martes, 31 de julio de 2012

The First Company To Build Your Identity Into Your Phone Wins The Next Decade

Editor's note: Rebekah Cox is a product designer at Quora and previously a product design lead at Facebook. This post is a followup to a recent tweet, and first appeared on Quora.

It's important to understand what identity isn't: Identity is not a password, it's not root access, it's not your calendar, it's not your email, it's not a technical achievement, it's not your location, it's not a user account in a system, it's not your contacts and it's not a feature.

So, what is identity? I think in its most basic form, your identity is the product of how you manage your attention and others' access to that attention. Those areas where your attention is focused assemble to form a set of experiences that shape and influence where you'll direct future attention. But that attention is interrupted all the time by people, events, things, desires, boredom, weather, etc. and that process of interruption is, largely, contained to physical space because that is a natural gate on access.

Then there's the phone. The "phone" part of the mobile phone is important not because of the voice communication it enables, but rather from the habit and etiquette that the ringing bell created in society and the direct access it grants to the caller. It's the promise of instant communication at the cost of having attention interrupted and redirected. The key to unlocking that attention is a semi-random sequence of digits which you can give to someone else to indicate that the person now has permission to interrupt you and to access your attention directly.

Email works so well because it is another opportunity for access and people have formed a collective habit of actively directing attention toward their inboxes at regular intervals. We have all agreed to walk to our computers and check the new mail indicator and are generally addressable through a combination of a username and domain. It's not as insistent as the phone, though, and provides just enough lag to enable some measure of control over granting access. Twitter and Facebook have feeds which abstract away both the To: and Subject: fields of email and represent two very different networks but are nonetheless an evolution of the habits email created. Facebook further improves the method of connection through friendship and the use of real names with the network itself providing necessary disambiguation.

Currently all these disparate forms of communication are competing[1] and in terms of mobile, specifically, have been fashioned into apps that exist without hierarchy on top of an identity agnostic framework. Identity is largely misappropriated or at most a small component of some percentage of those apps[2]. Then there are the notification systems which allow us to manage certain types of incoming information, but the experience is still essentially a channel for the applications' own interests: ignoring, instead of reinforcing, the user's identity.

It cannot be ignored, however, that there are benefits to that competition[3]. With several different communication channels, it's easier to prioritize who gets direct access (texting, calling), who gets secondary access (email) and who gets excess access (feeds). Another issue is how quickly these systems become overwhelming and how easy it is for well intentioned users to dig themselves into an experience hole. But these are tractable problems when the design principles are focused around identity and the system is explicitly responsible for maintaining all material facts about its owner[4].

A mobile experience that truly represents your identity — in a way that both resembles and enhances an in-person conversation but still affords you control over how you portion out your attention and provides context — could tie the knot for the myriad communication channels available.

[Image via]


[1] The Facebook Messages product is arguably the first step in the first large scale attempt to consolidate all these communication channels and create a central stream for directed information. Your Facebook profile is also arguably the best representation of your public identity and how you want the world to view you in context of your peers. Those are two huge parts to executing on mobile identity and why rumors about a Facebook phone are so ripe. It's also possibly why the Messages product currently feels so awkward — because it remains as an incomplete thought until the later stages of the product materialize. This is all speculation on my part, however; I have no inside information about a Facebook phone.

[2] Address Book, Twitter, Facebook, etc. all serve to fracture your identity. Android has an excessively aggressive address book that attempts to manage your social connections but provides no true representation of a person's identity within the system.

[3] If it were up to the carriers, we'd have identities composed of NASCAR ads and group buying coupons that require an extra monthly fee to connect to more than 10 people.

[4] Imagine priority calls, texts, inbox, feed, etc. And those are just the naive solutions, better ones are out there.

This Friday’s Facebook Ecosystem CrunchUp: Come Learn What’s Working For Airbnb And SongPop

Facebook is still huge and growing — it added another 50 million users this past quarter, and it's about to break the one-billion-humans mark. But it still has to figure out how to survive on mobile. So we're focusing on Facebook and its developer ecosystem at our annual CrunchUp event this Friday in Redwood City, Calif.

Our aim is to detail what's working and what's not, so entrepreneurs can better strategize how to think about Facebook when building their companies.

Get your Facebook Ecosystem CrunchUp tickets now! They can be found here.

Some mobile-savvy startups are getting big growth from Facebook's platform. One of them is the music game SongPop. It now has more than 2.7 million daily active users and 11.4 million monthly active users via Facebook, and it's also a top free app in the Apple App Store. I'll be trying to get all the secrets to its success out of its creator, Mathieu Nouzareth, this Friday as part of our panel on Facebook's platform.

But mobile has yet to kill the web — if that bit of hyperbole ever becomes reality. Meanwhile, Facebook has become more central to how other startups are gaining traction on their own sites.

Airbnb, for example, has built Facebook into its identity system, to help people renting out their homes get more social context around who they're letting in. Did this Facebook data turn Airbnb into a market leader? Joe Zadeh, product and innovation lead for the company, will answer questions about whether Facebook APIs can help startups win.

You'll have to show up this Friday to hear about all the details. You'll also have to buy one of these tickets to get into the awesome August Capital party that evening, because the other tickets are all sold out.

So, those Facebook Ecosystem CrunchUp tickets? Get them here.

Bios from the guys, below, followed by the agenda.

Mathieu Nouzareth
CEO, FreshPlanets (SongPop)

Mathieu Nouzareth is a serial web entrepreneur. He started his career at 23 by co-founding WebConcept, one of the first e-business consulting company in France in 1995. WebConcept was later sold to IconMedialab of Sweden in 1999, still today the largest internet consultancy company in the world (NYSE-Euronext : LBI). He was subsequently CEO of IconMedialab France until 2001.

In 2001, Mathieu and his brother Romain started, one of the leading game digital distribution company. Operating in more than 30 countries with over 180 co-workers, the company has been sold to Nexway of France in 2008. They also founded Is Cool Entertainment in 2006, a leading social casual game publisher. Is Cool is now listed on the NYSE-Alternext market (ALIS) and has become of the largest European Facebook game company.

In 2009, Mathieu and his brother Roman have started another game company, FreshPlanet, based in New York. FreshPlanet is the developer and publisher of SongPop. Mathieu is a graduate of the Grenoble School of Management and holds an MBA from Pace University in New York. He is a frequent panelist at tech conferences such as LeWeb Paris, CES Las Vegas, GDC, Casual Connect.

Joe Zadeh
Lead of Product & Innovation, Airbnb

Joe Zadeh (a.k.a. "Joebot") is Lead of Product & Innovation at Airbnb, a community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique spaces around the world. Much of his efforts are focused on keeping engineering and design tightly integrated to enable world-class online and offline experiences.

He joined the company as an engineer when the entire product development team worked out of a bedroom in a San Francisco apartment. In a previous life, Joe was a research scientist and holds a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Caltech and a B.S. in Computer Science from Northwestern University.

Facebook Ecosystem CrunchUp

12:00 PM Registration and Lunch

1:00 PM Welcome

1:10 PM Fireside Chat with Mike Schroepfer – Vice President of Engineering – Facebook

1:40 PM Product Tour – Peter Deng – Director of Product Management – Facebook

1:55 PM Panel: Designing and Growing A Modern Mobile App

2:20 PM Break

2:40 PM Product Tour – Doug Purdy – Director of Developer Products- Facebook

3:05 PM Panel: What's Next For Facebook's Platform

3:30 PM Panel: Social Ads: What's Working, What's Not, and Where's Everyone Else?

4:00 PM Office Hours and Happy Hour with Facebook

August Capital Summer Party

5:30 – 9 PM Join us for another fantastic event with networking, drinks and fun at August Capital, 2480 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park CA


The future is in apps you don't open.

"We're going to move away from the era of 'I have hundreds of apps but never think of using them' towards 'I have these cool apps and they take care of me'". This is David Lieb, co-founder and CEO of Bump, on the sea change in design philosophy that underpins Pay With Square and his company's new photos apps Flock.

It centers around the idea that apps shouldn't force us to add new behaviors. Instead, they should strip away needless, interruptive steps from themselves and the way we live our lives, until the solutions to our problems become irreducible.

Bump was originally conceived in a quest to reduce friction in meeting new people. Lieb and co-founder Jake Mintz found it archaic that, with all the sensors and communication channels embedded in our phones, people were still fiddling to type in each other's contact info rather than continuing their conversations. Bump lets people physically touch their phones to instantly exchange all their email addresses and phone numbers, then get back to truly interacting.

Lieb and his Bump co-founder Jake Mintz tell me the philosophy behind Flock was crystallized by a conversation about parking meters with Slide founder and app design godfather Max Levchin. The pair were wondering aloud how great it would be to get out of your car, open their app and Bump the parking meter, then walk away. Levchin replied, "What'd be cooler would be if you just pulled into the parking spot and walked away."

Over the past few years, there's been a trend of building standalone apps instead of cramming more features into a single app. Facebook broke out Messenger and Camera from its bloated primary app, and Google offers a suite of standalones for Gmail, Earth, Voice, and Translate. When you open these apps, you find they're dedicated to nailing a specific function or use case.

But the next phase of design eliminates opening the apps altogether. As we download more and more, they become harder to find on our devices, and we become more likely to forget about them. Folders and in-device search may not make things much easier.

What we need are apps that know when we need them. Pay With Square (formerly Card Case) is a pioneer in this movement. When you go to pay a merchant using the service, your name and face appear on the merchant's checkout app verifying your identity, and you're done. You don't swipe a card or even pull your phone out of your pocket, meaning instead of adding a behavior to the payment experience, it actually eliminates one.

Bump's new app Flock follows the same mantra, removing the need to ask "Can you send me that?"

Install Flock and take photos with whatever app you want, but instead of interrupting your moment with friends or in front of a beautiful sight to share them, you just put your iPhone away. After you've left the geo-fenced area, Flock sends you a push notification leading to a pre-populated album of your photos. It scans the photo libraries of your Flock-using Facebook friends for people who also took photos at the same location, and suggests you share with them. Then they get a push, and can add their own photos to the collaborative album.

For now, developers are limited by the sensors built into our devices and the data they transmit, including GPS, accelerometers, and microphones. Combined with social APIs from the likes of Twitter and Facebook there are already plenty of existing apps that could be made simpler. And as we build connectivity into more dumb devices, and as our smart phones get smarter with technology like near field communication, even more opportunities will emerge.

Apps needn't merely translate physical activities into ones and zeroes. Developers should look deeper at the challenges we face each day, the little frictions, the wastes of time.   The shortest path between Point A and Point B isn't necessarily a straight line or a series of steps. Sometimes it's folding the universe to erase the distance until the space between the problem and the solution becomes irreducible.

I was so impressed with Flock that I asked David Lieb and he's agreed to come talk about it at TechCrunch's Facebook Ecosystem CrunchUp this Friday.

The what and how of minimum viable products

Posted 30 July 2012 14:38pm by Patricio Robles with 0 comments

If you've been involved with a startup in the past several years, chances are you've heard the phrase 'minimum viable product' quite a bit.

Thanks in part to prominent Silicon Valley figures like Eric Ries, the father of the Lean Startup, and Steven Blank, a successful serial entrepreneur, more and more young businesses, as well as product managers at larger, more established companies, are trying to perfect the art and science of the MVP.

But what is a minimum viable product, and how do you get there?

The MVP Defined

On paper, defining 'minimum viable product' doesn't seem that difficult. Which is probably why many consider an MVP to be a product that is just barely commercially viable and nothing more. Makes sense, right?

But it's not that easy, at least according to Ries. As he has explained, "the minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort." The crucial part: being able to collect data that will drive learning about customers. As Ries suggests, "In a lot of cases, this requires a lot of energy invested in talking to customers or metrics and analytics."

Getting to MVP

If we accept that a meaningful MVP is about more than just minimum and a lot more about maximizing the amount of insight we can glean from potential customers with the least amount of effort, the question becomes: how do we get there?

Unfortunately, an MVP becomes more art than science when it comes to answering this. According to Ries, "It requires judgment to figure out, for any given context, what MVP makes sense." The good news is that there are some common sense steps that are prerequisites for figuring it all out.

  • Think about it. If your ultimate goal with an MVP is to learn, and not to sell, give some thought to what you need to do. You may discover that the MVP you need looks a lot different than the MVP you thought you needed. More specifically, in some cases, you may find that your first attempt at creating an MVP doesn't even require you to build something functional in the traditional sense.
  • Know your customers. Don't let the phrase 'minimum viable product' fool you: the concept is decidedly more about the customer than the product. With this in mind, it becomes clear that to employ an MVP approach, knowing who your potential customers are, and having a way to get them involved, is obviously a prerequisite. If you'd rather make assumptions and not interact with customers, the MVP approach is not for you.
  • Establish KPIs. To maximize the amount we learn from customers using an MVP, it's crucial to establish KPIs that you think will be important from the outset.
  • Identify the data needed to measure KPIs. With KPIs identified, ensure that there's a means to collect the data necessary to measure those KPIs.
  • Collect more data than you need. The KPIs you're looking at may or may not be the KPIs that allow you to maximize customer learning. So it's smart to collect as much data as you can and be prepared to actually analyze it, looking for nuggets of customer wisdom you weren't expecting.
  • Remember that MVP is a journey, not a destination. The first product you build may not be your MVP. Again, the MVP concept is all about customers and being able to learn from their use of your MVP. That almost always requires a significant amount of iteration.

Beyond startups

While the minimum viable product concept is probably most popular amongst startup entrepreneurs, there's no reason that established businesses can't put it to use. Whether you're launching a new product or adding new features to an existing product, the general idea that you should try to maximize how much you learn about customers with the least amount of effort is one that can easily be applied to a variety of product development scenarios.

NYC Vs. SF Tech: Above And Beyond The “Company Town”

It didn't start with a monkey, or a tiger. Or even a million-dollar blowout with Snoop performing in a hazy fog. For me, it started with schwag. Lots and lots of schwag. So much, in fact, that in 2006 a group of enterprising tech folks at RubyRed Labs started a side company named Valleyschwag, selling leftover tech schwag for $15. You read that correctly; people would willingly pay a $15 monthly subscription to get poorly-sized, Hanes Beefy T's with now-defunct tech logos on them. And it was positioned as an opportunity; to quote Michael Arrington on this very site, "sometimes it's easy to forget that a lot of people out there don't have the opportunity to get schwag from their favorite startups." Times, how they have changed (though I still do cherish my Dodgeball shirt).

The Valleyschwag Hoedown was the first 'tech party' that I experienced in San Francisco. It wasn't lavish, it lacked pretension, and I believe it may have been BYOB. There wasn't an agenda; it was like-minded people getting together for a fun evening. In six short years, we've gone from a place where a cardboard rocking horse and unwanted mousepads helped create & launch a business – and one with a revenue plan, at that! – to a place where entire New York Times articles are written about the party scene in Silicon Valley. Bubble or not, the tech scene in San Francisco is a very different place than it was even a few years ago, which was a one of the many reasons why ten months ago, I left it behind and moved to NYC.

Since making this move, people often ask me what I see as the main difference between the two cities. To me, it is a question of positioning. In Silicon Valley/San Francisco, Technology *IS* the industry. To quote Nick Bilton, who I agree with on this statement, "This is a company town, like Los Angeles and the movies, or Washington and politics. Everything revolves around the tech industry; there is often nowhere to hide." Contrast that with New York City; here, technology plays a major role in various industries including finance, fashion, media and more. It's a component, and a major one at that, but not the only game in town.

Because of this, people — myself included — are finding the sheer size and diversity of New York an incentive to move here. I'm seeing more and more of my West Coast friends make the move East, joining startups, starting companies, even moving their companies back to New York, as Josh Miller from Branch recently did. Says Jonathan Basker, Head of People at Betaworks who moved from San Francisco two years ago, "There are a million wonderful things about the New York tech scene that I prefer to SF, but I think we forget sometimes that the biggest draw to New York is…New York.  I love my life here.  I love the diversity of experience, the people I've come to know and all the crazy random daily shit that seems normal to me now.  And professionally I love how those experiences balance against, broaden and enrich my work."

And it's this "diversity of experience" that helps us in the New York tech scene avoid the insularity felt in San Francisco, letting us step out of the reverberating sphere and listen to other voices and perspectives. It's the exact opposite of the echo chamber that Silicon Valley is often accused of being.

It's not just the entrepreneurs who are making this a great place to be. The local administration, powered much by Mayor Bloomberg, celebrates our local scene, both by creating favorable environments for startups and promoting the ones that are already here.

Yet in many ways, New York remains the underdog. (Miller agrees; justifies this by saying that "being second class keeps you humble and hungry.") I would argue that we're not necessarily second class, we're just still getting started. Ron Goldin, founder of design firm AKKO, agrees: "Silicon Valley is like the oldest sibling that's broken through a lot of the first's. NYC is the younger sibling with something to prove. It feels like there's a lot of growing that's happening right now, which is really exciting if you're the type that likes to be a part of something new."

And it *is* exciting. The New York tech scene feels like San Francisco did six years ago, when I first moved there. Honeymoon period or not, I like how the energy of the city permeates into the feeling of our companies. There's an inherent sense of community built in New York; as you're sweating on the subway, stickily pressed up against other strangers trying to stay cool in near-100-degree temperatures, you know they're just as miserable as you are. You're both in this together, and I see this spirit prevailing in the startup culture as well. Us New York techies, we're in it together, and I'd take the flip cup and beer pong tournaments over a monkey or a tiger, any day.

Aubrey Sabala heads up Marketing and Communications for Sailthru, a behavioural communications company proudly based – and founded! – in New York City.

[Image via the collections of the "Coal & Coke Heritage Center," Penn State University Fayette Campus, Uniontown, PA.]

Dalton Caldwell On’s Plan To Build A Dependable, Ad-Free Version Of Twitter [TCTV]

Dalton Caldwell made some serious waves earlier this month when he announced "an audacious proposal" to refocus his company to build a real-time feed API and service that would essentially be a new, more open version of Twitter.

Perhaps the most unique thing about's new direction is that it aims to be something that users will pay for, rather than being another ad-supported social platform. Dalton has set up a Kickstarter-like fundraising effort to attract $500,000 in necessary backing from some 10,000 potential users of's service. has a self-imposed deadline of August 13th to meet its funding requirement. With two weeks to go, they're a little over a fifth of the way there in terms of money raised — so the pressure is certainly on.

It's always fun to hear about big ideas like this, so it was great to have Caldwell stop by TechCrunch TV last week to tell us in person about's new mission and clear up some common misconceptions about what they're up to. You can watch our whole conversation in the video embedded above, and below I've excerpted some of his points.

Electricity, Water, And The Social Web

Caldwell says that if social web services like Twitter want to be treated like platforms for an ecosystem (which they clearly are, as evidenced by the freakouts that occur when Twittter goes down), we should get used to paying for them like we pay for other infrastructure services:

"If you think about things we take for granted that are infrastructure — electricity, water, cell phone plans, phone plans, you name it — these are things you pay for, and you expect that when you turn on the faucet the water comes out, and that it is what you expect.

…My thesis is that if you are a social platform, platform being the imperative word, you are telling developers to build their businesses on top of you. You are telling websites to link into you. You're telling them, hey, I'm going to enable social interaction and communication, and I'm going to be a rock-solid thing that you can depend on. My thesis is that if you purport to be a platform, your business model needs to reflect your platform-ness. Because if you instead have an ad business model, and you're not making enough money, you can end up slaughtering your ecosystem."

Millions Of Dollars And Users Not Required

If is thinking so big, why is it only asking for $500,000, a relatively small amount of money by modern web standards? Caldwell explained it like this:

"We chose the number $500,000 because of a Paul Graham post. Paul Graham wrote in this post called "Really Ambitious Startup Ideas" that if you built a search engine, a Google competitor, that was used by the top 10,000 geeks… even though it's really nerdy and will only appeal to those 10,000 geeks, you can build something that will ultimately displace Google. Because when you think about Google displacing Yahoo, [at the time] Google was only used by 10,000 geeks. It was made for power users and trickled down.

If I can build something that appeals to a relatively small number of people, but make them passionate about it and make them believe in it, then that will validate that this market actually exists."

Will It Actually Make It?

In short, Caldwell says, maybe yes, maybe no:

"If you look at the people who [have invested in] — John Gruber, Marco Arment — people that I look up to have pretty impressively supported this and agreed with it. And that's been inspiring. So I think it's gone quite well. But I have no idea if we're actually going to get to 100 percent [of the funding needed to take forward]. I think that a lot more needs to happen.

..There's a great deal of skepticism, and again, I am completely sympathetic to that. Remember Diaspora? …It captured people's imaginations, and then they weren't able to do the thing that they said they would. So I actually really relate to and understand people's skepticism."

Network Effects Work In Mysterious Ways

The most common misconception Caldwell says he's heard is people saying is ignoring the phenomenon of "network effects," where services go up in value as their user base grows. Caldwell says he definitely gets that concept — but that he's seeing the potential for it to work in unique ways:

"People seem to think that I don't [understand] network effects at all, and that I'm just totally crazy… Look, the way I think about this is that if you have a sustainable business on a small user base, that will give you the time and momentum to get you where you need to go. Look at the iPhone: Very small market share out of the gate, but had runway to build the momentum of the platform, despite the fact that it was very expensive and very esoteric when it came out.

And the other thing is, I would argue there is such a thing as negative network effects, where as communities get larger the quality of the community gets diluted. And if you look at what a lot of the people that built large social networks previously are doing now, it's smaller, more curated communities."

Energy supplier websites suffer from terrible UX

Posted 30 July 2012 09:54am by David Moth with 1 comment

UK energy companies are delivering such a poor customer experience that they're potentially losing out on new customers, according to a new report from Global Reviews.

In fact the study found that just 6% of potential customers would recommend energy suppliers' websites, while 64% would actively discourage friends or colleagues from visiting.

Global Reviews analysed the websites of the so-called 'Big Seven' energy companies and found that on average they scored just 50% for usability. 

The highest mark achieved in the report was 53% by SSE while Scottish Power scored just 39%.

'Why buy from us?'

The report measures six stages of a customers' online journey from the first encounter with the website to researching products and completing the application form.

The lowest scores were achieved at the 'why buy from us' stage, meaning that these energy firms are failing to provide enough detail on the benefits of their service over the competition.

Eon got the lowest score as it didn't even have a 'why choose us' section or FAQ page.

The best was Npower which still scored badly but does offer contextual FAQs and the ability to ask a question on the homepage.

For example, after receiving a quote on Eon, the tariffs are not displayed in any order, the names of the plans don't provide much information, while for some unexplained reason you need a Tesco clubcard to sign up. 

For such a complex (and expensive) product, there needs to be FAQs on each page of the sign up process providing detailed explanation of the benefits of different tariffs, a guide to finding the most suitable tariff, details on the switching process, as well as clear contact details for customers who would like to ask a question. 

As part of the 'why buy from us' section brands should also provide simple information such as external awards, consumer opinions or press articles.

We've previously blogged about the importance of e-commerce consumer reviews and highlighted a report from Reevoo which found that 88% of consumers 'sometimes or always' consult a review when making a purchase, and 60% were more likely to purchase from a site that has customer reviews on.

This reassures users and makes them more likely to continue their journey.

Application process

Overall energy suppliers scored highest for the application form with an average score of 58% – although only 44% of people successfully complete the form. 

EDF has the highest application form success rate (66%), whilst Scottish Power has the lowest (16%).

The report recommends that brands provide an up front introduction to the application form detailing what will users need in terms of account numbers and personal information, how long will it take, and if they can save it to return to at a later date.

Without this users may feel reluctant to start a process and will be annoyed later if a form asks them for something they don't know or have to hand.

Brands should include a simple comparison of their own products by laying them out in an easy to read format such as a side-by-side table where users can remove the options they are not interested in. 

This makes it much easier for consumers to find the most suitable product for them, making it more likely they will convert as they feel more confident.


Form design needs attention too. Eon's form produced so many errors that are just unnecessary, and only serve to annoy customers. These included:

  • Leaving a space in my postcode, though the format required was not made clear. 
  • Entering a password with no letters. After doing this, I'm told I need a minimum of six characters and at least one letter and one number, so why not tell users before they make this 'mistake'?
  • Entering my name without a capital letter. This is crazy:

For most consumers the decision on which power supplier they choose is probably based on price rather than website usability, but the fact that power companies are offering such a poor UX means that consumers may find it difficult to identify the cheapest tariff.

Some of these sites are making such basic errors that you wonder whether there is any consideration at all for the user experience when designing and updating their websites. It does also mean though, that, with some smart testing and a focus on UX, there is plenty of scope to increase conversion. 

FAQ image taken from photosteve101's Flickr

Seven tips for managing email marketing campaigns

Posted 30 July 2012 11:07am by David Moth with 2 comments

As we've pointed out in several posts recently, email marketing is still an extremely important way for brands to engage with their customers.

Furthermore, the proliferation of smartphones and increased popularity mobile email has opened up new opportunities for marketers.

But while creating an effective email campaign can appear to be a complicated challenge there are some basic rules brands can follow to give their marketing messages the best chance of getting into inboxes and actually being read.

Experian Cheetahmail has published a new report that focuses on three key elements: data integrity, relevance and reputation.

Here are seven of the recommendations:

1. Make sure you have clean, accurate customer data

Your email campaign is only as effective as the data it's built on, and while you can't force consumers to give genuine data you can take steps to audit and validate your database.

Yet it appears that a lot of companies aren't doing this – a recent Experian survey found that more than 90% of companies suspected that up to 25% of their data is inaccurate.

The report suggests that brands should cleanse their database for duplicates and gone aways, and consider enhancing it with additional data sources that give greater insight into their customers.

2. Don't send unsolicited emails

Even if you know an email address is accurate, the email is doomed to failure if the recipient hasn't first given permission for the contact.

Unsolicited emails are generally seen as spam and could turn potential customers off your brand, therefore it's important to know where your data came from.

"If you worked with a third party, for example, perform some due diligence to understand where and how they obtained the email addresses, and if they properly disclosed to the subscriber how these email addresses would be used."

3. Monitor customer action over time

Another method of maintaining a healthy database is to record and analyse activity levels across the lifecycle.

You can then look at how customers are responding to offers, whether they have stopped clicking on links, and what products they tend to be interested in.

This information can help to refine your email campaigns and target engagement.

4. Start a dialogue

Delivering relevant content is a tricky task, but the rewards are obvious.

Data from Experian Hitwise shows that email users open an average of just five emails per inbox visit, but there are 500m email-driven website visits every month.

To give your emails a better chance of avoiding the recycle bin the report recommends creating a dialogue with consumers which will give a better understanding of what customers want to see in their inbox.

By listening to customers you can gather more data which in turn helps you to deliver more relevant and timely marketing email messages.

5. Welcome new customers

One of the best ways of ensuring your content meets the customer's needs is through a welcome programme.

It can lay out the benefits of subscription and also ask questions about the type of content customers want to receive and the preferred frequency.

This initial phase of engagement is a critical time to set the tone for all future contacts, with welcome emails showing 63% higher open rates and 105% higher unique click through rates than other forms of email.

6. Understand how reputation works

ISPs determine inbox placement based on the reputation of the sender, so to make sure your emails don't go straight into the spam folder you need to make sure you have a good rep.

It can depend on a variety of factors, including complaint rates, unknown user rates and spam trap hits.

Marketers can protect their reputation - and deliverability - by deploying all methods of authentication, signing up to feedback loops and enlisting in certification programmes. 

This must be combined with richer customer understanding, as more ISPs are looking at engagement metrics that go beyond opens, clicks and conversions.

This makes it even more important to give your customers relevant content as if your emails don't get any clicks then your reputation may take a hit.

7. Opt-out and down

Making it easy for customers to opt-out is integral for protecting your reputation with ISPs.

If recipients can't work out how to opt-out they will likely mark the email as spam to avoid receiving any more messages from you, which will damage your reputation and impact the deliverability of future campaigns.

But there are also ways to lessen the risk of complete disengagement.

Offer the option to 'opt-down' rather than opting-out all together by allowing customers to reduce the frequency of emails, opt-out of some communications but into other ones or further refine their preferences so they get more relevant content.

Twitter Launches Clickable Stock Symbols, StockTwits’ Howard Lindzon Says “Hey, We Already Do That!”

Tonight, Twitter quietly rolled out another feature — one that may seem simple and straightforward at first glance but could actually have big implications. The company said via its very own Twitter account that users can now click on stock (or "ticker") symbols in any tweet to view search results for those stocks and companies.

To make this possible, Twitter is essentially introducing a new hashtag — or what is being called a "cashtag." Instead of the ubiquitous "#", the addition of the symbol "$" added in front of any ticker will instantly provide context for that stock, aggregating all tweets that use the ticker under one label. Twitter gives the example of "$GE" — General Electric's ticker symbol — although this will obviously work for any company, like Apple ($AAPL) or Google ($GOOG), allowing users to peruse conversations happening around those stocks in realtime.

Drew Olanoff of The Next Web was the first to notice Twitter's new feature, and pointed out that Twitter's new feature closely resembles functionality that StockTwits has boasted for some time now.

This similarity was not lost on StockTwits co-founder and CEO Howard Lindzon, who as Drew pointed out, recently sold the remainder of his Twitter shares last week.

In fact, Lindzon said that Twitter's new feature "hijacked" StockTwits' own use of the "$" symbol to structure their internal data, even though he says that the company had told him that this was not functionality they planned to add.

In a blog post entitled "The Twitter Hijacking of Stocktwits $ … The Cashtag," Lindzon says:

It's interesting that Twitter has hijacked our creation of $TICKER ie. $AAPL. It only took four years to 'fill' this hole, though a few months back they told me in a detailed email it was not a hole they wanted to fill.

The CEO continued on saying that the curation features Twitter is beginning to test out are similar to those that StockTwits has been thinking about for more than four years and has implemented, joking, "Twitter is about advertising dollars. They have $1 billion of venture money on the line. Lot's of pressures I am not interested in … I wonder how well that will do for $FXCM (buying ads on twitter) converting hits from rappers into FOREX accounts."

Lindzon said that he was "disappointed of course that Twitter is hijacking our idea and time," and in the comments responded to fans saying that he had, to this point, seen no attribution from Twitter anywhere in regard to this feature. As to what kind of recourse is left for StockTwits, Lindzon said that they will continue to push on, taking stock (!) in the fact that Twitter has a lot of pressures and a lot of breadth (he cites its social graph and product), but StockTwits has the community, and depth and a unique approach, where Twitter so far has none.

Lindzon concludes:

I am disappointed of course that Twitter is hijacking our idea and time (will only confuse the masses), but Stocktwits moved beyond that basic functionality 4 years ago. In a dirty way, it's the ultimate compliment so we will take it as such for the moment and keep rolling out functionality that makes us the best real-time communication platform for people that love stocks and markets.

We definitely have not heard the end of this issue as it relates to StockTwits, in particular, and Twitter's new clickable "$" really that just scratches the surface. As Drew points out in a follow-up post, cashtags could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Unstructured data leads to a poor user experience, and Twitter has unstructured data in spades. To begin offering a search mechanism that is actually useful, the company may begin employing other symbols to use as secondary hashtags. This could do wonders for the company in a number of obvious ways, but whether directly in this way, or in other ways as it decides whether it's a media company or a technology company, it's not the last we're going to see of Twitter stepping on the toes of startups (a la StockTwits).

Twitter, founded by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams in March 2006 (launched publicly in July 2006), is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to post updates 140 characters long. Twitter "is a real-time information network that connects [users] to the latest stories, ideas, opinions, and news." The service can be accessed through a variety of methods, including Twitter's website; text messaging; instant messaging; and third-party desktop, mobile, and web applications. Twitter is currently available in...

Learn more

StockTwits is a social, stock micro-blogging service. StockTwits is an open, community-powered idea and information service for investments. Users can eavesdrop on traders and investors, or contribute to the conversation and build their reputation as savvy market wizards. The service takes financial related data and structures it by stock, user, reputation, etc. Log into the site with your Twitter details or download the StockTwits Desktop and you will be joining a community where market participants share their very best ideas in...

Learn more

Five steps to creating a successful global PPC campaign

Posted 30 July 2012 10:16am by Christian Arno with 3 comments

Pay-per-click advertising can be one of the fastest ways to drive new traffic to your website. For companies looking at breaking into new markets, it can be a low-risk, cost-effective way to get started.

However, many businesses are failing to realise its full potential, especially in other languages.

As more of the world gets online, many e-commerce companies are starting to look further looking further afield with their digital marketing. Internet use may be reaching saturation point in much of Europe and North America, but it is soaring in other parts of the world. McKinsey reported this month that e-commerce is booming in Brazil, with the majority of the country now having internet access.

The latest figures from ComScore show that Venezuela, India,  and Indonesia saw the highest growth in internet use this year, with Italy in fourth place.

Only around a quarter of the online population speaks English, and this proportion is falling. Companies targeting foreign language markets have a competitive advantage, since there is still relatively less content in other languages.

Also, running a PPC campaign in Portuguese or Japanese is usually cheaper than in English, due to the lack of competition.

PPC is also cost-effective compared to more traditional forms of advertising. A survey by Practical Ecommerce found that 87.5% of respondents used it to increase web traffic, and said it was good value for money.

Other studies have found that many companies are missing out on its full benefits. Recent research by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) found two-thirds of international companies lacked an effective PPC strategy.

For global businesses looking to increase their performance in a short timeframe, a PPC campaign should be an essential part of a marketing strategy. It's a quick way to climb the search engine rankings, build brand awareness and drive more traffic to your website.

Of course the secrets of success include effective planning, and monitoring and evaluating campaigns. Here are five steps to getting started.

Choose your keywords 

If you already have international sites optimised for your main keywords, then this is a good start. If not, then there are plenty of tools, such as Google's free Keyword Tool and Global Market Finder, that can identify keywords and levels of competition.

These won't necessarily be direct translations of English keywords. It's best to check with a native speaker, to ensure they match what they are likely to search for. 

For example, many German searchers will use English keywords for technical terms, instead of the correct German equivalent.

Know your search engines

Although Google is the market leader in most countries, this isn't the case everywhere.  If you're targeting China, then Baidu is by far the most popular, while Yandex is the favourite in Russia. There are many other local competitors, including Naver in South Korea. And niche search engines could be a good choice for certain markets.

It's worth getting to know some of the quirks of different search engines. Each one will have slightly different rules for PPC, such as whether you are penalised for irrelevant keyword use.

Compared to Google, Baidu has fewer sophisticated tools, and getting relevant click-throughs can be challenging. But it doesn't limit paid search results to only three above the natural search results. Yandex's multi-tier bidding strategy makes it easy to bid for first, second or third place positions, depending on your budget. 

Capture users' attention

With PPC advertising, you have only a small number of words to intrigue a potential buyer and push them to clicking on your advert. There's no room for clunky translations or poorly worded text – hiring a native speaking translator or copywriter is essential.

They can make sure the text strikes the right tone with readers, is culturally appropriate, and avoids causing confusion or offence.

Close the sale

This is the make-or-break point: the last thing you want is to pay for lots of click-throughs, but turn off users when they reach your site. Creating a great landing page, with information in a user's native language, is vital.

It's worth remembering that more and more people are browsing on their mobile phones, especially in certain markets, such as Japan and India. Making sure that your site is mobile friendly will avoid losing customers.

Make it as easy as possible for users to make a purchase.  Research by the European Commission found that most people were reluctant to buy if prices weren't in their local currency.  Preferences in payment methods can also vary across cultures.

A little research will find out whether people are more likely to use credit cards, bank transfers, PayPal (or all three). Include contact details for any customer service queries. If you don't have on-the-ground sales staff, then it's best to restrict these to email or online forms, rather than expensive international calls. 

Measure and monitor

PPC marketing can take time to get right, and it's essential to monitor and evaluate the success of your campaigns. Checking click-through rates and visitor behaviour will give you valuable information about the effectiveness of your strategy.

This data can be used to tweak the campaigns, for example by changing keywords or targeting specific cities or geographic regions. It's also vital to monitor your competitors to ensure you stay one step ahead.

If you're juggling campaigns across multiple countries and search engines, then bid management tools are an effective way to analyse and track the results.

10 big recruiting mistakes companies make

Posted 30 July 2012 16:21pm by Patricio Robles with 0 comments

Thanks to the latest internet boom, companies are growing and there's incredible demand for individuals with digital skills sets.

That's good news for those looking for jobs, but it is creating numerous recruiting challenges for companies.

Whether you're looking for a web developer, a social media marketer, or a salesperson, if you're in a digital industry in a major market, competition is fierce and chances are that finding the next great hire is a daunting task.

Unfortunately, companies often shoot themselves in the foot by making big mistakes during the recruiting process. Here are 10 such mistakes companies should seek to avoid.

1. Not moving fast enough

In today's ultra-competitive recruiting environment, many companies will realistically have a limited time to evaluate a candidate and make an offer. If your company's recruiting process is too slow, there's a very good chance that your most desirable candidates will have other offers in hand before you complete your process.

2. Moving too fast

Time is of the essence, but don't rush the recruiting process too much. As more and more companies deal with the challenge of finding the next great hire, some will inevitably want to move quickly, especially once they see someone good get away. But there should be a balance: moving too fast can actually be worse than moving too slow because the costs of making a hire that doesn't work out can be so significant.

The best way to move expeditiously but not too aggressively is to prioritize recruiting and to map out a plan before you start a search. When you do this, you're far less likely to be caught off guard when a great opportunity presents itself.

3. Failing to set clear expectations

At every step of the recruiting process, it's important to set expectations so that the candidates you're interacting with know the score. At a minimum, this includes letting candidates know what your timeframes are for conducting your search and making a decision. It can also be very helpful to place details about the offer (compensation, benefits, etc.) on the table up front to ensure that there are no disappointing surprises on either side.

4. Limiting your search to the 'perfect' candidate

Looking for someone with top-notch skills, a killer CV and the ability to make an immediate contribution to your company? You're not alone. Just about every company is hoping they'll discover the 'perfect' candidate. But competing for the most desirable free agents today is not a game for the faint of heart and many smaller companies simply can't put together the type of offers that larger firms can in terms of remuneration.

In many cases, a better strategy is to seek out a great prospect -- a potential employee who may not be the total package, but has skills, an ability and eagerness to learn, and the desire to grow with your company. Yes, such employees require investment, but an investment in employee development is often one of the best investments a company can make.

5. Applying the wrong filters

When it comes to identifying promising candidates, it's all about the filters you employ. Unfortunately for employers, there are many filters which are easy to apply in a less-than-helpful way. For instance, years of experience requirements are frequently set without much thought, oftentimes by somebody in HR who may not have an in-depth understanding of what's really required to handle the responsibilities of a particular job.

To ensure that the right filters are in place, it helps to ensure that the person who will be managing a new hire is sufficiently involved in the recruiting process.

6. Focusing too much on culture

Culture can be an important part of a company -- one that should be taken into consideration when hiring a new employee -- but be careful: if your company's culture is too strong and too big a focus in your recruiting, you may find that you're casting a net that's far too small. Keep in mind that your primary objective is to hire somebody who can get the job done and help your company move forward, not to find someone who you'd enjoy going to lunch with.

7. Selling the wrong things

You don't have to be a huge company with a lot of cash to find and hire quality people. But if you're competing against the big boys, it helps to take stock of your company's best attributes and make sure those are part of the sales pitch. Make no mistake about it: money, benefits and perks are generally important, but for a lot of employees, those aren't the end alls and be alls. So if you're a smaller company with an interesting story to tell, or a different perspective, be sure to use it as a selling point.

8. Not checking out CVs and references

Verifying the accuracy of a job candidate's CV and checking references can require effort, but it's an important part of the recruiting process that should not be skipped. Just ask Yahoo.

9. Indulging in too much negotiation

In the most competitive markets, potential hires are in the cat bird's seat and they know it. This can encourage candidates to negotiate offers heavily, in some cases playing multiple prospective employers off of each other.

That may be smart and pragmatic on the part of the would-be employee, but it's generally wise to limit negotiation. At the end of the day, the person you're trying to recruit knows what you bring to the table (because you've set expectations and sold the right things). If that isn't enough by a wide margin, engaging in negotiation is rarely a useful exercise for anybody.

10. Not allowing hiring managers to trust their gut instincts

Recruiting new employees is a difficult task, and for good reason: it's arguably a lot like betting because until a new hire starts, there's really no way to know if the relationship will work out even if you have done everything right. 

With this in mind, it's worth considering that although many companies try to make the recruiting process more objective than subjective, allowing a hiring manager to trust a strong gut feeling can be a very smart move.

Growing pains: Pfizer tackles social media

Posted 30 July 2012 15:30pm by Cielo Lutino with 0 comments

The minute we're born, we begin to age. This was apparently the number one concern occupying respondents of a 2011 Gallup survey commissioned by pharma giant Pfizer and the finding upon which the company has based its Get Old social media campaign.

In a press release announcing the multi-year initiative that began last month, Pfizer tied it to the company's larger mission of improving the health of all people at every stage of life.

PR platitudes aside, the initiative also marks Pfizer's lengthening social media shadow, cast, in part, by CEO Ian Read, who has criticized the industry for being "slow to adapt" to today's more open society. Pharma's hesitation no doubt informs Edelman's 2011 Trust Barometer, which found public confidence in businesses, governments, and, in a new development, NGOs slipping at a noticeable rate.

When that focus was narrowed to Pfizer alone, the results were no better: About 45 percent of respondents described the drugmaker as unethical and not credible. Not acceptable, according to Read.

Last week at the Business Development Institute's (BDI) annual conference on social communications and healthcare, Caroline Roan, Pfizer vice president of corporate responsibility and reputation commented on this:

Having our chairman and CEO recognize the importance of trust for the company has given us permission to take more risks

"Risk," in Roan's characterization, defines the social media space, long a jittery landscape for pharma because, although the FDA regulates the industry's communications around product benefits and safety, it has yet to release official social media guidelines (Draft guidelines became available in January).

As a result, pharma companies that have ventured forth in social media instead attempt to raise awareness around various diseases, advocate for patients, or blare corporate communications.

Is Pfizer really taking a risk?

When Robert Libbey, Pfizer's senior director of global communications, joined Roan on the BDI stage and proudly emphasized that the Get Old site contained no content about the company's products, and Roan said she hoped Pfizer would receive some kudos for its risk-taking, it wasn't immediately clear what either of them were talking about.

Strategically-speaking, referencing Pfizer products on the site would likely turn users off and open the drugmaker up to questions about their products' benefits and safety—exactly the kind of discussion that makes legal teams nervous.

Turns out Roan was referring to the campaign's "positioning," meaning both its subject matter (aging) and its nomenclature (Get Old). The former was, as Pfizer reports, determined by their 2011 survey and supported by the staggering number of Americans turning sixty-five daily: 10,000 per day, according to the company's press release. Also, it's probably no coincidence that Pfizer is furiously at work on drugs that mitigate or cure Alzheimer's. The campaign name, however, caused "a fair amount of disagreement within the company," admitted Roan. 

A lot of people don't like it. Our perspective is that's okay. We chose something in a very crowded communications space. We wanted people to pause and think about the fact that there actually is something to getting older. The alternative is not great.

Drawing chuckles from the crowd with her last comment, Roan concluded by stressing that Pfizer "wanted to demonstrate that we really are serious about this. We really do want to have a two-way dialogue."

Unfortunately, Pfizer is not a great conversationalist

Take, for example, how the drugmaker began the conversation: with a directive to "Get Old," which is (a) bossy and (b) unnecessary. We don't have a choice. The alternative, as Roan pointed out, is grim. A more charitable (if misguided) reading is to understand the campaign name as a prompt, a way to perceive or "get" aging. If so, that vocabulary is dated, harkening back to the 1960s (or something).

Finally, no one suddenly "gets old," though it may feel that way. Instead it should read "getting older" because it accurately captures the evolving, dynamic state of aging. The end result is the same: it's an awkward, confusing name, and it's easy to see why there was in-fighting about it.

On a macro-level, though, is aging a good rallying point? On the face of it, sure. As Pfizer's chief medical officer, Dr. Freda-Lewis Hall, observed, "Each day we get older." Each day—nay, second—we breathe. Each morning we wake—reluctantly, happily, gratefully, but still we wake. These are not choices, but molecular inevitabilities. Neither are they subjects that compel me to visit a website, type my age and gender, and then tell others how I feel about things. 

What about the Get Old UX?

The home page asks visitors how they feel about getting old and then offers them a choice of four answers. To choose one, visitors have to enter their age and gender.


Once this bit of data-gathering concludes, users are then shown in jumble view stuff about aging. You can choose the grid view later, but the default is lots of color-coded, post-it style notes arranged haphazardly. Why? It's like visiting a coworker's messy desk and trying to find, among a bunch of stuff, the thing you were looking for.

Get Old's content consists of 200 videos, 100 images, and 500 miscellaneous pieces from approximately 350 sources, according to Libbey. As promised, all of it centers around getting old. There's a link to a New York Times article about grown women who get acne, a video of Aubrey de Grey defining ageism, a plug for Pfizer partner VNAA (Visiting Nurse Association of America), and another New York Times article about keeping Parkinson's disease a secret.

And users can add their own stuff. Gary M., 43, shared his thoughts: "I feel great and I pursue life like an undergrad." No one has responded. Is it because there's nothing to say? "Gary, that's awesome! I wish I had your energy," or "Gary, why are you still at keggers and dating teenagers?"

Despite the 800 pieces of content at Get Old, there's not a lot to motor a conversation forward that you couldn't find on your own elsewhere at sites that have preexisting, robust communities. Those New York Times articles? If you decide to leave the Get Old site and read it at the original source (Pfizer gives you this choice), then why wouldn't you comment there? 

Pfizer is setting the bar low

Libbey told the audience that the site had 40,000+ uniques in an approximately four-week period, and Roan explained that Pfizer had set modest quantitative goals for reach (visitors, Twitter followers, Facebook likes) because they're still learning about the social media space, which, like all good conversations, is a two-way dialogue in which each party feels heard. "We do a great job of talking about our products," she said. "What I think we haven't done a very good job with is actually listening." 

Now that's what Pfizer should be complimented on: admitting its flaws and trying to correct them. Craving recognition for taking on the "risky" topic of growing old or for wading into the social media waters is like wanting a gold star for fixing your bed when you're forty.

People can't help aging, and 955 million users compose the Facebook social network. It's time Pfizer stopped fearing the social media bogeyman and joined other industries and the public and the online conversations happening at all times.

lunes, 30 de julio de 2012

Iterations: Craigslist’s Network Effects And The Great Platform Challenge

Editor's Note: Semil Shah is currently an EIR with Javelin Venture Partners and has been a columnist at TechCrunch since January 2011. He hosts a weekly TCTV show In the Studio and will now begin a weekly Sunday column, Iterations." Follow him on Twitter @semil.

A few weeks ago, Craigslist penned a "Cease and Desist" letter aimed at Padmapper, the popular apartment listings site, to stop its use of Craigslist data for the third-party service. While Craigslist has behaved this way before, the startup community does not particularly like these types of letters. It was not too long ago that the City of San Francisco sent a "Cease and Desist" letter to a company called, at the time, Ubercab, a letter that again brought startups together in a mutual display of support for new business models in the face of regulations and conveniently-timed rules enforcement. In the case of Craigslist, the power, wealth, and sometimes confusing policies of the small private company exposes the philosophical rifts among many in startup community who believe the global community message board stifles the advancement of products and services like Padmapper and, in the process, doesn't create the best possible consumer experience.

The main source of ire toward Craiglist stems from the desire of many in the startup community who want Craigslist to behave as a platform, where builders and investors can allocate time and resources to creating new products and services on top of it. These dynamics have been chronicled quite well recently by Liz Gannes of AllthingsD and The New York Times' Nick Bilton, among others. Platforms provide the opportunity for richer, more complex interactions and transactions, exemplified by companies like Facebook, Twitter, and eBay, among others. Yet, Craigslist remains content to conduct business as usual, which is of course within their right as a private enterprise, an approach which has generated a global network of message boards in over 700 cities and clearing over $100m in annual revenues with a small staff. And, while most people observing the situation from the outside want Craigslist to act more as a platform, it might not be in Craigslist's best interest to transform in this way.

Yes, Craigslist's massive network effects and liquid marketplace afford it great power, but becoming a platform in the way the startup community wants is no trivial matter. Today, the company generates revenues by charging for a few actions, such as job and apartment listings. It also has its own terms of service guidelines, licenses its data for use by mobile applications (Craigslist doesn't really have a good mobile presence), and seems to enforce its rules haphazardly but also defiantly. The exact limits of those rules aren't clearly known, it turns out, and that lack of clarity, which Craigslist is under no obligation to make clearer, gives them the latitude to shift stances quickly when they don't like the behavior of another property.

If Craigslist were to become a platform, many would argue it would be a boon for builders and investors, as well as consumers. But, in order to get to that platform-level, Craigslist would have to overhaul its site and systems to build a much deeper, tighter relationship with their users. Craigslist works so well today because its scale provides a highly liquid marketplace, organizing and routing goods and services offered, among other things. While they do ask for an email login, use captchas and email verification loops, and have a flagging system to highlight misbehavior, Craigslist activity can be entirely anonymous, devoid of community ratings for trust indexes, and structuring listings data for future use. Transforming into this type of modern-day platform would require a good deal of time, engineering, and product development, as well a long-term commitment.

It's easy to see why many want Craigslist to take this platform approach. Underneath this marketplace lies a treasure trove of data and interactions that could be harnessed to build the next great products and services. While it may not be clear what's in Craigslist's best interests (they make a lot of money, so why rock the boat?), it's easy to see how consumers would benefit. Of course, new marketplaces like Airbnb have picked valuable areas on Craigslist's homepage to reinvent, building new properties with platform-like qualities built in from the beginning. The new generation of sites don't have to overcome legacy systems and structures, but can be built this way from the start. There's a rich Quora thread that picks apart companies that are attacking parts of Craigslist, with Josh Hannah of Matrix Partners arguing that Craigslist has been disrupted and others arguing the opposite.

There's no doubt that while Craigslist is a wildly profitable business today, becoming a true platform would unlock even more economic value. While we may all want that outcome, the realities of transforming into this type of property present thorny challenges and a significant commitment during a time when Craigslist makes healthy revenues and provides so much free utility to people worldwide. Perhaps Craigslist doesn't want to be in the business of APIs, more complex business models, and the exposure to new risks being a platform would bring with it.

The great irony of Craigslist's corporate persona and the startup community's ire toward it  is that Craigslist is already a platform, just not in the way that Silicon Valley envisions one. Craigslist has a global footprint and brand, operates at great scale, and benefits from its massive network effects, producing a product and experience that may not be perfect but is certainly good enough for many millions of people's needs.

While situations like those facing Padmapper and 3taps does stoke the fires along this philosophical rift, and while new disruptive companies like Airbnb are possible to build, the real challenge presented to the startup community is to figure out a way to reimagine the next generation Craigslist — not through direct attacks on areas on its site, but perhaps through a more indirect approach. Perhaps mobile presents builders and investors with a new opportunity, one beyond uploading pictures for things to sell or rent out. Perhaps established social graphs could provide the basis of a new platform focused around identity, trust, and transactions. No matter what "Cease and Desist" letters come in the future, Craigslist's massive network effects present the technology community with a great challenge to build the next generation of global message board, to take the dive and become the next big community platform and marketplace.

Photo Credit: Felipe Skroski / Creative Commons Flickr

Marissa Mayer Brings Free Food to Yahoo, Eyes Acquisitions [REPORT]

How is new CEO Marissa Mayer going to revitalize Yahoo? By making it more like Google, the company she just left.

According to AllThingsD's Kara Swisher, Mayer has instituted a few changes already at Yahoo's Sunnyvale, CA, headquarters. Among them: establishing a weekly all-hands meeting on Friday afternoons, and making all the food in its URLs Cafe, which previously priced egg white muffin sandwiches at $3.65 and teriyaki chicken paninis at $5.31, free.

Of course, it's easy to say that all of this has been borrowed directly from Google, but these kinds of offerings have become standard at many Silicon Valley offices — the fact that Yahoo has, until now, lacked them has likely been a sore point for some of its engineers. Both Facebook and Twitter, for instance, serve up free snacks and daily catered meals to employees.

They're small changes, yes, but they're likely to improve the morale of a company whose public image and internal image has deteriorated over the last seven years.

In addition to the new meeting and food policy, Swisher reports that Mayer is also planning "major changes" to workspaces "to make [them] more collaborative and cool," and improving the swag offered in its stores. She's also pushing to improve Yahoo's core products, including e-mail, Flickr and search.

Several of Swisher's sources said that "big splash tech or product deals… perhaps via an acquisition" may be announced "in the days ahead."

Yahoo could not be reached for comment.

Image courtesy TechCrunch50, Flickr.