The Stupid File: Twitter as Cult, destroyer of moral compasses. BALONEY!

One of the most intriguing and most frustrating aspects of the “new media” is how foolish the stories become as writers search for meaning amidst the ocean of change and sea of drivel that makes up the modern information infrastructure aka “Them Dang Interwebs”.

Today’s foolishness takes the form of Jeremy Toeman’s article “It’s Official, Twitter is a Cult” where Jeremy manages to mangle the meaning of a cult about as many times as he invokes it in criticizing Twitter.    Another article actually suggests Twitter is wreaking havoc with moral compasses but I’m not sure I’ll even dignify that nonsense with a read, especially because I find Twitter to be the *least morally offensive* of the many internet venues where I hang out.

Yo TwitterCritterCizers, when is the last time a group of your friends drilled a bunch of wells to give extremely poor people in Africa water?  On Twitter the answer is “Last Saturday “, when the Charity:Water effort, funded by hundreds of thousands of small donations from Twitter folks, began a project to bring clean water to Africa.    This act alone defies much of the cult charge since it is clearly benefitting people who are far outside the “Twitter” network and represents the opposite of a totalitarian, elitist approach to social interaction.   But let’s go through the “Cult” charges one by one to note how backwards this analysis really is.

I’m harping on this partly becuase I’m a twitter fan / evangelist but also because the promise of social media is absolutely spectacular, and I think Twitter may come the closest to realizing that promise for a mass audience.    Twitter and most other social media experiments represent humankind’s best effort to date to create broad based, non-elitist, participatory democracies and social networking infrastructures.    Twitter *defies* the cult and elitist mentality that is still pervasive in legacy human interaction, especially in religion and politics where money, charisma, and connections completely trump solid qualifications and personal virtues.

At the risk of falling into Jeremy’s  trap and talking about a stupid article, I really think its’ a good idea to debunk this mythology before the world comes to an end and only me and the glorious Twitter people survive the apocalypse , whoops…. I mean before it gets out of hand.

  1. It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members
    Nope, in fact it’s hard to even talk about Twitter to friends, relatives, or readers of this blog who mostly think it’s silly.    I like to evangelize blogging but don’t do that much with Twitter, and  in Twitter land Twitter rejection is expected and OK.   No cultishness in the “coercion” department.
  2. It forms an elitist totalitarian society
    Ummmm.  No.  There are no real “kingpins” on Twitter.  In fact the founders, Biz Stone and Evan Williams, are not even the most followed and don’t participate in Twitter all that actively with comments.   Both are pretty mild mannered geeky guys who live modest lifesyles and largely shun the fame and personal power Twitter could bring to them with the simple act of more postings and calls to action.   Furthermore, on Twitter you can follow anybody you care to, and many will probably follow you back if you don’t annoy them with appeals to buy things.   This is called an “egalitarian society” and is the opposite of a totalitarian one.
  3. Its founder/leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma. Even the author of the article states this one is “a stretch”.   A stretch to utter nonsense.
  4. It believes ‘the end justifies the means’ in order to solicit funds/recruit people
    Huh?   Twitter does not solicit funds or actively recruit people.   It is free, it is open, you can leave, join, participate at your own whim.
  5. Its wealth does not benefit its members or society
    First, it has little wealth at this time.  Twitter’s looking to monetize its spectacular success and most folks hope they can do it, but one thing that is clear is that unlike cults Twitter won’t ask the members for anything – not even active participation.   More importantly Twitter’s  is getting used to generate a lot of money for *charities* and good works like the Charity:Water project listed above.

Conclusion:   Twitter is not a cult, it’s a minor social miracle.

PS  To avoid an untimely demise pass this Twitter propaganda on to 1000 of your closest friends and relatives and follow @joeduck at Twitter

SES San Jose Countdown

In terms of internet search the really big and influential conference is – without a doubt – SES San Jose.

WebmasterWorld Pubcon and the new SMX Conference series by Danny Sullivan (who more than anybody was the architect of the SES empire) offer similar content, SES remains the key conference venue for search marketing professionals.

I’ll be live blogging the conference and I’ll even try to get a few real time pix out from Tuesday night’s Google Party hosted at the GooglePlex.   In many ways the “Google Dance” is the highlight of the search year, when Google hosts conference attendees (including folks who just sign up for free exhibit passes), as well as tons of Google employees.    The food is great and it’s hard to beat free beer, ice cream, sno cones, and candy but the real highlight is chatting with Google search engineers who with a few exceptions like the amazing Matt Cutts, … don’t seem to get out much.

Yahoo Microsoft: Is the fat lady almost singing at $34?

Henry Blodget is whining that the Yahoo Microsoft deal is back to where it started, but I think Henry’s wrong … again!     

I’m glad Henry was wrong about the rumor that Yahoo’s Q4 would beat expectations because it was part of the reason I bought YHOO then, and even though the stock dipped due to a bad Q4, it surged on Microsoft’s offer of $31 per share so I’m well in the black.   But now he’s wrong to say the deal is not almost done.  I think this Yahoo Microsoft merger is coming very soon to an internet near you.

Citibank Analyst Maheney upgraded Yahoo this morning, anticipating a boost in the MS bid to $34.   Hey, maybe he read my blog post of about 6 weeks ago where I suggested Microsoft raise their bid to $34?    

Unlike Henry, I think this is not back to where it all started at all!

Yang didn’t want to merge, now he sees it as almost inevitable.  Yahoo board wanted more, now they know anything past initial offer is gravy.  Part of the show was probably the board protecting itself against lawsuits from the unlucky minions who bought their Yahoo at $35+, some at over $100.

Barring a Q1 miracle that would recalibrate Yahoo prices without help of MS bids, I think the fat lady is now almost done singing on this deal.

 Disclosure:  long on YHOO

Google adsense discouraged quality content, Google knol is trying to fix that.

Google knol is a promising development in online information, where “experts” will write concise, authoritative articles on many topics and the community will rank and comment on those articles.   It may be a great way to combine quality content with social networking, though I’m not clear if the quality content producers will be rewarded with more than just the knol-edge  that they have brought more good info into the world.

Although I don’t think they’d talk much about this, I think Google has begun to understand the degree to which adsense has hurt the online information landscape – basically by rewarding those who are most clever at flooding the web with low quality content rather than those who have provided high quality content.   Likewise with linking, where SEO abuses and excesses and Google decisions have made it increasingly hard to separate the information wheat from the adsense chaff.

Enter knol, which will be a community policed content system.    Basically a good idea, and as I’ve noted many times before Google is masterful at doing good things that happen to help them solve some potential revenue problems.   As Nick Carr noted yesterday Google’s high ranks for un-monetized Wikipedia content aren’t putting many Christmas presents under the tree for Google, and knol may shift some advertising focus back in house.

Oban Scotch for Christmas

I owed a friend a pretty good bottle of Scotch for a favor, and knew he liked Oban Scotch.   Unfortunately I had not checked the local price which is consistently $69.95.   Not bad, but I was shooting for a $50 “thank you” gift.   Enter the internet shopping thingie at Google which offered up Turnpike spirits way out east as having the best price by far on Oban – $42 plus shipping.    Unfortunately the website showed “not available” so I called them and got excellent help.  He had some bottles and I managed to order 4 of them.   With shipping I’m going to be under $50, and have a few more nice gifts to give.   Hey Dad – don’t read this post!

Shopping for scotch shows that the internet has not stabilized pricing at all – at least for Oban Scotch.   This single product has dozens of different online prices, which is especially interesting given that locally the price seems almost “fixed”.    I’m guessing few people buy liquor online – perhaps it is an impulse or very-close-to-Christmas purchase usually and therefore people go local?  However it would seem this price inefficiency could be monetized somehow by matching  low online pricing to high priced areas.    I’m guessing that our local liquore store paid more for the bottle they are selling at $69.95 than I just paid Turnpike, so somewhere in here there is a business.

Make Ads, Not War

As I’ve noted many times here I believe that our massive US defense spend is unwise, returning a fraction of the return we’d get by putting most of the annual approximately $500.000.000.000 spend into high ROI global and national development projects, pro USA marketing campaigns, and other infrastructure improvements.

Interesting to me was the number just cited for the 2008 global advertising spend –
486 billion, just shy of what we’ll probably spend on US military.   Global military is about 2x the US number, or approximately one … trillion … annually.   

For you  bogus-fiscal-conservatives-who-call-themselves-conservatives-but-believe-in-huge-military-spending you owe the world at least a 250 billion per year apology, because this military spend is so ineffective at obtaining the desired objectives that no business would ever tolerate it going into the future.  It’s tolerated out of ignorance and mathematical stupidity – the same foolishness that drives huge social spending.  I think the flawed logic generally spawns from the assumption that projects that *might* work to bring stability (e.g. war) actually will work.    Since many such projects often bring a negative or low return rather than the desired one, the ROI on our military spend is spectacularly low.   Vietnam, for example, was left in worse shape than if we had spent zero on that war, and it now appears that Iraq may wind up suffering the same fate.

So, I propose this:   Let’s try to corner the advertising market for a year with out half-trillion.   Instead of weapons, lets see how effectively a global advertising campaign  would sway global public opinion in our favor.    Think about it.   Every TV, every billboard, every radio, and all online ads are featuring themes favorable to the USA.   For every propaganda piece against us, our almost Orwellian media dominance would counter with wine and roses and happiness in the USA.   Maybe we could just corner half the global ad market but reserve a hundred billion to include lots of giveaways and promotions to butter folks up.   Free turkies, cheeseburgers, and flat screen TVs …

Oh, and then that last hundred billion would come close to solving all the major pressing infrastructure problems on earth.

A disclaimer –  I guess I’m only partly serious here.  We need to maintain an adequate defense, but current pork barrelling, inefficiency, and bad strategy have bloated the defense budget out of proportion with its return on the huge investment.   I’d guess we could cut it by at least 60% with no appreciable dilution of our US security, and we could *certainly* do this for a limited time with very little dilution in security but a huge benefit to infrastructure projects all over the world, which would create incalculable good will.   No, this would not solve all our problems.   My point is that it would solve more problems than our current use of the funds.  

Yahoo! WAKE UP!

It’s very frustrating being a Yahoo shareholder.

Not because Yahoo isn’t a good company, in fact Yahoo is a *great* company.

Not because Yahoo doesn’t seem to “get it”, Yahoo arguably “gets it” better than almost all other companies in terms of Web 2.0, the social networking space, and in terms of the importance of open architectures and developer support.

Not because Yahoo doesn’t have any of the lucrative search market share. They are the clear 2nd place in search with huge search activity and over 20% of global internet search traffic.

It’s frustrating because despite all the advantages, Yahoo just can’t seem to capitalize on all these advantagesto turn a good buck, monetize the site to full potential, and increase my share price. Google, with total traffic levels about the same as Yahoo, has a stock capitalization some *FIVE TIMES* that of the company with arguably very similar potential for profits.

Little internet companies and even many very big ones have a good excuse for failing in profitability – online biz is a cold and cruel world and for all the but the huge players everything can turn on a dime. Yahoo, on the other hand, has no good excuse for failing. They are a market maker in terms of online search, global internet reach, online video, and …. this just in for me …. they are HUGE in the Social Networking space. Yes, that would be the social networking space everybody is so excited about. What do I mean by HUGE? Let’s review this graph from via TechCrunch.

First we need to note that is not even remotely a perfect measure, and also adding “unique visitors” in this fashion is counting some folks twice. Also, they are listing sites like Geocities that are arguably not social sites, though I’d argue they could be “open socialed” quickly with an effort in that direction. Since the overlap at these traffic levels is probably not a very big deal, and also assuming they spend time as if the Yahoo properties are separate sites their ad potential may be the same as if they were different folks, these numbers are important and relevant.

So, the big players first:

Myspace: 72 million unique visits in October

Facebook: 33 million

Yahoo: 38 million …..

<screeching reverse halt noise here>

What? Yahoo has more social traffic than Facebook?! Yes they do if you add Flickr and Geocities and Yahoo Groups.

Aside from the fact that Caterina and Stuart and the Flickr gang are probably thinking they sold out a bit too cheap at only 20 million, Flickr is an astounding success with some 14 million users and growing. Personally, I’d rather hang out at Flickr than Facebook anyway.

So, where does this huge number of users in the Yahoo social networking juggernaut leave us?

Frustrated baby, frustrated……

Brightcove darkens. More companies to follow.

Update:   Here’s the word from Brightcove 

Brightcove, a formerly “promising” video distribution startup has given up it’s lackluster battle to compete with YouTube in consumer video, though *it will remain open as a distribution point for high quality video.    (High quality video?  Isn’t that an oxymoron in modern media parlance?).

ReadWriteWeb has an unsatisfactory summary of this event, failing to note that the key challenge for anything related to online video is this:   Video-related advertising doesn’t work.    More importantly it’s not clear it will *ever* work.   I’ve always been skeptical of how video would monetize, and still think YouTube may never justify it’s capitalization except as one more brick in Google’s massive wall of online dominance.

In fact it’s time to consider this interesting possibility – pay per click advertising may be a “one hit wonder”.     I’m not prepared to make this case yet but it’s not really clear that online advertising techniques outside of PPC are working well for advertisers, and even PPC is showing signs of reaching some cost limits in term of advertiser ROI.     Success for advertising agencies (Google is number one, with half the online ad take)  should not be confused with success of the advertising itself.    Clearly PPC is working for many, but part of what is happening is that offline advertising is finally recognized for what it is, which is an “emperor without any clothes”.      I’d argue that as a general rule (ie more than 50% of the time) offline advertising campaigns have negative ROI.    Watching in the Travel industry how negative ROI is spun by ad salesfolks as positive ROI and how failure is analyzed as “success” has been a real eye opener, and I think these mathematical misperceptions are pervasive in the industry. 

Another powerful force is the impact of “free” social network marketing.  Word of mouth has always trumped paid advertising, and social networking is ushering in a new era where consumers not only control what they buy, they are working to control the ads they are exposed to and are talking a lot about products independently and without advertising intervention.    Facebook’s recent “beacon” fiasco tried to spin this backwards and has had very questionable results.

Pay per click has brought much better ROI measurement to mom and pops as well as large companies whose agencies are having increasing difficulty spinning failed “branding” campaigns as a big success.  

Brightcove is not an exception: look for more failures in the video space and elsewhere as the 2.0 bubble slowly deflates into a balance with rational business practices.

Facebook and Politics do mix.

Matt Ingram’s asking about Facebook and politics, noting that CNET thinks they don’t mix all that well. 

They do mix.  Superficiality, negativity, whimsy, and personalities are all key components of social networks and of the American political experience.    The best online strategies may actually win these races, especially in the wide open Republican nomination.   I predict Romney will win that in some part thanks to his excellent family blogging efforts.   Online campaign marketing will certainly contribute to the win in ways disproportionate to their cost and to other media efforts.

 More politics here at President Picker

A Slap in the Facebook?

Facebook’s recent announcement of their new advertising platform – one that is better targeted to the information they have about Facebook users – has not been greeted very favorably by several bloggers who are basically suggesting this is a “sell out” of Facebookers.    Matt Ingram has a clever post noting how *annoying* this type of advertising might get and also how annoying it is that Facebook thinks you can really meet a person’s targeted information needs running ads for national brands.    Valleywag and even CNET were more blunt about this, saying that Facebook just “bastardized” it’s user base.    

Yikes – I don’t want to be a Mark Zuckerberg User Base Bastard!  

The idea that my use of Facebook means I “owe” Facebook something went out with the massive monetization of the web.  My eyeballs have value to Facebook that, as of last week’s launch of Open Social and the MS Facebook deal, appears to far exceed Facebook’s value to to me.  Unlike Matt I do like Coca Cola but I’m eventually going to go with the social network that gives me a piece of their action.  Is it greedy to ask for that? Maybe, but only about 1/1,000,000,000 as greedy as Facebook or Google. I can live with that level of greed, and I can live without Facebook, or Google, or any single online environment.  There are hundreds more where you came from, and don’t forget that you big internet players, or if I have anything to say about it you’ll become … small internet players. 

My initial reaction to the Facebook revolutionary-never-been-seen-on-earth advertising news was basically in the “so what?” category because I think this type of targeting in social network websites is overrated, and Facebook’s Coca Cola partnership is an indication I am right.   Are they seriously telling Coca Cola they are profiling for pop drinking? Youth?  Caffeine addiction?  Obesity?   That’ll allow them to filter out, what, 14 people from the  50,000,000 users of Facebook?   “Mr Coke we’ll only be running those ads on our the super targeted Coke drinking Facebooker user base of 49,999,986”. 

Hyper targeting of online advertising works extremely well when peole are searching for information about a topic, especially information related to purchasing a product.   Google’s built an empire with the profits from this approach which uses targeted pay per click advertising called Adwords (at Google search) and Adsense (at other publishing websites).    However intuition and some indications from current advertising failures suggest that Social Networking is not very fertile ground for high value advertising.    There are exceptions to this – at a recent conference I talked to a marketer of a very targeted national educational service who said Myspace offered him great ROI and a huge number of leads.   There, the demographic matchups seemed to overcome the tendency of people to simply ignore advertising while socializing.