Online advertising needs to grow up

A piece from the New York Times has reignited the debate over online advertising and the monetization of the “long tail” of the Web, one that got a boost recently with a post from Jeremy Liew, a venture capitalist at Lightspeed Venture Partners, who noted that in order to build a business with $50-million in revenue — pretty small beer in most circles — a site would have to have about gazillion page views a month (I’m rounding up).

As the ever-insightful Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 writes, this rather depressing arithmetic exposes a fundamental problem with online advertising: namely, that the pricing is all out of whack when compared with regular print media, or pretty much any other “real world” media for that matter.

In a nutshell, most advertisers and ad agencies still see online advertising as something akin to direct mail, or junk mail, as most people refer to it. In other words, you send out billions of impressions a day and hope that some moron decides to send in that coupon, or sign up for your special travel deals, or order your Cialis knockoffs, or whatever. And my friend Rob Hyndman suggests that they might be right to see it that way.

As Scott and others have pointed out, however, this perception also has a lot to do with the fact that advertisers are still focused solely on the page view, and in part the Web industry is itself to blame for that, since page views are still one of the primary yardsticks by which sites measure themselves and others. Until we come up with something better — some measure of engagement, broadly defined — online advertising is going to languish.

I have been caller number nine…

My oldest daughter Caitlin has been applying to universities (yes, that means I’m old — please don’t remind me) and most of them ask for some kind of personal statement about your abilities, etc. And I was really, really tempted to submit this, which was written by this guy:

“I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding.”

Continue reading “I have been caller number nine…”

Twitter to live, but don’t live to Twitter

Is all the fuss about Twitter much ado about nothing, as Shakespeare put it? Is Twitter the crack of the Internet, as my friend Mark puts it? Is it a useful way of staying connected to friends, and keeping track of your thoughts — as Tara “Miss Rogue” Hunt has said? Or is it a waste of time designed for the self-obsessed and those with short attention spans or attention-deficit disorders? Is it all Robert Scoble’s fault?

The answer to all of those questions, of course, is yes. Except for the Scoble one; I don’t really have an opinion on that, although I will point out that the Third Law of the Blogosphere reads: “When in doubt, blame Robert Scoble.” I wrote a bit about the Twitter phenomenon a few days ago, in this post, and described it as “noise, but also signal,” and I’m sticking with that. may seem like a throwaway fad — the Hula Hoop or Pet Rock of Web 2.0 — and perhaps it is. But I also think it is another piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding how we relate to each other in an online world, and how those relationship mechanisms are changing. Instant messaging and Second Life and blogs and Digg and Facebook are all pieces of that puzzle too.

Can Twitter be irritating? Of course it can. So can email, and so can the telephone or a conversation in a bar. But we still use or engage in those things. It’s worthwhile remembering that even Alexander Graham Bell never expected the phone to be used for business — he saw it as an entertainment device. I wonder what he would have thought of Twitter.

Further reading:

The always insightful Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users has a great post looking at the benefits but also the downside of a “continuous partial attention” app such as Twitter and its potential effect on our lives.

Cisco plus WebEx: smart or desperate?

Coming so soon after the company bought a social networking platform (, Cisco’s $3.2-billion acquisition of WebEx makes it clear that the network equipment company’s interest in matters of the Web is more than just a passing fancy (although I suppose that it’s possible deals of that size qualify as a fancy at a giant like Cisco, which has a market cap of about $155-billion).

In any case, WebEx is an interesting purchase to make. I think Om is right that the service makes a natural pawn (or maybe a rook) in the chess game with Microsoft for supremacy in the in-between world of Web and desktop for corporate users. And from that point of view the deal makes a certain amount of sense as a positioning effort.

However, I also think Rafe Needleman makes an excellent point in his post at Webware, which has the wonderful title: “Cisco buys WebEx for the land — the product is a teardown.” Having used the service more than once, I can attest to the fact that in most cases it is difficult to configure and a pain in the ass to use, in contrast to more flexible (and cheaper) Web services such as and Adobe’s Connect.

In that sense, the deal doesn’t look quite so great — and the valuation looks rich at best. Paul Kedrosky asks whether Cisco even knows what it wants to be when it grows up.

Get your mesh video on

There’s no question that online video has become a phenomenon over the past year or so, whether it’s the rise of YouTube and “user generated” stars like Lonelygirl15 or IsabellaBrave or the increasing use of video blogs by politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And the $1-billion Viacom suit against YouTube only reinforces the power struggles that are taking place in this new universe.

Online video and the revolution it is helping to power is a big part of what we’re going to be discussing at the mesh conference in Toronto on May 30 and 31, and so we wanted to reach out to the community and hopefully find our own version of that fantastic “The machine is us/ing us” video that has been making the rounds of late.

My fellow mesh organizer Rob Hyndman has written a great post on the mesh blog with more details about the contest we’ve set up. Check it out and then get out that video camera!

No this doesn’t mean Mark Cuban is right

So Viacom has slapped Google (or YouTube) with a $1-billion lawsuit for blatant copyright infringement on a massive scale, according to the entertainment conglomerate’s claim. On a side note, have you ever noticed how people invariably get slapped with lawsuits? Not just hit — slapped. And a big thick lawsuit would hurt, I bet. Especially legal paper.

But seriously, is anyone surprised by this? I’m willing to admit that Viacom might have a point about a few things, such as the copies of copyrighted material that pop up right after a clip is taken down, or the inability to search for more than 1,000 clips, etc. But those are really technicalities and Viacom knows it. It doesn’t even seem to be trying to make a real case under the DMCA.

I still think that the lawsuit — which Cynthia Brumfield at IPDemocracy correctly describes as “puffy and fluffy” — is really just another case of negotiation by other means, just like the notice and takedown letter about the 100,000 clips. I would also agree with Henry “I used to be a famous Wall Street analyst” Blodget that it is unlikely to be successful.

I also think that, regardless of the merits of the case (which are not nearly as strong as Viacom’s blustering press release implies) my friend Paul Kedrosky is right, and this lawsuit is fundamentally just dumb. Not necessarily wrong in a legal sense — but still dumb.

Time to mix and mesh

If you can’t wait until the mesh conference (May 30 and 31 in Toronto) to talk about all the interesting things that are happening on the Web and how they are changing media, marketing, business and society, then come on out to the next mesh social event. The first one at the Irish Embassy was so much fun that we decided to have another one.

It’s taking place on March 28 at the Charlotte Room, which is just east of King and Spadina in Toronto, and we’ve got most of the bar booked — and all of the pool tables (check the Upcoming page here for more details or to see who else is coming). Come on down to have a few drinks and connect, share and inspire.

Let’s mesh!

A quick note — blogging will be light

Just a quick administrative note to all of my devoted readers (hi Mom) that I am on vacation for the next week or so, and so blogging is likely to be erratic at best. In the meantime, please enjoy some photos I took last year when I was doing pretty much the same thing I am doing now.

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Twitter is noise, but also signal

It seems as though everyone has an opinion on Twitter, the instant-messaging style app that Blogger founder Ev Williams shut down Odeo to focus on (wise decision, that). Pete Cashmore says that it’s another way to blog about your cat, while Karoli at Drumsnwhistles just doesn’t see the point — and in the comments on her blog, Robert Scoble says Twitter hate is “the new black.”

It’s an interesting idea, Twitter — and in many ways a natural evolution of (or accessory to) Evan’s original creation, Blogger. And the name is perfect, since it conveys precisely the kind of instantaneous, frivolous, and maybe even scatter-brained nature of the app itself, like a bird twittering. Not singing, but twittering.

I blame Austin Hill of Billions with Zero Knowledge for getting me on to Twitter, even though he has never mentioned it to me. I signed up because a couple of friends had mentioned it, and then I started seeing Austin’s updates from the TED conference pop up regularly in my Google Talk window as feeds from his Twitter — and on his blog in a little Twitter widget. I thought it was a pretty cool way of sending out short thoughts.

In fact, it reminds me a lot of what my 17-year-old daughter and her friends do with their instant messaging accounts, where they change their login names every hour or two to let everyone know how they’re feeling — complete with many emoticons and other strange characters — or include some lyrics from a favourite song, etc. And they do the same with their Facebook profiles, where they post updates every hour or so.

Is this obsessive behaviour in some sense? Possibly. And I can see the point made by many, that these kinds of continuous interruptions don’t really add anything important. And yet, I still find it interesting. We want to be connected, I think, and anything that helps us do that is useful in some way — even if it results in noise that we have to tune out sometimes.

Will News takeover MySpace News?

From Terry Heaton’s PoMo blog comes word that MySpace — the 800-pound gorilla of social networking — will soon be launching a Digg-style news aggregation service of some kind. Is that a good thing? It’s certainly interesting, and I would expect Digg to be worried about the prospect. Whether it’s actually something worthwhile depends on how it is handled.

myspace-owned.jpgMike Arrington at TechCrunch raises an interesting point, which is that having its own “social news” feature connected to the gazillions of people who belong to MySpace (even if those gazillions aren’t quite as large as the service would like us to believe, thanks to the multiple-account problem) could give News Corp. lots of ideas about pushing its news content into such an aggregator, giving it priority of some kind, etc. In my view, that would be bad. On the other hand, News Corp. could use the social aspect of such a service to get a read on what a large audience is interested in, and use that to inform the rest of its media operations, which would be smart.

Will News Corp. use its MySpace News as a kind of jungle drum, to pick up stories that might be under the radar? Or will it just be another Digg-style echo chamber where the uncouth hordes and flash crowds can congregate and spin stories into hysterical overkill? Should be interesting to watch. For more, see Pete Cashmore at Mashable and Seamus McCauley at Virtual Economics.


Joe Duck says that he expects MySpace to fail miserably. He says that “social news networks like Digg and Netscape are pretty bad for all but tech and quirky news because they generally fail to analyze or treat significant stories with much if any respect.” I would have to agree there, but then I’m a news junkie from the old school 🙂 News Corp. is also trying to get other video content owners to bring their stuff to MySpace.