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September 2007 Archives

September 3, 2007

Paid Content

When I was in college and my friends and I wanted to make fun of some condescending intellectual type, one of us would put on our best faux-British accent and mockingly say something like "I rarely watch TV and when I do it's usually Masterpiece theater." (Side note: I think we stole this line from SNL or something like that). Anyway, fast forward 20 years later and, my previous blog post notwithstanding, I am starting to wonder if this is actually starting to become true...well, the rarely part, not the Masterpiece theater part.

Last year I was at a trade show and someone pointed out the irony of how they spent thousands of dollars on a flat screen TV that ends of being backlighting for his much cheaper lap-top. Perhaps it i just my waning interest in televised sports combined with less than compelling summer TV fair, but as I type this post with my expensive backlighting shining against my Mac, that irony is not lost on me.

Anyway, this whole dynamic has me thinking about paid content - not the site, but the content I actually pay for. This content comes primarily in two forms: my cable and my satellite radio. The former I kind of looked at as a utility and the latter I purchased so not to miss the antics of Howard Stern during my long commute. But now I am starting to re-think both. TV I've touched on - and well, Howard takes way too many vacations. SO I'm starting to wonder - do I need paid content in my life?

When my parents wanted to punish us growing up, they would take away TV for a week/month/etc. Seems to me that that probably doesn't work anymore. I'm guessing that now parents need to stay on top of their kids online activities (Facebook, MySpace, Club Penguin, etc.) just so they know what to take away when disciplining their children....

September 4, 2007

Moving Day

Long live Blekko! Some pic's (1 with the new fangled I-phone, 2 with my old school Treo - I'll let you pick which is which) below:

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September 6, 2007

Editorial Search, Part II

Greg Linden pointed me to an interesting study on the effect brands have on a users perception of the "relevancy" of search results. No surprise in the result: even when shown identical results, people interpret the branded results as being more relevant than the unbranded ones.

I say that this result is no surprise because, as I noted just a couple of entries ago, that's the power of brands. In most instances consumer's view branded products as preferable to their non-branded competitors, even when there is little or no actual product difference. Anyway, Greg has a good write up of the overall study, so if you're interested you should go check it out. With that, I should note that there was another interesting tid-bit in the study that is worth mentioning:

The authors used a base-line level of relevance as the measuring stick to gauge the power of the individual search engine brands. In other words, outside the context of the study, the authors (or someone - they don't give details on this) looked at the results from each engine and scored their relevancy. It is the deviation from this baseline "score" that provides the basis of the brand study.

The process was done for the following four static queries: (i) camping mexico (travel query); (ii) laser removal (medical query), (iii) techno music (entertainment query); and (iv) manufactured home (ecommerce query).

The overall average baseline relevancy of results for all of the engines studied was 36%. In other words, on average 36% of the results served up by each engine was relevant to the query. While these results slightly differed from individual engine to engine and from individual query to query, for the most part the baseline relevancy scored for each engine/ query hovered right around that 36% number. With one exception.

The only big deviation from the 36% relevancy average was Google's score for the results returned on the query "manufactured home" - where they were judged to be 69% relevant. (In fact, oddly enough, for each of the other three queries, the base-line showed Google being outperformed for relevancy by each of Yahoo and MSN).

So the only the only stand-out performance in terms of relevancy in this study is Google's ability to serve up more relevant results in the most monetizeable of all the queries. Coincidence? Probably not. In the now famous words of Larry and Sergey, "we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers."

September 9, 2007

CBS's Crowded Studio

Like lots of other folks, today I spent part of the day welcoming in the new NFL season by checking out some games on TV. Since the only team I follow anymore is the Steelers, and that game wasn't on out here, my watching the Bills-Bronco's game was really just a way to kill time until the half-time scores and highlights show.

Anyway, once the half-time highlight show did start I noticed something. The CBS halftime shows has five people on it. Five of them. James Brown is the host, and he's accompanied by Bill Cowher, Shannon Sharpe, Boomer Esiason and Dan Marino.

For the unfamiliar, each of these guys (other than Brown) are former NFL player and/ or coaches. All five of them sit in the studio and provide "analysis" on the various games going on. Unfortunately because the halftime show is short and only person can talk at a time, this means that each of these experts talks for about 30 seconds before their time is up.

So anyway, I was watching this and started scratching my head on it. First off, I'm quite sure that each of these five guys came at a pretty good price tag. So the decision to hire them all was not a cheap one.

Second, what is the value of having five experts, each of whom gets essentially zero air time? Wouldn't it be beter to have one, may two of these guys - get them talking for more than 30 seconds so that they can bond with the audience? If nothing else it's by far the cheaper approach.

And does having each of these guys in the studio in any way help audience acquisition? Does anybody really think to themselves - gee, I'm going to watch the games on CBS today because their pre-game/ half-time team is the best? Don't people tune into the pre-game/ half-time show of the actual game they want to see?

So why do they do it then? Why five guys? Does it help the brand? Does it make it easier to sell ads? Is it for better PR? Is there any metrics for any of this? To me, it sure seems like overkill, financial and otherwise. One thing is for certain though, it is yet another indication of the fat margins television works with, for now.

September 10, 2007

Monday's Stroke of Brilliance

First off, mmmmmmm, pizza upgrade (once again, taken from a crappy camera phone).

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Bryn: What's for lunch?

Me: Pizza?

Rich: Ive been thinking we should have our pizza day on Monday's rather than Friday's - that way we have the whole week to eat the left overs.

Team Blekko: (after moment of stunned silence) - we probably should've thought of that 4 years ago.

September 17, 2007

Brands and Products

For my 40th birthday, my wife - and let the record show I have a really nice wife - treated me to a few days at the Four Seasons on the Big Island of Hawaii. I think it was her attempt to try to ease the pain of - and my complaints about - hitting the big 4-0, and for the most part it worked. Anyway, in between sand, sun, swimming and booze, I started to think a bit about product.

Let me start by saying that this particular Four Seasons might be the nicest resort we've stayed at. Obviously, being located beach front on one of the most beautiful islands on the earth, where the weather seems to be always 82 degrees and sunny, helps. But it goes beyond that. The grounds of the resort are immaculately groomed, the rooms themselves are that perfect combination of comfortable yet impeccable, the food, the drinks, the pools - all exceptional. And of course the service is not only good, it's friendly.

But none of this should be surprising - this is the product and brand of the Four Seasons. With that, it's worth noting that not everything in this resort was the highest of the high end. The silverware was not Tiffany, the threadcount on the bed sheets were not the highest available, the plasma flat screen not the top of the line, etc. But these things didn't matter. In other words, there were certain product decisions they made - for cost reasons or otherwise - that didn't effect the experience and, consequently, the brand.

So how did they make these decisions? How did they decide that it was ok to have a plasma TV whose resolution was not the best, but that a regular TV - as opposed to a plasma - would be bad? And make no mistake about it, this was the right decision - the room experience just wouldn't have seemed up to snuff if I walked in and saw an old Sony Trinitron on the dresser.

In other words, the overall product they deliver is really the sum of a bunch of smaller decisions made around the various product "features". These decisions are driven by the brand they have built and want to maintain. If I'm staying at a Motel Six - a Sony Trinitron and hard mattress is fine. The lights need to work, the place should be clean and I don't expect to pay a lot - and that's pretty much it. But the Four Seasons? I expect more than just a clean room.

Really this is a problem of both substance and process. First, they need to figure out what that brand is (the substance). But that's not enough. They also need the process for organizationally making decisions to adequately reflect the brand. No one person can own each such decision, yet each such decision needs to be consistent with the brand.

In any event, it seems to me that this requires build your product around your brand as opposed to vice versa. And its very obvious that the Four Seasons does a good job of this.

September 18, 2007

Heh - Weird

I saw this and thought it was worth posting...

September 19, 2007

Google Gadget Ads

I read about the recent Google Gadget Ads announcement with some degree of satisfaction but also a bit of sadness. The ad format they announced reminds me a lot of the Walgreen's ad we designed with ShopLocal and ran on Topix last year. Seeing Google embrace this idea gives me satisfaction that we were onto something interesting there, but it also makes me sad that I couldn't get that business moving forward for Topix. Going forward, perhaps once again Google will provide the answer on that front.

Now the one company that I would think should benefit from this announcement is ShopLocal (full disclosure: my wife works there). ShopLocal hosts the Sunday circulars for Walgreen's and most of the other top retailers (Home Depot, Macy's, etc.) out there. As a result they compile data feeds that are ideal for these types of ad units (this is the data we used in the Walgreen's ad). Given that this data is dying to be distributed in a monetizeable format, the fact that ShopLocal controls (at least for now) its distribution really puts them in the catbird's seat.

Hmmmm, here you have a company that sits squarely within the Tribune/ Gannett/ McClatchy local newspaper company family and they own a ton of data that is dying to be distributed to local properties - sounds like a pretty good network opportunity to me.

As I've written before (ad nauseum), there needs to be a change in the publishing model in the future, and I think it will be a product led change - not just supply/ demand led. The Walgreen's Ad Google Gadget Ads may not be the final answer, but it's a move in the right direction - owning it and the network is a good idea.

September 20, 2007

New Business for the Yellow Pages?

Watching tv the other day, a new Yellow Book ad caught my eye. It's the one starring David Carradine as the Yellow Pages Guru (or genie or something like that). Anyway in this ad three guys are complaining that they need more customers for their business, when *poof* the aforementioned guru pops up to tell them to buy a Yellow pages ad. Eventually, the three guys ask them about online ads and search engines and the guru replies that YellowBook will make sure their businesses are "listed in powerful search engines."

Hmmmm. So what exactly is the "pwereful search engine" listing this ad is referring to? SEO or SEM? If SEM, does that mean that YellowBook.com entered into a relationship with Google/ Y! to sell Ad-Words for them? While this is something I advocated in the past , I kind of doubt it. For lots of reasons (pricing, over-lap, future upsell, customer retention , etc.) that's a pretty complicated partnership - and unless I missed it - would've deserved some sort of announcement.

So that must mean the ad is referring to SEO and, on many levels, I find this interesting. On one hand, SEO is a competitive field - and as a brand, I don't think of Yellowbook as having any expertise in that area. On the other hand, directory listings seem to do well with Page Rank, and given that Google is the starting spot for access to the internet, if you have a high page rank it is an asset that needs to be leveraged. I'm guessing that's why InfoSpace managed to sell switchboard.com for $225 million - that site likely has zero organic traffic, but lots of SEO referral.

In any event, I find it fascinating that the Yellow Pages are now in the SEO business and make that a part of the marketing/ UVP. Shows you how far the online world has gone in overtaking some of even the most traditional offline businesses. But like any SEO play, let's hope for their sake that the Yellow Pages Guru has the magic to keep Google from changing its algorithm....

Loomis is a Good Dog

My friend Rob has trained his dog well....

September 24, 2007

Phil at the Greek

Yesterday, Kelly, myself, my brother (in from Hawaii) and my friend Rich had a great day at the Greek Theater in Berkeley checking out the Phil Lesh and Friends concert. For the unfamiliar, Phil Lesh and Friends is a band comprised of, well, Phil Lesh (the bass player for the Grateful Dead) and his friends. The latter remained unspecified because it is an ever changing group of musicians that change from tour to tour.

Anyway, a couple of notes about yesterday's show:

1. It had been a long time since I had seen a Phil/ Dead-related show in an outdoor venue. Really changes the dynamics of the concert. With indoor shows, its just you, the band and some other nameless/ faceless folks in a dark room. Outdoors, between the sunny day, the spinning hippies, the cold beer, the awesome venue, etc., etc., the music itself is just one of the many things that make it a fun day.

2. Speaking of hippies, the one who sat near us in the second set was probably one of the worst smelling human beings I've ever been around. As soon as he moved in, space cleared around him for a couple of rows on all sides. Really bad.

3. As for the show itself, the band sounded pretty good. The first set was lots of blues numbers, with the highlights for me being Deal and Why Don't We Do It in the Road. The second set was a bet more jammy (although they killed a blues version of the Dylan song Hard Rain), with the highlights being St. Stephen, Eyes of the World and a fun Sugar Magnolia.

4. The most interesting addition to the band was Jackie Greene. I had no idea who he was going into the show, but walked away really impressed. He's not only a good guitar player, but is also a fun front man with lots of presence. Pretty impressive considering he's only 26 years old, playing with a bunch of guys who have been around a lot longer. His energy level on stage really made the stage show much more entertaining.

5. Afternoon shows are great. After the show, we had time for not only a good dinner but also to make it home in time to check out most of the new Ken Burns documentary.

Some pic's of the show below (taken with my bro's I-phone - my new blackberry has no camera phone - ugh.)

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September 26, 2007

The Facebook Exit?

I wrote a while back how I thought that Facebook may be painting itself into a corner with respect to a potential exit. On one hand, they're spurning billion dollar acquisition offers, but at the same time, their revenue numbers can't justify a multi-billion dollar public offering - so what to do?

Well, it seems that they might have found a way out of this quandary. The rumor is that Facebook and Microsoft are chatting about the big M buying a minority stake ($500 million) in Facebook at an enormous valuation ($10b - $15b). Now I'm guessing two things about this deal: first, this will not be a $500 million direct cash infusion to Facebook. Rather, many investors and perhaps some of the founders will be selling shareholders in the deal and have at least a partial exit. Second, there will be a multi-year advertising contract associated with this (similar to the Google AOL deal). What that ad deal looks like is probably the crux of the negotiations (after all that's the only bit important to Microsoft), but I would guess there is some guaranteed level of revenue with it (although probably nowhere near the $900m/ 3 yr Google MySpace deal that was announced (but curiously still not signed) a while back.

From the investor's standpoint, this deal is a great move. They get a healthy return on their investment at a great valuation - and still keep a position in the company going forward. Likewise, the founders are happy as they will take money off the table. And the guaranteed revenue part of the ad deal insures the company has more operating capital going forward. So it's a win-win-win, right? Maybe.

Perhaps not if you're one of the non-cashed out employees or investors. They're still waiting for their checks to arrive. You know, the one's that would arrive if the company gets taken out completely. Instead, they find themselves in the very position I described in my first post on this: shareholders in a company who's valuation is high, but doesn't have the numbers to justify it. And if (as I am guessing it does) the Microsoft advertising contract has lots of exclusivity attached to it, this particular partial exit strategy is not repeatable. Actually come to think of it, with a multi-year exclusive ad contract with Microsoft, perhaps any non-Microsoft acquisition is now not plausible.

No, if you are a Facebook shareholder who doesn't make money on this deal, your money will have to wait until the company, like the rest of the industry, makes some real innovation on the display ad model, figuring out a way to pry some larger CPM's out of advertisers and actually put some revenue behind its very large audience. But, as I've already noted many times, that's not an easy task.

September 27, 2007

Finding Me

A pretty cool thing happened to me this week - two people I went to college with and, unfortunately, have not spoken to much since, found me through this blog. Each of them dropped me a note to say hi and briefly catch up. Like everyone else, I do Google searches from time to time on old classmates, relatives, friends, etc., to see what they are now up to. Google has made that act - formerly time consuming at best, impossible at worst - now incredibly easy (provided you SEO you're name, of course) and therefore common.

The problem I had when these two folks wrote me was that each inevitably asked the obvious questions: What's up? Where are you? What are you doing? etc. Given that 18 years have passed since I graduated college (ugh), these are not easy questions to answer succinctly. Anyway, in an effort to answer these folks and fulfill my self stated goal of creating a journal, I figured it was time to play catch-up on this blog. So, here's me (at least some highlights anyway) for the past 18 years:

1989: Graduated college

Summer of 1989: worked at a resort (why do I remember this? It was a memorable summer!)

1990 - 1993: law school

1993-1995: Move to Washington, DC. Graduate law degree, public policy job with think-tank for a while, then begin law practice.

1995 - 2000: Move to New York - practice corporate law (M&A) for two relatively big law firms (the latter being just Brown & Wood when I was there).

2000 - 2002: Move to San Francisco. Join Terraspring in 2000, first as GC, then Bus. Dev. until it was sold to Sun.

2003: Year off - travel to lots of places in Europe, Africa, etc.

2004 - 2007: Co-founder/ VP Business Development of Topix (sold to Gannett, Tribune, Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) in 2005.

2006: Married wife Kelly.

2007 - present: Co-founder of Blekko.

Ok, admittedly that's a pretty boring list. Sadly it reads more like a resume than an autobiography - but that's for three very good reasons: (a) places and jobs are the easiest way for me to mark time - and give at least a 50,000 foot view of where I've been, what I've done, etc. (b) I'm too lazy to write more detals; and (c) this is a public blog - 'nuff said there.

Anyway, suffice it to say though that along the way I've met lots of great people, made many friends and have lots of more fun stories that, if I did take the time to write and put on this blog, would make it much more interesting. But that's not gonna happen.

September 29, 2007

Lebo '85 Mini-Reunion

This weekend a bunch of guys from my high school (most of whom still live in Pittsburgh) flew to Phoenix for three days of golf, drinks, etc. The reason? The Steelers, of course. More specifically, this Sunday the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Arizona Cardinals in Phoenix, and we'll be in the stadium to check it out.

It always amazes me the passion that the Steelers bring out from the city of Pittsburgh. Everywhere we go in Phoenix, it that we run into people wearing the black and gold. These are other fanatics that have made the cross country trek to watch the game live. Living in San Francisco, it seems like the 49'ers are popular, but certainly not the focal point of folks lives for 16 weeks of the year. Maybe they were in the 80's when they were winning Super Bowls regularly. The difference is that in Pittsburgh, the fans are equally passionate regardless of whether the team is wining or losing and the city is always buzzing about them.

One more quick note: the Arizona Cardinals pay at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Yes, that's the same University of Phoenix that is an online only university and has those ubiquitous banner ads on every site you know. In a brilliant move of marketing, they bought the naming rights to the stadium here. In other words, they have no campus, not to mention sports teams, but they do have a stadium. Too funny.

Crappy camera phone picture of some of the fellow class of 85 gang (frequent commenter Dave in the middle) below:

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September 30, 2007

One More From Phoenix

Plane ticket to Phoenix: $200

Ticket to the game: $80

Hot Dogs, Drinks, Nachos: $20

My buddy Scott snapping a pic of the sweet mullet on the fan in front of him: priceless

oh yeah, the Steelers lost.

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About September 2007

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

August 2007 is the previous archive.

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