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Two weeks ago The Sun, the biggest selling newspaper in the UK, launched MySun, an interactive service will fell far short of the capturing the potential of social media.

Before I criticize MySun let me congratulate The Sun for this initiative. I can’t understand why other publications are not experimenting with social media. It is becoming apparent that Internet users are expecting much greater participation that, I believe, is the gist behind Web 2.0. Publications need to move away from a pure editorial model.

I think social media is particularly relevant for niche publications, specialist magazines, which have a strong voice (and brand) on topics that are the passion of a select few. Surely, these select few would appreciate being brought together and would have a lot of stories, insights and information to contribute.

Back to MySun. I tried to login before going on holiday but couldn’t because it was down. Today it’s taken me over 15min to register largely due to a very slow email validation process. So far so bad.

Once logged on I didn’t find any of the features that define social networks. I my profile is buried a few clicks away. That means my home page is really not my home page; it’s The Sun’s. “My” page looks essentially like something Yahoo has been offering for a decade: a personalized news page – except that all the news comes from The Sun. The other thing I see on “my” home pages are discussion. Err, these are forums, again, old stuff.

The strangest thing is that I couldn’t see anybody else. I felt all alone. There is no networking here. I don’t know who else is registered. There is no search. A “Take me to” function first gave me a 404 (dead link) and on a second try took me to a Sun’s columnist blog which was very unpersonal.

I couldn’t see any place on “my” home page for my friends. I can’t upload any content though I could blog (to who? who is looking?). The Sun doesn’t even invite me to send scoops or stories the way CNN does with i-report.

So, overall, MySun is a disappointment. It is just a personalized news page, something I have been able to get from Yahoo, Netscape, AOL, Google… hell loads of places, with the enormous disadvantage that all the news I get comes only from The Sun. They have failed to attempt to create a sense of community and shunned any and all content I may have wished to contribute to (and in the process enrich) the newspaper.

Prediction: If MySun is to last, it will need to undergo major changes that embrace social media.

tags: media social networks Sun

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The Wall Street Journal (behind their pay wall) reported today on Nielsen/NetRatings figures showing a decline in the number of U.S. visitors at MySpace (4% and Facebook (12%).

The article says it might be due to excessive spam, privacy fears or just a seasonal fluctutation (last September a similar drop was recorded).

I believe all that. It’s too early to call the beginning of the decline of MySpace. But, I think it will come sooner rather than later.

Prediction: Over the next year we will see significant growth in specialist/niche social networks at a cost to the giant social networks. We are going to see birds of a feather flocking together. <=link>

tag: MySpace Facebook

The last 4 months since returning from my first expedition into SecondLife in has seen a flurry of activity in that virtual world with big brands like American Apparel, Starwood Hotels, Reuters, Nissan, IBM, Universal, PA Consulting and artists like Duran Duran and Suzanne Vega creating a in-world presence. This week the first pure SecondLife company, Crayon, announced their launch.

For regular information about SecondLife, I recommend you read Giff’s blog.

tags: virtual worlds SecondLife social networks metaverse

In August I predicted that YouTube would be roasted by Christmas.

So, I read the news that Google acquired YouTube for $1.6b while chewing on some humble pie. .

So what happened? Where did I go wrong?

Since writing that post I felt pretty confident with the news flow and additional comments from informed people like the illustrious (and boisterous) Mark Cuban who said it would be moronic to buy YouTube..

I will stick to my analyses of YouTube’s situation but admit that I failed to see one, rather intricate, way out.

I overlooked the Google Distortion Field. Today Google has a 100 strong legal team who are masters in copyright fights. Tactically, by owning YouTube’s eyeballs they are further consolidating their leadership of the paid link advertisement market. They are protecting their money-making franchise from Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL. They alone could buy YouTube and shoulder the implications.

Furthermore, what really brought a smile to my face was their cunning plan to bring some media companies into the deal. It appears that the morning of the day that YouTube were going to sell to Google, they offered Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony BMG (and maybe others we don’t know about) the opportunity to invest in YouTube. Wow. In one move YouTube (and Google) rewarded these media companies for not suing them to date with an estimated $50m windfall and reduced their legal liability going forward.

Kudos to Chen and Hurley!

tags: YouTube, Google, video

Last night I was reminded of my conviction that any business model build around mobile is doomed and that advertisers should ignore this medium for the time being.

Last night I was at PaidContent’s successful LDN ContentNext Mixer networking event that had over 350 attendants.

I talked to a number of mobile start-ups everybody I talked was in mobile for some reason). All had good ideas, none where getting traction. Many were desperately trying to find a work around the network operators.

Think about the innovation you’ve seen in the Internet since 1995 (the year Amazon launched and Netscape IPOed). Think of how you use the computer today compared to back then; of all the innovative services that have been launched; about the revolution we have experienced in the way we communicate, share content, find information. To name a few there is: Amazon, Hotmail, online news, eBay, Wikipedia, Yahoo, MySpace, YouTube, Google, Expedia, online banking, Napster, BitTorrent, digg, SecondLife, blogs, email, instant messaging, Skype…

Now think of the innovation you’ve seen in mobiles since 1985 (when mobiles began to be widely available) – and note they had over 10 years head start. Think of how you used your mobile phone then and now : uhh… you probably still use it to make and receive calls and text messages. Okay, to be complete there is a 1% or less sliver of mobile users who are Blackberry users; or who send picture messages, make video calls or watch TV. But, to drive the point home, these services were launched in the last two years or so.

So what happened to all the mobile entrepreneurs? Why haven’t we seen innovation on mobile phones as we say on PCs. The entrepreneurs were snuffed (1). Because they control the network the mobile operators figured they ought to make all the profit from any business using their infrastructure and totally control (own) the user experience (2). I know of three mobile-based start-ups, by friends of mine, all with reasonably good ideas, that fatally partnered with mobile network operators. The exception was – there is always an exception the defines the rule: ringtones.

Mobile network operators were (and are) too greedy. The only entrepreneurial mobile environment is iMode in Japan where DoCoMo charges a lowly 9% commission on sales.

And that’s my point. The only way a mobile-based business can succeed is to avoid, at all peril, the mobile network operators.

Prediction: Until there is widespread WiFi and 3G access to the Internet via mobile phones (in other words, mobile-based business can reach consumers by going around network operators portals) there will be limited opportunities to establish profitable mobile-based businesses. Established companies should steer clear until then.

Observations

(1) The death of innovation in a closed network environment should serve as a warning to US regulators being lobbied by US operators trying to create a two-tiered Internet.

(2) Another, technical reason, is that mobile phones didn’t have a standard operating platform equivalent to Windows and HTML – until the recent arrival of Java enabled phones. However, for years Nokia represented over 60% of the handset market which is big enough a market. So, though the technical conditions for innovation of services on mobile phones was not ideal, it was not unsurmountable.

tags: mobile

Why don’t broadcasters simply tell when the third series of Lost will start again in the UK?

Tonight, at the fifth Beers & Innovator get together, I met with Paul Pod, one of the founders of TIOTI (Tape It Off The Internet). The idea behind TIOTI is to help people find the programs they want to watch.

Boy, do I need that! I just can’t understand why broadcasters don’t let viewers subscribe to an email service to alert hem when they favourite programs will air. Yep, just an email newsletter. Of course, if you want something more complex I could propose SMS alerts, synchronization with my calendar software fan groups, recommendation engines, RSS feeds, etc.. But just a good old simple email newsletter would do.

Annoyingly, I have been forced to become a Radio Times reader to avoid missing the new season of Lost, Desperate Housewives, Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm and 24. I am very frustrated for having missed the opening episode of Extras and Bremner, Bird and Fortune.

I embraced TIOTI’s proposition as soon as Paul began explaining it to me because it solves my need to find the ongoing episodes of the series I’m hooked on.

TIOTI is far more complicated than my email newsletter idea (it has BitTorrent feeds and more) so broadcasters still have time to react. And, react they must because they run the risk of losing my eyeballs to content that I download into my PC and pump into my plasma screen begging the question ‘can they afford to bleed audience like that?’

tags: TV television user centric

The term Web 2.0 (and, worse, the “2.0” suffix) has gained widespread usage this year. I think it is safe to say that 2.0 is the new .com. But what does it mean?

The term has been used and overused to the point that it vaguely means “something new” as in “AOL is so Web 1.0, MySpace is Web 2.0.”

Tim O’Reilly claims he first coined the term in 2004 and has rather opaquely defined it.

I have been looking for more succinct in response to the queries of my clients and friends. I have now found two answers that satisfy me. [NB: As with anything Internet-related, it has three facets: a creative one, a technical one and a business (strategy) one. Being a fee paying cardholder of the strategist union; I will only speak for my lot.]

I favour two very similar definitions of what Web 2.0 are from a business perspective:

1. A site where user actions increases the value of the service. (I lost the source)

2. Dotcom (Web 1.0) was about ‘taking’. Web 2.0 is about ‘giving’. (thanks Hugh MacLeod)

So, yes, Web 2.0 is something radical. Traditionally companies offered consumers a carefully vetted and edited list of things. Web 1.0 preserved this approach. Web 2.0 let’s the user have more control. Everything you bought was selected by retailers; now you have eBay. All the news you read was vetted by editors; now you have digg. All the programmes you used to watch were picked by channel controllers; now you have YouTube.

Companies should ask themselves how they can open up to consumers. Let them participate. Surely, there is no better way to gain the customer insight than to listen to them. In other words, companies should experiment with being user-centric to the extreme.

tags: web20 user centric

Today ITV announced that they are building a broadband portal to replace ITV.com. As far as I know, they are the only European broadcaster doing so. Why?

ITV are following on the lead of American broadcasters all of whom, for the start of the Fall TV season, have launched broadband portals offering viewers rich video experiences. ABC was the first to launch with a pilot in March and for the Fall has succeeded in selling over $2.5m per quarter worth of ads on for its broadband portal this season. NBC, Fox and CBS have their own services.

It is a necessary move for broadcasters. Their “sofa audience”, the people that watch traditional TV, is dwindling. To make matters worse, it is the most sought after segments – the teens, young adults and affluent middle-aged – that are swapping the sofa for the computer.

So, to regain these valuable eyeballs broadcasters need to develop compelling broadband sites. Key features include full screen viewing, simulcast (watch it on the PC if a family member has hijacked the TV); catch-up (if you missed this week’s episode on TV you can still catch it online); show extras (eg, scenes cut-out, interviews with key cast members) and archive both for shows and advertisements. It is not a trivial exercise. The video should be surrounded by related content (eg, other video, articles); invitation for the viewer to participate (eg, join a forum) and recommendations (eg, “you should also watch this”). More advanced broadcasters might want to offer personalization options such as letting users create (and share) their own playlist.

Building such portals requires 3 to 9 months of planning and development depending on the broadcasters technical infrastructure (I know, I am working on one such project at this time)..

There is a business case though, admittedly, it still has to be proven. Broadcasters can generate incremental revenues.

1. Selling advertisement during the playback of simulcast, catch-up, extras and archived content.

2. Selling more intricate advertisement packages (eg, take-overs) and sponsor dedicated sub-sites.

3. Extending their show’s franchises (and advertisement opportunities) by offering spin-off webisodes. NBC, for example has created The Accountants as a spin-off of the highly successful US version of The Office.

4. Inviting users to participate, to contribute their own content and, in the process, generating more traffic to the portal.

There is also the potential to sell subscriptions for specific services (eg, archives). However, the general wisdom at this time is that it’s better to maximize the number of viewers with advertisement-paid content than to impose a subscription fee and risk low take-up.

When I did a quick check of the online offering of the major broadcasters in France, Germany, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK all I found were traditional, text rich websites that inelegantly played video extracts on a pop-up window.

I don’t know why European broadcasters haven’t begun to develop their broadband offerings. After all, the downward TV viewing trends are common across Europe and broadband subscriptions are becoming widespread and the business case is there (to be tested).

Prediction: In the next 18 months three to four leading European broadcasters will launch broadband portals.

tags: TV broadband television

Companies who reject social networks in the belief that they are for teenagers should rethink their positions.

MySpace today disclosed that their demographic is skewed towards the over 35s.

Social networks are emerging thick and fast, targeting all demographics and interest groups.

I bet that for whatever segment a company wishes to target, there is a dedicated social network out-there and a large contingent of the target segment in the generic social networks like MySpace, Faces and Vox.

 

tags: social networks MySpace

Yesterday I was asked to make a presentation about social networks to a direct marketing agency. The topic was “How to advertise in social networks.”

I drew on the insights from some of my trusted sources of information and ideas. Together, I thought they provided a broad view of how companies should approach this new medium.

“We’re headed for a major shift in online marketing, whereby users become “friends” with brands they relate to” (Tim O’Reill

Social media brings to the table several coveted building blocks that advertisers let slip a long time ago: trust, credibility, authenticity and, often, restraint. [It] thrives because consumers trust other consumers more than advertisers, period. (Consumer Generated Media)

There are three basic approaches to advertise in a social network:

1. Corporate Member Profile: A profile of a company, real or fictional persona. Real world equivalent: Autograph signing by costumed actor

2. The MySpace Group: A group of MySpace members, administered by a leader. Real world equivalent: suggestion box, town hall meeting, focus group, mailing list

3. Branding MySpace: Pieces of code that add background images, icons, video, audio cursor icons, slideshows and color schemes to member profiles. Real world equivalent: Branded giveaways

(e-fluentials, Burson-Marsteller’s blog)

 

All the rules of viral marketing apply to advertising in social networks: success bares no relation to investment; it does not have a timeline (so it calls for a different type of planning); number of views bare little relation to reach or impact (more people hear about it than view it).

The best approach is to:

1. Experiment: Treat it as an innovation exercise expect failure, so “fail faster so you can succeed sooner”.

2. Monitor: Measure how consumers are reacting to the message – there are many tools to measure social media behaviour

3. Respond, Amplify: When things take off be ready to respond, participate and engage in the ensuing conversation; prepare to amplify what’s happening.

(Experience Curve)

 

Finally a tacky quotation: “Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.” (Confucious)

tags: social networks social media advertise