Quora is About to Explode

I’ve seen it before.  It happened with Twitter and with MySpace.  Sometimes there’s a confluence of media attention and star power that makes a website just explode – and that is about to happen to Quora.

If you haven’t heard of this website, enjoy this moment in time. It’s probably the last moment you won’t hear or read someone talk about this great new Q&A site that’s emerged.   By the end of 2011, Quora will be seen as one of the breakout hits.

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Learnings from Gawker

Nick Denton who has been on the forefront of blogging and online publishing for the past decade is shaking things up again. He’s redesigning the Gawker websites (Gizmodo, Deadspin, Gawker, Defamer, etc.) to be able to better showcase top stories, making video more prominent, and making articles easier to scan. It’s also interesting to hear what he’s learned over the years. His main point – scoops and exclusives dictate the winners. He writes in a statement he released on Gawker:

One law of media competition applies as strongly to web properties as it did to their predecessors: scoops drive audience growth. Gawker Media experienced that rule, painfully, as Harvey Levin’s TMZ eclipsed our overly bloggy Hollywood site, Defamer. TMZ’s growth was built upon three gigantic stories: Mel Gibson’s meltdown; Michael Richards’ racist outburst; and Michael Jackson’s death.

He goes on to argue that simply reposting stories that are elsewhere on the web is a broken strategy:

For that, let’s look at the biggest exclusive of all — early shots of the iPhone 4 — which made Gizmodo into a household name. That episode more than any other demonstrated the bankruptcy of the classic blog column. In order to keep video of the iPhone prototype at the top of the reverse chronological flow, Gizmodo actually stopped publishing for several hours. How ridiculous!

Another interesting move they are making is moving to more video. In the past, he explained, is that video is twice as hard to produce without twice the payoff. Also, they felt that this was the differentiated skill of TV networks/ However, it’s now changed for them as making videos are easier and they are finding that TV companies are just as entrenched in legacy formats and methods with video as they have been for text. As he says, “Gawker bloggers, once they’re as familiar with iMovie as with cut-and-paste, can beat them.”

The new site looks more like ESPN Sportscenter and PTI than a typical blog like Techcrunch.  And that’s the point.  Put the big story front and center and the rest to the side.  It remains to be seen though that whether catering to the scoop and the new non-familiar user will alienate the daily reader, which is their bread and butter.   Personally, I like the move.  Even if it doesn’t work, I admire companies that are trying new tactics and innovating.  Denton’s been right in the past and if anyone knows online publishing and readership behaviors it’s him – so I’d guess that this is the correct move.

My Own Personal Newspaper

I’ve long thought about how the newspaper industry is changing (especially because my new startup is targeted towards the publishing industry) and this past week i found something really amazing interesting.

Let me start by saying that i find my feeds (both Facebook and Twitter) way more interesting than any website I read.  I typically get all my news from Google Reader where i’ve imported  all the sites and feeds that i’m interested in.  This is a great way to quickly process information but it doesn’t give me any information from other sites (obviously). The great part of Twitter and Facebook is that my friends provide links from all around the web.

So, while at BlogWorld last week i learned about Paper.li which creates a personal newspaper based on your Twitter feed.  My personal paper is here.  It looks at all the links submitted by your Twitter friends, see what those stories are and creates a paper of those stories.  It also knows the categories of those links so it creates a Sports and Technology section for you.  For instance, this morning my Paper.li has this Business section:

This is similar to what the company Flipboard is doing – although that’s only an iPad app.  The beauty of this is that it’s taking my feed, which has all the information i want, and placing it in the format that i want – as a nice webpage where i don’t have to click through each link to consume them.  It’s eliminating links and making my life prettier and easier.  What a great way to start a morning

Fred’s 10 Golden Web-App Rules

This past weekend i watched this video from Fred Wilson about what are the 10 Golden Principles of a Web application. Fred has been an investor for over 20 years and is on the board of some of this decade’s premier companies such as Twitter, FourSquare, Tumblr, Etsy, Delicous, and more.

The 10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps from Carsonified on Vimeo.

  1. Speed.  Fred sees speed more than a feature. Speed is the most important feature and he argues that this is more important with mainstream users an early-adopters who are more forgiving.  Everyday users have no tolerance for slugish apps.  I heard the same thing from Google when they presented at Techstars.  They measure everything and if it’s slow, they fix it.  Fred mentioned pingom as something they use to measure every portfolio company.
  2. Instant Utility.  If a user has to spend too long to configure the service – it won’t catch on.  YouTube is a great example of how it won by providing instant feedback rather than delaying the gratification.
  3. Voice.  Consumer software is media today.  Consumers approach in the same way the approach magazines, tv shows, etc.. Software has to have a personality and if it has no attitude, then it won’t catch on.
  4. Simplicity.  Just one main feature at launch.  Fred points to Delicious as a perfect example of this.  Make the app super simple and then go from there.  There are lots of good posts on how to focus on this.
  5. Programmability.   Make your app accessible from other developers.  This means read+write API’s and if’s not “write” it’s not an API and might as well be RSS.   Allow other developers to add energy, data and richness.  In Fred’s mind this is absolutely essential and he’s hesitant to invest in anything that isn’t programmable.
  6. Personalizable.  You want make your app infused with your user’s energy.
  7. REST URLs.  Make your app easy to navigate – give everything a URL. This also makes is discoverable from Google.
  8. Discoverable.  There are millions of web pages and web applications.   This point means SEO but it also means that your app itself should be self-promoting.  This means social media and branding.
  9. Clean.  This is UI requirement.  You need to be able to come to the page and be able to immediately determine what to do and what’s going on.   It has to be inviting and simple.
  10. Playful.  An app should be fun to use and it’s use should encourage future use.  Weigh Watchers is a good example as it establishes points and goals and getting the points and acheiving goals is something that should be embedded in each application

There one more interesting point he spits out at the end about the name and brand of a company.  He talks about how important it is to him that the company purchases the actual name of the company.  For example, Foursquare was playfoursquare.com and they insisted that they change.  He also insisted that del.icio.us become delicious.com.

The 10 principles are interesting to think about and a good checklist for any startup to have.  I’ve definitely been guilty of ignoring some of these in my past work.   Interesting stuff

Online Journalism Conf: Traditionalists vs. Pioneers

I went to the International Symposium on Online Journalism this past Friday and Saturday.  There were a variety of speakers at this conference.  I noticed that there were three types of participants.   There were:
  1. Traditionalists
  2. Journalists
  3. Pioneers looking for new ways to publish.
The current revenue model in publishing is changing and the traditionalists resent this.  Newspapers and print media, which once had a good business model, are now losing money.  This one change has dramatic impact on journalism and media.   Some speakers, such as Jim Moroney at the Dallas Morning News, are enamored the newspaper structure.  In his speech on Friday, he mentioned that it costs him $36 million a year to staff his newsroom and he’ll look for every way possible to pay for this, from raising prices to charging for specific pieces of content.  He specifically said that he won’t shrink the staff nor use citizen journalism.  This strikes me as stubborn and destined to fail.  First, people – especially younger audiences – don’t want to pay for content and asking them to do so will just alienate them.  Other traditionalists such as Jim O’Shea are moving journalism into the non-profit realm.  Maybe this is the best place for hard-core journalism, because as Jim stated, advertising will supply only 5% of Chicago News Coop revenue.
On the other end of the spectrum there are the pioneers that are embracing the Internet. The web is proving to be best at interactivity. It’s not a place to simply replicate the written word of newspapers and magazines.  The sites that win are sites that embrace the social or interactive nature of the web.  The first speaker of the conference, Steven Kydd at Demand Media, is one of the pioneers.  While it’s debatable whether it’s journalism, Demand Media is discovering new business opportunities by interacting with the web and with writers and creating new opportunities from the crumbling media businesses.  David Cohn at Spot.us is another looking to create a media business around the interactivity of the web by creating a platform to crowdsourcing funding and sourcing of news stories.  New media will be interactive and vibrant.  Several great panelists such as Cindy Royal on Friday Jan Schaffer on Saturday understand this and gave great talks of how they are showing us new methods of journalism that actually work.

The Deck: A Fascinating Ad Platform

There’s an intersting advertising network that i learned about at SXSW this week called The Deck. They do one thing differently and it substantially impacts everything else: they get rid of the CPM. Selling ads by the 1000 holdover from the days of print media and TV where companies wanted to align ads to circulation and ratings. Deck does things differenly.

If you look at the three constituents of ad sales: publishers (the web site), readers, and the advertisers. The CPM is beneficial only to the advertiser. With CPM, publishers optimize their site for page views. This results in chopping stories into 3 pages, making photo galleries, lack of ajax, or other gimicks that result in more page views at the expense of user enjoyment. Typically when sites begin to focus on monetizing, they get worse for the reader, not better.

The Deck is an ad network. They represent both publishers (Twitteriffic, Daring Fireball, etc.) and advertisers (Rackspace, Gowalla, KickApps, etc.). They subjectively vet both of them.  The also have the following rules:

  1. They will only represent websites of a certain type. In this case it’s sites focused on design or technology
  2. They will only place ads of products they like or endorse
  3. They then will place only one ad per page of one size and of one format. They charge the advertiser a monthly rate and sign yearly contracts wht the publishers.
  4. Their ads have up to 80 characters and one image

Does it work? Definitely. They are way oversubscribed for both advertisers and publishers. Even though advertisers get less impressions, they are more effective. Thus, 7 out of 10 advertisers return month after month. Publishers have more attractive, less cluttered sites and no longer have to worry about chasing pages. Sure they want an audience and the bigger the better but whether it’s 3 page views per user or 10, it doesn’t matter

The author of Daring Fireball has a story of when he was using Google Ads instead of Deck. For a while his most successful, in revenue terms, article was one where he compared a certain design to a man’s toupee. What he found was all the Google Ads next to his article had to do with men’s hairpieces.  He also found that men’s hairpiece keywords are very highly priced and he earned 7x the amount of money on that page than other pages. This was troubling for him because he then started thinking about what words are valuable to Google when writing articles rather than what he readers want. His revenue (and interests) were properly aligned with advertisers nor readers.

Deck is an interesting example of someone innovating around ad networks. I find it fascinating as i really don’t like the CPM either. But, does it scale to other, non design/technology sectors? Maybe. I think it requires the readers to be intelligent and (somewhat)affluent. So i could see Travel or Cars having a similar ad network. But it gets harder after that.

My Moments of 2009

2009 was a fun year.  I traveled to 42 cities, 4 countries and logged over 100k miles.  I also found time to stay at home and do stuff.  Looking back on the year, some things really stand out.  For instance:

  • Up’s tear-jerking silent vignette. With each new film, Pixar finds some way to top itself. The marvelous innovation inUp was the wordless sequence near the beginning, set to Michael Giacchino’s wistful score, depicting Carl and Ellie’s entire life together — including the sad fact that they can’t have children. Who else would dare to try that? And who but Pixar could pull it off so gracefully?
  • I Like This Song.  I started a little experiment in May of placing a good song i like every day to the blog ilikethissong.com.  At first it was easy because there were so many songs i was bursting to share.  But as the year wore on, i got more selective and paid more attention to what i was putting up.  The real treat, however, has been the followers of ILTS who have sent me new music and tunes.
  • The Android OS. I went to the largest mobile phone conference in the world last February and saw thousands of phones that were running Windows Mobile OS that was vastly inferior to the iPhone. I came away from there thinking that the iPhone was going to crush everyone for the next 10 years.  Luckily Google’s OS has grown up and is the real deal.  This is the year when the race for the future of mobile actually started
  • Brett Favre.  Say what you want about him, but for me he has transformed the Vikings from a team that drove me crazy to watch to a team to be proud of every week.  He was inspiring and regardless of how early we go out in the playoffs (i’m thinking first round) i’ll always remember this season because of him.
  • Zach Galifinakis and The Hangover.  Zach G. had slipeed under my radar until The Hangover which was this summer’s must-see movie.  I thought he made the film and i was even more delighted to see that his webepisodes of Between Two Ferns prove him a true comedic talent
  • Death of Old Media.  Magazines crumbled.  Newspapers folded.  Online usage soared.  People who were in the print business ran scared.  Some tried to adjust their print properties.  Others just wove a white flag.  It become evident this year that online is where the users are and if you’re not moving your media business there, you’re either going to downsize or disappear.  This was of personal interest to me as i spent lots of 2009 looking at the advertising piece of this at Buzz and looking at the opportunities this new world creates with Tobes.
  • In-N-Out burger.  I ate so much In-N-Out in 2009 that this could very well be the year of the Double-Double.  Thanks to JT, Pedro and JStreet for coming with me time after time after time.
  • eReaders / Kindle.  The Kindle came on strong this year and The Nook is looking like a solid competitor.  While neither may be long solutions with their closed formats, they have gained serious attention and sales.  I also read my first books on electronically this year and i can easily picture a future when books are primarily sold without paper.
  • Obama.  He came out of nowhere.  We were about to elect someone into the Presidency (Hilary) which would have had two families (Clinton’s and Bush’s) control the office for over 24 years.  THis was not the America i was down with and i was just about to write off the political system for good when Obama came along.  Sure, you can complain about different things he’s done in office thus far but he’s engaged me and he’s made me pay attention. I respect his reasoning.  That word, “hope,” is a strange one and it was a big part of 2009 for me due to him.
  • Avatar, Star Trek and Sci-Fi. This year was an incredible year for sci-fi. I thought Star Trek was awesome, the little indie flick District 9 was refreshing and extremely well done, and of course James Cameron’s epic, Avatar – the film that needed new technology just to complete it – rocked the end of the year. These films showed that sci-fi is alive and kicking and isn’t some little repetitive genre reserved for geeks and nerds.
  • A Personal Stream of Information From Friends.  Before 2009, my RSS feed dominated my web browsing experience.  Twitter and Facebook worked their tail off in ’09 to change the web landscape.  Their impact has been incredible.  The personal stream of information is how many people are now receiving their news and media.  What this means is that the web (and possibly life) won’t ever be the same.  I can’t wait to see where it leads
  • D Wood.  Last and most importantly it’s D. Say what you will about LA but it brought me to Diane and more than anything it will be a year remembered as the year i met her.  That one little meeting has changed everything.

Happy 2009 everyone. It’s been a fantastic year and I wish you all the best in 2010.

Wikipedia Going Away

The value of Wikipedia is the contributors to it. As sites become easier and easier to contribute to, wikipedia remains the nerdiest, most cryptic, most confusing site to add content to. I have a degree in Computer Science and i find it incredibly difficult to find a way to add content to it. I’m not saying i didn’t figure it out, but it was nowhere near simple.


For this reason (and possibly others) wikipedia contributors are on the decline. Does this mean it will not be the dominant site it is today in the future? I wouldn’t surprised. I could see sites like Mahalo picking up the slack. What do you think?

The deal with Google buying reCaptcha

Google 收购 reCAPTCHA
Image by Fenng(dbanotes) via Flickr

I had no idea why Google would buy a company, reCaptcha, that does captchas. For those of you who don’t know, captchas are the little squiggly text that people enter to prove they are human. The word “captcha” actually stands for: Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart

With these things are all over the internet, why would Google buy this specific company? I found out a few reasons. First, they are the original gangsters – it turns out the guy who invented captchas is the founder of reCaptcha. Second, they way they do the captcha words is quite innovative. Check this out: reCAPTCHA takes scans from newsclippings, articles and old books that can’t be read by machines (because they are scans) then feeds them to humans in a captcha one at a time with other words that it knows. The user then enters both words. The word that reCAPTCHA knows is tested – if correct, it now learns an additional word to use on other challenges. This is how they build up their database of words from scans.

Google has for the past 6 years been scanning books like crazy. They have millions of books scanned. What they don’t have is text of those books available to be searched. The thought is that if you use captchas to surface all the words of those books one at a time, this will enable a massive crowdsourcing project to build a database of literature. Very interesting experiment. I never really hear of such clever business development deals. I love it.

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Where is the news going to come from?

Quoted in Buffalo News about the local citizen...
Image by inju via Flickr

As the media industry consolidates and more and more people are simply linking to news – you might start to wonder where all the news is going to come from. There’s a great quote that was passed along to me by Jordan that goes:

what no one seems to understand is that “news” doesn’t just magically appear on twitter/the web/etc. Most of it is scraped off these “old dead media” sources. I’m constantly amazed by the childlike mindset of the digerati to this process. It’s like kids thinking that food comes from the grocery store. Kill off the farmers and the journalists and see how much magic food and news just “finds you” for your consumption

Lots of stuff is derivative on the web and it makes you wonder if the world is going to just become one big echo chamber. Or will journalists do more stuff on their own?

Personally, i don’t think the analogy holds. Food must be grown but news doesn’t have to be paid for by journalists at major media companies.

  • Not every newspaper needs to write a report on the ballgame. ESPN will cover that for us.
  • We don’t need to pay reporters to go to town hall meetings and report back, people are doing that for free.
  • We don’t need local papers writing opinions on what’s happening across the globe. A handful of paid opinion pieces plus organic perspectives (blogs / twitter / etc.) are enough for me.

What the world needs is not to cut off the supply of news but to radically change the way it’s published and the economics behind it. Most news is still being produced and most of it is being delivered at very low cost or free. If it’s more expensive than that, it has to go.

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