Category Archives: Technology

Roll Ups in the Digital Space

There are a few areas of the digital space I’m particularly fond of right now and they have to do with mining content for data, and then turning the data into insights.  Note, that data is generally “dumb” as a single data set can mean different things to different people (insights).  Owning the data is one thing, but mining it for insights and meaning is another.  I’d rather have the smartest insights team than owning a data set that I don’t know what to do with.

Anyway, I think there are a few companies/areas that I’d like to roll-up.  This is me personally speaking, having nothing to do with any business I’m affiliated with.  Also, please note that I’ve not put any banking rigor to this, so have no idea about valuations/cap tables, etc – so this is purely conversational fodder.

URL Shortening for example.  I’d like to buy as many of them that have a userbase, and roll them out a la TweetLnks style.  I cannot sit on Twitter all day long (or even Seesmic Desktop or Tweetdeck) so I miss a whole host of links that are shared that may be interesting to me.  @bbhlabs and @epc share some great links (amongst dozens of others) and I miss them.   If I can strike deals with all of the URL Shortening Serivces (or buy them), I’d be able to create a very comprehensive new type of daily digest.   Not sure if the idea is coming across well, but I think it has legs.  Monetization can come from adding affiliate links (getting buy-off from the stakeholders) as well, as, premium services.

TweetDeck & Seesmic – may be too late for the latter, but I think rolling companies like these up is a very nice platform for the next generation of communication online and thru mobile.   AOL IM is making a play for the mobile space now (just released, AT&T should be scared), but these are two fantastic AIR platforms that have lots of opportunity.  Could compliment the above.

Data Aggregators – Exelate, BlueKai, Domdex, Demdex, Lookery, TargusInfo, etc.  Package them all up and own the data space.  Every ad network and holding company will need access to this data so if you can aggregate all of these players up and create a centralized cookie jar, could be really interesting.  While one would argue that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, I am not sure if that stands up inthe short-term for these players.  I think there could be a quick exit here as well.

Any others?  Thoughts?

Media Optimization

I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past year or so trying to figure out where the advertising industry is headed andOptimization

while I still have many open questions, I’m quite confident that I have one specific area nailed down… and that’s around media optimization.

In context of this post, media optimization is when a media or ad ops team is changing/tweaking a media plan based on the performance of the sites based on a certain schedule.  If one site is performing well and other sites are performing poorly, the sites performing poorly would be manually called (yes, via telephone) or emailed and small tweaks would be made by the publisher – and if performance didn’t change, the site would be optimized “out” of the media plan.  Lost revenue for publisher.

Please note that in this context, media optimization is not media planning, or the upfront portion of media where the agency/brand selects the sites/audiences they want to use based on different research such as ComScore, Nielsen, QuantCast, etc.

Looking at the future of media optimization at the agency/client side, it’s heading away from human-lead to computer-lead interactions.   There are many reasons for this and here are a few of them:

  1. Humans are humans and are prone to error.
  2. Most media agencies don’t hire quantitative minded people, and many quantitative minded people don’t end up in advertising.
  3. Even the smartest human cannot process all of the information necessary to make an optimization quickly (i.e. 6 creatives * 12 sites * 24 hours in a day * 60 minutes in an hour * 13 audience segments * 4 geotargets * etc)
  4. CRM/databases are plugging into media systems and technologies will need to be bridged

The key note here is #3.  As we move into real-time buying for specific audiences on a custom list of sites, technologies are going to lead this.  Humans are going to drive the technologies by setting KPIs (key performance indicators) and managing the overall campaign, but once we tell the technologies how much we can bid per impression (how much we can vs. what we should bid is fundamentally different), they will buy/trade and secure placements.  Placements that do not work well after a statistically significant sample will be automatically optimized.

The adoption curve of making this happen within an agency or brand is fairly steep, however, there are multiple mid to large scale agencies who are starting to making inroads.  The digital media world has been trained for manual optimizations and it took years for our clients to understand this, so changing their mindset could take a bit of time.  There is a learning curve not only internally but for our clients as well, and with enough time, we’ll be having algorithms perform these optimizations.   I believe that this competency will be necessary as we roll into 2010/11 and exchanges proliferate media planners and strategists.   With media folks spending less time now on optimization, they will be able to spend more time on creating big ideas.

Path 101 – Coming Out Party

Sans the party.

My wife (@sparkle201) and I (@dherman76) were asked by our friend Charlie O’Donnell about a year ago to invest in his new startup, Path 101, at a very early stage in it’s life cycle.  Initially Charlie approached me for the investment but I have no real domain knowledge of the HR world, so I flipped this one over to my wife who had been involved in HR for 15 years at a large global bank.

The deal was a no brainer when Charlie sold us his vision – even though he wasn’t quite there yet in terms of actual execution; his vision was grand and we feel that this sort of vision is needed in the marketplace.  Additionally, Path 101 helps filter millions of data sources (resumes) and turn them into actual information – an area that I’m interested in as a side note.

I’m proud to say, that Charlie, Alex, Hilary, Jennifer, and the rest of the team have publicly launched and the site is open for all to use.  This could not come at a better time as the US Unemployment is about 8.1% and this tool would be helpful for not only those entire 8.1%, but an even higher percentage of people who are looking to change their jobs.

I’m going to paste a bit of what they wrote on their site so that all can learn exactly what Path 101 is:

Path 101 has always been about opening up career opportunities to people using data.  We believe that it’s not that people don’t know what they want to do with their careers–they just don’t know what’s out there to do.  By crawling the web for resumes and analyzing that data in our Resume Genome Project, we’re learning more and more about what real career paths actually look like and figuring out how best to expose that data.

See our screencast demo and FAQ here:

Our resume analyzer tool, powered by these public resumes, is the first of its kind.  Nowhere else can you automatically upload your resume or your public LinkedIn profile and get a customized view of how you compare to others,what other people with your background are doing, the schooling you might need, and what other career options are available to you.  This is complimented by industry and function landing pages–views of the data we’ve gathered that help provide detail on career options and opportunities.

Our career advice section, also part of this new release, is the only place on the web where you can anonymously ask or answer career advice and directed it towards professionals in a specific industry.  We know that many career questions are sensitive, especially when you’re currently employed, and we value your privacy.  You might not want to ask career questions in front of your whole network.  On the other hand, sometimes you want as much help as you can get.  That’s why we built integration into Twitter and Facebook so that you can share your questions and advice with everyone across your network to get more people providing their accumulated wisdom.  You can even sign up just to be an advice giver, and request to get sent a limited number of e-mails per week targeted towards people in your field.

Finally, we continue to get excellent and supportive feedback on our personality test.  Over 80% of people who start the test complete it.  It has provided thousands of people with useful feedback on what industries people have professionals with similar mindsets.  We’re looking forward to our upcoming job satisfaction survey–part of a future release–that will give us a lot more flexibility on what we ask questions about and how they directly relate to specific aspects of your resume.

So congratulations to the Path 101 for the launch and I look forward to all of the feedback that you receive to iterate the product to the next level.

The Firehose Is Out of Control

First it was RSS.  I absolutely loved it.  I was able to handpick blogs/topics I wanted to read and at my leisure, consume the content.  My RSS list grew to over 200 bloggers/content sources and if I didn’t check it each day, it became intimidating just looking at the list of unread posts.  I can’t tell you the last time I checked Google Reader.  I was addicted at one point however – checking each hour.

Next up is Facebook and Twitter.  I would give myself a grade of “B+” for limiting the amount of people I follow on Twitter (158 as of writing) as to not overload my tweet screen.  Facebook as well – limited the people who I follow through the news feeds.  The sheer volume however of each tweet/update from the people I’m following both dillute the stream (I don’t need to know that you had cinnabons for breakfast – but I’m guilty at that every once in a while) and make it hard to keep up.  I don’t know if I’m actually supposed to (I don’t think I am) notice that sometimes there are some amazing tweets that I don’t see because my tweet feed is just too long.

I’m not the first person to talk about this nor the last, but there is definitely a need to filter information and data.  I think too many people are focusing on discovery – filtering is needed before we can go out and discover anything new.

People talk about the velocity of current flows of information and inputs and say it’s like drinking from a fire hose.  That’s wishful thinking.  On far too many days, it feels more like living in the Lower Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina.  For Clay Shirky, that sense of drowning in information is a sure sign not of overload but, rather, of inadequate filters.  If he’s right (and I think he is), we have to find a better way of coping.  (c) Above and Beyond KM

Google, Yahoo!, MeeHive, and others are innovating in this space but I’m sure there are many more people.  Anyone know of any great services that help filter the firehose?

This issue is playing out at SXSW.  Just look at the #sxsw issue.

Agencies, Ad Networks, and Disintermediation

InterClick president Michael Katz had a nice writeup in MediaPost today entitled Ad Budget Crunch Puts Pressure On Supply Line. I believe that ad networks are going to be disintermediated in some capacity over the next few years and Katz sheds some light on this notion (from an opposite perspective.

Advertisers and agencies are shifting budgets away from publishers that deliver high-price real estate and “shifting the money to guys like us who deliver ads to target audiences,” Katz said.

My friends over at the AdExchanger (a great read btw) talked about my comments that I made at the OMMA Behavioral event held this past week in Manhattan. I didn’t write up the event on this blog but it was essentially most major ad networks including AudienceScience (formerly RevenueScience), Platform A, Yahoo!, Specific Media, Acerno, Akamai, etc, all sitting in a room talking about the future of digital media. My peer, Ed Montes, Managing Director of Havas Digital, took the stage in front of every ad network and told them that they may very well be disintermediated over the next few years from his perspective. Obviously, I agree to a large extent.

During the OMMA event, Darren Herman of Varick Media Management and Media Kitchen fame twittered “ed montes (Regional Manager, Havas) just pissed off every ad network in the room.” And then added, “I totally agree with him as he said that ad agencies are acting as tech players now and disintermediating.”

In terms of disintermediation, this means that agencies will have to build, adopt, and execute on technology that they’ve historically never had, nor rolled out. Agencies are not technology companies and don’t even come close to acting like them today. In order to fully disintermediate, not only will agencies have to learn code, but they’ll also have to switch culture a bit. I’m not saying the agency world is going to become Yahoo!, Google, and MSFT-like, but it’s going to have to switch around a bit. The interesting part of this is to see which agencies built it themselves and fail, which agencies acquire technologies, and which agencies partner.

I have a white paper that I’m releasing about this in the coming week or so, which was written back in November. I’m looking forward to sharing.

The Future of Social Networks

This morning, I discovered Charlene Li’s latest presentation on the future of social networks.  What is in the presentation reiterates my views that the future of the majority of the web needs to be open.  While social networks can be closed (a la a dining club at Yale), the benefit of a social network is the openness it has with the ability for every single user to create their own experience through the actions they take.

Social networks only work when there is a give/take (input/output).

  • Users input their data/behaviors across a social network or participating site
  • Users output/receive a much more targeted and richer experience

The web is going to be passing/sharing information back and forth between publishers (it currently is now with the DART/Atlas ad-serving systems in their real-time ad calls) beyond the traditional 728X90 or 300X250 ad units.  Pages are fully dynamic now and content changes based on behavior attributed not just on a single publishers site, but across multiple publishers.  The value of understanding what someone is doing on another publisher’s site (even potential competitor) is high.

The future social network is the SOCIAL network.  It is omnipresent.

Forthcoming: Hb's 60secs of M&A; subscribe today

I’ve always talked about creating a vulture fund, but haven’t executed on it for one reason or another.

Something that I can execute however is an email list that would update you on interesting companies/technologies/assets for sale that could benefit your digital media organization.  Whether you’re in the M&A department of IAC or Google, a private equity fund, or a business owner/entrepreneur who wants to branch into new areas, this email list is for you.

The inspiration for this list comes from two recent emails I received from friends showcasing some interesting acquisition opportunities.  Additionally, I’ve been speaking to some entrepreneurial friends who want to sell their companies and/or projects and don’t have a simple method for doing so.
Very brief opportunities (email to be much more in-depth):
  1. StreetRead:  Financial News App that appeared on Webware, Lifehacker, Wall Street & Tech, etc.
  2. HeyAmigo:  PPC Newsletter advertising
Both opportunities above have significant market opportunity if they fall into the right hands.

The email list will be either every two weeks or monthly, so don’t expect a significant volume of emails.

They will be coming from my Herman blackbook email account.

Please sign up for the list here.

The First 72 Hours: New Platforms Fund (Hb)

I thought I’d write this post to recap the first 72 hours of launching the New Platforms Fund thru Herman blackbook.  Upon waking up this past Friday morning, we received front page coverage on TechCrunch with a less than stellar headline and then became top billing on Mashable.  Upon logging onto Twitter, started receiving DM’s from friends and folks I’ve never met with strong support for both the New Platforms Fund and Herman blackbook.

The initial gut reaction that most people had to the fund, as illustrated on TechCrunch, was in some cases negative, as $1-3k investments are in themselves, small.  Yes, that amount of money is extremely small, but what we’re trying to fund are simple applications of technologies off of innovative platforms from the napkin or alpha stage.  Beyond the dollar, we’re offering our network of Herman blackbook, which has been billed behind closed doors as the next generation of Allen & Co.

The response has been tremendous.  Within 12 hours, we had over 40 serious submissions ranging from from applications on Twitter, the iPhone, Android, and the Google API.  There were some miscellaneous submissions but we discarded them as they didn’t reside on a platform.  As of writing this on 6pm on Sunday afternoon, we have doubled our submissions and are combing through each one in-depth.

I also had several members of the press reach out to me and spoke to them about the vision of what Hb and the New Platforms Fund has.  The press, most notably some of the top financial periodicals and tech reporters of industry mags were asking me about why we chose to fund companies that do not own the platform in which they are building upon.  Very valid question and I used to wrestle with this as well.  My standpoint is that a rising tide raises all ships – meaning, we can make a platform more valuable by building on top of it.  No one ever said that innovation comes without risks.

We finished going through the first 50 ideas submitted and have written down why we aren’t going to be moving forward with many of them.  I thought it would be beneficial to all entrepreneurs out there to see why ideas may be rejected as this is a great learning experience.  These are posted on Hb, but I’ve also pasted here:

  • We do not have any existing domain knowledge in the particular market of which these ideas/concepts were submitted.  The power of Hb is more than just money; it’s our network and experience.  If we fund certain ideas, we want to ensure that they have the best opportunity to succeed.
  • Not a big idea.  Some of the ideas we’ve seen are just not big enough in terms of opportunity.
  • Competitive environment.  The market which the ideas/concept fall into are crowded and we’d rather place our bets in a less crowded space.
  • Market opportunity is limited.  If we need to approach the market with only a 3 month window to generate revenue, we are most likely to pass.
  • Idea doesn’t sit ontop of a platform.  Our fund is all about being part of an ecosystem and platforms such as Boxee, Appnexus, Twitter, etc.  Your idea should sit on top of a platform.
  • Explanation of idea was not clear from the description.
  • While we are investing in ideas and concepts, we couldn’t figure out the business application for it.
  • As much as we love video games, film, and music, we don’t invest in specific projects such as a new game, movie, or band.  We will however invest in services around an industry.  We try to stay away from very hit driven businesses.
  • No barriers to entry into the market.
  • Who is the team leader?  Should have experience relevant to the idea.
  • Lastly, not within the funds scope.

Each bullet point above is at least a blog post in itself.  Feel free to comment and I’ll respond in-depth if you want to learn more.

Looking forward to more submissions and making the Hb process a learning experience for everyone.

THE Digital Media & Internet Uber 2009 Prediction List

It’s that time of year again.  Approximately 360 days ago, I posted the 2008 prediction list that was picked up all over the web.  We all know that any prediction in itself holds little weight but when you aggregate many predictions together, you can start to see trends and use this for guidance to where industry/market is headed.

Take a peek at the links below of the 2009 predictions.  All of them are tagged by their content:  technology, digital media, social media, marketing, PR, Internet, consumer, etc.

If there is a solid prediction link/list that I’ve missed, submit it thru

Digital Ramblings: LONG Post Warning

As I write this, I’m sitting in a Starbucks on 24th and 6th Ave and have been trying to collect my digital media thoughts over the past few weeks.  Apologies up front as they are eclectic.

•    Techmeme needs to launch an iPhone app as this would be my news source, displacing NY Times and WSJ.  I’d gladly pay for this.

•    I downloaded and played Zynga Poker on my iPhone 3G this weekend and loved it.  BTW, I am more of a fan of blackjack than Poker but the thought of social gaming was fantastic.  Nicely executed, Zynga.

•    The more screens there are in our society, the more they need to be cleaned.  I’ve spoken at length about starting an iPhone wipes company, but haven’t been able to get a supply source with enough margin to make it worthwhile.  My iPhone is filthy and I’m sure yours is too.  How do you clean yours?

•    I used to run the darrenSalon’s – they have been dead for the past year or so.  I’m thinking of doing a day up at a remote location about an hour north of the city.  We would focus on a specific topic – would this be of interest?

•    The way we learn and play instruments are changing.  Nintendo Wii is going to revolutionize the music space.  Yes, Rockband exists on Xbox 360 and PS3, but kids start with Wii prior to graduating to the more “intense” systems.  I’m curious to see how this is going to play out.

•    My friend Noelle took a job over at Indaba Music.  Congrats Noelle!

•    Boxee is really interesting for many reasons, but the first of which is getting digital content onto my living room TV.  I can watch everything from Fast Lane Daily to TED Talks, Hulu to Netflix.  Genius.  I want to see Boxee expand to the desktop as well in terms of a content distribution system inside of widgets.  Think PointCast model.  I’d be very interested in talking further about this.

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