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April 2009 Archives

April 2, 2009

Note to Twitter: Discovery Engine is a Crappy Name

Up until now, from a naming perspective Twitter was hitting it out the park. Start with the company name: Twitter - it's brilliant. Webster's defines twitter as:
1: to utter successive chirping noises; 2 a: to talk in a chattering fashion b: giggle

That kind of perfectly sums up twitter- 140 character chirps uttered in a chattering fashion. The name is non-obvious, wonderfully descriptive, familiar, yet unencumbered. And let's face it, its fun to say (twitter, tweets, tweeting, etc.). Big home run.

Next, they come up with the service description of "real-time search". As I've said before, I actually don't think search is what they do, but that doesn't matter. They now own the term real-time search. And it's a great term.

From a perception standpoint, owning anything search is great. Search is just that good of a business. But most of the search modifiers proved to be ownership-less - or Google got them by default. Local search, shopping search, people search, image search, etc. all have been tried by lots of people but have amounted to nothing. YouTube got video search - and $1.6 billion later, Google got YouTube. Owning a search term is a good thing.

Real time search as a category seems to have legs. Is it valuable from a monetary perspective? TBD. From a perception perspective: oh yeah, it's valuable. And Twitter owns it. And on the web you have to own your category or you die.

Which brings me to my point: why the f$#@ did they start talking about Twitter being a "discovery engine." This term is perhaps the tritest term in the short history of the web. So many people have tried to apply some dime-store marketing to their particular site or service and called their engine a "discovery engine" or a "find engine" or "explore engine". It's a cheap, transparent way to draft off of the great business of search, but it always fails. There is no meaning behind these terms.

But real-time search? Ah. Now, that means something. Let me search what's happening right now. Cool. In theory anyway. So, how about instead of Twitter being a discovery engine, they talk about it being a....wait for it.....real time search engine. That would actually mean something - and capitalize on the term they already own. Sounds like a winner to me - and beats the shit out of discovery engine.

So note to Twitter: you're naming and branding is awesome. Keep it up. And never, ever utter the phrase discovery engine again. We'll pretend it didn't happen.


Disclaimer: I work for a company named Blekko - which I helped name. You should keep that in mind as you read any naming advice I give. :)

April 10, 2009

The Billy Bob Thorton Effect

Last night I finally got a chance to watch the video of the Billy Bob Thorton interview on CBC. In case you missed it, this is the video where Billy Bob Thorton acts like an idiot during a radio interview promoting his band. What made him act this way? The interviewer had the audacity to mention he was an actor.

After watching this video, my first reaction was this guy is brilliant. 9 billion bands are interviewed 9 billion times every day and no one pays attention to any of them. But this interview was everywhere. Pretty much everyone with an internet connection is now clued to the fact that Billy Bob Thorton has a band. Awareness PR homerun.

But was it? There's an old saying that you measure publicity by the pound - or there's no such thing as bad press. Alot of people - especially online - seem to subscribe to that. They promote their company or their product not through the product itself, but through their personal association with it.

The theory seems to be that the more outrageous you act, the more attention you can get for yourself and, as a result, get more attention to your company and your product. Billy Bob acts like an ass and now everybody knows he's got a band. But do they remember the bands name? I didn't. Do they buy their music or go see their show? Again, I didn't. But it did succeed in making Billy Bob more famous.

My guess is that's the effect this type of marketing has on most people who employ it. It achieves a level of renown for the person, but not the product. Now, if your product and your personality are inextricably tied, then perhaps its a good strategy. But that's not most folks.

So I guess my verdict on Billy Bob is: good news for him, bad news for his band.

April 16, 2009

AP is in the Classic Strategic Investor Trap

Rocky Agrawal's latest post "How the AP Blew It" notes the following:
More than a decade ago, AP made two crucial decisions: to not create a destination site and to license its content to news portals. Either of these decisions on their own would have been damaging, but the combination of the two has been nearly deadly.

I couldn't agree with him more - and have in the past have stated that indeed AP.com is the answer. So this begs the question, why haven't they done this? Why don't they start a destination site?

The answer of course is their members. Each of their members is a news organization of some sort (newspaper, tv, radio, etc.) and each has its own presence online. The members don't want the AP publishing stories on AP.com - the members want AP stores read on member sites. Their brands mean something to them and they're not ready to punt on them in favor of a different brand. This leaves the AP stuck.

This of course is not an uncommon scenario. Many times when existing businesses become investors/ owners of a new venture, at some point the business of the new venture and the business of the investor start to conflict. What is good for a new business is not always good for the investor. And as you add more strategic investors, the problem compounds.

We certainly saw this at Topix. We are a local news aggregator who was purchased by local newspaper companies. To the degree the new owners promoted our brand on their properties they viewed it as having the potential of cannibalizing their audience. So getting the full support of the owners was at times difficult.

With Topix, it didn't matter to us as much financially though. We had sold our interest. We knew the deal we were making and who we were making it with. Alot of strategic investment, however, is not M&A but rather just what it says it is: investment. And whenever a strategic investor owns a piece of your company, potential competitive issues come up.

Is your product competing with their business? Can you do a deal with one of their competitors? Who's products/ services can you purchase? Who can you sell your company to? Who can you hire? And the list goes on and on....

This is not to say strategic investments can not be done right. They most certainly can. My first start-up took in strategic investment from 2 big companies that were competitors and we sold to a third that competed with both. We had structured the initial investment in a way that made the eventual sale work for everyone.

Managing strategic investors can be challenging. It's best done up front before problems arise. Otherwise you end up stuck in the middle - and that's not a good place to be. Just ask the AP.

April 21, 2009

Topix Kicks USA Today's Ass - Sets Sights on NY Times

When we started Topix in 2003, we had some pretty audacious goals for the site, one of which was to be THE top news site online. Fast forward 6 years and we're one step closer to that becoming reality. From the Topix weblog:
In March 2009, [Topix] edged out USA TODAY to become their #1 media property [of Tribune, Gannett and McClatchy] at 6.5M unique visitors (comScore)...Out of US newspaper sites, only the New York Times has more unique visitors.

News Site Unique Visitors (000)

NYTimes.com 10,942

Topix.com 6,495

USA Today Sites 5,960

WashingtonPost.com 5,829

LATimes.com 5,173

Source: comScore, Media Metrix, March 2009

That's pretty amazing that a 6 yer old site and brand can drive as much traffic to its site as one of the most recognized brands in national news. It's really a testament to Chris and the team and all the hard work they've put in.

Watch your back NY Times - I've got a feeling you're next.

April 30, 2009

Google Likes To Steal Other's Thunder

In the office, Rich and Greg were noting that some of Google's recent announcements had some pretty interesting timing. To wit:

* This past Tuesday, Wolfram Alpha announces its structured data search product. On the same day, Google announced its new structured data product.

* July 28, 2008, so called Google killer Cuil launched its search engine. It claimed that their index of 120B documents was 3x that of any search engine. Three days before though, Google announced it knew of 1 trillion URL's.

* June 3, 2008, Wikia Search launched a feature that allows users to add and delete URL's to search results. July 16, 2008, Google announced that it is bucket testing similar features. The features went live a few months later.

* February 25, 2009, Cuil announced it is integrating longer snippets into its results. March 24, 2009, Google announced...you guessed it....longer snippets.

So what's going on here? Greg's reaction to this was that it was atypical of a market leader to be so reactive to "the competition" (if that's what you call companies that have a minuscule share of the market). He's right. Can you imagine Walmart making wholesale changes to its stores because mom and pop's store on the corner implemented some neat features for its customers?

I guess the fact that there are zero switching costs for search engines makes their paranoia run a bit higher than most.....

UPDATE: Matt Cutts has responded here. For clarification, my post was not discussing the features themselves, but the curious timing of their respective announcements. I'm still unsure why they waited six weeks to announce the trillion page news. As for the structured data post, well babies do come early from time to time I guess. As for Google's Wikia search product, point taken that it was first announced in November 28, 2007 (not July, 2008). Btw, Wikia Search was originally reported to be launching in December, 2007. Re: the longer snippet post, 1/2 of that announcement was indeed about related searches (the other 1/2 was to announce longer snippets though).

About April 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Marksonland in April 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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