Tuesday, March 31. 2009
At last night's Chinwag Freecomics event (see my report here), some of the scuttlebut was about Facebook and when, and how much Microsoft would buy them (Truly scuttle, but the storyline is that Facebook will run out of money within 18 months or so as every new customer loses money, growth is rampant, and costs are increasing with new higher bandwith changes - so if it can't get funding.....).
Scuttlebut indeed, but this report today from Boomtown on the CFO's demise made me think again:
In addition, trying to stanch the rumors of its financial weakness and need to raise more funds, Facebook said in its internal memo to staff that it was on the path toward a public offering soon, with revenue growth up 70 percent in 2009 and EBITDA profitability this year, and that it would be cash flow positive in 2010.
Interesting as Yu was apparently hailed as a key part of the YouTube sale......
Given that Yu has been running around trying to get in extra funding for the last 6 months at least, this seems to be a sign that (i) funding probably ain't going to come from further risk or debt funding, so increasingly the only path to further funding is an IPO, and (ii) Yu's been shot for being the messenger about how tough it is to bring in money for an overvalued company in a post crunch market.
Speculation I admit, and its the bane of the blogosphere - but its' not that idle, so here's our prediction. If we're on the right path, Facebook will bring a Heavy Hitter IPO Veteran on board as CFO.
They'll need him or her......
(Update - WSJ article saying much the same as I have - I wuz first
Last night was the Chinwag FreeConomics session, on the panel were:
Kudos to Chinwag's Julia Eilon for putting it together, Sam Michel & Emily Fisherfor putting it on (and the free* beer )
Now my stuff you are all familiar with (see here, here and here if not) so this is a brief summary of the Other's Stuff - I couldn't take a lot of notes so they are highlights of each person's comments (or approximate - my notes are a bit scrabbled) and some of the questions:
As far as the questions went, here are my thoughts:
(i) I honestly thought that FreeConomics as a concept had been killed off by its innate economic irrationality and The Crunch, but last night I realised the "propaganda" around the meme, and its sheer attractiveness, meant that it has spread far and wide and is still believed - or at least people's cognitive biasses are very friendly to it. The lesson here is that wrong but attractive ideas with access to large scale media distribution can go a long way.
(ii) There were a lot of questions about print media's future, among them "mergers are bad", "will micropayments work", "will it own end devices, eg Kindle" and "can it survive". My views are:
The Huffingtom Post taking on investigative reporting isinteresting - a year ago peopel were saying that all the money is in the fluff and classifieds, but as anyone can do this its becoming clear that valuable news is a differentiator.
(iii) Free and Social Media - can these services survive as at present? My view - no, the lesson is the chat groups that have been going for 10 years or so that have "Freemium" services - pay money, get better access to other people's data.
(iv) Does Freeconomics have the seeds of its own destruction (from Ben Ellis)? My view - yes, a once one player has gone free all the others will, thus competing away any advantage and removing any economic surplus.
(v) Will Ads save Web 2.0 as Free dies - my view - yes, but eventually - clearly more Ad revenue will go online over time, but the rate of value destruction of current Ad supported businesses is faster than the rate of increase opf new businenesses - see (ii) above
Other Blog Posts
- Dan Leahul, Brand Republic
- Abigail Harrison, The Blue Door
- Lisa Harris, Punching above your weight
I'll add more as I see them come up.
*nothing is free, of course - we sang for our supper and the audience funded it. Here endeth the real lesson of FreeConomics
Monday, March 30. 2009
No sooner do we read that Some People use Their (PR) People to write blogs and Twitter for them, but now Twitter is getting some of Its People to talk to Their People. TechCrunch:
So, what is going on here? Well, the Twitter Slebdunk is obvious - get Free PR! But why are the Slebs signing up in the first place, one wonders?. Well, the old adage is to Follow The Money - or in this case, the Social Capital.
This is because Media Social Capital (or fame) is driven by media exposure. But Celebrity culture - is driving changes to what constitutes "fame" - aka Whuffie - in medialand:
Welcome to the twenty-first century where the days of celebrity status are assessed by breast size, amount of marriages/divorces, and the number of tabloid covers appeared on. Long gone are the legitimate celebrities. The best of luck to you if you're trying to find a famous Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, or Lucille Ball in today's world, as it is a much-desired rarity. What has society morphed minds into? Has the media really lost control of what is deemed as newsworthy? What about global warming? The Bird Flu? When did these lose priority to Lindsay Lohan's alcohol addiction and Pamela Anderson's latest divorce?
In other words, Social (and Financial) Capital comes from media exposure, regardless of how its attained. In the old days, media access was typically via talent (or even better, nepotism), but today it can be accessed simply be being famous for being famous. To do that you just have to find some schtick to beat the fame horse with.
And Twitter is a brand new media channel to use to grab more attention from the faithful, and to get ahead of those that aren't so quick on the uptake. Heck, its a gold rush for New Slebs wannabees too!
Yup, its all about Makin' Whuffie - or, since all the twts and blogs are done by PR minions, its about Fakin' Whuffie.
Which, of course, brings us to a whole 'nother issue about Social Capital and its Ease of Quantitative Easing (aka Printin' Whuffie) but thats a whole 'nother post.
Friday, March 27. 2009
On Monday I'll be speaking at the Chinwag session on Freeconomics, so I thought I'd get my riposte in first, as it were
About a year ago, I wrote the first paper on the blog about the "Limits to Freeconomics", to universal popular derision by the supposed Smart Set at the time. You can see those main papers here and here
That was the time of the Max Bubble, when speculative money was flooding in and many people confused this capital injection with real sustainable income. When The Crunch came this all changed, and by the time I gave a talk on my work at the O'Reilly/Web Expo session in Berlin in October 2008, it was interesting to see that Chris Anderson, who had been leading the FreeConomic charge, was already shifting from "Free" to "Freemium".
(O'Reilly/Web 2.0 talk is posted above on Slideshare)
Then came the riposte by the music industry that one of the underpinnings of "Free", ie the Long Tail, was neither Long nor a Tail. I was at the Telco 2.0 conference when that work was presented there, and that led to further shifting of the ground under the Free when Harvard University weighed in.
I had a chance to see the next paradigm shift at SXSW, when Chris Anderson was interviewed by Guy Kawasaki. (A Guardian piece on the session is here, my SXSW "Limits to Freeconomics video will be shown on the SXSW site soon, I'll link to it when it appears). One of the brilliant bits was Mr Anderson's comment that in the 20th Century "Free" was an economic thing, but in the 21st century its a Semantic thing.
This semantic shift pretty much says it all. Free no longer means Free!, it now means Pay!
And as the capital wave drains away, it is clear that many "Web 2.0" companies' business models were built on the assumption that some fool would fund them for as long as it took for Google to buy them. No VC money, no Google = no company - the shells of bust companies are starting to litter the beach behind the receding tide.
Still, Mr Anderson insisted that it was still the natural order of Digital Media to be free:
"It's the animal force of economics. The internet is the most competitive market we have ever seen and costs are nearly zero. The law of physics means that if you do not make your product free, gravity will do it for you."
And to those doubting him and nitpicking his economics, he noted that:
In fact, as The Economist noted, the "Real" Freeconomic gig was to grab some VC money on the back of dubious promises about Ad revenue, persuade a whole lot of muppets to generate user generated content, code and karma for free and then sell the f*cker to some behemoth like Google or AOL before the non-free transaction costs killed it
How to make money the Old Fashioned Way is to charge people for things. This is, following the Semantic shift, Pay! is the New Free
This was inevitable - FreeConomics was not true a year ago, and it becomes even more untrue today, for the same reasons as last year - to summarise:
1. Nothing in the Digital supply chain is Free. Some parts of the chain have reduced in cost, but others have not. It starts off low cost, but as volume rises all thoe other costs start coming into play
The new Free! plan is in fact Freemium - where a small number of people subsidise the majority, who get it for free. But "Freemium" models have existed since antiquity, they work in some situations, don't work in others. This is also likely to be true for Digital goods. The issue lies in the price sensitivity
Assume for example that a service serves photos (like Flickr), and that the hosting, bandwidth and distribution costs, fully loaded, are c $0.10 per month ($1.20 per year) per person. For 100 users, thats $120. Assume also that c 5% of these 100 users pay Freemium prices, so 5 people have to pick up $100 or $24 pa each (Flickr charges $25 for its Pro account)
But now imagine a video sharing site - files are c 10 - 100x bigger, so suddenly a 5% takeup is a $240 to $2,400 cost per person. Or imagine that one can only get a 2.5% takeup, thats $50 per person.
Not all things will work as Freemium. There are also Razor & Blade models (get shiny new mobile phone free, pay over the top for 24 month contract) and other forms of offset will persist (mainly driven by dataphishing to get some view of your future net present value, we hypothesize)
His latest iteration in the story is that America may be the Land Of The Free, but China is the Land of Free due to its libertine attitude towards copyright and conservative attitude towards labour costs. As the Guardian reports:
Anderson hails the Chinese music business as a perfect example of how the country's lack of intellectual property protection can work. "Pirates will pirate a CD, which creates celebrity, which you can use to create cash," he says. "Chinese pop stars make money not off music sales, but from making personal appearances, starring in advertisements, etc."
touring is a loss-making venture until you can fill venues that hold a few thousand people or more. Then you can at least break even. Besides, the songwriters who write for others make few royalties from these tours, and the record producers make nothing. Merchandising income does not exist for either.
0.6p for a million views. Yup, you can live on that.....not!
Which brings us to the core issue for new content creation - artists may starve in garrets for art, but they still starve. Others just exit and do something else, The main reason that Freeconomics has survived to date is that copying other people's stuff is the lowest form of content creation going. Problem is, as YouTube is finding, its hard to attract paying customers or advertisers to such content. Without signifiicant Google subsidy, YouTube would collapse in months.
So where does that leave us?
Simple - Freemium will work in some cases, there is about $50bn for Ads to subsidise stuff (it will grow, but not rapidly in recessionary times as Ad spend is tied to GDP) and there are some last pools of risk capital left among the rocks.
But that is not going to fund Teh InterWebz. In Google we (may) trust, but for many of the others we'll be paying cash.
Breakdown of Mobile Motivateds vs Mobile Meh! (Pew Research)
We hear a lot about the rise of the "always on, fully mobile, digital road warriors" - and a new piece of research by the Pew Internet Foundation exclaims that:
Except that their own data shows that only about 40% of the US population is mobile mad, but 60% are mobile Meh!
Five groups make up the 39% of American adults who make up the basket of groups they called "Motivated by Mobility."
Digital Collaborators: 8% of adults use information gadgets to collaborate with others and share their creativity with the world.
The profiles of the other 61%, the "Stationary Media Majority," are:
But the trending is also interesting:
- 66% of those in the "motivated by mobility" groups report that it would be very hard to do without their cell phones.
Allow me to cross multiply these data across the whole population:
- 66% of 31% motivateds - ie 20% - cannot live without their mobile phones
Seems like its becoming Mobile Meh!dia to me. I suspect its those pesky laptop and netbook thingies. Pew puts a brave face on the mobile Meh!, saying that the occasional use of mobile applications and decidedly lukewarm attitudes of the previously "on the button" Desktop Veterans and the Drifting Surfers, who make up 26% of the adult population (and have broadband adoption rates of about 80%) leave them off the cutting edge. But if the cutting edge is blunting...?
Methinks though, the action is really in that Broadband Adoption thingy............
Meg Pickard on the things that make her Maaaad about Twitter - More input to the emergence of Twitterquette. :
1. Endless retweeting without adding any value or original thought in between. Or at all. If you retweet more than once a day, especially from the same source(s), I’ll likely dump you and follow them instead. NB, this is even more irritating when I already follow the person you’re retweeting.
Re Point 7 - people on Twitter are called Twits, right? There is a reason for that...........
Gotta love the retro "Get a Blog" in Point 2.
Points 4 and 5 point to the current inability to DM a group of people or that only those you want to see a message get it in their streams. In other words, we need to reinvent Twitter as email......
I'd add the following 3 pet hates:
Feel free to add your own in the comments, I'll pull them up into the main post later!
Thursday, March 26. 2009
Had to link to this post by the Grauniad's Seth Finkelstein about Google and the other surveillance companies, especially in the light of all the stuff coming out of SXSW and World of Networks II on Trust & Privacy issues:
To best understand the issues, it's important to separate out the social ends – refining ads – from the technological means, which is massive monitoring of user activity. Too many discussions of the topic get bogged down in what's essentially an argument of "the end justifies the means", where a nominally beneficial goal of better advertising is presented as sufficient to trump all further implications.
He also points out that there is a turf war between the search players and the ISPs:
A Business Week article bluntly stated: "Phorm could present strong competition for the ad-serving platforms purveyed by the likes of Google and Microsoft".
Update - an article on TechCrunch on "What could go wrong with Google" has all sorts of potential issues, but this one - the competition for data analysis for Adserving - must surely be the key reason)
Tim Berners Lee has also added his weight to this discussion. And this refrain of his below is something I'm hearing more of:
In fact, one of my takeaways from World of Networks is that the Tech of Web 2.0 is sort of done, now increasingly the real fight is about the ethics and the tradeoff between privacy and efficiency..
As SXSW I listened to Tara Hunt present some of her stuff from her book on Whuffie. For the uninitiated, Whuffie is a term used for Social Capital as defined in a Sci Fi novel by Cory Doctorow - Wikipedia:
Whuffie has replaced money, providing a motivation for people to do useful and creative things. A person's Whuffie is a general measurement of his or her overall reputation, and Whuffie is lost and gained according to a person's favorable or unfavorable actions. The question is, who determines which actions are favorable or unfavorable? In Down and Out, the answer is public opinion. Rudely pushing past someone on the sidewalk will definitely lose you points from them (and possibly bystanders who saw you), while composing a much-loved symphony will earn you Whuffie from everyone who enjoyed it.
And it all sounds very good - in theory. The problem comes when you look at the very low level of subtlety in systems that measure Digital Social Capital, and the abuses this can entail. It is well known already that a Social Network operates with a Power Law function, and its an interesting term:
This was really brought home to me today when I read this piece about how Twitter allocates the very limited "Suggested Followers" space at its onramp. Let us assume for example that there are two people of equal social capital within the Twitterverse, but one makes it onto the onramp and the other does not. Within days, the lucky one will have grown their numbers of followers by an order of magnitude. I've watched it over the last few weeks - Guardian, TechCrunch and Mashable were on and saw hundreds of thousands of new followers. The BBC and other equally worthy sites were not, so had much slower growth.
Now imagine if the way of working out one's Social Capital - one's "Whuffie" - was relatively unsophisticated, and looked mainly at the number of followers one had.
Preposterous, I hear you cry! Who would do such a silly thing! There are so many other factors!
And yet this is exactly how most of the current Twitter popularity counters work - they crudely look at number of followers, most don't even adjust for follow/followed ratio (to see who are followtrolls and who have genuine tribes). And in the Twitterverse, the PR engines then use that and compile lists of "Most Influential Twitterers in London" and "Most followed People in Technology". These are then blogged and trumpeted around in the various media channels, so it must be true. And those who have this virtuous circle are then elevated onto the Suggested Followers onramp.
In other words, in a few short steps what was a crude measure has been tranmuted into de facto Whuffie on Twitter. And in a few short months those wot have will gain a lot more, and those wot don't will languish.
So lets just look at the dynamic here:
The Kingmaker (who owns the real estate) can bestow favours (a spot on the suggested follower onramp) to those who are favoured under the system. These lucky people can in turn can then bestow favours on their acolytes (Everybody Follow X, he/she is AWESOME) and the whole system is amplified by the Heralds of Whuffie, those blogs and lists that amplify the rankings.
Upset the person above you and your plug is pulled, you are out the Whuffie Creation Virtuous circle, and over time you will decline as others more favoured shoot past
Now this is nothing short of Digital Feudalism.
To explain - Feudalism being where the King owns the real estate, and hands pieces of it for Lords to manage, and they hand it on to the various followers, all of whom aggregate the value add of the peasants at the bottom for their own benefit. Digital Feudalism does the same, but harvests attention rather than agriculture.
But, I hear you say, Feudalism required the peasants to stay on the land and in their place, and Religion taught them to be happy with their lot.
Ah, but the Social Media Zeitgeist is forever preaching that in the digital world one is free, one has influence, one can find one's own heaven. Follow Me and all will be perfect in this most perfect of all virtual worlds. And in reality, if all your friends are using the service to socialise, you are pretty much locked in anyway.
And now imagine your whole digital life worked like this, that this Whuffie drove your status in the pecking order in all things, i.e. all your interactions were built into these sorts of systems, so you couldn't get out. Imagine too what would happen if you protested, went against the popular grain - all the behavioural psychology in the world so far shows that the crowd would not praise you for your wisdom, but pillory you instead.
Welcome to WhuffieWorld........
(My point is not that Tara's book is saying this - it is a good first step into the debate on Social Capital. But this is all still a first step. Without a lot of the work that has gone into putting the checks and balances into our real world systems in the last 1,000 years or so, then Whuffie based online systems - at least as currently imagined - are a sure fire recipe for creating something like Digital Feudalism)
Wednesday, March 25. 2009
Last night we held a roundup of all the conferences various people had been to recently - TED, SXSW, LIFT, ETech etc (see summary here) - "conference voyeurism" as one wag put it. As I'd been to both TED and SXSW I did a compare and contrast spiel, which was basically this:
TED is $6,000 for 3 1/2 days of packed programming, and SxSW is $450 for 5 more relaxed days - about the same amount of hours. At more than 10x the price (c $1 per minute) I felt more pressure at TED to Do Everything, and one literally felt one was p*ssing away money by going to the toilet
TED c 1200, SXSW c 9,000. In theory the TED audience is much more high quality, and there are big names - but there were also too many of those annoying "Startup CEO" types who interrupt the conversation you are having with Mr Famous to pimp their Thang and press a business card into said hands - this happened often at TED, hardly ever at SXSW. I did not pay $6000 for some rude little MBA sh*t to interrupt me in mid convo (at $1 a minute.... )
TED - huge, from Robotics to Jazz. SXSW less so, its a Techfest, but being part of the overall SXSW music & film festival means there is a lot going on in Austin at the same time
- TED - very high quality of presentation, lower quantity (single stream) of talks. Good content quality overall, and even the poorer ones are bearable owing to the high presentation quality. Not much Q&A
Better at SXSW - more time, more space, and people seem more amenable to it. In theory the quality of networking at TED is higher, but I'd say at SXSW there were a similar number (say c 1,000) of high profile people, and a larger number of ordinary oiks - of whom many were very interesting. TED has a wider range of people, however, and the big hitters are very big. SXSW is more T/M/T focussed and has more Tech hitters, but fewer big name VCs and certainly no movie stars (to my knowledge, anyway). Someone said that TED is where you go to meet yesterdays' heroes, SXSW is where you go to meet tomorrows'. A bit cruel, but you know of what they speak.
Parties / Apres Talks:
TED is more structured to facilitate meeting people, at least until c 10pm when the formal stuff typically closes. SXSW has more "party" parties - free beer, some grub, lots of people milling around in brownian motion. After c 10pm its much the same though, groups of people chatting over drinks in bars/hotels/whatever. SXSW has an "In crowd" party scene, but its more about A-lister pecking order, as the parties themselves are much of a muchness.
Here endeth the lecture.....
Tuesday, March 24. 2009
Plan for Babbage's Analytical Engine - Ada Lovelace was key to its development
Its Ada Lovelace Day, and the purpose of this is to celebrate women in technology.
But, rather than celebrating one particular person, we'd like to flag the women who are not A list entrepreneurs with their names in lights, or the current startup darlings, or even the "glam-side" PR gals that are names by dint of position.
We'd like to celebrate the women who actually get things done, sans thanks (and recognition) in many cases.
These are the coders, testers, system administrators, pre and post sales support, helpdesk operators, team managers, office administrators - those that are critical to any technology based enterprise but are not the "public face" who you see in the press and glam parties.
So here's my thought - over the years I've worked with, and managed, many such women. In general they've been more competent than their male colleagues - they have to be due to the background, ambient (and usually unconscious) discrimination in the structure of technology companies.
But, to them I would say there is one thing that I always felt would help their cause hugely - and that is to be more forthcoming. Speak up, let your opinions be known, say your piece, stand your ground etc etc.
The good news is that the way work is becoming structured, it plays to natural female skills of collaboration and communication. Add chutzpah to the above, and the balls will truly be in your court
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