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May 2009

Screen Wars

You've no doubt heard about the term "market share"--what portion of the total market for something is controlled by one brand or one company.  And I recall that in the 90's one of the management fads was "customer share"--what share of the customer's IT budget your product accounted for.  And I'm sure there are a dozen more "___ share" terms floating about.

You've also heard about web ventures that want to "attract eyeballs" as a way of "monetizing their asset".  Which in English means, "we can get paid a small amount of money per person who views and/or clicks on an ad... and that's how we're going to get some revenue to offset all the costs in programmers and servers that we're racking up with our web 2.0 service".

Of course, the monetizing isn't that easy.  More on that later.  But now that I've been interacting with email, photo sharing, social networking, and other web-based services, I've come to see that the battle is all about "screen share"--whose screen you see when you go about your internet business.  In other words, whose application will you use, and therefore whose ads will you be exposed to.

Take the example of sharing a photo.  Thanks to advances in cell phone and digiital image technology, and the avaiability of reasonably cost-effective bandwidth, taking a photo on the spur of the moment and sharing it is quite simple.  Had Brian been willing to stand still long enough, I could have taken his picture at the top of the run at Heavenly Valley, with Lake Tahoe in the background, and posted it or emailed it before I got to the bottom of the mountain.  (Of course, with my skiing skills, Pony Express could deliver it before I got to the bottom of the mountain, but that's another story).

So consider my options for sharing that photo:

  • I can send it as a "multimedia" message... basically a text message with a photo attached (except that I have an iPhone, which doesn't support this basic service)
  • I can email it to my friends using a service like gmail or Yahoo mail
  • I can post the photo to a photo sharing site like Kodak Gallery or Phanfare
  • I can post it to my Facebook page
  • I can post it in a "discussion" on my LinkedIn page
  • I can send a "tweet" with a link to the picture 
  • I can post it to my weblog

There are pro's and con's of each approach.  But what's interesting is that wherever I choose to post it will determine what ads you see when you view it.  Unless you view the photo on my weblog (which has turned out to be a not-for-profit venture), someone's going to be showing you ads.  They may be targeted ads, like something at the top of the gmail browser that says "ski vacations, click here".  They may be unrelated, like the "IQ" ads I keep seeing on Facebook.  Or they may be anywhere in between.

And the odds are that wherever you view that photo, you will likely respond using that same web site or application.  If I send a text message or email, you'll likely reply with a text message or email.  If I post it on Facebook, you're less likely to send me an email saying "cool picture, who's the stand-in for an actual skier?!", and more likely to comment via posting a comment on my "wall".  And if you write on my "wall", guess whose ads you'll see?? And when everyone else sees that you commented on my picture...

So it's clear that the first battle may have been about creating a fan base (and keeping it interested).  The next battle is about steering that fan base to your application for all their social networking needs.  And since social networks are non-exclusive clubs, and since we all have text messaging and email accounts, it's all about creating the most useful, easiest to use application.  After all, we're all lazy in a way, and will use your application to carry on our conversations if the application is reasonably easy to use, reasonably unintrusive, and so on.

So the battle is on, and corporate America is beginning to pay attention.  Hell, even Oprah and Shaq use Twitter.  Who will win? Whose cuisine will reign supreme? Oh, sorry, wrong show.  It will be interesting to watch...

The Social Ramble Ain't Restful

Thanks to Satchel Paige for that reference...

In the Beginning, there was LinkedIn.  OK, really, it was MySpace, or Facebook, or some other social networking site.  But I ignored the world of social networking until last year when I started a job search in earnest, and felt the need to establish my online "presence".  So I started with LinkedIn.  And that was fine.  It took a bit of work to get a completed profile, tune it, and link it to the weblog you're now reading for insights into me that don't start with "seasoned executive" or some such phrase.

And all was well with the world.  But (to torture the metaphor), God said that it Was Good, and thus Silicon Valley said that More of a Good Thing is Always Better.  

And so it was that I started receiving random "pings" from people that wanted to connect with me on other social networking sites, especially Facebook and more recently Plaxo.  And I had ignored those requests, since I felt occupied enough with one site let alone two or three. (And that's not counting the photo-sharing sites like Kodak Gallery and Phanfare).

But when our HR group set up a Facebook page for SOMA Networks, I took the bait and signed up.  And that's been a mixed blessing.  All of a sudden I'm tuned in to what people from my high school are up to (looks like Dino Di Muro just sold his house), not to mention more details on the goings-on of my nieces and nephews than I usually get at family gatherings.

So that's the good part.  The challenge is that Facebook wants me to contact all my acquaintances and sign them up as friends.  And having received Facebook friend requests addressed to "exNortel" and other mailing list alias's, it's clear that the Facebook friend-finder engine is pretty unsophisticated.  And of course I have to set up a profile, and let people know what I'm doing.  It's all OK so far, and has given me greater insight into where the battle is being fought for social networking "eyeballs".  

Then suddenly I ended up on Plaxo.  I think there was one person somewhere that wanted me to update my address book.  So I said OK, and then learned that Plaxo may have started as an address book, but is now a full-fledged social network.  And I'm getting connection requests from all sorts of people.

The bigger challenge is strategic, not tactical.  (As you might expect, someone has an app that will cross-post all my stuff on all my sites at once).  Do I replicate content across these three sites? or do I tailor it?  Reading the same thing on three different sites sounds pretty boring.  But since there's not a clear division between friends on one site or another (nor a clear division between items of interest to work friends vs. social friends), it's hard to judge where some material should (and shouldn't) go.

Then there's the quality control (more correctly, brand management) issue.  Do I post photos of me with the lampshade on my head from that Cinco de Mayo celebration that got carried away?  And what happens when someone sees that after reading "seasoned executive" stuff on LinkedIn?

All I can say is that if I live my life as if I have no secrets, there's a lot less to worry about.