Update*

I’m now writing for SiliconAlley.com. You can see my latest article.

http://siliconalley.com/blog/2013/06/www-and-the-holy-grail

 

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The WWW and the Holy Grail

Adolph Ochs in 1896 put his slogan on a newspaper, “All the News That’s Fit to Print”. It still survives. Only just barely.

Sound arrived to movies in the late twenties, the silent-film industry and the Broadway theater industry were both broadsided. They never saw it coming. It was a running joke to them.

Radio was king for years. No one thought it would be overcome – there was a radio in every home throughout America.

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Then television started to gain traction in the late forties. Radio scrambled to adjust to the newer media – TV. Then, TV began to replace the radio in homes. Orders for TV sets were up 400 percent in 1949, many of them sold by the most popular shows of their time, (i.e. Milton Berle). Supply could not keep up with demand. Free television was for decades considered an American right, rabbit ears, ghosts and all.

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Then broadcast TV scrambled to adjust to newer media – cable TV. For a while during the reign of ‘Free TV’, “Pay TV” was a joke.   Americans now pay for 24/7 foreign news networks in their cable and satellite packages, news, weather, sports, movies, etc. That which used to be free on broadcast TV was no longer free.

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Then the hammer dropped for everyone. The Internet dawned, the digital revolution.  The Holy Grail of media. This was a change as great as the invention of electricity and the construction of transcontinental railroad. It was large, transformative and caused massively sweeping changes. No one was prescient enough to gauge even remotely how big this change was upon the whole planet.

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The recording industry became the first to fall in the digital pipeline. They thought by suing Napster in court they could stop their declining bottom line.  Movies and DVD’s became next to fall in.

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And then 2 large social media behemoths came along; Facebook (2004) the more social of the two and Twitter (2006) the most current up-to-the-minute form of news delivered to us not by a news anchor but by a neighbor.  Twitter made CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX ancient delivery mechanisms of news overnight.  We don’t select publications anymore, we select links.

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An ecosystem of “group journalism” in which consumers with a cell phone eyewitness reporting of the news submitted by ‘US’ rather than actual reporters in the field, changed everything. Witness Captain Sully on the Hudson river. The proliferation of the Internet made every publicly available source of information in the world openly available to everyone. This change in and of itself has altered the landscape for everyone forever. The NYT’s and CNN no longer have a lock on exclusive. Exclusive is old news – we are now the prevailing ‘exclusive’.

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Within all of this history of media, the largest companies, the ones we can name by brand have been caught sleeping by transformative change. From newspapers and magazines to Hollywood, aging media executives resistant to technology became overnight ostriches.  It was easier to take a paycheck, stick their heads in the sand then risk being ‘wrong’ about how future technology could transform their own business. Status quo was ‘safe’ harbor.  A herd of dinosaurs.

The decline and the fall of old media. It was inevitable and unavoidable. Casualties were and are in print, TV and soon cable channels. Yes, even cable TV will be falling (cord cutting: Aereo TV and Otoy). Old media will scramble to adjust just as before, but it will not be enough. The fall of old media is unavoidable.

And for us the consumer, the ‘hippie’ stage (freemium) of the Internet is over.  We will pay for more for media then ever before – not in print but whatever form it comes in. The trees will love us once again. However, the cost for this will be higher than it once was.  What is less talked about are the adjustments that consumers have to make. Paying for media that was free or easy to access is now the norm.

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And still only 65% of the country has broadband Internet access. What Google fiber offers is just a beginning and will become the norm. Google fiber speeds will knock cable TV off its legs.  We wont need coaxial cable – just access to the Internet.  And it won’t have to be coming from the white coaxial cable coming into your home – it will be wireless.   TV channels will be become specific apps downloaded on a phone or tablet.  Bundles will be forgotten. The ‘triple play’ of a phone, cable and the internet that we all familiar with for $ 150.-200 a month will soon be broken down.

Perhaps even the app store will disappear too. The potential disruptiveness of Otoy (http://goo.gl/aQZSl ), as a breakthrough streaming service could, in the near future, could end the need for app stores and computer upgrades.

Advertising will never ever again subsidize any old-media news organizations in the style to which they (and their audiences) have been accustomed.

News organizations used to be able to overcharge and under-deliver in their deals with advertisers; the pizza place and the car dealership had nowhere else to go, and no one knew how many people saw, or acted on, a given ad anyway.  Not anymore. Nielsen, one of the old guards struggles to stay relevant – even if they purport to have new measuring technology. There are at least the 10 other companies who are in the process of eating their lunch.

We are in for years of re-adjustment. Transformation from print and paper to digital – cable TV to Internet TV, YouTube, social apps and the like. Consumer adjustment will take time. But less than you think. Our kids are growing up ignoring cable and television, without radio and traditional print media. The norm:  downloading of apps, mobile phones, tablets and no desktop computers. It’s different and disconcerting for the parents. It’s happened before – it just happened without the Internet. How we used to do things in the seventies, eighties, and nineties is no more – change is good.  Breath in – breath out.

Algorithms and Sensors – web 3.0 services abound

Its been a while since my last post – I’ve been consumed at my work ( which I have been really enjoying) . However, I felt compelled today to write a bit about algorithms and sensors, which are creating some GREAT services now and even better in the near future. We are watching web 3.0 ‘blossom’ right now. Here is what I mean.

Ever since I’ve gotten my hands on Apple’s new iPhone 4Gs and Siri, my mind has never been the same. Not that Siri is the end all and be all. It has its drawbacks and in fairness, Apple has always and still does call it a ‘beta’.

But the mere presence and interaction I’ve had with Siri signaled something new to me on the internet was really happening – and in a very subtle but meaningful way.

Siri is learning – yes, she really does learn. “Artificial Intelligence” – no one seems to think that the machines are actually intelligent, but they can certainly do a lot of things that used to be hard for computers. Clearly Siri is an ‘AI’ that is programmed to adapt in certain ways and modify its behavior according to how I or what I would request of Siri. Fascinating really.

The real thing to keep your eye on here is that sensors plus big data algorithms are leading us from today’s world where content considered king to one where content is simply one component of a service. Content is becoming secondary and the service and platform primary. There never used to be 13 different ways to rent’ the same movie before. Content is becoming commoditized.   When Siri was first introduced, its creators called it a “do engine.” that is, rather than retrieving a web page (media) that you consume to make a decision, it just does things for you. “Find me a restaurant near here.” “Make me a reservation.” Media will become part of a database back end rather than a media front end.

Some examples of sensory algorithms that in effect build a network-mediated global mind are (this is really us, just augmented):

–          Mobile cell devices -we are augmented with cellphone cameras (electronic sensors again), the ability of events to become a shared experience is has become vastly increased and more so now with social media connects.

–          Smart Parking Meters – In the city of San Francisco, you’re seeing something similar, where all the parking meters are equipped with sensors, and pricing varies by time of day, and ultimately by demand. In effect an “algorithmic regulation” – they regulate in the same way our body regulates itself, autonomically and unconsciously.

–          Predictive AdWords -Google’s Adwords were always more effective than competitors because Google was better at learning from human input – instead of selling ads to the highest bidder as competitors such as Yahoo did, they used machine learning algorithms to predict which ads were more likely to be clicked on. They might choose an advertiser who only wanted to pay half as much if their ad was 3 times as likely to be clicked. Google was the first to harness the collective intelligence of their users to improve ad results. Just like the social media platforms we use to disseminate events and other digerati it’s important to understand just how much this is man-machine symbiosis.

–          Large connected networks – it could be Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or G+, but any one of them connects to most of us somewhere at some point. The massive sharing of data and thoughts, the crowd-sourcing of opinion and the collective conclusions we draw are all kept and logged, improved upon and progressively mature and evolve. Here and on these massive giants, nothing stays the same for very long. The mere platforms themselves have spawned other interconnected platforms like Zynga.

The Internet as a whole is a mirror image of us  – a thriving interconnected network. It improves with knowledge and data and learns 24/7. It’s the community that creates content. Its about how you engage people and who you engage, not the number of followers.  It’s about the collective impact we make together. The Internet is an architecture of participation, interconnected, open source and open protocols. It really is our global brain. Look at the ‘picture’ of the network. It is no coincidence that it looks the way it does.

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Google also thinks about this. Their key business model depends on the success of others – driving traffic to their sites, and producing ad results. Google only does well if their partners do well.

Contrast this with how the dwindling and toxic financial firms, who once positioned themselves as the enabler of the economy, creating liquidity and trading on behalf of clients, began to trade against them, and increasingly created products – from the mortgage backed loans that brought down the global economy to even more reprehensible trading practices that have driven up the cost of food for starving millions and was directly responsible for not only our economic collapse, but the ripple effects that are being felt worldwide. This is capitalism gone wrong. Occupy Wall Street’s fundamentals are not incorrect.

In the end, a company is most successful when it makes all of its stakeholders successful, not just its shareholders – a good example of this is Apple.

Which brings me back to algorithms and sensors. Soon, Apple will release an API for Siri. Many businesses’ that can use it will use it and the revolution will progress in earnest. As Siri learns what I do the most on my mobile device, she will also begin to learn my doctor’s and dentist’s name, the nearest hospital to me and map, my grocery list and cost and what I’ve run out of in my house, the type of movies I watch and music I listen to and where to find the content. In short, Siri will make my life a little more convenient and predictive. It will combine my habits with my surfing activities on the Internet and will suggest based on location where to buy items that interest me conveniently and cost-effectively based on my location.

'Things to Come' 1936

Just think of the services that will come…H.G. Wells would have had a blast.

Is Google + deflating Facebook’s IPO ?

First there was usenet, arpanet, listserve and BBS’s, AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe, theGlobe, Tripod, Classmates, Homepage, then Homestead, GeoCities, Friendster, Sixdegrees, mySpace, Bebo, Orkut, Facebook and now we have Google +.  All of these services at one point or the other were the AlphaDog of their time. Each of them for some period of internet time shared the limelight as THE ‘hot’ spot site to be seen and heard on.  I had a block in GeoCities, used many a BBS (I dreamed in green and black back then), had a HomePage not a Homestead (disclaimer: I worked at HomePage.com) threw the most ridiculous backgrounds on my mySpace page with all of the ugliest stuff I could find on the planet, used Friendster, never did try a few other the others ( Sixdegrees, Bebo or Orkut). And of course have had a Facebook page since the ‘edu’ days when I tried to get in by using my old ‘edu’ email address from the University of Wisconsin (but that didn’t work for one reason or another I can’t recall).  I’m not including Twitter in this post as I don’t consider it to be a place where you have a page that you call and fashion as your own – rather it’s a fire hose of information to share.

What’s interesting to note here is that nearly all of these early services back then lacked 2 major components unlike today – the addition of the mobile phone coupled with leveraging the GPS in phones to create a location-based user experience.  This component has allowed all of us to extend our online personas to outside of our homes and desks where our main computer is.  And, because of this, the use of  these services and the traffic they generate like Facebook wouldn’t be possible.  It has been said that over 100 million people access Facebook using a mobile phone every month (http://on.fb.me/rmoDN1).  And that is just today.  And about 300 million access Facebook on a computer monthly (http://tcrn.ch/owiarn).

 

Its been just about 1 month since Google + opened their doors to a select group of people. Invites now are beginning to trickle out, and it seems that Google + has over 10 million users thus far. That’s not bad. At that rate and when the general admission doors open up, 100-200 million users should be easily possible. By years end, I think we will see just those kind of numbers. And perhaps in 2 years, double that, say 400 million or more. Flash forward to the end of this year and the impending Facebook IPO. Now if you are on the Facebook IPO train, you’ve got to look hard over your shoulder and realize that it might be very possible that a few people who now use Facebook will begin to use Google + as more and more friends try the service.  It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. Precedent has been set already.  Look what’s happening to mySpace now? People who use and who have used all of these services are like minnows or lemmings – they all flock together and this happens quite quickly.  There is no ‘loyalty’ I ever had to Classmates, AOL, mySpace  and other sites I used like these.  And today, given the proliferation of mobile phones and the ease at which we can access these sites along with the ‘notifications’ that come along with the mobile web apps we get, interacting and trying out any new service like Google+ is easier than ever before.  So that’s what get me to think that the bankers on Wall Street are all smoking crack! Is Facebook really worth $ 100 billion dollars given the fact that Google + will more than likely have half the user base Facebook now has in a short 2 years? Does that mean that Google + just added $ 50 billion to the bottom line of Google?  Perhaps Facebook valuations might stick to the wall a whole lot better had Google + not just launched, but given the history of these sites and the rapid following and user base Google + has already, the only ones that will make money from the FaceBook IPO will be the underwriters and Zuck.  And if you haven’t tried Google + yet, run and get an invite from someone you know – it a breath of fresh air.

You gotta’ love this…Facebook still leaks BIG TIME.

Security specialist Ron Bowes has once again proven how easy it is to glean valuable user information from Facebook, by spidering Facebook’s online directory and compiling it all into one neat little torrent that could be downloaded off his site, SkullSecurity.com.

Bowes created a torrent containing over 171 million entries with links to profiles that provide access to the names, addresses and phone numbers of 100 million users, one fifth of Facebook.

And you THOUGHT that your info was secure….HA!

http://www.skullsecurity.org/blog/?p=887

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How to build an online media business to $50m in revenue – 3 suggestions

Here are three ways to get to $50m in revenue as an online media business; indulge me in some math:

1. Be a site with a broad reach (say general social networking, communications, news). At large scale, without a great deal of targeting possible, a startup’s “run of site” or “run of network” advertising might be able to get to the $1 RPM range (Revenue per thousand impressions, including CPM, CPC, and CPA models). To get to $50m in revenue you would need 50 billion pageviews in a year, or just over 4 billion per month. According to Comscore, Bebo had the 10th most Pageviews in the US in Janurary 1007, with 3.4bn, so you would need to be bigger than that.

2. Be a site with demographic targeting (say a Latino portal, or a sports site (targeted at men) or a social network targeted at baby boomers). Although in TV and in magazines, demographic targeting can generate double digit CPMs, online at scale, RPMs tend to be in the low single digit range. Lets assume a $5 RPM. To get to $50m in revenue you would need 10 billion pageviews in a year, or just over 800 million per month. According to Comscore, Microsoft had the 22nd most Pageviews in the US in January 2007, with 792 million, so you would need to be bigger than that. [Microsoft isn’t a demographically targeted site – i just use it as a comparison point for overall traffic size.]

3. Be a site with endemic advertising opportunities (say a site about movies that movie studios will want to advertise on, or a site about cars that auto manufacturers will want to advertise on, or a site about travel that hotels and airlines and online travel agencies will want to advertise on). If you have a highly targeted audience that is interested in buying a specific product, you can command RPM’s well into the double digits. Lets assume a $20 RPM. To get to $50m in revenue you would need 2.5 billion pageviews in a year, or just over 200 million per month. According to Comscore, Adelphia.com had the 125th most Pageviews in the US in January 2007, with 198 million, so you would need to be bigger than that. Adelphia isn’t an endemically targeted site – i just use it as a comparison point for overall traffic size.

Admittedly, all these Comscore #s are US only, and all businesses will have international traffic as well, but the principle still holds.

Jeremy Liew is a partner at Lightspeed Ventures and wrote this article in Feb. 2007. I felt it was worth another look.