Category Archives: Technology

NY Times People & Accounts of Note

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Varick Media Management, New York, was formed by MDC Partners, Toronto, whose holdings include Crispin Porter & Bogusky and Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners. Varick is being formed to provide digital media management services for online exchanges. Varick opens with the Media Kitchen media agency, part of Kirshenbaum Bond, and its client roster. Darren Herman was named president at Varick; he is a technology executive and blogger who has held posts at companies like IGA Worldwide.

Got a nice shout-out today in the NY Times Webdenda newsletter.  For those who did not see the initial release because of all of the Olympic hoopla over the past few weeks, you can read it here and a bit more in-depth with MediaPost’s coverage.

More about Varick Media Management over the next few weeks.

Tuesday Morning Digital Tidbits

Here are a few tidbits from this mornings news that peeked my interest:

Even Top Quants Struggle to Draw Inflows: Shaken by the market turbulence that began in August 2007, institutional investors have been pulling assets out of quant equity strategies, and overall flows are likely to be flat at best for at least the near future. Even quant managers whose performance hasn’t suffered are feeling the sting.  It’s a sharp turnaround from as recently as two years ago, when quants were delivering strong returns and raking in institutional assets. According to Casey Quirk and Associates, U. S. institutions put a net $93 billion into quants in 2005, and almost as much, $88 billion, in 2006. By some estimates, quant strategies globally topped $500 billion by mid-2007.

Apple iPhone:  8 Million and CountingBy tracking the sequence of IMEIs, they can now say, with a fair degree of certainty, that as of Aug. 30, when BillH’s daughters bought that phone, Apple had manufactured at least 5,649,000 iPhone 3Gs. Added to the 2.4 million first-generation iPhones the company reported it had sold in the first six months of 2008, that means that Apple has manufactured more than 8 million iPhones this year . Moreover, with Apple’s overseas partners reportedly turning out iPhones at the rate of 800,000 units per week, it seems likely that Apple will build — if not sell — its 10 millionth iPhone before the end of September.

Facebook Selling Digital Gifts at a $35m run rateThe vast majority of facebook gifts are bought from the first screen of gifts in the directory – almost 80% of the total sales come from the group of the first 20 gifts. This points to the self reinforcing nature of popularity (the crowdiness of crowds rather than the wisdom of crowds) when popularity data is made public.

Hot Babes of the 2008 US Open:  Been spending a lot of time at the US Open this year and a colleague sent this to me.  A must see.

AMC To Twitterer’s:  Please Don’t Market Mad Men for Us:  Terrible move by AMC.  Great show still.

I’m not linking to any of the Google Browser articles as it seems as if everyone is doing so.  Head over to TechMeme if you’d like to read some of the articles.

Technology, Stats & Fantasy Football

It’s that time of year when all of us football fans get excited and eagerly anticipate Thursday night’s opening game of the NFL’s 89th season.  As many of you know, I’m a Giants fan and am coming off a Super Bowl season so there is increased interest amongst many NY’ers as it’s not often we get to be ontop of the NFL.

In the office, we have a pretty rigorous fantasy football league that 12 of us are participating in and there has already been quite a bit of trash talking occuring.  This is my first year participating in fantasy football and I’m really looking forward to it.  From 1995-2002, I participated in an NHL Sim league and each year, I have the brackets filled out for the NCAA basketball, but never really participated in a full-on sports league.

Last Wednesday evening, we drafted our teams in the conference room and I came with roughly 50 pages of printouts of statistics and mock-drafts and a magazine that I had spent $7.99 on that was dedicated to Fantasy Football.  One of my colleagues sitting next to me only had his iPhone which was loaded with an app called Fantasy Football Draft Central.  No papers, no magazines, he was ready to go with just his iPhone.  Genius move.

Throughout the entire draft, he marked off who was taken and the application told him who was the best available player for his roster – saved him a lot of time and made him a ton more efficient than me who had to scramble through multiple sheets of paper which became totally inefficient at times.

I did some research after the fact (I wish I had done it prior) and came across Draft Analyzer, which is a player recommendation engine for fantasy football drafts.

Both the iPhone application and this Draft Analyzer process through thousands of players to make recommendations based on player statistics.  Are the top players recommended going to perform best?  Not all the time as you can never predict injuries, overachievers, etc – but it’s great for guidance.

Fantasy Football is a big industry.  In 2006, I wrote a posting about Fantasy Sports for Marketers and how it’s a $1.5 billion dollar industry.  Fantasy Football alone, as a search term has 71,400,000 results in Google.  Google AdSense has filled all paid search results around the term and I imagine it’s hyper competitive.

What’s most interesting to me here is the use of technology in a Moneyball like setting for fantasy sports.  I didn’t use it for my work draft but will test it for my league with my buddies from my home town.  Lets see if it works.

There’s even a Social Media league in which some of my friends including Joseph Jaffe and David Knox are playing in.  You can read an updae of their draft over at David’s blog.

CAPTCHA Solving Economy

I was perusing my RSS feeds this morning and came across an article from ZDNET entitled, Inside India’s CAPTCHA Solving Economy.  A CAPTCHA is a type of challenge-response test used in computing to ensure that the response is not generated by a computer (wikipedia).

I had never thought about the potential economics about setting up a service to “crack/break” CAPTCHA’s but a few enterprising individuals in India apparently have.

No CAPTCHA can survive a human that’s receiving financial incentives for solving it, and with an army of low-waged human CAPTCHA solvers officially in the business of “data processing” while earning a mere $2 for solving a thousand CAPTCHA’s, I’m already starting to see evidence of consolidation between India’s major CAPTCHA solving companies. The consolidation logically leading to increased bargaining power, is resulting in an international franchising model recruiting data processing workers empowered with do-it-yourself CAPTCHA syndication web based kits, API keys, and thousands of proxies to make their work easier, and the process more efficient.

I like how they call this Data Processing.  I guess it really is.  This reminds me of Gold Farming that generally takes place in games like World of Warcraft.. that’s data processing too I guess.

Looks like CAPTCHA might be on the decline if marketers start buying more from these solving services, so what’s next?

Olympics & Election Technology Impact

Technology has disrupted many industries over the course of time which in most cases has brought positive long-term change. Within 24 hours of each other, I read a post by Mark Cuban entitled, My Olympics 2016 Business and Technology Predictions and Auren Hoffman’s Technology is the Deciding Factor in Election Campaigns.

Both Cuban and Hoffman touch upon a major/premiere event (Olympics, Election) and how technology is creating new opportunities, creating efficiencies, and has the ability to scale the event itself much greater than it is currently today.

Cuban writes about how the Out of Home (OOH) market is going to create new opportunities for viewing the Olympics:

o what can NBC, or really any bidder do to give themselves an advantage ? What technology could they monetize in 2016 that would help get a return on their bid that doesn’t exist today ?

The answer is simple: The Out of Home Market

How many people can they convince to leave their homes to watch the games in a unique viewing venue. Would people pay 20 bucks to watch Michael Phelps go for medals 17 to 25 in a theater on a 3 story screen in the highest possible quality HD with a thousand other screaming fans ? Would they pay 30 bucks to watch it in 3D ?

Could they get 10mm people into theaters (thats the equivalent of a movie that did about 70mm in box office in 2 weeks). Would people get more excited about the Olympics than they did Batman ?

Would people go to the Royals stadium in KC to watch any of the games on a Daktronics screen that is 12 stories tall with 40k of their friends ? Would they fill 100k in the new Dallas Cowboys or the new Yankees stadiums whose HDTV screens will be even bigger ? How many different nights ? Particularly given that in 2016, those screens will be “old” and probably smaller than the current generation of screens in arenas and stadiums.

Of course it would also not be a stretch to place the biggest screens in existence in open air locations where huge gatherings and related events can take place. Would families pay 50 bucks for a day of Olympics fun outside on 100 acres ? Olympicsalooza anyone ? Why should it be any different than all the events that take place SuperBowl, or NBA or MLB All Star weekends ? Make it a huge party. In 100 cities across the country.

Could you sell 20mm tickets to attend out of home Olympic events at an average of 20 bucks each ? Thats 400mm minus the cut to the theaters, locations, etc of 50pct, or 200mm. Plus of course there is all the non stop advertising that will be built into all of these events. On screen, at stadium/field/farm/theater………

I would mostly agree with Mark. I’ve been saying this for a long time in regards to watching concerts such as the Dave Matthews Band in theaters. We’ve seen hints of concerts touching the big screen such as the Beastie Boys movie back a few years and recently, the Rolling Stones. When we go to the theatre, even though we’re watching with a group of people we chose to go with (surrounded by other potentially like minded individuals), it’s still a solitary experience. If you talk during a movie, you can expect to get a few looks from people who are displeased. With concerts, it’s all about the EXPERIENCE. The stage show is one part of it, but the crowd, smells, energy, and all of the intangibles make the experience. The Olympics is just like a big U2 concert… lots of hoopla, lights, great performers, but we should be able to watch and witness in a crowd of likeminded people to really share in the experience. I would love to see this happen for the Olympics.

Next, we’ve got the election. The media attention is switching from the global stage of Olympics to the national stage for the Election and we’re about to have a media blitz that will own the airwaves for the next few months. Hoffman talks about the 3rd Ask as noted below:

The Third “Ask”

In politics, supporters traditionally get two “asks” from candidates: one for money, and one for a vote. That’s it. That means most of the campaign work is done by a few paid staffers. Not a very participatory democracy.

The Obama campaign has turned this notion on its head and built a community involvement strategy. Axelrod and his team realized that supporters of a political candidate are passionate and want to help. And while most have full-time jobs and families, and can’t spend weekends knocking on doors, they all have five minutes to spare to help out. The Obama campaign has brilliantly taken advantage of this by actually asking people for help. They’re letting a large number of people do a small amount of work each.

So if you go to an Obama rally (or just sign up on his Web site), you might be asked to call three voters in a swing state. Or if they know you are a member of Digg (the popular site that lets users vote on articles of interest), Obama’s people may ask you to Digg an article that is favorable to Obama or critical of his opponent. Or they might ask you to put a bumper sticker on your MySpace page.

In 2012, all major candidates will be leveraging their supporters more effectively. But for now, Obama’s campaign has the technology advantage.

He’s right. Technology is allowing us to unite supporters, create an experience between everyone, and then have them go off and be brand advocates, in this case, for the Obama campaign. Hoffman may be quietly inferring that the successful candidate will utilize the Wisdom of Crowds model to move from a top down campaign to a bottom up.

What’s interesting in both cases here is that technology is making a real difference in both the Olympics and Elections. The Olympics was the most viewed event in U.S. TV ratings history (source) but the experience of the games could be much larger. Technology allowed us to watch most of the Olympics coverage whenever we wanted it (if you could find your way around NBC) and those access points weren’t figured into the ratings so it’s even higher.

I’ve always been a fan of how technology can penetrate an industry and picking two premium events in a 6 month time span is certainly fascinating to watch.

AP: NBC Sees New Media Habits form with Olympic Games

NBC sees new media habits form with

Olympic games

NEW YORK (AP) — About half of the people who are using mobile phones to pull down video or information about the Olympics have been trying out that technology for the first time, NBC said on Wednesday.

NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co., has been using the Olympics as something of a research lab to track the adoption of new media technology. Since the opening ceremony last Friday, the company has made content available online, through video on demand and via cell phones along with traditional TV.

The number of people requesting Olympic content over their phones is still relatively small — 494,506 on Sunday and 476,062 on Monday — but NBC executives say they’re stunned at how many of those never used the phones for this purpose before.

“To some extent, the Olympics are beginning to influence how people use new technology,” said Alan Wurtzel, research president for NBC Universal.

By far, however, television is still the preferred format. Of the estimated 107 million people to experience at least a few minutes of the Olympics on Sunday, 95 percent watched it on TV, NBC said.

Given the choice between a high-definition TV placed before a couch or a small, grainy picture on a computer screen, it’s still a pretty obvious call, Wurtzel said.

NBC’s prime-time ratings are running well ahead of the Athens games in 2004. Through five days, the average prime-time viewership for NBC is 31.3 million, the network said. Interest in Athens started slowly but heated up with gymnastics, while the Beijing games have been a draw from the start.

It has become a communal event that the country has enjoyed sharing, Wurtzel said, a rarity in the day of media fractionalization.

“I don’t think you’re going to see too much of this in the future,” he said.

Americans downloaded some 1.7 million video streams of Monday’s stunning swimming relay where the American team came from behind to beat France and keep Michael Phelps’ gold medal streak alive. An estimated 1.5 million video streams were e-mailed from one person to another, Wurtzel said.

NBC Universal worried in past Olympics years that its decision to air much of the events on cable outlets like CNBC, MSNBC and USA would siphon interest from prime-time, which is still where the network earns the bulk of its advertising revenue.

But the opposite proved to be true and, this year, the same thing has happened with the digital content, said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.

I thought it would be interesting to post this b/c the Olympcs affect people at a global scale in one of the most (if not THE most) premiere events.  Comment your thoughts on the release above – I’d love to get a conversation going.  I’ll be doing so today as well.

Google's Cookie Jar

Online, cookies scare people.  Offline, cookies put smiles on faces (and holes in people’s teeth).   Could they be any more diametrically opposed?

Here is MSFT‘s definition of a cookie:

Cookies are text files that a Web server can store on a user’s hard disk. Cookies allow a Web site to store information (sites visited or credentials for accessing the site) on a user’s machine and later retrieve it. The pieces of information are stored as name-value pairs. Cookies are designed to be readable only by the Web site that created them. A name-value pair is simply a named piece of data. It is not a program, and it cannot “do” anything. A Web site can retrieve only the information that it has placed on your machine. It cannot retrieve information from other cookie files or any other information from your machine. For more information on how to handle cookies in Internet Explorer, read the Cookie FAQ.

Google today announced that they were going to put a cookie on any browser who visits a site in the Adsense Network.  The first reaction to hearing this for many people is probably negative.  However, this could be a very good thing and could advance online advertising a step further in the right direction.

By Google dropping a cookie on browsers, they know the frequency at which you have visited their “network.”  One issue that many advertisers have (and consumers certainly know about it because they voice their frustrations) is setting a global frequency cap across an entire media plan constituted of different sites.  It’s difficult, just ask any media planner.  Doable – yes, but not perfect.

Since the Google Adsense network is vast, having a way to track global frequency for advertising across is very helpful and sexy to advertisers.  If you’re not part of the advertising world, you may be asking why “frequency” is important.

First, frequency is the amount of time a person is exposed to a particular ad in a set period of time.  There is a point where the law of diminishing returns kicks in and running too many ads to a particular user may actually work negative against the brand.  If you’ve surfed the internet and have seen the same ad over and over and over again and you’re wondering why… they are probably having problems with setting frequency or managing the yield curve.  There are other reasons why but they are not for this little ramble.

Additionally, there are two conversion metrics that both DART (DoubleClick) and Atlas (Microsoft) use for measurement:  click-through and view-through.  Click Thru (CTR) is what we know of when a user clicks an ad and goes to the website that it’s affiliated with.  A View-Through is another form of conversion that accounts for when a user is exposed to an ad but does not click it, but later, ends up at that advertisers site (within a certain amount of time).  Google is looking to better measure this, especially as conversion attribution is becoming a hot topic in today’s advertising landscape.

The Cookie Jar that Google is building may sound scary but it’s in the best interest of all of us.  If companies can serve much more targeted ads, then they actually can become useful instead of the “punch the monkey” that we seem to get quite often.

Resume Genome Project

I was digging around Path101‘s website this evening to see what Charlie and the team were up to and dug deep into the Resume Genome Project.

What is this?

We’ve been crawling the web gathering up resumes and industry information. What you see here is our first take at analyzing and visualizing it.

We hope you’ll explore industries, learning what they are about, how to get into them, what a typical career is like, and what people go on to leaving them.

A lot more information about the Resume Genome Project.  The RGP is a big reason on why I chose to invest in Path101, it’s much needed in the industry and don’t know many other smart people conquering this area.  Aggregating data or content is one thing, but drawing parallels between them is another.

What do people actually wind up doing with my background?  Where do people like me work, and where can they work in the future?

Well, all that information is actually out there–its in our collective resumes.  The big job boards have it in their vast resume databases, but they were never parsed and structured in a way to be exposed, analyzed, and navigated in aggregate to yield insights.  They are just being sold to recruiters in a firehose.

As it turns out with most walled garden approaches, today’s web presents a viable, openly accessible alternative.  Millions of resumes are actually available in public out on the web in various different types of homepages and profiles.  It’s no surprise either.  More and more people are constructing web presences for themselves in an effort to get found, so its natural that they would include a resume.

We’re downloading, parsing, and doing a lot of structure and cleanup work to make this data not only presentable and navigable, but interactive.

Follow-up to My Quotes in Today's NY Times

NY Times Logo I’ve been helping my friend Stephanie on this story for a few weeks now and finally, it came to light.  I’m stoked for her [Stephanie] to really break one of the first stories that really disrupt the advertising industry in the past few years, as well, as highlight a friends of mine including Joe Zawadzki (MediaMath) and Zach Weinberg (Invite Media).

I’d like to take the time to expand upon my quotes:

“The exchanges are just a platform to buy and sell media, but you have to layer the measurement and data on top, which could come from different areas: some agencies will build it, some agencies will partner,” said Darren Herman, head of digital media at the Media Kitchen agency.

“We use the analogy of, anybody can trade on the financial markets, anyone can get an eTrade account, but it’s how you’re smart about how you use your eTrade account that determines how well you’re going to do trading,” Mr. Herman said.

In the first paragraph, I mention that exchanges are ‘dumb.’  They essentially are a large pool of available impressions that ultimately lead back to a website (sometimes blind, other times transparent) and potentially back to a certain user.  What I’m stating in the paragraph is that if you match data about a user/audience and overlay that ontop of an impression, it becomes very powerful.  Media agencies, who are buying the bulk of media on behalf of their clients will need to adapt in this new area and it’s going to take a certain type of group/unit/team/company to make this happen due to the parallels it draws from the financial markets with analysts, yield managers, traders, etc.

In the second paragraph, I’m simply stating that with today’s financial markets, anyone can trade.  You, my grandmother, my buddy, my brother, or my wife can get an eTrade/Zecco/etc account and trade on the markets.  Just because you have access to the markets does not guarantee success; it ultimately comes down to the data you have on the instrument (in this case a security) and the market conditions.

Zach has a quote towards the end of the article that I want to highlight as this should spur potentially a dozen new businesses popping up.

“Once there’s a market place where you can buy and sell using your own technology, you can absolutely create financial instruments or media instruments,” said Zachary Weinberg, the chief executive of Invite Media, a start- up in Philadelphia that is working on ad-exchange strategies. “I think what you’ll see is traders come in, and they’ll look to create derivatives on certain packages of media, and resell them to other guys. You’ll see a whole marketplace develop because of this technology shift.”

I’m super excited about this industry, are you?

Related pieces:  I heart data / Advertising to Audiences / Goodbye Media Sales Execs