Friday’s New York Times analyzes a quote from one of the VCs that has invested in Twitter. We learn that shopping and e-commerce might play an important in monetizing the social network’s product recommendation traffic:

Someday, when you ask your Twitter followers to recommend the most comfortable running shoe or the best digital camera, you might be able to go one step further and buy the product on the Twitter site.

E-commerce, including links to products and turnkey payment mechanisms, is a likely revenue stream for Twitter, said Todd Chaffee, a Twitter board observer and general partner at Institutional Venture Partners, which has invested in Twitter. (…)

Many companies are already on Twitter, monitoring what customers say about them and offering discounts and promotions to their followers. And many people use Twitter to ask for recommendations, like which type of gadget to buy or which movie to see. Since Twitter is already becoming one of the best shopping resources, Mr. Chaffee said, why not enable people to make purchases from the site as well?

“Commerce-based search businesses monetize extremely well, and if someone says, ‘What treadmill should I buy?’ you as the treadmill company want to be there,” Mr. Chaffee said. “As people use Twitter to get trusted recommendations from friends and followers on what to buy, e-commerce navigation and payments will certainly play a role in Twitter monetization.”

(seen in Mashable)

What it means: for Twitter, everything points in the direction of word-of-mouth monetization through shopping. E-commerce is a low hanging fruit given the strong existing affiliate program eco-system on the Web but the natural extension for Twitter will be local merchants (including services). And what is the equivalent of e-commerce affiliate programs for local? Possibly request-for-proposals and pay-per-call.

Update (June 22, 2009): Evan Williams, Twitter’s CEO, replied to the New York Times article and, according to ReadWriteWeb said “To be clear: Todd is a Twitter investor and a very smart and helpful guy. However, he is not actually on Twitter’s board and, in this article, he’s brainstorming on his own. These are not in the least bit concrete plans of the company.” I’m still convinced they will go in that direction. It’s a completely natural evolution, whether they want it or not… :-)

If interested, follow me on Twitter at @sebprovencher

Mark Canon, President of New Media, [praized subtype="small" pid="133f6afd48025ab56a05c6d6f6dace27" type="badge" dynamic="true"], had the opening keynote on Day 1 of the Kelsey Group ILM ’08 Conference.  He shared with us his “facts on the ground”, described the cultural anthropology of traditional local media companies and tried his hand at forecasting the future in local media (always a topic I like!).

In “facts on the ground”, he offered the following:

  1. Search engines are the new browsers. This means the local media industry has to get used to paying “taxes”.  Perry would call it “owning” the third page of search.  It’s also one of the reasons why search engine optimization has become such an important notion in local media in the last 12-18 months.
  2. Usage is agnostic and context is king. We have to learn about context and accept its limitations (ex: mobile device).
  3. Information is getting smarter. Local media should own the context, not the content. It should rent the framework (work with technology companies that understand context and that worry about specifics 24/7)
  4. Publishers will sell what they don’t have (ex: [praized subtype="small" pid="10764fab856fb75ccc92cc5055c1997f21" type="badge" dynamic="true"] ad network). They need to create what they need but sell what they can.  They need to manage capacity, not scarcity and they should focus on conversion.

On a cultural corporate anthropology level, he explains that directory publishers (and other traditional media firms online I would add) have been working like islands (with restricted access, a lot of editorial control and bespoke ad sales).  Currently, the activity on the Web is more like archipelagos (with aggregated data, user-generated content, more open access, and ad networks).  He foresees a future where we operate in “ecologies” (with federated data, semantic context, fluid distribution, and ad ecologies).

And, according to Canon, what does the future hold in local media?

  1. Smart contexts, smarter content
  2. Voice search and navigation (Google’s voice search on the iPhone come to my mind)
  3. Socially mediated commerce (i.e. leveraging online word-of-mouth)
  4. Dimensional consumption (i.e. personalization)

Update: Phil from Wellcomemat.com sent me this link to a video of the presentation.

What it means: one of the most insightful presentations I’ve ever heard at a Kelsey conference. I’ve known Mark since his Switchboard.com years (YellowPages.ca was running on the Switchboard platform from 1999 to 2002) and he clearly showed his experience in search and local/vertical media.  I especially like the following insights: a) adapt to the context (the Web is not Print, Mobile is not the Web) b) rent the framework (work with experts) c) build a local ad network (increase your reach!) and d) embrace socially mediated commerce (I believe word of mouth is the great local search disruptor).

Mark Canon, President of New Media, [praized subtype="small" pid="133f6afd48025ab56a05c6d6f6dace27" type="badge" dynamic="true"], had the opening keynote on Day 1 of the Kelsey Group ILM ’08 Conference.  He shared with us his “facts on the ground”, described the cultural anthropology of traditional local media companies and tried his hand at forecasting the future in local media (always a topic I like!).

In “facts on the ground”, he offered the following:

  1. Search engines are the new browsers. This means the local media industry has to get used to paying “taxes”.  Perry would call it “owning” the third page of search.  It’s also one of the reasons why search engine optimization has become such an important notion in local media in the last 12-18 months.
  2. Usage is agnostic and context is king. We have to learn about context and accept its limitations (ex: mobile device).
  3. Information is getting smarter. Local media should own the context, not the content. It should rent the framework (work with technology companies that understand context and that worry about specifics 24/7)
  4. Publishers will sell what they don’t have (ex: [praized subtype="small" pid="10764fab856fb75ccc92cc5055c1997f21" type="badge" dynamic="true"] ad network). They need to create what they need but sell what they can.  They need to manage capacity, not scarcity and they should focus on conversion.

On a cultural corporate anthropology level, he explains that directory publishers (and other traditional media firms online I would add) have been working like islands (with restricted access, a lot of editorial control and bespoke ad sales).  Currently, the activity on the Web is more like archipelagos (with aggregated data, user-generated content, more open access, and ad networks).  He foresees a future where we operate in “ecologies” (with federated data, semantic context, fluid distribution, and ad ecologies).

And, according to Canon, what does the future hold in local media?

  1. Smart contexts, smarter content
  2. Voice search and navigation (Google’s voice search on the iPhone come to my mind)
  3. Socially mediated commerce (i.e. leveraging online word-of-mouth)
  4. Dimensional consumption (i.e. personalization)

Update: Phil from Wellcomemat.com sent me this link to a video of the presentation.

What it means: one of the most insightful presentations I’ve ever heard at a Kelsey conference. I’ve known Mark since his Switchboard.com years (YellowPages.ca was running on the Switchboard platform from 1999 to 2002) and he clearly showed his experience in search and local/vertical media.  I especially like the following insights: a) adapt to the context (the Web is not Print, Mobile is not the Web) b) rent the framework (work with experts) c) build a local ad network (increase your reach!) and d) embrace socially mediated commerce (I believe word of mouth is the great local search disruptor).

Mark Canon, President of New Media, [praized subtype="small" pid="133f6afd48025ab56a05c6d6f6dace27" type="badge" dynamic="true"], had the opening keynote on Day 1 of the Kelsey Group ILM ’08 Conference.  He shared with us his “facts on the ground”, described the cultural anthropology of traditional local media companies and tried his hand at forecasting the future in local media (always a topic I like!).

In “facts on the ground”, he offered the following:

  1. Search engines are the new browsers. This means the local media industry has to get used to paying “taxes”.  Perry would call it “owning” the third page of search.  It’s also one of the reasons why search engine optimization has become such an important notion in local media in the last 12-18 months.
  2. Usage is agnostic and context is king. We have to learn about context and accept its limitations (ex: mobile device).
  3. Information is getting smarter. Local media should own the context, not the content. It should rent the framework (work with technology companies that understand context and that worry about specifics 24/7)
  4. Publishers will sell what they don’t have (ex: [praized subtype="small" pid="10764fab856fb75ccc92cc5055c1997f21" type="badge" dynamic="true"] ad network). They need to create what they need but sell what they can.  They need to manage capacity, not scarcity and they should focus on conversion.

On a cultural corporate anthropology level, he explains that directory publishers (and other traditional media firms online I would add) have been working like islands (with restricted access, a lot of editorial control and bespoke ad sales).  Currently, the activity on the Web is more like archipelagos (with aggregated data, user-generated content, more open access, and ad networks).  He foresees a future where we operate in “ecologies” (with federated data, semantic context, fluid distribution, and ad ecologies).

And, according to Canon, what does the future hold in local media?

  1. Smart contexts, smarter content
  2. Voice search and navigation (Google’s voice search on the iPhone come to my mind)
  3. Socially mediated commerce (i.e. leveraging online word-of-mouth)
  4. Dimensional consumption (i.e. personalization)

Update: Phil from Wellcomemat.com sent me this link to a video of the presentation.

What it means: one of the most insightful presentations I’ve ever heard at a Kelsey conference. I’ve known Mark since his Switchboard.com years (YellowPages.ca was running on the Switchboard platform from 1999 to 2002) and he clearly showed his experience in search and local/vertical media.  I especially like the following insights: a) adapt to the context (the Web is not Print, Mobile is not the Web) b) rent the framework (work with experts) c) build a local ad network (increase your reach!) and d) embrace socially mediated commerce (I believe word of mouth is the great local search disruptor).

SP32-20080904-131153 

This morning, the fine folks at Mashable wonder “What is FriendFeed’s Effect on Blogging?” Friendfeed, for everyone’s benefit, can be described as a lifestream activity aggregating site.  You basically centralize in one place all of your social media feeds from a variety of services (such as your blog, tweets, YouTube postings, etc.).  You can find mine here.  You also add “friends” and watch the aggregate of all their activities in one place, on the home page of Friendfeed (when you’re signed in).

One of their killer features (which was quickly replicated by Facebook) is the ability to comment on any feed.  Spontaneous conversations can erupt around a variety of topics. The Silicon Valley in-crowd quickly adopted Friendfeed and it seems like many interesting conversations are happening there now . The Friendfeed commenting feature could be equated to what you do in Twitter or in the Facebook status update. In my case, I haven’t adopted Friendfeed as most of social graph doesn’t really hang out there. 

About Friendfeed’s impact on blogging, Mashable says: “I see most of the folks who’ve taken up Twitter, FriendFeed, and other similar services drasticly decrease posting volume, but not to the expense of their substantive editorial or news based posts, it seems. A lot of the personal updates, questions to incite discussion and the observational posts shorten themselves and end up on the lifestream. (…)  In short, micro-blogging isn’t killing traditional blogging, it’s evolving it.”

What it means: I agree.  Blogging is slowly evolving towards a more fragmented world as we see the emergence of new social conversational tools allowing more and more people to start/join conversations in many different places.  More fragmentation means a more complex ecosystem, but also more opportunities for word of mouth. For me, this is still the tip of the iceberg on our way to a completely social Web.

As most people following the tech industry know, July was “iPhone 3G” month. In the local search space, the Kelsey Group (via Mike Boland) recently published an analysis of 25 representative local search iPhone apps. I haven’t read the document but I’m sure it’s excellent as always.

In a case of “I don’t know if I should be laughing or crying” though, I stumbled upon this Information Week article that talks about a restaurant app called UrbanSpoon (I’m pretty sure it’s not in the Kelsey Group report…). Here’s what it does:

When you start UrbanSpoon, it asks for permission to check your location. Once it does, you get a slot-machine-type interface with three thumbwheels: One containing names of local neighborhoods, one containing a list of cuisines, and one containing price ranges, from one dollar-sign to four. You can select any of the criteria manually, and lock that choice in. Then, give the iPhone a shake, and the device’s built-in accelerometer will detect the movement and set the wheels to spinning. I’ve found two good shakes do the job. Or, if you’re feeling lazy, you can press the “Shake” button at the bottom of the screen. The wheels spin with suitable sound effects, and when they’re done, you get a restaurant recommendation.

Not sure it’s useful but it’s certainly very clever. It seems to be working as the UrbanSpoon blog reported 300,000 downloads on July 23rd.

UrbanSpoon iPhone app

What it means: Hmmm… Clearly, if you’re in the local search space, I think you want to have an iPhone app/iPhone-compatible site out there (or be working on one) just to appear to be competitive. But I suspect we’re already close to “jumping the shark” in the space. The signal to noise ratio seems to be quite high and Apple controls the storefront. Regarding the UrbanSpoon app, the Information Week reviewer mentioned something I thought was really interesting: “The application is as good as any Internet-based restaurant finder — which is to say it’s mediocre. It’s no substitute for talking to trusted friends, or going out and trying and finding new restaurants on your own.” Again, word of mouth seems to be the #1 trusted source for local search referrals. Quoting Roberto Rocha (who was recently quoting an unnamed social media expert), “Whoever figures out how to bottle the friendly referral will be the next Google.” He might be right.

According to this release from ABI Research, “location-based mobile social networking revenues will reach $3.3 billion by 2013 but successful business models may differ from what many observers expect”. They add: “While location-based advertising integrated with sophisticated algorithms holds a lot of promise, the current reality rather points to licensing and revenue-sharing models as the way forward for social networking start-ups to grow their customer base and reach profitability.”

What it means: First of all, I think “location-based mobile social networking” is a misnomer. From the get go, your mobile device is a social tool. It allows you to stay in touch with your friends via voice, e-mail, SMS and IM. Social and mobile go together like peanut butter and jelly! In addition, mobile and location have also a natural fit as the device moves with you (duh!). Finally, local search for me is a very social, it’s all about word-of-mouth. So, taking all that into account, “location-based mobile social networking” is really local search done on a mobile device. Now, based on that, I’m surprised ABI does not consider advertising (at least in their press release) as a way to monetize mobile social local search. It certainly looks like they’re underestimating the role existing local search stakeholders will play in this ecosystem.

Last week, I was reading the news of the Snapvine acquisition by my friends at Whitepages.com. Snapvine is a widget application embeddable in social sites with which users can leave voice messages/comments to other users. I suspect Snapvine has built a VoIP infrastructure that can be leveraged for any type of communication product.

Snapvine logo

According to Techcrunch, “they’ll integrate Snapvine into search results, letting people claim their information and replace their phone number with a voicemail box from Snapvine, and/or a click-to-call button that lets people call them without giving out their phone number. Their hope is that as people do searches on themselves (…) and find their information listed on WhitePages.com, they’ll claim the profile and add Snapvine functionality.”

The announcement reminded me of a great blog post I read about 10 days ago on ReadWriteWeb, where they were discussing the next steps in terms of social media monetization. They suggested the mass-market utility model defined as “social graph + communication tools.” is the winning formula for social media. They added: “The communication tools could be email, SMS, VOIP, poking, walls, vampires, whatever turns people on. The social graph is the spam controller and way to make connections.” They concluded by saying that “The social graph is so closely linked to communications, which has always been a utility model.”

What it means: thinking about social media and word-of-mouth, it’s clearly all about communication tools. That’s a very powerful insight for anyone involved in social media and local search. If you are, you’ll want to make sure your users have access to a variety of communication tools to broadcast, share and request recommendations.

Last week, I was reading the news of the Snapvine acquisition by my friends at Whitepages.com. Snapvine is a widget application embeddable in social sites with which users can leave voice messages/comments to other users. I suspect Snapvine has built a VoIP infrastructure that can be leveraged for any type of communication product.

Snapvine logo

According to Techcrunch, “they’ll integrate Snapvine into search results, letting people claim their information and replace their phone number with a voicemail box from Snapvine, and/or a click-to-call button that lets people call them without giving out their phone number. Their hope is that as people do searches on themselves (…) and find their information listed on WhitePages.com, they’ll claim the profile and add Snapvine functionality.”

The announcement reminded me of a great blog post I read about 10 days ago on ReadWriteWeb, where they were discussing the next steps in terms of social media monetization. They suggested the mass-market utility model defined as “social graph + communication tools.” is the winning formula for social media. They added: “The communication tools could be email, SMS, VOIP, poking, walls, vampires, whatever turns people on. The social graph is the spam controller and way to make connections.” They concluded by saying that “The social graph is so closely linked to communications, which has always been a utility model.”

What it means: thinking about social media and word-of-mouth, it’s clearly all about communication tools. That’s a very powerful insight for anyone involved in social media and local search. If you are, you’ll want to make sure your users have access to a variety of communication tools to broadcast, share and request recommendations.

Man Versus Machine

June 3, 2008

On Saturday, I realized that my old wireless router had died of old age. Not knowing what model to buy next (I had bought the first one because it was the only one compatible with my old iPAQ Music Center), I turned to my social graph for an answer. I used Twitter to ask my 375 “followers”: “just realized my wireless router at home died. Any advice as to purchase of a new one?”

In a matter of a few hours, I quickly received many valid answers both from Twitter and from Facebook where my “tweets” are broadcasted to my 612 “friends”:

  • A Montreal web entrepreneur told me to buy the Linksys WRT160N with a link to the product page
  • The partner at the VC firm who funded Praized Media said I should buy an Airport Extreme if I’m using a Mac
  • A former Ubisoft colleague told me to make sure I update the firmware before declaring my router dead
  • Another former Ubisoft colleague suggested a SonicWall router along with a link
  • A high school friend told me to buy Linksys and said I shouldn’t pay more than $80.00

Now, I could have easily queried Google for such a search. I could have looked for “how to buy a wireless router“, found relevant web sites like About.com or eHow, and identify important product criteria that way (and associated brand/models). But you know what? Research takes time. Pinging my social graph took me 1 minute and I got five valid answers in a very short time.

It got me thinking about how the social graph is structured, in terms of ease of access. It’s very easy to access friends & family. You usually have their e-mail address and phone numbers handy. It’s a bit harder to reach the people that have a shared interest with you (community members, neighbors, former colleagues, etc.) and it’s usually very difficult to directly ask experts for their opinion (have you tried pinging a movie critic lately?). What if you could easily reach all these people to ask them anything? And what if everyone had tools to make it easy to answer?

social graph word of mouth

It also got me thinking about the whole Man vs. Machine debate. Who do you trust most for information/recommendations? Man (a real human being answering your query) or Machine (an algorithm that’s surfacing relevant information)? It’s Facebook/Twitter/Friendfeed/Mahalo vs. Google/Yahoo/MSN. Coming from the business directory industry where word-of-mouth is often considered the biggest “competitor” (with social media, it’s becoming the biggest opportunity!), I tend to find human recommendations more relevant and more interesting.

In an article about social media monetization yesterday, eMarketer says that word-of-mouth might be a key way to monetize social media as “62% of marketing professionals told TNS Media Intelligence and Cymfony that creating word-of-mouth or viral campaigns has great potential to impact their business.”

That Man/Machine debate is age-old as you can see from this quote from a 1968 Time magazine article: “With the Depression, the machines that had once seemed so heroic to the prosperous ’20s were suddenly transformed into villains. As production lines slowed to a crawl and millions were thrown out of work, surrealists depicted nightmarish phantom treadmills and airplanes that were trapped like dragonflies.”

As we get closer to the singularity (defined as “a hypothesised point in the future variously characterized by the technological creation of self-improving intelligence, unprecedentedly rapid technological progress, or some combination of the two.”), I think we’ll get into more debates around the value of Man versus Machine (or maybe I’ve been watching too much Battlestar Galactica).

Update: Danny Sullivan talks about “Search 4.0: putting humans back in search“.

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