Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Blog Marketing v3

Munjal Shah, former Andale founder, is writing a a bunch of posts recounting the last two months of activity at startup Riya. The first week recount is pretty fascinating stuff. Again, compelling personal content drives traffic, personalizes the service and hopefully generates usage.

Looks like I need to come up with more compelling content ;)

Skype Free

Take a look at Skype's performance post making SkypeOut free for the U.S. and Canada. Per Alexaholic, Skype's pageviews have increased 55% since mid April (from 180 to 280 PVs per million). Now assuming downloads and registrations have increased in relatively the same magnitude, it looks like free SkypeOut has been a significant success.

(Numbers taken out to protect the innocent). How many web services (let alone VOIP services) are on that growth curve here in the U.S.? I can only think of a handful...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Yelp, InsiderPages and Judysbook

Been taking a closer look at a lot of local search sites this past week. Thought it would be interesting to compare a few in a post. Let's start with the Web 2.0 sites. There are five factors I looked at to measure local search sites (this includes Web 2.0, local search portals and online directories). 1) Abundance of listings 2) Community content & tools to drive viral word-of-mouth 3) Trust based on availability of ratings and reviews 4) Research availability (excluding reviews) and 5) user convenience.

First things first. For the Web 2.0 sites, Yelp takes the cake. Of the three major Web 2.0 local search sites (Yelp, Insiderpages, Judysbook), Yelp led all three in terms of traffic (Alexa Rank 3605 vs 6657 and 6050 respectively). Given the below, it looks like they did it with more than just better marketing...

Measuring abundance was tricky. Type in 'restaurants' for all three (I did this for SF and NYC). Yelp's listings are 2x the number of the other sites. That being said, Yelp's categorization of listings seems to be screwed up. Insiderpages has 1,700 physicians in their system for SF. Type in "doctor" in Yelp and you get 3,800. Now try to find that 'doctor' category on the Yelp page. Their "Health and Medical" category only has 382 listings for SF... weird. 1) Abundance => Yelp (with a categorization caveat)

While all three sites have a fairly clear community integration to their listings and reviews, Yelp surfaces community more directly (both in user profiles via compliments and on their homepage w/ 'messaging' and 'talk' features up front). InsiderPages has taken more of a business directory experience (focusing on the categories/listings), while I'm not sure how to categorize Judysbook. Yelp's social-network focus seems to have driven a greater concentration of reviews. Taking a broad sampling of listings, Yelp had more than 15%-25% of listings with an associated review. Insiderpages and Judysbook were at 5%-10%. 2) Community => Yelp 3) Trust => Yelp

None of the sites offered any real research content associated to the general category of interest. Citysearch has taken an interesting angle on this, but I'll reserve that review for another post. 4) Research => they all lose

Finally, on user convenience, all three have great interfaces. That said, Yelp definitely needs to work on their categorization of listings. Finding content through their category structure is difficult and doesn't surface anywhere near the number of listings that are actually in their system. Insiderpages has a very clean interface and isn't as cluttered as Judysbook. 5) User convenience => Insiderpages

With Yelp taking 3 out of 5, I hereby award Yelp the best Web 2.0 Local Search site for May 2006 (at least until Judysbook and Insiderpages come out with their v3.0).

Update: Thanks to Jeremy from Yelp for clarifying - Yelp's categorization focuses on user reviews vs listings, hence the lower result. Looks like Yelp is focusing on user reviews vs showing abundant listings alone.

Friday, May 19, 2006

MySpace Mail

Here's another take on portal traffic from Hitwise. Take a look at the % market share of MySpace Mail. It's almost as much as Hotmail and dwarfs GMail by a factor of 9. Holy Mo.

MySpace = Beer

Was speaking with former eBay-er, now head of business development at Photobucket, Dylan Swift this morning. Our conversation turned to MySpace, and Dylan made a great observation. All of the recent negative press on MySpace (last night's Primetime on ABC for example) focuses on MySpace exposing kids to drugs, sex and other bad influences. Based on these reports, MySpace is something that parents should control and regulate with their kids, like beer and smoking.

Now, name me a better way to market a product to teenagers than to have an unrelenting, nationwide media campaign with 1) parents stating its bad for kids and 2) that MySpace is a faster, more efficient way to expose teenagers to multiple vices in their local area/network. Is it any surprise that MySpace's growth has rocketed along with the negative press?

I assume at some point when MySpace has signed on every teen in the U.S. that this will result in negative returns for the site. Until then, MySpace is enjoying the ride...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Google Properties Traffic

Below is the top 20 Google domains as measured by Hitwise. It's interesting to note the share of Google Video traffic at 0.45% of total Google traffic. If you take a look at the comparison of YouTube vs Google in AlexaHolic (neat service btw), YouTube is tracking at 2,500 pageviews per million vs Google at 25,000 pageviews per million. Back of the envelope calculation here - at 0.45% of traffic, Google Video would be capturing about 170 pageviews per million. This would make YouTube about 15x larger in terms of pageviews vs Google Video. A lot of this depends on trusting Alexa pageview measurements (which I do), but still an interesting comparison.

Looks like Google Talk isn't burning up the runway with .01% of Google domain traffic. Compare that with Skype's Alexaholic ranking of 200 pageviews per million. Google Talk is at 2.5 pageviews per million. Assuming a similar download/pageview ratio, that makes Skype downloads approximately 80x greater than Google Talk. Hmm.

Last point, I don't see any reference to Google Base in the table below... Looks like our friends are looking to integrate Base in a different way than having Base as a destination site. Type "cheese recipe" into Google to see.

Bill Tancer from Hitwise adds some great commentary on Google Finance as well.

Blog Marketing v2

Move over TechCrunch. This blog's influence is reaching massive proportions. I'm now the #8 search result on Google for "icelandic goats". Booya!

Btw. For all you potential bloggers out there, there's a great free service - StatCounter - to track keywords and traffic to your blog. I think I've mentioned it in the past, but it bears repeating.


LinkedIn has crossed some magical threshold in terms of its user activity. If you take a look at their Alexa activity, traffic has literally jumped several-hundred fold since April. Over the past year the company has introduced some high-value services that seem to be catching fire (a Plaxo-type service that integrates to Outlook and updates contacts, People Search for jobs and a Reconnect service to job/class peers), all leveraging its growing community of 5MM+ business users. Personally I find myself going back to the well a lot these days, looking for people that I've lost touch with.

There's still a few gaffes in the service. When trying to find my 'analyst class' at Bain & Co, there wasn't an easy way to section off the years worked at the company. It looks like LinkedIn is pushing their old classmates reconnect service more aggressively (this service does look at years attended). That said, LinkedIn (Alexa rank 211) has finally turned into a successful business user community and taken the top spot from the likes of Ryze (1,924) Plaxo (3,394) and Spoke (100,505). More good news for Sequoia and Greylock, LinkedIn's investors. Lucky bastards :)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Skype and SoonR Talk

Thanks to Alan for mentioning this. As previewed below, SoonR released a forward thinking Skype integration that essentially provides Skype on most cell-phones (via a WAP browser). The one caveat was that it used up your SkypeOut minutes. Given Skype just announced free SkypeOut minutes within the U.S. and Canada, the combination of SoonR with Skype has now enabled free calling within the U.S. on your mobile-phone data plan... now that's some innovative stuff.

Monday, May 15, 2006

eBay Paypal Skype Developers Conference

Alrighty. If you have any interest whatsoever in web services you need to register for eBay's Developer Conference which is happening this year right before eBay Live in Vegas. We've put together some great sessions covering eBay, Paypal and Skype web services. In addition, thanks to Laura Merling from SDForum (all you startup folks out there needs to get to know Laura - she rocks), we have some fantastic panels covering Pitching and Funding Your Business and Team Building (both manned by a top notch panel of VCs from Hummer and Greylock) and Integrating Community to your online business (with speakers from Digg - founder Kevin Rose, SocialText - founder Ross Mayfield , SixApart - VP Anil Dash and SoftTech Venture Consulting - founder Jeff Clavier). This is like old school Lollapalooza with FishBone, Living Colour and Red Hot Chili Peppers on stage all at once.

Of course even Lollapalooza had a side stage for the C-bands. So I'll be speaking at the Dev Conference too :)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

MySpace Oh Oh

Doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand the implications of the chart below from Hitwise.

Apparently 8% of upstream traffic to Google is being driven by MySpace. Holy. Now given Myspace has a search box powered by Yahoo! and MySpace users are still going to Google to conduct search, there's still some work to do. But imagine if MySpace actually built a rich search experience for users (or integrated search into some value add on MySpace), the social networking site would hold significant influence over their users' web search. 8% is no joke to Google or to any search provider.

All this speaks to the power of being the central hub for Internet usage. Much like the browser was in the late 90's, AOL and MyYahoo at the start of the millenium and the search engine homepage since then, users gravitate to a central launching point for the use of the Internet. Where the browsers and Yahoo went wrong was users will take the path of least resistance (like that crazy electron from high school physics) to get to where they want to go. Google offered greater relevancy and users voted with their feet. What MySpace brings is another take on what's revelant to the user (especially the 18-26 age group). Your personal page, your personal network, and path for increasing your network apparently is driving more appeal than mere search results (given the comparable growth between MySpace and Google).

Being the central launching point for Internet usage brings massive leverage. Just ask anyone who signed deals with AOL in 1999 (heck AOL still commands some of that power given the Google deal). MySpace and other social networking sites have some work to do to get there. My best guess is they should pursue the personal web initiatives I've referred to in the past. But if they get there, watch out below...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

YouTube and Photobucket

Great post from a vc on how YouTube became King of online videos. One thing Fred points out that YouTube did well was allow users to post videos on other sites (especially MySpace). Explosive growth came soon thereafter. This isn't an original concept (and maybe the hundredth time I've mentioned it), but enabling an application to transcend beyond the four walls of an owned site has been a winning strategy. Take a look at Photobucket. They followed a similar strategy, enabling users upload pictures and now videos onto their servers (1 Gig of space free), and using their service as a means of showcasing that content on any other site (including eBay and MySpace). 15M users and 2% of Internet traffic later, Photobucket is profitable and still growing by leaps and bounds, according to Alexa. Food for thought...

One path towards innovation

Good read on Google putting more structure to their product development process, refocusing their efforts on core search.

This begs the question on how to drive innovation within a company the size of eBay, MS, Yahoo or Google. Here at eBay, as in any large company, there are limited resources we contend with. Ultimately our process focuses on placing bets on projects that offer the most potential return. It's a sound rational way of doing things, especially when resource constrained.

That said, as I've posted in the past, innovation is about throwing a hundred ideas on a wall and hoping things stick. Offering a web services platform is great first step since multiple 3rd parties step into the fray and take the risk a corporate entity can't (whether because of margin constraints, potential revenue cannabilization or limited ROI). The investment in the platform reduces the cost of future development, increases flexibility of internal applications and drives 3rd party adoption of your standard. But mulling it over, I think web services is still a first step.

Even as a collective, innovative startups have their own significant constraints (namely financial and marketing resources). Unless the web service provider supports these third parties through distribution or marketing, a lot of this potential innovation simply ends with potential. In some ways, Google's approach towards enabling their engineering staff to focus 20% of their time on new ideas emulates the dilemma startups face. Without real marketing support, the majority of these concepts start to die on the vine if they don't get great initial adoption or go viral (Orkut/Urchin/Pages vs Gmail).

Effectively integrating marketing or distribution of 3rd party applications with a web service platform seems a solid path towards innovation for a large(r) company. As one example, we worked with BonfireMedia (a 3rd party wireless developer) to power eBay's WAP, Java and BREW applications for mobile phones here in the U.S. Once signed we worked jointly to extend eBay Wireless' reach across all major carriers, making eBay Wireless one of the most downloaded/used wireless apps in the market. Thanks Alex :)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


I worked with the folks from Pluck back when they were launching their RSS Reader with an integration to eBay listings (before I started blogging on my own a year ago). Recently they launched Blogburst, a service aimed at providing traditional publishers (including SF Gate, Washington Post, Gannett, etc) access to pre-vetted blogs. I'm assuming the vetting process makes it easier for publishers to tap into 'the blogosphere' without combing through numerous individual posts. Meanwhile bloggers are provided an additional distribution channel for their content via these high-traffic publisher sites. Aligned with Pluck's SiteLife blogging tools, it's an interesting model for Pluck. They're charging publishers for this service (behold a revenue model!) but currently not sharing proceeds with bloggers directly. Dave Panos, Pluck's CEO, commented that they will provide a blogger compensation model after the beta period (check the comments on TechCrunch).

Should they generate material traffic from publishers to bloggers, I imagine they could build a similar model as John Battelle's Federated Media but on a broader basis - helping monetize the collective traffic of their vetted blog network while providing traffic to the blogs themselves. Pretty cool idea.

Today I got an invitation to join the Blogburst network. Looks like their vetting process needs some work ;) That aside, I'll comment on how this goes going forward.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Startup Basics

I wish I'd written this post. Freaking fantastic overview of what it takes to succeed at a startup. Need to thank Gibu for the reference.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

You really can sell anything on eBay

Apparently there's strong demand on eBay for demonic stuffed animals. This from the Register.

"To cut to the chase here, every time the terrified owners tried to dispose of the Stitch devil toy, it reappeared in the house as if nothing had happened. Attempts to bury it in a landfill site on the other side of the city, burn the monster with lighter fuel, dismember it or offload the emissary of Satan at a local pawn store proved fruitless - on each occassion it turned up again, good as new, atop the TV stand."

Now a knife-wielding teddy bear is up for sale. Current bid is $320 :)

Update: Now its at $810 with 1 day left. Demonic teddies are the next Beanie Babies!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

SoonR rather than Later

Via TechCrunch, SoonR just released "SoonR Talk w/Skype". SoonR offers remote access to a user's PC via their phone. SoonR Talk allows users to access both their Skype Chat and Voice functionality through any WAP-enabled phone. Nice. What makes this app fairly cool is that it's phone agnostic. A lot of wireless applications these days require Java support or a Symbian/Windows CE OS on the phone. This limits the availability of these applications to (currently) a sliver of cell phones out there, namely higher end/smart phones. By enabling SoonR Talk through a WAP browser, any phone that has a data plan/web access can now enable Skype. The functionality requires use of SkypeOut minutes since your PC calls your mobile phone first and then connects to you another party, so it's not free. But this is definitely a great step forward in enabling VOIP broadly.

Btw, this is the type of innovation which is driven by enabling a web-service platform (ala Skype's APIs).

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Blog marketing

One thing I would like to accomplish with this blog is persuade as many people as possible to blog for themselves (especially if you're a start-up). Here's another data point. I wrote a fairly short post on Google Base's traffic this past week. Took me a few minutes to write. Today someone asked me to send the link, and rather than use the Technorati search tool (fix this please :P) on my blog, I put "Google Base Traffic" on Google for the heck of it.

Looking at the results to the left, my post was number 2 out of 13.2MM. Nice :) Now this tells me two things. First, something about how blogs are prioritized on search engines are potentially out of whack (no complaints here of course). Two, even though there are umpteen billion bloggers out there, someone like myself who blogs once or twice a week must be in the minority.

I've been evangelizing the power of blog marketing to a bunch of start-ups that I've worked with this past year. The immediate reaction was always focused on the amount of work required to make it work. Here's a few things to keep in mind.

1) If you share the workload across your team or have someone who likes to write, the workload is minimal and requires only limited sweat equity (not much sweating going on here)

2) Don't use blogs as a marketing tool alone. No one likes splogs :P Use it to personify your business and let readers/potential customers/investors put a face to your site, product or company. Here's a good example from a former classmate of mine, Gibu Thomas, founder of Sharpcast. Gibu posts about his experience as an entrepreneur (plus), his esoteric views on Web 2.0 (minus ;)), pokes a little fun at a Google translation (plus) and in the midst of this, mentions what the heck Sharpcast is trying to do (<= notice the free marketing). And believe me, Gibu is no genius (jk Gibu).

3) (No surprise) titles of blog posts drive a ton of relevancy bar none. I now have near top billing on MSN and Google for "Lockness Monster", "Google Porno" and "Google Base Traffic" based on title choice. As you can tell, I have no idea what I'm doing, but heck, hopefully it proves that if you did choose titles well, it could be an effective way for driving traffic.

I've run out of other points... just start blogging already :)

Monday, May 01, 2006


Had a chance to speak with Venky Harinaraya and Michelle Sangster from Kosmix this past week. Very cool stuff. While Web 2.0 principles have been readily adopted by start-up companies, larger companies (especially traditional online content providers) have been a bit slower on the draw. Traditional online content providers limit themselves and their users to search their own 'owned' data on their sites. Internet users end up going to Google as a default to find more relevant content with a broader basis than what they find via the 'owned' content alone. (That's a 'duh' moment) Unfortunately (as mentioned below in reference to Google Base) Google's methodology for organizing said content isn't always optimized for a particular category of interest. Vertically-focused search engines have been popping up in response, but haven't caught a lot of fire since they're trying to build activity from the ground up.

Kosmix is tackling this issue straight-on by partnering with high-value/highly-trafficked online content/service providers, leveraging the context of their sites, and tailoring a web-wide but category-specific search experience for their users more directly related to the interests (based on an index of 3 billion web docs and growing). Think about this. This puts a site at risk of giving traffic to other content providers BUT drives increased traffic and usage due to the greater relevancy and utility of a particular category-specific search on said site. It's a great counter to having potentially loyal users HAVE to go to Google/Yahoo/MSN to find what they're looking for. In addition, Kosmix can integrate user-specific data to their service and present dynamic contextual search results per the user. I've been harping on the personal web thing for a bit now where relevant content finds you vs you trying to find/organize your content online. Kosmix enables online content/service providers the ability to integrate into this movement. Very cool.

Kosmix has started in the Health category and signed up Ziff-Davis, Healthcentral, Quality Health, Healthia and others. They just extended their categories to Politics and Travel as well. This is a great foil to having search dominated by the few...
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