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May 2007 Archives

May 2, 2007

Locking Down a Name

A quick follow up to my last post on the evolution of the name "blog." One of the reasons I think that this name has evolved is that no one managed to own the term and successfully brand it. It is quite a feat for a company's brand to be so omni-present that it actually encompasses the underlying good or service. The obvious ones in the past were things like Xerox for copies and Kleenex for tissues.

I think Google is an example of a more recent one. The term Google now means "to search the web" and, more importantly, when someone tells you they did a web-search on a subject, you automatically conjure up images of a Google search. A web search is a Google search and vice versa. This is a pretty impressive feat.

The same thing did not happen with the term blog though. For whatever reason, no one has yet to grab a material share of the blog market and thereby inextricably tie the term to their product. As a result the name drifts and now encompasses things like Topix forums, MySpace pages, etc. Imagine though if Six Apart would have locked down the blog market in the same manner that Google has locked down search. Usage of the term "blog" would immediately conjure up images of the Moveable Type product and the brand it conveys. Similar to how the term "operating system" immediately conjures up images of Windows - er, Vista.

Without an owner, a name, like a stray dog, tends to wander.

May 3, 2007

Name Redux: Owning Your Market

One more thought I my last couple of posts on names and brands. I stated in my last post that the Google brand was so omni-present that it actually became synonymous with the underlying service involved: web search. As a result everyone knows what i means to "Google" someone and when one talks about web search, immediate images of Google searches are conjured up.

So where does that leave the competition? Not in a good place. Yahoo has been struggling for its identity for a while. One of the reasons is that they no longer own their core offering - web search. Yahoo used to own its core offering, when the site was primarily a directory. But the web evolved beyond that, search came to be the preferred surfing method, Google grabbed that market and Yahoo got lost in the dust. Now it is a non-branded site propped up primarily by email users (i.e. the Yahoo "power user").

But Yahoo is not alone. Ask, Microsoft and many "vertical search" folks tend to spend a lot of time and money on products and marketing that are designed to compete with Google in the search space. But Google is the search space. This leads to the perverse result that when these competitors market around their search capabilities, they're actually re-enforcing the Google brand in the mind of the consumer. Is it any wonder that these past few years, with all of the resources spent by these competitors on products and marketing that Google's market share has actually increased.

The lesson here: if you want to do anything search related (vertical or otherwise), you need to call it something else. Otherwise, your better off investing your money in Google stock.

May 8, 2007

Heroes Flaw

As I mentioned before, one of my (and pretty much everyone else's) new favorite shows is Heroes. Great story, good characters, suspense, etc. But with that, I think I found a screw up in the show last week - and since I have been light on blogging material lately (too much travel, I think), I figured I should document it. If you don't watch Heroes, stop reading now.

OK, so Hiro and his buddy go five years into the future where NY City was decimated from a bomb going off. They run into Hiro of the future - the one who told Peter Petrellli at the beginning of the season to "save the cheerleader, save the world." Future Hiro informs present day Hiro that because they failed to save the cheerleader from Sylar, Hiro couldn't kill Sylar, and, as a result, Sylar succeeded in blowing up NYC. OK, makes sense. Except for the fact that, in that same five years in the future world, they show a scene where the cheerleader is alive and well, waiting tables (albeit as a brunette). Wait, I thought the whole reason NYC was decimated was because she wasn't saved. So how is she alive? Seems like a flaw to me, unless I am missing something.

Like I said, I'm a bit light on blogging material....

The Top 10 Reasons Why Newspapers Are Sinking Online

Forget the subscription vs. free debate (circulation revenue is a small fraction of advertising revenue), here's the top 10 reasons why newspapers are sinking online:

1. Local brands don't translate online. New mediums need new brands. Localnewspaper.com doesn't work.

2. Local markets don't exist online for users. The web itself is an aggregator - makes everyone a neighbor. Most of the audience to newspaper.com's come from "out of market."

3. Local markets do exist online for advertisers. Local advertisers only want to reach local customers. The newspapers can't deliver that (see point #2). As a result, online, the newspaper has lost its unique value proposition.

4. Display advertising online is a bad deal. It's poorly priced and less effective than its chief competitor, search advertising. Search ads make all the money because they're the better deal. They deliver no wasted impressions (only clicks are charged), they're 100% trackable - so success is measured daily - and are perfectly priced as a result of an auction.

5. Display advertising may also be a bad deal offline, but its untrackable. That 1/4 page ad you want to sell offline, go ahead, charge $20 CPM - no one will know if it was a bargain or not. Online, they'll track it down to the click.

6. Your loss leaders are too heavy. National news, international news, entertainment news, etc . - they don't pay their way. You can't contextualize around them, the audiences aren't segmented and as a result, they don't perform. All of which would be fine except these are the pages that most of your audience is reading.

7. Your money makers are too few. Sure you can sell a $20 CPM on your business or health pages, but that's a small fraction of your traffic. (see point #6). You may say your site earns $20 CPM because that is your rate card, but add up your revenue and add up your pages views and do the math. My guess is your not much above $1.00 CPM.

8. The only unique value you could have now is your stories, but everyone has them. The syndication structure worked offline, but online it's a disaster. The wire service stories that make up most of your site are a commodity. You can't build an audience selling a commodity.

9. Your classifieds revenue has gone away. The brands didn't translate, the products you launched were wrong. Craigslist, etc. are eating your lunch online.

10. You still have print revenue. This is why you are losing online?? Actually, yes. You make a lot of money from your offline operations. It must be protected, to the degree it can. Shareholders, employees, etc. depend on it. It would be easier if you didn't have any revenue to protect and didn't worry about cannibalization. In that case you could make big bets that you can't make now.

In other words, free is the right model. There are just plenty of other issues to work through in the meantime.

May 13, 2007

Surprise Visit

Flowers: $20.00

Cab Fare to the Airport: $45.00

Plane Ticket: $600

Surprising Mom on mother's day with a visit: priceless.

Happy mother's day Mom!!

May 14, 2007

Traffic as a Feature

I saw this article today (and accompanying analysis) and thought it was brilliant.

A year ago, CBS Corp. announced the creation of Innertube, an entertainment channel on CBS.com designed to make the company a player in online video....CBS's new chief Internet strategist now jokes that the Web address for Innertube should be "CBS.com/nobodycomeshere.

First off, the line is great. Especially since (a) it is coming from a CBS executive; (b) because it's true; (c) it's so rare that a big company actually has the capability to recognize its own failures.

CBS, after a year of experimenting with various Web initiatives, says that forcing consumers to come to one site -- its own -- to view video hasn't worked. Instead, the company plans to pursue a drastically revised strategy that involves syndicating its entertainment, news and sports video to as much of the Web as possible.

In other words, there's more to winning online that just great content or a large offline audience. Point of fact is that most times the offline audience won't translate into online numbers. If they did, ABC, CBS and NBC would be the top three sites. Fox figured this out a while back ago and built their audience around MySpace through acquisition. The NYTimes did the same with About.com.

We do partnership deals all the time with others and partners always have long feature request lists. The one thing I always ask for is for them to treat building an audience as a feature. Have a plan - a product plan, SEO, SEM, online marketing, offline marketing, etc. - don't just assume that if you put something up, people will come to it. I know this seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how often that doesn't happen.

Seems like CBS figured it out. My guess is that they'll make sure their new distribution partners think this way too.

May 15, 2007

Umbrell'r

At long last, real innovation:

The high-tech brolly allows you to take pictures with a built-in camera. These can be uploaded to Flickr (a photo-sharing website) via a wireless internet connection and within two minutes you can watch downloaded photo-streams on your umbrella screen with a simple wrist-snapping movement.

Certainly will make rain delays at the ballpark/ golf course a bit more entertaining....video of the new device below.

May 16, 2007

The Old Guys in the Club

Fred Wilson has had a series of posts discussing age and entrepreneurship - i.e. is there an age when you are too old to be an effective entrepreneur? Valleywag recently noted that most of the effective entrepreneurs on the net have been in their 20's and early 30's. So to borrow a phrase from Chris Rock, is a 40 year old entrepreneur "the old guy in the club?"

Honestly, it depends. I've written in the past on marketing and the generation gap. What I noted in those previous posts is that young people tend to form their identities around what they consume (i.e. types of music, clothes, etc.) and older people tend to form their identities around what they produce (job title, parental status, etc.). It's these competing outlooks that form the generation gap.

So given that, it makes sense that in consumer facing areas where the audience demographic tends to skew younger, younger entrepreneurs are more strategically positioned. Sorry, but no forty year old is going to come up with MySpace or Facebook. Those are sites designed for teens/ twenty-somethings, marketed to teens/ twenty-somethings and used by teens/twenty-somethings. This audience have an innate knowledge of the nuances of the product that no 40 year old, regardless of how much market research they undertake, could understand.

There's an old piece of advice that's often given to authors: write what you know. In other words, don't try to make stuff up, leverage your experience to create. I think that advice applies to the "old" entrepreneur as well. Don't try to design something for the younger crowd. There's a generation gap that you can't overcome. And don't try to design a great consumer destination for your fellow forty-somethings - for the most part, your peers are not passionate consumers (especially on the internet), rather they're passionate producers.

So is there room for great forty something entrepreneurs. Absolutely. Just remember, certain areas are rightly defined as young man's sport.

May 17, 2007

Lawyer PR

"f***ing and fighting, it's all the same"

-- Sublime

For those following the Socializr - Evite PR boondoggle/ lawsuit, well Jonathan Abrams is now actively fanning the flames, posting a blog that details recent nasty-grams he's received from Evite lawyers, and throws a few rocks at IAC/ Barry Diller.

It's a pretty good read and very good effort at milking more coverage out of this "fight." Most good PR firms charge a retainer of $15-$20k/ month. Jonathan should send that check this month to Barry - he's earned every penny of it.

May 21, 2007

Cuban on the Name "Blog"

I was checking out Mark Cuban's blog the other day and ran into a recent entry that ended with this interesting thought:

One of the biggest all time product branding blunders in any business is newspaper columnists and reporters calling what they write on the web a blog. When you have a reporter in the field offering online updates and you call it a blog, you define them as peers of the many unwashed masses who post on a blog, myself included. Suzy and Don on myspace have a blog, and so does your intrepid reporter. Its not too late to come up with a name to brand what professionals call their timely infield updates. Its the only way you are going to differentiate your news organization from user generated content.

While I've already said my piece on the name "blog" and its evolution, I thought Mark's insight was very interesting. In many ways it encapsulates the problems newspapers have online.

New mediums require new brands and new products. In the past there was no need to differentiate between branded and unbranded journalism. Only the former had the distribution and thus was relevant. But with Google making all sorts of info readily accessible to all quickly, that's changed. But there's still a difference between branded and unbranded journalism which would and should be called out. How better to do that than with a good name...

Every company in the world knows that a new product with new features and new functions needs a new name to distinguish it from the competition. Why don't newspapers do this too?

May 23, 2007

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Way, way back in early 2004, when we just came out with Topix, Rich and I had a "holy shit" meeting with a newspaper executive. What I mean by this is that at that time Topix was really just 5 or 6 of us, working out of a trophy shop in Palo Alto, no VC backing, no superstar advisory board - heck, no conference room even - and we get approached to meet with a very, very senior person from one of the largest and renowned newspaper companies in the world. i.e. holy shit, I can't believe this guy wants to meet with us!

Looking back though, it kind of makes sense. After the dot-com bust, there were no start-ups coming out of the valley (or elsewhere, really). But newspaper companies could read the tea leaves and saw their future. The smart ones were looking to act early. So small companies like ours got to meet lots of folks like this....

Anyway, at that meeting I remember during the obligatory small talk portion, I mention that I moved to the bay area in 2000. Nameless, very senior exec remarks that, in hindsight, that probably was an optimal time to make that move as "It's always better to make those types of changes in during a downturn." I remember thinking that was a pretty interesting observation. Most people I met were telling me how I missed the party of the late nineties, and couldn't have picked a worse time to move out here. But not this guy.

Anyway, fast forward to 2007, with traffic on the 101 snarling regularly, start-ups and VC funding becoming again almost cliche, dead pools and launch parties popping up simultaneously, it almost makes me long for 2003/ 2004 again. My guess is that its a lot harder for your average start-up to score a holy shit meeting these days.

May 24, 2007

The Evolving Technorati

Yesterday Technorati re-launched - new look and feel, new functionality, certainly better uptime. All that is well and good, but was it the right move?

For a while now Technorati has been in an interesting position. They own(ed) the blog search market. At the beginning, there were some competitors - Feedster, being the most prominent - and then the big boys Yahoo and Google jumped in and launched their respective products. Only one problem for them: their products didn't take. This is despite Google giving its blog search tool prime home page linkage and Yahoo doing the same. Now Google's product is part of the "more" features list and Yahoo, well, I think their version broke and rather than fix it, they just took it down. (No, seriously, try to find it).

So Technorati wins and all is well, right? Well, no. Even being the leader in the market didn't help the fact that most/ all of their searches (i.e. vanity searches) on their site are unmonetizeable. Google and Yahoo can cover all sorts of unmonetizeable searches in their index because they have so many monetizeable ones. But a search engine geared to personal/ vanity searches doesn't have that luxury.

So what does Technorati do? They give up on the blog vertical, and try to index everything in an effort to compete with the big guys. I've already written about how I believe that Google is now the Kleenex/ Q-Tip/ Xerox of the search space, so efforts to take it head on will actually only re-enforce its brand and strengthen its market. So to me, giving up on an area of the market where you have a lead - any lead - doesn't make long term success.

Only time will tell I suppose....

May 29, 2007

Hail Caesar

When I used to hear people talking about Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, it immediately made me think of old school Las Vegas. And when I say old school, what I really meant was old - as in the clientèle. However, one spontaneous trip to Las Vegas later, which included two nights at the recently re-modeled Caesar's Palace and I'm a changed man. I actually really liked it.

The pool area was great - big pool, good waitress service. The room's while not the most modern, were pretty big and comfortable. And the casino area was actually very nice - good food court, lounges, etc. OK, so it's not the most hip and happening crowd in Vegas wandering around there, at this point of my life that's probably for the best.

Wait, does this mean that it really wasn't Caesar's that changed but rather my age demographic? Sadly, probably a bit of both. ugh.

May 30, 2007

Mahalo

Just read on Battelle that Jason Calacanis new search engine Mahalo has launched. I checked it out briefly with two searches and here's what I found:

(i) The Grateful Dead search result page: This is actually pretty nice. Good results, sorted in a helpful, useable manner - presented very cleanly. Me likey.

(ii) The Topix search result page: uh oh. There are no results.

Hmmmm...so why is this? Well, one click away you learn that all the search results are hand made/ human edited and since no one had created a Topix page on Mahalo, to it, Topix doesn't exist. Their stated goal is to create search pages for the top 10,000 terms (FYI, I'm guessing they kept that number purposefully low so they can announce the inevitable "we reached our goal in less than ___ days" press release) and rightfully Topix did not make that list. Fair enough. Unfortunately though, as a user, I can't create that page either - at least not yet. The most I can do is click a link to send them an email to let them know about the "missing page."

So what does all this mean? Well, apparently, Mahalo isn't interested in the long tail. If your not in their top 10,000 they don't haven an answer for you and don't want your traffic (yet). But I'm guessing that they are interested in SEO - i.e. if I search Grateful Dead in Google, they're hoping the Mahalo page will turn up as a result (notwithstanding the underscores in the Mahalo URL's). At Topix we have 400k of these SEO pages, so we're pretty familiar with the idea...

So Mahalo is an SEO site for 10,000 terms, created by non-volunteer editors....hmmmm. Sounds hard to scale. I'm guessing this changes soon....

In any event, I'll continue to play with it and see what it comes up with. Obviously, it's worth watching....

About May 2007

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

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