Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

MySpace vs. iTunes

Friday, April 4th, 2008

My most recent article for The Industry Standard just went up – How MySpace Music could beat iTunes. If you’re interested, please give it a read!

The music industry is something that I’m really thinking about lately with the launch of Fat J Records and signing Cara Austin – so the recent news about iTunes overtaking Wal-Mart and MySpace Music’s launch are both of great interest to me. And there are a lot of things about the MySpace vs. iTunes topic that I didn’t have space to include in my article for The Standard. So I thought I would just list them here, kind-of stream-of-thought.

MySpace logoMySpace Music can beat iTunes by supporting musicians. This is the premise of the article that I wrote for The Standard. Basically, I think that if MySpace Music provides data about the fans that purchase music, ticket and merchandise to the musicians, it can beat iTunes. Go read the article for the whole argument.

CDBaby is a model of how MySpace Music could work. CDBaby is an unbelievable music retailer that caters only to independent artists. And this is what its privacy policy says (these points are directed at buyers who visit the site):

“Only the musician whose music you buy will know who you are. If you don’t even want the musician to know about you, just say so at the bottom of your order form.”

I use CDBaby to sell CDs for Cara Austin, and so far, NOT ONE person has requested that CDBaby withhold their contact information. This is because people who go so far as to buy a CD are usually fans – and they don’t mind the band or artist being able to contact them again in the future.  According to the company’s Website, CDBaby has sold 4,202,465 CDs to customers resulting in $71,482,212 paid directly to the artists.

iTunes is a store, MySpace is a community. I read this quote from someone involved in the deal, and this is a really important point. While there are millions of people who buy music from iTunes, the MySpace community that uses MySpace to discover new artists and read about what they are up to, will be a powerful environment for making a purchase. With the possibility of revenue coming from MySpace, artists will do even more to make sure that their pages are attractive, interesting and compelling. And the community of music on that site is going to get stronger and stronger. Imagine 5 million musicians adding content, video, new songs and new song versions – this is going to be incredibly powerful and impossible for iTunes to rival.

Facebook’s chance to win in this space is shrinking by the minute. Facebook is gaining on MySpace in the social networking space, but Facebook’s support of music is, well, pathetic. They are going to have one shot to try to release a music platform that users will like (and use) but it’s not looking good. With MySpace’s announcement of the support of three of the four major labels, one possibility is that Facebook already has the support of the fourth (but that is highly unlikely and just speculative on my part).

International will be huge. I read that MySpace Music isn’t going to be able to distribute music internationally yet. What? What is the licensing issue with that? My suggestion – sign up all the indies asap and start selling to Japan, England, Australia, and everywhere else that has an appetite for U.S. music immediately – or else that could be a place that MySpace Music will be vulnerable.

DRM free matters, but won’t be the thing that wins it for MySpace. As part of the announcement, MySpace announced that they music that is sold from its music store will be DRM-free. (DRM=Digital Rights Management, it is the protection that Apple places on its files that prevents people from being able to share them.) This is a big deal, but not the biggest, as this will just (finally) compel Apple to follow suit with iTunes.

There is still a perception issue that could cause MySpace some serious problems. MySpace has kind of a seedy image. The site’s design is fairly unattractive, and it’s hard to navigate the social network without running into something that borders on pornography or spam. The company is going to have to do battle against that perception to win back people who have become disillusioned by previous negative experiences with MySpace.

Can Apple prevent iPods from using this service? Technically, I’m not sure if there is a way for Apple to limit the sites from which the iPod can download music, but if users are unable to load music from MySpace Music to their iPods, that would be a serious setback to MySpace. It also would likely cause a revolt among iPod users against Apple, but it would still be a hiccup in the acceptance of the service.

FriendFeed: Feeds, feeds everywhere

Friday, March 14th, 2008

I don’t yet have an opinion about whether FriendFeed is good, bad or indifferent (although I know there are a lot of other people who do). I joined yesterday and very few people who I “know” are using it, so I didn’t take a long time looking it over just yet. But what I did see is this potential issue of many feeds feeding the same thing (via my Facebook mini-feed):

FriendFeed on Facebook

It appears that the way I set things up, my blog is updating my Tumblr is updating my Twitter. And all are updating FriendFeed, which is updating Facebook…this could get ugly. Couldn’t it? And I am not even using all of the social networks. But I imagine that the same thing would happen if I update Flickr – or any other service that I use that feeds to multiple sites.

How do I manage all the feeds that are feeding and cross-feeding everywhere? I don’t think that this is really a FriendFeed problem, per se, it just brought the issue to light for me.

Webinno Boston #16: My recap

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Last night I attended the Web Innovators Group (Webinno) meeting in Boston. It was the 16th meeting put on by the group (the first that I attended) and it was packed out! Web Innovators Group logo
Honestly, I thought it would be a smaller meeting with fewer people, but there were probably somewhere around 500+ people in attendance. It was definitely standing room only when the presentations were happening. (This picture is just one corner of the room, it looked like this everywhere.)

At Webinno Boston

The way that the meeting worked was that there were three featured companies (called “Main Dish Presentations”) who presented for about 5-10 minutes each and answered two questions after they finished. This was then followed by six highlighted companies (called “Side Dish Presentations”) who each pitched their products for 30 seconds.

The Main Dish presenters were:

Urban Interactive
Urban Interactive Logo“Provides a platform that creates mixed-reality mobile adventures, transforming a cell phone into a modern-day Dick Tracy watch. Users download missions to complete throughout a city, bringing them closer to their surroundings, heritage, local events and neighbors.”

My take: I think that Urban Interactive is a really cool idea, and after a quick look at the program, I was most excited to see this presentation. It is obvious that a lot of time has been spent on the interface to make it look very “spy ready” and the technology seemed to function well, at least the part that was demonstrated.

The primary issue that I see with this product is that it seems like it would be hard to set up new adventures. For example, a mission at the Boston Museum of Science was used as the demo adventure. The very first step in the mission was to find the museum, and then go to the front desk and ask for a code. This, in itself, means that every employee at the Museum of Science would need to be trained about this program and how it works, because they’ll get a ton of questions. Or, (and I think that this is how they do it), the adventures would only be able to be “taken” on a schedule, in which case, Urban Interactive employees (or Boston Improv actors) could participate and help the adventurers along. This will severely limit the usage of the product.

To the company’s credit, its next plan is to work on the ability for users to create their own missions, but until they get over this hurdle, I don’t expect that the product will be able to get any kind of critical mass.

Like I said, I really like this idea, so I’m pulling for this one to work. I think for it to succed, they need to scale back a bit on trying to do everything, and focus on one core business (tour operators, museums, schools or corporations, pick one), just until they get things off the ground.

SpotScout
SpotScout logo“We believe that, if given the right tools, individuals and communities can solve their own parking problems by creating virtual markets for parking information. Whether a parking garage, a private space, or a space on the street, our software enables space seekers to acquire timely information on space availability before arriving at their destinations.”

My take: The presenter described this company as “kind of an eBay for parking spaces,” and I think that SpotScout is a great concept and will be useful in cities where it can be tough to find parking (New York, San Francisco, Boston). It appears that the service hasn’t yet launched, so it’s tough to see how many people will use it and how it will work when it goes live. But I’m betting that this product will be a success. I have had to look for parking in Boston and driven around and around and around…looking at many empty parking lots that businesses don’t use at night but have “No Parking, Tow Zone” signs posted on them. Just think of the utility for drivers -and the extra cash for businesses – that could result from this product. Also, I would definitely use SpotScout if I could make a reservation in a parking garage for a Red Sox game, for example. I would be able to lock in my price and my spot, and I wouldn’t have to get to the game three hours early to park.

As long as SpotScout is able to figure out how to get the local garages involved so that they know what SpotScout is and how to use it, and as long as they are able to sign up enough users so that there are people both providing spots and telling each other when they’re coming and going, I think that this will be a huge hit. If it is a success, I can imagine someone driving around the city all day, parking at meters when they find an open one, and then posting to SpotScout their departure information, to make some extra cash. This was the best of the Main Dish presentations.

MakeMeSustainable
MakeMeSustainable logo“The Facebook application provides creative ways to fight global warming. It engages users with tools to reduce their carbon footprint and ties in competition and community components that enable them to visualize their larger impact.”

My take: I should start up by saying that I’m not a huge Facebook user. I have an account, I check it occassionally, and I use it to talk to my friends, but I am by no means a super-user. Perhaps because of that, MakeMeSustainable just doesn’t thrill me. I appreciate the concept behind it – getting users to reduce their carbon footprint -and the execution of the product is actually great (very well-designed, charts, graphs, etc.), but I just don’t see this being a tool that would get someone to take long-term action. It might be cool for awhile, but will it really make a difference?

I think that the company’s smartest move is the partnership that they’re making with various musicians – and if they can tap into that type of super-star fan base, as well as associate their brand with people like Dave Matthews, they might have a shot.

Next came the Side Dish Presenters, and I was much more impressed with many of these products and concepts. Remember, they only presented for 30 seconds, so I only got limited information.

Survol
Survol logo“Mobile platform for fast effortless use of Web sites, feeds, search results and widgets”

My take: The presenter said that this was “a better way to access the Web on any mobile phone,” but I have to be honest, after listening for 30 seconds I have no idea what Survol is and what it does. Their Web site was not much help.

Glassbooth
Glassbooth logo“Do you know where the candidates stand on the issues? Glassbooth is an innovative website that pairs a massive database of information on the presidential candidates with an inviting design for exploration. Users tell the site which issues they think are important, respond to a series of statements based on that input, and find out which presidential candidate most closely aligns with their views and why.”

My take: I love this concept, and from the user’s perspective, I really like that Glassbooth is a non-profit and therefore not aligned with any commercial biases or candidates. I just went through the site and I found the user experience to be excellent. It was helpful to have the issues lined up (with links to articles about the topics so I could read up on things that I am not totally sure about), and at the end of the survey, along with a suggestion of what candidate mostly aligns with my beliefs, I could find out details about what each of the candidates’ positions are on each of the issues, based on what they have said in the past and their voting history. This was a cool site and I highly recommend it for anyone who is still trying to figure out what candidate is going to get their vote.

Buildium
Buildium logo“Whether you’re a professional property manager, condo owner or a member of an HOA, Buildium has a property management solution to meet your needs.”

My take: I really liked this product, as well. The presenter told a compelling story about a guy who was in charge of his condo association and how he needed tools to help him manage the budgets, bills, planning and other stuff for that role. Since I have heard many stories about condo associations and the difficulty of being involved in them, it seems like Buildium would help. Note, however, that I haven’t seen these tools in action. I just like the concept.

MyHappyPlanet
MyHappyPlanet logo“The leader in social networking for language learning and cultural exchange. We provide a platform for language learners to improve their foreign language skills through peer-to-peer learning and user-generated learning materials.”

My take: MyHappyPlanet is one of those ideas that makes you say “why didn’t I think of that?” The basic premise is that there are people all over the world who are trying to learn languages, so the site lets them partner up and practice with each other. So, for example, I’m in the U.S. and I am a native English speaker, and I want to learn Spanish. The site lets me partner with someone in Spain who is trying to learn English to practice. This is such a great idea, and I could see it spinning out lots of other products, educational and commercial (globalization. localization and translation services, especially). It also helps that this site already has 80K-100K users.

Socrato
Socrato logo“A Web-based test preparation and assessment platform. Helps users quickly identify their strengths and weaknesses, enabling them to focus on the right areas faster, saving study time.”

My take: Basically, Socrato is a test preparation and learning tool that is trying to help students study better for standardized tests. This product didn’t pique my interest particularly, but I like the concept. 

Mofuse
Mofuse logo“A hosted mobile site creation application geared toward content publishers such as bloggers. Using the MoFuse application, anyone can create a mobile-friendly version of their website or blog in just a few minutes.”

My take: I didn’t get a good sense of Mofuse from the presentation, and it left me feeling a bit like it was irrelevant. My site looks great on the iPhone, afterall, and my bet is that all mobile Web browsing is all heading in that direction.

The next Web Innovators Group meeting is in Boston on April 2nd.

Video is not going to kill the Internet in 2010

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

YouTube logoLast week, I posted my first video to YouTube. Like most videos that are uploaded to the site, mine was for friends, a silly inside joke wishing my friend Kim a happy birthday in a public and embarrassing manner.

But after posting the video – which was incredibly easy to do – I started wondering how many people have uploaded videos to YouTube since the site was founded in February 2005. It’s difficult to find stats about YouTube because the company (owned by Google) doesn’t often release information on its users, but this Reuters article from July 2006 claims that, when the article was written, 65,000 videos were being posted to the site per day. If that number is accurate, it’s also likely to be much higher by now. (Although another more recent article from TechCrunch estimates that the number of videos being uploaded to the site daily is between 10,000 and 65,000.)

Some more stats – Compete.com shows that the number of people visiting YouTube is 49,532,320, up 4.5% this month and 94% this year, placing the site’s audience more than double Facebook’s (24,264,850), and gaining on MySpace’s (65,210,800). And that Reuters article claims that in 2006, visitors were watching more than 100 million videos per day on YouTube – again, that figure has likely soared in the past year and a half.

From these stats, I think it’s safe to say that online video is huge – and remember these numbers are from YouTube alone. There are many other online video sites that are popular and gaining audience (Hulu comes to mind).

But all this online video watching isn’t going to happen without consequences, according to the experts. Recent and well-reported (see stories here, herehere and here) research from Nemertes Research shows that by the year 2010, there could be serious slow-downs in the Internet from all the bandwidth demands unless infrastructure is boosted to keep up. According to the report, Nemertes estimates “the financial investment required by access providers to bridge the gap between demand and capacity ranges from $42 billion to $55 billion, or roughly 60%-70% more than service providers currently plan to invest.”

Chicken LittleThe bandwidth demands on the Internet’s infrastructure are clearly rising. But the sky is not falling. Although you would think it just might be from the recent coverage that this research has sparked:

Internet Might Collapse in 2010
Internet to go down in 2010?

And my personal favorite:

Back to Soup Cans and String?

Does this remind anyone of anything, like, maybe a technology issue that was supposed to cripple business a decade ago? To me, this is really starting to sound a lot like Y2K.

Granted, the coverage will have to continue for months and the fear, uncertainty and doubt will have to rise significantly to reach Y2K levels. But in its early stages, the rumblings are the same. And I would like to suggest that we will see the same result.

The Nemertes report claims that to avert the crisis, an extra $42 billion to $55 billion needs to be invested into the infrastructure of the Internet. To put this in context, in preparation for Y2K, “the United States government spent $8.8 billion dollars on Y2K fixes. Private U.S. businesses shelled out an estimated $100 billion dollars to prepare for the bug,” according to an article by CNN.

There is money to be spent when it’s needed. And there is time to correct these issues before they cause us to revert back to soup cans and string. Even the folks sponsoring the research agree. As Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) co-Chairman Larry Irving told USA Today:

“We’re not trying to play Paul Revere and say that the Internet’s going to fall. If we make the investments we need, then people will have the Internet experience that they want and deserve.”

Facebook is now valued at $15 billion

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Facebook logoI was talking to some 30-something, non-tech-industry friends last week, and the topic turned to Facebook. What’s the deal with Facebook? they asked. None of them had profiles, none of them had ever even visited the site, all of them thought I was nuts for having set up a profile. “You mean you put it online that you live in Massachusetts?!” they asked. I tried to explain that Facebook is huge (as is the state of Massachusetts). They didn’t buy it.

“Today Microsoft agreed to invest $240 million for a 1.6% stake in Facebook that values the social-networking site at $15 billion, beating Google in a closely watched contest.”Friends, Facebook is worth $15 BILLION dollars. I am not the only one who uses the site.

Facebook.fr domain name controversy

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

This story about Facebook.fr on TechCrunch gets to the heart of why you need to start preparing for globalization immediately. Registering the top-level domains in all of your relevant countries is essential or else someone may swoop in behind you and register them instead. You’ll likely eventually be able to win the dispute that arises, but you don’t want the aggravation – or the legal bills.

Globalization, the Internet & Montreal

Monday, September 24th, 2007


Montreal flagThis summer, my husband Chris and I took a vacation from our home north of Boston to Montreal. When we were preparing to go, I asked a number of people who had traveled there in the past if it would be a big deal that neither of us spoke French. They all told us that it would not be a problem, that everyone in Montreal speaks both French and English. They described the Canadian city as being “very European” but said it was accessible, that we wouldn’t have any trouble traveling there even with our complete lack of French-language comprehension.

After hearing their reassurances, I admit that I didn’t think that Montreal was going to be much different than the United States. So I was surprised when we got to the city. The language wasn’t a barrier, exactly, but it was a differentiator. Although everyone I spoke to in Montreal did speak English, it was usually evident that they all would prefer to be speaking French. Every street name, sign, menu and all the directions that we came across were in French (although sometimes there was an English translation). And there were other subtle issues that made us feel like we were away – the food, the fashions, and the intangible but definite feel of the town that was so, well, different.

For me, our experience in Montreal served to highlight how hard it is to “go global.” I don’t mean this in a technical sense, because it isn’t difficult to set up a Web site that will reach an international audience. What I’m referring to is the ability to create an experience on the Internet that feels local to an international audience. That is very difficult indeed.

Certainly this isn’t a new challenge, and there are some companies that have been working on their international Internet strategies for years. The Global by Design blog has a great analysis of  the top 10 global sites. This list is comprised of both Internet companies (Google and Wikipedia) as well as more old-school technology companies (Cisco Systems and Phillips).  Along with these leaders, there are a number of Web 2.0 companies that are beginning to effectively reach into global markets. Flickr, the community-based photo sharing site, offers eight language options along the footer of every page. The site also greets its users with a welcome in a different language every time they come (today my page says “Shalom 16thletter! Now you know how to greet people in Hebrew!”) in an effort to make the global community “feel” part of its users’ everyday experience. Myspace.com announced in late 2006 that it would be extending its site internationally, and they now offer international options as part of each users’ account settings to allow people to customize their local experience.

But even though most companies have globalization top-of-mind when building their sites, it is still a challenge in the details. In this post from Angela Randall on allfacebook – the unofficial facebook blog, she lists the subtle issues that make Facebook annoying for her to use in Australia. Her complaints include issues such as the seasons (which are different in the Southern hemisphere), states (international states aren’t included in Facebook) and study levels (Australia calls different levels by different terms than are used in the U.S.). All of these issues create enough dissonance for her to write, “Yeah, we know Facebook was developed in the US and has evolved from there but it’s time to extend some of the usability to international users.”

Ikea logoAnd another example that I would offer up is Ikea. The Swedish furniture retailer is perhaps one of the most successful global sites today – the company’s home page features a list of countries from which to choose to customize my Web experience, and they do a good job when I arrive at the United States version of the Web site. But in a subtle way, perhaps because of that initial global landing page or maybe because of the slightly different design style that is the signature of the company and permeates the site, I am constantly reminded that this is not a U.S. company. This leads to the feeling that I am not “at home” on the site. It isn’t 100% comfortable and familiar.

And this is the heart of the matter – what does it mean that I don’t feel at home on the site because it isn’t 100% comfortable? That feeling, that experience – it’s not quantifiable or measurable by any scientific methods or usability testing. And it is just this type of intangible that we have to get right in order to effectively “go global” on a local level. And it is also what makes the process so difficult.

~ Today’s view: http://www.flickr.com/photos/13799608@N08/1432924547/