Yesterday, the Nielsen Company -- famous for its TV audience measurements -- put out a series of top 10 in 2007 lists. There are close to 30 different lists covering most-watched TV shows, DVDs, movies, etc. View them yourself (13 page PDF.) Here are some that interested me:
Among major markets, Seattle/Tacoma had the fourth highest percentage of "adults who have used the Internet to read or contribute to blogs within the past 30 days." The top market was Austin, Texas, with 15 percent of adults reading/contributing; followed by:
Among the most-purchased packaged consumer goods, measured by the "percent of homes who purchased each category within past year," fresh bread was the leader (97 percent), followed by refrigerated milk, toilet tissue, fresh eggs, cookies, ready-to-eat cereal, canned soup, chocolate candy, potato chips and batteries (86 percent).
The same list, if measured by sales instead of percentage of homes that purchased the category, is lead by carbonated soft drinks ($17.6 billion) and also includes cigarettes ($7.8 billion) and light beer ($5.1 billion).
With the exception of the bread, milk and eggs, it sounds a lot like the presumed shopping list of the stereotypical American gamer, including the batteries to keep the remote and wireless controllers charged up.
And what games were we playing? This list is based on "the percent of PC gamers playing title in the average minute." Nielsen also reports average minutes played per week, from April to November 2007.
No. 1, by a long shot, "World of Warcraft" with 0.792 percent of PC gamers playing in the average minute and 1,023 minutes played per week (I'm guessing that's per individual.)
Nielsen doesn't break out console titles, but it does give a list of the most-played platforms based on usage minutes, "a percent of all measured console minutes." Interesting to note that taken together, all the other consoles on the list (excluding the "other" category, which "consists of any other console systems found in the home") are used about as much as the PlayStation 2.
PlayStation 2, 42.2 percen;
Xbox, 13.9 percent
Xbox 360, 11.8 percent
GameCube, 7.1 percent
Wii, 5.5 percent
PlayStation 3, 2.5 percent
Other, 17.1 percent.
As more software functions move to the Internet, where the traditional software licensing business model has limitations, companies are experimenting with new business models such as subscriptions and advertising-supported software.
Microsoft is trying it with its Works suite, which comes standard -- and free to the user -- on many new computers. Likewise, Google Docs and Spreadsheets -- online versions of the productivity apps dominated by Microsoft -- are advertising supported. Now Adobe, a leader in rich Internet applications with its Flash player and nearly ubiquitous PDF reader and writer, is getting into the act with help from Yahoo.
On Thursday, the companies announced a partnership to allow publishers to serve contextual ads into PDF documents. Like all of these early ad-funded software efforts, this is a test program for starters and it's opt-in.
From the release: "The new service allows publishers to generate revenue by including contextual, text-based ads next to Adobe PDF content, with Yahoo! providing access to its extensive network of advertisers to match a broad range of subject matter. For advertisers, Ads for Adobe PDF Powered by Yahoo! extends reach by delivering advertising across a new channel of content, while also providing the ability to track advertising performance, just as they can today with ads placed on Web sites."
The program will open up new real estate for its advertisers, according to Todd Teresi, svp of Yahoo!'s publisher network, especially among small-time customers that don't even have Web sites. Example: Local youth soccer leagues that create weekly e-mail newsletters could generate funds through contextual placements for soccer equipment and jerseys -- and even minivans, he said.
"The primary users long term are going to be down the tail," Teresi said.
The program is offered as a free service to US-based publishers who produce English content. Early adopters include IDG InfoWorld, Wired, Pearson's Education, Meredith Corporation and Reed Elsevier.
The long-rumored hook up has been confirmed. Microsoft is taking a stake in social-networking site Facebook. It beat out rival Google, which was reportedly in the running, for the exclusive global rights to sell third-party advertising on Facebook. Microsoft landed a deal to sell banner advertising in the U.S. on Facebook in August 2006. Expanding the deal internationally is important because 60 percent of the site's nearly 50 million registered users are outside the U.S.
Microsoft is investing $240 million in Facebook, about 1.6 percent stake at a stated valuation of an eye-popping $15 billion. Facebook was started in February 2004 by now 23-year-old Mark Zuckerberg.
Owen Van Natta, Facebook's vice president of operations and chief revenue officer, and Kevin Johnson, Microsoft's platforms and services division president, shared more details of the deal with reporters on a conference call.
Here are some highlights:
-- Johnson said, "I think this deal represents a major advertising syndication win for Microsoft" and "an enormous vote of confidence from our largest advertising partner."
-- Asked about the $15 billion valuation for Facebook suggested by the announcement, Johnson pointed to the nearly 50 million active users and the rate at which the site is adding users (Van Natta said later that it's doubling its user base every six months). If they get to 200 million or 300 million users fairly quickly, combined with "a modest average revenue-per-user, per year, and you can very quickly get to this level of valuation," Johnson said.
-- The companies declined to name or confirm the existence of other investors for the funding round. Van Natta also declined to discuss how the equity investment may affect Facebook going public.
-- Johnson said "there's a lot more we're going to be doing together," but both he and Van Natta were vague or non-responsive when asked about technical collaboration; integration of Facebook into Microsoft properties such as Windows Live or MSN; whether or not the agreement includes search advertising ( as opposed to just banner advertising); whether there's any guaranteed revenue to Microsoft as part of the deal.
-- Several reporters and analysts asked Johnson how well the existing Facebook advertising deal has worked out for Microsoft. Some referred to recent comments by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggesting that the deal has yet to become a huge source of revenue. "We see continued improvement and progress with the overall monetization of the Facebook inventory," Johnson said.
-- Neither executive provided much background on how the deal was done, including any background on other bidders. In fact, neither mentioned Google by name.
New ventures that combine social networking and personal finance are starting to to take off, and the latest local example is financialjoe.com.
After spending 10 years in the financial industry, Shawn Tierney was unsatisfied with the quality of information people have about their investment advisors. As a former insider, he should know. Tierney worked as a financial planner for Morgan Stanley and Bank of America.
"An advisor can get away with not servicing his clients, making poor recommendations, or never calling the client again once he makes the commission," Tierney said. "This is because no one else will ever know."
Tierney, along with his brother James Tierney and former Microsoft employees Richard Gerschwiler and John Pezzanite, started financialjoe.com as a place for people to rate their advisors, find people with the same advisor and share information about financial issues. The site launched just two weeks ago.
Users can identify themselves with tags to their advisor, joining online public forums with that advisor and other clients. Clients' names and emails are kept confidential.
Today, the forums had information about regulatory actions against Ameriprise, student loan woes and a conversation about mutual funds. Users get an email message every time a new rating is posted on their advisor.
The site can help investment firms, too, Tierney says, by providing feedback on their advisors, helping them improve customer satisfaction and avoid losing clients.
Avvo offers a similar service but for rating attorneys. "Avvo's great," said Tierney, but people are going to need financial advice much more often than they'll need a good lawyer.
At The Naked Truth event last night, I was able to catch up with a lot of people. And today the emails continue to pour in.
Here are a few tidbits and details to gnaw on:
-- Hardi Partovi, a founder of iLike, said the darnedest things happen when you have a social networking site -- like the time an iLike user invited Hadi to his wedding, even though it was on the East Coast and Hadi had never met the guy. And Hadi said he loves customer feedback, but there's one user who e-mails almost everyday. Now he's dying for another customer's feedback. He's also an avid iPhone fan, but not enough to stop carrying around his BlackBerry.
-- Speaking of iPhones, there were too many in the crowd to count. However, there was only one Ooma, and TechCrunch's Michael Arrington was giving it away. As he said, it's really cool, but if you don't know what it is, don't worry about it. Now I'm wondering who won it?
-- Co-founder Galen Ward of Estately.com introduced himself, and today he sent me a press release that said Estately was launching "True Area Search," a tool that lets anyone find homes within a half mile, mile, two miles, five miles or 10 miles of any neighborhood, city, Zip code or address.
-- I also chatted with Marcelo Calbucci, the founder and CTO (not CEO as I previously wrote), of Sampa, which helps individuals and small business build Web sites. A lot of the talk last night focused on creating a more cohesive community among entrepreneurs and tech startups. Calbucci blogged about the Naked Truth , and regularly maintains a blog focused on tech startups called Seattle 2.0.
-- A venture capitalist and a startup adviser were talking to Josh Hug, the CEO of Shelfari, which recently launched a Facebook application. They were obviously really excited about the launch, so I promised Hug that I would upload the application today to take it for a spin. So I did (and while I was at it, also uploaded iLike's Facebook application). Shelfari becomes a shelf that sits on my Facebook profile page. I can load it up with books I can recommend to friends. Unfortunately, when I searched for "The World according to Garp," the book I'm currently reading, I encountered an error. For now, my shelf is empty.
I talked to many other companies, too, including WetPaint, WildTangent, BlueDot, OthersOnline, Mobile Research, Alliance of Angels and Shiftboard.
I wrote a story in today's story about Nokia's acquisition of a Redmond startup, Twango, which allows people to store their digital content online.
Here's a few more details that didn't fit in today's print edition:
First off, I wrote about the company in June last year before the public launch of its product.
What's interesting to note is that Twango, founded in 2004, has spent a lot of time building a platform and doing its homework on what a service requires on the backend in order for customers to have a good experience.
That may have justified the acquisition price. Although the specific price was not disclosed, The Wall Street Journal quoted a person familiar to the deal saying that Nokia paid less than €70 million, or $96.8 million.
That's a lot when you compare it with Loudeye, a publicly held company Nokia acquired in August last year for $60 million (which itself was a far cry from the $1.4 billion Loudeye was valued at after its public offering in 2000).
Anyway, let's go back to the platform that Twango is building. It's considered an open platform, meaning it will allow other developers to take the code and build applications around it. It also uses open features, such as RSS, podcasting and maps.
Serena Glover, one of Twango's co-founders, said that could mean that even though Nokia has bought the company, a developer could still create an application for a Motorola phone using Twango's work.
The open platform allows consumers to link multiple devices, services and networks. In theory that means if those consumers use their mobile phone to upload content to the Web, they'll continue to be able to do so if they change carriers. That differs from other services on the market, such as Apple's, which requires you to use an iPod or iPhone if you buy your music on iTunes. Or applications found on one carrier aren't always available on another.
I asked Nokia's Gerard Wiener what he thought about this, and he said that follows the handset maker's vision -- it's are going after a bigger market encompassing all phones instead of just Nokia ones.
"We are big believers in open source, as well. That is the way of the Internet," he said. "Far be it for us to fight that trend. In our services strategy, open source is a critical part of that, and we are pushing for it.... If we look at even Motorola and other companies, and we look at markets, the imaging services market is where we see a significant opportunity.
"Ultimately, the consumer is our master and we want to put ourselves in the situation that involves acquiring great teams and talent like the Twango guys," he said.
The Wall Street Journal today hosted a debate between two experts -- one who argued that the Web has become a noisy place that's hard to understand. The other argued that the so-called Web 2.0 revolution enables the noise to be filtered out, so that more information can be found and understood.
The conversation between Andrew Keen, who wrote "The Cult of the Amateur" (and the one who thinks the Web is cluttered), and David Weinberger, author of "Everything is Miscellaneous," is definitely an academic look at the still-emerging medium, but I think has some interesting points worth pondering.
Keen starts the debate:
Yes, the people have finally spoken. And spoken. And spoken. Now they won't shut up. The problem is that YOU! have forgotten how to listen, how to read, how to watch....
A flattened media is a personalized, chaotic media without that essential epistemological anchor of truth. The impartiality of the authoritative, accountable expert is replaced by murkiness of the anonymous amateur. When everyone claims to be an author, there can be no art, no reliable information, no audience.
So, Andrew, you join a long list of those who predict the decline of civilization and pin the blame on the latest popular medium, except this time it's not comic books, TV, or shock jock radio. It's the Web.
This time, of course, you might be right ... especially since you and I seem to agree that the Web isn't yet another medium. Something important and different is going on....
The Web is far better understood as providing more of everything: More slander, more honor. More porn, more love. More ideas, more distractions. More lies, more truth. More experts, more professionals. The Web is abundance, while the old media are premised -- in their model of knowledge as well as in their economics -- on scarcity..."
I tried to relate this back to the many Web 2.0 companies being started in Seattle. What ones are providing information and which ones are providing clutter?
Is a company like Avvo, which provides information on lawyers, or Zillow, which provides information on houses, clogging the system? Are social networking companies like Facebook, which provide a person's thoughts or photos, or even Amazon.com, which has thousands of amateur reviews, helpful or necessary? Or are they distractions?
Should we care?
If a company falls into one bucket or another, does that influence its fate as to whether it will succeed or not?
In today's paper, I wrote about Avvo, a Seattle startup that aims to create profiles of every attorney in the country. The service would compete with the Yellow Pages or other ways consumers find divorce lawyers or bankruptcy attorneys today.
Avvo aims to be more than a list of lawyers by providing ratings for each lawyer on a scale of 1 to 10.
I took a quick peek at the site last week after the company allowed a preview before the site's launch. I found nothing unusual, except that it was really slow.
According to Avvo's profiles of "licensed attorneys," President Abraham Lincoln, once a lawyer who traveled on horseback between county courthouses, and Scopes defense attorney Clarence Darrow, who died in 1938, have no disciplinary sanctions pending and are encouraged to update their profiles by personalizing them with "professional experience" and achievements. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito each receive hardly flattering "experience" and "trustworthiness" ratings of three out of five stars.
Avvo does not disclose how it comes up with its ratings.
Board member Rich Barton, the CEO of Zillow.com who helped Avvo CEO Mark Britton start the company, readily acknowledged to me in reporting today's story that the company's techniques will cause some controversy.
"As long as we stay focused on the fact that we are empowering the consumer with information, in the court of public opinion you will win," he said.
UPDATE: See the comment down below for Mark Britton's response that he sent to the CNET reporter regarding what he found on the Avvo site.
He said, in part: "We're working hard to constantly add more information and, now that we're live, lawyers and consumers can help by adding their own content. In just the few hours since launch, hundreds of attorneys have claimed their profiles and provided consumers valuable information regarding their body of work."
Smilebox is continuing to forge online partnerships to distribute its greeting card-meets-scrapbook service for photos and videos. The Redmond company said today that drugstore.com has just launched a co-branded version of the service as part of a new photo and video initiative.
Corel plans to distribute Smilebox content within its Snapfire photo and video product. Later, it will integrate the broad Smilebox service into Snapfire.
When the forecast calls for a lot of white powdery stuff to fall from the skies, it's hard not to get a little bit antsy.
For some time, the Washington ski slopes have provided Web cams to visitors of their Web sites so they can check out the snow conditions. But now the Summit at Snoqualmie has an even more high-tech option.
The Summit is providing a site where riders and skiers can post home videos from the slopes. Some of the videos were obviously posted by the Summit and feature music tracks in the background, but others show look like 30 seconds from a cell phone.
I can see how this could really catch on with people vying to show off the best jumps and tricks. After all, typically the only people to catch it are the few taking the lift overhead.
Check out "Four year old Jarod's first time skiing," and "WHOOHOO," in which a snowboarder lands a sweet jump.
Alrighty, I feel obligated to blog about my own story today because it's about -- blogging.
Today, I wrote about Jobster and how it is entering a period of restructuring. However, there's not much to report yet -- the company is currently meeting to figure out how it wants to get to profitability in 2007.
Instead I wrote about how this story has been lifted, exaggerated, duplicated, passed along, or however you want to put it in the blogosphere. As I say in the story, Technorati tracked it as the third- most searched for term, right after Britney and before Youtube.
Today, it stands third after Miss Nevada and before Youtube. One might ask, how does a startup in Seattle with 145 employees rise to this level of attention? I guess the answer is a pretty active recruiting blogging community, which seems to be the biggest contributor to all of the gossip. But also, Jobster's CEO Jason Goldberg is perpetuating it himself by maintaining a blog of his own.
Is this the new way to run a business? Out in the open, and completely available to comment on?
Is it a another bubble? The debate rages on over whether the surge of Internet startup companies and the venture capital funding them -- the Web 2.0 phenom -- constitutes a bubble like the one in the late 1990s.
The Wall Street Journal today published a dialogue between two venture capitalists who made bets during the last go-round and are investing again today.
Todd Dagres of Spark Capital says there is a Web 2.0 bubble. One reason, he notes, is that many startup companies are copying existing business models and there's a low barrier to entry. "R&D in a Web 2.0 company = rummage & duplicate," he says. Ouch.
In the opposite corner is David Hornik of August Capital and author of VentureBlog. He notes that much less capital is flowing into Web 2.0 companies than the Internet startups of the late 1990s received. And venture capitalists get quick feedback on the success or failure of these upstarts. "VCs may lose their capital invested early in Web startups, but the amount of capital sunk into failed businesses will never snowball the way it did in the late 90s," he says.
Seattle-based Pluggd, which connects users with online audio and video broadcasts, said Intel Capital has become one of its investors and has contributed to a $1.65 million round. Other investors include former Microsoft execs Scott Oki and Paul Maritz.
Matt Marshall at VentureBeat writes that Pluggd claims it has "perfected the user experience" for audio and visual search. That's a pretty bold statement, especially for a small startup that has raised only $1.65 million.
That led Cornelius Willis from Pluggd to comment that he was "a little startled" when he saw the word "perfected" in VentureBeat.
"We believe we've done a better job on user experience for media search than anyone to date, but we're not done," Willis writes. We wrote about Pluggd in September.
In other news, Marchex, a Seattle online advertising company, said today it has spent $26 million in cash to buy back a little more than half of the convertible shares of stock it issued back in 2005 to raise money.
A few people wrote in after that story to ask, what about Opera? another small innovator and challenger to IE hegemony.
Opera Software was among them. "With the release of IE7, Opera Software welcomes back Microsoft to the ongoing competition in the browser wars, where healthy competition is fueling remarkable advances in Web technologies," the company's marketing communications manager, Michelle Valdivia Lien, said in an e-mail.
Opera has garnered only a sliver of the browser market -- 0.69 percent in October, according to OneStat -- but those who use it were offended that we didn't give it the same credit as Firefox for invigorating competition and innovation. Users of Apple's Safari, which has 1.61 percent of the market, wrote with similar complaints.
Particularly irksome to these folks is that Opera conforms best to open Web standards, something that IE is just getting around to. Valdivia Lien gives Microsoft credit for a "move in the right direction" with IE7. "And maybe even someday, standards tests such as the ACID2 [a test page that evaluates browser compatibility with standards] will smile back at IE. Until then, vive la différence!"
Two blogs that purported to be independent supporters of giant retailer Wal-Mart were written by employees of Edelman, the public relations firm that was just awarded a contract to handle the consumer launch of Microsoft's two biggest products.
Blogs posted on Working Families for Wal-Mart, which describes itself as "a group of leaders from a variety of backgrounds and communities all across America," were authored by an Edelman employee. Wal-Mart and WFWM are Edelman clients. A related site, PaidCritics.com, which ferrets out links between Wal-Mart critics and unions or other groups with skin in the game, also consists of blogs written by Edelman employees.
Until recently, the blogs did not carry the names of their authors, thus appearing to be the work of WFWM members rather than paid employees of its PR firm. A banner on the PaidCritics site says, "Had enough of the paid critics smearing Wal-Mart? Join Working Families for Wal-Mart today."
It came after Edelman CEO Richard Edelman acknowledged on Monday that not disclosing the whole story of another Edelman-backed Wal-Mart PR stunt was a mistake. In that case, it was Wal-Marting Across America, an online journal of RVers camped out in the big-box retailer's expansive parking lots.
Richard Edelman updated his blog today with a set of specific steps the company is taking to address the issue. These include: a thorough global audit of its programs; a mandatory class for all employees on ethics in social media; a hotline for employees to review social media programs before they're implemented; ethics materials to be distributed around the company.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has been quoted in a couple of stories on the implications of Google's deal to buy YouTube for $1.65 billion.
Is YouTube worth the money? "If you believe it's the future of television, it's clearly worth $1.6 billion," Ballmer said in this New York Times story. "If you believe something else, you could write down maybe it's not worth much at all."
BusinessWeek hashed out the implications of the deal for Google's competitors, including Microsoft. Ballmer happened to be meeting with the magazine's editors Monday.
Ballmer said Google could emerge from the YouTube deal an even stronger rival. If Google can work out a good advertising model with YouTube, he said, it makes Google a stronger competitor to Microsoft. It will have a larger share of the growing online ad market, and can use the cash to create more products like the free online spreadsheet software, calendars and word processors it already offers. But Ballmer said Microsoft has a long-term strategy, not to mention a history of coming from behind to overtake rivals such as Netscape, the early leader in the browser market. "We're very long-term. We've got a stick-to-it-iveness, a tenaciousness that I would argue is unmatched," he said.
San Francisco-based Wallop, a startup that came out of Microsoft's research lab, is testing out a social networking site that will charge users to put decorations and other graphics on their Web pages.
Facebook, the social networking site that isn't MySpace but is still popular with college students, has some of its users in an uproar. (WSJ coverage here)
The site introduced a news feeds feature that lets you see in great detail what your friends are doing on the site. You would know if friends added new photos to their pages, for example, joined a group about tennis or changed their relationship status to "single." You can see a picture of this feed on Techcrunch.
Some people are calling this a breach of their privacy, and have started a group on the site called "Students against Facebook news feed." The membership of that group has topped 600,000, according to this counter.
Facebook executives take to their blog with the following defense:
This is information people used to dig for on a daily basis, nicely reorganized and summarized so people can learn about the people they care about. You don't miss the photo album about your friend's trip to Nepal. Maybe if your friends are all going to a party, you want to know so you can go too.
It's an interesting lesson for students who think they still control the details of their private lives that they put on the Web. Once it's out there, it's out there...
Seattle-based BillMonk has begun integrating its online track-what's-yours service with Facebook, the social network site aimed mainly at college students. The company now also allows users to create their own profiles.
Seattle-based Farecast has opened up its airfare predictor service to routes for the 55 busiest airports in the United States. Previously, the company had limited its service to flights originating from Boston and Seattle.
Farecast's site is not responding right now. When we tried to use the service, this popped up:
"Sorry, it's a bit crowded.
Our servers are experiencing a high volume of search activity. Please try your search again in a few moments to view the latest fares for your trip, or search yesterday's fare results while you wait."