Tag: social networks (Page 1 of 7)

Israel Mobile Summit

How long have I been waiting? It must be a good 5 years since I have last touched down at Ben Gurion Airport. Alas, no more. Tomorrow evening, it will be time again, and how timely it is, too. The Israel Mobile Week is on, and there is tons of super-interesting stuff happening. MoMo Tel Aviv – one of the most active and well-run Mobile Monday chapters – is in full swing, the Israel Mobile Summit, Droidcon Tel Aviv, the Microsoft Ventures Demo Day of its 4th Israeli cohort plus a few parties here and there of course…

I will have the immense honour of delivering one of the opening keynotes at the Israel Mobile Summit. Specifically, I will be speaking on “Capturing Users” – isn’t it all important how you find them (and keep them!)? Without users, you (or rather your business) is nothing. I have had the pleasure (and challenge) to try and have a crack at this challenge a few times in my professional life, and I am hoping to be able to share some of my hard-learned experiences with the audience on Tuesday (10 June 2014). The event will be on at the YesPlanet Rishon, a snazzy new cinema complex.

There will be talks from the leaders in mobile today, including:

  • Facebook
  • Wooga
  • Intel
  • AVG
  • Waze
  • Paypal
  • Amobee
  • Amazon
  • Deemedya (yes, my very good friend Doron Kagan will talk about his 100m+ game downloads; I can only imagine how that must feel)
  • AppAnnie
  • SingTel
  • HasOffers
  • Grow VC
  • Twilio
  • DragonPlay
  • Hunter & Bard (you should not miss Shira’s talk; she is one of the wisest women in marketing today!)

and many, many more!!!

Join us if you can! It will be worthwhile. And if you don’t think so, I’ll buy you a drink! Promise!

Monetizing Twitter: of social networks, ads and roads

Twitter goes public, right? And as of today we know the terms. Those are straight forward and no big surprise: large user base, high growth, huge losses but rising revenues. Alas, on the revenue side, there is probably consent (or at least strong voices) that they need to improve. So just coincidentally, Twitter also announced a few days ago that it struck a deal with CBS about video ads in tweets this autumn (erm, they called it fall, actually). This triggered a discussion on Facebook (yes, my friend Rob was at it again) where people argued if this was a Trojan horse by Twitter to get to those coveted second-screen ad dollars or if it was the natural extension of a movement towards “personal brands” or if it might ring in the death of Twitter as an empowering platform.

What struck me though was this: everyone seems to agree those ads are pesky things that are in your way. No one likes them (I really do not know a single person that has said even once “wow, just my kind of ad, how lovely”). An annoyance. Much worse than billboards or those banner ads we have by now all learned to ignore. Because you have to scroll past them. They can only be compared to the equally annoying video ads on YouTube you can “skip” after X seconds (and, yes, YouTube, we all want to skip them). Without wanting to diminish the significance of Madison Avenue then, I think we can – so far – deduce that the only reason why Twitter makes any money on this is that they can monetize the friction – it’s so annoying and in your way that it will catch some people out. I would love to see measures as to its effectiveness. I would posit that there are a gazillion ways to do it better.

Twitter & Wilshire Boulevard

This got me thinking: they should really be able to do it a lot better, right? I mean, 200m active users, 1bn tweets in every 48-hour period. There’s some money in there, surely. But let’s have a look of what Twitter is. Twitter connects people with each other. It creates a network. A social network. Right? Well, how about this: the road grid of LA connects people with each other. It creates a network. Would you ever call it a social network? Hell, no! And why not? Well, because it’s infrastructure, stupid! Now, ad dollars are being spent plentiful on the streets of LA but no one would ever dream of having them pay for the roads. And that might just be the flaw in all this!

Monetizing Infrastructure

Roads, you see, tend to be “monetized” (financed used to be the word) in one of two ways: tolls or taxes. There are some interesting toll concepts though: In London, the congestion charge (a cool £10 [=$15] charge per day) is being levied whenever you want to drive into the more congested parts of the centre. Makes money! In Germany, only lorries have to pay: commercial use of public infrastructure carries the levy. The Swiss and the Austrians simply run a  subscription service. And then you have your distance-driven ones (hello, Italy, France, M6 Toll, etc. etc.). The other way is to treat infrastructure as a public cost to provide an essential service. And because that is a social cost (no, my American friends, no need to run away; this is actually a fairly universally accepted concept), namely one by society, it should be spread across society. And the customarily applied technique to do that is taxes.

Why do we think that roads on the Interwebs can function differently? Mind you, you could probably plaster billboards all over the place and make sure that each neighbouring property onto which those billboards are mounted pays a “viewing charge” (the value of the billboard on that wall has nothing to do with the wall but all to do with Wilshire Blvd. passing by). But – without having run the maths – I am fairly sure that that would not be able to finance the whole thing. The reason why many people think it does work is that it only costs a fraction to build a road grid on the web than it does in real life (all of Twitter’s employees would arguably still be wrestling with that one bypass down in Santa Monica). And that’s really cool! Because it helped many a great technology to come into its own and bring a ton of good to mankind.

Alas, it doesn’t tackle the systemic flaw in the thinking: it is friggin’ infrastructure and that is not really the best way to finance it: annoyance by design? Come on, we should really be doing better. Or can we?

The Value of Networks

Metcalfe’s Law (which I often [ab]use in my talks) states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportionate to the square of its users (he stipulated it to demonstrate the value of ethernet ports). But that doesn’t mean that monetary value of X is Y. Because values can be non-monetary and – sadly (if you’re in the business) – non-monetizable. He would have been more accurate had he replaced the word “value” with “usefulness”.

However, if we home into this then, we might be getting closer to the solution: what it tells us is that Twitter (and every other “social” network) should be aiming to harvest the value it truly brings, namely that of the connections it facilitates. Regular users would most probably scoff at that and move on. However, commercial ones maybe not so much. It would be – crudely comparing this – taking the German toll system to social networks: if you use my infrastructure to transport commercial goods across my said infrastructure, you should pay. Because, you see, you are using my asset to maximize the value of your asset. And because I contribute to this value maximization, I should get a cut. Logical, no?

The value of the commercial use of digital infrastructure is, of course, humongous! On its most basic level, we pay for access (that’s your monthly broadband fees). Twitter (and everyone else in the wider realm) provides a value-add on top of that most basic level, and that is (more or less) meaningful connections. You could liken it to road signs, if you want. And with a network the size of Twitter’s, you’d be lost without them. So there is undoubtedly a lot of value there. But would a regular driver really want to pay for the use of a roadsign? Well, maybe not (even though it would be prudent as it would get her more quickly from A to B). Would a commercial delivery pay for their use? Probably: time is money, dude! And would, say, an ice cream van pay extra if said roadsign could direct him to the road full of ice cream-craving kids who have just had their pocket money? You bet!

This is, of course, what clever algorithms do. Google is pretty nifty with this, I hear. At least when it comes to AdWords and such. The others? Not so much though. The number of completely random, off-target ads and promoted tweets (or, on Facebook, “suggested posts) I have been seeing is mind-boggling. What are they thinking? (no, don’t answer).

To get this right might solve some monetization headaches. It would also do a few more good things: it would leave us regular users in peace! But, even more importantly, it would actually monetize where value is.

Thoughts?

Humanities and the (Global) Silicon Valley

So… this is something I have been carrying around with me for a while. A long while. The thing is this: the Zuckerbergs, Pages, Jobs (may he rest in peace) and all those other rockstars from the valley generally missed (and, unfortunately, still do miss) one thing, and that is a decent ethical compass. Now, I won’t accuse any of them of being bad people, not at all. However, I do think that the infatuation with engineering talent does tend to blank out the “good” in as most people would see it. The Valley is, essentially, a left-brain affair. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of creativity, etc going on in the Valley (see the capitalized way of putting it?) but a lot of it is lacking essential ethical values. Why is that? Because engineers don’t think that way.

Engineering is Cool… but not enough…

Now, I think this is missing a huge trick (and, yes, as a humanities guy I would of course say that) because it leaves aside the sentiment of at least half of the population (I would posit that it is more than that as – although perhaps in a foggy, undefined way – most people do actually prefer ethically sound principles.

Now look at the major success stories of recent times. Let’s say Apple of Facebook. As to the latter, there has been a scathing (but rather excellent) article by Hamish McKenzie on PandoDaily today (which actually triggered me to write this thing tonight; thank you, jetlag…) looking at the missed tricks of Facebook Platform. This followed a piece by the most excellent Walter Isaacson in the Harvard Business Review of “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs” (eminently readable and highly recommended!).

Both Jobs and (admittedly) to a lesser extent Zuckerberg are quite awesome entrepreneurs (and I use both their products daily) but there was always something that irked me… And I realized it was their lack of ethics. Because, you see, I believe they have none. That is also why my regard for the “don’t do evil” motto of Google reached an all time low recently (check here if you don’t believe I could have such a low; I did!). And the reason is not that they are bad people. The reason is they are (were…) engineers. And engineers don’t think in certain ways. But, I would say, that (absent) way of thinking is important… really important in fact!

Humanities to the Fore!

And so I would call for every company to make sure to have someone in their upper ranks who comes from the humanities (yes, Google, I am looking at you; you are particularly bad in hiring those…) because, you see, those folks add (or can add) this additional dimension that will really allow you not to do evil. If you only have shit-hot engineers (and I adore those as much as anyone), you won’t be able to add that balance that you really need.

The challenging thing is that the result may – in the interim – be OK as in you might be making loads of dollars, and, yes, I know that this is good enough in most engineers’ book. However, if you want to build something to last, you will need to make sure that you have a balance that makes the Karma be good (and remember I am Atheist, so this is about doing the right thing and all…). And you’ll need those touchy-feely folks for that! There is – often, not always – a distinct lack of this in modern-day hot-shot start-ups. And the only thing I will say is this: to preach to the altar of engineering is as bad as preaching to any other altar; it tends to blank out other bits of life, and that, in itself, is bad.

#justsayin…

The Power of Platforms

Mary Meeker has just released her almost iconic annual “Internet Trend” report. In it (on slide 7), she points out that 88% of the smartphone OS share is now “made in USA”. Now, this might be good for the patriotic US soul but it signifies a much more important thing and that is the shift from carrier control to platform control. If you are an EU politician, you may lament that the current winners are from North America, but the fundamental shift does not actually depend on it (there will be Canada on the map next year again, and we may well see some Asia-led one, too).

The forced break-up by Apple

The introduction of iOS by Apple moved the access to the ultimate customer, the end user, from carrier to platform owner. With hindsight, carrier execs are probably pulling their hair out that they allowed this but they were falling all over each other when Apple came out with its shiny iPhone back, when?, in 2007.

This introduced a monstrous disruption in the telecoms industry as it marked a move from where carriers could dictate what they would or would not allow over their networks to being virtually at the mercy of the platform owners. It was, however, less about the shiny devices (though it helped their market cap to untold heights) but more about the platform approach. And therefore, Apple was, of course, quickly joined and then swiftly overtaken by Android. Today, they now rule the roost (though Apple is fast falling behind).

The Power of (Somewhat) Open Systems

Seen from today, a lot of criticism of the early leader, Apple, is centered around closed systems. People complain that iOS is too restrictive and does not allow them to do what they want to do (take any number of services, be it iCloud, iMessage, Game Center or anything else – they only function on Apple devices). Alas, back in 2007, that didn’t sound so bad. Because, you see, back then there was a) hardly any interaction and b) the one there was was restricted in “my” (haha) carriier network. But then, who cares, right? My friends are on any number of networks, and they change frequently, too. The carriers, however, thought that they could tie people in. Hell, some even thought they could become cool (anyone remember Vodafone Live!?). But that should not happen. And therefore the world changed.

Then came Android and, with it, the ability to dip into an even larger ecosystem, namely Google’s. I mean, who doesn’t use them, right? And with their “don’t be evil” motto, they took it up another notch. The Apple users were thenceforth fanboys and irrational, high-spending hipsters. Proper geeks would go with Android. Now though Google also starts showing signs of wanting to rule the world. The don’t be evil thing hasn’t been heard for some time

The Next Step?

And if you go through Ms Meeker’s deck a little further, you’ll find a lot of slides where Sina Weibo, Tencent, Amazon, eBay, etc feature. And you know what? Neither those companies nor their users give a toss whether the service is being delivered on iOS, Android, BlackBerry 10 or otherwise. They just want their service. And this is the challenge the current platform owners have (and it might sound vaguely familiar to the one carriers had): how to keep your users tied into your platform? It started of on the “it’s easier, better, simpler” lure. However, on most both iOS and Android people now start to realise that that might not be so: why does Google force me into a Gmail account (or is it Google+ now?) in order to get the most out of my shiny new phone? Why does Apple not allow me to share XYZ with my friends independent of what handset system they choose to use? This, incidentally, is why it makes insane sense for BlackBerry to release its BBM solution across other operating systems, too… (but this will be the only corporate plug today).

In short, when you look at the overall ecosystem, people want Facebook, Twitter, Sina Weibo, Line, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Skype, WhatsApp, you name it. They don’t really care where. Does this sound familiar? The first iPhone users went to AT&T because they were it was the only carrier that had it. Today, they’d scoff at a carrier that doesn’t have it (just ask Sprint, they allegedly struck a [too?] rich deal to get it).

What this means is that, in the (near) future, it will be less about operating systems (come on, who cares about them?) but more about actual applications. So what’s the winning one? Facebook? Twitter, Skype? I’d argue there’s more to come. We’ve heard of Line, Kakao. So what about Alibaba (check slide 69 on Ms Meeker’s deck), or Tencent’s We Chat (slide 65)? It is services and products users crave. These are platforms all right! The only reason they went for the platform owners was that they had better access routes than the (previous) incumbents. Now though they might have called in old Goethe’s Faust:

Do you not see the ghosts I’ve called?
Came in the night when I was asleep.
Here in the dark far too big.
The ghosts I’ve called won’t let me go. 

So then, dear friends, what next?

Carnival of the Mobilists # 270

Greetings, friends. Due to the English inability to have bank holidays on days other than a Monday, this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists is a day late but it is here nonetheless, and with verve! I have spent reading through a plethora of good stuff from the trenches of mobile:

Our friends from All About Symbian (yes, that name is still around!) have a bit of a prolific blogging streak and brings us two contributions this week looking at aspects of device and OS design respectively. Since both are intriguing, they get a double mention.

First, the function of home screens (note the plural) is queried and the question is as simple as it is compelling: if you have seven (or nine or eleven) “home” screens, do you then actually still have a home screen? Do you also have nine homes? Steve posits that simplicity should arguably win it, which of course is the opposite of what the iPhone’s all-app grid or Andoid’s army of home screens do today. Interesting!

Secondly, Steve looks at the burgeoning size of smartphones. He points out that the Nokia N95 screen size of a whopping 2.6” was huge by the standards then. It is dwarfed by the Samsung Galaxy S III’s 4.8” screen though. And the question is raised when is big too big. The answer is suggested to be at the end of people’s arms: Steve points out that hands are not growing as quickly as the screensizes (if indeed at all) and that therefore there should indeed be a perfect size for a phone – which 4.7” or bigger is, alas, not.

Moving on to even bigger things, and it doesn’t get any bigger than the Chinese market. Andy from Mobithinking has looked at recently released figures from some of the bigger analysists in the space and compacted this in a post that gives us numbers that make the mind of even the hardened mobilista boggle. China has now more smartphones than the US (22% vs 16% of the overall market). China has 3x more mobile subscribers than the US (1bn vs 330m). The country’s largest operator, China Mobile, alone has more than 2x as many mobile subscribers than the population of the US (which is itself the 3rd-largest mobile market in the world – India is a long way ahead of it on #2 though). China has more than 430m mobile Internet users, which is more than the population of either Europe or North America. For more, make sure to read thoroughly!

MobileGroove has a post from guest author Jeff Hasen on something that piqued my interest significantly when I heard about it, namely the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) attempt to regulate the disemination of content via social media (and mobile). Jeff’s background as a reporter and marketer of previous Olympic Games adds further insight. The long and short is that the IOC has set up a “hub” that will post content for more than 1,000 current and former athletes directly from their Facebook and Twitter accounts (which I would suggest is the antithesis of social media). Restrictions as to what you can share apply, however, also to ticket holders (so don’t you dare tweeting that photo of Usain Bolt using a Mac; Acer is a sponsor!). The predictable result? Uproar, mayhem and another big old body having to bow to the anarchic power of social (and mobile) media!

Lastly, something more (seemingly) mundane but (evidently) more practical: MobyAffiliates has a post on AppStore optimization, namely a guide what you need to do in order to make sure that your app doesn’t sink in between those other apps upon launch. This takes everything from app title, keywords, description, icons, imagery, etc, etc. An eminently useful post if I may say so!

As is good tradition on this blog, I will not choose a winner – I think all of them are good and important reads! So go ahead, get a coffee (or glass of wine) and do yourself some good! 🙂

Next week, the Carnival will be hosted by MobiThinking. If you want to submit something worthy, please e-mail us at mobilists [at] gmail [dot] com by the end of the week. And if you need more information on the Carnival (or to catch up on a wealth of information from all the previous Carnivals), make sure to visit the Carnival’s own site.

UPDATE: we have had a late bloomer to this week’s edition but I wouldn’t want to omit this, so here we go: The Mobile Payments Today blog brings a report on the jungle that mobile payments still are (using the example of Google Wallet) and highlighting the apparent complexities in connecting the various ecosystems (different POS systems, card providers, loyalty programs etc).

Network + Context + Trust = Woah!

So we have all heard, read, mused, spoken about network effects. What makes them strong, what makes them vulnerable, where they work and where they don’t (MyGuidie is an example where they didn’t). I am regularly speaking about the importance of context and am frequently borrowing the concept of object-centered sociality (never without attributing the amazing Jyri Engestrom who first made me aware of this all the way back in 2005) and the concept is so clear (or at least can be presented in a way that it makes it so clear) that most people “get it” immediately. However, there are (too) many real-life examples showing a horrific misunderstanding of it.

Now (drumroll), today, I came across a real-life example that shows you how can work. Here’s the backdrop: My rather wonderful son managed to get his hands on a work-placement at CERN (no, I don’t know how he managed either). As CERN is in Geneva and we live quite a way away from there, we needed to find him somewhere to stay (CERN’s own hostel only accommodates people over the age of 18 and he will be a shade under 17 by then, so doesn’t qualify).

What does one do? Ask a few friends who live and/or work in Geneva or have in the past. Look at Air B’n’B. Check cheap hotels. Etc. All done. Result? I now know that a) in Geneva, apartments are scarce goods, b) people I know don’t have flights of spare bedrooms available, c) hotels (and Air B’n’B places) are relatively expensive (a variation of a), I suppose).

But then one friend recommended I check out glocals.com. This is a site specifically for expats in some Swiss cities, amongst which Geneva. You have to subscribe and they will vet you before they accept you. So I did. With photo and all. Then I posted in their forum for newbies: “hey guys, here’s the thing. I am looking for a room for my son…”

12 minutes in, the first reply. Check this, check that. Hope you’re lucky. 23 minutes in: a lady (and never has the term been put to better use) offers a room. Free (I asked. Twice). She has two sons around the age of my son, thinks what he’s doing is cool and would love to support. And, oh, it would be great if he could speak a little German to her boys, that’ll be great, because they’re only bi-lingual French/English (yeah, right)… Bam!

I am still gobsmacked!

Besides that though, what made this happen, or shall we say more probable? Is it because there are angels living in Geneva (possible although it would shake my atheist convictions)? Is it because I am such a trustworthy soul (I’d rather not comment)? Or is it because this is a forum that is particularly tightly-knit, comprised of people who have a common need (they’re all expats in town) and have hence a common object? Me Ferrari (yes, she even has a cool name!) certainly is an angel but she would almost certainly never have dreamed of offering something like this on a site that didn’t have that type of context or towards people that were unvetted; she would probably not have been on such a site in the first place.

A site like glocals offers a social object (the city) to people who have similar contexts (expats). Because it vets its members, people tend to trust more. Also, the combination of context and trust makes it more likely for people to engage and help where there’s a need. Why? Well, because it could also happen to you, couldn’t it? And in a situation where you feel or have felt vulnerable (everyone who has ever moved to a foreign country knows how vulnerable you can feel there), you are more likely to offer advice, help, solutions.

And so we will go see the angels of Geneva in a couple of weeks time. How’s that for network effects in context working, huh?

Facebook’s IPO with no mobile revenues

So here’s the mother of all IPOs then, and it was coming a long way. The web was buzzing, today analysts of any couleur are commenting and reading through the fine print of Facebook’s registration statement (known as the S-1) in order to find valuable nuggets of information that they had not had before and myriads of bloggers and journalists drool over the new wave of young wealthy people in the Valley.

No mobile revenue

Whilst I’d love to join into this frenzy, I want to focus on one point in the S-1 that caught my eye, and which might pose some interesting challenges for the social networking giant going forward, namely the large abyss between mobile use of the site and revenues derived from it. You will likely have read about the huge amount of Facebook users regularly using the site from mobile devices. According to the company itself, 425m active users (out of a user base of 845m) accessed the site using mobile devices; that’s more than 50%. And yet, Facebook does not derive “any meaningful revenue” (quote from their S-1) from it.

Why (these) ads don’t work as well

This is, of course, because it – thus far – did not find a good way to display ads in their various guises to mobile users. The screen real estate is scarce and it would be easy to destroy the user experience by doing so. However, with that growth in usage, they may have to review this approach. The challenge is then to successfully marry user experience on a small(er) screen with revenue-generating activities. And, alas, the latter are so far mainly display ads of various sorts. How successful will those be? My guess is not very much. It is likely one reason why Facebook so far has shied away from using them: it might just destroy the user experience to an extent that its users would be seriously upset.

And yet, it is only the latest case of highlighting one of the common fallacies of migration from web to mobile (and I am not even saying they are wrong to move that way; their user growth and occuption of that space will likely counter-balance that; I think it was Accel’s Rich Wong who said that it is easier to find revenue streams once you have 100’s of millions of users than to find 100’s of millions of users with a (pre-)defined revenue stream). Nevertheless, none of us would watch a TV commercial showing you a static picture and someone reading something out from the off (this is exactly how TV advertising kicked off). We were not overly thrilled by early attempts of online advertising; they were merely an attempt to convert billboards and printed circulars to the digital realm. It was not until Google’s AdWords that online advertising really hit it off. So why would we now be content with a mere port from another form of media?

The Japanese way?

Japan has shown that there are other ways. Japan’s GREE reportedly records similar revenues from about 5% the user base than Facebook does. It does so mainly with virtual currencies and goods (and, yes,  it has moved to a slightly different target market); users can customize their experiences within that social network by buying “stuff” to embellish their avatars, play, use, customize content, etc. Japan has always been something of the Galapagos Islands when it comes to mobile usage: what worked there didn’t often work elsewhere (anyone remember i-mode?). However, we are seeing a similar effect on smartphone applications: 65% of the top-grossing apps these days use some sort of “freemium” feature. This approach might be too late for Facebook now though. Its users would be up in arms would they start charging for features that users have come to see as free.

I am fairly confident that the good folks of Facebook are here to stay but I am still thrilled to see if, when and how they will begin to adapt. With all the very smart people in the company, we may just see the next wave of mobile monetization, and I wonder what it might be…

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