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March 2007 Archives

March 1, 2007

Big Mac

Last night was a monumental day in the Markson house - we bought a new computer. Not just any computer, mind you, we bought a Mac. This is definitely my first foray into Apple-world (other than the IPod, obviously) and I think it is Kelly's as well. All the guys in the office work off of Mac's and they love them. Even my brother is a recent convert, so I'm optimistic.

Truth be told, Tom's the reason we bought a Mac. The past few months I have taken a bunch of home videos (wedding, honeymoon in Australia, rocket launches, etc.) and haven't really done anything with the film. I asked Tom what would be the best software for a novice video editor to use to convert the film into something watchable (both editorially and format-wise (i.e. a DVD, not the HD tape it resides on now). His response was forget the software...buy the Mac. The I film is just that easy.

So we'll see. Hopefully I can figure it out and have some of these video's uploaded in no time. The more likely scenario: since I am, as my wife likes to say, the "technically challenged" one in the family, she will have this figured out soon. And I can go back to the type of Mac that is in my comfort zone - the Big Mac.

March 2, 2007

Friday's at Topix

mmmmm.....pizza.

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March 3, 2007

Replacement Pics

It's unanimous...the pizza pic's were gross. Since the pizza was in fact pretty good, that means it was either (a) the photographer's fault or (b) the camera's fault. Obviously, I ruled out option (a) - and the pictures were taken with my camera phone. Anyway, another day, another picture - and it being 70 degrees and sunny in the city today, it's optimal for pic's (until the fog rolls in anyway). Now if I only had something better than this crappy camera phone.

View from our living room:

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And one from outside (the Golden Gate is in there, if you look on the left hand side and through the blur):

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Better than the pizza pic's anyway. If it wasn't such a gorgeous day, I'd spend a few hours playing with my new Mac to see if I could figure out how to upload some pictures (from a real camera) that would do the view justice. But, that's a rainy day project.....

March 4, 2007

Music 2.0

Fred Wilson's blog pointed me to an article in today's NY Times about the band Arcade Fire. Pretty interesting article describing a group of talented musicians who took a non-traditional route to success in the music industry. Their first album was completely financed by themselves. Cost them $10,000 and went on to sell 750,000 copies. In today's world, those are pretty impressive numbers.

So where have I heard this story before? An industry where there is declining costs of production, commoditization of infrastructure and the prevalence of viral marketing over traditional means. Where barriers to entry have fallen to such a degree that young upstarts can go it on there own, rather than selling out to financial or strategic investors? Hmmm....sounds very familiar.

The story of Arcade Fire and many of the original Web 2.0 companies (Flickr, Topix, Gawker, etc.) are very similar. The cost of creating music has always been relatively small. It was the distribution and marketing that was expensive. Sites like MySpace, YouTube, etc. have changed that though. Through a good word of mouth/ viral campaign, artists can now put their songs directly in the hands of their audience without having to do any deals with the traditional labels.

Interestingly though, many in the Web 2.0 crowd figured out that working with the big guys really was the optimal strategy for many reasons. It was their lack of reliance on the established players that gave these new companies the leverage to make deals with them on favorable terms. Will the same happen in music? Music is different in that a band like Arcade Fire can thrive by selling their music, but also performing it as well. Web 2.0 companies never had that second business model, so perhaps not.

But I do see the the future of music be a bunch of bands like Arcade Fire finding moderate success on their own - rather than supergroups dominating the charts. Whether or not they will end up working with majors remains to be seen. If not, the majors will surely become more marginalized than they already are. That is of course unless they can embrace this new world and focus themselves on creating hits in it.

March 5, 2007

Zodiac

My random rants on Hollywood notwithstanding, when the movie industry gets one right it is worth the price of admission. This weekend Kelly and I went to see Zodiac, and they definitely got it right with this one.

I admit that heading into the movie, I was not optimistic. The fact that it was over 2 1/2 hours long had me believing it was going to suck even before I bought the popcorn. In the famous word of Arthur Fonzerelli, I was wrrrrrrr. Not only was it very well done, but the 2.5 hours really flies by. (Incidentally, one of the ways I judge whether or not a movie was good is by measuring how quickly into it I first look at my watch. 1.5 hours for this one).

In any event, not to give away the movie - although it is a true story, so hard to give it away - one of the maddening aspects of the story is how the police were very clued in on one particular guy but didn't make an arrest because one "expert" said his handwriting samples didn't match. For a while they couldn't even get a warrant to search his place because of this. It just didn't make sense.

Then I remembered that these events took place in the late 60's and early 70's, prior to many of the recent technological developments being used to solve crimes these days and right smack in the middle of the time when the Warren Court was changing the dynamics of the police's powers. And this happened in San Francisco, the center point for the revolution of this counterculture. I don't throw this out as a political point about the rights or wrongs of criminal procedure jurisprudence at that time, just more of an explanation of why this otherwise maddening point in the story happened.

In any event, even more maddening is when Hollywood does come out with a good movie like Zodiac, it nonetheless gets it butt kicked at the box office by a movie about middle aged men and Harley's. Maybe when it comes to movies, we get what we deserve after all.

March 6, 2007

USA Today's Red Headed Step Child Users

Venture Beat points out an interesting fact about the USA Today relaunch that I didn't see elsewhere. Apparently they have turned on robots.txt (or enabled a java script equivalent) for the new user generated content that is now prominently part of their site. In other words, user submitted stories and comments will not be indexed by the search engines. Of course, the obvious question is why?

VentureBeat contacted Steve Kurtz, director of IT at USA Today......[this] "was intentional, explaining the company is being careful about what content is associated with the brand....We're still a newspaper."

I have to admit I am a bit puzzled by this one. Isn't the point of adding content to a site to have it be seen and read? Presumably whatever brand issues there are with this content are overcome by the site when a user is actually on it, otherwise it wouldn't be added at all. But their are brand issues when the content is on display as a result of a search query? Hmmmmm. Not sure I get it. There's an analogy here - you can't get a little bit pregnant? Embrace your new insect/ user overlords? If your going swimming your gonna get wet?

Not sure of the right one, but in my mind, if you open your site to user generated content, go for it and don't keep it hidden in the basement.

March 8, 2007

Help Wanted: Sales

I've tried to keep this blog separate from my work life in that, while I do (often) blog about my industry, I try not to blog about anything too specific about Topix. For two reasons I am making an exception today. First and foremost: I can't think of anything better to write about today. Second, today's entry is around what I do at Topix, not the company in general. Ok, nuff 'splaining...

As I have previously mentioned on this blog, at Topix we for the most part outsource our ad sales to Google. The ads perform very well, we can put engineering time and effort into optimizing them and there is zero cost of sale. OK that last part isn't entirely true - there is an unknown cost of sale in the fact that Google keeps part of the revenue - but for that price, they do all the legwork around aggregating the advertisers, serving the ads, tracking them, making payments, etc. In other words, it's a pretty good deal.

With that, I don't think it is a complete solution. At the end of the day, like any media company, our pages are designed for marketers to reach the audience that comes to them. Google is certainly one vehicle for that. But it is not the only vehicle. I think at Topix it is high time we started actually connecting directly with marketers to work with them to design solutions that maximize the reach and breadth of our pages and meet their specific needs.

This is not to say that we will drop Google. That would be dumb. But, we are looking to supplement our existing monetization with some homegrown sales efforts. So, with that, if you are a rock star sales person, familiar with the agency world, looking to join a start-up environment, drop us a note at sales@topix.net. We have lots of traffic (10mm uniques/month and growing) and a great ability to segment that traffic (to locality and/ or demographic). It's a pretty senior position, so a great chance to build a program from almost scratch.

March 9, 2007

My Tube (a/k/a Rocket Launch Video)

Home Video + New Mac Computer + YouTube = Mike's Rocket Launch Video is online.

Sadly I am not a very steady camera man, so all apologies in advance for any sea sickness you may experience.

March 12, 2007

March Madness

These are the rules for the NCAA pool I agreed to join. Anyone with an advanced degree who can interpret these for me, please drop me a note. So much for the old bracket pool.....

OVERVIEW Tournament consists of a multi round structure where round leaders advance to subsequent rounds. The tournament is designed to have a similar format to the Soccer World Cup System.

Each entrant will draft a group of participating teams in the NCAA tournament and the entrant’s performance will be based on their teams’ performances. The tournament will be broken down into three weekends. All pool entrants participate in WEEKEND 1. The top 4 entrants from weekend 1 will advance to weekend 2. The top 2 entrants from WEEKEND 2 will advance to the FINAL FOUR WEEKEND.

All eligible tournament entrants will meet prior to each weekend for team selections via draft process. NOTE: Point values from previous weekends do not carry over, each participant starts each weekend with zero points.

WEEKEND 1, (March 15 – March 18) Entrants will be divided into 3 - 4 Groups. The groups shall be a minimum of 3 entrants and a maximum of 4 entrants, and this will be determined by total number of entrants. The entrants will be placed in a group based on a random drawing. Each entrant will be competing only against the other entrants in his/her group for this weekend.

The entrants within each group will draft teams from the 64 team NCAA field (the play in game will not count). The draft order will be determined from a random drawing, please see DRAFT PROCEDURE for the draft structure. The draft will consist of 16 or 21 rounds depending on the number of entrants within the group. An entrant earns points each time one of his/her teams advances in the NCAA tournament. Please see POINT SCORING for scoring details. The final entrant score for the weekend will be the total combined points earned by his/her teams during the weekend. The entrants will advance to WEEKEND 2 based on the GROUP STRUCTURE.

WEEKEND 2, (March 22 – March 25) After the first weekend the remaining 4 entrants will be regrouped according to the GROUP STRUCTURE. The two members in each group will draft the remaining 16 NCAA teams, (8 each). See GROUP STRUCTURE for draft order and DRAFT PROCEDURE for the draft structure. Point scoring for this weekend will be identical to that of the first weekend. The top performer from each group will advance to the FINAL FOUR WEEKEND.

FINAL FOUR WEEKEND, (March 30 – April 1) The two remaining entrants will then conduct a draft of the 4 remaining teams. The top point scorer from Weekend 2 will pick first, the second entrant will then have picks 2 and 3, and the first entrant will get the final pick. The entrant who scores the most points in this weekend wins the tournament.

GROUP STRUCTURE (Assumes minimum of 8 entrants) 8 Entrants Weekend 1 Total Groups: A,B Entrants per Group: 4 Entrants to advance: Top 2 finishers in each group Weekend 2 Group C – 1st in Group A (first pick), 2nd in Group B Group D – 1st in Group B (first pick), 2nd in Group A. Final Four Weekend Group E – Winners of Groups C & D, first pick determined by higher score. 9 Entrants Weekend 1 Total Groups: A,B,C Entrants per Group: 3 Entrants to advance: Top finisher in each group, and wildcard (highest point scorer of the remaining entrants). Weekend 2 Group D –Group winner with most points (first pick), Wildcard Group E – Group winner with 2nd most points (first pick), Remaining Group winner Final Four Weekend Group F – Winners of Groups D & E, first pick determined by higher score. 12 Entrants Weekend 1 Total Groups: A,B,C, D Entrants per Group: 3 Entrants to advance: Top finisher in each group Weekend 2 Group E –Group A Winner vs. Group B winner (first pick to higher scoring entrant) Group F – Group C Winner vs. Group D winner (first pick to higher scoring entrant) Final Four Weekend Group G – Group E Winner vs. Group F winner (first pick to higher scoring entrant) 16 Entrants Weekend 1 Total Groups: A,B,C, D Entrants per Group: 4 Entrants to advance: Top finisher in each group Weekend 2 Group E – Group A Winner vs. Group B winner (first pick to higher scoring entrant) Group F – Group C Winner vs. Group D winner (first pick to higher scoring entrant) Final Four Weekend Group G – Group E Winner vs. Group F winner (first pick to higher scoring entrant)

DRAFT PROCEDURE For each subsequent round within a draft session, the picking order of the entrants will be reversed. Example: There are 4 entrants in the group and Entrant 1 has first pick for Weekend 1. First round draft order – Entrant 1, Entrant 2, Entrant 3, Entrant 4 Second round draft order – Entrant 4, Entrant 3, Entrant 2, Entrant 1 Third round draft order – Entrant 1, Entrant 2, Entrant 3, Entrant 4 Fourth round draft order – Entrant 4, Entrant 3, Entrant 2, Entrant 1 Etc.

POINT SCORING For every team that advances to the next round, the entrant will receive 4 points. For example, if an entrant has 5 teams advance to the next round, that entrant will receive 5(teams) x 4(points) = 20 pts. Upset bonus: An upset occurs when a team with a seed 3 or more below its opposition wins the game. If an upset occurs, you will receive 4 points for the win, plus bonus points equal to the difference between the two seeds of the teams. See examples…

Example 1: # 12 seed beats #5 seed in first round The 12th seed wins 4 point for advancing to the 2nd round plus 12-5 = 7pts for the upset. The total points won in that game is 11.

Example 2: #6 seed beats #2 in sweet sixteen round The 6th seed wins 4 pts for advancing to the Elite Eight round plus 6-2 = 4pts for the upset. The total points won in that game is 8.

Tiebreakers: If two entrants have equal points at the conclusion of the weekend 1 or weekend 2 the winner will be determined by the following criteria 1. Most number of remaining teams still in the tournament. 2. Sum of total seed numbers for each remaining team. 3. Coin flip.

For the final four weekend, a tie will be broken by the point total of the final game. Each entrant will provide a point total for the final game prior to the final four weekend draft.

March 13, 2007

A Dig at Digg

I don't "get" Digg. On several levels. For the uninitiated, Digg is a "social news" site that displays links to stories based not on topic or importance but rather democracy. They have a bunch of users who scour the web, decide which stories they think are interesting or important, "Digg" those stories - and the ones with the most votes end up showing up on the page. Or something like that.

As a user though, I can't understand why anyone goes here. Whenever, I stop by the only stories I see are either hard core tech geek stories, spam (cleverly disguised as stories which are then "voted up" by the interested parties - i.e. they game the system) and/or fringe stories that perhaps are amusing to some but are of no relevance to me. So content wise, I don't get it.

Design wise, I don't get it either. And this is coming from somebody who loves the whole "ugly but functional" design. I use an IBM Think Pad as my machine. When I go to Digg, the top 50% of the screen is their mast head, ads and a tab bar - i.e. zero content. This leaves room for only 3 of the aforementioned "stories" for me to see without scrolling. On top of that, with all the links near every story and the clutter on the right side of the page, I can't focus on a single thing.

So I don't dig Digg. And to be honest, I don't think others do either. As the article notes, they saw 2.2 million (ComScore) uniques last month, which is respectable. But hardly huge. Given that the users they do have are vocal and/ or self interested, they get just about the best PR of any company out there, they have managed to convince lots of news papers to put their viral "digg this" button next to their stories, and they're well indexed by the search engines, it's actually kind of small.

For reference, Digg has been live for about 1.5 years. Without the benefit of Business Week cover stories and viral plugs across the news world, Topix had a much larger audience than that after our first 1.5 years of existence. (We're up to 10mm per month now).

So again, I don't get Digg. But what I really don't get is that, why does everyone else want to copy them. Netscape news tried. Look what it did to their traffic. Now MySpace is getting into the act. Will it succeed - who knows. Perhaps it is a better "fit" for their brand. Judging from the screen shots, the design looks a lot better.

In any event, I quoted Bob Lefsetz a couple of entries ago when he said "the mainstream is a sideshow." I love that quote. Right now, Digg and, thus far, its clones are the darlings of the mainstream press, but a sideshow for the rest of us. We'll see if it stays that way.

March 14, 2007

MySpace Syphoning

A follow up to yesterday's post on how I don't dig Digg or its clones...In that post I mentioned that MySpace was the latest to get into the "social news" act. So why would MySpace do this? Aren't they the most successful social network out there? The envy of every other web site? Are MySpace users really clamoring for a news offering on site? Of course not.

There's only one reason why MySpace would do this - CPM's. It's no secret that user generated content on the net monetizes for shit. The brand issues and the CTR's attributable to an audience more interested in interacting than consuming all make for a pretty low CPM rate on social network sites. So if you are MySpace what do you do? You can either try to create ad packages that get around these issues or create sponsor-able pages on your site that avoid them all together.

MySpace has chosen the latter. Note the power point shots in the article listing ad rates. Now, of course, all of this works only if they are successful in diverting traffic to those pages. The good news for MySpace is that with 38 billion page views a month, if they syphon 1% of their traffic to these pages, they will have the largest viewed news site on the net. The bad news for them is that, even though CPM-wise it will be much better than they have currently, that model still has a long way to go.

March 17, 2007

The Generation Gap

There was a line in a recent (a couple weeks ago, i think) NY Times article about the internet creating the largest generation gap since rock and roll. Clever line, and perhaps true.

My life online pretty much consists of paying bills, reading and, as of late, blogging. Not much more. This is clearly not the case for the younger crowd. My trainer is 25 years old. He is so involved in MySpace that its the home page on his mobile browser. In between clients he spends his time "MySpace-ing" - which, presumably means chatting with friends and trying to pick up girls. Note I said presumably. Every time I go to MySpace I have no idea what to do there. This is despite the fact that have set up an account and been to the site on more than a few occasions.

And therein lies the generation gap: I, a reasonably intelligent almost 40 year old man, have no idea about a site that is really second nature to the younger crowd. Kind of like my parents felt about many of the pop culture things (music, video games, etc.) I loved when I was growing up. Ugh.

Getting old is a bitch.

March 19, 2007

Marketing and the Generation Gap

I have this theory that at some point in everyone's life their focus flips from consumption to production. By this I am talking about how a person views the him or herself and the world around them. As this flip generally corresponds with age, perhaps it is a maturity issue.

Regardless though, typically when someone is younger they tend to identify themselves by what they consume. He's a Deadhead, she's a Raider fan, he's really into French movies, she's into Thai cuisine, everyone is wearing that brand of sneakers, etc. Effective marketers cater to this and make sure that everyone at that age knows that if they eat/ drink/ listen/ wear/ watch/ etc. [insert cool new product] they'll be cool.

But at some point in life it flips. You know longer view yourself by what you consume, but rather what you produce. You're the sales manager, the truck driver, the Perl developer, mother, father, doctor, lawyer, whatever. Obviously, you still enjoy consuming, but it stops defining you. What you are producing becomes your focus of both yourself and the world around you. (BTW, I think that this phenomenon (a) is completely natural; (b) it is completely healthy; and (c) those who don't make this life "flip" tend to be unfulfilled.)

In many respects this is the source of the generation gap. On one side you have a group of folks who are focused on consumption and the other a group focused on production. As noted above, effective marketers bridge that gap. Figuring out how to do that is the trick. Seven years ago, no one thought about SEO. Today there is a whole industry built around it. Rich is our resident (and probably the industry's) SEO expert - he started getting recruiters calling him for VP of SEO jobs about 3 years ago. Marketer's go to where the action is. If Google is where it is, that's where they want to be.

But what if MySpace is where the action is? Because that is where the true "consumers" are. The ones noted above who tend to build their lifestyles around the things they consume. What's the formula for reaching people there? Is there a burgeoning cottage industry around social network optimization? Stephen is looking into ways to reach the MySpace audience for Topix. We get tons of traffic from Google, but really none from MySpace. Seems like there should be something there for us. But whose the resident expert there?

Perhaps we need to open a req for a 22 year old Director of Social Networking Optimization.

March 20, 2007

Yellow Page Blues

Today I did a panel at the Kelsey Group local conference. I've spoken there three or four years in a row now, and they always put on a good show. The attendees there are mostly Yellow Pages folks, with a few local publications thrown in - and of course the various vendors, technology providers, etc. to round out the audience. My panel was on local online advertising - shocking, I know.

In any event, the one thing that I always find amazing is that as far as the online Yellow Pages business goes, things have not changed much in the past few years. It is a tremendous technical accomplishment to index the entire world wide web and provide search functionality into it. Google obviously has done that well. It is an equally impressive accomplishment to build out a nationwide system where you sell to almost every local advertiser in the country. Who has done that better than the Yellow Pages?

So that leaves the obvious question: why don't the Yellow Pages folks get into the business of selling Google ads? Instead they seem to want to own the distribution of the online Yellow Pages with sites like SuperPages, etc., but I don't understand that. The search engines are the online Yellow Pages - the only thing missing is the local advertisers money. Who better to capitalize on this then the Yellow Pages?

March 21, 2007

Jack Arnold's Career Advice

This morning a friend wrote me an email indicating he was tired of his job and looking for something new. The interesting part of the note (besides the odd decision to ask me for advice on the matter) was when he mentioned that he realized that it had been quite some time (years!) since he had actually been excited to go to work. That's not good.

Me, being a good friend, advised him to do what I typically do when confronted with an important, complicated, perplexing and perhaps dizzying question about my future: solicit the advice of an 80's sitcom dad. In today's episode, we look to Jack Arnold, father of Kevin Arnold on the Wonder Years. In one particular episode, it was a take your child to work day at Jack's office, so, naturally, Jack took Kevin. Kevin dutifully followed his dad around the office, watching him toil away. Towards the end of the day, Jack and Kevin had this poignant exchange (or something to his effect):

Kevin: So, Dad, when is it you decided that you wanted to be an assistant distribution manager when you grew up?

Dad: (pauses to reflect for a moment then says with a bit of surprise) I don't know, it just sort of happened that way.

And in the end isn't that how it works for most of us? I mean sure, there are a few folks who dream of becoming an astronaut since their childhood and actually end up achieving those dreams. But for most of us you life sort of unfolds with less than a direct vision. Life and the choices we make are all about trial and error. You try to set some overall goals and approach them strategically, all the while weighing the endless set of variables (family, friends, money, etc.) that seem to come and go during the process. But life really is a nothing ventured, nothing gained process.

So my advice to my friend: I don't know the right career for you. You probably don't either. If you don't like the one you're in now, try something else. You're smart, personable, ambitious - lots of opportunities out there. Don't wait around for "exact" fit, because there is no such thing. Try something new and see where it takes you.

And in the meantime, if you meet a Winnie Cooper, act quickly.

March 22, 2007

Madness Up Close

When I was in high school, I would often head downtown with my friends Dave and Dan to check out Pittsburgh Penguin games. The drill would go something like this: the three of us would buy the $7 nose bleed seats at the door, watch the first period from them, and then sneak down to the lower section in between periods to get a better seat. Since the Penguins sucked pretty badly then (think, if you can remember this far back, pre-Mario Lemieux) they never sold out and this plan almost always worked to perfection.

Anyway, fast forward twenty-some odd years to tonight where my friend Bob and I decided to go check out the Pitt-UCLA Sweet Sixteen NCAA tournament game being played in San Jose. Bob bought tickets only a day or two ago, and when we got there, we realized that we not only were in the nose bleed seats, we were so high up there might be pressurization issues.

What did we do? We reverted back to the high school plan. Since there were two games at the arena (Kansas vs. Southern Illinois was the first), we figured that some folks would leave after the first game was complete and we could just snag their seats. Tonight the plan worked to supreme perfection. A family was heading towards the door and Bob asked where their seats were. Their answer was perhaps the most beautiful English language phrase I have heard: "Row One - seats 9 and 10"

That's Row 1 - as in right on the court, directly behind the Pitt bench. Put it this way, we were so close I almost picked up a charge. Anyway, sadly Pitt lost tonight - but what a game from those seats. We were so close that when at one point I excitedly motioned for a UCLA player to be called for traveling, my friend Dave saw me do this on TV and sent me a text message telling me that my charge call was spot on. Unbelievable.

Anyway, a great time and a big thanks to Bob! Here are a few pics from our seats:

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March 24, 2007

Name Drafting

I've been meaning to write a quick add on to Rich's recent post on naming - but with March Madness and everything else, I just realized I hadn't got around to it. In any event, I like Rich's rules but the one item I thought that his list didn't address was name drafting.

In marksonland parlance, "name drafting" is when you copy not a particular name or phonetic or euphony, but rather you copy a particular naming format or structure. For instance, once Napster became ubiquitous, lots of web sites adopted the "___________-ster" structure for their name. Similarly, the name flickr resonated with the web 2.0 crowd so much so that the "_________-r" became ever present.

In my mind, the decision to draft on someone else's name is a particularly interesting one. On one hand, by adopting a well known format or structure, the purpose of your product is immediately apparent. Whenever I see the "ster" moniker, I know the site involves sharing of some sort. This is especially helpful for initial recognition and makes the elevator pitch easier. So if you are looking to get a pitch meeting with a VC, name drafting can be useful.

But if you are looking to build a long term business, I think name drafting caps you're success potential. It is very difficult to be a name drafter and surpass the popularity/ success of the original moniker you are drafting off of. At the end of the day, your brand (of which your name is a HUGE part) is supposed to be your unique promise to your customer or user. If you draft off of someone else's name, you are by definition not unique in that respect.

With that, one more thing about name drafting: you know you've achieved a level of critical mass/ ubiquity when you find yourself to be the name draftee though. At that point you know your brand is working. In other words, feel free to adopt the ________-land name for your blog....:)

March 26, 2007

A Lesson in Buzz Building

Lots of companies could do worse than hiring OJ Mayo as the Marketing Director. As evidenced by this recent New York Times profile piece, the kid knows how to launch a product. In this case, obviously, the product is himself.

Think about it, every year hundreds of kids are vying for the precious few NCAA Division 1 basketball scholarships and every year, one or two of them is considered to be head and shoulders above the rest. In other words, a graduating senior heading somewhere to play basketball is not a new story. It's old, played out and hard to create a fresh angle on. Or so we thought. That's what OJ has done with his decision to go to USC.

My favorite quotes from the article:

Mayo wanted to market himself before going to the N.B.A., and that Los Angeles would give him the best possible platform.

“Then why aren't you at U.C.L.A.?" [USC Head Coach Tim] Floyd asked.

U.C.L.A. had already won 11 national championships. It had already produced many N.B.A. stars. Mayo wanted to be a pioneer for a new era.

"Let me call him," Floyd said.

The man shook his head again. "O. J. doesn"t give out his cell," he said. "He’ll call you."

....
Mayo's mind was apparently made up. He was already looking ahead. “How many scholarships do we have for next year?" he asked.

Floyd stammered. "After this," he said, "I guess we have three."

Mayo went through the priority list in his mind. "Don’t worry about recruiting," he said. "I'll take care of it."

Before Floyd hung up, he asked one more time for Mayo's cellphone number. "No," Mayo said. "I’ll call you."

Call the kid brash, call him cocky, but whatever you call him, don't don't call him bad at buzz building. Seems like other than his jump shot, that is his true calling. Trust me, there are lots of start-ups who could learn from OJ - they'd love to have NY Times profile pieces written on them before their launch - and they actually have new, fresh products!

And just in case your thinking OJ's marketing skills aren't that great, consider his last play on the court as a high school senior. Mid-game, he takes the ball, passes it to himself and then dunks it. He then takes the ball and tosses it in the stands - getting himself ejected from the game. Pretty dumb, right? Getting tossed from your last game. Oh yeah, the clip of this play has been one of the most widely viewed clips on YouTube. Score another one for OJ.

March 28, 2007

Convergence and Consensus

The more I think about it, the whole advertising business can be summed up in two words: convergence and consensus. Create a place where everyone converges and then build consensus among them.

Pre-internet, the convergence and consensus business used to be a lot easier. People converged around a few tangible places: the TV, Radio, the publications in the newsstand, etc. As a consensus builder (i.e. marketer) you could find the medium where your customer was converging - this was easy given the built in physical distribution channels that mapped to the physical world we live in - and try to sway them with relevant messaging.

But what if there is no single place where people converge? Or worse, what if it isn't possible to build consensus at the point of convergence? Or even worse, what if there are many convergence points, none of which have a critical mass of audience and none of which map to the physical world in which we reside? What do you do then?

It's pretty obvious that, at this point, the traditional points of convergence (TV, radio, newsstand, etc.) now take a back seat to the internet for raw usage (i.e. reach). Unlike those formats where there are physical limitations to where the eyeball can wander, because of the cheap costs of creating an online presence, the total number of places to converge online is at an unimaginable level (as embodied by the long tail concept). So what happens? Somebody (Google) builds a front door to this mess and hands out the best directional guide to wading through it, and voila, people converge there. We're back in business then, right?

Well, actually no. Not If you are in the convergence and consensus business. Google's homepage is designed precisely to not allow for consensus building. It's clean and uncluttered, with no opportunity to sway. Page 2 of Google (the results page) is a different story. That is entirely a consensus building page - both paid for (SEM) and otherwise (more on this in another post).

However, the consensus is built on that page is limited to an extremely narrow topic. With so many places to go - and searches being snowflake-like (i.e. no two being the same), the top search terms for any given day represents less than 1% of the total searches processed. As a result, most folks on Google aren't even getting to the same second page. So the reality is that there is no real convergence/ consensus point on Google.

This is the dilemma. Take the case of the local politician. How does he or she reach their constituency to make a case for their votes? As noted above, TV, radio, newspapers won't do it - they have no reach. On line, the convergence point of the net (Google) just doesn't work for him either. Unless someone is searching "[city name] election" or something along those lines, know one will know he exists on Google.

His other online options are to either seek out the non-search sites that his constituency tends to read (local newspaper.com, etc.) or perhaps work with an ad network that does geo-targeting. Given the that local newspaper.com is only reaching a fraction of the populace's audience, and that the ad networks are also limited by their distribution capabilities across a very long tail, these attempts are not likely to lead to good results either.

So what does he do? Oh, I know what you're thinking - the answer is literally right at your fingertips, he should start a blog and message out himself. This is true, he could start a blog - and he's likely get some links from friendlies and perhaps a bit of search traffic. But then to go beyond that small audience, he'd have to market it - drive traffic to it, keywords, SEO, ad buys, build consensus around it, etc. In other words, he's back to square one.

And there lies the dilemma of this distributed network we call the internet. Right now, there's no single point(s) of both convergence and consensus that map to the physical world we live in. And that's what I call opportunity.

March 29, 2007

Taste Measures vs. Taste Makers

In my post yesterday about convergence and consensus, I noted that there are no real convergence/ consensus opportunities on Google. By that I mean that Page 1 of Google, at this point inarguably the front door to the internet, offers no place for consensus building and the limitless Google page 2's (the search result pages) offers no place for convergence.

As a result, I view Google (or more specifically, Page Rank) as a taste measurer, not a taste maker. When I enter the search term "Britney Spears News" Google, through its link counting, measures what the populace of the net thinks is "the best" Britney Spears news page and presents me with that result. That is taste measurement defined. It is a backwards in time look at the world.

For a marketer who wants to reach the Britney fan, this is a great opportunity. But what about the next Britney? What does she do? Not much on Google. The value of search marketing is on known entities. Isn't the job of marketers to build awareness for new opportunities as well as capitalize on existing ones?

Traditionally, that's where taste makers act. They make decisions about the "New New Thing" and then utilize the convergence/ consensus channels to guide the rest of us. But what if there are no convergence/ consensus channels. You can't ask Google what will be the hot new look on the runway's this fall. Not enough folks have seen them to comment (i.e. link) on the subject for Google to have a measure. But, I bet if you ask the editor of Vogue, they would have an idea. As would lots of folks who follow that industry. They're the taste makers.

So how do they get their word out? If TV, radio, etc. are dying, and Google doesn't offer them a convergence/ consensus point to make their case, how do the taste makers create big buzz around their product.

In our current system, maybe they can't. It's the natural response to social fragmentation. Look at the music industry. In addition to the technology issues that dog them, it is becoming increasingly difficult to create a big new act. And music isn't alone. Take politics. Doesn't it seem like we keep recycling the same national candidates over and over again. Occasionally a viral element kicks up and a new face shows up, but not often. It's harder and harder to create buzz.

And that's the fragmented world we currently live in. Temporal hits are smallers, buzz around them lighter. Will it stay that way?

March 30, 2007

Ode To Perez Hilton

If the four major sports in the US are baseball, football, basketball and hockey, then the fifth must be celebrity gossip. The competition among the celebrity combatants is undeniably fierce, perhaps only surpassed by the competition among those who chronicle it - the gossip journalists. However, in the online gossip coverage game, one site stands out among the others as the winner: Perezhilton.com.

In my mind, the appeal of perezhilton.com is actually both simple and complex. The distribution world of celebrity gossip used to sit firmly in the supermarket checkout line. Publications like the National Enquirer literally made a living out of being an impulse buy for food shoppers. But the format, newspaper print, wasn't great - and the brand wasn't pure: the gossip items were muddled in between stories about aliens and JFK sightings (this is presumably because, unlike today, where everyone has a camera phone, there were some days when celebrity gossip was slow - so you had to come up with something).

This opened the door for magazines like People, US Weekly and OK! Magazine to put together slick weekly mag's with sharp pictures and in depth cover stories - legitimizing the medium and taking the readership from the tabloids. So fast forward to the online world, and these folks should own the market, right? Well, no. Similar to newspapers, these folks haven't figured out what Perez Hilton did: the format is different and therefore the product needs to be different.

So what did Perez Hilton do? He took the part of the celebrity gossip world that really anybody cares about, the pictures, ripped them out from the rest of the magazine and created a publication solely devoted to them. Well, not solely. To differentiate his sight from other celebrity photo sights, he leverages his background knowledge of the celebrity "scene" to contextualize the pictures - and then adds his own bit of personal commentary to make it interesting.

In many ways, its very similar to what Drudge did to the news business. He ripped out the most interesting part of the newspaper - the headlines - contextualized them within his brand and added, through his re-writes, his own personal commentary to differentiate form the competition.

Also, like Drudge, Perez Hilton employs what I call, the ugly/ functional design. Whenever you go there, there is no mistake - the pictures are the stars of the site. He puts them front and center. The rest of the site, commentary, navigation, etc. complements this. Lastly, Perez is tireless - or so it seems. His site updates more often than pretty much any blog out there. Which of course only encourages repeat visits.

Is it working? Well, according to Hitwise, Perezhilton.com is the 283rd most popular site on the net. It's competitors - People.com (210) and TMZ.com (272) rank slightly higher, but both of those are AOL Time Warner sites, so get a lot of captive audience traffic. US Weekly ranks in at 2043.

Pretty impressive.

About March 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Marksonland in March 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2007 is the previous archive.

April 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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