Pingpad: A New Social Network For Getting Things Done

Pingpad CEO and cofounder Ross Mayfield

Pingpad CEO and cofounder Ross Mayfield

From my Forbes blog:

There’s no lack of apps to communicate and collaborate with friends, family and colleagues. You use messaging apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to ping friends, and maybe team collaboration darling Slack at work. You’ve got document sharing apps and services such as Google Docs, Quip or Microsoft Office Mobile, Dropbox for storing files, maybe Evernote for quick notes, and oh-so-many calendars for your job, your family, and your kids’ soccer teams. And of course there’s still email.

Whew. And therein lies the problem, says Ross Mayfield. The 44-year-old serial entrepreneur knows collaborative software, having co-founded Socialtext in 2002 to commercialize the seminal group-edited Web pages called wikis. Now, he believes that precisely because of the explosion of communications, collaboration, and productivity apps since then, there’s a need for a much more simple way to bring them all together. When Mayfield and his future wife were planning their wedding, for instance, he needed to use a wide array of apps and Web services to keep track of catering and location options, as well as arrange activities such as a wishing tree that required help from friends. The scattered nature of all those tools made it difficult for multiple people to use, especially on the go.

Today, Mayfield’s year-old startup, Pingpad, is launching a free app on Apple’s and Google’s app stores and a connected service on the Web that aims to elevate messaging into a way for people to get things done–and not just at work. Unlike at Socialtext and largely unlike most collaboration services all the way from Lotus Notes to Yammer to Slack, the nine-person company isn’t chiefly aimed at businesses. “We had a lot of innovation around collaboration in the 2000s,” he said in an interview in the makeshift upstairs office at his newly rented house near downtown Palo Alto. “But very little of it reached consumers.” …

Already, messaging has started to become something of an atomic unit of many kinds of apps. Even non-messaging apps such as Uber, Instagram, Meerkat, Facebook, and Twitter are appealing in part because they have short messages at their core to make their services quick and easy to use. That has some experts comparing the impact of messaging to that of operating systems such as Microsoft’s Windows that serve as platforms for many applications. “We see messaging as the new OS–all sorts of activity will happen inside of it,” says Marc Canter, co-founder of Cola, a messaging startup not quite ready to announce its service. …

Read the rest of the story.

Twitter’s Temp CEO Jack Dorsey Sure Doesn’t Talk Like A Temp

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

Twitter CEO-for-now Jack Dorsey

From my Forbes blog:

On a wild day when investors couldn’t figure out whether they loved or hated Twitter’s second-quarter earnings, one thing was clear: Jack Dorsey is in charge.

At least for now. But during a blunt earnings conference call also broadcast on Twitter’s Periscope app, Dorsey sounded as if he’d really like to do the job much longer.

Dorsey, the temporary Twitter CEO who’s also CEO of soon-to-go-public Square, isn’t expected to get the permanent nod for the top job. Current speculation centers mostly on two people. One is Adam Bain, president of global revenue and partnerships, who can boast a better-than-expected performance on the advertising revenue front this past quarter as well as the undying love of the entire ad industry. The other is fast-rising Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto.

Nonetheless, Dorsey sure sounded like an owner, not just a temporarily returning cofounder, throughout the earnings call. Plainly laying out how recent user growth initiatives haven’t worked, he said, “This is unacceptable and we’re not happy about it.” …

Whatever title Dorsey ends up with, it’s clear that he intends to drive Twitter’s future. “I’ve never been more sure of the value Twitter brings to our world,” he said at the close of the earnings call. And, it seems, never more sure that he’s the guy to prove it.

Read the complete post.

The One Missing Ingredient In Facebook’s All-Out Drive For TV Ad Dollars

From my Forbes blog:

Beyond plans to spend like crazy on everything from search to virtual reality, Facebook gave investors little to complain about in its fourth-quarter results reported Jan. 28. Ad revenues jumped a stunning 53%, and they would have been five points higher but for currency fluctuations. Mobile ads rose to 69% of those revenues, up from 53% a year ago, a sure sign of the company’s progress in making advertising on phones and tablets compelling. Annual revenues blew past $10 billion for the first time.

But investors pay for future profits, so it’s important to step back a bit and assess how well Facebook is positioned vs. an always-growing pack of rivals–Snapchat, Pinterest, Google and YouTube, Twitter, and yes, even Yahoo. In particular, it’s not yet clear that Facebook has cracked the opportunity for brand advertising, the kind of image ads that dominate television, where most advertising dollars are still spent.

What’s the problem? One ad agency executive I talked to has an idea, and it involves not only advertising but the reality of Facebook’s core service, its news feed. The issue, says Craig Elimeliah, senior vice president and director of creative technology at RAPP, is that Facebook has saturated its most lucrative audience, the U.S. and to some extent Europe. There’s the rest of the world, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the effort to get them online is one of Facebook’s 10-year projects, not three to five years.

To keep growing–not just audience but time spent on the site, which leads to revenues–Facebook must give people more reasons to use it than they have, Elimeliah says. While Facebook has frequently changed up the look and the algorithms of the news feed, we’re still doing basically the same things on it that we have for years: watching a bunch of cat videos, fake news stories from the Onion, and photos from friends. Nothing wrong with all that, but it’s pretty passive, especially for a social network in the hyperconnected age of Snapchat.

“They really haven’t evolved the engagement on the platform much,” says Elimeliah. “There’s a lot of noise and clutter.” He thinks the rise of Snapchat shows how young people want closer, more immediate interactions with friends, and advertising that works in that context. Indeed, Elimeliah says he’s “blown away” by Snapchat Discover, its just-announced content and advertising service (check out the video below). The “low-friction” experience is already getting kudos from media types. “It blows Facebook out of the water from an engagement standpoint,” he says, because it fits so well into the intimate and yes, ephemeral Snapchat service.

Facebook needs to make sure it provides the right context for those ads–a place where ads not only seem natural but play in a context that isn’t quite as noisy and distracting as the current news feed. Video ads also seem unlikely to be effective unless they are made to be consumed on the go and provide actionable information–so they can’t be simply downsized TV spots. “I don’t know if the Facebook platform can make that kind of change,” Elimeliah says. …

Read the full story.

Sorry, But Twitter Will Never Be Facebook

From my Forbes blog:

Twitter’s shares look to stage another swan dive Wednesday morning as investors continue to focus on the only disappointing piece of data in its first-quarter earnings report: continued anemic user growth.

Higher growth would be better, of course. But the clear implication of an after-hours selloff of 11%, to a little under $38 a share, is that Twitter needs to be more like Facebook: Only by growing like crazy, the thinking goesFacebook-crazy, that is–can Twitter build the next great online media business.

On that point, investors are utterly wrong. If anything, Twitter needs to make sure it doesn’t try to be more like Facebook.

Now, that could well mean that Twitter will never grow to Facebook’s size. That would indeed be disappointing to many. When investors bought into Twitter’s initial public offering last year and ultimately drove shares to a closing high of $73.31 the day after Christmas, that potential is clearly what they were buying.


But that’s their mistake. It’s no knock on Twitter as a potentially very successful advertising medium. After all, ad sales more than doubled in the quarter. And with a number of still-nascent ad products waiting in the wings, there’s little reason to think that growth–you know, revenue growth–won’t continue or even accelerate.

The problem is that most investors and advertisers alike still don’t understand that Twitter isn’t Facebook and never will be–and that that may very well be a good thing. Craig Elimeliah, a VP and director of creative technology at the ad agency RAPP, said in an interview that most people don’t understand the true reach of Twitter, which extends well beyond  the Twitter app and website to television, news sites, blogs, and even our culture at large.

“The engagement of a person on Facebook is worth so much less than on Twitter,” he says, because Twitter offers in-the-moment context that Facebook can’t. “I don’t think Twitter is meant to have a billion [actively tweeting] users. It’s meant for a highly vocal, highly engaged but smaller group.” …

Read the rest of the commentary.

What’s Next For Google+ Now That Its Leader Has Suddenly Left?

From my Forbes blog:

Google+ has never gotten the respect its creator hoped, let alone gained much ground on its supposed target, Facebook. Now, Google’s attempt at a social network has lost its leader and chief evangelist, Vic Gundotra, who announced today that he’s leaving Google after almost eight years at the company.

Gundotra, a former Microsoft executive, gave no clue to his next steps. His own post, musing on the death of his wife’s uncle and her father’s attitude toward life, implied that he was simply ready for a new challenge after a career at Google that you’d have to consider a success. Google+ failed to make a dent in Facebook, but it’s a solid service with a loyal following and, probably most of all, a powerful source of data for Google’s advertising machine. And Gundotra’s previous work courting developers for Android obviously paid off bigtime, as the mobile software remains the only credible rival to Apple’s iOS.

Still, Gundotra’s departure, effective immediately, is rather abrupt, despite recent rumors that he was interviewing for other jobs. There is speculation that he didn’t get along with CEO Larry Page’s “L Team” of top execs and with some employees who called him the “Victator,” though Page himself provided a quick bit of praise for Gundotra today. Other sources at Google have told me that Gundotra, known for his very public profile and more charm than many Google executives, was resented by some inside Google for self-promotion and a tendency to run over other execs in his drive to get things done.

What matters more going forward is what will happen to Google+, which has suffered most of all from a confusing vision of its core purpose. Gundotra and his lieutenant, Bradley Horowitz (who mysteriously was not chosen as his successor), have taken pains to define Google+ as not a social network, but some sort of social glue for all of Google’s services. But their insistence, coupled with iffy numbers of people supposedly using it, always rang a bit hollow, so Google+ continues to be compared to Facebook. And as a place to share your life with friends as people do on Facebook, it’s clearly a failure. …

Here’s the thing: This could actually be an ideal time for Google to forge a completely new vision of social networking and communications, rather than keep trying to explain what Google+ isn’t. Indeed, at a time when even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is talking up the virtues of private communications, Google+ could position itself as already well on the way to this new world of more nuanced online communications. …

Gundotra’s departure may be a blow to Google’s social ambitions for now. But it also could be an opportunity to start anew. And it’s an opportunity Google can’t afford to waste this time.

Read the rest of the analysis.

With Graph Search, Can Facebook Kill LinkedIn, Yelp–Even Google?


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduces Graph Search (Photo: Robert Hof)

From my blog The New Persuaders:

Facebook took pains today to tell the world that its new social search serviceGraph Search, is only a very limited tool that it will roll out very slowly over a period of months and years.

But CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his search staff couldn’t help but reveal their enthusiasm for the vast possibilities. For all their professed modesty, what struck me at the company’s press event introducing the service was how specific and broad-ranging Zuckerberg and his Graph Search leaders were about what it could provide: just about everything, potentially, that every company from LinkedIn to Yelp to Foursquare to to … yes, even Google provides today.

That’s an exaggeration, of course, that even Facebook folks surely didn’t intend. All of those companies have distinct, well-developed services with extensive user bases that are unlikely to shrivel up no matter how good Graph Search turns out to be. In most cases, they will probably retain a durable advantage for years to come. And as Zuckerberg said, it’s very, very early for Facebook search, and search is a devilishly complex discipline to do well.

Still, to hear it from Facebook itself, Graph Search will offers ways to provide similar services, sometimes in potentially easier and more effective ways:

* Recruiting: One of the first examples Facebook provided today was that Graph Search could help in finding qualified candidates for jobs. For instance, Lars Rasmussen, the Facebook director of engineering who heads the Graph Search team, mentioned that he could find people from NASA Ames Research Center who are friends of Facebook employees.

As investors, who bid up LinkedIn’s share a fraction today, no doubt recognize, that company has a pretty good if not exclusive hold on recruiters. And given that finding friends who worked somewhere is a rather specific subset of qualified candidates for a position, there’s not much chance recruiters will abandon LinkedIn for Facebook anytime soon. But Facebook, already used in various ways by recruiters, could siphon off activities that might otherwise have gone to LinkedIn. … Read more at The New Persuaders. But to conclude …

No, Facebook won’t kill any of these companies, certainly not anytime soon. They’re too strong, Facebook has too much still to build and then to prove, and rarely does a company kill another healthy company no matter how good its products are.

Investors may be thinking as much, as they sold Facebook shares to the tune of a 2.7% drop in price today. But if anyone doubted Facebook’s ability to keep disrupting the status quo, they surely shouldn’t doubt it anymore. Even with its baby steps into the search business, Facebook has again set new terms of engagement in the battle for the soul, or at least the cash register, of the Internet.

13 Questions For 2013 In The World Of Online Advertising

questionsCross-posted at my blog The New Persuaders:

For the past few years, I’ve offered predictions here and on The New Persuaders for what’s likely to come in the next year. This year, I’m going to shake it up and throw out a few questions instead. I think I know the answers to some of them, but if many won’t be answered definitively by year-end, they remain top of mind for me and probably for many others in online media and advertising.

So in this, the first full week of the new year, here are some questions to which I hope to start finding answers:

* Will image advertising finally take off online? I have to believe that as people spend more and more time online instead of reading print publications and watching TV, brand marketers will want and need to reach them there with ads that are aimed at creating consideration for later purchases, not just eliciting an immediate sale like Google’s search ads and too many banner ads. We’re already starting to see signs of such advertising with the early success of Facebook’s Sponsored StoriesTwitter’s Promoted Tweets, and YouTube’s TrueView ads–not to mention the explosion of tablets, which provide a lean-back experience more compatible with image advertising. This won’t be a sudden change, since brand marketers and agencies don’t move quickly, but you can’t tell me there aren’t going to be increasingly compelling ways for brands to influence people online.

* Can advertisers and publishers make ads more personal without scaring people? That’s the $64 billion question, and it likely won’t get answered in full this year. It’s easy for headline-hungry politicians to make a big deal out of Facebook’s latest privacy gaffe or the Wall Street Journal’s or the New York Times’ latest scare story about an ad that followed somebody all over the Web. That’s especially so since Facebook really does push the privacy envelope too far at times, and too many advertisers idiotically chase one more sales conversion at the cost of scaring off hundreds of others or inviting onerous legislation. But making ads more useful to each individual person is not only crucial to online commerce, it’s potentially better for most consumers as well–seriously, I don’t need to see another ad for a fitness center or a new credit card, but that ad for Camper van Beethoven’s new CD had me in a split-second. The answer lies in these two words, everyone: transparency and choice.

* Will mobile advertising work? Well, some of it already does, to hear Google and Facebook tell it. And while those already devalued digital dimes so far turn to pennies when it comes to ads on smartphones and tablets, this still feels more like growing pains than a crisis in online advertising. Sure, the screens are small and people don’t like to be interrupted in their mobile cocoons. So a different kind of advertising is probably needed–clearly, banners don’t cut it on a four-inch screen. But the value to advertisers of knowing your location and maybe the apps you’re using, coupled with knowledge of what your friends like–all with permission, of course–is huge. That permission may be really tough to earn. But if advertisers can offer tangible value, perhaps in the form of useful services related to what you’re doing or looking for or shopping for–and isn’t that the ultimate native ad?–people may loosen their hold on that information.

I have a lot more questions, but I’ve got to stop before too much of 2013 is gone.

Check out more questions at the full post.