Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cleaned Out At Blogworld

I am just returned from the BlogworldExpo in Las Vegas. This was the first official exhibition for Outbrain. Although I had many firsts at the show, one was getting cleaned out of business cards on the first day. So on the second day I made these make-shift cards by cutting up a word document from the hotel biz center. They were raw but the crowd actually loved them. I had many bloggers say they thought this kind of biz card was "cool" and that they wanted to make some for themselves. Getting cleaned out says much about the traffic of the show but I will add that the traffic was also very good from our perspective. I met so many cool bloggers who loved our rating widget and installed right from the booth. A big thanks to Rick Calvert, Patti, Dawn and others on the Blogworld team that made the show a success. It was very cool of Rick to walk the floor and shake hands with the exhibitors on day 2. Looking ahead to the next show, I would re-think the exhibitors' presentations on the presentation stage. None of the prezos had any people. Plus the prezos were scheduled during show sessions. Maybe next year, the selected prezos can be worked into the session schedule so attendees have a chance to attend. On our side, we will do much more prezo marketing before and during the show to drive attendees as well. That said I will be back in the Outbrain booth next year at Blogworld - this time with enough cards to go around.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Speaking at BlogWorld in Las Vegas

I will be speaking at the blogworld & new media expo in Las Vegas on Thursday November 8th at 3PM on the Presentation Stage. The title of the presentation is "How To Fire Up Your Blog With Ratings and Recommendations." The goal of this prezo is to introduce bloggers to Outbrain, have some fun with a visual presentation and share some insight on how to effectively leverage ratings and recommendations on a blog. We are allergic to powerpoint data barf and strive to make our talks enlightening so come on over and learn how to fire up you blog with some cool tools.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Outbrain Widget is Globetrotting

It has been a very exciting several days here at Outbrain. We quietly slipped out of a closed beta period and opened up access to our 5 star rating widget to the blogging public. Allen Stern from CenterNetworks was kind enough to post about it here. But no matter how good you are, and we have some of the best, you can't help but hold your breathe when you go public. Fortunately for us, thanks to so many bloggers who installed the widget and then were happy enough to blog about their good experience, (some great posts here) our widget is now globetrotting around the earth like a Hollywood "A" lister. It would be fun to connect the journey of the widget around the globe from one blog to another, country to country. As a visual, I am picturing a globe with yarn transversing in all directions. In addition to this, we released personalized ratings which I will expand on in a future post. We posted details about this on the Outbrain blog here. Although all the attention right now is on the rating widget, personalized ratings will have its own time in the spotlight soon enough. Thanks to so many bloggers around the world for their support and comments. If I could travel with the widget tonight I wonder where it would take me? Someplace far away no doubt!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

10 Tips for Music Labels on the heels of Madonna and RadioHead

On the heels of Madonna signing with Live Nation and Radiohead distributing their new album In Rainbows through their web site, here are 10 tips for music labels and bands going forward. I saved this post as a draft on Saturday and since then have seen much coverage of this issue both in the blogosphere and in traditional media. I pretty much disagree with almost all of it, as they mostly are preaching the labels are doomed. On the contrary, I think there is a great opportunity out there for labels or whoever has the chops to put the new pieces in place to take advantage of the new dynamics at work. IMHO, this post is a look at what labels can do now. Since Godsmack is one of my favorite bands I will use them as an example below.

1.) "Stay In My Life" - Yes the music is great and the concert that we can attend annually (if we are lucky) is cool - but it is not enough. Fans want more frequent interaction with the bands the love and want to be part of the experience. The music is really just a means to invite fans into a band's experience. The desire is there on behalf of the fans so why not serve the demand through multiple channels. Jerry Del Colliano (Professor of Music at USC) makes some good points here on the makeup of today's music fan and how they differ greatly from the recent past.

2.) "Let the Music Free" - Radiohead just set their new album free and already there are more bands announcing to do the same. I think the market will approve/reward this change in distribution because it releases forces that are much greater than the current model of pay as you go. The forces I am referring to are those of word of mouth. Allowing the power of word of mouth to operate freely with the music is very powerful. People that love a band's music will freely pass the recommendation and the music along at will. If people have no barriers to accessing and passing around music they love, then the creators stand to benefit handsomely - if they are setup to monetize the experience and not just the cd/digital file. Think of it like setting campfires. Letting the music out freely is like setting thousands or millions of campfires instantly. If the music is good, these campfires can spread into a wildfire. What band does not want a wildfire burning around its music?

3.) "Monetize Word of Mouth" - Prince just showed us that if you have good music, and seed the market(he gave 3 million free copies away in London) you can build tremendous momentum by leveraging the word of mouth forces to create significant demand. As a result of Prince's strategy he was able to sell out 21 concerts in the London area at 5x the usual ticket price. Prince was blasted for this activity until his critics realized that all the shows sold out. Prince just showed us how a band can monetize a word of mouth strategy by setting a London wildfire with free music and then cashing in on the experience.

4.) "Create a 2 way conversation with fans" - The common practice of one-way email marketing to fans and hosting text based forums on a band's web site site is the normal fare these days but things can be so much better. I would look at the technologies that are available. Try looking at using one of the most under-utilized technologies out there which is voice. At this point you can setup a voice platform where band members, fans, managers etc can communicate with each other frequently and engage in 2 way conversations. With text messaging, fan response and the flexibility to communicate at any time, the voice/mobile front is a great way to stay in the life of the fans between shows and establish 2 way conversations to boot. For an industry that sells itself on audio, the new technologies in voice should be exploited and pushed to the limit. For example, if I got a text message inviting me to hear Sully Erna's thoughts on his recent concert in New Jersey with a special riff from the band - I would connect to the 800 number and give a listen. This is just one small thought on the mobile front where bands and labels should be experimenting and becoming experts. Staying in my life by connecting with me via my phone is an ideal platform to support the experience of being a fan and gaining more of my attention in between major events like concerts or new releases.

5.) "Enable Socialization" - A band's web site is now the epi-center. But the sites should be set up to allow fans to socialize, connect and discover. This should be a de facto addition to all bands' web sites as the social components extend, enhance and bolster the interaction between the band, its fans and between the fans themselves. Like voice technology, social media solutions can be easily obtained, some right off the shelf and ready to go. For example, my friend, Evan Rifkin at FLUX Media, has a bolt on solution to enable socialization for any type of site, especially those of bands. Syndication is another great tool to allow fans to take their experience with them all over the web. Widgets, badges, samples, apis, open source code are all ways to draw more people into the experience.

6.) "Personalize the Experience" - If the music is distributed without barriers/cost then bands must make up the revenue in other areas. Aside from event admissions, bands and labels can be creative with other revenue generators. One key area of opportunity seems to be selling personalization at the events. For example, if Sully Erna announced at a concert that he was going to play a riff, and that the riff would be available as a ringtone for download at the concert for $4.99, how many fans (who are already juiced from being at the concert) would connect and purchase the ringtone? I think a lot. Getting creative by slicing the music in different ways based on the uniqueness of the experience is a money machine. People will pay a premium to feel authentic and ideas like this may work nicely.

7.) "Merchandising the personal experience" - The merchandising can be endless if planned right but for this post, let's look at the concert merchandising staple - the t-shirt. T-shirts should be designed and sold that cater to the individual events. Would more people buy a Godsmack t-shirt if the shirt was designed around a specific concert? absolutely. The standard black t-shirt, with the same design, that is sold all over the country can be improved greatly. What better way to make them feel special than to offer them something to buy that most other fans won't have.

8.) "Expand the experience with brand extension" - Extend the music and the band's brand into other areas. For example, can Godsmack sell a cologne or fragrance - yes. Can Godsmack sell cool sexy jeans with their logo on the ass pocket - you bet. Can Godsmack sell Harley's with their logo as the spokes in the wheels - probably. These are all ways to monetize the experience and get people talking about the band long after the concert ends.

9) "Think like an NFL team" - As audiences continue to fragment in all forms of media, bands are bringing highly desirable audiences together. These audiences are often made up of young, hard to target individuals. Monetizing these demographics both on the band's web site and at events is an opportunity. Big advertisers spend bundles to reach this demographic as bands can package online and event marketing together like a pro sports team.

10.) "Aquire the Intellectual Property" - I disagree with many bloggers and other media outlets that have proposed that the Madonna and Radiohead deals signal the end for the labels. Actually I think quite the contrary. In my view labels have something that is quite scarce, and that is deep relationships within the music industry. My prediction is that labels will change into multi-faceted agencies that are based on technology, events and community building. Right now, labels and artists still need to get things done and no internet platform, no matter how great has the relationships in place like labels do currently. The distribution model is changing and no label can stop that but I think they will have a place going forward if they can change as well. What the labels do lack seems to be the intellectual capital to help them find the new equation that works given the dynamics at work in today's market. I am a big fan of Amie Street as this is a great example of the kind of intellectual capital labels may need. Looking into the future, executives at labels may sport titles like "Word of Mouth Director", "Social Media Maven", "Brand Evangelist", "Mobile & Voice Director" , "Lead Developer for apis, widgets and source code" and "Band Experience Strategist". Here is a quick list of some companies that can serve as an example for the type of thinking that can support an "experience" type business model for labels:
Facebook - Online social media experts
Third Screen Media - Mobile marketing
Tell Me - Voice technologies
Brand merchandising - pick one - there are many
Disney - Event "Experience" Marketing
Word of Mouth Marketing Agency- go to for listings.

So in short, bands that don't have good or great music will weed out quickly. Those bands that do produce great music will still prosper and in doing so will create a better experience for their fans by staying in their lives more often. I think music label companies can contribute to this process greatly as there is one thing that will not change - musicians like to play music and labels like to do business. Nodoby wants to do both.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Your Attention Span is the new currency

May I suggest that a new metric on the web be called
*Value of Attention Span Spent* or VASS. This metric would look at the value users derive out of spending time with web sites. This is different than *time spent*, *page views* or *market share* because it points to the value equation that a person gets from giving a web site (or any technology) their attention. Attention span is the new currency on the web and quite possibility the scarcest resource, in fact more scarce than money or eyeballs. Those companies that strive to keep the VASS metric weighted so that the visitor derives an equal or higher value in exchange for their attention/time will reap rewards. Conversely, if the value derived is perceived as less than the attention span given, then user dissatisfaction and quite possibility defection will begin.

We can look at some examples to see the differences in this metric. Traditional advertising would see a low VASS metric as people find less and less value in ads that are not targeted and relevant. Because of this, the attention span people allot to traditional ads is not fairly exchanged with the value received. In the television broadcast world, TIVO found a business in placing value back into the equation between the viewer and content by allowing viewers to optimize their *attention span spent* by skipping ads. On the web, you can look at sites like as delivering a high VASS with its users. You can run tons of examples with good sites but the metric is there in all cases. Even if the attention span spent is short to micro, the value exchange is constantly being calculated by each user who experiences the service or web site on a rolling and repeat basis.

While the examples of traditional advertising and support the point, the real opportunity lie in the grey areas – say for example social networking. Most social networks will tout rising statistics in areas such as time spent, page views, etc. However, inside most of these walled gardens, there is a real notion that users work to maintain their invitations and content – social network fatigue and invitation management have now surfaced as real issues. If you look at this through the VASS metric, there may be a decrease in VASS happening here as users find less value on some social networks for their time spent. Facebook, I think recognizes this, and as a result opened up. Opening up to outside developers has allowed Facebook to leverage outside resources to offer its users lots of cool applications. This gave Facebook users more variety to choose from and ultimately ways to increase the value exchange when they burn attention span on the site.

At Outbrain, we are keenly aware of this value exchange with people who rate content and thus we strive to offer a service that delivers a high VASS to our partners and their end users. We know that attention span is scarce and getting more so. Our mission is to leverage the power of ratings and mix it with some *secret sauce* on the backend to help people optimize the time they spend consuming blog posts and other article-ish type content on the web. We think that helping people optimize their attention span spent on content - coupled with a bit of serendipity along the way - will keep us on the positive side of the metric VASS (value of attention span spent) - with all our partners and fellow raters.

If you made it this far, please use the 5 stars below to rate your VASS (value of attention span spent) from reading this post.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Lion, the Knife and the abstract

Art Over Lunch #2

James Stroud is an emerging artist in the nature genre because of his unique method of capturing his subjects. James largely uses the palette knife to create abstract images of Africa's most engaging animals. I actually had the pleasure to see some of James' work in one of the world's premiere nature galleries on Las Olas Blvd in Ft. Lauderale named "Call of Africa." My first impression was most memorable as bursts of color and surprising shapes kept altering my inclination to see the animals in a typical realist setting. These images don't compare to a face to face encounter being toe to toe with the canvas, but if you look close, you will see the wonderful tapestry James weaves with color delivered with a palette knife. Those textured colors on the elephant's and lion's head are not brush strokes. As a frame of reference, think about James next time you pick up a butter knife and imagine the handwork it would take to accomplish this. Inspiring for me.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

"Room please!" the the airport

I have to admit a slight disappointment when I found this company called Yotel. After so many repeated lengthy delays in airports over the last 10 years I have always wanted the ability to get away from the terminal and retreat - but not go through the hassle of leaving the terminal. This idea is just what Yotel is delivering. Simply, you can rent a room in the airport by the hour that has a clean, upscale bed, flat screen tv, shower, room service, internet connection, toilet and other amenities. Brilliant. My prediction - this company will be bought by a larger hospitality brand. They are live in Gatwick, London and rolling out to Heathrow and Amsterdam coming up. Aside from their current offerings - would I pay an extra $10 to run on a cross trainer for 30 minutes, then retire to my room, shower and either work, listen to my ipod or watch a movie? You bet. Hopefully Yotel has their ear on the blogoshere. C'mon Simon - prove your concept and cross the pond. We're ready in America when you are.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Glacier Surfing Alaska

Picture the scene - cold Alaskan days, debris floating all around, (keep in mind that everything in Alaska is over sized), melting glaciers, deceiving calm water, sudden avalanches of ice and rock falling into the seemingly calm water, mini tidal waves and ..........................surfers? Love it! This is breaking new ground.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Can You Hear Africa?


"Art Over Lunch" is the subtitle for a frequent installment that you will see on my blog. This section of my blog will feature artists that move me in some significant way. I thought long and hard about which artist I would open with and decided that Peter Beard would show first.

This is one of so many amazing works from Peter Beard, titled "Elui With Tusk". Having spent several months in Africa including Botswana, Peter's version of the red continent helps me make sense of what my experience was there and how if effects me still.

Aside from the beautiful yet tragic photographic image shown front and center, pay attention to the detail surrounding the photo. Follow this link to see an enlarged version of the work. Once here go ahead and rotate your head so you can follow the graphical storyline that unfolds around the photo. Here you will see typical overtones of sexual energy, violence, beauty and chaos - all elements that reign in Africa today. Peter's works move me because he captures the constant push and pull that Africa, its people and its wildlife struggle with everyday. Peter's chronology is filled with glamour, fame, models, dignitaries etc. but I what I value most is the voice he brings to Africa and the help he has offered me - and no doubt countless others -in trying to understand the forces on the red continent.

help needed in a book store

While traveling recently I was of course delayed in the airport. (See worse airline summer since 2000 - courtesy NEWSDAY). I wandered into the book store as did thousands of others that day. When I walked in to the book store inside the terminal, the choices were daunting to say the least. At that same moment I heard 2 ladies speaking to each other – they were *saying* the same thing I was* thinking.* They were saying things like “I wonder if this book is good?”, “Do you think I would like this one?” Besides a few metrics like the NYT Best Seller List, Oprah's Book Club List or seasonal selections made by staff there was really no way for these ladies to put the myriad of titles in any general or personal context while in the store. The only real systematic help comes from the store’s section labels that tell you what section you’re looking at. Hearing these ladies trying to make sense out of the thousand of choices staring back at them made me think of our mission here at Outbrain.

For the sake of comparison if you think of online articles like the books in the bookstore, we are working feverishly to help you sort through the myriad of online choices presented to you daily to find and float the good stuff that you will like. Going back to the ladies in the book store, just picture how different their experience would have been if there was a widely used rating system on books. Think what their experience would be if the books carried personal ratings that helped them find books that matched their personal preferences. This has been deployed online and with good success at sites like but that still strands millions of book buyers who are in the aisles every day. I know that this game of hunting for a good book is part of the brick and mortar experience, but as the younger generations keep coming up, my feeling is that burning time hunting for a good book will not be as acceptable.

Although I couldn’t help the ladies in the bookstore or myself for that matter, I do take great pride in knowing that I am helping to build out the plumbing for an online rating system that shows what the crowd thinks of an article - before your read it - and even better - how you may like it from a personal perspective. I guess the bottom line here is that you may still have to spend more time in the aisles looking for a good book, but hopefully we can save you some time online by finding the good stuff for you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

we need “Initial Brand Experience Directors”

What kind of title is this – many will ask. Is this a joke? Actually it’s hardly a joke, and actually a real need. Think about how many times you opened the box of a new product or downloaded a new program, or signed up for a new service and you had problems. This is the worst experience as a consumer and one that makes us the angriest right? Just looking at my world, this has happened to me twice in the last several days with a highly reputable software product and a leading laptop manufacturer. In reality problems are rampant with consumers when they interact with the things they buy for the first time. Most companies do not pay much attention to what happens at the point of initial experience. Yet everyone knows how important first impressions are. People do not go on dates or meet people for the first time and not pay close attention to the first interactions. People learn very fast when they make others feel uncomfortable, disappointed or unhappy on a first impression.

So why don’t companies feel the same? I think they should. If they were paying attention to the initial brand experience – or first impression – then they would start to take notice of how people are reacting to their brand from the very start. What’s worse is that if you ignore the initial reaction, then you are not able to monitor or measure a very powerful metric – the voice of a disgruntled consumer upon a negative or disappointing initial brand experience. We have all been there – the initial excitement of a new purchase is instantly replaced by anger and disappointment when something goes wrong or you feel confused. What do you do next – like most people you tell anyone who will listen. Does this hurt a company’s brand? Absolutely. No company intentionally wants their new customers to feel disappointed but few try to minimize it at the initial point of impact.

This type of negative work of mouth damage can be controlled and actually turned around. The first step is to recognize that the initial brand experience of your customers is worthy of monitoring and critical to overall net long term health of your brand. How do you go about it – appoint an “Initial Brand Experience Director.” My prediction is that within the first few months, the right person can correct many of the obvious causes that make first time buyers upset. I know such a person can help the two companies that I had issues with by simply asking a few basic questions. We all know that companies want happy buyers – but to complete the value equation we consumers want to stay happy once we interact for the first time with what we bought. Maybe a new social network can spur this movement with suggestions on how companies can improve their first impression.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Helping to float the good stuff...

This is the official first post for my blog titled "An Upwelling." I am proud to be contributing to the blogosphere and look forward to future interactions with you. As for the name, I have always been amazed at how the ocean currents mix to essentially bring the good stuff upwards to the surface. Like ocean upwelling, I plan to do the same here on my blog by floating up some good stuff of my own.

You can expect to see thoughts on the internet, specifically in areas that concern discovery and personalization. In between the digital musings will be postings on art and artists that catch my eye as well as many water related items. Fishing, surfing, ocean conservation and awareness, boating, kayaking and more will all make appearances.

Here's to the first of many that will surface.......