Archive for December, 2007

Does audience size matter?

Monday, December 31st, 2007

I have been thinking about this post from Robert Scoble since I read it yesterday. (Go read it now.) In the post, Scoble makes three pretty strong points:

First,

“In the past few years I’ve had some success building audiences, but I found that that’s not really what’s important. It’s not what advertisers REALLY care about.”

He goes on to ask “What do they really care about?” and answers his own question by saying that advertisers care about content: that you get content that no one else does, that it causes conversations to happen, that your content gets noticed in the niche that you’re covering, and that it gets the most authoritative links back to it.

His second point:

“It’s not the size of your audience that matters. It’s WHO is in the audience that matters.”

And his third point:

“I never talk…about how large my audience will be. No, instead, we’re talking about who we want on the show for the first week. How can we make the quality better? Who is out there who is doing innovative stuff that we can learn from?…How can we take our art further? How come bloggers never obsess about THAT?”

There is a lot going on in this article, but first and foremost I have to disagree that advertisers don’t care about audience size. All you have to do is look at how advertising is sold online to know that they do, in fact, care very much about audience size. CPM (cost per thousand) is the standard measurement for online media sales. Just check out the advertising pages for CNET or PCMag.com  or CMP (all technology publishing companies). What is the first statistic that’s listed? Unique visitors per month. Second statistic? Unique page views per month.

Having worked for both Ziff Davis and IDG, two of the biggest technology publishers in the world, I know that when technology marketers are buying online advertising packages, the easiest question to ask – and the first one out of their mouths – is size of audience. They always want to know traffic stats and reach. In that market, advertisers do care about how big the audience is. And I think that this is only magnified in the consumer markets (with audiences like the one that Perez Hilton reaches), where there is no way to measure audience except by size.

And (this is still hard for me to swallow even though I’ve believed it for a long time), most advertisers do NOT care about how good the content is. I am just being honest here. Most technology marketers and advertisers do not pay attention to the content, or know how good or not good it is in and of itself. Instead, they measure content “goodness” quantitatively – by how big the audience is that is reading the content, and by who that audience is.

Which leads me to the part of Scoble’s article in which he was dead on accurate – advertisers do care about how targeted the audience is, WHO is in the audience. I believe that this is actually the statistic that matters the most to online advertisers.

Take another look at those advertising pages that I linked to earlier. There are some pretty strong arguments made by the publications that they have the specific audiences that advertisers are looking for. I believe that this trend of advertisers trying to reach the specific individual – with the right title, job function, industry and size of company – instead of reaching just a whole lot of people and hoping that the message has an impact, will continue. This desire to reach the RIGHT audience is why new models of online advertising are emerging, such as lead generation, in which a company will pay $100 PER LEAD as long as they are targeting the right person with their message. Scoble is reaching the audience that his advertisers want to reach – so the size of his audience isn’t as important. And this is why sites like Perez Hilton, which have to rely on audience size (because they are reaching a disparate consumer market) are going to have a hard time selling advertising by any measurement except audience size.

As far as content is concerned, I have already made the point that I don’t believe that advertisers care as much about quality content as Scoble claims that they do. I wish that they did, but I’ve been in this industry long enough to realize that they really just don’t. They like the latest and greatest thing – because it’s good for their brand to be associated with that innovative content – but advertisers aren’t content specialists and just really don’t have a good understanding of quality content.

HOWEVER – and this is a really big however – I think that Scoble is writing from the perspective of a content producer, not an advertiser. And his point is RIGHT ON that content producers MUST CARE MORE about their content than their audience size. Because without good, innovative, cutting-edge content, content producers will never draw the type of audience that they need to get advertisers. Scoble says that the right question is “how can we take our art further?” And I agree that is the right question for a content producer.

Holidays and family history

Friday, December 28th, 2007

I’ve spent much of the last week traveling to Binghamton, spending time with my friends and family celebrating Christmas. It was a really nice break and I enjoyed all of it – the food, the parties, the presents – with the exception of missing my brother and Michele (who spent Christmas in Switzerland this year) and my cousin Jeff and his fiance (who were in Ohio).

Each year, it seems like there are a few truly memorable gifts that are given or received. Last year, Chris and I made “Fix-it-Club” hats for my dad, Carol & DJ, as part of the “club” that was founded based around DJ’s propensity to break things, and my dad’s skill at fixing them. And last year, Michele gave all the women in my family bracelets in support of Breast Cancer Research, in memory of my grandma – it was our first Christmas without her, and the first Christmas Eve that we celebrated in my lifetime that wasn’t at her house.

Vintage Christmas Postcard

This year, three gifts top my list. Chris gave me two of them – a flute, which I mentioned to him in passing that I would like to start playing again; and tickets to see the Nutcracker in Boston. We went to the show last night, and it was fun and magical, just like it is every time I see it. If you live in Boston, go next year! It is worth it.

The other gift was something that I got from my Aunt Mary, and is incredibly special. The back story is that when my grandma was alive, she used to have a collection of about 50-100 old postcards that she would pull out from time to time to show people. My grandma had a ton of information bits like this – she would clip articles from the newspaper or find old photos and she would keep them in a drawer in her living room and would show us various things when we came to visit. She also would write all over these pieces of paper in her cursive scrawl, I think to try to make sure that she remembered the names of the people in the photos for when she was telling the stories about them.

Vintage Thanksgiving Postcard

So for Christmas, my Aunt Mary framed this collection of holiday postcards and gave a bunch to all the people in my family. SO COOL! I love these things. She knew that I would love them so she gave me six – I’m still trying to decide how best to display them. My favorite three are pictured in this post.

Vintage Valentine's Day Postcard

The coolest thing about the postcards, though, is that you can still read the backs of them. All of these were sent to someone (an ancestor of mine, possibly?) named Miss Frances Jennings from Candor, N.Y. That’s all that can be found in the address line – I guess you didn’t need too much information to get the postcards to the right house back in 1909, when sending a postcard cost only 1 cent.

Thanks to the Internet, I was able to do a bit of research on the people who sent and received the postcards. This is all speculative, because I can’t be sure that any of the people in the postcards are 100% definitely the people who I found on the Internet, but it’s interesting either way!

Back of Christmas postcard

The back of the first postcard (pictured above) provides a huge hint – which is that J. Herbert Jennings, Jr. was somehow associated with Miss Frances Jennings (likely her father). And I managed to find out some information about a J.H. Jennings Sr., namely that he was the local druggist at Candor Corners in 189? (random fact: at some point, the store burned down). It appears that he may have also been the town supervisor, the chief office in town, from 1894-1896. He married Matie Wells on December 21, 1871, in Oneonta, N.Y. I think that this is the father of J.H. Jennings, Jr. and the grandfather of Frances Jennings.

Some sad news for the Jennings family on September 29, 1904, when Mary Augusta Wells (the proper name of Matie?), wife of J.H. Jennings, passed away. In 1933, it appears that the Jennings were still in business and that both J.H. Jennings Sr. and Jr. were still living in Candor, based on the information in this old phone book.

Thanksgiving postcard back

The postcards were all sent by different people, but at least two of them seem to be from family members in Seattle, Washington – one from Auntie Ric (pictured above) and the other from Cousin Mable. They are postmarked with a stamp from the World’s Fair Seattle 1909, which appears to be the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a fair that was put on to publicize the development of the Pacific Northwest. I have no idea if the relatives were involved in that World’s Fair, but it’s wild to think that they were in Seattle in the early 1900’s when Seattle still looked like this and there were no airliners to take you there from New York:

World's Fair Seattle

One of the most interesting people in the Jennings family line is Eleanor Jennings, whose obituary says that she was born on May 1, 1924, to J.H. Jennings Jr. and Daisy Wales Hunt Jennings. Eleanor graduated from Candor High School in 1941 and in 1944 magna cum laude from William Smith College. She wrote a book about her family and their role in Candor called Echoes from Yesterday. (I am trying to get a copy.) She also taught and travelled extensively, and published both prose and poetry. She had a half sister named Frances Mary Jennings, who I believe is the Frances from the postcards.

There was also an Eleanor Jennings from Candor, N.Y., who served as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1928, but this must have been a different Eleanor – maybe another family member? This is still amazing to me, however, as the first woman didn’t get elected to the Senate until 1932. (The first woman went to the Republican National Convention as a delegate in 1900.)

I realize that this is just a lot of rambling about the possible history of some people that may or may not be my ancestors, but it’s very cool how much of the past the Internet has opened to us now that many old documents have been scanned and indexed. I hope that one day all of the books and documents that we have stored in warehouses and libraries are archived digitally.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

5 reasons that TuneCore has a place in the digital music revolution

Friday, December 21st, 2007

I first heard about TuneCore from my friend Mary when we were on a trip together in Baltimore. She is currently working on producing her first album, and I was picking her brain about digital distribution and manufacturing options for Cara Austin. Because of that conversation, I decided to use TuneCore to distribute Send Meto iTunes, Amazon and Rhapsody.

TuneCore logoSo far, the process has been seamless and I think that TuneCore will emerge as one of the Web sites that musicians can’t live without as the music industry continues to evolve and more and more control is in the hands of the artists. Why? Here are five reasons:

1) It’s a piece of cake to use. I have written step-by-step instructions for using a Web site application before, and although it seems like that type of writing would be easy, it is incredibly difficult to make sure that you remember every step and it’s also tricky to keep the language simple enough that it stays clear. Add on top of that the fact that it’s practically impossible to make step-by-step instructions not-boring. But TuneCore has done it all, and their FAQ may be the best one that I have ever read. It’s thatgood and helpful. Uploading music to the site was also really simple, and they are very clear about exactly how long it will take for the music to debut on the various services. (January 26, 2008 – Stay tuned!) I’m also in the process of manufacturing some CDs with them – I’ll let you know how that goes when the process is complete.

2) They give artists all the money they make. There are a number of other services that help musicians get their digital tunes up on iTunes (CDBabycomes to mind), but they all take a cut. Sometimes a small cut (CDBaby takes 9%), but TuneCore takes 0%. Nothing. They just charge a fee to process the stuff up front – $0.99 per track, $0.99 per store per album, and $19.98 per album per year for storage and maintenance. All the money that the songs earn goes to the artists. Plus, it’s really smart that they are charging $19.98 PER YEAR because that creates a recurring revenue stream that will only grow as more musicians sign up and use the service.

3) TuneCore “gets” musicians. I am not sure if the founders and people who work there are musicians, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are. Here’s a paragraph from their philosophy that reminds me of the movie School of Rock, the part where Jack Black’s character is talking about how rock music is really all about fighting “The Man.”

“Why should you have to give up money from each and every sale of your music? Why should you have to enter into exclusive deals and sign strangling contracts? Why should you have to give up your rights and the ownership of your own music to some other company just to gain access to music stores? TuneCore changes all that.”

4) They keep rolling out new features. Since I first looked into TuneCore, they’ve released a service that allows artists to create a branded Web page for their album (these can be seen in the TuneCore directory), the ability to upload music videos to iTunes, and cool metrics, like the ones shown below. They are also working on technology to offer daily tracking of how many songs are sold through the U.S. iTunes service, a feature that is bound to be a huge hit with musicians who are trying to figure out ways to get people to listen to their music and who I bet will easily become obsessed with monitoring the sales.

TuneCore Screenshot

5) Success stories and big-name artists. TuneCore has been able to sign up some big-name artists – Jay-Z and Public Enemy – to use the service, and it’s generated some really good publicity for them. I expect this will continue. They also have a success story that’s really compelling, an artist named Eric Hutchinson who rocketed to fame after he was mentioned by celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. This type of rags-to-riches story is going to be really attractive to musicians who are trying to make it, and should only help to increase the popularity of the service.

Google does care about your privacy. Really. There are videos to prove it.

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Just saw this item about a new video series that helps Google users who are concerned about their privacy. “The Google Privacy Channel” on YouTube offer various hints about things like:

and my favorite:

  • The Google bloopers reel, which shows the usually-smart and frequently-rich Googlers making mistakes and looking occasionally awkward. (see below)

The Google privacy debate is ongoing, but these videos are timely considering recent objections and concerns about new social networking features that are being added to Google Reader, Gmail and Google Chat.

Incidentally, the most popular videos (according to the number of people who have viewed them so far) are about the following topics:

  1. Unsubscribing your phone number (2,089)
  2. Using Picasa (1,892)
  3. Removing images from Street View (661)
  4. Controlling your history settings (400)
  5. Managing your Google calendar’s share settings (322)

Here’s that Google blooper’s video for your viewing pleasure:

Googling yourself

Monday, December 17th, 2007

The practice is known by many names, including egosurfing, ego searching, vanity searching or Googling yourself – but whatever you call it, it’s the practice of looking up your name on a search engine to see what results come up. This week, Pew Internet & American Life Project released information that shows that 47% of Internet users have egosurfed. Five years ago, the number was a mere 22%. According to the report, only 3% of respondents regularly check on their online presence; 74% have done the search only once or twice.

Googling Melissa Chang

If you are part of the 53% of surfers who haven’t checked out your online identity, do it today. And for the 97% of you who don’t regularly check your online identity, set up a system to keep regular trackof how your name – your personal brand – is being represented online. Today it is possible to get a job interview, lose a friend, get a date or get rejected for a mortgage soley based on information that other people can find out about you online. This isn’t about your personal vanity – it’s about managing one of your most important assets (your name) in a responsible manner.

Google is a publishing company

Friday, December 14th, 2007

After years of claiming that it most definitely is not a publishing company, yesterday Google announced that it is going to be a publishing company after all. 

Google logoThe company is launching a new tool called “Knol” (in private beta). With it, Google’s “goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it,” said Udi Manber, Google’s VP of Engineering in a blog post about the new project. From all accounts, Knol will eventually work something like Wikipedia. Google will provide a technology platform that will allow authors to contribute content. If the author decides to make some money on the entry, Google will split the advertising revenue.

Google didn’t come right out and say that it’s becoming a publishing company; in fact, it seems to be taking pains to try to prove that it isn’t one. Manber was careful to include this bit in his post:

“Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors. We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line. Anyone will be free to write.”

Does Google think that this means that they aren’t becoming a publisher? They aren’t convincing me.

The business model with publishing companies is that they have a group of writers (staff writers or freelance writers, it doesn’t really matter) who write content for the publishers. The publishers then have the ability to sell advertising around that content to monetize it, and often pay the writers for their efforts. Google may argue that it isn’t writing the content, and that it is leaving ownership of the content with the authors, but Google is in essence paying writers to contribute content to a giant database of information – that Google will own. And monetize. And Google is incentivizing writers by offering a revenue split. This looks like publishing to me. As Duncan Riley from TechCrunch writes, “Google is moving away from simply indexing the worlds content to being a content provider itself.”

Aside from the content/publisher issue, there is also a potentially tricky conflict having to do with Knol content showing up in Google’s “independent” search results. As Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land put it: “Does hosting content turn it into a competitor with other content providers and set up an unfair advantage in gaining traffic that might otherwise flow to them?”

I am not surprised by this move by Google. But I think it’s now time for Google execs to give up their claim that Google is not a publishing company. Claims like these:

June 12, 2006 – Eric Schmidt, Google founder - LA Times article

“It’s better to think of Google as a technology company. Google is run by three computer scientists, and Google is an innovator in technology in our space. We’re in the advertising business — 99% of our revenue is advertising-related. But that doesn’t make us a media company. We don’t do our own content. We get you to someone else’s content faster.” (emphasis mine)

May 15, 2007 – Marissa Mayer, Google VP – at the 41st Annual Carlos Kelly McClatchy Memorial Symposium “Pressing Times: Can Newspapers Survive in the New World of Journalism” at Stanford  

“We’re computer scientists; we’re not journalists. For us, it’s really about partnering with content providers and ultimately finding distribution and monetization channels for them.”

And this article about the same event:

Mayer didn’t add anything more than confirm that Google is not a publishing company, but aggregating, data mining and filtering of information.

Online advertising will double by 2011

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

More statistics on online advertising have been released by eMarketer, these showing that by 2011, Internet advertising expenditures should hit $42 billion. (The forecast appears to have been lowered compared to earlier eMarketer numbers that predicted $44 billion by 2011.) The 2007 total is expected to hit $21.4 billion, meaning online advertising will just about double in four years – not too shabby.

Create your own Simpsons avatar

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

In response to the “What is an avatar?” post, my friend Denise just sent me a link to The Simpsons Movie that lets you create your own avatar. Here are mine and Denise’s:

Simpson's AvatarDenise avatar

Thanks Jason!

What is an avatar?

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

I have explained Second Life to a number of people who have heard of the site, but don’t know exactly what it is all about. Without exception, they have two reactions. First, they are shocked to find out that people are spending real world currency to buy things in a virtual world, and second, they want to know what an avatar is.

AvatarAn avatar is a character that is used online to represent a person. In Second Life, computer games and other virtual worlds, the avatar is usually a 3D representation – but an avatar could be a 2D image, an icon or any symbol that is representative of a person.

It’s just a matter of time before the term “avatar” becomes mainstream. Second Life and other virtual worlds are continuing to gain audiences (a quick check of the SL site shows that it has 11,377,825 uniquely named avatars or “residents”). This week, a Massachusetts congressman‘s avatar addressed a conference on global warming in Bali via Second Life. In October, the popular TV show The Office had an episode that featured Second Life and showed some of the characters’ avatars.

I don’t frequent any of the virtual worlds, so I just checked to see if I could find a site where I could create an avatar of myself for this post, and I came across Meez – I used the site to create the avatar that you see pictured here. Not an exact representation, but it was fun to put together anyway.

If you want to find out more about 3D avatars, this page on the Second Life site will be helpful.

My grandma's vote for innovation of the year

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

UPS logoFor the past seven years, The New York Times Magazine has dedicated its December edition to “The Year in Ideas.” And this year, an idea won a place on the list that could have been invented by my Grandma Reyen.

Apparently, UPS has created some new software that maps routes for its drivers in order to eliminate left-hand turns from their delivery routes. From the article

“Last year, according to Heather Robinson, a U.P.S. spokeswoman, the software helped the company shave 28.5 million miles off its delivery routes, which has resulted in savings of roughly three million gallons of gas and has reduced CO2 emissions by 31,000 metric tons.”

This would have been my grandma’s favorite software EVER – she used to take elaborate measures to avoid particularly hairy left-hand turns.