Archive for November, 2006

Customers Using Emerging Digital Channels

November 17, 2006

According to new report from Bluestreak, “Emerging Digital Channels: Consumer Adoption, Attitudes &
Behavior,” which surveyed consumer behavior and attitudes toward emerging technologies — including podcasts, text messages (SMS), RSS, blogs and message boards as well as e-mail — users are not only feeling positive about the new channels, they are increasingly using them.
It’s no surprise that 100% of respondents currently use e-mail and 88% use text messaging. But the other channels are active, too, with 71% using message boards, 63% using blogs, 36% using podcasts and 28% using RSS.

“Emerging technologies are offering marketers and consumers an increasing number of channels through which to communicate,” said Doug Anderson, president of Bluestreak, “although marketers are allocating budgets for multi-channel communication without a clear understanding of the effectiveness and desirability of each channel.”

The survey found some demographic differences between who uses the new channels, with heavier users leaning younger and male.

But the best news in the survey, from a marketer’s point of view, is that new channel users do not hate ads.

There is a clear acceptance among consumers of advertising as a trade-off for good content and a further willingness to accept advertising and “sponsored” content as long as the information
is relevant, high-quality and not overdone. Only text message advertising seems to engender a strong negative reaction among consumers.

That attitude is backed up by behavior. Only 14% of respondents said a purchase had ever came about as a result of a text message promotion, vs. 81% who had never made a purchase.

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TenHunt: Scavenger Hunt Redux

November 10, 2006

TenHunt is a timed internet scavenger hunt that sends users through sponsored links and on to other websites looking for topical information. It’s an interesting ad model emerging at a time when everyone is trying to find effective and reputable ways to drive consumer engagement with online brands. Scavenger hunts are as old as time but people are more familiar with navigating the web and more ad money is being spent online than ever before.

TenHunt is a project of serial marketing entrepreneurs Michael Taggart and Walter Burch, whose company Webco.tv has launched lots of affiliate marketing projects. Affiliate marketers often get a bad rap, but I like the way these guys are running TenHunt.

Users register for the scavenger hunt with nothing but a contact email address. At the designated time, all participants are given a series of increasingly difficult questions based on the content of sponsors’ web sites. The first person to complete all 10 questions in the contest wins that week’s grand prize – this week it’s a 30GB video iPod. Taggart and Burch say that their aim is to offer progressively larger and larger prizes and populate the site with photos of happy winners to prove that it’s for real. Prizes are sent by next day air the morning after the contest ends. Most of us are rightly skeptical of things like this, but at launch at least I think this project looks more reputable than scores of marketing efforts littering the web.

Email will only be sent to notify participants of upcoming contests and probably to announce the winners, with short promotional messages from sponsors in the end of the email that the TenHunt creators emphasized would be as unobtrusive as possible.

The combination of time constraints, simultaneous activity with other users participating and a degree of challenge will hopefully create a compelling user experience. If the prizes awarded do get bigger and better and if there are truly no strings attached, I think users could happily participate. I wrote here about the Jellyfish Smack timed reverse auction on Tuesday and that was a lot of fun to watch happen. Xuqa is a successful game based ad model we’ve covered here; Xuqa users play online poker and can take market research surveys to build up points in the game. I think TenHunt could be another example of a quality blend of advertising and game playing.

What makes this most interesting to me is the engagement with brands. Advertising consumption is generally passive, but technology like contextual pay-per-click is changing that. TenHunt is an interesting example of a potentially powerful way for advertisers to drive thoughtful engagement with their online properties. What advertiser doesn’t want that?

This could end up being awful, but I’m going to give these guys the benefit of the doubt. Advertising is changing on every level and I think some affiliate marketers are going to get it right.

TenHunt: Scavenger Hunt Redux

ConceptShare and Thinkature: Two Approaches to Visual Collaboration

November 9, 2006

Collaboration between distributed users online is widely recognized as one of the key next steps in software development. The products available for collaboration are becoming increasingly light weight, powerful and easy to use. Two companies that we’ve found entering into this market with compelling, but markedly different, products are ConceptShare and Thinkature.

Both products let users create shared visual workspaces that can be marked up and chatted in. If you are a visual designer, someone planning events or otherwise looking to stop emailing or faxing visual objects back and forth – one of these two services might be just what you are looking for. Thinkature is simpler, free and available now. ConceptShare is more powerful, subscription based and due to come to market in a few weeks.

Adobe, Microsoft and other large companies offer collaboration tools, but these two small companies provide something faster, simpler and less expensive. Tools like Conceptshare and Thinkature serve a different purpose than systems like WebEx because they allow for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Since they are entirely browser based, they should also work cross platform.


ConceptShare

ConceptShare did a demo at TechCrunch Party #7 and is now nearly ready for launch. People who have requested beta accounts will be given access next week and the product will be available commercially in about two weeks. It’s a very impressive tool aimed primarily at visual designers.

The product is built in Flash and the three person company has taken about half a million dollars from a local angel investor.

Conceptshare workspaces can include multiple concept pages, comments appear in individual threads that can be clicked through one at a time so they don’t become overwhelming, images can be drawn on and zoomed into. Screen captures can be imported by simply providing a URL. All the modules of the workspace can be resized by dragging their borders; so if I want to see the last 15 lines of chat instead of having the image being discussed taking up the bulk of my screen I can easily make that change.

Prices haven’t been absolutely determined yet, but a single workspace with up to 5MB of storage will likely be free, there will be a number of intermediary offerings and enterprise subscriptions will start at $200 per month. High end subscriptions will include the ability to fully brand your workspaces.

Another feature that Conceptshare is offering is an expert directory. In time the company hopes that topical experts will offer their design consulting services for a fee inside the system. I’m a little skeptical of how viable this will be, but visual designers may be among the most viable markets for online one time paid consulting.

Conceptshare is very pleasing to use, but it’s usefulness is largely limited to visual design. It’s clearly the most powerful of these two services, but if you’re looking for something free, fast and simple then Conceptshare may not be what you’re looking for. The following is a demonstration video from the Conceptshare team.

Thinkature

Thinkature is a YCombinator startup started by two recent Olin College graduates. They’ve probably taken 10% as much funding as Conceptshare. The Thinkature product is free and available now. The company formally launched in October.

Rather than Conceptshare’s Flash interface, Thinkature is built entirely of HTML and Javascript and uses a persistent http connection for synchronous communication. You can place images and text in the workspaces, connect boxes and chat in real time. Only the most recent chat messages are visible unless you click a tab to pop up a box with the full chat history.

Thinkature works best for communicating thought processes visually. You can resize images but you cannot zoom as you can in Conceptshare. The company’s business model wasn’t something they were willing to discuss with me, but they said that they were looking beyond the subscription and storage model. Thinkature’s target users are anyone who appreciates wikis, the company told me. Education and product design are among the different uses they have seen so far.

If you’re looking for a fast and free way to collaborate around a design proccess, Thinkature may serve you well.

I think it’s interesting that the market for collaboration software is large enough that both of these companies will probably be able to find more than enough users. They’ve taken very different approaches to building similar products; but those products will likely appeal to very different users.

Other products to look at in this space include GE’s Imagination Cubed and Vyew.

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Adobe’s Apollo Project: Taking the Webtop Beyond the Browser

November 8, 2006



  moon walk 
  Originally uploaded by coolskipper.

A couple weeks ago, Adobe announced at a conference for developers that it is going to invest $100 million in new startups that build products on top of its software.  Adobe is known for its Flash player that, among other things, powers so many Web video sites today (like YouTube and Brightcove).  But Adobe is about to make a play to become an even bigger software platform company with a project it calls Apollo.  There are already more than two million Web developers who know how to create Websites based on Flash. With Apollo, they will soon be able to use the same basic software development tools to create standalone and hybrid desktop applications as well. 

Web and desktop applications are fusing together, and Apollo is Adobe’s play at making emerging Webtop applications more powerful and engaging.  When I met with Adobe’s chief software architect Kevin Lynch this past summer, he explained the evolution of the Webtop to me this way:

At first, the browser was treated as a dumb terminal.  Then with Flash, you could start to run things locally on the client [i.e., your PC].  You can also do that with Ajax.  The next step is to enable Web applications to run outside the browser. That’s what Apollo does.

Web applications that run outside the browser.  Lynch believes that there is just too much computing power on thedesktop to ignore it and have all your apps run on the Web. EvenGoogle, he points out, is trying to get a stronger presence on ourlocal machines with the Google Desktop.

Apollo, though, is aimedstraight at Microsoft.

If it takes off, it could potentially disruptMicrosoft from the low-end. Apollo apps are not going to be as fullyfeatured as Windows apps (which also increasingly are pulling in datafrom the Web), but they are going to be easier to make. Any Webdeveloper who knows how to work with Flash will soon be able to makepretty desktop apps that can run both online and offline as well. Thiswill include downloadable Flash videos, which today you can only watch while you are online.  As Lynch put it to me:

Thereis this chasm between the desktop and the Web. Right now, Webdevelopers are trapped inside the box [i.e., the browser]. This givesWeb developers an opportunity to create desktop apps. It also keepsthose applications from becoming all Windows applications.

Makeno mistake about the scope of Adobe’s ambitions with this project:trying to displace Microsoft on the desktop—that certainly is amoonshot. No wonder it’s called Apollo.

Update: Adobe’s announcement that it will contribute code to the Mozilla project (which powers the Firefox browser) is yet another indication that it wants to court developers.

Online Video Advertising: ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet!’

November 7, 2006

Google’s acquisition of YouTube was just the beginning.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A) saw it coming. In December 2005, when 4A members were asked which form of “new media” would show the greatest growth in 2006, half
replied Internet video.

This year, eMarketer estimates that spending for online video advertising will reach $410 million, an 82.2% gain over last year’s $225 million figure. In two more years, US marketers will spend over $1 billion, and only two years after that (in 2010), Internet video advertising will be a nearly $3 billion business.

“Let’s keep these dollars and percentages in context, however,” says David Hallerman, eMarketer senior analyst and the author of the new Internet Video: Advertising Experiments & Exploding Content report. “Even with such strong spending increases, online video still makes up a small share of Internet ad expenditures. In 2006, with all the hue and cry about video on the Web, that ad format will contribute only 2.6% to this year’s $15.9 billion total.”

By 2009 and 2010, however, as online video advertising becomes as mainstream as Internet advertising, its share of the pie will rapidly surpass the 10% mark.

“When you consider that video ads are more costly than static display ads, for instance, or most paid search campaigns,” says Mr. Hallerman, “getting to such a point with spending will not necessarily indicate more video ads than for other formats.”

What will support spending growth rates of 89.0% next year and 45.0% or higher in each of the following years?

“First, the desire among companies both large and not so large — and their agencies — for targeted ad messages using creative they are familiar with: video,” says Mr. Hallerman. “Secondly, advertisers have long favored television as their marketing medium, and extending that preference to the Internet is a logical leap. Finally, with video ad spending coming from such a small base, high percentage gains are readily reached.”

And do not underestimate the Google Factor.

“As the main engine of Internet advertising, with its 25% share of the US total in 2006, Google’s major play in purchasing YouTube will mean new models — such as AdSense for Video, or whatever it is called — for monetizing the scads of video content migrating to the Web,” says Mr. Hallerman

Top 50 Advertisers by Media Value in September, 2006

November 5, 2006

The top Internet advertisers by media value. The data are provided by TNS Media Intelligence.

Top 50 Internet Advertisers by Media Value
September 2006
PositionAdvertiserMedia Value
($000)
Sector
1NexTag Serivces15,050Misc
2Netflix10,801M/E
3Monster10,152Class
4Verizon Wireless9,974Tech
5Lendingtree.com9,849Fin
6LowerMyBills.com8,985Fin
7University of Phoenix Online8,953Edu
8E*Trade Financial8,827Fin
9Vonage7,804Tech
10Dell VAR Computers7,511Tech
11Cingular Wireless6,515Tech
12Ameritrade Online6,109Fin
13Fidelity Investments5,684Fin
14HSBC Bank5,630Fin
15Classmates.com5,494Misc
16Scottrade Consumer Service5,339Fin
17Charles Schwab4,817Fin
18eBay Express4,771Ret
19McDonald’s Restaurant4,237T/H
20Scottrade Online4,041Fin
21Dice.com3,954Class
22Discover Card3,849Fin
23Privacy Matters Services3,806Mics
24Capital One3,758Fin
25Circuit City3,632Ret
26HomePages3,510Class
27Forex Capital Markets (FXCM.com)3,483Fin
28Victoria’s Secret3,296Ret
29Countrywide Home Loans3,234Fin
30Bank of America3,202Fin
31Amazon.com3,088Ret
32Best Buy3,085Ret
33Freecreditreport.com2,916Fin
34Ancestry.com2,904Misc
35Fidelity Investments2,671Fin
36Ink2all.com2,644Ret
37PlanetOut.com2,503M/E
38HP Printers2,385Tech
39Four Points Hotels2,380T/H
40Tickle by Emode2,379Date
41Compass Bank Online2,345Fin
42TD Ameritrade Consumer Service2,283Fin
43Dollar Rent A Car Online2,273T/H
44GM.com2,252Auto
45Perfectmatch.com2,173Date
46University of Phoenix2,088Edu
47Gametap.com2,036Ent
48Jeep Vehicles Compass2,003Auto
49Match.com1,994Date
50eBay.com1,965Misc
 GRAND TOTAL$234,634 
Sectors:
Auto – Automotive; Class – Classifieds; CPG – Consumer Package Goods;
Date – Online Dating; Edu – Education; Fin – Financial Services; H/F –
Health & Fitness; M/E – Media & Entertainment; Misc –
Miscellaneous; Ret – Retail; Tech – Technology; T/H –
Travel/Hospitality        
TNS Media Intelligence logo
View: Top 50 Internet Advertisers in August 2006

Last.fm Relaunches with New Features

November 2, 2006

Music recommendation service Last.fm relaunched this morning with a number of new features including a Flash player in addition to the desktop client, free MP3s available from independent artists and affiliate sales of recommended concert tickets. See our previous coverage of Last.fm here.

At relaunch, the company says it has 15 million unique active users per month from 200 countries, listening to 65 million songs from 7 million artists. The site includes 150,000 wikis about artists and 350,000 tags.

All of these are very smart additions to an already excellent service. The Flash player is a logical improvement in usability and lowers the barrier of entry to the service to the same level offered by competitor Pandora. I personally won’t be using it because Flash objects in use freeze text fields in Firefox 2.0 on my Intel Mac and I prefer to listen to music through AirTunes – but it’s a very smart feature for most people.

Also new to the site are free MP3s for listening to and downloading from independent music labels. The company says it offers music from 24,000 independent labels who have uploaded their music to Last.fm. There is not an option to opt out from having free MP3s recommended by the player. As I wrote in a review of iTunes plug in iLike, I find that the sheer majority of so called “indie bands” just aren’t very good. ILike uses a community the community vetting process of GarageBand.com whereas Last.fm recommends songs based on similar playing habits of other users. Pandora’s recommendations come from analyzing the tonal qualities songs for similarities.

The most interesting of the new features is the concert ticket sales. This is something that every music recommendation engine will want to get into in time as it’s such a logical means of monetization. Last.fm provides links to buy tickets to see musicians you are listening to or that it recommends when the service determines that those artists are playing soon within the geographic area you’ve designated. The company hasn’t released a list of ticket resellers they are utilizing but they did tell me that Ticketmaster is not included and that the companies that are are strong in tracking independent musicians.

On principle I would love to be supportive of all these moves to support independent musicians, but my experience makes that difficult. Independent punk is good, but in most other genres the bulk of unsigned musicians are not music I want to listen to. I can’t help but think that all of this emphasis on indie bands is motivated primarily by economic necessity. Check out the songs of the day at GarageBand and PodsafeMusicNetwork right now – I can’t listen to either all the way through. Be honest, you probably can’t either.

What I want is this. Give me an iTunes plug-in that recommends music through both user habits and musical qualities, lets me opt out of “indie music” if I prefer and gives me access to free or dirt cheap files with related concert tickets and other value added items for sale. MP3 blogs like those aggregated on the HypeMachine impress me more than all these recommended indie music plug ins.

Read/Write Web has its own review of these new features, Richard MacManus says they “make Last.fm one of the most compelling online music products on the Web right now.”

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Top Social Networks

November 1, 2006

TechCrunch