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October 2008 Archives

October 2, 2008

Google Meme Tracker...Yawn.

A few years ago if you were a start-up and Google launched a competing product (Froogle, GoogleBase, etc.) in your space, it was enough to make you worry for your life. Pretty soon though, it became clear that there was really nothing to fear though. My revised thinking was that when Google entered into new area (Google local news, Google health, etc.) it was actually good for the competition: it validated the space. That turned out not to be true as well. So now when I see Google has launched a new non-search product like Google Meme Tracker (or knol, lively, etc.) I think...yawn.

To be honest, Google's meme tracker is such a non-event now that its even difficult to write an impassioned blog post explaining why its a non-event. In fact, if this story sounds familiar it should. Its happened to lots of other companies. Yahoo, for example, created a nifty directory in 1990's and supplemented it with a free email product. Cool. That naturally led them to believe they could own the market in...auctions? personals? autos? Um, no that's not how it works.

I'm not going to go into another post about brand building online - I've written too many of those. But suffice it to say that this is one of main reason these new Google products fail. The Google brand stands as much for virtual 3D avatar worlds as Yahoo's brand stands for real estate.

One more thought on why these products are such slow starters. Other than SEO, word of mouth/ viral is a powerful way for web products to take off. At this point in their lives, Its really hard for companies like Google and Yahoo to tap into that. People don't buzz about the establishment. They buzz about the underdogs. In fact, any buzz the establishment generates is usually negative. People like to root against them. It's human nature. Negative viral doesn't help products.

As for Google meme tracker, the techmeme killer, I'd like to say something more about it specifically. But all I can muster is a yawn. I'm sure Gabe Rivera feels the same.

October 3, 2008

A Musically Silent Decade

It occurred to me today that this decade has no sound readily identifiable with it. No specific sound anyway, or any specific acts. Thinking back to past decades, identifying the signature sound and acts is pretty easy:

The 90's: grunge - Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc.

The 80's: new wave - Duran, Duran, tears for fears, etc is who i think of

The 70's: uh, that'd be disco - Bee Gees, Donna Summer, etc.

The 60's: psychadelic rock - Hendrix, the Stones, the Beatles, etc.

The 50's: Rock and roll - chuck berry, fats domino, little richard, etc. kicking it old school

You could make some arguments for the sounds of the 40's (Andrew Sisters) or the 30's (Brother can you spare a dime), but I don't think those are that strong so I'll leave them out.

Anyway, that means, that since the first time since the first half of the 20th century, a decade doesn't have a signature sound. In fact if i had to pin one musical signature to this decades music it would be American Idol - not really a sound, but a showcase.

Maybe this is because the decade isn't over and sounds of a decade only rise up looking backwards. Or this could be another result of the record industry is self destructing. Maybe its because music has stopped evolving - or the talent isn't out there anymore.

Or, most likely, its because I'm old and out of touch.

Dunno. But it seems like its hard to pin a sound on this past 8 years.

October 8, 2008

Batten Down the Hatches!

In case you ever wondered what it looks like when a torpedo hits a ship, you can stop....

October 9, 2008

Naming is Easy

You just need to know where to shop....

October 12, 2008

Fire on the Island

Kelly and I met a couple of friends for dinner in Tiburon, when one of them noticed an orang-ish glow coming from the top of nearby hill. Seemed harmless enough a the time, but it continued to grow. When we left the restaurant we found out that the glow was actually a fire on nearby Angel Island. By the time we crossed back over the Golden Gate Bridge and back to the city, it became clear that this fire was pretty big.

The view from our street:

angel%20island.JPG

October 14, 2008

Marshall Simmonds or Tina Brown?

Add another player to the overcrowded, under-performing, news aggregation space. According to AdAge, IAC has financed the Daily Beast, and financed it well. From the article, the site:
was budgeted, at least initially, to burn through $18 million in three years, with (wildly optimistic) hopes for advertising revenue of at least $10 million in that same time.

Um, that would be a total of $28M to run a news aggregator for 3 years. Riighht.

What's interesting to me though, is not the site's financing. Nor is it the bad name. Rather, its the fact that Tina Brown is at the helm of the site.

I remember when Tina Brown left Vanity Fair in the early 90's to take over at the New Yorker. My recollection is that while many thought the combination of a flashy leader like Brown and a serious literary magazine was a marriage destined for disaster, in the end the New Yorkers circulation/ revenue were significantly boosted during her tenure.

But that was before the internet was so prevalent. Before traditional marketing channels like TV (and magazines) were found to be less effective than Google. That happened at a time when the association of a flashy personality and a media product would draw the attention of the other media outlets, and thus assure its success. But those days are long gone.

Celebrity backed companies are a funny thing. I'm racking my brain to think of one that has actually worked for an online property. Sure celebrities, like the rest of us, have used existing websites to boost their own exposure. Bands, actors, etc. do this on MySpace everyday. But when has a famous people used his or her own fame and exposure to boost the awareness of an online property they are running?

The only example I can think of that kind of comes close is Arianna Huffington and the Huffington Post. But this isn't a home run, yet anyway. That site has good traffic numbers, but not a home run. Otherwise, the other celebrity backed websites - as far as I can recall - don't seem to go anywhere. (One of the reason, I think, is that the web likes humble, but that's for another post).

Which then begs the question: if you are Barry Diller, i.e. a veteran of the online world, why would you throw $28M behind a start-up in the notoriously poor performing (revenue wise) news space who's sole asset at this point seems to be Tina Brown's name?

I don't know, if it's me and I need to pick a high profile CEO for a new news aggregator, I'd throw a bunch of money at someone like Marshall Simmonds, not Tina Brown. Because he's not a flashy name, I'm guessing he would be a lot cheaper. But more importantly, given the dynamics of the online world, he seems better suited to make the site a success.

October 20, 2008

PR By the Pound

The valley is a funny place. These days, the economic calls to action for most were the stock market's roller coaster ride, banks going out of business and the government agreeing to $700 billion bailouts. Not in the valley though.

What got everybody moving in these parts was The Sequoia Deck. (Note the all caps).

Since everyone has seen it by now, I don't need to imbed it - but for those who haven't, the message was simple: cut costs now. By the way, I have no issue with the message of the deck - running a lean ship is something that every entrepreneur in good times and bad should strive for. But in times where money raising will prove challenging, it's especially important.

No, what raises my eyebrow is the lightening speed in which some reacted. In what seems like only hours after this deck was made public, the announcements of layoffs came. Really? Hours or days is all it took?

Didn't the companies have to spend some time looking at the org chart, re-visiting the budget, figuring out cash needs, re-analyzing the burn rate, talking to backers, socializing decisions with management, coming up with a plan to execute, etc. These are typically very hard, emotional decisions. And some did this in hours/ days? Huh.

We're now hearing that actually some of these layoffs weren't layoffs, but "as a once-in-a-startup opportunity to get rid of the deadwood in the company." That makes sense to me to. Trimming the fat is always a good idea.

But what wouldn't make sense to me is that if there was another reason that the layoffs happened so quickly. That some figured that if they could lay some people off, they could get some PR out of it. A unique opportunity to be a first mover in the suddenly chic strategy of layoffs. Hmmmmm....Nah, I'm probably being way too cynical.

October 23, 2008

New Business Model for News: Make Other People Money

From Fred's Wilson's blog, the City University of New York is hosting a summit today called New Business Model for News. According to the conference website, the agenda includes discussions around:

* Network models for news

* New structures for news organizations

* New structures for news operations (newsrooms)...

* New revenue models for news...

* Public support for journalism...

Maybe I'm just cynical about the news business or perhaps just cranky today, but I'm not particularly optimistic about a conference where new revenue models for the news business is only 1/5 of the talking points. It should be THE talking point.

Ok, I'll lay it out very simply - you want a new business mordel for news? Here's the new business model for news - and any other business for that matter: come up with a product that actually makes other people money. If you do that news will pay for itself in spades.

Online, some news sites doing a decent job of aggregating eyeballs. But unfortunately the eyeballs being aggregated aren't doing squadoosh to make anyone else money. The ad products being sold just isn't effective for the buyer. If they're banners, no one sees them. If their listings, no one goes to the pages where they live. This is regardless of they are contextualized, localized, behaviorally targeted or whatever. That's why they are priced so cheap (well, that and online inventory is endless).

Compare this to Google. Google also aggregates eyeballs - but the product they sell, the search ads, DO make people money. They're trackable for ROI, perfectly (auction) priced and only charged to the buyer upon engagement (clicks). These are leads, not ads - and leads actually make other people money. And that's why Google is a printing press.

So ok, if you're at the conference and you want to talk about efficiencies in the news room, fine. Just know its re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. To right the ship you need to find new ad products that actually make people money - and that might mean making a product other than a traditional news site.

BTW, if you're interested, here's a post I did last year on all the problems facing the news industry.

October 26, 2008

Bridge School Benefit 2008

Last night, Kelly and I packed up the truck and headed down to Shoreline to checkout the 22nd annual Bridge School benefit concert.

For those unfamiliar, the Bridge School is a bay area school for children with severe speech and physical impairments. Neil Young's wife is one of the school's founders and every year Neil hosts a benefit concert at Shoreline for the school. Like clockwork, this show attracts some of the biggest names in the music business. The really cool part is that, for the most part, they all play acoustic sets.

This year was no different. Here was the line-up that we saw:

* Neil Young

* Wilco

* Jack Johnson

* Death Cab for Cutie

* Norah Jones

* Sarah McLachlan

Without reviewing every act, in summary: a nice fall night, a great venue, an excellent cause, a lot of big name acts and acoustic performances. i.e. Terrific night.

Now, with that, one observation: I'm finding the the music festival thing more and more frustrating. I mentioned this before with my review of Outside Lands, but to watch a great act only play for 45 min's or so is a tease. I like a good 2 - 3 hour show. The short set leaves me wanting more.

On top of that, when you go see a single band, everyone in the audience is there to see that band. But when you go to see multiple bands, not everyone is into every act. And when people aren't into an act, they tend to talk and not listen. In other words, for pretty much every act there was chatter throughout the audience (at least in the lawn seats). That was annoying.

Whatever. Petty complaints. Great cause, great night. Here's the YouTube channel dedicated to the event.

October 30, 2008

Congrats to the Phillies

World Series champs - here's a video of their fans celebrating:

Looks like there's a new potential pitcher in the crowd....

October 31, 2008

Knowing When To Hang 'Em Up

Via Deadspin, for some reason, this story about the world's worst boxer intrigued me.
The world’s worst boxer has finally thrown in the towel after 256 defeats.

Peter Buckley, 39, has lost more fights than any other boxer and says that his next, number 300, will be his last.

‘I’ve had my eye on the 300 mark for a while, and it’s a little milestone I want to achieve, but I don’t want to fight on,' he said.

For those of you doing the math at home, that would be 43 wins against 256 losses. Presuming he loses this last fight (seems like a safe assumption considering he's lost his last 88), that's a career winning average of .167 - well below the Mendoza line.

I can't decide if Buckley is to be lauded for his perseverance, questioned for his sanity, respected for his passion or chided for his decision-making. After reading the article though, the guy comes across as someone who deserves some degree of admiration. Something refreshing about an athlete who approaches his craft as a job, shows up every day, takes the good with the bad and (literally) rolls with the punches.

Who know, maybe he wouldn't be so like-able if he had won 88 in a row - and that, like Peter Buckley, is a curious phenomenon in an of itself.

About October 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Marksonland in October 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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