Category Archives: Digital Media

Facebook F8 Changes Solidifies Social Infrastructure for the Web

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

The recent changes announced at Facebook’s F8 conference solidifies their place as the first real social infrastructure for the web and this is very important for a number of reasons. At a high level, it’s important to understand that technology innovations alone are meaningless. What matters is how new technology advances or enhances previously existing technology. People refer to this as a “technology stack.” Consider the time when Benjamin Franklin unveiled electricity. Only until wires were installed across the country were we able to first leverage his invention in new ways. Once we had electricity, people were able to build up the stack and create new devices and technologies on top of one another.

Fast forward a bit to the computer age. Computers came out and made math computations a simple task. Then software came along and made the hardware that much easier to use. Again, building up the stack. Then came the internet which connected computers with one another across the world. Another layer called Google made it even easier to navigate information through this complex network and this changed everything. For the first time people were able to go to a little box and tell a machine exactly what they were looking for and the machine, would in turn, give us the results we were seeking.

And now we have Facebook and their recent changes. This is a company that built its core assets by having people tell them exactly who they are. And yesterday, Facebook made these assets open for the world to leverage – a true social infrastructure on top of the web. This could be equally as important, if not more important than Google. This is also why Google is publicly concerned about Facebook’s growth. Consider the widely popular phrase, “it’s not what you know but who you know.” At a physical level, this saying could be transposed to “It’s not Google, but it’s Facebook.” And there are very real implications here that extend to all facets of our society from news and entertainment to e-commerce and travel. We are at place where third party apps and companies can leverage an already existing infrastructure to build businesses and efficiencies in new ways. This is a new part of the technology stack.

Spotify, the new music service, is the quintessential example of this and it’s probably why Facebook included them as a partner during their F8 event. If you think about how you listen to music you’d realize that you are inherently interested in what your friends are listening to. I’d say 90% of all music I listen to today is a direct result of advice or suggestions I’d be given once upon a time by friends.

These social implications extend to commerce as well. Let’s say you are in the market to buy a new bicycle. And let’s say you read all of the consumer reviews and after compiling thousands of reviews you decide that you are going to buy the Cozmo bike. But now let’s say the night before you make a purchase  you have dinner with friends. And at dinner, you tell them you are going to buy a bike the next morning and your best friend interrupts and says, “I just bought a Rocket bike and it’s awesome. Way better than my crappy Cozmo bike.” In about one second your entire data set gets thrown out the window. Your friend just influenced your buying decision. Today however, these friends are online. And so are bicycle stores. So you can see that real-time purchasing decisions no longer happen in a vacuum as they are influenced by your social network.

This is where the world is going. Spotify and the Cozmo bike story are just two examples of how social connectivity can reshape traditional processes and establishments. We are just at the tip of the iceberg. Real businesses with real societal implications can leverage this social infrastructure in new and meaningful ways. If you are an entrepreneur, this is a very exciting time to be thinking about what the world could look like with a truly connected social ecosystem that has building blocks for you to use.

Game on.

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Celebrities Have No Privacy. We Are All Celebrities.

Ashton Kutcher 2008-09-08
Image via Wikipedia

There is a lot of debate going on in Washington DC and among the Ad Tech community around data and privacy. Technology has enabled every single one of us with the ability to communicate freely and broadly with ease and there are companies that make this possible, most notably through advertising revenue.

The loose claim being made is that our privacy is not safe and that as consumers, we are being exploited. However, I offer the following points to think about in order to add different abstraction to the conversation:

  • As a celebrity, you have the ability to communicate to the masses.
  • As a celebrity, you are subject to continual public criticism and scrutiny.
  • As a celebrity, you are subject to unwanted or unwarranted photography and videography.
  • As a celebrity, your likeness is often times used to make money (e.g. tabloids).

The current communication tools available make us all, to some degree, celebrities. We all have the ability to influence, communicate, and inform anyone and everyone. A right and privilege that has never been available to the masses. A right that has only been available to, and earned by, celebrities.

Now, almost anyone in the world can partake in celebrity-like activities for free. And the reason these tools are free is because companies are subsidizing the development and hosting costs with advertising revenue. They are paying for your right to use these powerful tools. Tools that give you unparalleled communication capabilities. A soapbox to the world (e.g. this very blog).

So when I hear about pending legislation on privacy and how companies are being “creepy,” I just think, celebrities have no privacy. We are all celebrities.

Only we are overnight celebrities thanks to the companies working hard to enable us with these powerful tools. If you don’t like it, you can send me a hand written complaint letter by horse, buggy, and courier.

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What Facebook Really Means

Profile shown on Thefacebook in 2005
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about Facebook and the implications it has on our daily lives, our communications, and our buying behavior. I’m starting to come around to the belief that Facebook truly is, first and foremost a data company in addition to being a portal for social news and activity. That’s really it and its nothing we don’t already know. Facebook will most certainly evolve and offer more compelling features like daily deals, FB credits, or even a mobile OS, but at the core, their foundation is simple. My friend Brad has been thinking about what this means in the context of historical companies and products, so I extended this line of thinking to see what I’d come up with and here is where I currently stand.

AOL vs. Facebook
AOL was first and foremost an ISP in addition to being a closed portal to various content and communications channels. Users were able to log in to their AOL account and then immediately access things like their AOL profile (what is now Facebook), their Instant Messaging and away messages (what is now Twitter), their news (what is now every news site out there), their mail (what is now GMail), their games (what is now Zynga), their chat rooms (what is now BBM, SMS, Meebo), etc. What started off as an ISP quickly became a portal for various components of one’s digital experience and to me, this is starkly similar to Facebook.

Facebook on the other hand started out as first and foremost a data company in addition to being a portal to various social content and news feeds. Users are able to log into their Facebook account and engage their entire social network of friends. Perhaps the biggest difference between Facebook and AOL is that Facebook lets users carry their identity with them online, while AOL did not. So today, if a user wants to read the news, or play games, or chat with their friends, they can do so under a uniform identify that is portable across many digital platforms. To me, this is nothing more than a driver’s license for the web which in time will become a credit card for the web.

With this said, I think its interesting to see what happens when you slightly modify the rules of open vs. closed. AOL was a very closed environment and it was only a matter of time before it got hacked up into new, competing companies. Facebook however, although still very much closed, is enabling others to access its rich database thus making it a platform for a greater social web – a Driver’s License. Other than that, I’m not sure what other interesting take aways we can learn from this comparison.

Microsoft vs. Facebook
Microsoft was a software company built to manage productivity and utility. At its core, it had an operating system that enabled specific apps which were all designed, in some way shape or form, to enhance one’s ability to be productive by leveraging digital connections on the internet, and within the very PC (between memory, the hard disk drive, CD rom, etc). Productivity was the key word here and it fueled 10 years of growth (e.g. MS word, excel, IE, Powerpoint, etc).

On the other hand, Facebook is a data company built to manage and facilitate social connections. At its core, it is a centralized data base that houses self-declared information (e.g. age, gender, location, interests, etc), and on top of that data base, it has apps that are designed to leverage these pieces of information (e.g. groups, walls, friend recommendations, etc). “Social Connectivity” is the key word here and i think we can agree that it will fuel the next 10 years of growth.

With this said, I think the Microsoft vs. Facebook comparison is a little better than the AOL analogy but I’m still not sure it does us justice to understand the full effects of Facebook. I don’t think we should look at Microsoft as the comparison to gauge what Facebook means, but instead, I think we should be looking at historical events that involved social movements. Things like voting, protesting, activism, wars, diplomacy, fundraising, emergencies & triage (healthcare), events, etc. I think the next wave of innovation (on the consumer side of things) will be about taking timeless human events (like buying things) and overlaying a precise data set and pure social connectivity layer (e.g. Facebeook). Because in each one of these social events, there are very different use cases, with a very different way of using and looking at the data.

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Display Advertising – State of the Union

The Planet Data Center
Image by The Planet via Flickr

Just some high level thoughts on where things are at and where things are going in digital display advertising…

We may look back and call 2010 the year of the “DSP.” It was the year when agencies recognized they could leverage ad network technology and fundamentally change the way their businesses operated. In an instant, buyers had scalable, centralized access to auction-priced display inventory. This new shift realigned agency resources, buying habits and media planning workflow because now, display media could be bought and sold instantaneously. A commodity was now being bought, traded, and sold as if it were the stock market. But now, two things are slowly happening which will bring us to the next wave of technology, or technology protocols and processes. Data Management, or now otherwise known as a DMP:

1.       Buyers are hedging their bets with DSPs, but lack a centralized data warehouse.

As the DSPs or Ad Management Platforms continue to grow, in terms of scale and technical features, the buyers are continuing to explore competitive offerings. At the end of the day, if a DSP is going to power an agency trading desk or a buyer’s business, it will become imperative that the buyer maintains options. And as this diversification happens, the buyers will lose the ability to maintain a standardized, centralized, exportable data set. A data set that can be used in any DSP, any traditional network, or any publisher and more importantly, for any medium whether it is advertising in display, text, audio, mobile or video.

2.       Publishers are realizing the need to better segment and monetize their first party data.

Publishers face perhaps the most challenging problems of anyone in this ecosystem, primarily due to the fact that the majority of VC backed businesses in the last few years have been focused on the buy-side. As a result, publishers must consider the effects of working with ad networks, data companies, trading desks, yield optimizers, ad verifiers, privacy companies and must do so with inadequate or legacy technology. Technology that was built for the traditional ad network world. The value for publishers, outside of the content and the inventory they create, is unarguably the audience data. It is for this reason publishers are now focused on securing a comprehensive data strategy. A strategy that provides intelligence and protection to monetize data through direct or indirect media sales, or through direct or indirect data sales, all the while leaving that choice up to the publisher.

We will look back and call 2011 the year of the “DMP” and perhaps the year that a new Online Advertising Operating System was formed. The year when a loosely coupled system of advertising technologies (or few tightly integrated systems) began to work together in an attempt to empower media planners with the same capabilities of that of a sophisticated ad network.  And in the middle, will sit the delivery mechanisms (DSPs) and the intelligence (DMPs) so that young media planners can deliver data driven ad campaigns for their client across all mediums and platforms from right behind their desks.

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“Premium Content” is the wrong name – will be called “Niche Content”

content
Image by neonihil via Flickr

This week was internet week. I listened to a lot of media companies talk about “Premium Content” but I’m not sure that this is the right vernacular anymore.

Large media companies establish businesses on the basis that they can create an entire line of “premium content.” Information that is assembled, curated, and distributed with a stamp of approval – that stamp is the company brand name. There is a lot of value to this process, but I don’t buy it, at least not in today’s world.

If I had to choose between reading content written or produced by a “big name media company” or by someone I know and trust, or someone who has a community vouching for that person’s character, credentials and opinions, and someone (or a group of people) that focus on very specific topics and are experts in those topics, I will always choose the latter. (If I could do both, that would be killer – and is a viable business opportunity in my opinion)

I was riding the NYC subway yesterday and saw a quote for a book review. It said something along the lines of:

“An ultimate matchup between….You can’t put this down, it’s one of its kind” – The some city Post

Really? Why should I care that this newspaper, a newspaper from a city I’ve never even been to before, gave the book a rave review? Who cares?

What I really care about is the person that gave the review. I want to know who that person is. I want to know what that person has done and why they are entitled to speak on behalf of some newspaper. If that person’s opinion matters so much, I should be the one to decide.

The future of “Premium Content” will be created by small groups of people and crowds. People with a passion for niche topics, and those people will intently focus on that one topic. They will become businesses unto themselves. The community will provide the seal of approval and the “big name media company” will matter less, unless their businesses change – to businesses of small, relevant, meaningful “niche content.”

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Will.i.am is the Man – Creating a New Era of Music Media Platforms

Picture from the event

I always knew there was something super advanced and different about the Black Eyed Peas. My first sign was when I saw them perform at Intel’s private launch party for their Core 2 Duo processor at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (thanks to Marc Harrison – pictures below). It was the first time I ever experienced a collision of mainstream music, technology, celebrities, and media all in one room, at one major event.

Yesterday I read an article in the Rolling Stones by Chris Norris titled “40 Reasons To Be Excited About Music” and sure enough, coming in at No.1 was “The Black Eyed Peas – Will.I.Am and the Science of Global Pop Domination.”

The entire article is certainly worth a read for anyone that’s in to music, but the piece that really hit me was this…

“To Will.i.am, songs aren’t discrete works of art but multi-use applications – hit singles, ad jingles, film trailers – all serving a purpose larger than music consumption. Creatively, he draws no distinction between writing rhymes and business plans, rocking arenas and PowerPoint, producing albums and media platforms, all these falling under a cleareyed mission to unite the largest possible audience over the broadest range imaginable. It’s a mission he communicates with a combination of Pentecostal zeal and Silicon Valley jargon, suggesting a hybrid of Stevie Wonder and Steve Jobs.”

It’s the idea that media and music are really one in the same. That business and music are thought about the same way and are less complimentary but more interconnected.

Over the past year, the lines between technology, software, media, music, marketing and news has become increasingly blurry.

Here are just some examples:

  • Meredith Media, a company that used to be a traditional publishing company is now acting as a fully integrating marketing agency.
  • Global advertising holding companies like Havas, OMD, and Publicis are now looking to build their own technology units in house in an attempt to replace the need for Ad Networks and control the entire online advertising stack.
  • Software is Media, says Fred Wilson in a recent post –  “Media are the tools that are used to communicate. And software that runs on the web is part of the media landscape.”
  • NBC recently launched a new program called “Behavior Placement” which is “designed to sway viewers to adopt actions they see modeled in their favorite shows.”

And even today there’s news about how Hearst, another traditional publishing company, is looking to buy the digital advertising firm iCrossing for $375M.

As are lives continue to digitize, the companies and artists that continue to take a longer, interconnected view on culture, technology and media, will be the ones that succeed. Will.i.am and the BEP are definitely on “that next shit now.”

Intel – Black Eyed Peas

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