Product Management :: Product Marketing

27 February, 2007

Facebook - should it exit or not?

Great article on Facebook at CNN, discussing when Facebook should sell. (It has spurned a $1billion offer from Yahoo! already. Its ticket price is apparently well over that now.I mentioned previously that a rumoured price of $2b was greedy. Or should it - shock novelty factor - IPO?)

Myspace sold to News Corp for $580 million. Marc Andreessen, who founded Netscape Communications comments, "Had MySpace remained independent, it would probably be worth $5 billion now".

The story contrasts with Friendster, who turned down $30 million in Google stock in 2003 (now worth $1billion today).

Web analytics in the 21st century

I went to a discussion on Web Analytics on Thursday evening at SDSIC. (Definition: Web analytics provides usage & segmentation strategies for web services to serve up more relevant and timely information eg cross selling or provide advertising.)

The issue of profiling customers and customer behavior was front and central, then two minutes later it was followed by privacy and identity.

When an end user / consumer manages their identity in the 21st century meaning of the world, will internet profiling be easier? Read this article on why it's important: Win the keys to the customer kingdom - Retailers will fight for ownership of online user identity.

The knee jerk reaction would be YES, of course - if a user provides a richer set of identity information, the analysis of web traffic and usage would be much easier.

But in reality, the answer yes, to a small extent, but mainly no. Here's why.

Some sites we demand unique personalization: eg logging into MY internet banking account. Other sites become more relevant if the web service knows a little more about us - whether we've visited the site already or that we have an interest in news stories about London for example.

Most of our internet usage is anonymous... which is great for the most part. Sure, we have to surrender our internet (IP) address which can (usually) be tracked down to a pretty precise location (a sub-section of a city for example) using IP lookup - a feature that most web service don't use. In general though, that's it.

Having to create and manage username & password pairs & profiles on every site that we visit would be painful and needless. If you've signed up for a Yahoo! account, then the profiling is ridiculous - websites that provide valud usernames+passwords such as bugmenot become very useful.

21st century ID solutions such as Microsoft's CardSpace (check out an overview of Cardspace in use - technical, but good) will make identification easier - users will create several identity cards for different purposes. Those identities with lots of information accessible by the service provider will be used with highly personalised sites (eg financial institutions). Users will also create a range of weak identities that allows them to glide easily onto websites.

These sites will be unwise to needlessly prompt users for their 'Identity Cards' - imagine being prompted for your household salary or whether you have children if you surfed onto a news site - it would be even more irritating than pop-ups.

So users will remain largely anonymous, unless the site can coax an identity out of a surfer in return for a better experience (hmm, marginal) or other benefits (eg 5% off price).

As a result, web analytics will divide into analysis on those with identity and those without - the latter requiring all the skills that are required to match usage to segmentation.

SMS predictations are revised upwards

Portio Research takes an optimistic outlook for Mobile Messaging Futures 2007 - 2012. It upwardly revises previous predictions from 2005 - SMS growth has not flattened out in mature markets but continued to boom whilst the US market has grown much faster than expected. By 2012, global SMS revenue will reach $67b, driven by 3.7 trillion messages.

The report states that just in Asia 450 people every minute will get their first mobile phone - and the adoption will tick along at this rate for the next 6 years.

Portio reckons that Mobile IM will supplant SMS as the principle messaging service by 2011. I strongly disagree - because IM currently requires opt-in. Admittedly, interconnectivity between IM providers has occurred technically, but the mass market certainly hasn't appreciated this yet, nor is IM embedded at all with the weak exception of the US.

22 February, 2007

Showing their true colors - Skype & Google

Two announcements, one shortly after the other, indicate the intended strategic direction of some big players.

Skype has announced SkypePro in Europe for €2 per month:
  • Pay nothing per minute to numbers in your country
  • Free Voicemail
  • Ability to purchase SkypeIn at a discount
  • Bunch of other discount vouchers, freebies

Interestingly, Skype will still charge a 'connection fee' of about 3.9 Euro cents per call. This sounds a trivial charge for Skype to eat in comparison to the zero cost per minute.

Frankly, I'm surprised Skype haven't put this bundle together years earlier.

Google finally announces an Office-like suite of productivity tools for business called Google Apps Premier Edition for $50 per user, per year: online e-mail, calendaring, messaging, and talk applications, as well as a word processor and a spreadsheet.

It differs from the the consumer version (launched last August) with an API to permit businesses to interface to their existing applications.

Missing from the line-up are a presentation tool (I wonder if the Google M&A team will be busy??) and full-on contact management capabilities.

And in the Microsoft corner: Office 2007 for $499 or MS Live (and Ray Ozzie: Chief Software Architect, creator of IBM Corp.’s Lotus Notes). I wonder what Yahoo's reaction will be?

Emap buys Yospace - sounds familiar?

Just as Rupert Murdoch's News Corp purchased MySpace last year for $580m, then Emap purchases YoSpace at a steal for £8.7m. Here's the press release.

Emap is a print and digital publishing house. YoSpace provides a platform for mobile user generated content - best known for 3’s (ie the mobile operator) SeeMeTV which allows mobile users to share and get paid for mobile video clips. Customers receive 1p for every clip watched - 3 has paid out £100,000 up to March last year.

YoSpace also provided the platform for O2’s Look AT Me TV service. And topped the 'UK 50 to Watch in Mobile 2007’ (sponsored by O2) published earlier this month.

17 February, 2007

Handset manufacturers getting into Location Based Services?

The world's two largest handset makers (Nokia and Motorola) have each introduced their own navigation services that use GPS on their phones. From a CNET article:
The company also said this week that it plans to make application programming interfaces to its software available to third-party developers so that they also can develop new services and applications that leverage location through GPS.
This is a great prod in the right direction, as the mobile operators (as least outside of US - see the excellent article for the reasons why) have been slow to deploy or make much value out of LBS. However, this won't really work as a platform to enable innovative (and compelling) 3rd party applications to appear - you know the sort of services that are always showcased:
Where's are my friends? Then lets go to a nearby Italian restaurant that has a fish promotion on.
The reason being is that these LBS APIs needs to be inter-operable so that someone on a Nokia handset can find out where their friends are on Seimens, Sony Ericsson, LG handsets. Sadly, this isn't a strength of handset manufacturers - operators do a better job of this generally. However this announcement may spur the operators to innovate.....

Debate about DRM hits the headlines

Quite astonishing that the technical subject of DRM has reached the headlines of the consumer press.

Apple's Jobs posted an open letter carefully articulating the history of Digital Rights Management and why Apple chose to copy protect the music that it sells. Its conclusions that content (at least music) should be freely available appear to be perfectly reasonable.

Being Jobs, it has generated a lot of discussion. Chatter describes Jobs as a hypocrit. Macrovision's CEO defends DRM, but clarifies some of the points.

Interoperability between devices is the most important issue in my mind: consumers expect to be able to move their content from their MP3 device, phone, home entertainment system, car etc easily. Content must licensed to an individual, rather than to a device - achieving this is complex and implementing it to a consumer market, even worse.

15 February, 2007

AOL supports OpenID too

This doubles (approx) the OpenID user base. As the article says, 'Come on, Google and Yahoo!'.

Microsoft to back open ID scheme

Open ID

Microsoft (contrary to most of their corporate history) intends to make its identity technology, CardSpace, interoperate with lots of other identity projects. This announcement embodies that far-sighted approach.

Here's what it enables (from Seattle PI) :
After users type their identifier into a participating site, they're momentarily redirected to their chosen OpenID Provider. They need only remember the name and password they've set up with the provider. That provider, in turn, sends the participating Web site an encrypted message, known as a token, confirming the identity of the person logging in.

For a meatier description of this announcement (plus other partners), see Kim Cameron's blog entry (Kim being MS's chief identity architect).

BT to partner with FON for more phone ready wi-fi hotspots

A rumor from earlier this month hasn't been substantiated yet: a deal between:
  • BT -- broadband ISP and more importantly providers of BT Fusion, a dual-mode phone that connects to your wi-fi router at home, but roams on cellular network (Vodafone) elsewhere and
  • FON --the largest WiFi community (250K) in the world grown by purchasing a modified wireless router that allows to connect to other 'Foneros' when you're roaming.
Nice deal, of course, which makes oodles of sense.

Two comments that I thought were interesting:
BT can separate VoIP packets on their side of the broadband connection, providing a higher-quality service than a company like Vonage, which must push VoIP packets over the broadband connection out to the Internet, over an unpredictable route.
Clearly if the call terminates with BT too, otherwise the consumer won't see too much difference.

The article claims that BT could push software to its routers to enable Fon.
Possible I suppose, but sounds messy.

14 February, 2007

Internet social software YouTube partners with Vodafone

Vodafone allows users to update their YouTube site - more here.

The internet social software services have, frankly, struggled with the whole mobile scene. I am skeptical that today's successful internet SoSos are going to able to migrate to mobile successfully - I think a new generation of social software will appear that is equally at home on the desktop / laptop AND the mobile.

Mobile handsets for the developing world

This BBC article reports on the user growth in India and the associated scrum from the handset manufacturers.

Interestingly, the article mentions the fact that improved phone locking techniques (ie locking the handset to a SIM or locking it to a network provider) means that phones 'stay with' the network provider. This in turns enables the operators to subsidise the cost of the handset to the subscriber, thereby lower the entry barrier to adoption - further driving growth.

This, of course, will reduce handset churn (a essential component if the network and handsets are rapidly evolving; Question: has development plateaued suitably for this step to be appropriate) and hamper the second hand market (good at preventing theft and resale of mobile phones - a big problem in London, for example).

13 February, 2007

Preview of GSM, Barcelona

The great and good (50K of them!) gather in Barcelona this week for 3GSM. Here's an interesting preview from John Strand, a telco consultant that got his head screwed on and from Informa.

Hot topics for this year:
  • mobile-TV (so last year)
  • IMS
  • mobile VoIP
  • user generated content (so last year and the year before that)
  • mobile advertising (worth US$11.3 billion by 2011 according to Informa)
  • Location based services (another any-day-now service, but this time GPS-based, rather than cell-based)
There is no doubt that the industry is facing large changes, but who will be the future heroes: "the big old boys" or "the small new kids on the block"?
I think this year will be the last year that we can state with confidence 'the big old boys'.

Next year's conference will raise the question: 'Lots of new technology - SO WHAT? - show me the end-consumer benefit!'. Read this excellence article on Pricing and User Experience in Industry Remembers Customers from 160 Characters.

Linking all your profiles together

Following my previous post on profile aggregators, there's the other side of the coin: managing the multiple profiles that you maintain. Having just relocated a couple of times in the last six months (including internationally), this is a real pain in the neck.

Some players (or associated players as this space has ill-defined edges)
When searching other profiles marries managing my (multiple) profiles, we'll have digital lifestyle aggregators - a term coined by Marc Canter - see his excellent description at Broadband Mechanics.

Marc is a good friend of Midentity and its service etribes, the company that I helped to found.

O2 allows users to store pictures, messages and contacts online

O2 (UK) intends to allow its mobile users to store photos from their camera phone and text messages online. (The initial service requires users to text content into a short code, but, in the future, reports 160 chars, these messages will cached automatically.

Additionally, users will be about to store all their contacts. ShoZu, a favorite application of mine, has been doing this for at least 18 months.

Rise of Profile Aggregators

If you've ever searched for yourself on the internet (or more usefully, others), there are a couple of tools - profile aggregators - to help:
  • spock - still in closed beta
  • wink - very useful and appears to have the broadest range of searches
  • zoominfo - provides you with the ability to create your profile under your control
Each service aggregates data from a variety of different sources: LinkedIn, myspace, bebo and other blogging sites. Using these services + Google, you can build a reasonable profile of friends, colleagues or enemies if they have left a digital footprint.

Note that each service has a different business model. Thankfully, none are charging for contact information, unlike nasties like Jigsaw.