Saturday, October 16. 2010
Wednesday, October 13. 2010
John Battelle on the "Next Big Thing":
That Google is re-allocating Marissa Mayer here is a sign of a hyper market, to be sure. It is a time for image, as with location there is still very little substance - generation 1 failed, generation 2 are resorting to ever gamier tricks to keep user interest. But to be very publicly Seen To Be Doing Something.....well, just look at the headlines generated today to start!
The holy grail of location is localised, personalised, highly valuable advertising (compared to the appallingly low rates that most social advertising gets)
Well, as readers of this blog will know, we think Location based service opportunities are overhyped (that has never stopped fools from being parted with their money, of course) for the following reasons:
1. Fundamentally, its a feature, not a stand-alone business. Location will be integrated into other things you do (cf Twitter). This means, apart from a few Location companies being bought at fairly low cost, we are not going to see large exits. The real money will be made by people like Google rolling it out into their large distribution channel.
In oher words a small number of small companies will sell at a nice little price, the big guys will build it in as a "stickiness must have" and it will be just another feature in the service mix. Location will be like email - a feature you must offer, but not something you can intrude on too much before people shy away from it. As to the Googleshuffle, whisper it who dares, but Google Search is in need of a major revamp that probably only a fresh head can bring, so that is probably another contributing factor.
As to what the Next Big Thing really is - well, thats obvious, you just look at where the money is* - it's Web TV 2.0. But more on that later......
*Bear in mind that Social Media is still a zero billion dollar industry - there is as yet no evidence that Facebook et al can turn a profit. In theory they can, but whether it is anything like what is required to justify their valuation requires you to believe some far fetched hypotheses, frankly. The only real money made to date has been by large companies paying hype-level prices for social media companies at the top of it's hype curve. Which, of course, explains the Rush for Location
Tuesday, October 12. 2010
Anil Dash, talking about the overstated Death of Blogging on O'Reilly Radar:
If I spend an hour writing a couple hundred words about a really interesting challenge that we face as an industry, as a society, as a culture, sometimes I'll get the person that I'm writing about to respond. I could write something about Twitter and get somebody that works at Twitter to respond, or write something about government and get someone who makes policy to respond. That's still a thrill. It also kicks off really meaningful conversations. I think that's all you can hope for.
Thatb is my experience too - In Social Media, Twitter or a Facebook update is a far weaker commitment to a narrative than a blog post. I think Gladwell was onto something when he talked about weak tells in social media, and I think blogging is one of the stronger social mediums. I would suspect that a blog post has far more influence than a similar number of twitterwords say. (If I were Gladwell I'd be wryly amused that the best Revolution that Twitter has so far enabled was chaning the Gap's logo back. I mean, talk about making a difference.....
This also resonates quite well with my other post today about eBooks being a Snacking Medium.
One of the things I have felt, from the inception of online books, is that reading 300+ pages of a novel is too damn hard on them - in my view they are for snack sized media - a good academic paper, a short story or so. Every medium has its "optimal" mode and this - in my view - is the eBook's. Thus it is with some interest I read about Kindle Singles:
Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch "Kindle Singles"--Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today's announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.
"Priced less than an average book" is interesting - in my view full length e-Books should be priced less than an average book, I think the industry is still music c 2000.
Of course, 100+ years ago writers such as Dickens were serialised in much smaller chunks than their full tome novels. For those interested in applying for this newest of New Mediums, you can register interest over here.
Kindle Singles also puts me in mind of the digital version of "dating by cruising the bookstore" - I'm sure one can build (ahem) Yet Another Social Network for this - a sort of literary lovegety
Friday, October 8. 2010
TechCrunch's Sarah Lacy on Spotify's twt that they are now the No 2 music site in Europe and "closing in on the world title":
For TechCrunch, surrounded by the creme of Silicon Valley hypesters, to call Spotify "arrogant" is - well, if Americans didn't understand irony before, this is it! Clearly Spotify's US PRs haven't handed over the month's protection money
Actually, I'm glad articles like this are still being written on AOLTC - partly so I can snark 'em, but more because my main worry with AOLTC is that, in order to secure Big Ad $, it will go all safe.
Thursday, October 7. 2010
There has been a lot of hate vibe directed at Malcolm Gladwell by the 'Net bloggerati, for daring to suggest that Social Media activism is more about people sucking up to causes that will yield them online social capital than due to any actual strong feelings, and thus one should not really expect them to die on the barricades, or even put up any money, for said cause. The article was in the New Yorker last week, I read it and thought - yeah, typical Gladwell, state the well known (among the people who study an area) in a new way for mass appeal and get it 80/20 right and I moved on - but everyone seems to have got very huffy this week (clearly being seen to disagree with Malcolm Gladwell is becoming yet another of the causes he critiques ). The core of his argument is as follows:
The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.
He highlights the difference between what in game theory are called "strong tells" and "weak tells" thusly:
The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek, “We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.
Cue hundreds of huffy Social Media bloggers, including the Huffington Post. More interestingly perhaps, I did a Twitter parse of comments on the subject over the last 3 days or so, and it was on the whole far more positive about the Gladwell article than the Harrumphosphere would have you think - as with the Facebook Movie, the Wisdom of the Commoners differs from their A-List blogging betters.
My take on all of this, since you asked?
(i) Gladwell is mostly right - social networks are by and large comprised of weak links, and those weak links are not what you need to create concerted action. Game theory looks at weak vs strong tells to gauge the likelihood of a player's commitment, and I am sure you would not be surprised to know that painting your avatar green in support of Iran is not a strong indication that you will be prepared to die on the streets of Tehran. Clicktivism is clearly more about garnering social capital than actually doing anything (Tom Lehrer had a go at "slacktivism" in his satirical "Folk Song Army" in the 60's - see above YouTube video of Tom and his 88 string folk guitar)
As always its in the comments to the blog posts that you get the real gems - in a fairly standard harrumphblog, one commentator (Jeff Rivers) notes:
The simple (sad?) reality right now is that all this connectivity and access has resulted in exponentially more mundane conversation about the minutia of our lives and a fractional shift in social activism or discussion of anything bigger than ourselves. The signal to noise ratio is ridiculously high in social media right now and I don't see that trend changing. Maybe it will when we all get used to playing in these new media.
By the way, the level of argument in above said harrumphblog is at this leve:
Malcolm Gladwell’s take on social media is like a nun’s likely review of the Kama Sutra — self-righteous and misguided by virtue of voluntary self-exclusion from the subject. But while the nun’s stance reflects adherence to a moral code, Gladwell’s merely discloses a stubborn opinion based on little more than a bystander’s observations.
With enemies like that, Gladwell doesn't need friends
Or, to update Tom Lehrer:
"If you feel dissatisfaction,
And the rousing Chorus......
So join in the Clicktivism Army,
With one's avatar turned green or whatever, natch.......... (marshmallow white says Paul Kedrosky)
Wednesday, October 6. 2010
On Thursday the London Future City series of lectures is looking at the impact of Technology in re-innovating and reshaping London. The aim of the debate is interesting:
That bit about the ephemera vs the real innovations caught my eye (and that fellow S. African and Big Pototo Norman Lewis is speaking), as it is something we often puzzle over at Broadsight, to wit:
- Which are the real, lasting innovations and how do you see them early
So, as a way of getting my non-talk in first, as it were, here are some takes:
How do you tell lasting Inovation early on?
Over the last 5 years at Broadsight we have been doing quite a lot of this sort of work, either for startups, VCs, or large organisations wishing to understand or launch or defend in a market space, and we have over that time developed an approach which seems to be quite useful.
Firstly, our experience leads us to believe that any Innovative technology will only have impact if it can drive some form of arbitrage on what exists today. In other words you have to look at its economic impact.
For a bigger example, take Location Based Services. Our research into Generation One services, done about 3 years ago, predicted that they would largely fail as there was just not a sufficient economic arbitrage from the technology at the time, nor a large enough social vector (aka "jumping the chasm" in their case) for them to prosper on. They by and large failed. What is thus interesting is that the 2nd generation have used Gaming mechanisms to create a different social vector, and by and large are using prize-fuelled datamining to create a bigger economic arbitrage. So far so good, but our analysis now predicts that they will start to fall foul of regulations around data protection, in Europe at any rate.
Thus, we believe that as private companies, Location Based services are still a risky investment. However, for any Future City project they will clearly be every powerful, so we believe the optimal outcome - for a city like London - is for the city's public services to make some of their data available for innovatve servie providers to build services, and ensure the economic climate is such that datamining is not necessary for these services to succeed as an economic model
Why are most people lured by Snake Oil?
We have done no empirical research on this, but in a way watching the evolution of social media - and the behaviors on social media - allows me to make some hypotheses.
Firstly, just as the devil has all the good songs, most Snake Oil is based around overpromising an impossible dream. The Gartner hype curve describes this in graphical form, and against this the rational, fact based analysis looks boring, hard and stuffy.
My point here is that London needs to be careful - there has been, and is, quite a lot of government funding being thrown at "technology innovation" projects right now, and here is a strong risk that they are hijacked by popular snake oil merchants rather than boring, useful and economically viable projects.
So, to the various committees making the innovation spending decisions we would recommend:
Here endeth the lecture Now go to the real lecture.....
Iain Gray, chief executive, Technology Strategy Board
Adam Hart-Davis, writer and broadcaster
Dr Hermann Hauser, co-founder, Amadeus Capital Partners
Dr Norman Lewis, chief innovation officer and managing partner, Open-Knowledge UK
Oliver Morton, Energy and Environment Editor, The Economist and author of Eating the Sun
Chair: David Rowan, editor, Wired UK
Update - to the above point, I see that 4IP has been shuttered..... suffered from buying into a market awash with snake oil and high prices, perversely now is a better time to invest as the game is better understood and the customer base is larger.
Tuesday, October 5. 2010
Reading about Jason Calacanis' new Tech Media pre-startup, Launch in the Grauniad I saw this:
Wry smile from Broadstuff Towers here - like every other blog writer, I guess we know the truth - worthy, in depth pieces are fine but if you really want to generate traffic, then short, topical ephemera are what really do it. And yes, people tell us that its quality, not quantity that drives influence, but as far as today's metrics, and thus perceived valuations work, quantity has a quality all of its own.
Add to that the economics. I have a rule of thumb that says roughly every time you double 500 words, you triple the time taken to write it.
So big, qualitative pieces cost more to produce and are less valuable in the blog market. A real recipe for success then......
My view, from about a year into writing this, is that blog media works best as a sketch media - watercolour vs oils etc - at least with the current reading tools, I can see that e-Readers and Tablets may change this over time.
Monday, October 4. 2010
So I open up Techmeme and see that quite a few management changes at the top have been announced by various Web 2.0 (or thereabouts ) darlings - the interesting thing is I have never seen so many on the Techmeme leader board at the same time:
Skype is recruiting itself a Cisco CEO (it doesn't get more Corporate than that) probably in preparation to sell itself (again) or IPO - TechCrunch :
Skype's future is in the Enterprise space - what are they smoking? P2P is anathema to secure corporate nets. Also VoiP isn't that hard, well not for the big Telcos and large SI's that play in that space and own all the customers. Skype's only real strategic advantage is high consumer/SOHO penetration.
Anyway, next up is Twitter, which has put current COO Dick Costolo into the CEO position (Costolo flogged Feedburner to Google, you may recall) - TechCrunch again:
As COO, Costolo has been integral in Twitter’s attempt to make money. Efforts to do just that seem to ramp up everyday. And Costolo has been able to help Twitter bring aboard an impressive roster of talent. In Williams’ post, he mentions: Ali Rowghani, Adam Bain, Mike Abbott, Katie Stanton and Kevin Thau. All but Thau came aboard after Costolo.
T'was Costolo wot puts Ads into Feeedburner and thus p*ssed off many of its users, but he did flog the company to Google before they caught on. They closed it eventually, of course. Let's see what he can do for Twitter.
Last up, Farmville manufacturer (grower?) Zynga recruits a Yahoodie - All things D:
For Zynga–the fast-growing San Francisco-based maker of such online hits as Farmville and Mafia Wars that got its start on Facebook–mobile is becoming a critical new platform for growth, as consumers use a variety of increasingly functional mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers.
Asia, Mobile, Online Social gaming for Real Money.....be a tough battle with the Japanese and Koreans who really invented this sort of game genre.
So, a "rush for seriousness" all of a sudden? It has, of course, probably got a lot to do with the Need For Money now that Risk Capital is running away from the space. It is also worth reflecting on this as London plays host to it's 6th or so Future of Webs Apps (FOWA) conference and ring the changes in Web 2.0 since it began. I was looking at the photos of the speakers all looking very traditional webcool (see the video above - kudos Jas Dhaliwal for link), but reflected that soon it will be no more of the Founders in T-Shirts that characterised the Future of Webs Apps Past, and we will see more Men in Suits in Future of Web Apps Future. 2002 Revisited.........
Saturday, October 2. 2010
The Facebook Movie is out this weekend, to critical acclaim. It apparently paints Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg as an ambitious, single-minded, semi autistic, unscrupulous and basically thoroughly unpleasant little sh*t (ie all those traditional things a Silicon Valley CEO should be ). In fact it is apparently so OTT that some even start to root for him! (I should at this point say I have yet to see the movie and am going from the perception of the vast amount of press and friend's responses in said digital new meedja). Needless to say, his friends* are rushing to his defence - Messrs Lessig and Cohler for example:
Personally I thought reaching for George III and de Tocqueville is one straw of desperation short of wrapping Mr Zuckerberg in the US Flag and Constitution! Then there is Mr Cohler quoted in Venturebeat:
Cohler came down on the fiction side, describing the movie as a “Hollywood fairy tale.”
The problem they both - and Facebook - have is this thing of Perception vs Reality. I recall one of my Business School professors telling me, 20 years ago, that in marketing perception IS reality. And the one thing the new digital media does is amplify the message from any company, for good or ill. And the thing about this movie is that, whether true or not, it tells a story not that different from the de facto perception of Facebook in the market. You just have to Google "Facebook" and you see a story of fallings out, lawsuits, worries about data scraping and mining etc etc. "By their deeds shall ye know them" is a very old - and apt - aphorism, and Social Media is a very powerful way of getting those deeds out into the Body Public.
Against the broad backdrop of technology history, Facebook sounds quite a bit like Microsoft in its heyday, or Oracle, and Saint Steve is no picnic to work for either. But the problem they have, the perception among many industry watchers, is that there is more dirty laundry to come, and their creation (as one Venturebeat source puts it) is "tied up with original sin". Which is of course what will magnify the amplification effect of social media's fascination with Facebook even more.
Not, of course, that all this has any impact on Facebook's growth yet - 500 million users is pretty impressive - and to get there so shortly probably requires most of those qualities Mr Zuckerberg is accused of having. Of course, 10 years from now when he is part of The Establishment and has his own Charitable Foundation, all those qualities listed will have undergone semantic shift and he will be re-cast as an ambitious, determined, driven executive "not known for taking prisoners" and will join the pantheon of Great Visionary Executives. Perception will have changed into a new reality.
Update - many more have leapt to Facebook's defence, it has been quite interesting to see the various angles used given that, as I note above, the direct "it's not true" approach won't wash:
- The New York Times says its a Generation Thing, oldies think its a morality tale and the youth think its cool, that omelettes need a few eggs broken etc. Sounded more to me that he was talking more about a good old ethical tale, is does the End Justifies the Means vs the Orginal Sin Will Bring You Down. Which, of course, is a classic setting in any great tragedy - this is MacGeek.
Unfortunately for les critiques, these sorts of noises are unlikely to do much more than drive people to see the movie. Isn't social media wonderful as a marketing tool
Incidentally, like many others I love the Taiwanese Video Precis up top.....
*That is, the friends who were not vigorously contributing to the movie, or suing him......
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