Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Twitter - blogging for the masses

For a long time I didn't understand why everyone was so enamored of Twitter. It seemed like an effective broadcasting tool, but my gut told me it would suffer the wrath of blogs - a ton of readers/followers with few, concentrated creators. While the blogging model can be monetized effectively through niche, contextual ads, Twitter writers or Twitter itself would have a hard time copying that model. 140 characters seems a huge limitation to line by line context, and as a result context based ads, especially if you're broadcasting random thoughts or daily activities.

Within a few minutes of using Twitter last month though, I 'got' it. Writing a blog to attract a readership is tough work. Readers expect content and blog writers have to produce it in volumes. Don't produce, readers abandon your feed. For the last year or so, I've literally had little to no time or interest in writing (which I love to do). A ton of my friends who blogged have tapered off as well for what I assume are similar reasons. Ultimately, blogging is such a great tool for broadcasting your expertise or opinions due to SEO. But the cost on personal time is material, so 99.9% of blog readers don't end up blogging at all or don't stick with it.

Twitter is effectively blogging for the masses. Most of the upside is still there. An effective tool for self-promotion, quick access via mobile or feeds, an inherent method for creating connection with thousands of readers. But by breaking down the format to 140 characters, everyone can do it simply and almost without thought. It's taking the basics of viral marketing (singular focus, super simple, no thought required) and applying it to something creative. This up-ends the creative/followers ratio from less than 1% on blogs to what I assume is some huge multiple of that (no clue what the writer vs follower % actually is on Twitter).

Given the huge number of writers that are suddenly enabled via tweets, you have to believe Twitter will be larger than Wordpress in short order (100M+ uniques a month), which makes it ridiculously valuable. Capturing user-created contextual data, even if piecemealed, is more valuable than user-read contextual data (i.e. blogs). The former is simply more representative of the individual than the latter, so long as there's enough content being written. Do this across 100M+ people and suddenly you have a massive network of interests, groups and engagement, all of which can be targeted for advertisers for a fee. Doesn't matter how this can be done, whether through behavioral targeting via cookies, search, company tweets, etc. Think of it as a cross of Google, Facebook and MySpace. Search delivers dynamic context (and monetization) on what you're looking for. Micro-blogging delivers dynamic context based on your publicly available status update. Both drive the same difference, an opportunity for a business or advertiser to generate a high CTR. Mix in self-expression and mass-market acceptance and you have a killer service. No doubt that's driving Facebook to open up its pages to the public or consider an acquisition.

Well, you can safely assume I'll be doing a lot more twittering than blogging for now, though at some point when stuff at RockYou calms down I'll come back to writing long-form - hard to do it well in 140 characters, feels like I'm writing haikus. Here's my latest tweet: "for any The Wire fans out there, wife and I settled that she's the Marlo and I'm the Stringer Bell of RockYou".

(I'm rochoy on Twitter btw).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Quick RockYou Update

We have some ridiculous things going on at RockYou these days. Our owned/operated social applications on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, Orkut, hi5, etc have crossed 50M unique visitors a month and over 1.2B monetized PVs (and I mean actual visitors not just 'viewers'). Our ad network for social media, representing over 400 publishers, has grown to 8B impressions and 90M global uniques a month.

A lot of folks continue to heavily discount social platforms' potential for developers and their overall monetization. Let me be blunt. There's a massive opportunity in this space, and RockYou continues to see material, growing business from agencies, advertisers and virtual goods alike. Social networking/engagement is the fastest growing and now primary activity on the web (and soon the phone). To not have some type of deep exposure in this space (whether as a developer or advertiser) is tantamount to missing the entire scope of Internet usage now and what's to come for the next 3-5 years. Are their risks? No doubt. But building on top of Facebook, MySpace, Orkut is no more or less risky than building a site dependent on SEO from Google. At least with the social platforms, you're given some notice of changes to come.

More to tell soon, but wanted to put out this video of our panel at MIXX in NYC last week. Brian Morrissey, editor of digital marketing at Adweek moderated. The other participants included Karsten Weide, Program Director, Digital Media & Entertainment, IDC, Danielle Knopf, VP of Social Media at Deep Focus, Terri Walter, VP of Emerging Media, Avenue A-Razorfish and myself. Never mind that I seem to have swallowed a lemon at the beginning of the video :)

Mixx 2.8 Conference - Ro Choy from Rock You on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Google Chrome is... fast :)

I've had my critiques of Google in the past (one funnily enough got me into enough trouble at eBay to land me my current job at RockYou).  So I guess I have to thank Google twice.  The one real reason I thought Google kicked all the search engines in the rear when it first launched was speed.  No one matched how outright fast Google performed on searches.  Google Chrome is the browser equivalent.  Page uploads are 2-3x faster than Firefox/IE.  This includes rich-media laden pages and sites which normally are very slow to load on my PC.  It takes that type of difference to change my inertia in using Firefox/IE.  I'm assuming the same will happen for a lot of folk...

PS - Chrome seems to work REALLY well with Gmail, Google Calender, Google Docs and Google Analytics.  Given we use all four at RockYou as business tools, it's a given that we end up using Chrome organizationally as well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

eBay - Look beyond the .com

With the time/life commitment required of startup life at RockYou, I haven't posted much of anything in 6 months. Guilty. I find that a lot of things I think about or ideas shared from partners, friends and competitors can actually be put to use at the company. I'm left either not feeling comfortable openly sharing things via the blog or not having time to do it.

That said, recent articles and blog posts on eBay (this one actually insightful from Techcrunch)
sound increasingly like memorials or obits. Now that the vast majority of my friends have left eBay (including my wife), I finally have some leeway to add an opinion.

eBay faces two major issues today. 1) Lack of product leadership at the executive level and 2) an almost over-zealous opinion that eBay's problems can be fixed on the eBay site alone. The second issue is obviously a direct result of the first. I actually have great regard for many of the leaders both past and present at eBay. The company hires very smart folks on both the business and product end. But when company-wide strategic decisions continue to focus on things like site pricing, eBay seller feedback and improved buyer experience on eBay.com, it's clear that eBay's top executives are anchored on the wrong assumptions. The primary reason buyers are bleeding off eBay is not due to trust and safety issues, lack of marketing or anything directly site related. Are those things problematic, sure. But take a look at eBay on Alexa or Quantcast. The decline of unique traffic/PVs is accelerating. Now if this was only on eBay, maybe the problems would be site-centric and could be handled on eBay.com alone. But Amazon, Buy.com, Shopping.com and the vast majority of eCommerce sites have a similar decline in activity over time, which spells out the broader problem.

The fortunate/unfortunate truth is that the radical shift in Internet usage, especially with teens and young adults, will continue to erode traffic at former leading mass-market Commerce or content sites like eBay. Simply put, the Internet is becoming WAY social and web-service oriented. If an online site or service is not heavily invested in both, the future is dire. Three years ago, MySpace was the only social-platform among the top 10 visited sites globally. Now, six of the top 10 sites are social in nature (Youtube, MySpace, Facebook, hi5, Wikipedia, Orkut). Additionally, the disaggregation of the web is now a reality (think Iphone, Opera Mobile, Social Platforms, Integrated Activity Feeds, RSS, micro-blogs). Web services are driving this extreme segmentation of user's online experience. In either case, I don't see any material reaction from eBay to the shift.

Companies like Amazon are trying at least to understand that shift, leading the way with cloud computing and hosted bandwidth. There's seems to be no corresponding response from eBay. The company actually has some great platform centric web services, namely Paypal and Skype. But these very services are eroding the need for online commerce and communication to be anchored onto a single site. Paypal has massively increased trust across all eCommerce sites, making SMB marketing through Google the most cost effective and direct route for generating online transactions. Skype has had HUGE adoption (i'm probably one of the few folks who actually still think the acquisition was a smart one) and represents one of if not THE largest P2P network on the web. P2P as near-costless distribution model for media and digital goods is a massive asset. But if I can communicate openly and freely with my customers and embed trust on my commerce site via Paypal, the need for eBay as a central service (i.e. eBay.com the site) is increasingly limited.

One possible solution is to bridge the transactional eBay model to an ads-based business. Unlock the massive amount of transactional data eBay has across its 260M online users and port that off-site to publishers that are looking for higher eCPMs and advertisers wanting more distribution channels based on effective product-based behavioral targeting. Another option is to extend major, high value eBay functions (eBay's feedback, commerce/transaction engine, auction platform, product finding) as web services, which would widely propagate the eBay brand across the web as the eCommerce tool of choice, and make it extremely easy for users of those services to post product into the site or eBay network. I imagine there's a boatload of developers currently building to the iPhone, Facebook, MySpace and the numerous Opensocial platforms that are launching, that would be psyched to engage those APIs to build transaction, commerce-oriented applications, on the very sites eBay has little to no brand presence. If eBay is going to aggressively pursue a true web service focus, it needs product leadership willing to make a material investment in the space (i'm talking a 40-50 person web service team).

What's key is for eBay to accept and embrace the changes that occurring today - widespread usage of social platforms, disaggregation of content and services, increasing trust across all web sites vs focus on a few 'trusted' sites - and build a corporate strategy that at the very least makes material long bets in this new/volatile environment (ala Amazon Web Services).

Now back to work...

P.S. - I'd been waiting to post this for a bit and lo and behold, eBay announced the hiring of a new SVP of Platform, Mark Carges. Let's hope Mark believes in life outside the 'site'.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bubble 2.0?

A couple of things. First, here's a simple reason why we aren't going to see Bubble 2.0. U.S. Internet advertising is expected to double to $42 billion over the next four years. I'm seeing a lot of activity and interest from major agencies and advertisers on RockYou's ad platform on Facebook, completely outside of Facebook's own material initiatives with advertisers. Obviously a complete downturn in the economy can derail everything, but outside of that fairly remote possibility, there's a lot of strength beneath the business models of next-gen online destinations.

Sites like LinkedIn, Kayak and Sidestep are generating $30-$50MM in annual revenues with eCPMs in the triple digits. Wordpress.com has over 80MM unique visitors (check quantcast) with all of 18 employees, monetizing hundreds of millions of PVs through Federated Media. Not even going to mention RockYou or Slide :) I find references to Bubble 2.0 completely ignorant of the shifts in both internet usage and marketing $. Enough said.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Buffaloes, Lions and Crocs

Pretty remarkable video with a happy ending.

Lala has brass...

Wow. Lala, a company my classmate and friend Billy Alvarado helped start, is taking a huge, impressive gamble. $140MM committed to at least one major label, Warner Music Group, to stream (I assume) their entire catalog at 1 cent a play. At RockYou, we've been pushing the envelope with legal music streams, partnering with SnoCap, Nettwerk, PumpAudio and Fliptrack to maximize our music selection and test if music-based revenue could be material. Lala took it 1000x steps further. Congrats to Billy, Carole and the Lala team. They've taken a massive bet to test whether the free stream to paying download model works or not. Will be really interesting to watch. One standing concern is free services like Audio on Facebook, which offer completely free streams, and whether Lala can draw users away from these semi-legal/illegal streaming services much like iTunes did vs the original Napster. Really hoping Lala makes it big...

Friday, June 01, 2007

Facebook Widgets

This is a happy time here at RockYou. We have the top 3 fastest growing and 3 of the top 5 largest apps on Facebook's new f8 platform, with an aggregate 1.3MM embeds for Horoscopes, Slideshows and the new X-me application - just 7 days after going live. A ton of great things to say about the f8 platform which I'll reserve for later. Obviously, lots of cool, new apps may ultimately displace us, but it still rocks if only for a couple of days :)

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