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Archive for July, 2007


Pay attention to the power of networks!

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Once again, conversation seems to be ramping up on attention. Ad networks are really interesting when you talk about attention. Due to the reach and the volume of media that networks digest, they gather more data about the value of inventory than anyone. Google, and Yahoo probably know as much about the value of a page or a click as anyone on the Internet. Of course, this is from an advertising perspective and there are many other perspectives for analyzing data, but there are probably no other sources of such broad data sets out there.

Of course, attention value is also relative. Someone querying “Plasma TV” has a different attention value to Circuit City than it does to Cogmap. Sites doing book reviews are probably more interested in the long tail than someone selling books and seeking to drive volume through the big head.

Finally, to assume that every action in a clickstream is equal would be a mistake. One of the great things about networks is that they can differentiate pretty effectively between the value of a good click and a bad click. Integrating data about the network values with clickstream data would be an interesting way to gauge attention value. When you look at things like APML the problem seems to be creating apples to apples comparisons between various metrics of attention value. A broad value engine like Google would let you easily do that.

Why there aren’t open social networks

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Randomly saw some posts on open standards for social networking sites and I guess I have to throw my two cents out here.  Determining where to invest in these situations is tricky.  I think if you look at the history of software products, you see a drive to standardize and create interoperability once a certain level of maturity in the marketplace is achieved.  Remember when we had javascript and activescript?  Remember when HTML started to fracture?  Word processors, Operating systems.  This happens a lot.  First everyone focuses on building out features.  Then, when there is relative feature parity, they start to focus on lowering switching costs.

What is particularly interesting about this market is that the technology is so unsophisticated.  Relatively speaking, opening platforms up should be easy.  For some reason, my brain isn’t working today and I can’t think of how the market definitively works here, but I think going open is better.  I know for sure that APIs win.  It is better to have APIs and attract developers and their free R&D than to not have developers.  What’s interesting is that this is different.  I think if you look at markets, Linux and Mozilla and Apache are all winners, but I don’t think it is always true that those with the lowest switching costs win.

Be interested in comments on this.

What’s up with Cogmap printing

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

I get emails once a week asking about printing org charts on Cogmap and why it is excruciating. Based on that, I wanted to offer up some clarifications on what the deal is:

  1. Most browsers only support printing a certain number of pixels wide of content, so very wide org charts get cut off by the browser.
  2. We do have a very nice print.css that lays out the boxes. The only way we could shrink the width of org charts would be to compress the boxes to the point of illegibility. We don’t do that.

We would love ideas in this area, or even better, send us better print.css files! We know hackers are out there. Thanks.

Should Little Guys Do Phone Interviews?

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

So, the other day, as part of my day job, I got interviewed by the Behavioral Insider.  It was a phone interview, and as typical, after reading it I thought I sounded like a bit of a dork.  (Although I love the comments on it so far: “Great article.”, “I totally agree that this is simply a brilliant article.”)

This made me wonder: Should people ever agree to do phone interviews?  Seth Levine just last week said he would never make that mistake again.  And of course, Brad Feld said, “Duh”.  And the whole world probably remembers Jason Calcanis’ and Dave Winer’s blow up with Wired.  So based on this we know that talking to reporters makes them happy and ensures your misery.

But we are trying to build “Brand You”!  We need to talk to reporters and get our voice heard.  Unfortunately, I suspect this is not like the pentium (any press is good press).  Your brand for life is being built based on a conversation where everything you said is sliced, diced, and filtered to build a story.

I dunno, I love to get my opinion out there, but it would be a lot better if I could craft an email and control the development of the story.  Also, probably much like all of these guys, the way I express myself on paper is a little more formal than the way I express myself conversationally.  As something gets transmuted into a written article, the formal exercise of documentation ensures a clearer, better understood answer.

Love to get more thoughts on this.

Obvious trackback commentary:

  • Behavioral Insider: Comments, no trackback
  • Seth Levine: Trackback URL:
  • Brad Feld: No trackbacks!  Can you believe a geek like that misses this?  Avoiding the blogversation about him!
  • Jason Calcanis: No trackbacks, but he does link to Technorati and show links to the blog.  That’s ok, but not super integrated.  Maybe it is a way to cut down on spam and avoid sharing Google-juice?

The Pulse of the Trackback Meme is Secretly Here

Friday, July 20th, 2007

I know that no one reads this blog, but you can’t deny that we have our fingers on the pulse of the comment meme.  Right after we hop on the technology issues of creating a hypertext universe of trackback-ian love, Clay Shirky does a big post on how comments on big web sites don’t really work, pointing out a variety of recent posts by bloggers (link love below) saying that people never say anything useful in comments because they are anonymous and anonymity ensures comments are thoughtless.

Let’s give me props for saying that blogs + trackbacks = responsibility and ownership.

Clay disses trackbacks, saying, “two blog posts do not make a conversation. The writing underneath a post is different in style and content, and in intent and effect, than the post itself.”

This is absolutely true, but if we agree that blogs = owning your words and increase the likelihood of thoughtful commentary, then shouldn’t we encourage trackbacks?  Particularly when blogs reach the scale problem that Clay describes?  Hilariously, neither Dave, nor Joel, nor even Corante/Many-to-Many/Clay make it clear how to trackback to them.

Corante shows how many trackbacks there are to an article, but I can’t figure out how to trackback and I bet, given the quality of the writing on Many-to-Many, they are missing thousands of backlinks because they are making it hard.  Yow.  The others pretend like that doesn’t even exist!

Trackbacks are too hard

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

There is nothing more fun that creating community in the blogosphere by linking to conversations relevant to your own.  Allow me to demonstrate:  Marc Andreesen does a post on how he doesn’t need comments, he has trackbacks.  His trackback URL for that post is: – a URL I hate.  I much prefer the trackbacks that are formatted like: where /trackback/ is appended to the original URL name.  This allows me to only have to cut and paste a single URL (the original post URL, which I then link to).

So, to continue the story, Fred Wilson responds to Marc’s original post with a post on how comments are key to community. Of course, he doesn’t even have trackbacks on his blog, so that is like me telling Martians that Mars is a terrible place to live.  Also, it makes me sad because I comment on his posts all over my blog.

I am pro-trackbacks because I want to own my comments.  I like to comment in the context of my blog, my topics, and my identity, and then create a hyperlinked world of trackbacks.  Also, it shares the Google-juice.


I wish that WordPress scraped my blog posts when I posted them, found posts I linked to, scraped the trackbacks and then pinged them for me.  I don’t like having to copy and paste both the URL I link to and the trackback URL.

This may sound like I am lazy, but I always was a believer that lazy points the way to future code.

Especially given that most of the blogs these days seem to be WordPress, you could express the trackback as some XML in a post and then simply munch it up and spit it out.  Platform ubiquity equals ease of integration!

Sounding authentic in the blogosphere is about tough times

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

“The more authentic you become, particularly regarding personal experience and even self doubts, the more people can relate to you and feel safe to express themselves.” – Stephen Covey

The Cluetrain Manifesto is universally praised as “the way” when it comes to online marketing, and I don’t disagree.  Here are the first couple of theses:

  • Markets are conversations.
  • Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  • Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  • Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  • People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
  • The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
  • Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
  • In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
  • These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.

I think sounding human is about being authentic.  But what I frequently wonder is “Do people know how to be authentic anymore?”  Can I say synergy and be authentic?  Seth Goldstein recently posted on how Josh Kopelman was telling him to post the funny stuff.  

This is essentially a critique of his authenticity in blogging.  The real Seth is funny.  The blog Seth is an almost inpenetrable writer opining on automata.  The Stephen Covey quote above resonated with me because I think being authentic is hard.  It usually starts with acknowledging imperfection.  After all, perfect is for robots.

I do want to make one powerful point here: I love the posts about mistakes we make.  When Fred Wilson posts about the music he loves, usually it does not affect how I think about him.  When he posts about tough decisions, I love it.

Sharing tough times among people builds a bond.  It’s not going through them together, but I think even living them vicariously builds bonds.  Everybody says that you learn from mistakes.  That is why mistakes are a naturally interesting area to explore.

Two Seconds on Ad Exchanges

Sunday, July 15th, 2007

I have recently been thinking about the value that Advertising Exchanges provide and here is my big conclusion:  They are daisy chain management systems.  Historically, every publisher would negotiate with a bunch of advertising networks to monetize their excess impressions.  One network might pay two dollars for the first one thousand impressions.  Another might pay a dollar for the first five impressions they get of every person on the site and a quarter for every impression after that.  A third might pay fifty cents for every impression they receive.  Publishers constructed complex chains to route and re-route impressions and maximize their value.

The problem with this model is that the way that networks were buying impressions was the easiest thing they could come up with to facilitate daisy chains and not always the best way for them to represent the value of an impression to a publisher. 

For example, if a user had visited several sites shopping for a product, he is probably eligible for one or more retargeting campaigns.  Many of the networks in the daisy chain may be willing to pay more for that impression, but they have no way to signal that without having the impression be explicitly routed to them.

Advertising Exchanges are working to offer tools to address this.  If networks can express the exact value of impressions in a real-time auction environment then publishers will maximize the value they receive for their inventory. 

Having said that, the tools today are nowhere close.  Fun stuff!

Sometimes you raise all you can, sometimes you don’t

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

A flurry of recent posts on raising money in the blogosphere. Marc Andreesen says to raise all you can. Jeremy Liew says to be careful not to create down rounds. Josh says moderate how much money you take or you risk an unintentional moonshot. I wanted to make sure people realize that these comments are all situational and put some context (and some CogText! god, kill me now) around it.

Posts like Jeremy Liew’s latest, on risk in capital raising, are the posts I love. I am shocked that no one has made the “Price is Right” analogy yet. You want to go as high as you can without going over. Of course, Josh takes his analysis to the next level by looking at it from the investor side and why Jeremy could not do that deal. The reason that Jeremy can’t do that deal is that even if he decided that the last valuation was fair (i.e. a probably unacceptable flat round to the entrepreneur) he might put $10m in to take 25% of that company ($30m pre-money) and then they would have to find an exit around $400m. I feel like, right now, in this market, early stage investors (and entrepreneurs!) want to be able to exit at potentially lower values.

The IPO window is opening, but it’s still pretty small. The M&A market is boiling, but most of the deals are technology acquisitions (Right Media, DoubleClick, Postini). This usually means that the exits are happening earlier in a companies lifecycle, so the valuations are probably a bit lower.

I sent Josh a note this morning about his blog post because it reminded me a ton of when I met with him about Cogmap. Is Cogmap a $200 million exit opportunity? If not, that kind of dictates how you take money. If you raise too much money and your exit comes in too low, that creates bad outcomes.

I think investors right now are also wary that these early exit opportunities are tempting to entrepreneurs and that makes them cautious as they look to do small early deals. People like Fred Wilson have blogged before about opportunities like where a VC might have preferred to take a shot at a big win but the entrepreneur chose to settle for significant insta-wealth.

All of these comments from entrepreneurs on Jeremy’s blog that imply that if they have the chance to fleece investors, they have a fiduciary duty to do so are short-sighted. It made me think about Ning’s recent round. If they exit for $100m, no one in any of the earlier rounds is going to see much money because the investors probably made their investment on a participating preferred basis. When you raise that kind of money, the only way the entrepreneur gets rich is hitting an absolute home run. That is why quibbling over 5% or 3% doesn’t make that much of a difference. When you are talking about raising $44m or $40m, sure, go ahead raise all you can. The price for the next round or exit will be so high that $4m will look like a rounding error, and if it isn’t, then the dilution will be brutal and the entrepreneur will get nothing anyway.

Do advertisers want widgets?

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

Hilariously, I once again cannot resist commenting on Jeremy’s widget monetization post. This makes me think about the last post I did about Jeremy’s last post discussing facebook widget monetization.

The key thing that I still want to see is that these ad opportunities are valuable to advertisers. Can we distribute “another 300×250” across these widgets and expect to get decent RPMs? I know advertising is the only revenue model that people actually have faith in today, but I haven’t actually seen anyone pull that off yet. Are we really talking about CTRs and subsequent page views on the site of the widget owner? Not as interesting a business for anyone I think. If we are talking about widget views, are we talking about an ad popping up right away? If so, do people actually want that widget? I bet it gets displaced by a widget that doesn’t do that. If not, do advertisers want that advertising?

I think building a widget business is hard to do. I look forward to someone doing it because it will shed some real insight into how to do it. Photobucket did it (not really?), I guess?

And $60,000 exits don’t count. That is a declaration of “not success” in my mind.