struggling with cancer. How do you square that circle? Here I am going to tread with clumsy steps on heaps of theological thinking, but I have asked this question myself, here and before and I haven’t heard many answers, he offered one.

He focussed in on the question of whether he views God as a personal, active God or a passive observer of life. He said that one time that God actively participated was when he gave his son to mankind. That one act aside he said God isn’t an active God. That one act was an act of giving, an act that ended with his son dying at age 33 screaming, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. That act, that intervention in our lives, he said, only served to illustrate that our lives our lived by us, but against a backdrop, of something greater than us.

In closing a piece by S Hall Young, from the service:

Let me die working,
Still tackling plans unfinished, tasks undone!
Clean to its end, swift may my race be run.
No laggard steps, no faltering, no shirking;
Let me die working.

Let me die thinking,
Let me fare forth still with an open mind,
Fresh secrets to unfold, new truths to find,
My soul undimmed, alert, no question blinking;
Let me die thinking.

Let me die giving,
The substance of life, for life’s enriching;
Time, things and self on heaven converging,
No selfish thought, love redeeming, living;
Let me die giving.

betaworks / offsite

beta

I did the betaworks off-site this week.  Good discussions, many of which couldn’t run to completion given time and setup constraints.   Decided to use an un-conference format, seemed to work fairly well — the topics people wanted to discuss were good, but hard to determine if anything was really concluded on any one topic,  sometimes the questions are more informative than answers.  We covered many aspect of social media sparing ourselves the overarching discussion defining social media — from reputation systems, trust, to agents to simplicity in design to many a questions about what causes interaction and what interactions matter we covered a lot of ground.

Some of the interesting questions I heard are below, commentary in []’s:

– In five years, when you wake up what will the device you turn first?  what will it look like and who will own the data you are looking at?  [the last part of this question is particularly interesting, I suspect the answer will be your own data.   And many of the tensions emerging today between users vs. content/IP owners, users and content/IP owners vs. search engines and monetization platforms — in general open and transparent systems vs. open vs. closed system will emerge as a central issue]

– Given the personal relationship people have with a phone (vs. a pc) what services will emerge as core?   [People are willing to share and store personal data of a very different nature on the phone vs. the pc, interesting when you consider how much time and effort is meant to harmonize data across these end points / devices]

– Think about pagerank as a reputation system?    [Someone also referred to pagerank as an agent, which was interesting, we had a good brief discussion about agents, havent done that in a while.  Someone also referred to Fred Wilson as primary information agent, agents are complex, maybe we end us the agents]

– Designing for simplicity … how does less become more? [good discussion here re: Fotolog’s one picture a day restriction and what it yields, and how simplicity as an over arching design principle is hard to execute in our medium and why]

– Is the US falling behind Europe and Asia in terms of infrastructure and innovation?  [the group had a real rant about broadband deployment, wireless access and restrictions placed on devices by connectivity providers, wireless and wireline.    I was surprised at the frustration level — hopefully it will begin to spread to DC, where the effectiveness of US policy vis broadband deployment is still, seemingly , a debate??!]

– What is it going to take to get tech and tech vc’s to enage in what is happening in DC, the incumbents are driving the DC agenda and wild eyed techno-optimism isnt going to save the day?

– Where is your company going to be in 25 years?  [Push to think about the long term, beyond the cycle of pumping and selling companies — how can we build sustainable innovation cycles, real innovation that over time, significant time not just a few years or the next turn of the screw]

– How does the advent of people centric interactions and data exchange effect the evolution of the internet? [more than crowdsourcing, which is already becoming a blurred meme, we are seeing the importance of human interaction and human brains to the network, as human intelligence becomes wired into the network does it make us more network dependent or the network more human, both?]

– Why would most people in the world, pretty much all of them have little idea about what we are talking about? [I hear this at many meetings like this, good grounding statement but then we all trudge back into our technosphere’s]

Other findin(.)gs were:

– People care enough about international and GTD as issues to put it on the white board but not enough to participate in a breakout group!

– Introductions always, always, take tooo long

Participants included people from:

TsumobiWhat is everyone looking at?
Ideeli
outside.in
Im in like with you
Fotolog
Index/Seed Camp
Tumblr
Divmod
Downfly
Fichey
Center Independent Media Public Square
Meetup
Buzzfeed
Social Media Club
Next New Networks
Time Warner
β etaworks team

thank you to all and to

Close digital

Flog laps 10M

10M!

Just passed 10M member accounts on Fotolog.  What a year it has been, some community metrics / data points.   

  • We have almost doubled our membership so far this year
  • We hit Alexa #17 in the world yesterday (ahead of ebay!), average over the past week is #18, yesterday we were tracking reach of over 2%.
  • Comscore recently logged us as having 4.5M daily unique visitors on a base of 10M member, and 15M monthly uniques
  • Over 20% of our pageviews last month were from Europe.

And the adoption of new products has been very strong.   When we launched Fotolog Messenger three weeks ago we had 1.5M people try it out in the first 15 hrs.  As of Friday we had 3,193,618 members who had enabled the messenger feature, almost a third of everyone, who ever, over the past 5 years opened and used an account with us? ! That's, one engaged membership.  

Thank you to our members, thank you to our team in NY and thank you to everyone who helped make this happen — its a privilege to be part of this great social media network.   We are figuring out who is member #10M is and do something special.  We will also be launching more new features on Fotolog this week than ever before in our history — 10M or not, this was always going to be a big week!

 

F8 and that Telegraph road

The launch last week of Facebook's platform initiative, F8, has generated a lot of talk, much of it in the mainstream press.  Its a compelling story, Facebook is becoming a platform, out maneuvering Myspace, doing to the web what Microsoft did to the PC.   Its a story we have heard before, it seems to recur periodically.  However, the announcement last week was mostly about distribution –  it didn't involve either deep or open access to Facebook data nor open access to its infrastructure.   F8 as it stands today is a partnering platform.  This one more small step in a long negotiation that is taking place between web sites on how data is owned, on how its shared between sites and how people navigate through services on one site to another.   This conversation is still in its infancy.  

XML really began the process of lateral data flows between sites and the vision of the semantic web offers a rich set possibilities — yet it's early days — most sites still operate in vaccum's and most user data is still stuck in proprietary silos.   And while the technology certainly needs to evolve so do the scope and kind of business arrangements.   The web of contracts, contracts between vertical sites, contacts between sites and users – needs to evolve in order for the vision of the semantic web to reach some of its compelling end points.   Weaving, back to the Facebook announcement.  What happens next is more interesting than what happened last week.    Facebook has taken a different approach to Myspace – who has opt'd to control much of its third party innovation through fairly simplistic interfaces and binary business driven rules, more like a traditional media company, vs. letting the community really build on top of the service in a meaningful manner.     As the Facebook platform evolves there are a handful of things I will be watching:

1. How deep are are the API's that Facebook is going to present to the community.    Facebook markup language is a proprietary API, the "platform" maybe wide in terms of distribution but its not deep, there is little to no access for third parties to the social data or infrastructure that makes Facebook such an interesting service, and its not open for developers to just build on, everyone accepted into the platform has to be sanctioned by Facebook, the degree of openness, real openness (vs. marketing gibberish) will dictate the depth and the value of the platform.   Amazon has done a great job at developing a set of platform services — starting with the affiliate model, extending it into community and then the Mechanical Turk and the elastic computing cloud services.  These web services were built step by step along with trust and a degree of openness that surprised many.    Pretty much every startup I work with today is using EC2/S3 — if Facebook going to have the same influence over the web application space, if so they need to open up more than a distribution funnel. iLike's weekend server hunt demonstrates a need on the infrastructure side, but the is also a real need re: social data.    Offering Facebook users the ability to port social data, their social network across applications and letting applications developers innovate on top of that data set would be really interesting.

2. How will the application metaphor evolve?   I see the metaphor Facebook has applied as the most interesting thing in the announcement last week.  The web has spawned many interesting platforms for micro application development.    Applets, plugin's –  from WordPress to Firefox to Myspace there is a an active ecosystem of development around many web sites.    But the term application suggests user control beyond a widget or plug-in, applications are often monolithic, the management of applications by the underlying OS is usually benign and in service to the application (get me that device driver)  — the term application presents a high bar for Facebook to jump over.    To me the use of the term suggests a rich set of API's and a clearly defined layer – a layering of both technical and business terms.   Its an exciting challenge to see if they can make this truly an application environments.   And if they do, what is Facebook's relationship to these applications?   The identity issue below is only scratching the surface of this question.   It was fascinating to me that in the announcement last week most of the mainstream press look in the rear view mirror for metaphors — this was going to be like windows was to the PC.   I hope not — we don't need another OS, what we need are open development platforms — and open access to data.    I did a lot of work on platforms a long time back — back in 1998, I invested in a company called WebOS that tried to go down the path of applying the desktop metaphor to the web, of duplicating the inadequacies of the desktop on the web.    There were few people comparing last week's announcement to Adobe's Apollo — Apollo is setup to be a more traditional, extensible platform.  One of the companies I am working with — im in like with you — is developing much of its service in Apollo.   Apollo is truly a web application environment — offering state management outside of the browser, for example Apollo will let me do my web mail while I am unconnected.  But Adobe is building this as a platform service, like Flash the intent is to proliferate the tool set across the web, developers will adopt it as will end users and like Flash it will provide revenue from scaled developers paying Adobe a license fee.   This is a platform business model that the market understands.   A cross platform run time isnt as sexy sounding at F8, but it might be more meaningful.  And then there is Firefox 3 — another valid comparison that didnt seem to come up in many discussions.   

3. How will application providers be promoted in Facebook?   This is critical to understanding the underlying business terms between the distributor and the application creator.   Last weeks announcement was about distribution, and it formalized an approach for Facebook partners, business development in a box, a highly scalable approach to partnering.     But what are the underlying economic drivers?     At AOL promotion and positioning was usually governed by dollars spent.    At Google it now seems to be about long term strategic value: years ago the Google services that were tiled above search results – were best in class – for finance related searches (search for a stock ticker), Yahoo finance was promoted, Mapquest was the default when you searched for a location.   Then slowly over time Google services received prominence equal or better to others.   Today its pretty much all Google services upfront, in default positions — nice to leave some pointers for competitors but as Google knows well defaults drive traffic and traffic drives revenue.  

Screenshot of Facebook's application directory

Last week the COO at Facebook, Owen Van Natta, said:  "How are we promising not to trump your application? We're going to level the playing field, developers won't be second-class citizens–we're going to compete directly with them."   Accordingly, the Facebook application directory is organized today mostly by popularity — but mostly is different to always. 

See the ringed sections of the screenshot — unlike third parties Facebook applications don't list the number of users of its applications (Marketplace is a Facebook application).    And note the that Application directory (boxed) starts with Facebook's top Applications.    Finally, as the users expands and contracts the application list (the more carat, where the arrow is pointing) Facebook's one advertisement on the page moves down, partially below the fold.  Tell me this execution isn't setup to collide with business priorities.

In Japan, on the cell phone, Do Co Mo understood that with a limited UI placement of third party services needed to be ranked by usage.   Is Facebook headed down the same path — and what does the COO really mean?? — Facebook owns this garden, competing directly with application providers is going to be, interesting.

4. How will Facebook manage identity and data across third party applications?   Some sites promoted in F8 seem to be managing identity independent from Facebook, others are doing a one click install and sign in (but even in the case of Mosoto, you are signed in for chat but to file share you need to sign in again?).    Does Facebook become a alternative identity broker on the web and if so they are going to have to a lot more open in their approach to data — open ID is a pretty high standard.      Facebook has traditionally had a fairly rough privacy policy — they gather a lot of data about their users and there has been a fair amount of controversy about it.    As they manage data across applications this is only going to get more challenging. 

5. Lastly, how does Zuckerberg social graph extend beyond the core college audience / behavior?   The feed feature added a whole new dimension to Facebook and extended the time people were spending on the site significantly, Comscore data suggests it went up by over 5 mins per day.   Fotolog has a similar, feature that alerts users to new uploads by friends — its a significant driver of our navigational based traffic.   But how does the audience and the use cases evolve beyond the core?   Will people outside of college enter in real names into profiles and will the social dynamics of the broader audience fit with the services that were built for the student based audience?   Over the past year I have started to use LinkedIn more — its starting to become useful, the network is large enough, the alerts I get from LinkedIn are useful — not spam.  I signed up for Facebook shortly after they opened up — but I didn't go back, till friends started inviting me.   Over the past 6 months I have visited the sites to confirm friends but there is nothing useful about Facebook as yet, and useful aside it better be either personal or entertaining — but like so many other social networks its about collecting connections, but whats are the services that are going to drive usage for me — I don't see it yet.   

This is a quote from Giga Om's review post the launch event, its worth a slow read.   "Zuckerberg says you can serve ads on your app pages and keep all the revenue, sell them yourselves or use a network, and process transactions within the site, keeping all the revenue without diverting users off Facebook. This was the opposite to what was stated in the WSJ article earlier this week, and gets by far the biggest reaction from the crowd."  

This got the biggest reaction from the crowd??  Maybe a crowd packed with Web 2.0 service and feature developers who are in need of an audience found it it interesting.    If a user today opt's in to use your site on Firefox — or your application on windows — or even within the grandfather of walled garden's AOL — you still get to keep the ad-revenue.  So why is this a big surprise?  Maybe the attention the announcement garnered is also about the proliferation of web based features searching for a destination to marry themselves to.

Intent and that Telegraph Road

A long time ago came a man on a track
Walking thirty miles with a pack on his back
And he put down his load where he thought it was the best
Made a home in the wilderness

I do think its worth do ask whats the intent behind the Facebook announcement, who is meant to serve and whats the need behind the F8 initiative?    The Facebook was launched as a service for US college students.   It was full of social tools, it let you build out your own network, post events, notes, photos and most importantly its all private, so that students can develop a profile that is real vs. many of the fantasy based profiling you see on Myspace and other sites.   Facebook achieved a lot of its early traction for the same reason as Cyworld did– you could enter your College, your year and actually find friends, colleagues, friends to be, cruches etc.  Because people used real names on the service — emails were verified by domain and you could find anyone in your university.   This was and is a big idea — few sites have a relationship based with their users that maps to real identities.     Anyone who has attended a US university or college knows exactly what this is about. Then came the monetization.  

Facebook started with advertising, they achieved some remarkable successes by mid 2005 they became profitable, they had 2,000+ colleges and 20,000+ high schools on the service.   And the audience was rabidly engaged — 2/3rd's of the active membership came to the site everyday.     But look at Facebook's reach through 2006 — it is flat, because by 2006 they had tapped into an audience and grown the business about as far as it could go given its natural limitations: students.    Reach tracked by AlexaThey were now faced with the question of how to scale your business beyond its base.   They could go global — there are services like FriendsReunited in the UK and Australia who are demonstrating, albeit with differences , that the market exists outside of the US for a Facebook like service.    And /or they could opt to extend the scope of the Facebook offering and try to reach a broader audience in the US beyond students.   They decided to push on both fronts but most significantly in September last year Facebook opened up to users irrespective of whether they were in school or not.   In 2007 Facebook's reach more than tripled.  Before they opened up the doors to the broader audience they were adding 15,000 members a day, today they are adding 100,000 a day (NYT stat, note Fortune says 150,000 a day).  They now have 24M active users, posting mostly Photos, notes and events.

Then came the churches then came the schools
Then came the lawyers then came the rules
Then came the trains and the trucks with their loads
And the dirty old track was the telegraph road

But now reach has extended they need to find ways to get people to spend more time on the site.  Here comes the platform initiative.  The platform that was released last week is about extending Facebook in a different manner to the other social networking sites.  Its about continuing to extend Facebook features by offering distribution of third party applications on Facebook.  Yet the features been added are contained within the Facebook experience.   Out the gate its a great opportunity for fledgling sites, particularly sites that are more of a feature than a destination — Facebook is offering one click installs for applications within Facebook. Its about distribution and its about continuing to drive the amount of time people are spending on the site, which in turns drives advertising.  Facebook is playing the same game as media aggregators have played since the dawn of time.    Whether its Disney, Yahoo or AOL — its all about getting in front of the distribution firehose — they are selling their audience.   Day 1 its not setup as a sale.   Remember that AOL used to pay service providers to offer content and services within the walled garden — then in 1996 when AOL hit a scale it stopped paying providers and started charging — bit by bit AOL flipped the model.  This all seems far less interesting and ambitious than the headlines suggest.   Zuckerberg told Kirkpatrick that what Facebook is unveiling would be "the most powerful distribution mechanism that's been created in a generation."  I hope its is more than that.     If Facebook's F8 is about trying to extend the size and scale of innovation and services in what amounts to another a walled garden experience it will another building block in the long history of web hype.  The Facebook has a great social platform to build off, I hope they are brave enough to let their users take their data and extend services beyond their control, beyond the walled garden.  

A last point worth making is the absence of Microsoft, Yahoo, Ebay and AOL in the platform / social networking space.     Live.com was meant to be a web development platform — but things hewed back to Windows with the launch of Vista.  Microsoft developed much of the thinking behind the web as a platform — with hailstorm and then live.com — but IE7 and Live haven't taken the lead.   Yahoo made all these great acquisitions, many of which they they have left in silos and failed to build upon.    Ebay has this amazing social / trust network that links merchants and end users.    We think of profiles as been specific to social net, but Ebays profiles as they relate to trust and commerce and communications (skype) are a trove of data that could be opened up to users, applications and the web as a whole.  And the merchant relationships, what about extending them into advertising.     Like wise with AOL — there was a recent comment about the importance of opening up AIM, again…     Its amazing to see the leaders of earlier generations of the web MIA — gone from this social networking race.

The semantic web needs to be distributed at its core, another walled garden is too low a bar for a really powerful and interesting social network to aim for.  I hope Facebook actually step beyond the marketing hype and deliver a social platform for the web.

The Photobucket Sale and Fotolog

In the wake of Photobucket's sale last week to News Corp., people have asked me two questions: 

(i) How is Fotolog different from Photobucket?
(ii) Why did News Corp. buy photobucket? 

With the week now over, let me take a pass at answering both questions.  

How is Fotolog different from Photobucket?  

Photobucket and Fotolog are both built around media (photos and videos) and they are both related to social networking.  And they are both experiencing rapid growth.    But that’s where the similarity ends. Photobucket is a tool that is agnostic of destination – while Fotolog is a destination. Photobucket stores image-based media, then distributes it to your page on social networking sites such as Myspace, Bebo, Piczo, Friendster, etc. Fotolog is a destination where you post one image a day which then becomes the center of a social interaction/chat with your friends.  It’s intentionally simple – stripped down and focused on the social media experience. 

The Photobucket acquisition affirms the importance of user-generated content of any media type — images, video, etc. — and media's emerging relationship with social networking. I often call Fotolog a social media site because it's all about the intersection of media and communications, two things which were once like oil and water — they traveled on separate pipes and represented distinct experiences. But they are now coming together in fascinating ways. It's early days, but I believe that the combination of media and communications — gifting, sharing and transferring social capital, between users/members, via user-generated content or digital assets that represent identity — is a more than a trend. 

The first generation of social-networking sites stressed self-publishing over connections (from Geocities, to Tripod to Blogger).  The next generation focused mostly on connections (sixdegrees, and friendster are the classic examples here — tools to gather friends and connections, as social capital accrues in theory to the people with the most connections). The third and current generation of sites blends media with connections — each with a different emphasis. 

Focusing in on Photobucket and Fotolog — the difference between the two is clear when you look at traffic and usage data. Both sites are on a tear. Alexa (link #1 below) ranks Fotolog as 24th largest in the world — Photobucket is 44th . As CEO of Fotolog, I'm obviously privy to more data, but focussing on proportionate growth — the Alexa link shows rapid growth for both sites. Comscore measures Photobucket with 28M uniques and us with 13M. Comscore is panel-based, and at Fotolog we are working with some other data shops to confirm this data.  We recently starting dropping Quantcast pixels on our site and they track us at 26M uniques — data sources aside, the point here is that both sites are large and growing fast. 

Site usage patterns tell a different story. See the table below with Comscore data from March — the average minutes per day is hightlighted. Photobucket averages 7 minutes per day while Fotolog averages 23 minutes per day. Fotolog does 261M total visits, compared to 90M for Photobucket. Media-wise Photobucket has 2.5BN photos, Fotolog has about 1/10th that number at 230M – but in order to maximize user response, Fotololg only permits one up load per day.  Photobucket also offers video, which Fotolog is targeting for the future. Socially, the sites couldn’t be more different, given Fotolog’s status as a destination with an emphasis on conversations.  Our site has more than 2BN conversations posted, approximately 10 per image. 

Data table

In terms of user profile, Photobucket and Fotolog are both very international. Alexa tracks 29% of Photobucket's audience as US-based (Myspace-related) with a further 5% in the UK (Bebo) and the remainder apparently pretty evenly spread worldwide. I do wonder how accurate this data is — as approx 60% of Photobuckets traffic is tethered to Myspace which in turn is mostly US traffic. I know in Fotolog's case the Alexa geographical ratings are different to our Google analytic ratings. Last month a fifth of our traffic was in Southern Europe (Spain, Italy, Germany), which doesn’t come across clearly on Alexa. Fotolog has members signing up every day from 70 different countries, with the bulk of our audience in South/Central America (where the viral growth first took off) and Europe. The site is growing in some European countries, month over month, at a blistering 28%. Numbers like that compound fast. And the growth is 100% organic, with no marketing or member incentives. 

So why did Newscorp buy Photobucket?

The first reason that is much cited for the transaction is defensive — News Corp. / Myspace bought Photobucket to make sure no one else bought them. News Corp. understands that the media on its social network is vital to the experience, and having a third party manage the bulk of the media on MySpace was a risk. This concern can only have been exacerbated with the rise of YouTube and its purchase by Google.   Moreover, Photobucket's push into video must be attractive for News Corp. as a foil for its competition with YouTube – it’s no coincidence that since that deal, Myspace has been so aggressively promoting its videos on its homepage and elsewhere. So media matters — but this is more than media or UGC – It’s also the most common form of digital personalization.   Taking photos out of their analog construct, they are a very simple form of digital customization, it’s far easier to take a picture of something than to render some customization in photoshop. On Fotolog we have tens of thousands of pictures of people's computer screens while gaming, or desktops, or pictures of people sneekers – Fotolog members have posted over 60,000 pictures of Converse / Chuck Tailor's — or custom images.  In other words, this is about personalization, and the camera or a "picture" is just a tool.  

Beyond this strategy my guess there is a broader opportunity — Photobucket is a photo and video tool that could become a web-wide locker for the storage of digital media. Just as eBay's acquisition of Pay Pal wasn't meant to just serve just eBay, my guess is that NewsCorp’s purchase of Photobucket isn’t just meant to serve MySpace.  The opportunity is to serve the web, I suspect that’s the broad strategy.   Granted, there are risks to a broader strategy — eBay didn't effectively execute and while Pay Pal has recently picked up share the first few years after that acquisition amounted to treading water at best.    The fact that Google is now driving into the payments business is a testament to that failure — eBay had the running room to be the web payments platform.   There is also an audience risk — Photobucket users might not pick it as a the service of choice for other media types, the audience may move on and News Corp. could be faced with a whole new dominant parasite on its host in 18 months.    Given all of this the deal once again distinguishes News Corp. as one of the media companies in the world driving headlong into building digital media assets that are indigenous, not extensions of existing franchises.

Lastly, people wonder what the Photobucket deal means in terms of valuation and monetization of social media sites. On this front, the acquisition is good news for Fotolog and our peers. In contrast to You Tube, Photobucket demonstrated that UGC could be effectively monetized, a path that we are following at Fotolog.   The market has valued highly a popular tool that facilitates social media networking communities.   That only reflects well on both the segment and both the destinations and tools associated with it.   

nanking

I went to see Ted Leonsis’s film Nanking this week. It is a hard movie to write about, let alone see. The film documents the rape of Nanking, an event that I thought was named as a metaphor for a city that was pillaged. Pillaged it was but the people were also indiscriminately raped. It’s an awful, gut wrenching documentary of human nature and war. It is also a story of eight or so people who managed to save hundreds of thousands of lives — but there is little to no glorification of their roles, its told upfront, in your face, the words are taken directly from the diaries of survivors. Disasters of this kind are usually told from a distant, sanitized, and historical perspective. This movie does none of the above — similar to Spielberg’s Shoah documentary. Amazingly one of the people who saved so many was the head of Siemens — a Nazi. I also didn’t realize the dates of the massacre — this was 1937/38 — a full year before the start of WW2. Seemingly we leant nothing, would things have turned out differently if this history had been documented and telegraphed around the world?

A few people asked me — should I see it? I think its a personal decision that warrants a few minutes of thought. We are at war today and almost everything we see if filtered through the sanitized lens of our media — this film is about war and the depths of human depravity, its not nice and the loose ends aren’t tied up in a way that gives you any closure. The bravery of a few people is a small measure compared to the depth of evil that is documented. I never understood the degree of attention that rested on Koizumi’s decision to visit the Tokyo War Shrine. I now understand what an historical affront that was.

Finally, documenting the tools of war propaganda — so literally — was something I had never seen before. It’s clear why this history was never clearly documented or told in Japanese history books. Why the soldiers wanted the westerners out of the city before the military arrived. Seeing clips of Japanese journalist filming children getting candy from soldiers as the people of Nanking were been “liberated” — while nothing could have been closer to the truth. Even if you insist on discussing the many subjective truths that make up history — there needs to be some averaging, and history here has been seemingly devoid of any perspective. Nanking is a reminder to chew carefully before consuming any news media today. For that reason alone I think its worth seeing the film.

Resolution, from Thomas the tank engine to the Wii

Thomas that tank engine

I was thinking about how the resolution of an experience changes the experience.    Thoughts began while playing with my children.   My son loves to play with trains, small Thomas trains, small tracks you piece together and trains you push around.   For Christmas my brother asked me what my son would like and I thought that a battery powered train (see right picture) would be a hit.    It was but it also changed the way my children play with the trains.   With the battery powered train the focus became setting up the tracks in some form of circular shape and then watch them go round and round.    Play with the push trains had been much more imaginative, it was about setting up the tracks, creating narratives and pushing the trains around, speaking the narratives out loud.   Thomas the electric tank engine stopped most of that.    It was now about just watching him (the train that is) chug round and round the track, usually pulling cars, sometimes on his own.   Less creative, less social, less physical, and shorter time wise.   I was thinking how does the resolution of media and experience effect the experience of the media and play associated with it.   

It seems that like with comics if media or the experience isnt too polished, too finished, it leaves plenty of room for the human mind to fill in the gaps and engage in the experience vs. observe the experience.   This reminded me of a great interview with Brian Eno where he talked about the importance of leaving media and cultural products open and "unfinshed" (from 1995, I found the orgnial and posted it to findin.gs DB).  But it also seems like engaging kinesthetically with the play transforms it — as my wife said when i asked her why the play was different with the trains you have to push she said because they "have to be the motion" not observe it.        

The Wii, is unfinished, resolution is low, characters (in sports for example) are comic like and the physical engagement in the experience manages to trick the human mind, at least mine, that the experience is pretty much "real".   Its amazing what a little bit of sound and a slight vibration in the remote does — its sophisticated enough to telling my brain that the experienceis so close to tennis or boxing that its real.  Its interesting to think about how these somewhat rough, unfinished experiences are open enough to let one become fully immersed.    Like WOW vs. Second Life.   The environment is unfinished and pretty rough — but the experience is one of total immersion.    And medieval narratives are such a dominant underpinning in our culture that the moment you engage in WOW you have a narrative to engage with.   Second Life seems more polished, and it doesn't have a narrative overlay, much of it is about events and engaging people in living a "second life".      Now its time to get back to my weekend and leave this post, well — unfinished.

Things to watch in 2007

7 4 07
(things to watch in 07)

1. Google will feel the tension between search and browse and their associated business models. Google quick check-out will emerge as the companies key innovation beyond search and paid listings. Yahoo and Ebay will follow AOL and be rolled into the operating theatre — the problem isnt technology (panama etc.) its the business model tradeoff’s they have both made re: the tail.

2. Sector wise e-commerce will rise in importance as alternative currencies emerge as legitimate ways to transact. Its a different take on the subscription model but using ingame currencies to transact for other products (see qq coin). On the subject of virtual worlds, growth will continue at a pace, but second life will emerge as the one everyone could understand but few actually wanted to visit more than once.

3. Geographically, the rest of the world will come into focus as internet and media companies search for customers and growth and innovation. ROW will start to be a legitimate force of innovation rather than just a platform to duplicate US business models.

4. Connectivity wise, wireless broadband will finally become a force to be contend with

5. Policy wise: the Net Neutrality debate will recede as it becomes evident that while network providers need to have the ability to ability to manage bits, those who think they can manage or shape the transport layer to the bias one application or service over another will be proven wrong. The influence and relative progress of the ROW will help here. And while the focus is on policy — the internet policy debate will switch to US broadband adoption and relative speed/price of offerings in US vs. ROW.

6. In terms of protocols and the evolution of the web — web 2.0 given that it has moved from a useful definition to a undefined meme will recede in importance and the semantic web will begin to take shape, standards, api’s will be extended to form the basis for the next iteration of the internet

7. Hardware and device wise, Vista’s influence will be mostly in the enterprise, the Ipod starts looking tired, the Itv box becomes a big deal. Leopard will be a bigger deal than most expect. Xbox 360 will get squeezed from the bottom (Wiiiii!), PS3 will make its numbers, the product is pretty good, not as much fun as Wii but nonetheless good. And Linux phones should be on your radar, they are on mine.

betaworks

Pushing betalab betaworks out into the world.   The company is a platform for incubation and investments that I am currently working on.  Small today, essentially an umbrella — but lots of ideas and things to come.  

An Apple Show-and-Tell article

NYT article that is really just a summary of a couple of posts online — is this the value of old media, makes the about.com purchase seem a lot more forward looking!?

An Apple Show-and-Tell – New York Times On Monday, Apple’s Steve Jobs will take the stage at the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). And he’ll have a lot to show and tell about. Skip to next paragraph Pogue's Posts The latest in technology from the Times's David Pogue, with a new look. Go to Pogue's Posts » Apple has already said that he’ll take the wraps off of Mac OS X 10.5 (“Leopard”), an operating-system upgrade whose significance seems greater because of its proximity to the release of Microsoft’s Windows Vista. Apart from that announcement, nobody knows what Apple will be showing at WWDC. But Apple’s innovation engine never sleeps, and it’s been at least a couple of months since anything new emerged, making me suspect that there will be lots of pent-up products on display next week. Further evidence comes in the form of two leaks. First, somebody snapped a photo of a banner at Apple’s booth, chock-a-block with photos of new Apple products. The most intriguing one is a 64-bit Power Mac. Second, somebody either leaked or “leaked” this list of new Mac OS X 10.5 features. I use the quotes in case the list is fake — this is the same rumors Web site that “leaked” Apple’s “plasma TV” last January—but the list feels genuine to me. Incomplete, but authentic for what’s there. More Articles in Technology »

Packing up and heading home

Time to go home

Heading home, with yellow dog

Getting texting / SMS

After 5 months of living here in Europe I am finally understanding why SMS is mobile telephony in Europe. Estimates I have heard range from 50% to 80% of time spent on the phone is spent sending text or SMS vs. talking on the phone — very different to the us where approx 30% of mobile users use SMS. For Europeans this stuff is obvious, texting is mobile telephony. The reasons I have heard why SMS is so popular in Europe were (a) economics (its cheap and calls are expensive, and you dont pay to receive SMS’s as you do in the US), (b) standardization of data formats drove network effects, a lot of people text so a lot of people text back (c) cultural acceptance of texting and uneasiness with intrusiveness of voice calls in public and (d) little fingers… No wait that is a reason I heard SMS is popular in Asia (?!@), that one, doesn’t apply to Europe. Ok so, these are important enablers but there is more going on. Things I have observed living here and using SMS are:

Basic interactions w/ your cell co. here demonstrates the benefits of texting

In order to use a cell phone here in Europe you need to text or at least read a text. Use of the device for telephony (the reason why most people still buy phones) educates data usage — in the US, SMS is often an added feature that you pay for. Not so here, in Europe its standard. Couple that with the fact that most people prepay it Italy. Lots of reasons for it, but its the norm — so when you load up some time on your phone your carrier sends you an SMS with details. Like wise when you are out of time your carrier sends you an SMS with the calls you have missed (since your phone isn’t working), when you have a voice mail you get a text with details, when move carriers (cross a border) you get a text, you get the idea. And this is before you sign for any special services — anyone for world cup goal alerts?

Ease of use and other product features are different

SMS’s seem to have better threading here in Europe. I want to get back the US and see if this is just a setting on my device, but the default here is that messages are threaded. That makes a difference, messages are more conversational, more fun and more useful. Coupled with the threading they are well archived, so you end up starting a new SMS based on the last one you received from the sender. And SMS’s clearly minimize the social gestures that a phone call requires. You dont need to inquire “how are you”, “how was your weekend” or any of the other standard social niceties that phone conversations often require – you communicate what you need. This might fall into the cultural bucket. Maybe there are more social niceties in language here — that are required on the phone and SMS short cuts them. But SMS’s are short, and on top of that they are very fast. I couldn’t find anything but anecdotal data on this but my experience here is that SMS’s are delivered with greater speed and reliability than in the US. In the US messages can take hours to be delivered, here they usually arrive in a minute or two.

Europeans don’t love voicemail

It seems that voicemail isnt nearly as popular in Europe. At first I thought this was because my Italian is poor that I opt to use SMS instead of voicemail – but I found out that this is what most people do. It seems that Europeans, or at least Italians, don’t use voicemail that much. There are some clear advantages — most importantly the visual interface of SMS is a far faster method of scanning messages than a voice inbox.

SMS is asynchronous and interruptions are managed by the receiver

The fact that SMS is asynchronous and this offers a whole new dimension to communications on your phone, messaging isn’t dependent on state. You can manage how, when and from you who you want to be disturbed. SMS gives you more control over communications. You can do the something similar with voice and caller ID / voicemail but given that SMS is pushed to your phone, the interface is so much quicker to navigate. Whiles this is primarily an interface point — its worth nothing given the paucity of good software on phones. SMS and associated messaging functionality is well placed on the cell deck and well designed for high usage. The metaphors are similar to email, so if you use one switching to the other is easy.

As users and carriers make decisions about how to manage data on devices (on and off deck) its interesting to watch the progression of SMS in a mature text market. Here in Italy the incumbent (TIM) understands SMS well. They seem to be also watching leading indicators from Asia which suggest that a combination of a forward thinking technology strategy with aggressive marketing can keep *voice* arpu, flat to up, let alone data arpu. Data from South Korea suggests this is possible.

Granted the fact that everyone uses it and you dont need to inquire whether you can SMS someone is the single most important detrimantn of usage. But there is more going on here than meets the eye. Understanding the phone as more of texting device vs. talking device changes one’s perspective of whats important in terms of mobile communications.

History, Mussolini

We were driving up in the hills near a small town called Mezzegra yesterday. Outside of a villa there was this small cross with Mussolini's name it. Someone had placed flowers by it. As the photo's of Mussolini on wine bottles suggest he is far from demonized. A wikipedia search turns up that this is where Mussolini and his girlfriend were executed before he was taken to Milan.

Note, he was caught in Dongo on his was to Chiavenna where he was trying to board a plane to Switzerland. Weird, this is so close to Switzerland, he could have driven or walked from Dongo or Mezzegra.

Local, how local can you be?

 Happydent
Living here in Italy has made me consider what defines the boundaries of local and how my concept of local is changing.     Here everything is very local – local to a degree I hadnt appreciated to date.  By local I mean within the region we live in Italy (Lombardy) and more often than not the 20 sq. km around us.   People here think local, produce is local, relationships are local.   Many of the people who live in the tiny village we are in have never left Lombardy.  Very few have ever left Italy.  Most people dont speak a word of any language other than Italian.   Considering that we are 15 mins away from the Swiss border, 45 mins from Milan, 3 hours from Florence, this surprised me.    
People seem to relish how local life is here.   Last week someone was explaining to me that much of the milk that we buy here is from cows about 15 mins up the road.   Some friends told us that each year they pick olives from their olive trees and take the olives to Lenno where a local producer of olive oil (great oil btw) weighs them and gives them bottles of oil in exchange for the olives.   There is a trade off made between choice and quality.    There is often little choice, each item comes in a flavor determined mostly by what was available.  What is fresh.   But while daily choice is limited there is more variety.  

There are vegetalbles that we have never seen before.   One day back in Feburary my wife bought at the market a green vegetable that was somewhere between asperagus and an artichoke. Often we cant even get the name sorted for some of these items — different people seem to call them different things — the name for this one was erbetta, another one is called la barba dei priest  (the priests beard).   In the US there seems to be a need to replicate experiences, a need for consistency (are these needs or are they artifacts of a culture of consumption that makes us think they are needs?). Here there is little need for this.    Life maps pretty tightly to the seasons, one month its brocoli the next its appargus and thats about it.  It strikes me that is a lot more texture to a life lived like this.  

Down the street there is a butcher who sells among other things butter. His butter unlike anything I have tasted before. I cant really explain it.   The combination of the texture and the taste is unbelievable – its butter like nothing i have tasted.   Made just up the road.   Maybe I dont pay enough attention to taste — I never thought there could be so much diversity in a thing like butter.  I thought butter was butter, now I differently, so do my kids, they will ask us, butcher's butter please.

 Brands here are hyper local.     Go to a resturant and order sparkling water — what you get wont be Pelligrino,  there is barely a Pelligrino bottle to be seen around here.   Its local carbonated, spring water. And pretty much every restaurant we go to has a different brand.   Go the the supermarket (let alone the local aliementaire) and pretty much everything is local.  Not only produce, the basics — kitchen paper, trash bags, wine, drinks, yoguts etc. etc. most of them are Italian brands.   Glad bags, no can do,  wrigleys gum, no such luck (try Happydent, fabulous branding.) …  Maybe Italy is too small a market, non english spearking etc. for the multinationals to have paid it much atttention.   Most of the trade barriers have been levelled with EU membership.   But local is what people want, its what they trust. People spend a lot of time in their communities and so much is done just the way it has always been done.  

If you expand the concept of local to include a local online community I wonder if this is more what markets will look like in the future.   Another way of thinking about the tail vs. the head, but the tail vs. the head analysis is about how the tail is becoming more accessible from a cost standpoint.  Here the trade off's that are so compelling re: scale and efficiencies have not been made.