Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Niche social media will win the day… and lookout for WordPress

What do you stand for?

It’s my first rule of publishing. If I can’t tell what a magazine, newspaper, website stands for, I pretty much write it off. Communities band around common philosophies, beliefs and goals. And these days in media where information is so commoditised, community is everything.

Social media is still media. The same rules apply. So I say once again: What do you stand for?

Facebook used to stand for something. It was exclusive. It had a reason for being.  College students could virtually socialise knowing that they were doing so within a closed environment. They understood what Facebook stood for. And so they rewarded it with their loyalty.

In return, Facebook has slapped them in the face. It has said, you made us successful, now we’re going to repay you by taking away your treasured exclusivity. And with that, they have instantaneously taken away everything that they stand for.

What does Facebook now stand for? Not a lot.

I doubt it will kill Facebook, it’s going to take a lot for another site to gain the kind of critical mass that it has. But it certainly is vunerable. And over time, I see its dominance in its core market slipping away.

For me, Facebook has gone away from where your so-called social media is heading. It will head towards niche networks, where exclusivity is important. Where value-add is important (and guess what value add can be monetised!). The world of forums, editorial, chatrooms and social-media networks will mould and find a place somewhere in the
middle.

I think I’m reasonably well place to comment because MediaConnect (that’s my business if you haven’t yet read the About Phil bit) is essentially a niche social network for PRs and journalists. It’s exclusive. In fact PRs and Journos can’t even see each other’s sites. We like to think we add value. And I definitely believe we stand for something, that being better reporting and better handling of media relations.

I’ve copped crap in many new-age Web 2.0 blogs with people describing MediaConnect as a “walled garden” but the site and the business can’t stand for what it does without that exclusivity.

So back to Facebook. Now, obviously Facebook has taken the path it has because it’s hit a ceiling. Right now, its probably aiming to be acquired and because its not yet turning big bucks and is probably a long way from doing so, the only metric it can be measured on is subscriber numbers and its valuation is going to likely be compared directly to MySpace.

But what Facebook could have done was use the basis of its technology to launch new social media sites. It could have launched an open site under a different brand and enabled users to simply copy or synchronise their profiles if they wished to appear on both. Even better, it could have kept finding new, little exclusive niches – again giving users the ability to choose what profile appears where.

Social-media technology is now a commodity. I think you’ll find media sites, blogs, etc. start to incorporate the kind of “friends” and groups functionality of MySpace, Facebook, etc into their straight media sites from next year. I’ve already mapped out my plans for that with my 1Eyed project and I’m sure there will be many others go down that route. People sometimes disregard the fact that bulletin boards and forums are social networks, admittedly not as feature rich but for many areas they serve the same purpose.

I’ve taken interesting note that WordPress has recently introduced avatars. IMO that could be the first step down the path of social media extensions for its blogging platform. I reckon WordPress is really perfectly positioned to disrupt this whole space because of its dominant position. Why can’t every blog be the equivalent of a user’s MySpace page. There’s even monetisation possibilities here. Blogs could possibly charge a small amount to join that blog’s social network. What Webtwobees wouldn’t fork out an annual tenner or so to get access to the  TechCrunch network, for example.

And if that situation ever plays out, the first bit of advice I’ll ever have for a blog owner will still be: What do you stand for?

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Techmeme takes sponsorship

Techmeme tonight went commercial, introducing its first sponsored links.

Down the right-hand side, you’ll see three links to blog posts from Techmeme’s first set of sponsors. I like the approach. Rather than have sponsored buttons, Techmeme is scanning its sponsor’s blog and linking to their latest blog post. It is charging $4,500, $3,500 and $3,000 for those three spots from top to bottom for a total of $11k per month. Not a bad start for a site with so few of the overheads of traditional media sites (ie; journalists).

I like the way Gabe has kept the integrity of the site, by linking to blog posts rather than to corporate websites or other such commsspeak.

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OPML for podcasts?

Just a few more thoughts on my earlier post as regards to podcasts.

Firstly, Jeremiah Owyang posted back discussing how he believes podcasts give greater control than other mediums because you can pause, fast forward, rewind. I do wish I had that much control Jeremiah. Firstly, you have to download the entire podcast till you can fast forward and I find the slider next to useless. I don’t know where I’m going and you just end up going back and forth. It’s like having to fast forward and rewind video recorders in the old days.

Via Jeremiah I found this post defending the merits of podcasting from Mario Sundar but still he suggests that podcasts should not be longer than 5 minutes.

Colin commented on my original post that: “If everything was consistently broken up into chunks so that you could fast forward meaningfully to skip a section that could work”.

Surely, OPML could be used for this. Paul Montgomery has put a few ideas up on a project he’s proposing called Table vs Jetski. He wants to use OPML to describe an outline of a slideshow-style podcast/videocast. I really like the idea but also think the same approach could be used plain and simply to break down a podcast into bite-sized RSS chunks. If could then evolve into also performing the types of things Paul has talked about.

I think this would be an enormous step forward for x-casting. It would mean I could subscribe to only certain segments in a show, as well. And it wouldn’t be too difficult to create a tool where you can insert breaks into a longer podcast because as Scoble pointed out in another comment on my original post – in the end, a lot of podcasts are produced in a hurry. It would act as a cheap, form of editing.

Then Jeremiah, I would have some control. I could flip between the various segments. Can anyway imagine watching DVDs without having chapter control. Why do we expect podcast users to take a step back in control to what they’re already used to?

In the meantime, it would be really nice if you produce an hour long podcast to break down the bits in text: ie 0:10 Introduction 2:23 Discussion about digg so that I can at least put that slider to some good!

UPDATE: Here’s the TechCrunch writeup of the Pluggd service that Paul referenced in the comments. Very interesting, although I still don’t think it alleviates the need for chapters.

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Podcasts are too bloody long!

Is it just me, or does anyone else think these hour long podcasts are just way over the top…

I just did my very best to get through the latest TalkCrunch with Arrington, Malik and Scoble but didn’t make it half way through. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through an hour long podcast yet. I have had it on in the background as I’ve been doing other things, but invariably I tune out and realise I’ve missed the last ten minutes and wonder what the point was.

I had to wonder as Az, Om and Scoz compained about suffering from information overload and being time-poor whether at any point they gave thought to editing down their hour of jabbering to a more palatable 30 mins.

There’s a lot of things I can do in an hour. Maybe, I’ve just got a short attention span but listening to an unedited dialogue for sixty minutes is not one of those I’m going to make a habit. When podcasters start respecting my time and edit out the crap to fit it into my 15 to 20 min lunch break, well then I just may start having more respect for their podcasts.

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New theme

I wasn’t really blogging when WordPress.com rolled out the new customisable themes so now that I’m back at it, I thought I’d experiment.

Think I’ll play around a bit over the next week or so, so if the site looks different everytime you drop by recently that’s why!

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2007: The year online computing comes together

In a decade’s time when we look back on 2007 it will remembered as the year that the online application suite came to be, because the most critical piece of the suite came to fruition – the file system.

Today, Srinidhi from Zoho revealed in a comment on Squash that Zoho was building an online file explorer that will pull together files from all of the different Zoho online services.

Said Srinidhi: Zoho is “working towards creating an integrated online system which will enable organizing and managing the different files created using various Zoho web services (something similar to what Windows Explorer means to the desktop)”.

“Zoho Drive/Explorer is a step in this direction and we are also working on other ideas”.

Today, TechCrunch profiled a company called Carbonite offering unlimited backup for around $US5 a month. The company has received $7 million in VC funding showing there are some very serious plays in this space.

However, I don’t think online backup is the real market here. The real market here is anywhere access to files. If I just want backup I think most people will be satisfied enough with backing up to an external hard drive or even burning periodically to disc media.

Online storage providers will have to offer more than just backup to entice the punters because frankly people aren’t paranoid enough to fork out even 5 bucks a month.

However, if I can get backup PLUS anywhere access to all my files then the story becomes more compelling.

That’s clearly the direction we’re heading. When details for Google GDrive, or Platypus project, leaked out, backup was one of the touted benefits but then followed VPN-less and disconnected access to files and multiple synchronization of machines. Now we’re starting to a service with some pizzazz.

Microsoft’s Live Drive is going to do pretty much the same thing, but its going to have a distinct advantage in that its almost certainly going to be very closely tied into the Vista operating system. Microsoft is better positioned than anyone to do online/offline synchronization because of its control over the offline component. I expect to see Live Drive announced at the same time as Vista and touted as an additional advantage of moving to that platform. As I’ve said before this online storage model has the potential to enable Microsoft to finally start moving to a recurring revenue model. I was very interested to hear at the recent Sydney blogger’s brunch the Microsoft exec suggest the likely amount of storage you would get for free would be 2Gb. That’s enough to get most people started but leaves plenty of room to monetise the service once people get used to the benefits of access anywhere files.

But the real trick will be seamless integration with an online application suite. Even if you can download your Word files on an Internet kiosk at the shopping mall, unless you’ve got a copy of Word on the machine there’s not a lot of point. If however, you have the option to boot up that document to your online word processor then we have true Access from Anywhere computing.

I don’t see a lot of future in stand-alone online storage services no matter how good they are unless they can inter-operate with online application tools. Fellow aussie Nic Cubrilovic is a smart cookie and has seen this as a threat/opportunity and is intelligently going down the API route with Omnidrive. However, I question if there are going to be any online tools where the provider won’t want to provide that piece of the puzzle as well because it becomes a fabulous lock-in strategy.

The problem for all smaller players in this space is you probably have to provide the whole kit and caboodle. You’re going to want to provide an online file repository and be able to launch any file in that repository online and work on it in your browser. More importantly, users are going to want to do a single search across all documents, files, emails and so forth which is why I think the big suite approach is going to win out over individual bits and pieces.

Google will obviously get to that integrated suite level as there as they already have most of the major pieces. Microsoft will get there by  extending their offline properties while Zoho looks like being the only other player with such grand ambitions, the vision and the track record to pull it off. Yahoo! will need to get into the space because I see as being central to online loyalty and establishing search habits and the obvious match up there is an acquisition of Zoho which would not only let them catch up in a single leap but arguably put them in the lead. If I were Yahoo! I’d be acting sooner rather than later. As Yahoo! would have discovered trying to tie together the likes of Flickr and delicious it’s not easy to bring together disparate web applications and I believe integration is going to be absolutely key in this space. Even something as simple as single sign-on across the Zoho services obviously has been no piece of cake. Google is waaaaaay out in front at the moment on this front even if its not blatantly obviously yet but click on the My Services link at the top of GMail and you get a sense for where the company is probably headed.

I know this post has become somewhat gargantuan but one more company I might throw into the mix is Jotspot who quietly appear to be building an office suite but tying it around the Wiki model. I’m not convinced that the traditional file explorer model is right for collaborative, online tools and judging by the Zoho comments it doesn’t look like they are either. Maybe it’s the Wiki model, maybe it’s a hybrid email/file management system, maybe you could wrap everything inside a CRM or project management environment. I think it’s going to take some revolutionary thinking along those lines to level up against the companies I’ve already talked about. The problem is the ante just keeps on getting bigger and by next year when all the pieces that have begun to be developed this year start getting dropped into place, the stakes are only get infinitely higher.

When all the hype about online calendars was at its most feverpitch I predicted that they’d all get crushed by the big boys and the same will happen in this market unless someone does something amazing in the next six months. Zoho has done enough work to compete but more likely be acquired but if I was a maker of a point solution I’d be looking to become part of something a lot bigger, very quickly.

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Nobody killed the radio star…

Imagine if radio was a Web 2.0 startup.

Here’s this really amazing technology that is based on audio streaming that enables users to participate and leave audio commentary.

As much as Internet zealots talk about how revolutionary the Internet is in terms of letting the common man have their say via blogs and participatory media, the facts is the common man has been having their say on talk back radio for decades.

Community radio stations have been providing niche multimedia content for yonks and if your willing to channel surf the small, independent stations you can generally find some type of program that would pretty much suit any tastes.

But the fact is people like to listen to the big radio stations. And why? Because they have the best presenters who make their radio program a unique experience. Since when has radio been just about the music? I turn down the music, till my favourite presenters come on and then turn it up again. My favourite presenters are usually comedians, or provocateurs – i hate half the people i listen to, but i listen cause I like to get riled up by their standpoints or behaviour.

Now, of course radio is going to take a hit from the Internet. It took a hit from television but it didn’t die. Radio will soldier on and it will do so on the back of the talent it uses. Just like we all gravitate towards the best blogs or best podcasts, there will be people I want to listen to or watch and it won’t matter too much what medium they use as long as their accessible, I’ll do my best to listen or see them.

So many arguments about the media, get stuck down in the medium and the battle of different technologies but inevitably it is as it has always been – a talent war.

The demise of radio? Sorry Kent, but Pfft.

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Shadow services will fail again

The single biggest failing I see in 90 per cent of Web 2.0 plays is that they’re dependent on generating a critical mass of users but don’t seem to have any real hook that says to me that they have a snow ball’s chance in hell of getting there.

Having a business model that relies of critical mass is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing for the few who achieve it and a curse for the majority of others who never do. If you get to a market first and the market is a goer and you execute well then you stand a very good chance of 1) establishing critical mass and 2) keeping your advantage because its very hard for a site without critical mass to compete with a site that has it

If your not first or your market is not a smack-you-in-the-face-with-a-wet-fish goer than you have to buy critical mass. That’s what Netscape.com is trying to do in its war with Digg.com right now, buying off their top users. Don’t think it has to be cash though. When I started MediaConnect, which was essentially a press release bulletin board for journalists I essentially “bought off” my audience with editorial; ie i gave away a valuable service in order to generate mass to make work a monetisable service that required critical mass.

But most Web 2.0 companies aren’t doing anything to buy off the audience to get that critical mass that turns a neat idea into a self-perpetuating organism, which is what most Web 2.0 plays set out to be. Take Bordee featured today on TechCrunch. Neat idea, but it won’t fly.

Essentially it requires you to download an extension so that you can start message boards for any site you’d like to start a messageboard for. Not only do they have one big massive hump to get over. ie Why would I bother to start a message board that no body else is posting to, they have the double disadvantage that they have to first encourage the user to download a browser extension. They’re not “buying off” the user, they’re asking the user to “buy in”, not once, but twice. Won’t happen.

I also might add, that I hate the “shadows” concept. Feasibly, I can think of very few cases where it might work, but I’m also philosophically opposed to sites that leach off other sites which is what shadowing is really about. Thankfully, services like ThirdVoice don’t work and I’m struggling to get why people are getting excited about a model that has already proved to fail.

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Real Online Office Suite Getting Closer

A good while ago, on the acquisition of a new laptop, I decided to see how long I could go with AJAX apps before I gave in and installed a desktop office suite.

I made it a couple of months before the lack of a decent AJAX spreadsheet broke me. Things are much different now with the likes of Google Spreadsheet, ZohoSheet and others.

In fact, I doubt that would be the breaking point for me these days. Rather, I’ve kind of fallen out of love with my 3G datacard which just gives me too much grief and until my laptop features always-on internet I doubt I’ll be ready to give away my desktops apps.

BUT hopefully when Wimax rolls around or I get around to buying a laptop where the 3G is built in and therefore hopefully delivers a better experience (in Australia, Lenovo have just this and I’ll have to try and get my hands on one to try it out) then online apps will become more than just a secondary suite of tools.

When that happens, I’m hoping we’ll finally have a real suite of tools. Now, you would all probably know Zoho, who already have a collection of the various tools, but until they really work together like their desktop cousins I can’t really come to describe them as a suite.

But we’re getting there. Zoho recently announced that you could now take your ZohoSheet spreadsheets and embed them into ZohoWriter or ZohoShow. It’s a good start. Single sign-on is supposedly also coming.

I hope Zoho is working on some kind of single file system that ties it all together. I’ve never been a fan of the way ZohoWriter handles files and I still much prefer the Writely method of doing it but what I really want is to have an online folder where I can collate all my word documents, spreadsheets, powerpoints, online just like I do on my local machine.

Then, if I’m really lucky that online file repository will seamlessly replicate with my local drive and then we’re cooking with gas.

BTW, very surprised that Sheet hasn’t yet followed Google’s lead and enabled simultaneous editing, especially as its enabled similiar functionality in ZohoWriter. I’m sure it’s coming, but this type of key functionality isn’t something I’d expect the very nimble crew at Zoho to get away with this, for this amount of time.

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Apple iPhone inevitable

There was a lot of speculation that Apple was going to announce its iPhone with this week’s swag of announcements but it didn’t happen.

However, had an interesting chat with someone who’s in a pretty good position to know, who said an OEM supplier of accessory equipment in Asia has been briefed on the product and its definitely happening and its happening soon.

Personally, I think we’ll have to wait until Macworld. When you move into the telco space there’s always a multitude of regulatory crap you have to get through so it’ll take time. But its obviously going to happen and with Zune coming along it will be sooner rather than later.
Once the iPhone thing happens then somebody let me stack my chips on that Apple/Pandora acquisition I riffed about a while back!

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