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The Google Flow November 28, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy.
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I was sketching business models the other night (I know I know, there’s a reason eveyrone wants to party with me…) and drew the below diagrams while thinking about how people use Google and Facebook. It struck me that Google benefit as much from people leaving their site as they do from entering it – maybe even more so! Contrast this with Facebook, who derive no value from people getting to anywhere else.

Google vs. Facebook

With next-gen strategy in mind, Google are so far ahead of the curve it boggles the mind. Not only that, but the flow of users through their system is engineered into their core DNA – it isn’t an idea they have to get stakeholders on board for. Sure they have occasionally dabbled in other fields, like their ill-fated attempt to take on Wikipedia, but for the most part they can focus on things other than strategic innovation as there are so very few people even playing in their league.

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Strategy for the next revolution November 26, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, digital strategy, strategy, technology, web 2.0.
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At the risk of this becoming a Fred Wilson love-in, I’m catching up on my unread items and he mentioned a conference coming up focused solely on creating add-ons for browsers. I’m a BIG fan of add-ons that make it easier for what I’m trying to do – as I’ve said before this revolution we’re going through is based around making it easier for the majority to express themselves (which is subsequently why there are now businesses around organising information – see what we did?).

What is happening in this space though is people are harnessing the notion of the web as the platform and getting away – slowly but surely), from operating systems as we knew them.

The moves that Microsoft, Google and Mozilla have been making though are ones towards the inevitable (and closer than you think) point where there is no such thing as an offline experience. At that point the browser is the experience, with different plugins and views for different things (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.).

Where we’re also headed is the recovery of our personal data away from the social networks and back to a central repository, one we are in control of. I wrote the following for Marketing back in May this year:

(Facebook are) desperately trying to maintain hold on user data, under the daft assumption it was somehow their’s to play with in the first place.

That idea, and the moves MS, Google and Mozilla are making, brings the online experience back to the user, it takes the data back to the source, rather than downstream where it currently resides. Facebook exists as a repository for personal data, wrapped up in a layer of communications software that shares it with your friends. Nothing more, nothing less. Facebook gambled – and rightfully so – on that information being worth something; they’ve made a fundamental mistake though in attempting to build a business around something they do not own or control: your information.

So, in playing the game of would-be gate-keeper, distracting you long enough with werewolf bites and status updates, Facebook are trying to build a profitable business around supplying access to the owners of the information.

…stop me if you’ve heard this one…

Meanwhile, people innovating in the browser space are building out their own platforms – ones that exist at a pre-site level. By doing this, they will tap the water supply at the source and not down-stream, and while yes we will still be the ones handing over the information, they know we need software to facilitate interaction with the web, that isn’t changing any time soon.

Facebook’s strategic advantage could be in opening up its system and allowing people to build Facebook applications that reside in the browser and not on their website. But in order to do that, they have to make some fundamental shifts in strategy and philosophy, and move from a siloed-mentality, the kind that built businesses in the 90’s, to an open one – the kind that builds businesses today. They have the scale, what I doubt they have is the will to become, almost overnight, one of the largest publishers of web applications on the planet and give a massive boost to the fledgling economies of browser plug-ins. In Facebook Connect they half-heartedly attempted to extend the reach of their platform beyond their own domain, and it plays like it is: an attempt to be a little bit open, but not too much.

Meanwhile companies like Zemanta, and like Adaptive Blue with Glue, are building businesses for the next revolution by creating technologies that do not require something as decidedly old-fashioned as a website to exist. Indeed they more than anyone recognise there is limited value in pushing a destination, but endless value in pushing content.

As soon as the hardware conversation goes away, the website-as-destination will quickly follow as we embrace the distributed web. So too, I imagine, the gross over-valuation that came and went with everyone’s favourite social network.

This year’s one anyway.

Props to Alisa Leondard who got me thinking about this, you should go and read Socialised. Wait, she’s American, so it’s SocialiZed. Dig.

Image courtesy of Digger Digger Dogstar, with thanks to compfight, who’ve just had a facelift. Go tell them they look pretty – they’ll put out. Promise!
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I’m a rocker, baby I’m a rocker September 9, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, digital strategy, marketing, work/life.
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“Marketing must be one of those professions where salaries give you the best bang for buck as an employer.”

He was saying most marketers aren’t all that bright.

I can’t say I disagreed with him at the time.

The above quote was delivered to me yesterday at breakfast from a friend who heads up international business development at a company any Australian who reads this blog would be familiar with. I’d just finished telling him how a client had recently said to me “We don’t know about that technology stuff, we’re just marketers.”

When she said “that technology stuff”, she meant the Internet.

Give me strength.

I said last week marketing isn’t rocket science, and it isn’t. Unfortunately it’s also almost completely devoid of the courage required to alter the markets these people exist in (As an aside, they say no one is so sanctimonious as a reformed smoker, I wonder if the same can be said for anyone who walks away from jobs in marketing and advertising to something a little less transient?).

Of course the flip side of that is agencies who have those ideas clearly need to get better at articulating the more strategic paths forward, and in order to get there we need to prove we’re good for more than just the last campaign. I spoke to someone last night from the company responsible Coke’s new bottle debacle and reiterated my point: someone should have been fired for that nonsense.

Regardless, let’s forget all that marketing stuff today, go read this fantastic post by Umair Haque, What Apple Knows That Facebook Doesn’t. Be warned, it is loaded with “that technology stuff”.

*sigh*

Ok, almost 9am, time to give her a call. Serenity now…serenity now…

Image courtesy of Stephen Poff, with thanks to compfight.

Meet me in the middle July 3, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing, work/life.
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Ok everyone, on 3. 1, 2, 3!

1. Markets are conversations.

2. Conversations happen around social objects.

3. Social objects are products or services that are remarkable.

4. Remarkable is not just something special, but something worth being remarked about.

Ok, with this in mind, last night as my house mate and I stalked people on Facebook, my shiny, tiny god was in my room and having been for a run I was feeling very lazy, so I grabbed her obelisk of a laptop and logged in.

As soon as the page loaded I was greeted with the below screen – and apologies to anyone whose privacy has been invaded, particularly those who now are forced to acknowledge they know me in real life – advising me the browser I was using was IE 6 and my Facebook experience may be compromised by this fact.

Browser help in Facebook

Now, I don’t actually log in to Facebook all that often these days, it has worn a tad thin for me. In this though I thought there was a great point to be made about the things you can and should do for the people who use your services or products. It is so easy for Facebook to know what browser I’m using and to suggest upgrades or alternatives (for the record, I use Firefox on my own machine). WHat are the other ways service just happens because people no longer need to ask, they just do?

– The cafe across the road knows I only ever drink long blacks, so they just make them, they don’t ask

My favourite wine bar knows I don’t drink sweet wines, so they don’t suggest them when I go in

My favourite record store knows the music I like, but they also know enough to suggest things outside my radar

Those three examples rely on a human remembering and caring enough to act. So if you’re in a service industry and there are things you can automate, letting the technology take care of the service so you can do the things requiring a human, what is stopping you? Oh, I just realised I left one of the most important things off my list at the top:

5. Good customer service is the most remarkable thing you can offer.

Facebook: Do Not Want revisited May 30, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in web 2.0, work/life.
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A while back I took Facebook to task for constantly displaying ads telling me how I could meet women.

Just break up?

So I engaged in a bit of profile altering in order to see how Facebook changed the kinds of ads it displayed. Now that my profile shows I am in a relationship, Facebook has gone from showing me how I can meet women to displaying ads on leasing cars and hangover cures.

Because obviously now that I am in a relationship I have turned to hard living in an effort to self-destruct (as this is easier than actually going through a break-up). Switching to married gives me…go-karting. And an offer to complete market research surveys. Microsoft paid how much to be able to serve Facebook’s ads?

Now I’m on It’s complicated, seems to be serving me ads for a swinger’s club. Trouble in your relationship? Why not restore the trust and dedication you so sorely need by…hooking up with complete strangers.

I’m back to being single now, which feels about right. Of course the rawest example I’ve seen of Facebook’s ad serving hitting the nail on the head is this example from Charlie O’Donnell’s blog earlier this year. Fresh out of a relationship, wound still gaping wide, Facebook delivered this gem:

Facebook lands buttered side down May 27, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in industry news, web 2.0.
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Hunter S. ThompsonOne of the joys of now being a columnist is having the editor of the magazine call up and berate you for over-due pieces. Picture any actor who has played a journalist (I’m thinking Clooney personally) called by his very attractive but somewhat neurotic editor who has told he has until the end of the day to get his story in or he is fired. Note how cool he plays it, how he has arranged to discuss his column over dinner with her (and probably breakfast too). Got that image in your head?

Right. My life is nothing like that.

Still, I was called today because my latest piece was over-due. I said I had nothing to say, she said not to worry, that I could write about butter and it would be interesting.

So that’s what I did. Spurred on by the recent hoopla surrounding their blocking Google’s Friend Connect, I explain why butter is a crock, why Facebook is butter, and why, for me, it starts to spell the end of this media darling.

…trying to control what people do with (their own information) is the digital equivalent of telling rain which way to fall in a thunderstorm. Facebook eschewed a bunch of good stuff to get to where it is, using ingredients that were good for a whole lot of other, better, products and services. Now they’re desperately trying to maintain hold on user data, under the daft assumption it was somehow theirs to play with in the first place.

It’s already been suggested I’m wrong on this, I’m not so sure…

Image courtesy of bezmyaso, with thanks to Flickr Storm.

This just in: People tend to agree with me May 22, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in industry news, intent, web 2.0.
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I am guilty of opening far more tabs in Firefox than is perhaps advised, I just got to one opened earlier this week. The page loaded is a post from Laurel Papworth taking to task a piece penned by Douglas A. McIntyre titled “Web 2.0 is a bust“. By that, he means his ill-informed view of how it should operate.

Laurel makes a few good points in her piece, it is definitely worth checking out. It also echoes my own thoughts from back in February, where I said the following:

Ever see teenagers at a shopping centre, hanging out and not buying anything? Look for this behaviour to continue (funnily enough). Marketers looking to capture that intention are going about it in the wrong capacity. Yes, a person is a fan of the TV show Lost. Yes, you have that on DVD and you can sell it to them. No, they do not want to buy that now. They want to buy it when they want to watch it, so you had better make sure you know enough about your audience to be in the right place at the right time.

Rumours abound; Facebook and MS and Yahoo! Oh my! May 20, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in industry news, web 2.0.
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No sooner am I cracking jokes about not following Scoble than I clock an interesting breakdown of rumours swirling regarding Microsoft taking search off of Yahoo!’s hands and buying Facebook at the same time for somewhere between $15 & $20 billion. Robert is running around saying the sky will fall if this happens, I say you’ll see first an uproar and then an exodus from Facebook, the kind of thing that will make the hassles with the news feed and Beacon look like the good ol’ days.

I’ll be leading the charge.

*Update* David J Hinson hit me up on Twitter suggesting I may be over-reacting a touch. Me? Noooooo…*ahem* I seriously value the ability of the web to keep moving towards a completely open future, and my instinct says a deal between MS and Facebook would not take is closer. I have nothing against Microsoft (hi to Tom and Adam at Redmond, we miss you guys), but as Andy Grove once said, only the paranoid survive.

Facebook; advertising heaven or hell? February 26, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in digital strategy, intent, marketing, web 2.0.
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I read somewhere recently – I think Seth Godin said it – if you were to set out with the express purpose of creating the worst possible environment online for advertising, you would wind up with something pretty similar to Facebook. I’m not entirely convinced that’s accurate, but I’m also not entirely convinced it isn’t. While you certainly have millions of pairs of eyeballs, what you need is an intention economy:

The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don’t need advertising to make them.

The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don’t need marketing to make Intention Markets.

The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don’t have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase. Simple as that.

Thanks Doc. Let’s look at that for a second. The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. Ok, so we need buyers. Are people buyers on Facebook? Have you ever purchased anything from it? I haven’t. I’m not in a consumer mindset when I’m there, at least not one that involves me parting with my hard-earned. There’s certainly an argument to say Facebook users are consuming any time they are logged on, but I question the notion that can be monetised; I’m consuming social interactions with my friends, I’m not viewing it as a platform for purchases.

Contrast that though with businesses who are advertising, are they viewing the Facebook ecosystem as a marketplace? I don’t have hard data to back this up but I’m willing to say yes, based on moves a little-known start-up out of Redmond, Washington made last year. Marketers are seeing the numbers and frothing at the mouth to turn that in to revenue. How one does that and even IF one does that aren’t being considered at all.

The Intention Economy apparently comes ready made, it doesn’t require advertising to manufacture it. What would Facebook be without advertising? Aside of course form hundreds of millions of dollars poorer?  Probably much smaller, since it would have had no way to foot the bill for its massive growth, save for taking on more cash from VCs worried about missing the next Google. And if it was much smaller, how many fewer radars would it be on? You lose the Fast Company, Newsweek, Business Week. You are suddenly still collegiate and walled and not innovating at the pace your market capitalization (suggested or otherwise) allows you to. Facebook’s growth is built on the promise of an Intention Economy in spite of the fact all evidence points to the absence of such a thing.

Lets continue: The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don’t need marketing to make Intention Markets. This again takes us back to the core issue of how people behave when it comes to commercially consumable goods on Facebook. If I have missed the train on this I look forward to finding out, but I don’t see a dip in Amazon’s trading, I don’t hear about slumps in eBay’s number of auctions (not ones that aren’t brought about by their own ineptitude anyway). Contrast this with little known but rapidly growing Etsy, a site built around the trade of goods that are 100% hand-made. Commerce is core in its business model, coupled with a feel-good, natural vibe that is hard to come by online. I don’t want to talk about it too much, suffice to say the service is brilliant and should be visited (right after we finish here).

Etsy doesn’t need to risk disenfranchising its user-base in order to move towards profitability; the inherent small-business nature of its offering allows it to grow organically, improve and expand as it needs to. I was at a wedding recently and a friend was talking about a marketing plan, saying “Give me$20 million and we’ll achieve “x”, $10 million and we’ll achieve “y“, but $5 million and we won’t even get off the ground.” Facebook needs to grow at its current pace in order to achieve its goals, it needs an Intention Economy to be established and fast, lest the rest of the world pick up on the fact that there currently is no profitable business there, at least not on the scale they are currently operating on. Etsy could stay its current size and be a success, and I imagine that’s quite alright with everyone involved.

The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don’t have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. This one goes without saying. Facebook are making moves towards an open platform, surprisingly still sitting out in front of Google who, for the first time perhaps ever, was caught sleeping. The same way Microsoft missed the internet, Google seems to have missed the promise of social networking and what an open playing field can mean. They are of course a little more concerned with owning your phone than your MySpace page, probably because they already have all the access there they need.

Regardless, while Facebook slowly makes moves away from being a silo, they are still being very careful to make sure they remain a focal-point for your interactions. Using an Amazon Facebook application which you’ve plugged in to your Bebo page isn’t a negative for them; continuing to use Amazon as you are, or using an application that runs via someone else’s network is. If Facebook’s usage levels or visitation starts to decline or even just level off as it eventually must, look for some dramatic moves on their part, particularly if the Intention Economy is still nowhere to be seen.

Lastly, In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase. Simple as that. Right now we don’t have that, we have sellers competing simply for the buyer’s attention. This seems simply ludicrous when you consider:

  • A Facebook user’s attention not up for grabs, not by sellers anyway. They are here for social interaction. Before we get into notions of what constitutes a ridiculous notion of “proper” social interaction (which people usually take to be face-to-face), the rules are different now. The key take away though is the rules aren’t just different for people under 30, people 50+ are interacting in this way too, ith plenty of them getting married. The web has enabled this sort of interaction, the song however, remains the same.
  • There is no intention to buy. Ever see teenagers at a shopping centre, hanging out and not buying anything? Look for this behaviour to continue (funnily enough). Marketers looking to capture that intention are going about it in the wrong capacity. Yes, a person is a fan of the TV show Lost. Yes, you have that on DVD and you can sell it to them. No, they do not want to buy that now. They want to buy it when they want to watch it, so you had better make sure you know enough about your audience to be in the right place at the right time (Hint: the right place is not Facebook, the right time is when they are not on Facebook).
  • Imagine for a moment that Facebook was actually a readily monetisable and viable market place; sellers would be competing purely with the rest of a user’s wall. Vampires, Texas Hold’Em Poker, travel widgets, pokes and haggis being thrown, videos playing and songs streaming from iLike. What could your product possibly offer that competes with all of that?

The ironic pat of it all though, is you cannot afford to not be a part of it, if only because if you’re not, your CEO is going to hear about it from his kids and consider that a mandate for action. Social media runs much wider, and there are opportunities inherent in it. But Facebook? Setup a free fan page and see if your audience finds you. If they do, then that’s a conversation worth having.

As we all know now, markets are conversations, and you get to fight another day.

(P.S. I would love to hear from some folk who have tried monetising FB and what their experience has been.)

And then there were two… February 3, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in industry news.
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I’ve spent the last couple days thinking about what Microsoft’s play for Yahoo really means for the Wide Open Spaces we call the world wide web, it having changed so quickly and constantly. And just as the dust seemed to settle around a landscape where Facebook held everyone’s attention, the most dominant software company we’ve known sweeps in for a hostile takeover on what was the shining light of Web 1.0.

I remember reading Po Bronson’s seminal Web 1.0 text Nudist on the Late Shift and being enthralled with the chapter on Yahoo!. Bronson framed it around the notion of meeting billionaires Jerry Yang and David Filo, neither of whom were yet 35, which in his eyes made the whole thing seem even more surreal. 13 years after Yahoo! was founded it finds itself mired in lay-offs, under-performing products, and perpetually treading water while everything other than Flickr fails to gain traction, and even that has been outdone by Facebook which has become the largest photo-sharing site full stop.

The play revolves around three things; search, email, and advertsing.

Search
Microsoft have long been the distant cousin in this space. Google dominate the landscape; Yahoo! hold a distant but solid second place. Indeed it can be argued they are the only ones who’ve been able to hold some ground against the relentless force that is AdWords. Microsoft have failed to offer up a compelling alternative to Google, and the end result is an increasing loss of market share in search while Yahoo! bail water out faster than the guy next to them. With the need to compete for second place out of the way, both companies can down-size, hone in on strengths, and be confident that nobody else has the market share to make a play for #2. What they do need to worry about is people moving away from a Yahoo! service who had arrived there in the first place because of a distaste for Microsoft.

Email (your inbox)
Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder and CEO) has spent more time than I care to acknowledge talking about the social graph. Simply put, it is a map of the relationships you have with people. Facebook is supposed to represent that, but Google have already pointed out that the social graph is already well represented by email; what you send and what you receive paint a far more accurate picture of your online interactions than a site coined so loosely as a “social network”; email doesn’t rely on the walled garden mentality, and as such maps a more realistic path for social interactions. If one age old rule of marketing is that the most compelling campaigns are formed around trusted sources, then having a solid understanding of who an individual’s sources are is key.

Microsoft & Yahoo! will have a combined online mail share of somewhere between 4 and 5 hundred million users (depending on whose numbers you use and how you skew the data). The sheer quantity of data available and what they can learn about their users is staggering; the task there though is turning it into something meaningful. Both companies have proud traditions of innovation that have somehow been lost along the way; finding that spirit again is key to taking the fight to Google and Facebook.

Interestingly, the key differentiator between Google’s Gmail and the others is Google fails to offer a paid-for premium service and instead is ad-supported based on key words in the messages you send and receive. You would think a competitor to this product would have to be in the works at at least one of the companies; hopefully these products would be finished and rolled out before any moves were made towards a single super service.

Advertising & the future of online
There have been nervous mutterings recently around Google’s advertising intentions. In September last year they hired Andy Berndt who was President of Olgilvy & Mather in New York, and two weeks ago announced the Publicis Group had been brought on to assist with their creative. While this is a coup for Publicis, people don’t seem to understand that Google have been the dominant force in online advertising ever since the introduction of AdWords; they have been in advertising for years, the traditional media folk just didn’t pick up on it because it didn’t look like the advertising they were used to.

Google’s presence coupled with its now approved purchase of Double Click means it wields an influence not seen since the months before Microsoft began being probed for anti-competitive tactics. People are still so worried about a giant in Redmond that Google was able to quietly go about its business and snap up anything and everything that made its search offering stronger.

Last year Microsoft finally caught up in a public way, purchasing a series of companies to kick-start its advertising play. Yahoo! had also been on a spending spree and now a single entity gets the fruits of those labours. This page shows a period of two years over which acquisitions were made leading up to mid-2007; all the serious plays are around advertising and search, regardless of company. Steve Ballmer would have been fuming that they didn’t land Double Click, the move for aQuantive was a no brainer after that.

If and when this deal goes through, Microsoft will own a handful of also-rans, but in addition to Yahoo!’s mail offering they will also have del.icio.us and Flickr, two of the most prominent and popular Web 2.0 sites. Facebook still lurks out in the ether, its next move known only to a handful of its executives. If anyone stands to gain from this, I think it is them – they can operate in exactly the same fashion that allowed Gogle to become quietly dominant. This move puts the spotlight on someone else, it allows Zuckerberg to spend some time thinking about where he wants the business to go and to focus on executing that vision rather than putting on the media darling suit that doesn’t quite fit.

Google have recently reached a point where they can do whatever they please, when Microsoft reached that spot it rapidly became the least interesting kid on the block. Google need to show they are hungry, that they have the fire and the stamina to win. 2008 is going to be a phenomenal year for online, and that is without even touching the launch of Android, Google’s mobile platform, the 700MHz spectrum bid, or Open Social, its vision for a completely open socially-networked web. Once Microsoft hammer this deal out, it makes for two massive fish in a (thankfully) endless pond. That’s just the kind of environment the Facebooks of the world need, one where they can hide away and get back to what made them great in the first place.

And the wide open spaces just got a little wider…