Category Archives: emerging companies

Twitter execs: PLEASE start accepting ads

In case any of you hadn’t noticed, there’s been something of a civil war on Twitter over the issue of whether advertising should exist there. There’s a lot of finger pointing going on, and a lot of people who seem convinced that they possess the ultimate truth as to how Twitter advertising should work. As far as I can tell, no one will win, a lot of hurt feelings will result, and Twitter will lose some of the irreplaceable camraderie which has made it what it is.

This is why I’m begging, in all seriousness: Please, Biz, Jack and Evan, take this process over and impose an advertising format that works for all before people start rolling out cannons. You may not see advertising as the future of Twitter, but unless you impose some rules on the unruly, it will become the spam-choked Hotmail of new communications platforms.

Yes, I know Twitter, and the myriad of applications leveraging your system, have rolled out naturally and freely with a chaotic zest Timothy Leary would have admired. But now, things aren’t quite so new any more. And I’m telling youyour baby’s in danger unless you put the ad fights to rest once and for all.

Right now, I’d say there’s roughly three groups throwing snowballs at each other:

* First, there’s the Twitizens who believe that no ads should ever invade its sacred soil, and have sworn mighty oaths that they’ll “unfolllow” (the dread punishment of no longer reading a person’s postings) anyone who brings the commercial breath of Mordor to their land. (OK, I admit it, I saw some of the Lord of the Rings trilogy this weekend. But anyway…)

* Another group is at least tolerant of Twitter ad experimentation. (Perhaps they’re remembering how much experimentation it took to get Web and e-mail advertising formats worked out and cutting pioneers some slack?) These folks may not love the idea of being pitched in Twitterspace, but they’re not ready to boot anyone who tries, either.

* Then, there are those who want, at least as a market research experiment, to try out some ad formats on this amazingly well-connected, thoughtful and educated audience, and have no problem enduring what feels like spam for a time as we figure things out.

Some of us (and I consider myself such an experimenter ) want to see how the dynamics of new platforms like Magpie, Adjix and TwittAd actually work. Others, like @madmoneyblogger, actually seem to believe that they can accumulate some real cash this way.

While the various factions try to be civil, I don’t think peace is going to last much longer. So please, brilliant young men behind Twitter, accept that while open source models can work wonders–even in a social setting–sometimes you’ve just got to lay down the law.

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LifeAt takes social networking to housing communities

At first blush, I liked the idea a lot. Brooklyn-based start-up LifeAt has built a social networking platform apartment communities and other housing developments can use to connect residents with each other, the management and the neighborhood. With the help of some persistent PR reps, the idea has gotten some attention, including a feature in The New York Times.

Conceptually, the model makes a great deal of sense–and I’m guessing that the real estate investors behind the venture can keep it afloat for quite some time–but as I looked things over, I realized that I have some problems with LifeAt’s execution.

First, the basics. LifeAt, which developed all of its technology in-house, charges building managers a flat $6,000 to get access to the platform, which includes templates for personal profiles and “friend” connections, a community discussion forum, profiles of local stores, restaurants and services and a “marketplace” where residents can post free classifieds. To make sure only residents access the sites, no one can enter unless they get a username and password from the property manager.

As of late 2007, when the Times wrote its profile, almost 1,000 communities were live or scheduled to go live within a few months.  (Note: While CEO Matthew Goldstein didn’t say how many, at least some of the buildings are those already owned by the investors behind the project.) More interestingly, at that point more than half of residents in the already-launched properties had created personal profiles. In other words, yes, people do use the service.

So, other than the one-time $6,000 fee–a pittance as software development licenses go–how does LifeAt plan to support itself? Well, there’s the rub. Goldstein told me that the company plans to sell local advertising on the sites, something I very much doubt will work over the long term.

I’m skeptical of the local ad sales model for a few reasons. First, there’s already a huge array of local advertising options available to national companies who might want to go local, so the competition will be stiff there. Second, the local businesses immediately adjacent to the building are not exactly lacking in local channels either. Among other plays, there’s local newspapers, big city newspapers like the Times, Yellow Pages (both online and offline), ValPak and its ilk, plus local Web advertising plays by radio and TV stations. And unlike these local players, LifeAt’s sales folks aren’t going to be intimately woven into the life of that community (unless they have plans to hire thousands of local salespeople).

Sure, they’ll sell the “our people are more engaged” concept, but I don’t think merchants will be that impressed. After all, unlike the Facebook communities they imitate, as far as I know they’re not selling advertisers in-depth demographic and behavioral info on their users. So it’s just plain-vanilla advertising, even if sold by nifty partners (and it does have more than a dozen of those).

Meanwhile, another big issue is that LifeAt is relying on residents to create the local business content which plays a key role in its model.  As local search gurus know, it can be fatal to wait for people to create good content–especially business content. Instead, I think LifeAt’s going to have to eventually break down and license Internet Yellow Pages or other neighborhood business listings content from somewhere else. Then, they’re still providing a nice variety of local business content even if residents aren’t review-happy.

Ultimately, I think LifeAt will end up having to raise its initial charge significantly and make all of its money there as a white-label social media network technology player (albeit a rather specialized one).

But we’ll see…I’ve been wrong a gazillion times. Hey, I though Yahoo was a big waste of time in 1995, and look, it’s still alive!

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WorthPoint: Building a specialized knowledge-sharing community

Here’s an example of a site which is using social media technology to build a community–but not the friend networks we’re used to reading about of late. There are many interesting things about WorthPoint, an emerging Web community which hopes to greatly improve on the eBay model of selling collectibles–but for the purposes of this blog, the most interesting is the way in which it’s building social knowledge-sharing and accumulation into its business model. 

I spoke to founder and CEO Will Seippel yesterday about the site, which should be in beta until late summer. Seippel, a serial entrepreneur with a serious passion for sports memorabilia, intends WorthPoint to serve not only as a mechanism helping collectors to buy and sell their things, but also as a place where people share knowledge, Wiki-style, on individual antiques and collectible categories.  “eBay is a very good market for things where you can tell clearly what they are,” Sieppel says. “But it’s gotten away from its roots in collectibles.”

In addition to sharing knowledge, also expecting people use the site to determine what a piece is worth. The site provides price and descriptive data on collectibles from 500-odd auction houses, something which must have cost the company considerable time and money.

Still,  from our talk, it sounds to me as though Seippel expects the intangible knowledge in the “Worthopedia” wiki to be what keeps them coming back. I agree with him–the mere fact that social media networks continue to grow despite the overkill out there speaks to people’s deep need to share information and connect.  Focusing on one specific passion only makes the appeal stronger.

For the moment, the site isn’t actually hosting auctions or sales like eBay or Amazon (which, honestly, raises the question of how it plans to monetize the site beyond a handful of undistinguished banner ads). But my bet is that if Seippel succeeds in harnessing the passion of dedicated collectors to create a rich wiki, that alone will be a very valuable asset. And if he succeeds, look for other vertical sites to emerge focusing on this knowledge-accumulation model. All in all, an interesting venture with a unique niche.

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Like what you see in What Matters Online? Want to stay up to date on the latest in Web 2.0, social media and old-school interactive marketing? Get notified of our latest updates by e-mail or RSS. I will never sell or exchange your information, and I won’t deluge your inbox — I promise!

 

Watch out: Will your company be slammed on Snubster or Hatebook?

For every phenomenon, there’s a dark side — and that, of course, includes social networking.  Of late, that’s shown up with a crop of “anti-social” networking sites designed to allow people to release their bile. (OK, these sites aren’t exactly “dark” but they aren’t friendly either, though I guess that’s the point!)  At present, destinations like Hatebook.com, Enemybook and Snubster seem to be aimed more at lashing out against people who irritate them, such sites also include rants about about companies and trends that get under people’s skin.

If you’re an Internet marketer with a visible brand, I’d make it my business to look at these sites now and again and check street level market perceptions. I know, it’s already enough of a pain to cope with the buzz on chat boards, chatter on the “positive” social media sites, discussion lists and what have you, but hey, at least these sites admit that the people there are peeved. They’re worth a look.

[Story courtesy of NPR.org]

Benazir Bhutto and Twitter

Sometimes, it takes a global event to show what technology can do. For example, the recent assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto offers a telling case on how Web 2.0 is creeping into our daily lives. While I’ve been sticking largely to old media coverage of her murder — fed to me neatly by Google’s handy desktop RSS widget — Twitter has been abuzz with thoughts, speculation and updates as people generate them.

When it comes to world news, distributed information changes the entire picture. To see how much, just consider how two high-impact cases of political violence (9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombings) brought down Web sites dedicated to keeping people up to date on the situation. Not only do a distributed points of information prevent that from happening, it also provides an amazing comprehensive and flexible means of staying up to date.

This has tremendous implications for not only the news business, but also enterprises, as they struggle with information sharing technology. I won’t dig into those implications too deeply today, as they’re immense, but suffice it to say that info-sharing widgets definitely aren’t toys anymore.