Tag Archives: Yahoo

Great Products Do Three Things….

2 Mar

Yahoo! is a complex place to build products, and I recall early in my tenure trying to focus our Media and Information Division on three core objectives that would be clear, undebatable and useful in building better consumer products.

I won’t go into the details of how we got there (although that’s an interesting story). But get there, we did. And we believed then, as I do today, that a great product:

1. Saves customers’ time.

2. Saves customers’ money.

3. Delights customers in new ways.

Seems simple? Well, in my experience this is far easier to say than it is to do.

I am reminded of this today because after some very hard work, the WHERE team (full disclosure: I am a board member) has launched a feature called Placebook in its new location-based app build that does all three. And thank heavens, because the pain relieved by this new release is large and longstanding.

Placebook is a constantly updatable ‘Rolodex’ of your (and your friends) favorite spots. You can use it on your IPhone. You can access it on the web. (They sync)! And you can FORGET having to REMEMBER all those names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.

You might be wondering “what’s the excitement?” Please let me answer that, from a personal POV.

Have you ever had the experience of knowing that the restaurant you love, in a city you visit frequently, is just around the corner somewhere. But you can’t recall the address, or exactly the route to get there, or even the restaurant’s name? Frustrating? Time-wasting? Totally useless?

The problem is solved. Go to a restaurant, or any favorite spot. Click once in the WHERE app to store it to your Placebook. Click again to give it a rating. And from now on, you can simply forget about having to remember. Once stored, your profile and Placebook will remember for you.

Now, the WHERE guys are not the first folks to think of this. There are countless listing and reviews services. There are competitors. Once upon a time there was a clever startup called Vindigo that did something similar. It was useful, too.

But Placebook is a big step forward, right now.

Of course, simply building such great features as Placebook are no guarantee in and of themselves of a huge business success. Building better products is simply a gating issue that allows successful companies onto the battlefield that will determine their ultimate ability to go from ‘Good to Great’ as Jim Collins puts it.

But it is a great start to have a great product, filled with useful features. And — on behalf of busy, forgetful people all over, thank you to the WHERE team for solving this particular problem.

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Search Engine Wars V: Local Personal Awareness

8 Dec

A holiday dinner last night with some of uLocate’s senior team and the leadership of a major telecom carrier raised an interesting discussion of where search is going.

My view: the next big battle in search is going to be about providing search results BEFORE you even ask a question. The next big frontiers for Search include knowing your location without you having to provide it, knowing your likely queries before you type anything into the searchbox, and knowing your behavioral profile (needs, wants, interests) without you having to do anything.

This is the battlefield for Search Engine Wars V — and it is going to be a major showdown, pitting such behemoths as Google and Microsoft against each other, and with smaller armies from the Facebooks, Twitters and uLocates of the world making alliances and contributing arms and assets to the fray.

A quick recap to point out how we got here. The search wars began in the mid-1990s, when the Infoseeks, Yahoos, Excites, Lycos’s and Alta Vistas brought text search to the mass consumer market via the public internet. Before then, text search and data retrieval had been a large, lucrative backwater — a paid product in the business-professional world (remember such brands as Dialog, Lexis-Nexis, Dow Jones News Retrieval — now known as Factiva?)

Those first search companies went public, made millions, were sometimes acquired (Disney-Infoseek, @Home-Excite) or sometimes went under. After that, search became a feature in what became known as the portal wars. I call this period Search Wars II. Many of the technical leaders thought text search was a finished product, and lost their focus on improvements while turning instead to such important initiatives as personalization, feed syndication and e-commerce tools.

This inattention left open search world to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who did a brilliant job of improving search and threw down the gauntlet of Search Wars III: The Rise of Google. And, more recently with the launch of its vastly improved Bing service, Microsoft has at long last battled back — and, coupled with its Yahoo search deal — is fighting hard in Search Wars IV.

That’s why I believe it is time to think about what’s next. And to my mind, the next battle in search is going to be about saving users time and effort by providing knowledge about likely searches before a customer has to type anything into the search box.

We can already see some of this, with services such as uLocate’s WHERE, which begins to understand some basic information about you (e.g. your location) from your voluntarily-supplied data on your mobile device. With that information, uLocate can tell you the location of nearby businesses (Starbucks, a gas station, the closest Fedex Office or UPS store) as well as provide you with tips and reviews about local restaurants, nightspots, etc. The user doesn’t have to DO anything, other than turn on their mobile device and launch the application.

There is much improvement ahead. Some may argue that the big fight today is about real-time search, but I think that is only a new skirmish in the current Search Wars IV. Only the barest outlines of the battle formations for the big next thing are apparent today. But I am putting some of my bets on those businesses that are preparing for this world of next-generation search.

Let the battles commence….

Note: Danny Sullivan had a related post on Google’s personalized approach here.

Finding the ‘I Love Lucy’ of the Internet….

27 Mar

The pursuit of a creative format that would result in massive online audience has been like the chase for the Holy Grail, or the Ark of the Covenant. Many have failed, or given up in frustration. Does such a thing even exist? Or is it Hollywood ‘Legend’?

I have an inkling a new programming format that may succeed where others have failed is literally unfolding daily on our screens — in the online laboratory of actors Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.

First, some background. This idea — stumbling on a new creative form that would result in a massive single-form audience driver — has long been a focus of many in the online content-creation world. The business theory underlying this is pretty straightforward: Massive audience means massive money (in terms of advertising revenue and audience engagement).

But it has been virtually impossible to find the gripping narrative that would lead to massive breakthrough audience akin to the early days of television, when Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz effectively created the whole ecosystem of TV ‘prime time’ with their long-running husband and wife series.  Sure, many web businesses have massive traffic. But no one has yet been able to point to originally produced programming with massive traffic (such here-today-gone-tomorrow wonders as Obamagirl and the video life of the so-called Real Life chick who was actually a marketing ruse don’t really count).

Well, Ashton and Demi may be cracking the code.

Perhaps you are not yet following the trials and tribulations (and fun) that the actors (and real-life husband and wife) are having with Twitter, video upload site Qik and photosite Twitpic. But I have an inkling that they are weaving the ‘I Love Lucy’ on the internet, or something like it, as we watch. And one reason they are succeeding is they are using web tools (hyperlinking, retweeting, real-time photo and video uploads and the like) with great energy and originality to do it.

Both Ashton and Demi have a very active Twitter following (hundreds of thousands of followers) only a handful of whom they must actually KNOW. That said, both are being supremely generous with their time, answering many followers directly and immediately, as they update folks about their ups and downs, comings and goings, etc. (As it happens Ashton is very deeply involved with several new media initiatives, including one involving a friend of mine, Sarah Ross, who was one of Yahoo!’s most talented marketing people. Hiring Sarah was a great move. But I digress….)

If Seinfeld was a show about nothing, then the chronicles of Ashton and Demi are Ionesco-esque in their nothingness. Today’s non-episode is a case in point.

It seems Ashton is filming a movie somewhere on the French Riviera, and Demi seems to be in LA, missing her husband but planning some sort of trip to reunite with him. Whatever.

A while ago, Ashton posts a funny video showing him getting his chest hair shaved (Don’t ask why) that had technical troubles (the video, not the shave). (This is after Ashton apparently slugged his stunt double and knocked him out, but that was another episode).

Back to today: Demi pings Ashton, via Twitter and passing across the computer screens of her 300K+ audience (BTW, that’s nearly double the daily audience of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer) that she wants to see the video of her half-naked husband. Half a world away and apparently frustrated by her husband’s technical mishap, Demi tweets this:

“mrskutcher@aplusk baby this is to complicated 20 vids are there with no title or order ready to lmao so get it worked out for our viewing pleasure.”

It took Ashton a while (does the film ‘take 5’ so he can twitter?), but he responded with this: “aplusk@mrskutcher HI baby love you so much. here babe, http://tinyurl.com/djtkr2″

It didn’t work: Back in LA, Demi said: “mrskutcherThe video is no longer there boo hoo !” (BTW, how many of us watching this have been on the receiving end of a ‘honey do’ list such as the one Ashton got? To me, the authenticity resonates, driving more audience and engagement).

Ultimately, Ashton got the video working, and their tweets moved on to other subjects.

Gripping theatre? Not exactly.

But my point is simply to say this interchange is just part of the evolving plot of their lives, which thus far has included: an Oscar-night party with winner Penelope Cruz and lots of photos, Ashton taking a shot of his wife’s rear-end in a hotel bathroom while she was steaming the wrinkles out of his suit (a photo that appeared on the evening news in half a dozen countries), a trip to Miami, jet lag in Frankfurt and dozens of other twists and turns….

Now, some may say the detritus of two celebrities’ daily lives is about as boring as anyone could imagine, and I am certain they would agree. This ‘show’ is unscripted, and only edited by the 140-character count of Twitter.

Regardless, this evolving programming, including comments and re-Tweets (RT)s from friends (the musician John Mayer plays a frequent guest-starring role, as does another friend, P. Diddy — who apparently is himself tweeting when he replies to Demi and Ashton; it isn’t his ghost-twitterer…) is growing daily (which few can say about the audience for some other programming types, such as daily print newspapers or most prime-time series).

No one has yet figured out the business model here. How will the advertising be sold? Is it Ashton’s revenue? Demi’s? Does the program belong to Twitter, Twitpic, Qik or your ISP? Is there even a business model?

But one thing is certain: in the pursuit of this holy grail, the first step is creating a big audience. And in that, Ashton and Demi appear to have taken a great leap forward. As of today, their combined total audience is over 850,000. And rising….

That’s not a bad number to start with…

April 3 2009 Update: This morning, a woman in the Bay Area twittered about her possible intent to commit suicide to @mrskutcher. Demi and many others monitoring her feed apparently called the San Jose police, who brought the woman in for observation. More on this incident here http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/AheadoftheCurve/story?id=7248406&page=1

April 20 2009 Update: Ashton Kutcher ‘beat’ CNN to the million follower mark. http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/04/17/ashton.cnn.twitter.battle/

TechCrunch Comment

27 Jun

Not everyday you get commented on in TechCrunch (albeit, comment #92 – not exactly right at the top) : www.techcrunch.com/2008/06/19/tracking-former-yahoo-execs-so-many-have-left/#comment-2384187

Actually, this comment was a few days before the recent Yahoo! reorg…No doubt, Yahoo! and Yahoos have been through a lot in the past several years. And in this industry, it would be ridiculous to assume the pace will slow down.