Archive for the ‘Content’ Category

BusinessWeek's for sale, the industry is surprised. I'm not.

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

NOTE: I’ve got some new blogging gigs – primarily for businesses that I’m operating and launching as part of Pure Incubation – and I want to make sure that I’m sharing the content that I’m producing on those blogs here (in case you care!) So when I blog elsewhere, I’m going to include pieces of those posts here and link to the full posts. FYI!

Here’s the article…

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Apparently the media industry is “stunned” that BusinessWeek is for sale. Really? Stunned?

Today’s article in B2B Media Business cites the following:

  • - BusinessWeek lost $85 million in 2008
  • - BusinessWeek has already lost $20 million in 2009
  • - BW’s ad pages declined 17.2% in 2008
  • - This year, BW’s ad pages have declined 36.8% compared to the same period last year- This year, BW’s ad pages have declined 36.8% compared to the same period last year
  • - BusinessWeek’s online catalogs sellers of viagra and cialis in the usa ad pages have dropped 69% since their high point in 2000
  • - Print ad revenue has fallen 59% in the same time period

BusinessWeek coverWhy are people stunned that McGraw-Hill would want to offload a business unit that is bleeding so severely? I understand that BusinessWeek’s brand is valuable and important, but most companies – including McGraw-Hill – can’t absorb $80 million in losses year after year.

I suppose that the shock and dismay people feel at the loss of well-established print entities shouldn’t surprise me. Just look at the outrage that people felt at the thought of the Boston Globe possibly closing its doors, even though that publication is on track to lose $85 million this year.

Read the full article on the Sauce Technology blog

One problem with Internet publishing

Monday, March 16th, 2009

I am a huge proponent of Internet publishing – obviously. I’ve built an entire business around creating online media sites and supporting publishing companies with software that facilitates and improves the publishing process. But there is a problem with Internet publishing that many people have referenced in the past, but came to light for me last week with a first-hand experience.

left sign pointing rightI was working on an article for The Industry StandardWhen will BlackBerry App World launch? And I found a lot of reports from various media organizations, including Gizmodo, that the App World store was set to launch on March 4. It didn’t. So then I was looking everywhere for the reports that the store launch was delayed, trying to find out what happened to RIM to delay the launch.

But I didn’t find any stories about the App World delays.

So that oddity caused me to send a quick note off to a BlackBerry PR rep to ask her about the March 4 launch date. Her response:

“RIM announced the official name of the application storefront – BlackBerry App World – on March 4th. The company did not set March 4th as a launch date. I did see some articles that mistakenly said the store was announced on the 4th, but that was just the date the official name was released xanax bars (the storefront was actually first announced in fall 2008). BlackBerry App World is on track to launch within the next month.”

I sent the note and heard back from the rep about 1.5 hours later. Easy. But this experience brought home the point that Fred Wilson made on March 4 (ironically) about talking to the source to get a story right. It is so easy to send a quick note to a company or an individual to check on the facts of a story before publishing, but it’s easier to NOT send that note. Trust me – I’m as guilty of this as the next guy. I just happened to notice a discrepancy when I was researching the story; otherwise it’s doubtful that I would have sent that note to the PR rep at all.

This is definitely a problem with online publishing. Not that one publication could make a mistake – that happens in print publishing, too. But that one publication makes a mistake, which is then picked up over, and over, and over again by various online media outlets without anyone ever checking the facts.

The solution to this problem is the readers. It will be up to all of us to determine the reliable publications, and support them by reading the ones that are good, and not the others.

Photo by srslyguy

Prediction markets, the Kindle & the Industry Standard

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Prediction markets are speculative markets that are created for the purpose of making predictions. Basically, a prediction is made and then people bet on whether that prediction is likely or unlikely to take place. According to Wikipedia,

“People who buy low and sell high are rewarded for improving the market prediction, while those who buy high and sell low are punished for degrading the market prediction. Evidence so far suggests that prediction markets are at least as accurate as other institutions predicting the same events with a similar pool of participants.”

The most interesting thing (to me) is that prediction markets have proven to be quite accurate at determining the outcome of future events using the wisdom of crowds. And prediction markets are used in all kinds of industries, from finance to politics to entertainment.

Prediction markets are also used in the tech industry, where a prediction market was launched by The Industry Standard in February 2008. This is where I come in.

I’ve been writing for The Standard for awhile, but today marks the beginning of a new assignment – tackling the Industry Standard’s tech prediction market. I’ll be writing a couple of times a week about The Standard’s prediction market, and various technology predictions that are current on the site.

Amazon KindleMy first article debuts today discussing an upcoming announcement by Amazon. The company has announced an “important” press conference on February 9, but hasn’t released any details about what that press conference will entail, leading to widespread speculation that the company will release version 2 of the Kindle next week. So will Amazon launch Kindle 2.0 next week? The market is currently saying “yes.”

I’d like to invite you to participate in the Industry Standard’s prediction market with me. Come and vote for and against the tech predictions that are up on the site right now. And please comment, send me thoughts and suggestions, and provide your insights about the various predictions that are up on the site. I will always be looking for more ideas and topics for discussion.

Come and cast your vote at The Standard today.

Long live the media brand

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

I just posted my latest article on The Industry StandardWhat The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and CNN are doing wrong.

It has already been well-documented that online media is eating away at print revenue. Take The New York Times for example. According to Scott Karp, from “May 2006 to May 2007, print ad revenue for the News Media Group decline $19.2 million or 14.4%, dwarfing the $2.8 million increase in online ad revenue.”

Broadcast revenue is also on the decline. According to Nielsen Media Research, although National Cable TV and Spanish-Language TV were up slightly, Network TV and Spot TV Markets were down significantly in 2007.

The good news for print and TV is that they’ve moved to the Web. Now they just have to figure out how to do it right.

Print and television brands are some of the most well-known in the world. Just think of the names – The New York Times. CNN. The Washington Post. NBC. It would be difficult to find someone who doesn’t recognize at least one of those companies. And the audiences have followed the brands online. According to the data (see chart, below), many mainstream print and TV outlets have huge – and growing – online audiences.

Compete data for print media sites online

In my opinion, building an audience is the biggest challenge to overcome online. The second is producing content that anyone cares about. So these companies are more than half-way there. If they can just get their business models figured out, they just might have a shot at not only surviving, but thriving.

Five things your business can learn from Disney

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

“How do kids find new music?” is the question that I set out to answer in my article for The Industry Standard this week – “Tweens, teens increasingly turn to MySpace, iTunes, and illegal P2P services for music.” Go have a read if you’re interested in what I found.

In the course of researching and writing that article, I couldn’t get Disney out of my mind. Even though I don’t mention Disney in the article, the entertainment and media giant was there, framing every thought. Disney is the champion of the tween market, not only with its TV programming but also with its music efforts.

Hannah MontanaAt a time when the music industry is faltering, Disney’s success in the music industry is only growing. According to an article on CNET, Walt Disney Records’ music sales grew 60% from 2006 to 2007 due to the “tween and young-teen music craze led by Disney star Miley Cyrus.” This was at a time when music sales were down 17% overall.

And Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana) is joined by other Disney hits in appealing to the tween crowd. Along with 2006’s High School Musical, the boy band group The Jonas Brothers is set to be another huge sensation for Disney.

Disney may have millions of dollars in marketing to back up their successes, but there are a few things that everyone can take away from the company’s success and apply to their own businesses. Here are five things that you can do to be just like Disney:

1. Fake it ’til you make it. When Disney introduces a new potential star to its audience, it makes sure that the nobody looks like a somebody from the first moment they are introduced. The singer is usually introduced in a short-clip music video or concert during a commercial break on the Disney Channel. That video shows a huge crowd of adoring, hip, teenage fans screaming and swooning for the “star.” This crowd is made up of paid and wannabe actors, and the music video is usually shot in a studio. But it looks like the singer is a star, and more importantly people believe the singer is a star, even before it is true.

Jonas Brothers2. Be yourself. Part of the appeal of the Disney stars is that they seem so real. Because of this, they appeal to both tweens and their parents. And to maintain that image in front of so much media scrutiny, it’s likely that the stars are mostly just being themselves. Sincerity is appealing, and operating a business that you believe in and behaving with integrity while operating it will help attract – and keep – customers.

3. Remember that you’re building a brand. While Disney stars may be “being themselves,” they are never outside of the watchful eye of the media, and as such have to behave in a way that will build their brand – always. One little slip up (such as Cyrus’ photo incident with Vanity Fair), might be able to be overcome with an apology. But constant deviations from your brand will leave your customers confused and angry.

High School Musical4. Piggyback on previous success. The Jonas Brothers, Disney’s up-and-coming prospects who you often hear compared to The Beatles (at least by Disney), first toured as the opening act for – Hannah Montana. By piggybacking on the success of one musician, Disney was able to launch the careers of another group that appeals to the same demographic. In the same way, piggyback one business success off of another whenever possible.

5. Let your customers in on the action. One of the biggest reasons that High School Musical was so popular was that it invited everyone in to learn the songs and the dances. Both fans and customers want to be included, so figure out ways to draw your audience in and let them participate every chance you get.

 

Facts and figures about International Domain Names

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

My latest article is now up on The Industry Standard – “Chinese, Arabic and Hindi domain names to go up for sale – finally!” The post discusses the recent domain name news from ICANN, specifically, the announcement that International Domain Names (IDNs) will soon be available in non-Roman languages.

To this point in history, domain names have all been in Roman characters. The reasons for this are explained in the article, so I won’t go into them again here, but I just can’t emphasize enough the impact that this new resolution is going to have on the Internet. Let’s put it this way – if you don’t speak Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Hindi or Arabic, you might want to start learning. English is on the decline, and although it is still the primary language of business, this recent announcement is just continuing to solidify the importance of the rest of the global community on the future of the Internet.

The following are some interesting facts & figures that I came across during my research:

- “The German ccTLD (.de) remains the largest ccTLD in terms of the total base of domain name registrations, with .cn and .uk as the next largest ccTLDs. Quarter over quarter, .de grew 2%, .uk grew 4% and .cn grew 23%. When viewed year over year, .cn’s growth at 199% outpaced both .de (11%) and .uk (16%).” From VeriSign’s Domain Name Industry Brief (pdf)

 Countrywise domain names
Chart from Webhosting.info

- In China, over 80% of the population cannot speak English. – ICANN

- 92% of the world’s population does not speak English. -ICANN 

- By 2050, more people will speak Chinese, Hindi (and its close relative, Urdu) or Arabic as a first language than English. -EurekAlert

- The languages growing the most rapidly are Bengali, Tamil and Malay, which are spoken in various countries in South and Southeast Asia. -EurekAlert

Changing of world's population
Source: EurekAlert

- The IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) is currently testing the new ccTLDs – here is what some of them will look like:

 International Domain Names
From IANA site

I can’t help but get the feeling that the United States’ days are numbered in terms of its dominance of all things Internet.

An argument against The Long Tail

Monday, July 7th, 2008

The Long Tail is a concept that was set forth in 2004 by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, which was then turned into a 2006 book. In short, the idea is that because of the Internet and it’s infinitely wide and Long tail monkeyincredibly low-cost distribution capabilities, the big “hits” of popular culture (be they movies, music, books, etc.) are no longer the only things that will make money. Now, the “misses” will also be money-makers.

But a new article by Anita Elberse just published in the Harvard Business Review called “Should you Invest in The Long Tail” is taking a closer look at the theory and suggesting that businesses really shouldn’t shift their promotional dollars to the long tail – and instead should stick to promoting the winners. She comes to this conclusion after determining that the tail, although long, is very flat and accounting for very few sales, and typically less satisfied consumers.

Anderson replies here.

Elberse responds to Anderson here.

This is a very interesting debate, and one that should be followed by anyone who is involved in marketing or advertising online. Anderson and Elberse have taken a great deal of time looking at data and doing analysis on this concept, but here are some thoughts based on reading the articles.

– Anderson seems to be focusing on the fact that online retailers like Amazon.com will begin selling a lot of items in the long tail. Whether or not it’s true is practically irrelevant for the vast number of online businesses. Most businesses don’t have the reach of Amazon.com and are targeted at a much smaller audience. The people who run those businesses know that 80% of their business comes from the top 20% of their clients and customers – so they will continue to focus their attention – both time and money – on reaching those clients/customers. Now they have Elberse’s data to back them up.

– People buy stuff that other people like. This is why user recommendations (such as those on Yelp or TripAdvisor) are so popular, and why the head of the tail keeps growing in popularity. People like to have a choice, but when their time is limited, they typically will go with the easier choice. And it’s easy to choose something that has been recommended by someone they trust – or an online audience of their peers.

– The long tail does exist and consumers are benefiting from more choice – but the tail isn’t a place that any musician or artist or blog or business wants to be. And may not be a place where money can be made. According to the data collected by Elberse and cited by Anderson, “In music, of the 2.4 million digital tracks sold in 2007 in the US (most of them through iTunes) 24% sold only one copy and 91% sold fewer than 100 copies.” 100 copies sold through iTunes (at $.99 each) isn’t even enough money to buy a new guitar.

Photo by loufi

The multiple personalities of Twitter

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

A couple of months back, I wrote a post about my love/hate relationship with Twitter. In that article, I talked about what I see as being the big downfall of Twitter, which is that it is hard to quickly and easily get people using and understanding it. Twitter is hard to explain, there is no key selling proposition, people sign up and then leave, and the language of Twitter is hard to understand.

People moving quicklyBut now I am starting to grasp what I think is the real reason that it’s so hard to catch onto Twitter – everyone uses it for something different. And because there is no standard way of using Twitter, it’s hard to watch the Twitter stream (the flow of posts to Twitter) and figure out what’s going on and how you should participate. When users sign up, they have to just jump right in and start posting and participating.

The flexibility of Twitter is both its genius and its downfall.

It’s unlikely that anyone sticks with just one way of using Twitter all the time. Most people bounce back and forth between the various ways of using the service. But for me, my Twitter epiphany happened when I picked one primary way of using the service – the way that “fit” me and felt right – and stuck primarily with that. Now, about 6 months and 284 updates into my own use of Twitter, I’m finally starting to hit my Twitter groove.

Here are just a few of the many ways that people use Twitter. If you are someone who has used Twitter and quit, of if you are trying to get started, but just can’t figure out how, try picking one of these that feels best to you and go with it for a week – and see what happens.

Talking to people. If you see a post with an @ sign in it, that post is directed to the Twitter user whose name follows the @ sign. So if you write a post and include @mchang16 in that post, you’re talking to me. Not only do people use this for talking to people they know, but also to respond to other people’s Twitter thoughts and comments – it’s a way to have a conversation. Amanda Chapel (@AmandaChapel) does this quite a bit.

Promotional tool. People post links to their own stuff. The most prominent of these is probably Michael Arrington of TechCrunch (@TechCrunch), who posts a link to a new article every time one goes up on his site. My friend Denise (@ddubie), who is a writer at Network World, also does this very effectively.

Information gathering. If you see someone post a question looking for input or feedback on a specific topic, they are likely using Twitter for information gathering. Chris Brogan (@ChrisBrogan) uses Twitter to post questions fairly frequently, sometimes for blog posts he’s working on and often just to stir up conversation.

To cover events. Because Twitter is easy to use on a mobile phone, people can easily use the service to report on live events. This happens quite a bit at technology conferences (where many Twitter users converge), as well as during natural disasters (San Diego fires) or sporting events (Celtics vs. Lakers – GO CELTICS!!) Sometimes people use a # sign to indicate that they are writing a post about a specific topic/event. (Those are called Hashtags – and you can read more about them here if you’re interested in following or covering an event.)

Create a group of like-minded people. It’s possible to set up an account at Twitter that multiple people can participate in – creating a group. The one I’m most familiar with is Lyric of the Day, which was set up by Fred Wilson (@FredWilson). Members of the group submit a lyric every day, starting the message with @lotd. Check it out here.

Linking to cool stuff on the Web. Many people post cool, interesting or helpful links that they find elsewhere on the Web in Twitter for others to see. This type of post is a way to share the knowledge. Steve Rubel (@SteveRubel) is a Twitter user who often posts interesting links to articles, stories, etc. (A quick aside – my one pet peeve with this type of post is that Twitter changes URLs into TinyURLs to save on space, but I like to be able to see the URL to identify what site I’ll be going to if I click a link.)

Answer the question “What are you doing?” This seems to be the original reason that Twitter came into existence – to let people comment on what they are doing so that people they know can follow them and what they’re up to. Two of my favorite bloggers use Twitter this way Dooce (@dooce) and Penelope Trunk (@PenelopeTrunk).

It’s with this last type of Twitter posts that I’ve mostly settled. You’ll see the occasional promotional Twitter, or conversational Twitter, or link to something cool and interesting Twitter coming from me. But the majority of my posts now answer the question “What are you doing?”

Follow me at @mchang.

Photo by sonictk

10 tips for building a killer Facebook app

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

I just finished writing an article about Facebook applications that gave me the opportunity to test a large number of the less-used apps on the platform. This broad view left me with some new insights into what makes a good Facebook application (as opposed to a mediocre or crappy one, and believe me, there are a lot of those).

10If you’re thinking about building a Facebook app, here are 10 things you can do to make sure that yours stands out from the crowd:

1) Make it fun. Whether you’re building a game or a tool, always keep in mind that the people who are using Facebook are usually doing so on their free time. Most of them are under 35. Most of them are using Facebook for entertainment. So keep things fun. FedEx did a great job of this when they built Launch a Package, which lets users send each other packages – using a springy slingshot. Sending a package via a slingshot that bounces around is a whole lot more fun than sending something with the click of a button.

2) Give it some substance. The programming behind an application may be rock-solid, but without substantive content surrounding the application, it will fall flat. Every application should have at least:

  • A landing page that provides clear branding
  • Easy-to-understand instructions about how to use the application or play the game
  • Multiple options for use, such as various “rounds” or “levels”
  • Enough content to engage a user for at least 10 minutes at a given time
  • A summary/analysis area that lets the user see their history with the application

3) Make it look nice. There are currently more than 27,000 applications on Facebook. Yours will have some competition. If a user is going to choose between two applications that do similar things, they will likely pick the one that is more visually appealing. Take a look at Where I’ve Been vs. Travel Buddies. Which are you more likely to use? 

4) Include music or sound effects. Facebook is a multimedia platform – take advantage of it. All of the best applications have somehow incorporated sound effects or music. This doesn’t have to be fancy – Traveler IQ Challenge uses the sound of a ticking clock very effectively.

5) Provide a takeaway. When the user has finished using the application, they want something to show for it – either a ranking, a rating or an embeddable object. If you build a game, provide a ranking system that lets users compare themselves to each other. If you build a test, give them a score. Or if you have a graphical application, give them a downloadable picture that they can use on Facebook, but elsewhere, too. This is what Sketch Me does – it turns a profile picture into a pencil drawing that can be saved and used anywhere the user chooses.

6) Make the user want to share the app (as opposed to have to share it). Because of the social nature of Facebook, applications that are developed for the platform should all be sharable. But don’t force your users to share the app to continue using it. The best applications provide an easy way to share, but don’t force users to “send this to 8 friends NOW!” If you build a good app, people will want to share it.

7) Do something different. With thousands of applications already in existence, there is a lot of duplication. But with a little creative thinking, something that already exists can be made new again. Although there are many IQ test apps on Facebook, Who Has The Biggest Brain? stands out because of its use of “size of brain” as a ranking system, and the way that it measures the four areas of intelligence in a game show format. The idea for the application doesn’t have to be completely original, as long as there is something unique that sets it apart.

8) Use solid programming. Your application has to work, and has to work seamlessly. Take the time to understand the Facebook developer platform. If you’re not a developer, work with one who is a Facebook specialist. Make sure that the programming behind the application is solid. The time that you take to really get to know the platform will pay off – this link has some fantastic resources

9) Put ulterior motives out of your mind. Many Facebook apps are obviously trying to get the user to do something other than use the application – click an ad, download a companion application, buy something, etc. When building an application, first make something that people will want to use. Developing a great classified application will be easier than developing a great classified application that will ALSO get someone to download your shopping app. By focusing on the first objective, you’ll create something of value that will generate a large audience – to which you can later market your shopping application.

10) Do the “addiction test.” Can someone use your application once and then never again? Not good. Do they use it once and then feel compelled to immediately use it again? That’s good. Do they want to go back and use it the next day? And the next? That’s even better. Creating an application that can be used time and again is the ultimate goal for killer Facebook app development. One way you can test for this is to ask people you know to use the app. See if they mention the word “addiction.”

Photo by Suzie T

Keeping up (just good enough) appearances

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

I work out of my home, so I spend a lot of time noticing its cleanliness. But I don’t have a lot of time to spend cleaning, especially because when I’m at home, I’m usually working. So I have mastered the art of keeping everything just clean enough.

CleaningIf you walked into my home/office, you would think it was clean. In fact, people comment all the time about how clean it appears to be. But they don’t know my secret – that every morning I spend 5 minutes tidying up, making the bed, putting dishes in the dishwasher, throwing random clothes in the hamper. Tossing everything that doesn’t have a home into my closet and shutting the door. They don’t know that I leave dust rags in various rooms throughout the day, and as I’m on conference calls, I dust. Or fold the laundry. They don’t realize that after I wash my face, the washcloth does double-duty – it’s used to wipe down the bathroom sink and fixtures before going in the laundry.

My house isn’t always clean but it’s clean enough.

Of course there are times when my home/office gets a full-on assault with cleaning products, vacuum cleaners and mops. But those days are much rarer, and usually happen right before a party or a family visit.

I think that there is a lesson that can be applied to start-ups.

As a start-up, there are usually very scarce resources available, so it’s difficult to do things perfectly all the time. But at any given moment, a customer might be using your site for the first time. Or a potential investor might be checking out what you’re up to. Most of those people won’t dig too deep. They will just be giving your site a cursory glance, checking it out to see if it might be helpful or not. So although behind the scenes you may know that everything is kind of a mess, it’s important to keep up appearances.

What does this mean, practically? Nothing too difficult. Make sure that your Website has a professional design. Make sure that the words on your site are spelled right (mostly) and that they are grammatically correct (or at least understandable). Make sure all your links work. If something isn’t working, or looks a little shoddy, take it down.

If your business involves some kind of technology, make sure that it works. You can launch without all its future features, and still not quite working exactly like you want it to, but make sure that it works, and will not crash or be buggy if someone actually attempts to use it.

The goal, of course, is to get people who visited your site or used your technology to say, at first glance, that it looks good. They may lift up the rug and find out that what you are showing them isn’t complete, that it’s not as good as it looked at first, but you do not want to turn them off without them taking that closer look.

And honestly, most people never take the time to lift up the rugs.

There will be time to perfect things, to make sure that everything is exactly, precisely working. But until then, make sure that your appearance is good enough.

Photo by givepeasachance