Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Moving to JohnLoGioco.com

hey folks - I am happy to announce that my blog is moving to JohnLoGioco.com. All future posts will be there. Blogger has served me very well as I recommend it as a good starting platform for beginners. But if you catch the blogging bug, it's inevitable that one wants more control so I am taking a further step in that direction. In time I will port some of the better/highly rated posts from here over to the new blog, but in the meantime please subscribe to my new url. Thanks, John

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Good morning to millions of bunker

What a pleasant sight this morning to see millions of bunker schooling in the harbor. No harassing bluefish seemed to be at work and judging from the relaxed swimming patterns, I doubt any bass were advancing from below - at least for the short time I was able to watch the party.

Clean water, lots of horse sized bunker, shiners in the wash - all is good.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Israel Part 2: Coastal Playground

Much to my pleasure and surprise, Israel is a coastal playground. Here are just a few activities that I either did our saw happening during the week I was there.

Surfing - On the first day of my arrival, I arrived at the Daniel hotel (on the beach) and upon opening the curtains in my room was greeted with 2-4 foot waves peeling in consistently. I immediately dropped my bags and went down to the beach. Again to my surprise I found a surf shop with some great, friendly guys, who spoke English, rented me a board and wetsuit (not that you need one because the water is in the high sixties) and a rash guard. It cost me about $150 to have the board at my disposal. I did get some funny looks at the hotel from visitors, but the Israelis knew exactly what I was doing at 6AM. In addition to board surfing, kite surfing is also popular as is diving and free diving. You can book these activities all within a 5 minute walk from the Daniel Hotel at the diving and surfing club.

Sea Kayaking - Our CTO, Ori who is a paddler, took me for a great tour of his home waters in Northern Israel. I was amazed at the clarity of the water. We paddled past ruins that are 4000 years old, navigated sea caves in bouncy seas, explored a ship wreck and capped it off with a wonderful breakfast with his parents in the kibbutz where Ori grew up. Additionally, every morning from my hotel window, a kayak club would launch for their morning paddle. The Med is ideal here again as the gentle wind waves make for a sea kayakers paradise. Surf the waves on the inside or glide just past the sand bars for great fun and a solid workout. You can find some great kayak posts and videos on Steve's blog. You can get a sense of how the surf is in the Med and how much fun it can be on a kayak.

Fishing - I did see a lot of guys surf casting with conventional gear as well as some of the longest guideless poles I have ever seen. Unfortunately I didn't see much action. I did see a needlefish stuck in a net while kayaking with Ori, but that's about it. It appears that the Med is in dire need of cross border conservation that looks at the Med as a complete ecosystem. Letting the Nile deliver its intended nourishment would be a great start followed by bipartisan adherence to rebuilding the baitfish and pelagic fish stocks.

Yachting - In the marina down the street there was everything from small runabouts to sailing yachts for charter to 120' yachts. This is a huge marina, not some enclave with some floating docks. Boating is serious in Israel and again the Med is ideal here for all types of boaters.

Even though this was a business trip, and we got a lot done - meaning I spent mostly all of my time working, being so close to the coast was a real treat. The water is warm, the people are friendly and helpful to first time visitors and if you can squeeze a few hours in, there are a variety of fun marine activties to please anyone.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Israel Trip Part 1: "Israeli Peeps"

Recently I had the good fortune to make a business trip to Israel. Weeks before my departure most every American I know said “be careful & stay safe.” So naturally this has an effect. But as you will see from a series of blog posts I'll publish, that Israel is actually quite safe, and in fact some places I felt safer there than the USA. As an example, how often does every car's trunk get checked before entering into a crowded underground parking garage here in the USA? Almost never.

But let’s start with the people. From the moment I landed and was greeted by Eran my trusted driver, I had a great time interacting with Israelis in every capacity from the hotel staff, shop owners, co-workers and many others. Israelis remind me most of Italians. That’s not a far stretch for me as I am Italian and have spent considerable time in Italy. Like Italians, Israelis are direct, loud, argumentative, competitive, caring, very hospitable and intelligent. Some Americans don’t understand that disagreeing is like a sport in some countries. In Israel, it’s definitely a sport. This is how people like Israelis stay sharp because they are constantly trying to not get caught on the “short end of the stick.”

(TRAVEL TIP) - Do not drive in the right hand lane or you will be mistaken for a “friar” - and in Israel this is not admirable.

Pretty much everyone speaks English and is eager to communicate with foreigners. Those that have traveled before know that when the endemic people don’t care to speak English, the experience can be very different. As an example of Israel's strong connection to English, every road sign is written in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

I also noticed a high level of sophistication in both men and women regarding fashion, design and decor. Drive through Tel-Aviv at 11PM and this is most obvious as the night clubs spill their denizens into the streets. One can see a mix of European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures coming together to form a handsome populace.

On the business side I met some great people, both inside our company and its affiliates. As many bloggers have already said, Israel is a hotbed for technology and it’s easy to see why. Israelis are tenacious, smart and have a healthy outlook on reward, risk and failure. This environment breeds creativity and the capital to underwrite the entrepreneurs who take the lead. I was especially impressed by the engineers on our team and their commitment to service and the customer. But hey - don’t take my word for it, do some research and see where Google, Microsoft, Intel, HP and others have created entire campuses.

Aside from all this, it's the mandatory military training in Israel that really binds the country. The time Israelis spend in the military results in the formation of a very strong and unique social network. All those “social media” mavens should look at this social model to see what real connection is made of. I felt this connection during many aspects of my trip, even down to quick glances I caught being exchanged between checkpoint guards and the people I was with. Seeing a twenty-something year old with a submachine gun in his grip may be unsettling for the first time Westerner in Israel, but after some time there one can see and feel the sense of strong camaraderie that binds the Israeli people together whether you are 20 or 95 years old.

Essentially the people of Israel are great to interact with. I recommend a trip there highly, especially if you want to understand the underpinnings of what is happening in that part of the world. If you go no need to worry about safety, instead be ready for lots of smart Israelis to welcome you with a smile, a sense of purpose and community and above all - a strong and positive spirit.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Big Week for The Blog Recommendation Folks

We had a big week at Outbrain. A new site launched with several updates and enhancements as well as upgrades to the widget kept us all busy. Our R&D team did a great job and our evangelist bloggers were quick to point out tweaks. Thanks. Allen from Centernetworks broke the news, Adam Ostrow from Mashable and Frank Gruber also blogged it. The home page really says it all in that we are squarely focused on ratings and content recommendations. Some think of us as the blog rating folks, but really we are the recommendation folks. We will post more about the "how and why" but this is really the beginning as more and more bloggers like Allen start to see an increase in page views and new referrals from using the Outbrain rating and recommendation widget. Please, tell us what you think about the new site keeping in mind that criticism is valued over compliments.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Labels: Target Mindshare - Not CD Sales

Kill the album, not the label. Couple days ago Mike Arrington over at Techcrunch blasts the music labels for their newest scheme of creating a music tax. He's right, it’s totally stupid but he also argues/predicts the death of the music label. I think labels can save themselves, not by dying but by changing their roles and intellectual capital. I blogged about 10 Things Labels Can Do To Save Themselves here but the main thing is to ditch the album process and start a campaign of securing consistent mindshare with fans. With so many great off the shelf tools for publishing audio, video and textual content, building a mind-share strategy has never been easier.

Instead of releasing a album every so often, commit to releasing a song every three months. A consistent river of songs, communication, video, rants etc will help a band maintain and increase mindshare with their fan base over the long term. Increasing mindshare through a more consistent multi-channel form of entertainment will lead to many more touchpoints for the band/label to monetize.

Here are some potential touchpoints that labels can monetize in a mindshare strategy;
• Live event ticket sales that are not album driven but crowd driven
• Involve fan base on some creative decisions and content
• Licensed remixxing of tracks to fans for re-purposing
• Merchandise sales that are personalized and targeted by region, event etc.
• Mobile sounds and content that are personalized or on limited availability
• Sell VIP access for fans to access communication from the band, videos, special releases and access to new releases before they are public/free.

If you think about monetizing the mindshare of the fan base through touchpoints, then labels may find a more profitable model. They may have to shrink some, hire some new talent from the Internet world but they do have a chance. That aside, I do think there is some great opportunity here for the right entrepreneur to disrupt the current process by targeting the *album* and its shortcomings.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Presenting at b5's blognetwork camp @ SXSW

I am excited to be delivering a presentation to a great group of industry leaders in the blog network space at SXSW next Monday night. Jeremy Wright from b5 media was kind enough to invite us (Outbrain)to sponsor the event and we gladly accepted. The focus of my presentation will be how blog networks can leverage ratings and content recommendations to their advantage. Being a fan of Mexican food and libations, I am looking forward to sampling some of Austin's finest at Cantina Laredo. If you are at SXSW and want to join us, you can rsvp here. Gracias Amigos!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

How To Profit From Negative Reviews

Kudos to toysrus.com for allowing negative reviews on their site. These aren't just negative reviews on toys, these unhappy customers are calling for hammers!

So my 4 year old has been coveting this Star Wars transformer toy for some time, and after a great report from school I thought what a great time to buy it for him. I then went to toysrus.com, found the item and started reading the reviews. 24 out of 29 reviews said basically "don't buy this item" for a number of reasons that were directly relevant to me. So I did not buy the item and further did not select another item to purchase. So they lost a sale? yes.

But what did they gain?

Trust and increased credibility - next time I am on their site and the reviews are on the positive side they will hold more weight. Now I *trust* reviewed content on toysrus.com. Trust is tough to get.

Increased LTV(Long term value) - my trust in toysrus.com has risen and will translate into more sales from me over the long term. They allowed their customers to float the good stuff and flag the bad stuff and this has value to me as a customer.
sound familiar to outbrain's mission?

Positive WOM - here I am blogging about it! Toysrus can't get much better than that. Even better, they avoided a negative word of mouth event (in the shape of a scathing blog post) if I bought the item and experienced the problems that were revealed in the reviews.

Parent Osmosis - they saved me from making a bad decision, and spreading the negative news to my wife. With toys, if one parent has a bad experience, it gets directly relayed to the other parent - the end result, toysrus would have torpedoed two customers for the long term - me and my wife.

Yes toysrus lost a $49 dollar sale, but they gained so much more - my trust and appreciation for not wasting my time and money.

This same concept travels to bloggers and blog content as well. If you believe in ratings on your content, then having negative ratings actually delivers value to the blog by helping your readers sort and filter. Allowing negative reviews/ratings balances out the positive content and this breeds trust. And who doesn't want the trust of their audience/customers?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Only The US Military Can Save MicroHoo

With so many bloggers getting into details about this potential deal, the one thing that stands out like an igloo in Egypt is how in the world can they bring these two groups of people to rally under one flag. At tonight's NYSIA event, one of Henry Blodget's strongest statements was that bringing the two cultures of Microsoft and Yahoo together would be certain "disaster." Should this deal go through, the only organization that has successfully proven over time to bring people with great differences and backgrounds together is the US military. Even if they follow Henry's advice and create a standalone company, Microsoft and Yahoo need to rally their troops under one cause if they are to compete.

The program known as "Basic Training" has united individuals to fight for the same cause more than any other group save maybe religions. The key to Basic's success is that participants are put through hardship. They are dealt enough hardship that eventually weaknesses emerge. This causes members of the team to start helping other members to ultimately accomplish the goals of the group. This process breaks down preconceived barriers, differences and statuses and begins to build the new team as a unified group. With a creative mix of physical and "work related" tasks I think Microhoo can devise a program that can accomplish the same results as Basic Training.

But before you send waves of people into training, a name change seems critical. During and after Basic Training, the American flag is the rally point. Right now Microhoo does not have a rally point. Microhoo needs a rally point that is neither Microsoft nor Yahoo. Whether it's a stand-alone company as Henry Blodget suggests or a sweeping name change, the troops that need to sit shoulder to shoulder in the cubicles need to have a rally point. If you really wanted to optimize employee loyalty, give them the keys to deciding on the name change. Let them farm out the process, make suggestions and pick the winning name.

Many of New York's finest were present tonight as I had the pleasure to chat with Allen Stern who has a good summary of tonight's event here,Nate Weistheimer, Hank Williams, Bill Sobel and Sanford Dickert. When the topic of mixing cultures came up most of the crowd laughed and shook their heads in acknowledgment. Should this deal go through, how to mix these two naturally opposing groups will be the only issue to solve, as all will depend on it. If they don't solve this issue and break out of the box to do it, the next media story of the decade will be Google's antitrust suit as they will grow untethered until then. "Drop and give me fifty" just might be the answer.

photo credit from Armyof1and10

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Consumers won't work for Web3.0 & Personalization

Josh Catone keyed a great post today on ReadWriteWeb titledWeb3.0 & the concept of personalization. But.....as the semantic web comes with many promises I *do not* think consumers will work to make any machine or system smarter while waiting for the said benefits of Web3.0. As attention spans shrink, and patience becomes an endangered virtue, consumers will want recommendations, personalization and time savings immediately. They won't work for it. And at the center of it all is figuring out what people like and don't like. Combing the social graph may turn up likely connections but somewhere you need an indication of intent - "I like it" or "I don't."

In our small corner of the world at Outbrain, we are applying some of these concepts to enable true personalization and discovery of blog posts and article type content. We are using the act of rating as the indicator to gauge someone's feelings about a blog post/article. Then, we look at groups of like minded raters to determine what other blog posts/articles would be relevant, and useful to each reader on an individual basis.

Jemima Kiss (cool name - glad I have it right - Josh you may want to have a look here) over at the Guardian sparked this blog trail and her point of how Last.FM "scrobbles" everyone's listening habits to become smart is key. Last.FM scrobbles listening habits and we scrobble ratings. Last.FM uses intelligence from social indicators to enable music discovery and we do the same to suggest, targeted reading recommendations for our users. This takes much of the burden off the user and is essential for those of us "recommenders" shaping Web3.0.

Friday, February 1, 2008

2 Tips For Hosting A Great NYC Tech Event

Last night I attended Ember Media's "The Future of Digital Media - Predictions For 2008." My company Outbrain sponsored the event.) Aside from being a great event, Allen Stern from CenterNetworks (who was also a panelist) posted some details here. I finally figured out why Allen has so many evangelists - its because he can talk well to anybody, no matter their level of understanding. He has talent in keeping his audience in mind when he speaks and when he blogs. Anyway, there were 2 elements that made this event much better than average.

Tip #1: Moderator's ability to keep the tone
Clayton Banks, CEO of Ember Media was the keynote speaker and moderator of the discussion. Clayton was a large factor why the discussion was very good as he kept the tone of the event flowing exactly in balance. Here are the notes I "made to self" on his job well done;

Managed the flow of the conversation, not too fast, not too slow.

Injected humor when appropriate.

Summarized the more complex discussion points in one line, easy to understand phrases.

Reigned in topics that had the potential to disrupt the flow before they did, and pushed topics that were advancing the discussion.

Kept the audience and its understanding level in focus at all times thereby avoiding the conversation to drift only between the panelists.

Choose a location that was unique and made it relevant to the discussion.

Tip #2: A Sense Of Place

This event was held at the Armory. The Armory, run by the Armory Foundation, is home to the premier indoor track and field center in America, and is committed to serving the youth by promoting excellence and fitness through a broad range of athletic, educational and community programs. As the event got closer, and guests started mapping out where the Armory was located, the natural question was why are we meeting there? Those of you who are in NY know the Armory is way uptown (168th street on the A train subway.)

But here are the interesting reasons why we met at the Armory and why this was a great contribution to the event as a whole:

The Armory is a place of energy and celebration of achievement and hard work. On its walls are photographs of some of the world's greatest athletes, and on the tracks and training rooms you can see the athletes of tomorrow hard at work running and preparing for their next challenge. This made me think of startups in much the same way. At the Armory you felt this energy first hand. Actually the energy there made me feel a bit guilty because on your way to the men's room you had to keep hard right because the hallway was actually an indoor track where youthful men and women were bounding by at impressive speeds. It was natural to feel a bit lazy after just having eaten shrimp cocktail, lamb chops and a cold beer but it gave this event a wonderful sense of place. It felt special in a way that no bar or standard meeting room could ever offer.

Also, on the walls at the Armory you will see pictures of a three time Olympian named Will Banks - this is Clayton's brother who was also at the event(pictured above). cool!

To cap it off, Clayton also informed us that the Armory provides broadband access for that part of upper New York and its citizens. So not only were the panelists and moderator good, but the uniqueness of the Armory lent a special aspect to the event as a whole and I believe will be one of the reasons people will talk about the event and remember exactly where it was held years from now. I can't say the same for many of the other tech events that I have attended recently, can you?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Floating The Good Stuff from NYMIEG

I attended Bill Sobel's NYMIEG (New York Media Information Exchange Group) this morning at Gallaghers' Steak House on 52nd steet. First the event was worth the cover charge just for the steak and potatoes that were served with breakfast. Check Zagat's for how good Gallagher's steak can be and you can imagine the rest.

So Roger Black gave a compelling prezo on his new venture called Indigo. See an early version here. Dorian Benkoil, the moderator has a good play by play version of the talk on his blog MediaFlect. Roger's talk sparked many debates but the one that jumped out is how media sites can "float the good stuff" for their readers. I couldn't agree more, as this topic really caught my attention. I spend most of my waking hours and some of my sleeping hours trying to solve this exact problem over at Outbrain.

For folks like Roger, who are starting new media ventures, the act of floating the good stuff *every* time readers visit their site is a huge opportunity to increase page views, drive traffic, obtain new readers and increase overall stickiness. For example, I may visit Indigo and find several posts/articles that I love. You many also visit Indigo, see the same posts/articles and find little to no value in them. This is the challenge for media ventures, big and small.

Readers are suffering from information overload and will continue to do so. Just look at the state of the rss reader environment as an example of info overload. Media companies that just add more feeds for readers to further bloat their feedlist is not the answer to true content discovery. Further, some publishers think that displaying a "Most Read" or "Related Links" list is a solution to floating the good stuff but in fact it is not. These lists may be relevant to the site itself, the article itself or the audience as an aggregate group, but not necessarily relevant for me, you and other readers on an *individual* basis.

Think about how many gems were published today on the web that you would have loved to read if you knew they existed. If any of those were from Roger's Indigo, he would have lost valuable page views and the chance to pick up new readers. I would love feedback on this issue from any of the attendees of the breakfast or anybody else. You can comment here on Upwelling or shoot me an email at john (at) outbrain (dot) com. See you at the next NYMEIG event on February 28th.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

China To Ban The Plastic Bag! Me too!

A huge congratulations to China! As of this June 1st, China is banning the plastic bag that most retailers hand out to every customer. Every walk of the environment is negatively impacted by these bags, especially the ocean. Mark Powell over at Blogfish brought this to my attention and this is huge news. So the question is, where is the USA on this? Of course probably in the pocket of the plastic bag manufacturers but they can't stop consumers like you and me from opting out of taking the plastic bag at the point of sale.

If you think about it, we take the plastic bag, walk or drive for a few minutes, empty the bag and instantly throw it away. Once we toss these little devils into the trash the real work is then offloaded onto the environment (and oceans) to put these bags somewhere for the 8 million years it takes to dissipate from view. This is totally absurd anytime, but especially now given our declining situation

On China's lead I am buying an environmentally friendly cloth sack for my lunch and vow to avoid taking the plastic bags.

What about you?

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/people/reusablebags

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Feel Better Om!

I want to extend my best wishes to Om Malik for a speedy recovery. I guess Om had a heart issue over the holidays but assured us (his loyal readers) he is ok. I loved his coverage in Biz2.0 and his blog was one of the first I subscribed to when I started with rss. Seeing that my Dad worked for Lucent for 30 years, I clung to Om's thoughtful telco coverage. I wish you well Om, the blogosphere needs you back. Get well soon.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

8 Yellow Brick Roads for Web 2008

My prediction for 2008 is that many startups will find a difficult time as economic woes broaden and the credit crisis continues into the new calendar year. This will tighten the market both in terms of available capital and increased pressure to perform/execute. As a result many will fail (which is healthy but some runways will be cut shorter than usual). That said, there will be some companies that soar who are working in the areas listed below. (Photo - courtesy of Ucamari - Flickr)

People want ways to save time consuming content/news/blog posts. 2007 was the official year of information overload as inefficient systems like RSS became overrun. Bloggers, rss readers, blog networks, search engines and other content aggregators/publishers will focus on providing their users with a better experience that revolves around personalization and discovery of relevant content.

Web Clouds Merging:
The current trend of widgets, api's and breaking down walled gardens will continue as information and data can be ported around the web and become increasing useful to the user. Users will grow increasing intolerant of populating walled gardens with data that cannot be optimized elsewhere.

Open Mobile - Voice Emerges:
The pressure on US carriers to loosen their grip and open up with device selection and on-deck apps will continue. Voice, one of the most underutilized technologies will continue its advancement and mainstream adoption. Companies like Nuance and TellMe (acquired by Microsoft in 07) will be in the news.

Autos Get Web2.0:
I think this is Detroit’s secret weapon to gain market share from overseas competitors. 2008 will see American automobile manufacturers and American technology firms join forces and bring some “cool” back into the front seat of American made cars. Applications in social media, search and mobile computing will make headlines.

Web Design More Important Than Ever:
Simple is not only better but a critical key to success. Design and user engagement will become more important as audiences are suffering from information overload and fragmentation. Avoiding featuritis, releasing often and responding to user comments on the fly will become necessary for startups to succeed.

Pressure on Ad Supported Models:
Everyone's planned ad supported revenue models will come under pressure to deliver. Developing the right demos and size of audiences will become increasing harder as the web continues to fragment toward niche groups.

Traditional Media Companies Gain Momentum:
Traditional media companies and newspapers will continue to post gains in digital revenue and begin to build their digital plans out further. They will benefit from a flight to quality in terms of ad dollars and user engagement.

Conversational Media Takes Hold:
This is from John Batelle’s 2008 predictions and one that I agree with. Even though he has to take this position because of FM, I agree that the value of targeted messaging in conversational media will become more widespread and accepted as a major marketing channel. However, those companies that cannot target effectively will experience surprisingly strong backlash from the conversational community.