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Media Overload: 10 Tips to Reclaim Your Sanity

Posted on February 1, 2008
Filed Under Web, Media | 1 Comment

The conversation on media overload has happened time and time again on the web so why not start it again on this blog? I mean, I did just write about multitasking so it seems to fit in nicely with the flow right?

The basic idea, for those that haven’t come across any of the myriad of blog posts out there on this topic, is that there is simply too much media coming at the average person each day.

I know I have had to declare feed reader bankruptcy more than once over the past year or so. The bummer is that I probably missed a lot of great stuff but, even if I had “read” it, there would have been too much to take in and I would have just skimmed most of it anyway. I would have lost the value of the good stuff while spending too much time on the stuff I didn’t need.

So what is a person to do? Here are 10 tips to help you reclaim your life and still know what you need to know. (Disclaimer: These things worked for me but your mileage may vary. I am, after all, a fallible human being who may have missed or overlooked something.)

  1. Clean out your feed reader: Go through all of your feeds and really examine them. Keep the feeds of your close friends, close industry buddies, top 3 - 5 sources for industry news, the “thinkers” feeds who write lengthy but very meaty essays (i.e. Paul Graham) and the feeds relating to your hobbies and interests. Remove feeds that are redundant (you don’t need to read every tech blog since most of them cover the very same stories), feeds that you only find something useful in once in a blue moon and feeds of things you think you may want to try at some point in the future. Try to stick to 25 feeds or less in your feed reader.
  2. Get some OPMLs: Ask your close friends and industry contacts for their OPML files since you may find a few feeds you really should be reading but hadn’t heard of. Don’t go crazy though. Remember that all of this is supposed to lessen the amount of news you take in.
  3. Get Google Reader: If you haven’t started using Google Reader start now. Import your new scaled-down OPML into Google Reader and also add your contacts to the shared items feature of Google Reader.
  4. Start paying Attention to the shared items feature: This feature allows you to see what your friends and contacts using Google Reader are sharing. This will help fill in some holes you may miss with your scaled down feed list. You will need to watch this too as some folks will share too many things for you to keep up with and you will have to turn them “off.”
  5. Sign up for FriendFeed: FriendFeed is a great new service. I am not sure it is fully open yet but apply for a beta login if it isn’t. FriendFeed allows you to create a single feed of all of your stuff from twitter updates to your blog posts to your flickr photos to your shared items from Google Reader to random things you find on the web (via their bookmarklet). Then you can “subscribe” to your friends’ friend feeds and take a single feed of all of your friends friend feeds (woah, say that 10 times fast) and add it to Google Reader. This way you can keep up with all your friends stuff in one place and skim it quickly. You probably want to limit your amount of friends to 10 or so depending on their activity level.
  6. Use Instapaper: This is one of my favorite new services. Instapaper allows you to quickly and easily save stories on the web to one place for reading later (via a bookmarklet). Sure, some would argue that delicious does this but Instapaper is even simpler. No tagging or anything to worry about. See a story you want to read but don’t have time now just click the bookmarklet and it will be waiting for you along with any other stories you added when you sign into Instapaper later and have time to sit and read through some articles. You could look at it as a way to create your own “Sunday” paper. This will allow you to still read the longer thought provoking articles you want to read but never have the time to read when you find them. I feel like people spend too much time reading the day to day “quick” news bites instead of the longer thoughtful articles that really help to expand ones thinking.
  7. Find some good sources that capture most of the daily news: I like to hit Techmeme a couple times a day to see what people are talking about and then I hit a couple news sites like CNN and the New York Times. If there are stories I find on there that really get me going I simply search for more news about those particular topics to get as fair and balanced as I can. For example, rather than reading every tech blog in existence (which causes overload and doesn’t add much value since they all cover the same stuff) you can simply read a few sources (i.e. Techmeme, etc.) and research things that are important to you a little further in order to not fall into the trap of not consulting enough sources and having a skewed view on something.
  8. Get a little help from your friends: Inevitably if you have friends in the industry you will hear about things/stories from them and then you can check into those stories if you haven’t already. Rather than trying to filter all of the news yourself let your friends help. Isn’t more fun to talk about things with your friends anyway? Note: Google Reader shared items and FriendFeed are both pieces of this idea.
  9. Try magazines (and even books): Yes, that’s right, print magazines. The good ones like Harvard Business Review, MITs Technology Review, Nature, etc. have great content in every issue and you can easily run through a magazine in a few hour sitting (perhaps more if there is something you really want to dive into). This won’t be timely news but it will be thought provoking and longer term stuff that should be a part of any media diet. Plus, you can read magazines anywhere making better use of your downtime (same goes for books). Yes, I know you can read media on your phone and such but if you are like me and don’t care for reading lengthy articles on a tiny backlight screen a magazine is the way to go (I may be burned at the stake for even talking about print media but what the hell… I think it’s a valid part of the media landscape and has its place).
  10. Ummmmm: I didn’t really have a 10th item but I thought I should round things out.

Since I have started using this approach I don’t think I have missed anything that I really wanted to check in to and I have eliminated my media overload. It may or may not work for you and some will think I am crazy for saying that less is more when it comes to media intake but I think if done right you can capture all the knowledge you need to by being strategic about your media intake.

HBO: An Argument for Subscription Based Content

Posted on January 22, 2008
Filed Under Business, Media | 2 Comments

Reading time: 2 minutes 30 seconds

HBO probably has the best shows on TV right now. Sure, you could debate me on that but I have to say that the shows I hear the most about from people (right now The Wire is in that category) and the ones I tend to enjoy on DVD (I don’t have HBO) are mostly HBO productions. Why is that? Is HBO simply better at finding talent and backing good ideas? Does HBO have some kind of oracle hidden in the bowels of their corporate headquarters? I think the answer is actually much simpler.

HBO has the best TV on the air right now because they are a subscription based service.

Yup, that’s right, I said it. The dreaded word in the online universe. Subscription…. OK, are you composed and ready to hear me out? Good.

Here’s the theory: HBO can make better shows since they aren’t worried about the audience coming to view the shows and they aren’t worried about advertisers (since they are a subscription service). Not only that, they know a lot about their audience (they have solid info from the subscription process) so they can simply make shows their audience will like without any distractions (distractions being things like what advertisers will want, etc.).

Let’s look at the audience piece of the equation first. Of course HBO wants to please its audience but it knows its audience well and can therefore make content that the audience will enjoy. What I meant when I said they aren’t worried about the audience coming to watch the content is that HBO has subscribers who pay for their content and who will then show up to watch it. This allows HBO to judge revenues in a more accurate fashion and also to quickly get an idea of which shows make sense and which don’t. The subscription revenues also lower HBO’s production risk allowing HBO to produce higher quality content and to take more risks on new edgy ideas.

Now let’s take a look at the advertising piece of the equation. Since HBO has paying customers and does not rely on advertising they don’t have to create shows that advertisers will feel comfortable with. This allows HBO to create more edgy and “real” shows. HBO also sees another benefit from their advertiser-less status. HBO doesn’t need to have a huge broadcast like audience to make a show work (don’t get me wrong - they have a lot of subscribers but their revenue isn’t as tied to eyeballs as the advertiser driven businesses). All they need is for their audience to like it and like it enough to continue to subscribe.

HBO seems to have a great model for producing content even though they do go against everything the web pundits have been saying for the last handful of years (i.e. content should be free). I do agree that making content free and monetizing it with ads makes sense but there are also inherent drawbacks like:

So perhaps creating niche, edgy, high quality content is a model that should be monetized via subscription rather than via advertising. Of course when you do create niche content you do get the benefit of a highly targeted advertising situation which means higher ad rates but that really only helps you if you’ve got content that brings in big dollar advertisers (i.e. content on tree frogs may not get you the high ad rates you want).

There I go again. Always the contrarian… I’d love to hear some thoughts in the comments section of this post both positive and negative. It could be that I am just missing something but it does appear that delivering high quality content is better done through a subscription model and that people are willing to pay for it (HBO has 40 million paid subscribers by the way).

Side note: HBO is also experimenting with delivering content via the web to their subscribers. Their subscriber based set-up should help them innovate on the web more quickly than studios who are worried about the advertising potential of the web. Interesting.

Weighing in on the Facebook Debate: What’s with the Valuation?

Posted on September 26, 2007
Filed Under VC, Technology, Web 2.0, Media | 5 Comments

I knew there were some folks out there that had more of a contrarian view on Facebook and they are now emerging in force thanks to Kara Swisher’s latest post over at AllThingsD. The post, and reason for outcry, all centers around the valuation numbers being floated around Facebook these days.

Supposedly Microsoft is seriously considering an investment in Facebook that would value the company at around $10 billion. Yes, you read right, that’s billion with a B. And as if that wasn’t somewhat crazy in and of itself the Wall Street Journal article mentions that Facebook might actually be holding out for a $15 billion valuation (this valuation craziness caused Om Malik to create a Silicon Valley Funding Advisory graphic akin to the Homeland Security warning - if he can get this into a widget it’ll be on Olson’s Observations in a second - hilarious!).

Those are some big numbers for sure and there is no doubt that Facebook has a lot of potential but let’s take a quick look at their revenue numbers to date. Swisher has them pegged at around $30 million in profits on $150 million in revenue (not sure on the time frame for the numbers). If we look at those numbers and then apply a 10x revenue valuation, which is what a lot of folks initially look at when thinking about acquiring a company, that puts Facebook’s valuation right around $1.5 billion.

The $1.5 billion valuation is an order of magnitude away from the $15 billion valuation that Facebook is supposedly looking for (side note: every deal doesn’t follow the 10x “rule” - it is just a good benchmark to use in this post - in fact, a lot of IPOs go for more than 10x including Google’s). Again, Facebook does have a ton of potential but, as Swisher points out, we have seen this story before. That is to say a company with a huge valuation and a lot of potential that fades away.

That said, some of the examples she gives (like Geocities, Netscape, AOL and Yahoo!), don’t seem to help her make her point. Both investors, founders and employees cashed in big at all of those companies and stock market investors were also able to cash in on them for a while before the companies became cash cows as opposed to rising stars (any BCGers out there - did I get that right?).

One of Swisher’s other main points is that Facebook is not Google. This is dead on. She likens Facebook to Yahoo! which is a good analogy. The basic thing to remember is that Facebook is far more dependent on eyeballs than Google. Ah, but Google is all about ads and eyeballs seeing those ads so isn’t it one in the same with Facebook? Not at all.

Google places ads on many publishers websites (and many other places for that matter). If a publisher starts to wane and receive less eyeballs then another one comes along to fill the gap and Google will probably have ads on that site too. Facebook on the other hand only has their property. If eyeballs begin to go away Facebooks begins to lose revenue immediately.

Basically Google is far more broad than Facebook will probably ever be.

Now, let’s go back to valuation numbers for a second and see if Facebook is really that far off in their self assessment.

I took a look at where Google was right around its IPO. Those numbers were as follows: $105.6 million in earnings on $961.8 million in revenues (2003 fiscal year numbers - source). If you take the 10x approach here that would have put Google at a $9.6 billion dollar valuation.

Google actually IPOed between a market cap of $29 and $36 billion which is significantly more than the 10x valuation. Of course it isn’t an order of magnitude larger though (that would have put the valuation at roughly $96 billion). It was about a 70% premium to the 10x valuation or so. Also, when you look at valuation to earnings you’ll see that Google was about 307x while Facebook, at a $15 billion valuation, is about 500x (disclaimer: these are just quick semi-useful/interesting comparisons and not by any means a rigorous financial analysis).

However, the real question is how did Google grow post IPO and can Facebook grow as fast or faster? We’ve already shown that Facebook seems to be valuing itself higher than Google did back in the day. Of course that seems off due to the fact that Facebook is far less broad than Google was and is. So, how has Google grown? Here are the EPS (earnings per share) numbers:

2005 - $5.33

2006 - $10.19

Partial 2007 - $6.22

2007 Full Year Estimate - $13.20

The first thing I noticed was that if you bought the stock right after the IPO, and you look at current EPS numbers, you are in for around 10x earnings which isn’t too bad at all. That said, the growth is pretty obvious. Even though it is slowing down now EPS grew about 92% from 2005 to 2006 and it is on track to grow 30% from 2006 to 2007 year.

Can Facebook experience that kind of growth? It will for a little while perhaps but I don’t think it will for as long as Google did simply because, again, Facebook is far less broad. In other words it seems to have less potential than Google did. Again, Swisher makes that argument but I didn’t buy it fully until I did the numbers.

So perhaps Facebook is being pretty aggressive on their valuation compared to their revenue numbers and to where Google was at when they IPOed and how they grew post IPO. In fact, it appears they are being even more aggressive when you look at where a lot of their revenue actually comes from - a deal with Microsoft for ad serving that, according Swisher and her sources, is currently not profitable for Microsoft.

With all that said we should all remember that something is worth what someone is willing to pay for it so if Facebook can get $15 billion than they should. It seems they are making a lot of moves that may justify such a large valuation down the road as well which makes the valuation a little less harsh.

One of those moves was the Facebook lending application. Apparently that application is doing very well and, as we all know, you can make a lot of money in lending so perhaps this is the thing that will propel Facebook up to Google’s level or perhaps even beyond it. Or maybe the propellant will come int the form of their own, in-house, apps in general which can take many forms like P2P lending and selling virtual gifts. Of course there are two issues with that approach:

  1. The apps are diversified which means that Facebook could end up in the trap of doing a lot of things but doing none of them well.
  2. The eyeballs still matter. If there are no eyeballs the apps won’t be used and no money will be made.

We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds for Facebook. While I do think they are being aggressive with their valuation this early in the game I do think that people shouldn’t bet against them quite yet. They have shown they are strategically smart and have the incredible team needed to create a world class company with the nice big valuation that goes with it. As big a Google? Maybe not, but it could still be pretty big.

Read Books via RSS (& e-mail) with DailyLit

Posted on August 8, 2007
Filed Under Books, Media, Media 2.0 | 6 Comments

DailyLitDailyLit truly puts a new spin on reading by allowing users to subscribe to books via e-mail or RSS. Once the user/reader subscribes to a book DailyLit sends a chunk of the book to them each day until the book is finished. The feeds are even customizable which means each user can decide their own delivery frequency and even read ahead if they have some extra time on their hands.

How long does it take to get through a book this way you ask? Here is your answer straight from the DailyLit FAQs:

That depends on three factors. First, on how many installments are in the book (shown when you browse for books). Second, on how frequently you choose to receive emails. Third, on how often you read more than one installment (by using the “send me the next installment immediately” feature). So here is a typical example. I am currently reading Dracula, which has 187 installments and I am receiving installments on weekdays, i.e. 5 days/week. So at most it will take me 187/5 = 37 weeks. But when I am on the train or waiting, I often read more than one installment, so I usually wind up reading about 10 installments/week. This means I will finish Dracula in about 19 weeks or 5 months. If that seems long to you, try something shorter!

The initial thing that got me excited about DailyLit was that they delivered the book content via a feed since I realized how easy it would be to slide a small chunk of a book into my feed reading each day and, thus, read more books. The e-mail delivery is also great as it widens the possible audience to people that may not understand feeds (hard to believe I know but there are still RSS ignorant people out there…) or who may have feed readers blocked on their office computers.

It looks like DailyLit is currently providing older books presumably because they are part of the public domain so DailyLit doesn’t have to worry about copyright issues. Hopefully they will work out content deals in the future to get new(er) books as well since reading in this manner will likely help a lot of busy people be able to read even more. I know I would definitely pay for that service. How much I’m not sure but there is probably a market out there for this beyond me.

Kudos to Chris for the tip.

Feeds: The Publishers Enemy?

Posted on August 3, 2007
Filed Under Media, Media 2.0 | 1 Comment

Some in the blogosphere have speculated that feeds are not a friend of the publisher and the reasons why they believe that feeds are the enemy can be summed up in three bullet points:

These things are all true… right now. What I think people forget or choose not to acknowledge is the future and what feeds could and will become.

A good analog to the situation we currently see with feeds and web sites would be that of the web and newspapers 10 years ago.

When the web started to gain traction and more content began to appear on it the newspapers took notice and started to develop web sites. However, they were unsure of how much to give consumers on the web since, you guessed it, the following issues were staring them in the face:

The newspapers still pushed forward though in the hopes that web sites would drive people to become print subscribers and we all know how well that worked out and that is to say not well. This is another analog to the current world of feeds in fact.

There are some who think publishing limited content in the feed will drive users to their sites but we at FeedBurner have found that to be untrue just as it was for web sites driving print subscriptions.

Do feeds have a way to go? Sure. Are they changing the way content is consumed for more and more people every day? Yes. That said, I don’t think feeds are any publishers enemy and I don’t think any publisher looking at the long term view would disagree. Feeds are a publishers best friend.

Pubvertising is Here: Publish and Advertise in One Place

Posted on August 3, 2007
Filed Under FeedBurner, Media, Media 2.0 | Leave a Comment

AdverblishWe’ve been wanting to introduce pubvertising on a wider scale for some time now and I am excited it is finally out there.

The whole concept behind pubvertising - or publishing + advertising - is pretty simple. We want to allow publishers who are using our tools to easily be able to create an ad that contains their feed content which they can then easily place in the FeedBurner Ad Network.

These ads are designed to drive awareness of the publishers content and drive subscriptions to their feed(s). What better place to find feed subscribers than other feeds right?

The tool that publishers can use to create their ad is called Headline Animator. Headline Animator allows any publisher using FeedBurner to create a completely custom graphic that will include their latest feed headlines.

Right now we are setting the sizes of ads publishers can place to 468×60 and 468×120. You can see some examples below. Also, make sure to read the official FeedBurner post on pubvertising as it says things with more wit than I can. It also provides much more detail than this post does in case you’re interested in giving this concept a shot.

The Quest for Engagement: Moving Past Pageviews

Posted on July 12, 2007
Filed Under Web, Web 2.0, Media, Media 2.0 | Leave a Comment

I was scrolling through the old feed reader the other day (I was a way, way behind on that) and I caught Andrew Parker’s post on the death of the page view. Looks like Neilsen has decided to do away with pageviews in favor of a “time spent” metric. Andrew brings up an interesting point about both of these metrics and what they inherently value which I believe is worth quoting in full here:

But, why would Nielsen replace page views with the “time spent” metric? When everyone focused on page views, it rewarded companies like Myspace for requiring clicking through 10 pages just to update your profile. Now, if time spent becomes the new default metric, then sites like Myspace will be rewarded for their slow, cumbersome interfaces that needlessly waste your time. Whereas, a site like Google would be punished for having a speedy, easy interface that prioritizes getting you where you want to go, not keeping you on Google’s site.

He makes a good point. We need to start figuring out how to measure good traffic instead of just traffic. Advertisers are getting smarter and smarter each day and they are going to demand better from us in the metrics space. I am also sure that advertisers will quickly figure out the major inherent flaw in the “time spent” metric that Andrew points out. That is leaving pages open in general or leaving pages open across multiple tabs in a browser when you aren’t looking at them (which both he and I do each and every day).

Andrew then talks a bit about what we built at FeedBurner (by we I mean our awesome engineering team) and some of the flaws there. He’s spot on since we are really focusing on the feed and our current site analytics are not super useful for people who don’t use a blog platform to publish (but they are very useful for blog publishers). However, I do think the feed will begin to power more and more things for publishers and that is where things get interesting in the way of analytics (see my post “Publish Once” for more).

If feeds are powering widgets, e-mail delivery of content, feed readers, syndication, etc. then we are in a great position to fully measure the audience and its’ engagement and tie things back to the site analytics. We’re a ways out from this of course but it is coming and it should get us closer to the holy grail of audience engagement.

In the meantime, Andrew suggests looking into qualitative methods of measuring the web. That’s an interesting concept and it could add a lot of value to advertisers if qualitative metrics were developed and used in conjunction with quantitative metrics. I am not sure what the qualitative side of things would look like but I’ll keep thinking about that notion.

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