Curation is the Future

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the need for curation services online. The amount of content we are exposed to daily is out of control. Outside of personal communication content (email, text, photos, instagrams, facebook posts and messages, etc) we consume an amazing amount of content daily online. Sorting through all the content at our fingertips is at worst impossible and at best overwhelming.

The amount of content served to us online is ridiculous!

The amount of content served to us online is ridiculous!

One set of curation tools is our personal network. Links are recommended via email. Videos are posted to facebook. Articles are tweeted. Some content is specifically recommended for us, and some is blasted out indiscriminately. These are all sources for content, but what truly excites me is the emergence of standalone curation services. By that, I mean services that are built for curation, not a friend emailing you a link to a funny video.

Several standalone content curation services already impress me. The first is the app Prismatic, an outstanding app that surfaces content (mostly print articles) based off your social presence online. I check in with Prismatic a few times a day and am ALWAYS met with interesting articles. Another tool I love is Devour, which hand picks the best new video content. Devour’s content is edgy, and shows how human led curation remains far better than algorithms. These two services use very different strategies to successfully recommend content. While Prismatic bases their recommendations off my tastes, Devour’s curation is based of their tastes.

Some content farms have in-house curation tools. My NYTimes digital front page is different from yours, tailored to my past clicks and interests. The same can be said for my youtube homepage. However, the intention of any in-house curation tools is to keep you in-network, maximizing your time spent on THEIR site. That is why I love content curation services that are unaffiliated from content farms. They are selfless. They are exciting. They serve me with personalized content, which I sure do love to consume.

Everyone loves to consumer online

Everyone loves to consumer online

The emergence of these tools will have a variety of effects. For the consumer, it offers a promise of premium content. However, as these tools further democratize the net, curation services will put additional pressure on established producers to create GREAT content. With so much noise, good just won’t cut through anymore.

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Interesting? 

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Jeff Bezos on Charlie Rose

Just watched the Charlie Rose interview with Jeff Bezos. Twas very interesting. Bezos is an extremely passionate guy, a trait I find fascinating after running Amazon for 18 years. The interview left me with several thoughts I wanted to share:

  • Inventors, Not Disruptors: Bezos kept harping on how Amazon focuses on inventing, not necessarily disrupting. He views disruption as a byproduct, even a consequence of great invention.
  • Customer Focus Above All Else: The other central component of Amazon’s identity is being customer focused. They are constantly asking themselves “What do the customers want?” “What will they love?” “What do customers need and how can we make getting it easier/cheaper/better?”
  • The Internet is still in its infancy: Bezos believes that the societal reinvention brought on by the Internet is very young. he believes we are still in Day 1, as things are moving faster than ever. When it begins to slow, he says, we are in Day 2.
  • Brick and Mortar is not in Amazon’s immediate plans: Again, Bezos is focused on invention. He is only interested in getting in brick and mortar if Amazon can bring something new to the table. He is not interested in a “me to” approach to retail. All about invention.
  • He’s an optimist, and has a hearty laugh.

Watching the interview gives two clues as to why Amazon has persisted and flourished for so long. First, as Bezos states, there was an incredible demand for such a company. They filled a clear gap in the market. Bezos says that the hardest times for Amazon was the process of raising money to found it. Success was almost instantaneous.

The other clue is Bezos himself. He has an incredibly impressive eagle’s view of the Internet/Ecommerce/Technology industry, and approaches every decision through the lenses of customer focus, invention, and teamwork. Listening to Jeff makes the staying power of Amazon much less mysterious. He has incredible vision.

What a fascinating guy.

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Interesting? 

Startup School Recap Part 2: Joel Spolsky, StackExchange

Joel Spolsky reassured me.

As a student very interested in technical entrepreneurship, most of what I read about are the companies getting tons of press. These “hot” companies are the ones most people know. This isn’t unreasonable, as it makes sense that Facebook appears on TechCrunch more often than KissMetrics. However, as I want to work for a startup (and perhaps one day found my own) this is very intimidating. There can only be so many billion dollar ideas, and the smaller successes tend to get lost in the clutter of Silicon Valley reporting/analysis.

There is a sense that the only successes an entrepreneur can have is to build an enormous company (billions of dollars of value), or sell your smaller company to one of those larger firms. Joel Spolsky directly addressed this apprehension of mine.

In relating the details of his two major entrepreneurial endeavors (Fog Creek and Stack Exchange), Joel spoke about how there IS still opportunity for small bootstrapped businesses to find success. Specifically, he encourages entrepreneurs to figure out the market for your company EARLY.

1) The “Land Grab” Scenario: Get Big Fast

  • Network Effects- The more users you have, the more valuable the network is. Think Facebook, its value lies in the # of users. I want to be on Facebook because everyone I know is on Facebook.
  • Scale Quickly- Network Effects create Lock In. No one is going to leave Facebook for a social network that is 50% or even 100% better, as all of their friends are already on Facebook. That value cannot be as easily replicated as product features.
  • Make lots of Mistakes- Iterate quickly. Move fast and learn as you go. Mistakes can be covered up through VC money that you raise externally. Mistakes won’t cost customers like in bootstrapped business.
  • Take VC Money- Don’t fret about profitability from the start. Instead, focus on growth.
  • For Joel, Stack Exchange is an example of this type of scenario (well built question and answer sites). Network Effects are HUGE in this space.

2) The “Organic Growth” Model: Grow Slowly With Paying Customers

  • Bootstrap- Live very cheaply. Build a product that you can begin to sell immediately. Reinvest everything in company.
  • Market Fit- Unlike “Land Grab,” where there is probably an open market, the marketplace is going to be crowded with competitors in an Org Growth model.
  • Don’t Make Mistakes- You need to retain paying customers to survive! Mistakes can KILL your business.
  • Growth- Slow and steady. You are trying to steal customers, one by one, from your competitors. You must be in it for the long hall.
  • End Goal- It isn’t to sell the company or be acquired. It is to build a long term, sustainable business.
  • For Joel, Fog Creek Software took an Organic Growth model.

This was my take on his speech, and it really put me at ease. There is still hope for entrepreneurs who just want to build a viable business; companies don’t need 25 Million users to be successful.

You can watch Joel’s speech here.

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Interesting? 

30-Second Rewind Button Update: Hulu Redesign

Apparently, media/technology industry higher-ups read my blog. Yay.

Last week, Hulu released a major redesign. I quite enjoy it. The redesign is slick and relatively easy to navigate.

However, I want to quickly point out a major addition to their core product, Hulu’s video player. Hulu has added a 10-second rewind button!!

I love the small, set-quantity rewind button. It makes viewing much easier, as in a slow or dull moment I can open Twitter, ESPN, or Gmail quickly, check for any urgent notifications, and switch back to the video. Then, I simply hit the rewind button if desired, and I haven’t missed a step! No more clicking blindly along the unmarked video timeline.

Thoughts going forward:

1) What other intelligent viewing features will be introduced? Maybe ones pertaining to advertisements?

Spotify is intelligent enough that if an advertisement is playing, and I (the user) mute my computer, the ad pauses. I am FORCED into listening. Annoying? Yes. Consumer experience sensitive? No. Smart business decision? Perhaps. I wonder if video players like Hulu will eventually be “intelligent” enough that it will sense when I switch tabs, pausing the commercial and forcing me to watch in entirety. Interesting possibility….

2) YouTube

Will YouTube introduce a similar product? I like what they’ve done recently with their transcription tool. It’s rough but very usable. Maybe we will see a set quantity rewind button in YouTube soon? I hope so. The feature seems especially fitting for a short form video platform like YouTube, where distraction is rampant and occurs often.

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Olympic Sponsorships: Taking Advantage of Users (When Will They Learn?)

When Will They Learn?

The most basic fact of the Internet Age: everyone has a voice. Hence, when you screw someone over, they publicize about it.

One such occurrence happened quite recently at the Olympics. One of the major sponsors of the Olympic games is Visa. Evidently, the sponsorship agreement included an exclusivity clause for all olympic venues.

You could only use a visa card at Olympic Venues.

When Will They Learn?

The world is transparent now. EVERYONE has instant access to information. The way to get attain good publicity for your company/brand is not to limit your patrons (or force them into acquiring your service, like those attending the games w/out a visa card). The route to more users of your service is to EMPOWER THEM. Create a service so great that you don’t have to force it on anyone. Create a product so great that users sing its praises and brag about it to their friends.

All this exclusivity move did was embitter people towards Visa, especially those who beforehand did not have a Visa card. What convenience did the exclusivity add for patrons? What problem did it solve?

Don’t force consumers to use your service. Make it so great that they want to use it. That’s the future. Especially in the hyper-competitive world of payments.

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App.net Fundraising = Success

Just wanted to quickly share how thrilled and enthused I am by APP.net’s funding!!! I truly believe this is just the beginning. Premium consumer internet services should not be ad-supported. Simply put, having an ad-supported product misaligns the motivations of the company and the desires of their users. The reason? Because the company’s clients become advertisers, NOT USERS. When users are the client, NOT THE PRODUCT, user experience becomes the top priority. And in consumer Internet, that’s the way it should be. 

https://join.app.net/

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Product vs. Platform… App.net

I leave tomorrow for 3 Days in Las Vegas (woohooo I hate las vegas!!!….Seriously. Scroll past the article, I’ll explain) but I wanted to churn out this post before I left. By the time I return, App.net‘s funding campaign will have concluded. At that point, we will know whether or not Dalton Caldwell’s brilliant proposal will have succeeded or failed. I have personally supported the project and believe in its values. I also believe in Dalton (without personally knowing him) as he spent many years trying to bring innovation into the music business (which I care deeply about) in the form of Imeem. Twitter’s Platform decisions have been written about all over the web, by people more intelligent than me. Still, I wanted to chime in with my own opinions before the funding deadline is reached.

The Twitter Phenomena… A Live Social Stream Is So Important

Here’s the backstory: Many prominent social platforms (twitter, facebook, etc) deliver tremendous value to their user’s through 3rd party access to their APIs. Essentially, external developers can build on top of these platforms in the form of games (think farmville), applications (spotify), and other constructs. What this does for the user is create a much richer online experience. An open API also brings value to the actual platform developers, as so much more content is delivered to their users without additional expense. Innovation can happen at a much greater rate when the platform is open. Everybody wins.

Once attaining a critical mass, these Social Platforms naturally begin to think about money and profitability. So, they turn towards the only established model of income for such ventures: an ad-based revenue model. Now, in an ad-based revenue model, success is predicated on the # of page-views. This directly conflicts with having an open API and platform, as many of the 3rd party applications built upon these social platforms direct views away the platform to the outside sources. So, instead of having 3rd party developers built on the social network’s platform, keeping development in-house keeps page views on the platform. Then, the shutdowns begin. Facebook’s API became more restricted. As did Twitter’s. These restrictions threaten the entire 3rd party development ecosystems that the platforms support.

Dalton Caldwell has proposed a whole different system for funding social platforms. Instead of using an ad-based revenue model. He proposed straight charging users for entry, as well as charging developers to build application on the platform. This kind of premium live social stream has its pluses and minuses. The downside (and what many credit with what will be a failed fundraising period) is that users have to pay to gain access/membership. The upside (and the part I STRONGLY agree with) is that charging users and developers will allow the platform to retain its integrity! It will not shut out 3rd party developers who threaten page views and it will not become an ad-riden experience as Facebook has.

Yes, it will cost us users money. But what fantastic experience doesn’t?!?!?! I enjoy paying for Spotify Premium. I like having an ad-free experience.

The consumer internet is still relatively young, and it is definitely still evolving. I believe the initial push-back from consumers against online services that required membership fees was because they weren’t receiving enough value in exchange. Also, many of the physical services were overpriced before the Internet (CD’s and Music). So when the option for free digital versions arose, consumers leapt at the opportunity.

Free, ad driven models have become the norm. But, people will pay for greatness. People will pay for great services. Hell, look at HBO. Sure, Youtube offers free video content. And, HBO is disrupting the hell out of mediocre television. But, people are more than willing to pay for HBO’s additional content. The free option of Youtube entertainment hasn’t touched HBO. Thus is the power of premium experiences.

App.net is striving to create a premium experience of a social streaming platform. One with integrity. One that will not go back on its promises once it attains critical mass. The business plan allows for this. So take a leap of faith. Donate.

Screenshot of my App.net

They’re so close. Be a part of the future, for even though free is the present model, it delivers shitty products. Instead, lets move toward the future. Where premium costs deliver premium content.
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Vegas Post Script Haiku:

I Hate Las Vegas
Gambling, Stress. Drinking, Stress.
Free Trip, So I Go. 🙂

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Current Trends

1. Access Points vs Content Libraries:

There are two emerging macro categories of products. One is doing much better (financially) than the other. The one I have labeled access points, are what we use to access content. Examples are Iphones, laptops, Kindles, Ipods, etc. Another form of access point (with a slightly different result field) would be Google. Through Google search, most users access the web.

Access points often take the form of hardware, and in that sense, they can be extremely successful financially.

The other category is Content Libraries.

Youtube, Facebook, Netflix, NYTimes.com, Wikipedia, Spotify, etc. In these different products lie a majority of the content people consume. People reach these libraries through their different access points.

There is also a sub-trend emerging within Content Libraries. User generated content libraries vs. premium content libraries. Premium content providers (often the premium content is intellectual property) can justify charging for access to their libraries. Though many of these products are struggling in the Internet age, some users WILL pay for this access online.

User-generated content libraries are harder to make financially relevant.  Youtube is almost entirely an ad-driven platform. Wikipedia is free and survives on donations. As Facebook has shown us recently (through their failed IPO), there may not even be great inherent value in having a lot of users if the only income is advertising.

Conclusion: There is money in access points. There is also money (though not quite as much) in premium content libraries, though significantly less so. The real successes however, occur when a company controls both the access point as well as a premium content library associated with it. Itunes/Ipods and Kindle/Amazon-Publishing illustrate this very well.

2. The Shift back toward Silos:

Focused excellence. Focused excellence. Focused excellence. Multitasking is becoming passe.  This can be seen by the continued failure of the mobile Facebook application (too much content, too little space, terrible interface), while mobile Twitter continues to flourish (it’s a very focused product).

Users want to pull out their Iphone, and through that, have access to a panel of focused, well built, simple apps through which any need can be met.

Conclusion: Make sure whatever you are building is simplistic, clean, works extremely well, and solves a clear problem.

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Just Another Brick…

I miss my Facebook wall.  Timeline is a fascinating and impressive function. I like having two profile pictures, especially the huge new one (the more of me, the better!).  But, what problems does Timeline really solve? I liked having one centralized place where people could write on my profile.  That still exists, but it is convoluted and doesn’t load instantly as I scroll down my FB.  Searching for past posts is difficult, and I liked having a clean interface between different sections of content on my profile.
Timeline is well built (the timeline function anyway), a cool concept, and I believe it would make an outstanding additional function to a user profile.

However, no one I speak to uses Timeline for it’s actual purpose….looking at their friends historical Facebook presence. People only use timeline as an augmented wall (or as a stalker tool),  and rarely scroll downward past the first section.  I would wager a bet that posting and interaction between users is down since the introduction of Timeline, as Timeline’s build simply does not user promote interaction like the wall.

The recording of history is an important aspect of Facebook. But, despite the fact that “Twitter is where news breaks; Facebook is where news goes,” (John Herman-Buzzfeed), it can’t be ignored that Facebook is still a marvelous tool for social interaction, and that should be where the emphasis of the service lies.

Bottom line: I don’t care nearly as much about my online past as I do about the present.  Timeline makes my online life harder, not easier. More work for me as the user=worse product. Doesn’t matter how cool of a feature it is.

P.S. My birthday was last week, and timeline combined all of the birthday posts I received into one small timeline box.  Maybe I am more insecure than most, but I LOVED having my Facebook wall plastered in birthday messages. It felt good. It was a fun way to show off online (what we all want from Facebook anyway) without putting in any effort. Having my congratulatory messages minimized and shunned to preserve a balanced timeline sucks, and does not play to what I as a user want my Facebook presence to be.

John Herman Article Link: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jwherrman/how-twitter-beat-facebook-at-its-own-story

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