I don't blog frequently about local news and events, but I do occasionally. When I do, outside.in captures the post and geo-tags it and puts it into their radar service. Radar is a facebook style news feed for neighborhood and local information.
Any blogger who wants their content captured, geo-tagged, and presented in Radar, can go here and add your feed to outside.in. It works even if you are an occasional placeblogger like I am.
Outside.in launched a nice new service for placebloggers (full-time or occasional) last week called Blog Maps. I've just put one on this blog in the right sidebar right below my flickr photos. It looks like the image on the right top of this post. Or you can scroll down and see it live. If you hover over any of the icons, you'll see the location I blogged about and if you click, you'll see the post(s) I wrote about that location.
If you want to see a blog map for a real placeblogger, click on over to Gotham Gal and see her blog map which is on the top right of her blog. And you can click on the bottom of any blog map to get one for yourself.
I've been evangelizing a free streamed all you can eat music service supported by advertising for as long as this blog has been around. And last night MySpace launched just that in partnership with the four major music lables and the large indie distributor Orchard. It's called MySpace Music.
As I am writing this, I am listening to music of my choice on streamed to me via MySpace. That's progress. I agree with Mike Arrington who wrote last night:
MySpace Music goes a long way towards music’s inevitable future where all recorded music will be free. They, along with services like iMeem, are now giving on demand streaming music at a zero price point to users, which was inconceivable even a couple of years ago.
But there's a lot that they need to do to get me to listen to music on MySpace instead of dozens of other locations on the web where I can get a similar experience.
The first thing about MySpace Music that turns me off is the start page. It's not really about music, it's like an entertainment website or something.
The music is front and center at the Hype Machine. At MySpace Music, you have to search or click or browse to get to the music, unless you want to listen to the Jonas Brother's playlist, which I do not want to do. It would be so much better to land me on the "my music" page once I have one.
Creating a playlist is more difficult than it needs to be. They should take a look at some of the other playlist services out there to see how it's generally done on the web. To add a song to a playlist at MySpace Music, you need to search, then browse, then select, then click add, then pick a playlist, then save. They could cut three or four steps out of that process with a better user interface (copied from the competition no less).
The player is ok. I don't mind the advertising on the page. The player pops out and you can minimize and listen, which is what most players let you do. Here's a screen shot of the player with my Arthur Russell playlist in it.
If they had more data on Arthur Russell (it's remarkable they have anything on him actually), the artist update window would include all new activity on that artist's myspace page.
I wish MySpace Music were more social and this service comes from a social net. There's not a single social interaction on the music player that I could find. I should be able to share, add to my profile, send to a friend, etc, etc. I am sure that's coming but it's shocking that it's not there day one.
And for the life of me I could not figure out how to link to my Arthur Russell/Jens Lekman and Kings Of Leon playlists. Although they are public for anyone to listen to, I have no idea how anyone would ever find them. I could not even figure out how to add them to my MySpace profile. I spent about ten minutes this morning creating them and I'd like to share them with all of you. I guess not.
The bottom line for me is having all the music someone would want to listen to on demand is important, and MySpace Music has that. But the user interface and the social interactions are equally important, possibly more important. And in that regard they have a long way to go. I'm headed back to the Hype Machine, Last.fm, Tumblr and the other places on the web that allow me to listen to streamed music the way I want to. But I'll be back from time to time to see how MySpace Music improves as I am sure it will.
Last summer, I got an email from Paul Graham saying that one of the Y Combinator teams wanted to launch something on this blog. It was a third party comment system called Disqus. I love getting my hands on new technology, particularly new social media technology, so I said yes without thinking through all the implications.
The Disqus founders, Daniel and Jason, did the work for me and the next day this blog had a new comment system. It took a while for me to get used to it and it took even longer for the readers of this blog to get used to it. But in time I came to realize that using a different web service to host my comments made a lot of sense.
And in March of last year, our firm made an investment in Disqus, about 7 months after they launched at YC demo day and after they'd convinced thousands of bloggers to make the switch. As I explained in that post last March announcing our investment:
Disqus “abstracts” both the comments and the commenters from the blog hosting system. This allows the comments to go anywhere and everywhere where there
is an audience for them. Abstracting comments from the blog hosting
platform does for comments what RSS has done for content; it allows the
comments to flow freely to whatever place it should most logically be
I should have said "third party comment systems abstract the comments and the commenters from the blog hosting system." Because by the time we made the investment in disqus, there were a number of third party comment systems in the market; disqus, intense debate, js-kit, and sezwho are the ones I've heard most about. You can see the development of the third party comment system market on this compete graph.
I would venture to guess that between 50,000 and 100,000 blogs are using third party comment systems now and they are concentrated in the top end of the market. Clearly third party comment systems are creating value for bloggers and commenters alike.
This is great news for everyone in the market. WordPress will invest in and improve Intense Debate, which will remain a third party service that can be used on all the popular blogging services (Six Apart, Blogger, etc). And WordPress will incorporate some of the most popular features of Intense Debate into the default WordPress comment service. The feature that wordpress bloggers who have not converted to a third party service will enjoy the most is the email reply to comments service. I asked Daniel and Jason to build that the first day I met them. It's a huge part of the value of the Disqus service and most of the competitors have added it as well. Being able to read and reply to comments via email is a "quantum leap" improvement in comment services and now this feature will be a standard in the market. That's huge.
There's been some discussion in the tech blogs that this acquisition is bad news for Disqus. I don't think so and neither does Disqus. They posted the following on their blog yesterday.
So what does this mean for us? The Disqus comment system is still the
largest third-party comment system on WordPress, yet those blogs
represent under 5% of all websites using Disqus. We pride ourselves on
being an independent cross-platform service. Disqus will continue to
innovate and provide the best discussion experience on blogs. Our
company’s entire focus is on increasing the number and quality of your
comments and that will never change.
I firmly believe that most innovation comes from companies that are fighting for their survival and new customers without a safety net. And that certainly describes Disqus. With many of the benefits of Intense Debate and Disqus coming to WordPress' proprietary comment system, it may be harder to attract bloggers on WordPress to a third party comment service and that's unfortunate for the entire market. But there are a lot of blogs out there that aren't on WordPress and new innovative blogging platforms like Tumblr, Posterous, and Soup.io keep coming to market.
So this is not a game over moment in my opinion. But it is very much a game changing moment. Third party comment services have been validated and some of the features they offer are going to become "must haves". And that's a very good thing for everyone.
The majority of bloggers we surveyed currently have advertising on
their blogs. Among those with advertising, the mean annual investment
in their blog is $1,800, but it’s paying off. The mean annual revenue
is $6,000 with $75K+ in revenue for those with 100,000 or more unique
visitors per month.
The $6,000 a year I can believe. The $75,000 figure is harder to
swallow, especially with only 100,000 visitors a month. But
directionally there is no doubt that blogs are bringing in more cash.
I'm a bit mystified at that number too. I've had about 150k visitors per month for several years now. My audience is stable but flat. I get about 100k visitors per month on my website and another 50k via my feed. At best, this blog brings in about $30k per year, all of which I give to charity.
And I use two of the better monetization services out there for bloggers, Federated Media and FeedBurner. I used to use adsense but I took it off this blog (except for default).
I don't doubt that there are bloggers with similar sized audiences who do make $75k per year because they work it a lot harder than I do, but I also think that Technorati's survey results are wrong.
The reason I am writing about this is that there's a big difference between $30k per year which is very hard to make a living on no matter where you live and $75k per year which could replace a full-time job in many parts of the country.
Getting to 150k visitors per month and keeping them is not easy, but there are hundreds and possibly thousands of bloggers who do that these days. It would be wonderful if blogging could cover their nut and make them self sufficient.
I just don't think we are there yet. We should be and we will be. But not yet.
A couple weeks ago, the reporter, Claire Cain Miller, sent us an email saying she'd recently joined the Times (from Forbes) and had the VC/startup beat and that she was in NYC for a while before heading to the west coast. She wanted to come by and meet us. We thought that was a good idea and invited her in.
By the time we had gotten around to finding a time, Claire had decided a "profile" of our firm would be interesting. That made me and Brad a bit nervous. The last thing we needed was a puff piece saying we were the best VC out there or something. I've had that story written before and when it turned out not to be true, I've had it rubbed in my face.
So we talked to Claire and emphasized that we wanted to talk about how we do our work rather than our place in the VC pecking order. She agreed. We invited her to attend our monday meeting (everything we said was off the record) and she spent an hour or more one on one with each of the three of us (me, Brad, and Albert). She apparently talked to Rob Kalin who gives me more credit for Etsy's tagline than I deserve. And I saw Claire at the web 2.0 conference where I delivered a keynote last week.
I like the result very much. I think she got what we are trying to do and it's clearly very complimentary. Since there doesn't appear to be a comment thread on the NYT article, please feel free to tell us what you thought here.
Tom Brokaw asked Hank Paulson on Meet The Press (I microblogged it here) what rules should be put in place for the splurge (that's my new favorite term for the wall street bailout). Hank was good at making the point that we need to act now, but he really punted on the rules that should be put in place. He acknowledged that rules and reforms are needed, but he wanted to stay on message and he did a good job of that.
Fortunately my friend Tom Evslin has come up with a set of rules for brokerages/banks/insurance companies that want to avail themselves of splurge-related bailouts. If, for some reason, you don't want to click thru to Tom's post, here they are:
Rule #1: Cut salaries now
Part of the bailout bill ought to be that any
organization which proffers securities for government purchase must
agree not to pay any employee or contactor more than $1 million per
year for the next four years. No cheating with trips to events on the
corporate jet or other perks with draconian penalties TO THE RECIPIENT
Rule #2: No new golden parachutes
Some executives have contracts which entitle them to
huge golden parachutes – especially if their pay is cut. These need to
Rule #3: End payment on old golden parachutes
Payments on existing golden parachutes should be stopped.
Rule #4: No dividends for a year
This seems harsh to us shareholders who may have bank
securities in our portfolio, but it's not. Clearly an organization
which is being bailed out needs to conserve cash to survive.
I like these rules. I bet you all have ideas for more. Please leave them in Tom's comment thread if you can.
I've been uncomfortable with the "no shorting" rules that the gov't put in place thursday night. I couldn't really articulate my discomfort with them, but my buddies Howard and Roger have done it for me.
I will have to adapt just like everyone else, but my initial feeling is
‘FUCK IT’, the market just put me out of business for a while. Our
leaders have spent the last few months printing money, and catering to
the thieves in the financial industry, while punishing the group of
investors whose job it is to shed early light on areas of financial
crimes. It’s sickening, but I am not getting into that conversation or
mess. It’s good for traffic, but bad for my bottom line and YOURS.
It is very easy to dislike shorts. They profit if things go badly, and
we in this country are an optimistic lot. It seems practically
un-American to be shorting stocks, profiting at someone else's expense.
The problem is, both ordinary citizens and those in Washington simply
don't get it. Short-sellers keep companies honest. How many recent
examples have we seen of companies being economical with the truth in
order to prop up their stock prices and fatten the wallets of those in
the executive suite (see FNM, FRE and AIG, for starters)? It is the
shorts who sniff this out and make other investors aware in order that
they can re-calibrate their expectations, and to perhaps sell before it
is too late. This is how Enron was busted, with one of the catalysts
being that now-famous conference call when Jeff Skilling went
stark-raving mad on one of the Managing Partners at Highfields Capital
who had factually cornered him.
It's clear that in the past month or two we've seen the short sellers taking on the brokerage firms here in the US the way that Soros took on the British Pound in 1992. Like Soros, the short sellers saw weakness and pounced on it. And they weren't going to stop until they'd taken every shot that looked like a good bet.
The gov't put an end to that trade with the ban on short selling and probably saved Morgan Stanley and possibly even Goldman Sachs from having to find a white knight to save them.
But was that a good idea? I have my doubts. As Roger points out, short sellers are using their capital to make a point, to show that something is a house of cards and it will fall if you blow hard enough on it. And they get paid handsomely to do that. As Howard points out, the brokerage firms have survived to live another day and the short sellers have been told to take their ball and go home.
We've shot the messenger who showed us that the brokers were playing too dangerous a game with too much leverage, a mismatch in duration between their assets and their liabilities, and balance sheets that are impossible to evaluate. So at a minimum, we'd better force the surviving brokers to fix those problems quickly with the threat that we are going to let the shorts back at them soon. Without a forcing function, nothing happens. And in this market, the shorts were the forcing function because our gov't wasn't paying attention.
I wrote a post a week or two ago where I talked about the increasing importance of feeds as an interface to social media and media and information in general. I don't really mean "rss feeds" when I say feeds, although reading this blog's feed in google reader certainly is right in the sweet spot of what I am talking about. I mean the "river of content in reverse chronological order" when I say feeds in this post and elsewhere.
I ended that post with the following:
So feeds are a powerful way for users to navigate the web and get to
the information they need. I expect them to get more powerful over time
as more users adopt them...
But think about the Facebook generation. My kids are growing up with
the news feed as their start page. Not Yahoo's portal approach and NOT
google's search box approach. In time, its entirely possible that feeds
will be more powerful than search.
So to all the people that say social nets can't be monetized, just
look hard at the feed and think of the possibilities. There's money in
them thar hills.
So it's time to start allowing marketers into these feeds on a highly targeted/highly relevant basis. FeedBurner did that with this blog's feed and many other feeds with ok results a few years back. But honestly, the ads were not targeted enough or relevant enough to work really well. Facebook has probably done the most of anyone to allow marketers entry into the feed. Here's a screenshot of facebook news feed this morning. You can see the sponsored feed entry for the vista business network in there at the bottom.
And I could see the McCain or Obama campaign wanting to solicit contributions in this twitter search feed
But I don't think the vista business network, the local plumber, or the McCain campaign wants to buy feed-based advertising from hundreds of web services. They want to be able to buy these campaigns the way they buy search, either via a large search agency, a web service like Clickable, or directly in a self serve interface like adwords.
So what we need to happen is the web services that render these feeds for us; google reader, netvibes, friendfeed, twitter, outside.in, facebook, etc, etc need to provide api accesss to these feeds to services that will serve marketers who want to get their messages targeted into them.
The targeting is the key and I am not entirely clear how this should work. In the case of search driven feeds, it should clearly be keyword based. In the case of geo feeds like outside.in, it should be zip code or neighborhood based. In the case of things like facebook or google reader, I think the targeting is more likely to be behavioral.
I hope (and pray) that this time around we don't end up with one dominant provider of ad inventory (like adwords has become in keyword based cpc text ads). I hope that the services that provide the feeds to the audience will be able to work with a host of services that provide the feed targeting and execution to the marketers. In effect, an open exchange based on apis and data sharing.
My firm Union Square Ventures thinks that this is one of the big emerging opportunities in online advertising and we are looking for a company to back in this area. If you are working on it, please email me and we'll have a conversation (click on the contact link on the upper right).