Where’s SelfServe by MySpace?

July 11, 2008 § Leave a comment

Back in November of ’07, MySpace announced the future launch of “SelfServe by MySpace” which would “allow advertisers to directly purchase, create and analyze the performance of ads throughout the MySpace network.”  It was supposed to be in beta for two months then launched in early ’08.  It didn’t happen and ClickZ reported last month that SelfServe may launch in later summer or early fall.  MySpace is being left in the dust by Facebook Social Ads and LinkedIn DirectAds.  Now Orkut, Hi5, Bebo, Ning and the others need to step up to the targeted advertising plate as well.

LinkedIn quietly launches Research Network and DirectAds…let the monetization begin.

June 30, 2008 § 8 Comments

LinkedIn DirectAds
LinkedIn has quietly launched a beta version of a dynamic CPM text advertising platform called LinkedIn DirectAds. No formal announcement of the launch was made on the LinkedIn blog or elsewhere. According to the DIrectAds FAQ, advertisers will be able to dynamically target ads by age, gender, geography, educational institution, industry, and seniority. Minimum order size for an advertisement is $25, with the minimum number of impressions dependant on the targeting audience chosen by the advertiser. The rate that you pay for a CPM (1000 impressions) changes as you add or remove targeting options from your ad. Apparently the product will give click-through rates to advertisers, but billing will be based on CPM. In a unique twist, ads will also include the advertisers name and a link to their LinkedIn profile in hopes of “increasing transparency and visibility into the advertiser.” Much like the Facebook SocialAds platform, advertisers must have a profile on the network to launch an ad, although LinkedIn says they are limiting advertisers by completeness of profile, number of connections, date of profile creation and a number of other factors. I was unable to access the platform through my profile.

The DirectAds platform will bring LinkedIn closer to Facebook’s Social Ads technology, with these two leaving Bebo, MySpace, Plaxo, Friendster and the rest of the social networking world behind for now. I hope to be able to try the LinkedIn platform soon and give a head-to-head comparison. LinkedIn will continue to extract a premium on their advertising, as it seems they will be setting the price per CPM internally. A true market (e.g. Overture/pre-Panama Yahoo) or partial market (e.g. Google quality score) influence on price would likely result in prices lower than they would like, and they are clearly avoiding a CPC model for a reason since they are measuring CTR anyways. I think this slow transfer is very smart on their end especially considering their pre-IPO status, but as an advertiser I wish they would switch to a free market faster. Their ad margins will likely be lower than what they were getting with their rate card (although perhaps not), but the volume of advertisements will definitely spike upwards as you no longer have to go through a traditional advertising salesperson process to launch a targeted ad on their network.

LinkedIn Research Network
Additionally, on Thursday of last week LinkedIn quietly launched the LinkedIn Research Network, a product the company first mentioned back in February. No formal announcement of the actual launch was made on the LinkedIn blog or anywhere else, but the Research Network product page is live and linked to from the Premium Product footer, along with job, corporate, and upgrade links. Also linked is a 2 page product summary PDF. The product page outlines what is essentially a premium version of InMail (pdf). A Research Network subscriber can send send 20 InMails at once, and no monthly or daily limits are mentioned. Previously, LinkedIn BusinessPlus subscribers had the most InMail access and were limited to 10 InMails per month, so this is a dramatic increase in potential InMail volume. In the past advertisers could send targeted InMail blasts through LinkedIn’s advertising platform at $1 – $5 per recipient.

The LinkedIn Research Network is an attempt to move into the expert network industry and will be sold primarily to hedge, private equity and venture funds. According to a recent Integrity Research Associates report, there are roughly 25 expert networks in existence today. Aside from my company KnowledgeBid, every other expert network service operates on a subscription model. LinkedIn is likely gunning for the fat subscription fees that players like the Gerson Lehrman Group are pulling from investors (+$50k for access to one industry vertical of experts for 6 months), but the product they have launched is far more like the resume search/direct email services offered by Monster, HotJobs, CareerBuilder, Dice, etc. than an expert network. Perhaps down the road LinkedIn will try to facilitate the actual expert matching, but this iteration of the product just enables subscribers to send a large volume of cold emails to potential consultants. Additionally, the product page makes no mention of facilitating consultant payment and the only compliance functionality mentioned is a “research history”. Legal compliance is arguably the largest issue faced by expert networks today, and something that expert network users have come to expert from service providers. It’s possible that LinkedIn is intentionally not involving themselves with payment of experts in an attempt to remove themselves from the chain of liability if their service were to be used to facilitate insider trading or the like.

Congrats to LinkedIn on the product launches. I’m glad to see them competing with Facebook on the advertising technology side of things (let’s see an API guys!) and will certainly be keeping tabs on these products as they mature.

Facebook Ads now targeting professional titles, taking LinkedIn head on…

June 17, 2008 § 3 Comments

Facebook continues to quickly and quietly improve their advertising platform. In yet another innovation launched without formal announcement, Facebook now allows advertisers to target ads based on professional titles in user profiles. Previously ads could only target by keywords listed in users’ “interests” field. Now Facebook has indexed professional titles and allows for dynamic targeting through the Facebook Ads platform. Perhaps the recent launch of the advertising feedback function was in anticipation of an aggressive move towards monetization via heightened ad targeting? We’re still waiting on the Facebook Ads API but LinkedIn is still using a massively inflated CPM rate card despite their recent $1B valuation and and MySpace still uses Google adwords, putting Facebook miles ahead of the rest of the social networking pack when it comes to advertising technology.

620,000,000 profiles

May 6, 2008 § 2 Comments

I’ve recently been doing some analysis focusing on the growth rates of major social networks and resume databases (I’m saving major blogging platforms for another day, although I’m guessing there are ~400M blogs out there). For the purposes of this analysis I calculated the user profile CAGR for each major social network and resume database, assuming 1M profiles in the launch year and ending with the best estimate of user profiles today (May 2008).

The results show that there are nearly 620,000,000 robust user profiles among these services today, a figure that has grown at a 64% CAGR since ’95. Orkut has grown at the highest CAGR (231%) while MySpace claims the largest raw number of profiles (173M). The chart below nicely illustrates the social networking explosion staring in ’03, underlined by the steady growth of resume databases starting in the mid 90s. The exponentially higher growth rates of social networks can be attributed to the viral features that have come to define them. Traditional resume databases are useful but are generally non-viral so they continue to grow steadily. This analysis does not take into account spam and fake profiles and the chart massively simplifies the growth trends by retrospectively applying each company’s CAGR.

Andreessen: “If you can program it, then it’s a platform. If you can’t, then it’s not.”

September 20, 2007 § 1 Comment

It’s not often that I disagree with Marc Andreessen, but his recent post on web platforms draws some pretty arbitrary lines. According to his definition of web platform, Craigslist, eBay, eLance and other web-based marketplaces are not web platforms, nor are any of the gazillion blogging platforms, not to mention payment platforms, video & photo sharing platforms, etc.

It’s no secret that Facebook’s recent explosive growth has in large part a result of their F8 platform, which allows outside developers to build applications using the Facebook API. Andreessen (a founder of Netscape, Loudcloud/Opsware, and most recently Ning, which allows users to make their own social networks) tries to clarify some of the resulting confusion surrounding the “platform” buzzword and describes three types of platforms that exist on the web but first states that, “If you can program it, then it’s a platform. If you can’t, then it’s not. However, much like F8, EC2, and S3 allow programmers to plug in and build on a service as they wish, sites like Craigslist and eBay allow non-programmer users to do the same. Further, placing an item on eBay is, techically, “progamming” eBay, as is placing a photo on flickr, putting this blog post on wordpress, or paying someone through PayPal…and the line between programmer and user is becoming thinner by the day (e.g. Yahoo! Pipes).

Not surprisingly, Andreessen’s Ning service, according to his definition, not only qualifies as a web platform, but is also a “Level 3” platform, the only others being Salesforce.com, Second Life, and “sort of” Amazon (Facebook is only a “Level 2”). I think Ning is a great service, and Andreessen is clearly an amazing entrepreneur and writer, but these classifications seem arbitrary. “Platform” is being thrown around a lot these days, but this is likely in large part due to the explosion of flexible, adaptable web applications that let users and programmers alike manipulate services to fit their needs.

Ecosystems and Platforms

June 18, 2007 § Leave a comment

I’ve been kicking some ideas around in my head for a few weeks about a post on developer ecosystems and platforms, looking back to the battle for the desktop between Apple and Microsoft and their divergent developer kit strategies and then fast forwarding up to Salesforce.com’s AppExchange and most recently the Facebook Platform. I thought through some stuff and even started writing a few times…then I read this post on Marc Andreessen’s blog and realized I shouldn’t even bother. Definitely give it a read if you are trying to figure out what all the hype is about. Also realize that Andreessen himself is deep in the business side of social networking with his own company Ning which released a Facebook application today. Ning allows users to create their own social networks, but their Facebook application…get this…lets users develop branded Facebook applications, which will be hosted by Ning. All things to keep in mind when reading Andreessen’s post.

The moral of the story: hosting a platform on which others operate and run businesses is a good place to be…it’s tough as hell to get there though.

Yelp: very helpful, somewhat sneaky?

June 7, 2007 § 4 Comments

I have recently been using Yelp to find a dentist in my area and had great results and got really solid information from the user reviews. I have also been trying to help the ladies operate a small hair salon next to my building get online and get local ads running to get some more business. They are a perfect fit for local advertising on Google, etc. and I’ve been prodding them to get a basic website up so they can start running some ads to it and generating some business. They haven’t been able to get someone to put together a simple HTML site for them, so I figured that I’d go ahead and create a Yelp page for their business (here) and then start running Google local ads to the Yelp page. If you’re in Chicago you can see the ads if you search for “Lincoln Park Hair Salon” or “Lincoln Park Salon”. They should get great results from both the Yelp page and the Google ads. I also lobbed in a query to Yelp to see how much their sponsored results are. If they are using a standard CPC model, that could be a great investment for them too.

The one thing I didn’t like about the process with Yelp was the fact that the second step in the profile creation process asks users for their email address and login info so they can scrape contacts from their email account. It is unclear whether Yelp retains all the email addresses for marketing purposes or they simply look at the addresses in your inbox and then tell you who you know is also on Yelp. I clicked the very, very small link in the upper left hand corner that allowed me to skip this step. Even if they are using the addresses just for me, I sure don’t want Yelp or anyone else in my email account.

Yelp has a great reputation. If they want to keep it, they should access email accounts in a less subversive manner, or not at all. The mother of all inbox scrapers, Spoke.com, has a pretty bad reputation for doing this sort of thing. If anything, they should go the LinkedIn route and allow users to opt into the process after their account has been created.

Edit: Very informative comment from Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman below. Thanks Jeremy, if you are indeed Jeremy…

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