Running With Foxes

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Trend Spotting 2.0

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Yesterday I launched a little tool called CheckFacebook.com. It’s a site that maps the number of users Facebook estimates an advertiser can reach in each country based on certain criterion using the audience estimator tool at Facebook.com/ads/create. It’s data I was curious about and figured I’d be better off sharing too.

With the intention of keeping this process as open as possible and providing some insight into how a website launch can work, I want to share the results of the first 10-12 hours since the site was launched.

As of roughly 1am PST (5/29), here are the stats on how the site is spreading:

65 Delicious links (still growing)
89 Re-Tweets (more now)
42 followers added (still growing)
108 Tweets of “checkfacebook” (still growing)
5 emails - biggest request is to map the percentage of the country’s population listed on Facebook. Also, “I’d like to see my country’s data”
1 friend request
1 linkedin request

Total Visits: 2,673 - spending an average of 22 seconds on the site.

Top 10 Referrals (5/28)
TechCrunch.com: 1,243
direct: 660
Google Referral: 209
Popurls: 88
Twitter.com: 83
Facebook.com: 63
Webrazzi.com: 60
Delicious.com: 59
WashingtonPost.com: 39
Netvibes.com: 22

While by no means the “fire hose” of traffic created by getting Dugg, TechCrunch brought exactly the audience I wanted to the site. And from experience, this is more traffic than you’d get from any other technology blog out there. I also got some great feedback and the traffic is still rolling in. Within 10 hours, my site was indexed by Google as the top result for “checkfacebook” and built a lot of link love through Delicious and Twitter.

I specifically architected the site so it would be this way. My methodology was:
- Build something that answered a need - repeatedly (People have a natural curiosity about Facebook’s population)
- Make the purpose obvious (The graph shows everything you need to know about the site. People are drawn to play with it)
- Make sharing obvious (I used ShareThis and TweetMeme to help spread the site. A lot of people seem to have just typed in the domain name since it was so obvious too)

The one thing the site missed, was a way to re-engage users. Email still remains one of the best ways to do this, although I would recommend essentially getting users to subscribe to your site through an RSS feed, Facebook, or Friendfeed account. It’s just a hunch, but I feel that the highest signal/noise you get with users comes through their RSS feeds rather than the increasingly noisy social networking activity feeds.

Update (~24 hours later)
Had some real swift growth overnight.

308 Delicious links (still growing)
273 Re-Tweets (more now)
134 followers added (still growing)
333 Tweets of “checkfacebook” (still growing)
5 emails - biggest request is to map the percentage of the country’s population listed on Facebook. Also, “I’d like to see my country’s data”
3 friend request
6 LinkedIn requests

Traffic

(Past 24 hours)

9,866 Total Visits
direct 2,754
techcrunch 2,271
delicious 843
facebook 580
google (referral) 488
presse-citron.net 434
Twitter.com 358
popurls 232
webrazzi 193
gillesparent.com 188

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Next to great football, the Super Bowl is best known for it’s ads. The 30 second spots, which can cost upwards of $3 million, are really where the best ads shine. Hulu has a whole archive of the ads you can review, in case you missed them.

Along with the ads come a slew of commentary about who’s the best. Following the trend of so much more media, this year a lot of the conversation is happening in the audience, specifically on Twitter. Jason Kinciad, of TechCrunch, has all the details on a new study of the ads through Twitter.

SocialMedia.com co-founder, Dave Gentzel looked at the Twitter data and held what he calls the “TweetBowl“. It’s a mano-a-mano battle between the buzz created by any of the 62 commercials that were played during breaks in the game.

The study tracked references to the commercials through keywords. You can see the spikes in conversations after the ads played. Dave also grabbed the most shared links after the ads showed. The result is a top ten list of the best ads shown during the Super Bowl.

Here’s the list, as Dave sees it:
10. Bridgestone
9. Career Builder
8. Star Trek
7. G.I. Joe
6. Doritos
5. Coke
4. Go Daddy
3. Budweiser
2. Pepsi
1. Hulu

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While I’d argue that the glum mood targeted at web startups is overstated, there’s been a refreshing return to a focus on revenue models. Companies whose burn rates have them running on fumes by 2010 should be focusing on how they can get cash on their balance sheet. It all boils down to a couple of concepts. On the web you can charge for access to attention, utility, or information. Here are some ideas targeted at the sweet spot of small web 2.0 startups looking to stretch their investments with some revenue.

Advertising - If you’re not advertising, you’re leaving money on the table. Every page should have advertising. There is a veritable cornucopia of format choices for publishers out there and no reason why you can’t find something to fit your needs. TextLink ads monetizes words. AdSense does a good job for text-heavy sites with a lot of page views. SocialMedia.com is killing it for Facebook apps (note: I work for SocialMedia).

socialmedia.com
videoegg.com
adsense.google.com
mediawhiz.com
textlinkads.com
adbrite.com
snap.com

Payment Services - Payment services are an easy way to up sell customers to a premium service. Services like PayPal and Zong are a lot easier than dealing with credit cards directly. Zong makes it easy to charge users by their cell phone.

PayPal.com
e-junkie.com
zong.com
mobilecash.com
google checkout

CPA Offers - CPA has two main uses: as a possible alternative to CPC or CPM advertising, and as a payment method. To the first point, a lot of publishers have a misconception that CPM is the best you can do. This isn’t always the case. If you can successfully convert a lot of users on an offer, you can sometimes make a lot more money than an advertiser would pay for ads on your site. One caveat is that since these offers only pay out on completion, revenues can be volatile as payments come in over time.

CPA can also be used to drive a virtual economy as well. A lot of Facebook publishers and even websites like Gaia Online let users earn money by completing offers instead of pulling out a credit card.

CPAStorm.com
socialmedia.com (within social networks)
SRpoints.com

Sponsored Listings - Your user’s attention is valuable. If you have a niche, consider letting people buy their way to the top instead of earning it.

Consulting - Chances are that after a year in the business, you’ve picked up some useful knowledge. Other people in your industry will likely pay for that knowledge. Just be sure to charge a healthy rate and have a clear product.

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The social media category’s grown up. User names are more than just anonymizing handles that let us thread a unique user’s statements together. They represent real people and real companies, in much the way a top level domain had in the 1990’s. The only trouble is that unlike domains, there’s no system in place to agree upon how these names should be doled out. Case in point, Twitter just shut down a bunch of Steve Poland’s Twitter accounts. I’ve commented more broadly on the story on SocialMedia’s blog, but wanted to be more direct here.

Twitter needs authenticated accounts.

Now you may not feel sympathetic for Steve. He grabbed a bunch of well known names a couple months back, with the intention of building useful informational services on top of them. Names like “Stanford”, “Celtics”, and “BostonCollege” were on his roll. But so far he hasn’t made a dime off them.

Twitter’s reason for shutting down the accounts is loosely based around impersonating the entities named. This begs several questions. Is merely possessing the name enough reason to seize the name? If he changed the content of the stream, would Twitter not have a problem? Instead Twitter made the change without notifying Steve.

This clearly isn’t about the content or the user. It’s about the commercial entities that value the names. Facebook could have tried to shut down Watercooler’s fan applications on Facebook, but instead has let them flourished (Watercooler can start fan applications without permission, but can only use logos, etc. with official word).

The reason it’s become a bigger problem for Twitter is because URLs are not as important for FB applications. You can have two apps with the same name, but different URLs. In Twitter the URL and name are inseparable. That’s why Twitter has had to step in so directly.

Twitter is like a mini top level domain and needs to have a fairer way of distribute their usernames. My suggestion is that they add a layer of “authenticated” accounts. Twttter can fairly dole these accounts to whomever they like because they wouldn’t have to break any implied agreement with users. The Celtics could be at http://www.twitter.com/a/Celtics.

The addition of these accounts would not only make it easier for Twitter to avoid a massive land grab, but also provide users with an extra layer of trust. They would know that these accounts were real, legitimate accounts and not impersonators.

So, Twitter, c’mon, it’s time for authenticated accounts.

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googlefailwhale.png

I’m sure a lot of people have been noticing the outage. It’s been long enough for me to shop this gem.

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n502173622_235778_5481.jpgAs often happens in the valley, people switch jobs. Speaking from experience, people around here have a certain sense of innovation ADD. After you stay at a job for a while, there’s just a depreciating return in experience for every additional month you continue. So, it’s no great surprise that one of the valley’s Jet setters, Adriana Gascoigne, has moved into a new position. Adriana has switched Ogilvy to my favorite part of the internet right now, social networking. She’s joining up with one of the largest stealth social networks, Hi5, and has a whole going away post about it today.

I say stealth because the tremendous growth of the site has gone largely unnoticed by valley reporters. As Adriana describes, Hi5 is “1.) World’s fastest growing social network among the top-10 global social networks 2.) Based on the June comScore Media Metrix worldwide figures released in June, hi5 grew 79% in the first half of 2008 3.) hi5’s monthly unique visitors increased from 31.4 million in December 2007 to 56.4 million in June 2008″.

She also goes on to say the site has some exciting new product set to launch. I’ll be interested to see what they come up with. For me the next two years will be marked by the “digestion” of social networking by the web at large. We’ll see the incorporation of social features into new websites through technologies like “Facebook Connect” and a new traffic generating paradigm will emerge, discovery. Natrually I also have a great deal of faith in how advertising will fit into that equation, but that’s for me to but Adriana about later. :)

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It looks like Top Friends is completely wiped from the FB app directory. I can’t even access it through the the original app link, nor find it in searches. TechCrunch and InsideFacebook are reporting the same. It looks like this wasn’t planned by Slide either, considering the promo for Top Friends on their site forwards to Human Pets. Normal downtime is also usually accompanied by a note from Facebook.

I’ve heard chatter in the dev community that Facebook doesn’t like Slide and Rock You’s top apps because it sees them as spammy. While I disagree (uninstalling is only a click away…), networks banning apps isn’t anything new. MySpace routinely shut down widget providers on their network, most famously on the eve of the Photobucket acquisition.

While I’ll be on a plane for the rest of the day, I’ll be curious to see what the reasons behind the deletion are. Was it Facebook? Was it a hacker? Was it Slide prepping a new launch?

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Consider this a public service announcement for bloggers and public relations professionals. The A-List bloggers are the A-List for a reason. I hold TechCrunch, Venturebeat, GigaOm, and ReadWriteWeb in that category. They work hard, write well, and respect the relationship between themselves and the companies they cover. I can’t say the same for some of the others.

But, after only four months on the job, the new startup (SocialMedia.com), I’ve already been burnt by “embargo busting”. It happened to startups when I was at TechCrunch and now it’s happened to me. Today SocialMedia released a new product called “Social Banners”. I’m excited about them and think they’re the most exciting thing going on in advertising right now (either a testament to the innovation or lack thereof).

However, a blogger released the story ahead of time, which I only found out about while pitching the story (I’m not directly involved in our PR efforts, but I help where I can). Not only did the blogger break the embargo, but they did a half-assed job of covering the launch. They missed rather obvious details calling the technology “Friendship Rank” instead of “FriendRank”.

But not only does the work reflect badly on the blog overall, it also kills the story for a startup’s new product. I understand that accidents happen, but the A-List always looks after the startups. I’ve had embargoes broken by other blogs for stories I did at TechCrunch, but some times we were able to find a way to still deliver an interesting post.

But the best way to avoid the problem of embargo braking on stories you release is to only deal with a list of blogs you trust.

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Advertising in social networks is challenging. Social networks have created highly engaging and sticky sites for their users to meet and play with friends. As a consequence, users are often more interested in each other than the advertisements. Much has been written about Facebook and MySpace’s own difficulty in making ads appealing to their users. Venturebeat has its own take. Dave Gentzel also chimes in.

But what if you had advertisements that engaged users the same way the networks do, by interacting with their friends. Today SocialMedia announced a new technology for creating advertisements within social networking applications called “Social Banners”. Social banners are social applications within ad units that let users play with their friends, while engaging with products.

These units feature a product and call to action by the user to interact with their friends. For instance, a campaign for “The Incredible Hulk” featured an advertisement for the movie along with an chance to invite you friends. Another campaign for BMW let users go for a “joy ride” with their friends in a new BMW 1 series. After a friend clicks on you in a “Social Banner”, another banner is cued up for your friend to convey the response (i.e. invite you for a joy ride). This is just a start for the technology and will evolve into more formats such as quiz questions or gifting apps.

At the core, these ads are not just about choosing a friend from the list of your publicly available friends, but about connecting users with the friends they value most. The technology behind it is called FriendRank(TM). FriendRank(TM) is a patented system that learns which people are important to you to make the ads more relevant and valuable to users.

If the ads don’t add value, users can easily opt out through a link in the ads and not see them again. The ads also only appear within applications and include no personal information outside of the publicly available profile photo and name.

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As Jason wrote about over on TechCrunch, SocialMedia has paid out over $8 million to developers on social networks. It’s a good sign, and I hope it will get people thinking twice about “childish” or “pointless” applications and realize that at least these earnings are a proxy for the enjoyment people are getting out of social applications.

I also think it’s important to note that this money was not paid out for shares or as a loan. It’s earned. Teams of one, two, or three developers have created fantastic products and kick start their own media properties on that income. Networks provide massive distribution and we provide monetization.

This is why I see monetization tools from a company like SocialMedia as one of the chief enabling technologies of social platforms. That $8 million was the gas in the tank that kept platforms like Facebook, Bebo, and now more so MySpace and Hi5 going. Without it, networks would have to cherry pick and fund the applications they think will succeed. Instead, the ability for developers to make money on their own creates a free and dynamic marketplace. Facebook or MySpace doesn’t have to dream up the best applications. The monetary rewards to developers will do that.

I expect platforms to change a great deal over the next year. Applications will improve and methods of monetization will as well. I look to developers like Playfish and the brand advertisers on our network as a sign of this maturity. With companies reacting to the shift in attention toward the internet and social networks, I only expect the trend to become more pronounced.

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